German soldiers in the flooded trenches, Soviet Union, 1943.

German soldiers in the flooded trenches, Soviet Union, 1943.

The cheerful German soldiers in the trenches filled the autumn rains spread the food for their comrades. Water is pumped out of the trench using a mechanical pump. Photo taken during Battle for Velikiye Luki, October, 1943.

With the advent of mechanized warfare, soldiers occupying trenches to conduct long-term combat operations were largely obsolete. Relatively little use was made of trenches in the mobile warfare of World War II in Europe. Usually they were used for defensive, supply storage, place to sleep and eat, and medical purposes.

Velikiye Luki was crucial to both sides. To the Germans it was a bulwark protecting the vital railway supplying Army Group North, which passed through Novosokolniki some 20 kilometers to the west. Loss of that rail line might have forced Army Group North to lift the siege of Leningrad. But if the German high command thought Velikiye Luki was important, the Soviet high command considered it crucial. Their efforts to recapture the city started in August 1941, soon after its capture, and continued almost without pause until January 1943. To the Soviets, the city’s recapture meant much more than threatening the supply lines of Army Group North. The Russians’ ultimate objective was to slice into the rear of Army Group Center, anchored 30 kilometers south at Velizh. Such a move would threaten to encircle and unhinge the entire German front. Smolensk would surely fall, and trapping Army Group North would merely be a bonus. The stakes were no less than the fate of two German army groups.

Interesting fact:

  • Trench Foot is a medical condition caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary, and cold conditions. It is one of many immersion foot syndromes. Affected feet may become numb, affected by erythrosis (turning red) or cyanosis (turning blue) as a result of poor vascular supply, and feet may begin to have a decaying odor due to the possibility of the early stages of necrosis setting in. As the condition worsens, feet may also begin to swell. Advanced trench foot often involves blisters and open sores, which lead to fungal infections. If left untreated, trench foot usually results in gangrene, which can cause the need for amputation.