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PRELUDE TO KURSK: Soviet Strategic Operations February-March 1943

Written by David M.Glantz
Published on Sunday, 25 September 2005 20:01
Last Updated on
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Military historians have long credited German Field Marshal Eric von Manstein with staving off disaster on the German Eastern Front in the winter of 1943, when the Red Army was exploiting its unprecedented victory at Stalingrad. To do so, von Manstein had to overcome two seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The first was an obstinate Hitler who, failing to comprehend the magnitude of the Stalingrad catastrophe, refused to permit his generals to conduct a maneuver defense. The second was a Red Army, which, inspired by their Stalingrad victory, was poised to exploit that victory by attacking incessantly everywhere. Von Manstein mastered both obstacles, inflicted a stunning defeat on the advancing Soviet host and temporarily restored stability to the southern wing of the Germans’ Eastern Front.

History has fairly assessed that von Manstein’s feat was indeed remarkable and probably thwarted ambitious Soviet plans for achieving spectacular victory in southern Russia. New archival evidence, however, now indicates that von Manstein’s victory was far more important than previously believed. The evidence indicates that von Manstein’s victories in the Donets Basin (Donbass) and around Kharkov were far more significant than historians have previously supposed. This is so because Soviet strategic aims in the winter of 1943 went far beyond the defeat of German forces in southern Russia. Instead, the Soviet High Command (Stavka) sought nothing less than the complete collapse of German defenses across the entire Eastern Front.

A multitude of sound histories document Soviet strategic intentions in the winter of 1942–43 and the contributions von Manstein made to the restoration of German fortunes in the East1. These histories claim that the Stavka firmly believed they could exploit their Stalingrad victory, and they did so by conducting a winter campaign consisting of continuous offensive operations which endured from December 1942 to February 1943. Accordingly, the winter campaign developed in three distinct stages. First, in late November and early December, the Stavka tightened its encirclement ring around Stalingrad and successfully parried German attempts to relieve its forces beleaguered in the city. The Stavka did so by artfully maneuvering strategic and operational reserves (in particular, the 2d Guards Army) to block German relief attempts. Second, in mid-December, the Stavka launched a series of consecutive offensives aimed at clearing German and Allied forces from the south bank of the Don River and the southwestern approaches to Stalingrad. From 17 December 1942 through late January 1943, Red Army forces attacked and severely mauled the Italian Eighth, the Hungarian Second, and the German Second Armies in rapid succession. Although Soviet forces failed to seize and the isolate German Army Group ‛A“ in the Caucasus region, they did savage German and Allied forces along the Don River and tore a gaping hole in German defenses in southern Russia. The Stavka began the campaign’s third and culminating stage in late January 1943 by hurling massive forces (the Voronezh and Southwestern Fronts) westward into the Donbass and Kharkov regions. Their aim was to collapse remaining German defenses, reach the Dnieper River and Sea of Azov, and destroy German Army Group Don2. During the planning for this final stage, the Soviets added the city of Kursk to their formidable list of strategic objectives.

History has recorded that, in February 1943, increasingly threadbare Soviet forces, operating at the end of overextended logistical umbilicals, advanced with abandon into a trap set by von Manstein. Having obtained Hitler’s reluctant permission to resort to a maneuver defense, von Manstein then struck back. Skillfully regrouping and maneuvering his forces (in particular, his First and Fourth Panzer Armies and the newly arrived SS Panzer Corps), he launched twin brilliant counterstrokes. From 20 February through early March 1943, his forces smashed the overextended Soviet Southwestern Front and drove its remnants back to the Northern Donets River. Subsequently, from 6 through 23 March, von Manstein’s panzer corps struck the Voronezh Front’s overextended armies south of Kharkov. The furious attack collapsed the Soviet front, propelled German forces to Belgorod, and compelled the Stavka to abandon its ambitious winter campaign. The defeated and chastened Soviet forces erected hasty defenses along the Northern Donets River and along what would become the south face of the famous Kursk Bulge.

While historians have since argued over whether von Manstein’s forces could have done more in March 1943, they agree that this sequence of events set the stage, geographically and strategically, for the ensuing famous Battle of Kursk.

Already, some aspects of this conventional interpretation of the Soviet Winter Campaign require fundamental reassessment. For example, we now know that German relief efforts at Stalingrad were futile, since Paulus’s force had limited capabilities for breaking out and Soviet strategic deployments (principally of the 2d Guards Army) rendered breakout and linkup exceedingly unlikely. We also know that, in early December 1942, the Soviet High Command was already formulating plans to smash large elements of Army Group ‛B“, seize Rostov, and isolate and destroy Army Group ‛A“ (in Operation Saturn). However, Soviet miscalculation of German strength at Stalingrad forced alteration of this plan. We also now know that Soviet overconfidence and outright ineptitude, in particular regarding the interpretation of intelligence information, and not just Soviet force weakness conditioned von Manstein’s victories in the Donbass in February and March. Finally, we know that Marshal Zhukov, exultant over the success of the Soviet offensives, added Kursk to the list of Soviet objectives in late January.

