The Russian operations Mars (Kalinin front)


Text from:

The Failures of Historiography: Forgotten Battles of the German-Soviet War (1941-1945)



Counterpoint to Stalingrad, operation Mars: November-december 1942: Marshal Zhukovís Greatest Defeat.

By David M. Glantz,




All readers and historians know about the course and outcome of the Soviet Stalingrad counteroffensive, code-named Operation "Uranus." Most know about the subsequent planning for and conducting of Operations "Saturn" and "Little Saturn" against German and Italian forces along the middle Don River. Few, however, know about the remaining "celestial" operation, code-named "Mars," and its probable companion piece, perhaps code-named "Jupiter." "Mars" remains an enigma, noticed by the most astute of Western and German observers, but ignored by all but a handful of Soviet sources. Contemporary to operation "Uranus," unlike their successful counterpart, "Mars" and "Jupiter" have been dismissed and forgotten.


Two factors differentiated operation "Uranus" from operation "Mars." First, at Stalingrad Soviet armies chose Rumanian sectors in which to conduct their initial penetration operations, and they penetrated Rumanian defenses rather easily. At Rzhev, however, experienced German divisions (like the 102d) were dug into well-prepared defenses. Unlike the case at Stalingrad, the Germans also had 5th Panzer Division deployed in defenses opposite Konev's main assault.


Second, at Stalingrad the Germans had burned up their armor in city fighting and had only two panzer divisions in reserve (22d and 1st Rumanian).

At Rzhev, however, German Ninth Army had four mobile divisions in their immediate operational reserve (1st and 9th Panzer, and Grossdeutschland and 14th Panzer Grenadier) and three other panzer divisions (9th, 19th, and 20th) within striking distance in a matter of days. This spelled doom for the Soviet offensive.


One other marked characteristic differentiates Operations "Uranus" and "Saturn" from Operations "Mars" and "Jupiter." The former were fully recorded by historians; the latter were not!


Operation "Mars": The Rzhev-Sychevka operation (25 November-December 1942)


The Russian attack was lead by General G.K. Zhukov.

G. K. Zhukov notes the existence of operation "Mars' in his memoirs, and he apparently played a major role in its planning and conduct, along with the two participating front commanders, I. S. Konev, and M. A. Purkaev. Konev's memoirs, which begin in January 1943, ignore this operation and others he participated in before 1943. Zhukov reveals the general parameters of the plan, which called for the destruction of German forces in the Rzhev salient. Then, after returning to his description of the Stalingrad victory, he briefly mentions the failure at Rzhev and dismisses the operation as simply a diversion, although it began on 25 November (five days after the commencement of the Stalingrad operation and one day after the encirclement of German Sixth Army) and continued through mid-December.

These sources, taken alone, indicate that a modest operation occurred, perhaps diversionary in nature and that at least three armies (22d, 41st, and one Western Front army), supported by up to four mobile corps (1st and 2d Mechanized, 2d Guards Cavalry, and 6th Tank Corps), and took part in the operation. These forces were of significant, but not overwhelming size.


German archival intelligence and operational reports, however, cast the operation in a vastly different light. German Ninth Army records affirm that the Kalinin Front's 22d, and 41st Armies, supported by 1st and 3d Mechanized Corps, participated in the operation. But according to these records, so also did the front's 39th Army, and subordinate to 41st Army was the elite Stalin 6th Rifle Corps.. Moreover, three other Western Front armies (20th, 31st, and 30th) also took part, supported at various times by 5th, 6th, and 8th Tank Corps, and 2d Guards Cavalry Corps. At the same time, immediately to the west, 3d Shock Army struck at German forces at Velikie Luki and achieved success (which Soviet historians have reported on in detail). Further, 2d Mechanized Corps was available to support either 41st Army operations against Belyi or 3d Shock Army (which it ultimately supported). Detailed German order of battle reports indicate that the Soviet mobile forces were at or well above establishment armored strength and that offensive preparations had been thorough





photo: Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov

Website about Zhukov:



