Operation "Mars"

The Second Offensive in Rzhev Vicinities. November-December 1942

Updated October 27, 2003

Based on [1] materials.

This battle is not well known among either Russian or Western historians. So there exists much speculation around it.

This paper is a brief translation of the article [1]. It's written as an alternative look to the operation famous owing to D.M. Glantz's paper.


In the end of 1942 Soviet General Staff planned two strategic offensives. In the south it was operation "Uran" to surround the 6th German Army in the Stalingrad vicinity (using forces of the Don and Stalingrad Fronts) and to create preconditions for "Saturn" operation (the offensive on Rostov). In the center it was an operation having the aim to surround the German 9th Army in the Rzhev Salient using forces of the Kalinin and Western Fronts - Operation "Mars". On the latter direction the main forces of Soviet Army were concentrated.

In the "History of WW2" (Russian edition) one can find that 31.4% of Soviet manpower (1,890,000 men) and 45.9% of their tanks (3,375 tanks) were deployed between Kholm and Bolkov (17% of the total frontage with the Germans).

In comparison the three Fronts that took part in the Staligrad operation on Nov. 19, 1942 had 1,103,000 men and 1,463 tanks (without 2nd Gds. and 5th Shock Armies which joined the battle later). It should be noted then that the figures cited above included SCCR reserves and the troops of Moscow defense zone*1 almost did not take part in combat.

The opponent of the Kalinin and Western Fronts was the German Army Group "Center", which had 72 divisions (out of 266 on the whole Soviet-German front). To be exact the front line of the Soviet fronts didn't coincide with the front line of Army Group "Center".

The right flank of the Kalinin Front opposed the right flank of the Army Group "North" and the left flank of the Western front opposed the left flank of Army Group "B". Army Group "Center" had 1,680,000 men (including the reserves) and ~3,500 tanks (2/3's of the total on Soviet-German front).

For the "Mars" operation were detached surprisingly small forces. From Western Front (Gen. Konev) they were 20th, 31st, 29th Armies*2. It was planned to introduce the Cavalry-Mechanised Group (6th Tank Corps, 2nd Gds. Cavalry Corps and the 5th Tank Corps, the latter from Front HQ's reserve*3) after a breakthrough. These troops had no more than 1/3 of the total Front strength. The offensive front line was ~15-20% of the total length of the Western front. Total staff of the shock group of the Western front can be estimated as 300,000 - 350,000 men (including reserves).

Also three armies were used from the Kalinin Front. They were: 41st Army (Gen. -Major F.G. Tarasov), 22nd Army (Gen. Yushkevich) and 3rd Shock Army. 1st Mechanised Corps (Gen. Solomatin) was planned to be introduced in 41st Army's zone. Besides 41st Army had 47th and 48th Tank Brigades (39 tanks in each) as a reserve. 3rd Mechanised corps (Gen. -Major M.E. Katukov) planned to operate in 22nd Army's zone. 22rd Army had 114th Rifle Brigade and 39th Tank Regiment as a reserve. The offensive frontline was ~25% of the total length of Kalinin front. Total staff of the shock group of Kalinin front can be estimated as 150,000 - 200,000 men (~33% from total strength). 3rd shock army had a separate task - offensive on Velikiye Luki and Nevel to cross Leningrad-Vitebsk road.

Hence quite small forces were detached for the "Mars" operation ~500,000 men (including rear area formations and reserves). It was half as great as the strength of the troops taking part in the Stalingrad operation.

