In December of 1941, the German Offensive in Russia came to a halt. The Soviet leadership unleashed its reserves in a counteroffensive. In the Northern sector, the Third Russian Shock Army achieved a breakthrough on 8 January 1942 and enveloped German forces at a number of spots, including Demjansk.
About 100 kilometers southwest of Demjansk, lay the small town of Cholm. The German garrison there was surrounded on 21 January. As in other cases, Hitler ordered them to hold to the last man. Generalmajor Theodor Scherer, the commander of 281.Sicherungs-Division, was tasked with organizing Cholm's defense. From the mishmash of German units reeling back from the Soviet attack, he organized approximately 5500 men and held the city for 105 days against overwhelming odds.
For this achievement, Hitler awarded Scherer the Ritterkreuz on 20 February and later, on 5 May, the Eichenlaub. All the participants in the defense of Cholm, including the 1500 died in the battle, were recognized for their successfiul defense by the privilege of wearing a specially designed arm shield (as pictured above).
More information and numerous photos from this battle can be found in a new book from Eastern Front/Warfield Books - Circle of Fire: The Epic Battle of Cholm 1942.
Frederick Clemens of Panzerbaer Research assisted in the preparation of this book with translations and original research from captured German records.