As the commander of Army Group Centre watched the Soviet offensive open in front of him, It became clear that the weight of the attack was falling, not on MOSCOW, but on KALININ.
The already reduced 8 Jäger Division bore the brunt of the opening attack, situated as it was to the north of the VOLGA river along the railway line to the vital rail junction of VELIKIYE LUKI. The Jägers fell back steadily over two days to the west of KALININ, extracting a price, but taking heavy casualties as they did so.
27 Army was identified as the controlling enemy formation HQ. As it drew level with KALININ, the leading divisions swung south to attack the city, with Sturmovik and army level artillery support. Already, Wehrmacht reserve divisions were moving to cover the rail bridge crossing the VOLGA, but the main line from VELIKIYE LUKI to MOSCOW was now in Soviet hands.
The defenders of KALININ, 161 Infantry Division, were unprepared for the ferocity of the attack by 37 Rifle Division. Despite losses to the minefields and prepared defences, and spirited counterattacks by the defenders, first the outskirts, then the centre of the city fell.
A seesaw battle for the river crossing commenced as the leading elements of 36 Rifle Division seized the southern bank in the face of elements of 256 Infantry Division that were rushing to secure the bridge. 8 Jäger Division, reduced to a regimental headquarters and company of infantry, managed to throw the Soviets back to the northern edge of the bridge just long enough to allow 256 Infantry to open a route to KALININ. Through this, the survivors of the city poured, leaving their heavy weapons behind. The bridge was blown in the face of the leading Soviet assault parties.
Back in his FührerBoxfile, LittleHitler was foaming at the mouth with fury at the loss of KALININ and the commander of 161 Infantry was summoned to explain himself. A professional withdrawal under fire, over a bridge being attacked by the enemy, did nothing to save him. The division was ordered to be shipped to France to refit, but its commander and senior staff found themselves stripped of their rank and sent to a penal battalion.
Meanwhile, a serious breach in the front had opened between XX Korps at KALININ and X Korps to their north. With armoured forces concentrated in the South and around MOSCOW, little stood in the way of the advancing divisions, The Luftwaffe had little success in divining the extent of the breakthrough either, as the flanks of the attack were patrolled by large numbers of Soviet fighters.
To be continued …