On the analogy of the "Saturn" operation (which was not realised due to Stalin's acquired excessive caution) some western historians (like D.M. Glantz ) suppose the presence of some other Soviet strategic operation ("Jupiter") in which "Mars" operation had to develop. If one plays with figures such a plan can't be a fantasy, but Army Group Center's frontline shape does not give foundation for a large-scale operation having the aim of anything more than cutting off the Rzhev Salient. If the plan of the "Saturn" operation (isolating Army Group "A" ) might cause much more of a catastrophe on the whole southern flank, an operation in the center even in the best case could not develop into anything more than a deep penetration into the German defense. Nevertheless many of the German and Western historians name Rzhev a corner stone of all the "Eastern front". To some degree the pompous names of soviet formations which took part in the battle make contributions to this. But Soviet tank or mechanised corps of that time were approximately equal to a German panzer division*4. Also it should be mentioned that even fresh Soviet rifle divisions (having a staff of 12,000 men ) in reality had ~10,000 men. Usually frontline divisions had ~4,000-7,000 men. On the contrary, the German command preferred to keep its divisions' staff near full strength. As a result, a soviet division was approximately equal to a German rifle regiment. Separate Tank Brigade had less strength than a German Tank Battalion. To take this into account, the innumerable hordes of Red's, so favourable in Western and particularly in German memoirs, are disappearing like a smoke.

But the main thing is that according to SCCR and General Staff's intention the Rzhev offensive was ONLY to be a diversion! But this was so much of a secret that even Marshal Zhukov didn't know about this. Stalin decided to stake everything and to sacrifice the lesser to take the greater. The Stalingrad offensive was the key battle, so the "Mars" operation initially was planed as a price for the Stalingrad Victory.

The German General Staff clearly realised that the time of a new Soviet winter offensive was upcoming. South and Central directions were considered to be the most dangerous. But the Germans were hesitating - the most realistic direction was the Southern one as less powerful Hungarian and Italian troops were deployed there. But the most dangerous zone was estimated to be the Central one*5. It should be noted that German intelligence agency simply missed the concentration of the soviet troops in Don area, so the German command was waiting for ONLY a SEPARATE blow against Rostov which could be easily parried. The possibility of an envelopment operation was not even examined.

On November 8, Hitler received a report from R. Gelen, the head of the Russian Department of the Intelligence Service (the founder of West Germany's counterespionage agency in the future). There the Rzhev Salient was reported to have been chosen by Soviet SCCR as the main aim of a new offensive, according to intelligence reports. According to the documents of OKW that was the very wary document. Later Gelen claimed that he had especially focused attention on the Rzhev Salient. He had reasons for doing this. As a matter of fact on Nov. 04, Abwehr got a message about the preparing of a Soviet offensive in Rzhev sector. It claimed the offensive was to start on Nov. 15.

This information had to be so valuable as it had been received from agent "Maks" working as a communication officer in the Soviet General Staff. Later "Maks" was awarded an Iron Cross with Swords. Gelen noted that information of this agent was always exact and extremely valuable. It was really the truth, as all the information for him had been prepared directly in the Soviet General Staff and been approved by one of its leaders - S. Shtemenko. In reality "Maks" was an NKVD agent "Geine" - lieutenant Alexey Demyanov.

One of the leaders of the Soviet Intelligent Service - P. Sudoplatov in his book "Spetsoperatsii. Lubyanka i Kreml, 1930 - 1950" (translation: "Special Operations. Lubyanka and Kremlin, 1930s - 1950s") was writing: "...Zhukov, who had been kept unaware of this operation, dearly-paid for it. In the Rzhev offensive thousands of our soldiers were killed. In his memoirs he was writing that the result of this operation had been unacceptable. But he never knew that Germans had been warned about this offensive and that's why they concentrated such force there...".

The Germans noticed Soviet reserve movement near Rzhev (e.g. tank formations). It was not strange, because these movements were carried out almost without any masking. On the contrary, preparations for the Stalingrad operation was top secret. That's why the Germans made ready for Zhukov's offensive. In October- November Army Group "Center" , in total, received 16 divisions, both had been taken away from Germany and the inactive frontline zones. Mostly they were deployed on the northern flank of the Army Group.

