The town of Velikye Luki
was captured by German forces during July 1941. From the view
of Heeresgruppe Mitte which was responsible for this sector, Velikye
Luki was very important for three reasons-(1) It formed a bridgehead
across the Lowat River; (2) it was a major railroad junction;
(3) It screened the vital Vitebsk-Leningrad railroad. The Red
Army launched several attacks and partisan actions against Velikye
Luki during the following 15 months, but failed almost completely.
By November 1942, Velikye Luki and the surrounding area was still
in German hands.
The twin operations Mars
and Uranus formed the centerpiece of the Soviet strategic efforts
in the fall of 1942. Launched in tandem with Operation Uranus,
the successful counteroffensive around Stalingrad, Operation Mars
targeted the Rzhev salient in order to dislodge the Wehrmacht
from its position west of Moscow in November 1942. Both attacks
were accompanied by another push against the city of Velikye Luki.
This offensive had the task of cutting off the vital Vitebsk-Leningrad
railroad as well as drawing away Axis reserves from the intense
battles at Stalingrad and in the Rzhev salient.
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