At Stalingrad, the Soviets committed six armies (5th Tank, 21st, 65th, 24th, 57th, and 51st), containing or supported by nine mobile corps (1st, 26th, 4th, 16th, and 13th Tank; 4th Mechanized, and 8th, 3d Guards, and 4th Cavalry Corps), against German Sixth and part of Fourth Panzer Army and Rumanian Third and Fourth Armies of Army Group B, while 62d and 64th Armies defended in the city. In the Rzhev-Sychevka operation, Zhukov committed six armies (41st, 22d, 39th, 30th 31st, and 20th), supported by up to seven mobile corps (1st, 2d, and 3d Mechanized, 5th, 6th, and 8th Tank, and 2d Guards Cavalry Corps), against two thirds of German Ninth Army, while 3d Shock Army struck simultaneously at German Ninth Army elements at Velikie Luki, and three more Soviet armies (4th Shock, 43d, and 29th) protected the flanks. While armies are admittedly of varying size, Soviet forces at Rzhev were stronger than Soviet forces at Stalingrad and the correlation of forces at Rzhev was more favorable for the Soviet than in the south.


The situation


To understand the position of the German army during the Karl Lessig story, in short we will tell you the prehistory.

On June 22 1941 the German army invades Russia with 3.400.000 man under the codename Barbarossa. For further details about Barbarossa see other websiteís like:


Along three axes Hitler tried to conquer Russia. One ax in the North along the Baltic see to Leningrad. The second ax through the middle of Russia via Smolensk. This route was also followed by the 11th Infantry Regiment as we can see on the map below.


In red we can see the route of the 11th Infantry Regiment


The first weeks the attack was going very well because of the well trained German forces and the German tactic. The eventual targets (leningrad, Moskau,Stalingrad) were reached but never taken by the German forces. Only the suburbs would be taken.

At the beginning of December the German advance was really at its and. On December 6th a great number of Russian attacks begun. Within a month the German forces where struck back about 200-250 km.

As we can see on Map A the frontline was a very long capricious line sometimes with a length of 3000 to 4000 km. During 1942 around the city Rzhev a salient originated defended by the German 4th and 9th Army. Because of the heavy defense of the area around Rzhev the Russian forces did not succeed in penetrating the salient.





The attack


The Rzhev salient, a legacy of the chaotic fighting of winter 1941-42, which measured 150 x150 kilometers and which contained Army Group Center's powerful German Ninth Army, represented a dagger aimed at Moscow. Zhukov considered that German Army Group Center, whose forces were lodged in the Rzhev salient menacingly close to Moscow, posed the most serious threat to Moscow and the Soviet war effort. Therefore, argued Zhukov, the Soviet Union could best achieve strategic victory in 1942 by smashing German Ninth Army in the salient and, thereafter, all of German Army Group Center. But from his earlier combat experiences, Zhukov well understood that this would be no easy task. Zhukov conducted Operation mars in characteristic fashion. The Soviet assaults were massive and unsparing in manpower and material.


General Walter Model's German Ninth Army had erected strong defenses around the salient and had fortified all cities and towns along the salient's periphery, including the key cities of Rzhev, Belyi, and Sychevka. The Germans had fortified the rivers flanking the salient and had cleared timber from the main north-south and east-west roads and rail lines which traversed the salient. Zhukov and Model both understood that whoever controlled the roads would control the salient. Although heavy forests and swamps dominated the terrain in the salient's western and central regions, the Germans had cleared sufficient terrain to permit both firm defense and the maneuver of mobile tactical and operational reserves within it. In addition, by late October, the dirt roads and many rivers criss-crossing the salient should be frozen or close to frozen.








For the complete description of the execution of Operation Mars read this complete website:

Counterpoint to Stalingrad, operation Mars: November-december 1942: Marshal Zhukovís Greatest Defeat.