The Opponents Assets at the Commencement of the Operation

The 39th Panzer Corps/9th German Army (5th Panzer, 78th, 102nd Rifle Divisions) were opposed to the Soviet 20th and 31st Armies along Osuga and Vazuza rivers (parallel to Sychevka - Rzhev railroad). 9th Panzer Division and 95th Rifle Division were deployed behind 39th Corps as a reserve. On the western side of Rzhev Salient, 41st German Panzer Corps together with the 1st Panzer Division and "GrossDeutchland" Motorised Rifle Division as a reserve behind it, was opposed to the 22nd and 41st Soviet Armies. 23rd Infantry Corps (110th and 206th Rifle Division, 14th Motorised Rifle Division), was deployed more to the North. Reserves assigned for repulsing the Soviet offensive were deployed in the southern side of the salient. These were three tank divisions (12th, 19th, 20th). Even if the "Mars" operation succeeded they were out of the path of the blow and found themselves outside the encirclement. At the same time they could be easily transferred both to the western and to the eastern salient sides.


The long-awaited Soviet winter offensive started in the Don area on Nov. 19, the troops of the left flank of the South-Western front attacked the 3rd Romanian Army and 48th Panzer Corps. The German's reaction was a surprisingly calm. The offensive of the Stalingrad front, started the next day was left imperceptible. On Nov., 23, the requital came - German troops were surrounded. Two days later another long-awaited Soviet offensive started in the center.

Operations of the Western and Kalinin fronts started in three directions simultaneously. The 20th and 31st Armies of the Western Front attacked the Eastern face of Rzhev Salient North to the town of Zubtsov. Their operational zone had 40km width along Vazuza and Osuga rivers. The 22nd and 41st Armies of Kalinin Front struck a blow in the opposite direction from the Western face. The 3rd Shock Army of the Kalinin Front attacked the Northern flank of the Army Group "Center", trying to envelop Velikiye Luki and cross the lateral road Leningrad - Vitebsk.

A heavy fog and snow in the blow zone of the 20th and 31th Armies reduced the effectiveness of artillery bombardment. But it made possible to approach German positions almost without losses for them. Nevertheless, the first attack of the 31rd Army had no success. Its 88th, 336th, 239th Rifle Divisions, accompanied by the 332nd and 145th Tank Brigades at the high cost achieved only a small success.

Further south the 20th Army achieved a more valuable success - the 247th Rifle Division (G.D. Mukhin), accompanied by 80th and 240th Tank Brigades crossed Vazuza river and captured the beachhead on its Western side. Gen. -Major Kirjukhin (Army commander) immediately sent into this breach his reserve - the 331st Rifle Division (Col. P.E. Beresotv). Under the heavy German fire these troops were slowly expanding this beachhead.

Later both the German and Western historians will be delighted with the firmness of the German 78th and 102nd Rifle Divisions and 5th Tank Division, opposed to the two Soviet Armies offensive. But they maintain a discreet silence on the German troops strength. Actually the Soviet armies contained 6 Rifle Divisions (88th, 336th, 239th / 31st Army, 326th, 42nd, 251st/20th Army) and 4 tank Brigades. reserves included Mechanised Corps and Cavalry Corps (the latter had only 10,000 manpower). Really, the Soviet troops had evident advantage in tanks, but the Soviet infantry strength in the best case was nearly equal to the 39th German Corps.

Soon it became clear that the break-through also failed in the 20th Army's zone. Nevertheless, Zhukov and the Western Front command decided to send reserves and mobile group forward immediately, not waiting for the breakthrough formation. In the early morning of November, 26, the 8th Guards Infantry Corps (26th Guards Rifle Division and (admittedly) 148th and 150th Rifle Brigades), 6th Tank Corps and 2nd Cavalry Corps started re-deployment on the beachhead. But there were only two roads that had been well zeroed in by the Germans. So the columns of two hundred tanks, 30,000 men and 10,000 cavalrymen were hit by the massive enemy artillery fire and had losses before joining the battle. Only at mid day of November 26 did the troops of the 6th Tank Corps (Col. P.M. Arman, 22nd, 100th, 200th Tank Brigades, 6th Motorised Rifle Brigade - 170 tanks) finish their re-deployment. Three divisions of the 2nd Gds. Cavalry Corps (Gen. Major V.V. Krjukov) were forced to stay on the eastern riverside till the next day.

