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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, 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 Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 30 December 1922 to 26 December 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, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk.
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 that controlled nearly all aspects of life via the Gleichschaltung legal process. 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, 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 Konstantinovich Zhukov was a Soviet Red Army General who became Chief of General Staff, Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Minister of Defence and a member of the Politburo. During World War II he participated in multiple battles, ultimately commanding the 1st Belorussian Front in the Battle of Berlin, which resulted in the defeat of Nazi Germany, and the end of the War in Europe.
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 Red Army, the campaign became known by veterans and historians as the "Rzhev Meat Grinder".
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.
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.
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct strategic German Army Groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union. On 25 January 1945, after it was encircled in the Königsberg pocket, Army Group Centre was renamed Army Group North, and Army Group A became Army Group Centre. The latter formation retained its name until the end of the war in Europe.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
Ivan Stepanovich Konev was a Soviet military commander who led Red Army forces on the Eastern Front during World War II, retook much of Eastern Europe from occupation by the Axis Powers, and helped in the capture of Germany's capital, Berlin.
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Operation Iskra was a Soviet military operation during World War II, designed 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 being 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 second Battle of Smolensk was a Soviet strategic offensive operation conducted by the Red Army as part of the Summer-Autumn Campaign of 1943. Staged almost simultaneously with the Lower Dnieper Offensive, the offensive lasted two months and was led by General Andrei Yeremenko, commanding the Kalinin Front, and Vasily Sokolovsky, commanding the Western Front. Its goal was to clear the German presence from the Smolensk and Bryansk regions. Smolensk had been under German occupation since the first Battle of Smolensk in 1941.
Russian military deception, sometimes known as maskirovka, is a military doctrine developed from the start of the twentieth century. The doctrine covers a broad range of measures for military deception, from camouflage to denial and deception.
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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.