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|Part of the Eastern Front of World War II|
|Commanders and leaders|
| 702,923 personnel,|
| 3 combined corps|
(with 13 infantry divisions
and 2 paratrooper divisions)
2 panzer corps
(5 panzer divisions,
3 motorized divisions)
~ 350,000 troops.
|Casualties and losses|
|Grossmann: 40,000 casualties|
Operation Mars (Russian: Операция «Марс»), 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.
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.
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.
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. 121–122,129–130:
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 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.
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.
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. 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.
In the final assessment, Operation Mars was a failure for the Soviet forces.However, the unintentional result of the battle were 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.
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.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."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.
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.
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."
Operation Uranus was the codename of the Soviet 19–23 November 1942 strategic operation in World War II which led to the encirclement of the German Sixth Army, the Third and Fourth Romanian armies, and portions of the German Fourth Panzer Army. The operation was executed at roughly the midpoint of the five-month long Battle of Stalingrad, and was aimed at destroying German forces in and around Stalingrad. Planning for Operation Uranus had commenced in September 1942, and was developed simultaneously with plans to envelop and destroy German Army Group Center and German forces in the Caucasus. The Red Army took advantage of the German army's poor preparation for winter, and the fact that its forces in the southern Soviet Union were overstretched near Stalingrad, using weaker Romanian troops to guard their flanks; the offensives' starting points were established along the section of the front directly opposite Romanian forces. These Axis armies lacked heavy equipment to deal with Soviet armor.
The Battle of Moscow was a military campaign that consisted of two periods of strategically significant fighting on a 600 km (370 mi) sector of the Eastern Front during World War II. It took place between October 1941 and January 1942. The Soviet defensive effort frustrated Hitler's attack on Moscow, the capital and largest city of the Soviet Union. Moscow was one of the primary military and political objectives for Axis forces in their invasion of the Soviet Union.
The Second Battle of Kharkov or Operation Fredericus was an Axis counter-offensive in the region around Kharkov against the Red Army Izium bridgehead offensive conducted 12–28 May 1942, on the Eastern Front during World War II. Its objective was to eliminate the Izium bridgehead over Seversky Donets or the "Barvenkovo bulge" which was one of the Soviet offensive's staging areas. After a winter counter-offensive that drove German troops away from Moscow but depleted the Red Army's reserves, the Kharkov offensive was a new Soviet attempt to expand upon their strategic initiative, although it failed to secure a significant element of surprise.
The German 206th Infantry Division, was a military unit that served during World War II. Like most German infantry units it had no motorization, and relied on leg and horse mobility.
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".
The Velikiye Luki offensive operation was executed by the forces of the Red Army's Kalinin Front against the Wehrmacht's 3rd Panzer Army during the Winter Campaign of 1942–1943 with the objective of liberating the Russian city of Velikiye Luki as part of the northern pincer of the Rzhev-Sychevka Strategic Offensive Operation.
Operation Polyarnaya Zvezda was an operation conducted by the Soviet Leningrad, Volkhov and Northwestern Fronts in February and March 1943. The operation was planned by Georgy Zhukov in the wake of the successful Operation Iskra and envisaged two separate encirclements. One was to be carried out in the north by the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts near Mga and one was planned to be carried out further to the south, by the Northwestern Front, near Demyansk.
Operation Iskra, a Soviet military operation in January 1943 during World War II, aimed to break the Wehrmacht's Siege of Leningrad. Planning for the operation began shortly after the failure of the Sinyavino Offensive. The German defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad in late 1942 had weakened the German front. By January 1943, Soviet forces were planning or conducting offensive operations across the entire German-Soviet front, especially in southern Russia; Iskra formed the northern part of the wider Soviet 1942–1943 winter counter-offensive.
Operation Kutuzov was the first of the two counteroffensives launched by the Red Army as part of the Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation. It commenced on 12 July 1943, in the Central Russian Upland, against Army Group Center of the German Wehrmacht. The operation was named after General Mikhail Kutuzov, the Russian general credited with saving Russia from Napoleon during the French invasion of Russia in 1812. Operation Kutuzov was one of two large-scale Soviet operations launched as counteroffensives against Operation Citadel. The Operation began on 12 July and ended on 18 August 1943 with the capture of Orel and collapse of the Orel bulge.
The Kalinin Front was a major formation of the Red Army active in the Eastern Front of World War II, named for the city of Kalinin. 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.
