Operation Mars

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Operation Mars
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
Operation mars schema.JPG
Date25 November – 20 December 1942

German victory

  • Soviet operational failure
Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg  Soviet Union Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg Georgy Zhukov
Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg Ivan Konev
Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg Maksim Purkayev
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Walter Model
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Günther von Kluge
702,923 personnel,
1,718 tanks [1]
3 combined corps (with 13 infantry divisions and 2 paratrooper divisions)
2 panzer corps (5 panzer divisions, 3 motorized divisions)
1,615 tanks [1]
Total forces:
~ 350,000 troops.
Casualties and losses
70,373 irrecoverable
145,301 sanitary [2]
100,000 killed
235,000 wounded
1,600 tanks [3]
Grossmann: 40,000 casualties [4]

Operation Mars, also known as the Second Rzhev-Sychevka Offensive Operation (Russian: Вторая Ржевско-Сычёвская наступательная операция), was the codename for an offensive launched by Soviet forces against German forces during World War II. It took place between 25 November and 20 December 1942 around the Rzhev salient in the vicinity of Moscow.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.


The offensive was a joint operation of the Soviet Western Front and Kalinin Front coordinated by Georgy Zhukov. The offensive was one in a series of particularly bloody engagements collectively known in Soviet and Russian histories as the Battles of Rzhev , which occurred near Rzhev, Sychevka and Vyazma between January 1942 and March 1943. The battles became known as the "Rzhev meat grinder" ("Ржевская мясорубка") for their huge losses, particularly on the Soviet side. For many years they were relegated to a footnote in Soviet military history.

The Kalinin Front was a major formation of the Red Army active in the Eastern Front of World War II. It was formally established by Stavka directive on 17 October 1941 and allocated three armies: 22nd, 29th Army and 30th. In May 1942, the Air Forces of the Kalinin Front were reorganised as the 3rd Air Army, comprising three fighter, two ground attack, and one bomber division.

Georgy Zhukov 20th-century Marshal of the Soviet Union

Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov was a Soviet Russian general who became chief of general staff, deputy commander in chief, Minister of Defence, and a Politburo member.

Battles of Rzhev series of Soviet Operations in World War II

The Battles of Rzhev were a series of Soviet operations in World War II between January 8, 1942 and March 31, 1943. Due to the high losses suffered by the Soviet Army, the campaign became known by veterans and historians as the "Rzhev Meat Grinder".

Soviet plans

Soviet collective farmers hand over KV-1S tanks to their crews RIAN archive 87961 Collective farmers from the Moscow suburbs handing over tanks to Soviet servicemen.jpg
Soviet collective farmers hand over KV-1S tanks to their crews

In Operation Mars, planned to commence in late October, forces of the Kalinin and Western Fronts would encircle and destroy the powerful German Ninth Army in the Rzhev salient. The basic plan of the offensive was to launch multiple, coordinated thrusts from all sides of the salient, resulting in the destruction of the Ninth Army. The offensive would also tie down German units and prevent them from being moved south. [5]

The Kalinin and Western Fronts were directed by Stalin and Zhukov "to crush the Rzhev-Sychovka-Olenino-Bely enemy grouping." The Western Front was to "take Sychovka no later than the 15th December." The Kalinin Front's 39th and 22nd armies were to take Olenino by 16 Dec. and Bely by 20 Dec. [6] :121–122,129–130

Western Front (Soviet Union) Front of the Red Army

The Western Front was a front of the Red Army, one of the Red Army Fronts during World War II.

The 39th Army was a Field Army of the Soviet Union's Red Army during World War II and of the Soviet Army during the Cold War.

The 22nd Army was a field army of the Red Army during World War II.

Operation Mars was to be followed soon there after by Operation Jupiter, which was to commence two to three weeks later. The Western Front's powerful 5th and 33rd armies, supported by 3rd Guards Tank Army, would attack along the Moscow-Vyazma highway axis, link up with the victorious Mars force, and envelop and destroy all German forces east of Smolensk. Once resistance around Vyazma was neutralized, the 9th and 10th Tank Corps and the 3rd Tank Army would then penetrate deeper into the rear of Army Group Centre.[ citation needed ]

The Red Army's 33rd Army was a Soviet field army during the Second World War. It was disbanded by being redesignated HQ Smolensk Military District in 1945.

3rd Guards Tank Army

The 3rd Guards Tank Army was a tank army established by the Soviet Union's Red Army during World War II. The 3rd Tank Army was created in 1942 and fought in the southern areas of the Soviet Union and Poland, then in Germany and Czechoslovakia until the defeat of Germany in 1945. Postwar, the army served as occupation troops in East Germany, went through several name changes, and was finally deactivated in 1969.

The 10th Tank Corps was a tank corps of the Red Army, formed twice.