The advanced detachment - 22nd Tank Brigade immediately was thrown into the attack. At the end of the day its 2nd Battalion crossed the Rzhev-Sychevka railroad in the vicinty of Lozhky village. The 100th and 200th brigades also reached the railroad, and had captured Podosinovka and Grinjovka villages. But the losses of all three brigades mounted up to ~50% of their tanks and manpower.

The new offensive started on November 28. That time the Germans reserves had arrived (9th Panzer Division and the troops of 27th Infantry Corps). But Arman's tanks broke through the Germans defense like a knife through butter. The Cavalry group on horseback followed them in spite of a heavy artillery shrapnel fire. At the end of the day they had penetrated 20 km into the German defences and crossed the Rzhev-Sychevka highway. The headquarters of three units of the 9th German Army were routed. Two German artillery regiments were eliminated (one standing on positions and two on the march). Rear depots also were captured. But the infantry, concentrated on the beachhead couldn't enter into the breakthrough. Besides the amount of artillery in the beachhead was too low. On the contrary, the Germans managed to form a strong artillery group.

The 9th Panzer Division immediately started attacks to the North along the Rzhev highway, trying to cut off the Soviet breakthrough group. At night November 29, Zhukov ordered the rifle divisions on the beachhead to continue enlarging its territory and the shock group to proceed the offensive in the Western direction towards 22nd and 41st Armies.

The Kalinin Front (half as strong as the Western one) had to perform an offensive into two divergent directions (against Rzev and Velikiye Luki). Nevertheless it had greater success. The 41st Army (Gen.-Major F.G. Tarasov) performed the offensive directly against Belyi and 22nd Army (Gen. - Major V.A. Yushkevich) was striking more to the North, along Luchesa river. At the morning November 25, the troops of the 6th Infantry Corps (Gen.- Major I.I. Popov, 150th Rifle Division and four Rifle Brigades) in spite of a snowstorm and territory of little use for the offensive (frozen swamps covered by a stunted forest) had broken the German defense started enveloping Belyi, trying to cross the highway on Dukhovshchina. Been informed about that fact, General Tarasov ordered the advance of the 1st Mechanised Corps (Gen. Solomatin, 65th, 219th Tank Brigades, 19th, 35th, 37th Mechanised Brigades - 15,200 men, 224 tanks including 10 KV, 119 T-34, 95 T-70). Heavy woods lay beyond the swamps, but on the evening of November 27, the advance guards of 65th and 219th Tank brigades crossed the Belyi-Vladimirskoye road. That was the main communication of the 41st Panzer Corps (Gen. J. Garpe). So the break-through in the German defense was formed having 20km width and 30 km depth. But the infantry of the 41st Army had almost no automobiles (especially cross-country vehicles), and unfortunately remained behind the tanks. In the bottleneck between Belyi and Demakhi, the situation was much worse. Instead of following the tanks, General Tarasov tried to envelop Belyi from the south with the forces of the 150th Rifle Division. Soviet troops couldn't break the defense of the German 146th*6Division even though they were attacking only on the frontline of one its regiments (Germans forces were allocated uniformly as they had no information about what defense zone will be attacked). Even introducing the reserves (91st Rifle Brigade and 19th Mechanised Brigade from Solomatin's Corps) couldn't change the situation. So the defense of the 146th*6 Rifle Division withstood the onslaught. And on the morning of November, 26, the German reserves arrived in that region. they were 113th Motorised Rifle Regiment /1st Panzer Division and Fusilier Regiment/"GrossDeutchland" Motorised Rifle Division. The other troops of the 1st Panzer Division were thrown against Solomatin's two tank brigades who had crossed the Belyi-Vladimirskoye road.

On November 27, Solomatin asked Tarasov for reinforcement. At that time the 41st Army reserve consisted of the 47th and 48th Mechanised Brigades*7. Each of them was equipped with 39 tanks and was almost equal to a German tank battalion. But instead of introducing them into the breakthrough Tarasov decided to envelop the Germans to the north. The 47th Brigade (Col. I.F. Dremov) was introduced to the northern battle for the town of Belyi to lock the inner circle around the town. On November 29, Dremov managed to envelop the town from the east and reach the Bely-Vladimirskoye highway where they were forced to stop.