The Sinyavino Offensive was an operation planned by the Soviet Union in the summer of 1942 with the aim of breaking the Siege of Leningrad, which had begun the previous summer, and establish a reliable supply line to Leningrad. At the same time, German forces were planning Operation Northern Light to capture the city and link up with Finnish forces. To achieve that heavy reinforcements were arriving from Sevastopol, which the German forces captured in July 1942. Both sides were unaware of the other's preparations, and this made the battle unfold in an unanticipated manner for both sides.
The 119th Rifle Division was an infantry division of the Red Army, formed three times.
The Battle of Rzhev in the Summer of 1942 was part of a series of battles that lasted 15 months in the center of the Eastern Front. It is known in Soviet history of World War II as the First Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation, which was defined as spanning from 30 July to 23 August 1942. However, it is widely documented that the fighting continued undiminished into September and did not finally cease until the beginning of October 1942. The Red Army suffered massive casualties for little gain during the fighting, giving the battle a notoriety reflected in its sobriquet: "The Rzhev Meat Grinder".
The 369th Rifle Division began forming on August 1, 1941, as a standard Red Army rifle division, in the Chelyabinsk Oblast. After forming, it was assigned to the 39th Army which soon became part of Kalinin Front, and it participated in the near-encirclement of the German 9th Army around Rzhev in the winter counteroffensive of 1941-42. In late January, 1942, it was transferred to the 29th Army of the same Front, which was very soon after encircled by German forces near Sychevka, and while it was written off by German intelligence in February, enough of the division escaped that it was not officially disbanded. By August it returned to battle, now in 30th Army of Western Front, still fighting near Rzhev. After the salient was finally evacuated in the spring of 1943 the division was moved to Bryansk Front, first in 11th Army and then in 50th Army, under which it served for most of the war. In the summer counteroffensive the 369th was awarded the battle honor "Karachev" for its part in the liberation of that city. At the start of Operation Bagration the division was in 2nd Belorussian Front and its commander, Maj. Gen. I. S. Lazarenko, was killed a few days later; despite this loss it was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for its successful crossing of the Dniepr River and the liberation of Mogilev. The division continued to advance through Belarus and into Poland and eastern Germany over the following months, but despite a fine record of service was disbanded soon after the German surrender.
The 373rd Rifle Division was raised in 1941 as an infantry division of the Red Army, and served for the duration of the Great Patriotic War in that role. It began forming in August 1941 in the Urals Military District. It was moved to the front northwest of Moscow while still trying to complete its training and went straight into action in mid-December during the winter counteroffensive. Until May 1943, it was involved in the bloody fighting around the Rzhev salient. After a period in reserve for rebuilding, the division's combat path shifted southward when it was assigned to 52nd Army, where it remained for the duration of the war. It won a battle honor in eastern Ukraine, then fought across the Dniepr River late that year, and was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for its successes. Following this it advanced through western Ukraine in the spring of 1944, then into Romania in the summer, where it played a major role in the second encirclement and destruction of the German 6th Army. After again moving to the reserves the division shifted northwards with its Army to join 1st Ukrainian Front, fighting through Poland, eastern Germany and into Czechoslovakia. By then the 373rd had compiled an enviable record, and went on to serve briefly into the postwar era.
The 375th Rifle Division was raised in 1941 as an infantry division of the Red Army, and served for the duration of the Great Patriotic War in that role. It began forming in August, 1941 in the Urals Military District. It reached the fighting front in December, coming under command of the 29th Army in the vicinity of the Rzhev salient and it took part in the bloody and tragic battles for this heavily-fortified position until March, 1943, mostly as part of 30th Army. Following the German evacuation of the salient the 375th got a brief spell in reserve before being reassigned to Voronezh Front in the buildup to the Battle of Kursk. When the offensive began it held a crucial sector on the extreme left flank of 6th Guards Army where the II SS Panzer Corps attempted to break through south of the salient. Following the German defeat the division joined in the counteroffensive towards Kharkov in August and won its first battle honor. It continued to advance through Ukraine and into Romania over the next eight months, being brought to a halt east of Iași in the spring of 1944. In late August the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts crushed the defending German and Romanian forces, and on the last day of the month the 375th played a leading role in the capture of the Romanian capital, Bucharest; it won its second battle honor and two of its rifle regiments were awarded decorations. For the duration of the war the division fought its way through Romania and Hungary, finally advancing into Austria with 7th Guards Army. Its record of admirable service was capped with the award of the Order of the Red Banner soon following the German surrender, but it was nevertheless disbanded shortly thereafter.