Offensive is launched

The offensive was launched in the early hours of 25 November 1942. It got off to a bad start, as fog and snowy weather grounded the planned air support. It also greatly reduced the effect of the massive artillery barrages preceding the main attacks, as it made it impossible for the forward artillery observers to adjust fire and observe the results. The northern thrust made little progress. The eastern attack across the frozen Vazuza river slowly ground forward. The two western thrusts made deeper penetrations, especially around the key town of Belyi. Still, the progress was nowhere near what the Soviets expected.

Bely, Tver Oblast Town in Tver Oblast, Russia

Bely is a town and the administrative center of Belsky District in Tver Oblast, Russia, located on the Obsha River. Population: 3,772 (2010 Census); 4,350 (2002 Census); 5,228 (1989 Census); 6,900 (1897).

The German defenders fought stubbornly, clinging to their strong-points, which were often centered on many of the small villages dotting the area. In some cases, the German strong-points remained manned for a time after the Soviets advanced past them, creating more problems for the Red Army in their rear areas. Despite repeated, persistent Soviet attacks, small-arms fire and pre-planned artillery concentrations cut down the attacking infantry. Soviet tanks were picked off by anti-tank guns, the few German tanks, and in close combat with infantry.

One part of a small wood... had been a battlefield; the trees blasted by shells and mines looked like stakes driven in at random. The earth was criss-crossed by trenches; dugouts bulged like blisters... The deep roar of guns and the furious barks of mortars were deafening. [7]

Ilya Ehrenburg

The relative lack of initial success compounded the Soviet problems. The minor penetrations and the resulting small bridgeheads made it difficult to bring forward reinforcements and follow-up forces, especially artillery so critical for reducing the German strong-points. The Germans reacted by shifting units within the salient against the points of the Soviet advance and pinching off their spearheads. With limited reserves and reinforcement unlikely due to Soviet offensives elsewhere, the Ninth Army was placed under great pressure.

Eventually the shifting of German forces, coupled with Soviet losses and supply difficulties, allowed the German forces to gain the upper hand. Their lines held, and much of the lost ground was retaken. The counterattacks against the Belyi (western) and the Vazuza (eastern) thrusts resulted in several thousand soldiers being trapped behind German lines. A few of these would manage to break through to Soviet lines, some after fighting in the German rear for weeks. Almost all vehicles and heavy weapons had to be left behind. Though the Germans were not able to remove Soviet forces from the Luchesa valley in the northwest of the salient, this was of little significance since the Soviets there were unable to press their attack through the difficult terrain.


"The Western Front failed to penetrate enemy defences", according to Zhukov. The Germans were able to hit the flank of the Kalinin Front and trapped Maj.-Gen. M.D. Solomatin's Mechanized Corps for three days before they were relieved. [6] :131

Operation Mars was a military failure, and the Soviets were unable to accomplish any of their objectives. However, in the aftermath of Operation Mars General Von Kluge recommended the salient be abandoned to economize on manpower and to assume more defensible positions. Hitler refused. His denial of a major withdrawal in the winter of 1941–42 had ultimately stabilized the army when it was on the edge of a collapse. Subsequently, he was less willing to heed the advice of his commanders. In addition he was unwilling to give up any ground he had won, and saw usefulness in retaining the jump off point for a future thrust upon Moscow. However, in the Spring of 1943 his desire to move back onto the offensive made him more receptive to withdrawing forces from the salient to free up manpower. A staged withdrawal was begun at the beginning of March 1943. By the 23rd of that month the withdrawal was complete.

Historian A. V. Isayev has pointed out that together with influences on other sectors during the winter of 1942, Operation Mars had an effect upon the strategic situation in 1943. In the plan for the large offensive at Kursk in July 1943, the German Ninth Army was located in the southern area of the Orel salient. It delivered the assault upon the Kursk salient from the north. However, losses suffered at Rzhev during Operation Mars resulted in the Ninth Army being short of forces, particularly infantry formations, and it could not muster enough force to fulfill its task. [8]


In the final assessment Operation Mars was a failure for the Soviet forces. [9] However, the unintentional result of the battle was losses to the reserves of Army Group Center which reduced the forces which could be redirected against the more successful Soviet operations against Army Group South. About this matter, German Colonel-General Kurt von Tippelskirch commented:

In order to confine the German forces in every sector of the front and prevent the large reinforcement to the critical sectors, and in order to strengthen their (Soviet) position in the places which were suitable for future offensives in the following winter, the Russians renewed their offensives in the central sector. Their main efforts focused on Rzhev and Velikye Luky. Therefore, our three panzer divisions and several infantry divisions – which were planned to be used in the southern sectors – had to be kept here to close gaps in the front and to retake lost territories. This was the only method for us to stop the enemy breakthrough.

Kurt von Tippelskirch [10]

An area of controversy is whether the operation was intended as a major offensive, or whether it was really intended to simply divert German attention and resources from Stalingrad to prevent the relief of their Sixth Army. The forces concentrated for Operation Mars were much larger than the ones used in Operation Uranus. [11] Military historian David M. Glantz believes that Operation Mars was the main Soviet offensive, and that the narrative that it was intended as a "diversion attack" was a propaganda effort on the part of the Soviet government. He termed Operation Mars as the "greatest defeat of Marshal Zhukov."

