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Operation Mars
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
Eastern Front 1942-11 to 1943-03.png
Date25 November - 20 December 1942
LocationRzhev and Velikie Luki salients, Russian SFSR
Result German victory
 Soviet Union  Germany
Commanders and leaders
Soviet Union G. K. Zhukov
Soviet Union I. S. Koniev
Soviet Union М. А. Purkayev
Nazi Germany Otto Moritz Walter Model,
Nazi Germany 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[3]
235,000 wounded[3]
1,600 tanks[3]
40,000 killed and wounded[3]

Operation Mars was the codename for the Second Rzhev-Sychevka Offensive Operation (Russian: Вторая Ржевско-Сычёвская наступательная операция) 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 basic plan of the offensive was to eliminate the Rzhev salient by launching multiple, coordinated thrusts from all sides of the salient. After the destruction of the German 9th Army, the forces would regroup and link up with the 5th and 33rd Armies which were to attack along the Moscow-Vyazma highway. This latter part of the operation was codenamed Operation Jupiter. When 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 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 it was relegated to a footnote in Soviet military history.

The attack[edit | edit source]

The offensive was launched in the early hours of 25 November. 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. The progress was nowhere near what the Soviets expected. The German defenders fought stubbornly, clinging to their strongpoints, which were often centered around many of the small villages dotting the area. In some cases the German strongpoints 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. Tanks were picked off by AT guns, by the few German tanks, or even in close combat by infantry.

The relative lack of initial success now 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 strongpoints. The German side reacted by shifting units within the salient against the points of the Soviet advance and pinching off their spearheads. The 9th Army was hard pressed with limited reserves and reinforcement unlikely due to Soviet offensives elsewhere along the front.

Eventually this shifting of forces coupled with Soviet losses and supply difficulties, allowed the German forces to gain the upper hand. The 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 trapped behind German lines. A few of these would manage to break through to Soviet lines, some after fighting as partisans in the German rear for weeks. Almost all vehicles and heavy weapons had to be left behind. However, the Germans were not able to remove Soviet forces from the Luchesa valley in the northwest of the salient, but this was not of much significance since the Soviets there were also unable to press their attack in the difficult terrain.

Outcome[edit | edit source]

Operation Mars was a military failure. The Soviets were unable to accomplish any of their objectives. However, in the aftermath of Operation Mars and setbacks at Stalingrad, the Germans began to rethink their strategy of holding the exposed salients. General Von Kluge recommended that the salients be abandoned, both in order to economize on manpower and to redeploy parts of Army Group Center in more defensible positions.

Hitler resisted. He was reluctant to give up any ground won and saw usefulness in retaining the salients for a future thrust towards Moscow. But in the aftermath of Stalingrad, the need to consolidate the German positions and conserve manpower prevailed. The Germans began a successful staged withdrawal at the beginning of March 1943. By the 23rd of that month, the withdrawal was complete.

Historian A. V. Isayev pointed out that, together with influences to other sectors during the winter of 1942, Operation Mars also affected the war situation of the year 1943. In the plan for the large offensive at Kursk in July 1943, the German Ninth Army was relocated to the southern area of Oryol salient and it was meant to assault Kursk from the north. However, due to excessive losses at Rzhev during Operation Mars, Ninth Army could not muster enough forces to fulfill its task.[4]

David Glantz in his "Greatest defeat of Marshal Zhukov" also quoted A. V. Isayev:

Aside from causing the influences about the local events of the fronts in November and December 1942, "Operation Mars" also influenced the fighting situation in 1943. In the winter of 1942, the 9th Army of General Walther Model was tightly pinned against the Rzhev salient. And in summer 1943, this Army was so exhausted that it could not be used in Operation "Citadel".

—A. V. Isaev[5]

Assessment[edit | edit source]

Operation Mars was a failure for the Soviet forces.[6] 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 sectors of the front and prevent the large relocations of reinforcement to the critical sectors, and in order to strengthen their (Soviet) position in the places which were suitable for future offensive in the following winter, the Russians renewed their offensives in the central sector. Their main efforts focused on Rzhev and Velikye Luky. Therefore, our (German) three panzer divisions and several infantry divisions - which were planned to be used in the southern sectors - have to be kept here to suture our gaps in the front and to retake our lost territories. This was the only method for us to stop the enemy breakthrough.