The 379th Rifle Division was raised in 1941 as an infantry division of the Red Army, and served for the duration of the Great Patriotic War in that role. It began forming in August, 1941 in the Urals Military District. It first served in the winter counteroffensive west of Moscow, and later in the bitter fighting around the Rzhev salient, but was moved north late in 1942. It took up positions along the Volkhov River, mostly under command of the 8th Army, and continued to serve in this Army's battles near Leningrad until September 1943, when it was transferred to the 2nd Baltic Front, where it would stay for the remainder of its service. During this period the division served under many army and corps commands but mostly in the 3rd Shock Army. The division ended the war in Lithuania, helping to contain and reduce the German forces trapped in the Courland Pocket. By this time it was judged as being surplus to the Red Army's needs and in December 1944 its personnel were parceled out to help bring other units of the Front closer to establishment strength. The 379th officially disbanded on the first day of 1945.
The 381st Rifle Division was raised in 1941 as an infantry division of the Red Army, and served for the duration of the Great Patriotic War in that role. It began forming in August, 1941 in the Urals Military District. It first served in the bitter fighting around the Rzhev salient, deep in the German rear in the 39th Army and came close to being completely destroyed in July, 1942. The division's survivors were moved north well away from the front for a major rebuilding. It returned to the front in October, joining the 3rd Shock Army for the battle and siege of Velikiye Luki. The division remained in this general area in western Russia until March, 1944, when it was moved to the Reserve of the Supreme High Command and then to 21st Army north of Leningrad in April. It served in the offensive that drove Finland out of the war from June to September, winning a battle honor and the Order of the Red Banner in the process, before being transferred back to the Soviet-German front in October. As part of the 2nd Shock Army of 2nd Belorussian Front the 381st advanced across Poland and Pomerania during the winter of 1945, then joined its Front's advance across the Oder River into north-central Germany in late April, ending the war on the Baltic coast. In the summer of that year the division was disbanded.
The 16th Guards Rifle Division was reformed as an elite infantry division of the Red Army in February, 1942, based on the 1st formation of the 249th Rifle Division, and served in that role until well after the end of the Great Patriotic War. It was in Kalinin Front when it was redesignated and remained in the northern half of the front throughout the war. In the summer it was assigned to Western Front's 30th Army to the north of the Rzhev salient and took part in the stubborn and costly struggle for the village of Polunino just east of that town in August. It returned to the fighting in March, 1943 in the followup to the German evacuation of the salient, then was reassigned to the new 11th Guards Army, where it would remain for the duration of the war. During the summer offensive against the German-held salient around Oryol it assisted in the liberation of Karachev and received its name as an honorific. By December, after fighting through western Russia north of Smolensk the division was in 1st Baltic Front, attacking south towards Gorodok and winning the Order of the Red Banner in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to seize Vitebsk. By the start of the offensive against Army Group Center in the summer of 1944 the 16th Guards had been redeployed with its Army to the south of Vitebsk as part of 3rd Belorussian Front, where it would remain for the duration. Driving westward during Operation Bagration the division helped to liberate the key city of Orsha and then drove on towards Minsk. With its Army it advanced through Lithuania to the border with East Prussia, being further decorated with the Order of Suvorov for its crossing of the Neman River. As part of the East Prussian Offensive the 16th Guards entered that heavily-fortified region and helped gradually break the German resistance there, particularly at Insterburg and Königsberg, ending the fighting at Pillau. The 16th Guards remained in the Kaliningrad Oblast well after the war until finally disbanded in September, 1960.
The 30th Guards Rifle Division was reformed as an elite infantry division of the Red Army in May, 1942, based on the 1st formation of the 238th Rifle Division, and served in that role until after the end of the Great Patriotic War. It would soon help after provide the headquarters cadre for the 7th Guards Rifle Corps along with its "sister" 29th Guards Rifle Division. However, it was not assigned as a unit to the Corps until August when it joined 33rd Army of Western Front and saw extensive fighting, while also suffering extensive casualties, in the summer campaign against the German 3rd Panzer Army in the southern sector of the Rzhev salient. After leaving 7th Guards Corps the division was reassigned to several other armies in the Front until April, 1943 when it joined the 15th Guards Rifle Corps in 30th Army, which became 10th Guards Army the next month; it would remain under these commands for the duration of the war. By December, after fighting through western Russia north of Smolensk the 30th Guards was in 2nd Baltic Front and during the summer and fall of 1944 it took part in the offensives through the Baltic states, winning a battle honor for its part in the liberation of Riga. For the rest of the war the division remained in Latvia helping to contain the German forces trapped in the Courland Peninsula, eventually coming under command of Leningrad Front. In mid-1946 it was converted to the 30th Separate Guards Rifle Brigade.