The 22nd Army (Gen. Yushkevich) attacked along Luchesa valley, North of the 41st Army. It consisted of the 3rd Mechanised Corps, 185th and 238th Rifle Divisions, 114th Rifle Brigade. On November 28, the 238th Rifle Division (Col. I.V. Karpov) and two regiments of the 185th Rifle Division (Col. M.F. Andrjushchenko) supported by one tank brigade of the 3rd Mech. Corps (Gen.-Major M.E. Katukov) broke through the German defense between the 86th Rifle Division/41st Panzer Corps and the 110th Rifle Division/23rd Infantry Corps. In the next two days general Yushkevich introduced the whole 3rd Mech Corps into the battle and forced the German troops out of the Luchesa river valley. Then the offensive was stopped as the German command transferred there the last rifle regiment from the "GrossDeutchland" Motorised Rifle Division. In responce, Yushkevich utilized his last reserves - the 114th Rifle Brigade and 39th Tank Regiment (from Katukov's corps). Thus the initial success was fixed, but the further advance to cross Olenino-Belyi highway was stopped.

At the same time the 39th Army of the Kalinin Front (Gen.-Major A.I. Zygin) was attacking the positions of the German 23rd German Infantry Corps from the North. It had 373rd, 135th, 158th Rifle Divisions, 100th, 117th, 136th, 101st Rifle Brigades, 28th, 81st Tank Brigades and three separate Tank Regiments. They were opposed by the 253rd, 206th Rifle Divisions and 14th Motorised Rifle Division reinforced by a few battalions from the "GrossDeutchland" "fire-brigade". As the blow of the 39th Army was considered to be only an auxiliary one, this Army had no reserves. So it failed to break through the German defense. On its left flank (in the Molodoy Tud settlement vicinity) the offensive had been stopped by the "GrossDeutchland" units (which immediately were transferred then to the South into the Luchesa valley). Having advanced 5 km, the units of the 100th Rifle Brigade were forced to retreat. The offensive on the right flank (on the joint with the 22nd Army) also was developed too slowly. So General Zygin couldn't fulfil his task to cross Olenino-Rzhev highway.

At that time the troops of the right flank of the Kalinin Front had acheived a partial success. On November 28 the formations of the 3rd Shock Army enveloped Velikiye Luki from two sides. The main forces of the 83rd German Rifle Division (~7,000 men) were surrounded. The situation in the other offensive zones were much worse, especially in the zone of the Western Front. Although the advance of the 20th Army was going very badly (its supporting units and transport had remained behind and couldn't enter the break-through together with the frontline units), Zhukov insisted on the continuation of attacks. On the night of November 28-29, the Germans performed strong counter-blows against the Soviet troops. The 27th Infantry Corps attacked from the north and the 39th Panzer Corps from the south.

As a result, the 22nd, 200th Tank Brigades, the Battalion of the 6th Motorised Rifle Brigade, the residuals of the 1st Bicycle-Motorcycle Brigade and some separate Cavalry units were encircled to the West of the Rzhev-Sychevka railroad.

Initially their position seemed not to be dangerous. On November 29 the command of the 6th Tank Corps even could manage to break through to the encircled troops on tanks. They sent a radio where it was reported that the vanguard troops had captured a large amount of German war materials and would never retreat. Also they asked for resupply of their ammunition and more support. But the Germans had concentrated too much force at the bottleneck and were rapidly fortifying it. So on November 30, the Front Commander ordered the troops of the 6th Tank Corps to break the encirclement in the vicinity of Maloye Kropotovo. But the Germans were waiting for the attack just there. Soviet tanks managed to capture Maloye Kropotovo, but the infantry, attacking from the east was stopped. So it was decided to break through against Bolshoye Kropotovo. The 100th Tank Brigade was attacking from outside the encirclement. In this fight the commanders of the 200th Tank Brigade (Col. V.P. Vinokurov) and 6th Mechanised Brigade (Btln. Comissar E.F. Rybalko) were killed. In spite of it on the morning of December 1 the encircled units reunited with the main forces.