—Kurt von Tippelskirch.[7]

It is important to note about many heated debates and controversies about Operation Mars. The main debating topic is: whether this was a main Soviet offensive, or it was merely a diversion attack to prevent the German from relieving their besieged Sixth Army at Stalingrad? The first idea using the fact that, forces concentration for Operation Mars were much larger than the ones for Operation Uranus.[8] For example, David M. Glantz commented about Operation Mars as the "greatest defeat of Marshal Zhukov" and Glantz believed that this was the main offensive, not a diversion attack. The information about an "diversion attack" is just a propaganda effort of the Soviet government:

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

However, 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.[9] In addition, the Russian historian sM. A. Gareyev used many Stavka orders to claim that Mars' goal was to lure the German forces to the Rzhev sector, preventing them from reinforcing Stalingrad. Thus, it ensured the success of Uranus and the Soviet offensives in the south. Indeed, according to Gareev, "there is not any convincing reason to say that Operation Mars was a failure, or was the greatest failure of Marshal Zhukov, as David Glantz and other Western scholars have described".[10]

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 I. V. Stalin knew about this "Monastery" operation.[11][12][13][14]

Casualties[edit | edit source]

  • Soviet:
    • Isayev:
      70,373 irrecoverable
      145,301 sanitary[2]
    • Glantz:
      100,000 killed[3]
      235,000 wounded[3]
      1,600 tanks[3]
  • German: 40,000 killed and wounded[3]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 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. 2.0 2.1 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. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 David Glantz: Zhukov's greatest defeat page 308
  4. David M. Glantz. Thất bại lớn nhất của Zhukov - Thảm họa của Hồng quân trong Chiến dịch "Sao Hỏa" năm 1942 - Moskva: AST: Astrel, 2006. Lời tực của Aleksei Isayav)
  5. Дэвид ГЛАНЦ "Крупнейшее поражение Жукова Катастрофа Красной Армии в Операции Марс 1942 г." (с) 1999 by the University Press of Kansas (c) ООО "Издательство Астрель", 2005 М.: АСТ: Астрель, 2006. - 666, (6) с.:ил. стр 27-29
  6. О провале операции пишут А. Исаев, В. Бешанов, Д. Гланц.
  7. Типпельскирх К. История Второй мировой войны. СПб.:Полигон; М.:АСТ,1999 /(Tippelskirch K., Geschichte des Zweiten Weltkrieges. — Bonn, 1954, Chapter VII (Russian)
  8. Георгий Глебович Колыванов. «Марс», оказавшийся в тени «Урана» (Georgy Glebovich Kolyvanov. "Sao Hỏa", những người trong bóng tối của "Sao Thiên Vương". Bài đăng trên báo "Độc Lập" (Независимое) ngày 2 tháng 12 năm 2005)
  9. Beevor, Anthony (2012). The Second World War. London: W&N. ISBN 0297844970. 
  10. M. A. Гареев. Операция «Марс» и современные «марсиане» // Военно-исторический журнал № 10, 2003.]
  11. Судоплатов, Павел Анатольевич. Спецоперации. Лубянка и Кремль 1930–1950 годы. — М.: ОЛМА-ПРЕСС, 1997. (Russian)
  12. Lyutmila Obchinikova. Secret activities at center of Moskva. at official website of FSB. 18-1-2002 (Russian)
  13. Andrey Tyurin, Vladimir Makarov et al. The fight between Lyublyanka and Abwehr - The "Monastery" radio game. Newspaper "Independence". 22-4-2005. (Russian)
  14. Eduard Prokopyevich Sharapov. Eltigen incidcent and the punishment blade of Stalin - The person of special goal. Neva Publisher. Sainkt Petersburg. 2003. (Russian)

References[edit | edit source]

  • Glantz, David M. (1999). Zhukov's Greatest Defeat: The Red Army's Epic Disaster in Operation Mars, 1942. ISBN 0-7006-0944-X.
  • Krivosheev, G. F. et al. (1997). Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century. Stackpole. ISBN 9781853672804

External links[edit | edit source]

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