In the unlikely event that Zhukov was correct and Mars was really a diversion, there has never been one so ambitious, so large, so clumsily executed, or so costly.

David M. Glantz

British historian Antony Beevor disagrees with Glantz, citing that Zhukov spent less time planning Mars than Uranus, and that the artillery shell allocation was much smaller for Mars than for Uranus. Operation Uranus received "2.5 to 4.5 ammunition loads [per gun]... compared with less than one in Operation Mars." [12] In addition, the Russian historian M. A. Gareyev, citing Stavka orders, asserted that the goal of Operation Mars was to tie down German forces in the Rzhev sector, preventing them from reinforcing Stalingrad. Thus, it ensured the success of Uranus and the Soviet offensives in the south. [13]

According to P. A. Sudoplatov, Soviet intelligence intentionally leaked the plan of operation Mars to the Germans, this was part of a series of deception "radio games" named "Monastery" (Монастырь). One of the "Monastery" operations was intended to lure the German attention to the Rzhev sector. During this intelligence operation, the Soviet double agent Aleksandr Petrovich Demyanov (code name "Heine") sent information about a large-scaled Soviet offensive at Rzhev area in order to make the Germans believe that the next main blow of the Red Army would occur in the central sector. Aside from the Soviet intelligence agency, only Joseph Stalin knew about this "Monastery" operation. [14] [15] [16] [17]

Zhukov concluded the main reason the Soviet forces were unable to destroy the Rzhev salient "was underestimation of the rugged terrain", and "the shortage of supporting armour, artillery, mortars, and aircraft to pierce the enemy defences." He also did not expect the Nazis to bring "up considerable reinforcements to this sector from other Fronts." [6]



  1. 1 2 Исаев, Алексей Валерьевич. Когда внезапности уже не было. История ВОВ, которую мы не знали. — М.: Яуза, Эксмо, 2006. (Alexey Valeryevich Isayev. When the sudden element was lost – History of World War II, the facts that we do not know. Yauza & Penguin Books. Moskva. 2006. Part II: 1942 Autumn-Winter Offensive. Sector 2: Operation Mars)
  2. 1 2 Гриф секретности снят: Потери Вооруженных Сил СССР в войнах, боевых действиях и военных конфликтах: Стат. исслед./ Г. Ф. Кривошеев, В. М. Андроников, П. Д. Буриков. — М.: Воениздат, 1993.
  3. 1 2 Glantz 1999, p. 308.
  4. 1 2 Гроссманн Хорст. Ржев — краеугольный камень Восточного фронта. — Ржев: «Ржевская правда», 1996. German name: Grossmann H. Rzhew: Eckpfeiler der Ostfront. — Friedberg : Podzun-Pallas-Verlag, 1980.
  5. Beevor 2012, p. 369.
  6. 1 2 3 Zhukov, Georgy (1974). Marshal of Victory, Volume II. Pen and Sword Books Ltd. pp. 131–132. ISBN   9781781592915.
  7. Beevor 2012, pp. 370-371.
  8. Glantz 1999.
  9. О провале операции пишут А. Исаев, В. Бешанов, Д. Гланц.
  10. Типпельскирх К. История Второй мировой войны. СПб.:Полигон; М.:АСТ,1999 /(Tippelskirch K., Geschichte des Zweiten Weltkrieges. — Bonn, 1954, Chapter VII ‹See Tfd› (in Russian)
  11. Георгий Глебович Колыванов. «Марс», оказавшийся в тени «Урана» (Georgy Glebovich Kolyvanov. "Mars" in the shadow of "Uranus". Article published in the "Independent" 2 December 2005)
  12. Beevor 2012, p. 370.
  13. M. A. Гареев. Операция «Марс» и современные «марсиане» Archived 2010-04-01 at the Wayback Machine // Военно-исторический журнал № 10, 2003.]
  14. Судоплатов, Павел Анатольевич. Спецоперации. Лубянка и Кремль 1930–1950 годы. — М.: ОЛМА-ПРЕСС, 1997. ‹See Tfd› (in Russian)
  15. Lyutmila Obchinikova. Secret activities at center of Moskva. at official website of FSB. 18-1-2002 ‹See Tfd› (in Russian)
  16. Andrey Tyurin, Vladimir Makarov et al. The fight between Lyublyanka and Abwehr – The "Monastery" radio game. Newspaper "Independence". 22-4-2005. ‹See Tfd› (in Russian)
  17. Eduard Prokopyevich Sharapov. Eltigen incidcent and the punishment blade of Stalin – The person of special goal. Neva Publisher. Sainkt Petersburg. 2003. ‹See Tfd› (in Russian)

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