Both brigades lost most of their vehicles, but managed to save the staff. In the 20th Cavalry Division (Col. Kursakov) the situation was much worse. It failed to break the encirclement in the eastern direction and was forced to do it in the west where the German covering forces were much weaker. After a month of raiding through the Germans rear about 1,000 cavalrymen reinforced by partisans (about 30% of initial strength) reached the Luchesa valley and reunited with the 22nd Army.

In the meantime the situation in the 41st Army's zone became more complicated. The Germans 41st Panzer Corps was reinforced by three panzer divisions. On December 1st, Solomatin's Corps was forced to stop attacks and go on the defensive in the face of the superior enemy forces. Between December 2 - 6, the 1st Panzer Division accompanied by the fresh 12th Panzer Division recovered control of the Belyi-Vladimirskoye road. The 47th Tank Brigade (Col. I. Dremov) which had been outflanking the town from the south-east was surrounded itself and needed to break through the encirclement (The Germans loudly reported about its elimination). At December 07 the fresh 30th German Panzer Corps (19th, 20th Panzer Divisions) and the other formations of the 41st Panzer Corps (the 1st Panzer Division and other Corps units) started the counter-offensive. At that time the Germans had sesquialteral advantage either in the infantry and tanks*8. As usual, the German historians explain the low speed both of the concentration of the forces and the counter-offensive by the weather conditions (thaw, frost, terrible weather) and partisans.

Only on December 10, did the Germans manage to achieve a serious success. The forces of the 1st Mechanised Corps (Gen. Solomatin) which had deeply wedged into the German defense was surrounded. Three of Solomatin's brigades (out of five total) and some units of the 6th Rifle Corps found themselves within the encirclement. The 41st Army Commander General Tarasov could do nothing as his reserves had been used long ago. On the left flank the 22nd Army of General Yushkevich also was forced to take on the defensive, repelling the violent German counter-attacks. The 39th Army slowly was moving by its right flank, but soon it also was stopped. Both sides reached the classical trench deadlock in the manner of the World War I.

For several days Solomatin's surrounded troops were desperately fighting in the encirclement. They had built a strong defense and repelled all the attacks of the four German Divisions. It was still not a catastrophe, but it was rather not far from it as the surrounded troops had no fuel and had a lack of ammunition and food. Therefore on the night of December 15-16 Solomatin was forced to start the breakout. He ordered the destruction of all the remaining vehicles and heavy weapons, concentrated his forces and broke the encirclement to the west. On the next day the corps joined the main force of the 41st Army. Solomatin managed to save all his wounded and ill men. According to the German data the soviet troops lost 102 armored vehicles. Solomatin reported that his corps lost in the encirclement ~8,000 men (out of 12,000) killed and wounded and 150 tanks.

The best situation occurred in the Velikiye Luki vicinity. On December 10, the 2nd Mechanised Corps/3rd Shock Army moved forward 30-40 km and at last crossed the Leningrad-Vitebsk railroad. Novosokolniky was enveloped from three sides. But further advance was stopped. The attempts of Germans to relieve the garrison of Velikiye Luki also failed although the German command detached for this two panzer divisions, one motorised rifle division and one motorised rifle brigade. The German tanks managed to come to within 10 km of the town, but had been stopped and then thrown back.

In the first days of December Zhukov tried to achieve a success at the Eastern side of the Rzhev Salient. The 20th Army was reinforced. Between December 2-10 Kiryukhin received the 5th Tank Corps and several units from the 31st Army. The 6th Tank Corps had been moved out of the battle and for 10 days was reinforcing and repairing vehicles. At the beginning of the next offensive it had 100 tanks (7 KV, 64 T-34, 12 T-70, 17 T-60)*9 concentrated in the 22nd and 100th brigades which had the least losses.

On 10:00, December 11, the new offensive started. It also failed. The 5th and 6th Mechanised Corps*10 had reached Maloye Kropotovo where they were stopped. In previous days the Germans had concentrated their forces and restored their frontline. But the price for Germans also was very high. K.Tippelskirkh wrote in his "History of the World War II": "...The break through was prevented only with the help of a three tank and several rifle divisions which had been just prepared for the redeployment to the South. They were used initially for the break-through localisation and then for the counter blow..."

To the middle of December the Soviet offensive near Vazuza was exhausted. In the west on January 13, the 83rd German Rifle Division (4,000 men) who defended Velikiye Luki was forced to surrender at last. Hereon the fights in the Western and Kalinin Fronts were finished until March 1943 when Kluge and Model decided to abandon the Rzhev Salient.


What were the results of the "Mars" operation then? From the one side the Soviet offensive totally failed. All attacks of the Western Front were repelled. The troops of the Kalinin Front achieved a small success - moved up to 10-20 km. The losses were rather big - but not so great as the Western historians writes*11. But in any case there were no choice for the Soviet troops, as they had to attack the well fortified enemy defense, who had been informed about the offensive and had thoroughly prepared for repelling of it.

And the main task is the fact that the forces of the attacking side and defending one were approximately equal. Five Soviet armies took an active part in the offensive*12 obtained 21 nominal rifle divisions (~500,000 manpower, including mechanised units, reserves and rear units*13). Four Soviet tank and mechanised corps, eight tank brigades, three separate tank regiments had 1150-1200 tanks.

The German opponents had four corps (39th, 41st Panzer Corps, 23rd, 30th Infantry Corps, seven panzer divisions, one motorised rifle division). By staff they had ~1200 tanks (approximately 25% on the whole Soviet-German front). Its strength (8-10 Rifle Divisions) may be estimated to be ~500,000 men.

It's very hard to estimate losses of the both sides. To be exact in the Western sources there are no data both for the German troops' strength and for their losses. Almost the same situation is with the Soviet losses. In [2] collection, the offensive of the Western and Kalinin Fronts (November-December 1942) is even not named. But using the indirect figures from this book we can calculate the total Soviet losses on all fronts which didn't took part in the Stalingrad and the Caucasus battles for the last three months of 1942 to be ~500,000 men (including ~150,000 killed and missed) (excluding Velikiye Luki operation)*14. Taking into account that not in all named front zones (Karelian, Leningrad, Volkhov, North-Western, Kalinin, Western, Bryans, Voronezh) there was a lull in the last three months of 1942 (that time the Sinyavino operation was finishing and a bloody fights for Voronezh took place), one can suppose that the total losses of the Western and Kalinin Fronts in the Rzhev battle happened to be ~250,000 men (including ~120,000 killed and missed) for the three weeks of the offensive.

The calculated figures based on the losses of the 31st Army are still less. As the losses of that army (58,524 men) were one of the most serious ones and makes up not less than one third of the total losses of the shock group, the total amount of killed and missed staff couldn't exceed 180,000 - 200,000 men. i.e. it's three times less than the figures been cited in the Western papers. One can suppose that the Soviet troops irretrievably lost not less than 2/3 from the total amount of tanks utilized in this offensive (i.e. ~800)*15.

At first glance it was at least a tactical success for the German troops. But we should mention, that for achieving of that insignificant success the German Command was forced to use the enormous reserves which were vitally necessary at the South flank of the frontline. This is especially so in the case of the tank formations. It's true that the total amount of tanks utilized by both sides was approximately equal, but taking into account the total tank ratio (5080 German tanks vis. 7350 Soviet ones) such situation acted in the Soviet commands favour. And the main feature- the German belt roads were much worse than Soviet ones, so the Soviet reserves from the Western Front zone were redeployed nearby Stalingrad as early as in the middle of December, while the German ones - only in January - February.

So, while it achieved the tactical success (rather small), the German Command lost strategicly. Having the mean ratio between the Soviet and German troops as great as 1.3 : 1, the Soviet Command drew the opponent into the insignificant battle of the equal forces, i.g. it got the better ratio in the main direction - Stalingrad. Besides, the Soviet Command created the better conditions for themselves for reserve manoeuvring and won a tempo, taking the lead over the Germans by a 1-1.5 months. And on the other hand it forced the German Command to use its tank formations in a defense that also can be considered to be a significant success.

The German Command realised that the Soviets had played a trick with them too late. In the end of February, the Commander of the 9th German Army - General Model was ordered to abandon the Rzhev Salient to reduce the frontline, but it was too late.


Both authors occurred to use the data from the same source - [2]. There is much background for arguing around these figures, as it's really a hard task to get a full statistic of the Soviet losses both in whole the War and in a specific operation. My task was to present an alternative look on the battle results.

*1 - Total losses of the troops of Moscow defense zone for 1942 - 2,873 men (1,166 death-roll, including 790 in fatal accidents).

*2. - The 29th Army almost didn't take part in combats.

*3 - The 6th Tank Corps had 170 tanks (temporary commander P.M. Arman). In 2nd Gds. Cav. Corps - 10,000 men in three divisions. (Commander V.V. Krjukov)

*4 - to be exact it had a more tanks, but much less infantry. Also it should be mentioned that 30-40% of soviet tanks were a light ones (T-60, T-70) while German Pz. II, Pz. 35(t), Pz 38(t) had been taking away from frontline.

*5 - At least by Army's Group "Center" Command and German OKH intelligence agency.

*6 - As in [1]. According to Glantz and other sources, it was the 246th Rifle Division who held Belyi sector with a reserve Separate 41st Infantry Regiment (AMVAS)

*7 - As in the text. Must be "Tank Brigades" (AMVAS)

*8 - One rifle division, four rifle, four tank and three motorised rifle brigades (~45,000 manpower and 302 tanks) vis. 4.5 panzer division and one rifle division. By staff ~90,000 manpower and 600-700 tanks.

*9 - Some of them were received as reinforcement. The 200th Tank Brigade had lost all vehicles was reinforced by 23 tanks only in the evening of December 11 and joined the battle later.

*10- as in original. (AMVAS)

*11 - D.M. Glantz in his paper "Operation "Mars"" takes the total losses of the 20th Army (58,524 men), multiply it by five (total number of armies, took part in the offensive) and just for making sure additionally by two. At least there are no way to explain the number of the Soviet losses (500,000 wounded and killed) which he quotes.

*12 - The 29th and 30th Armies/Western Front deployed in Rzhev region almost didn't took part in the battle.

*13 - Unfortunately this figure is calculated only. It's based on the 20th Army's strength (114,000 men). Approximately one third of the forces out of total, which were used in the operation belonged to that army (six Rifle Divisions, one Tank Corps, one Cavalry Corps, four tank brigades, without units transferred from the 31st Army in December).

*14 - The total Soviet losses on all fronts from October till December 1942 consisted of 1,458,000 men including 516,000 killed and 942,000 wounded. The total Soviet losses in all strategic and front-scale operations for this period were ~780,000 men, including ~300,000 killed and missed. Correspondingly, the losses of the other fronts in this period happened to be ~670,000 men, including 216,000 killed, captured, died from diseases. At the same time the number of ill men is equal to 170,000 and died in hospitals from wounding and diseases - 70,000 (both figures were not taken into account in the total losses of fronts).

*15 - D. Glantz quotes the Soviet losses equal to 1700 tanks, using the same multiplier - two.


SCCR - Supreme Command-in-Chief

OKH - German Land Forces Obver Command

OKW- Wermaht Obver Command

Abver - German Intelligence Service


1. V. Goncharov. in the book N. K. Popel "Tanki povernuli na zapad" Moscow, 2001. pp 433 - 453.

(Title translation: "The Tanks Turned to the West"

2. "Grif Sekretnosti Snyat. Poteri Vooruzhennykh Sil SSSR v Voinakh, Boevykh Deystviyakh i Voennykh Konfliktah. Statisticheskoye Issledovaniye"/Ed. G.F. Krivosheev, Moscow, Voenizdat, 1993

(Title translation - "Classification Secret Removed: losses of the armed forces of the USSR in wars, combat operations, and military conflicts", 1st Edition/Ed. G.F. Krivosheev, Moscow: Voenizdat, 1993)