Hence, historians have concluded that Soviet strategic planning throughout the winter of 1943 focused on the southwestern axis, the strategic line extending from the Don River north of Stalingrad through Kharkov and Voroshilovgrad to the Dnieper River and Sea of Azov. The campaign’s aim, they believe, was the total destruction of German Army Groups ‛A“, Don, and the southern wing of Army Group ‛B.“ This interpretation, however, ignores a second Soviet strategic axis that became equally important as the winter campaign developed. This new strategic axis extended from Voronezh through Kursk to Bryansk and beyond. Soviet military historians have written much about Soviet operations along this axis in January 1943. They have described in detail the January-February Voronezh-Kastornoe operation and provided a sketchy outline of the February operation to secure Kursk. There, however, Soviet accounts have abruptly ended, seemingly subsumed by the more important events taking place to the south.

German archival data and fragmentary accounts found in Soviet memoirs and unit histories have long indicated the increased importance of this strategic axis. Now newly released Soviet archival materials indeed reveal the vast scope of Soviet strategic ambitions in their Winter Campaign. In short, they sought nothing less than the defeat of German Army Group Center. In February 1943 the Stavka formulated and attempted to carry out strategic plans, which, if realized, would have torn German defenses in the East in two and hastened the collapse of the entire German Eastern Front. The fact that these planned Soviet offensives did not succeed elevates the significance of von Manstein’s successful counterstrokes to strategic proportions, specifically, to the stature of a strategic counteroffensive.

Soviet Strategic Planning (November 1942-February 1943)

In terms of its overall objectives, the Stavka’s strategic planning from spring 1942 through February 1943 was remarkably consistent. Long convinced of the vital importance of the Moscow axis, the Stavka concentrated its most powerful forces in that region in the spring of 1942. While accepting defense on the Moscow axis, Stalin impatiently attempted to regain the strategic initiative by conducting preemptive offensives at Kharkov and in the Crimea in May 1942. Both operations, however, ended in stark disaster. The subsequent German onslaught in southern Russia, which began on 28 June, surprised the Stavka but did not negate Soviet faith in the decisive importance of the Moscow axis. Henceforth, while the Stavka sought to halt and defeat German Army Group South (soon named ‛A“ and ‛B“), it also contemplated future offensive action along the Moscow axis.

In early July 1942, the Stavka launched the first of many attempts to halt the German juggernaut. In early July its new 5th Tank Army struck German forces advancing toward Voronezh on the Don River, but the attack failed. Late in the same month, the Stavka struck again with a coordinated attack by its reinforced 5th Tank Army west of Voronezh and its 1st and 4th Tank Armies in the great bend of the Don River along the distant approaches to Stalingrad. These attacks also failed, although at greater cost to the advancing Germans. Beginning in early August, the Stavka ordered a series of lesser counterattacks designed to halt the German advance and stabilize the front on the immediate approaches to Stalingrad3. While these Soviet counterstrokes unfolded in the south, the forces of Marshal Zhukov’s Western Direction launched counterstrokes against the Army Group Center’s defenses in the Rzhev salient (July-August) and against German defenses at Zhizdra north of Orel (July-August). Throughout this period, the Stavka never abandoned its hopes for renewed large-scale offensive operations both in the center and in the south.

German offensive momentum in the south was ebbing by late September 1942. Its forces were spread deeply into the Caucasus region, while the bulk of its powerful Sixth and Fourth Panzer Armies were locked in costly street fighting for the city of Stalingrad. Of necessity, the Germans deployed armies of its allies (Rumanians, Hungarians, and Italians) to defend their over-extended flanks along the Don River and south of Stalingrad. At this juncture the Stavka formulated plans for twin operations code-named MARS and URANUS, mutually supporting strategic offensives designed to envelop forward German armies in the Moscow (Ninth Army) and Stalingrad (Sixth Army) regions. Subsequently, expanded operations (JUPITER and SATURN) would damage or destroy German Army Groups Center and ‛B“4. Initially, MARS was scheduled for 28 October, and URANUS would follow. Poor weather, however, forced the Stavka to postpone MARS until 25 November.

The Soviets launched operation URANUS on 19 November 1942. Within days Soviet optimism soared as their forces linked up near Kalach-on-the-Don, encircling all of Sixth Army and the bulk of German Fourth Panzer Army. While pondering how to digest the encircled force whose size exceeded Soviet expectations, the Stavka ordered implementation of plan SATURN to seize Rostov and isolate Army Group ‛A“ in the Caucasus. However, heavier than expected combat on the approaches to Stalingrad and the prospect of German relief attempts toward Stalingrad prompted the Stavka to truncate operation SATURN into LITTLE SATURN, with correspondingly scaled-down objectives. Meanwhile, operation MARS had spectacularly aborted by the end of November. As a result, the strategic reserves earmarked for MARS now poured south in an expanding torrent where they could reinforce success. The stage was set for wholesale expansion of the Winter Campaign.

The Soviets conducted operation LITTLE SATURN from 16–29 December, at the same time the Germans were launching their ill-fated attempt to relieve Stalingrad from the southwest. LITTLE SATURN drew German operational reserves (XXXXVIII Panzer Corps) away from the German relief effort at the most critical moment and caused it to abort. In operation LITTLE SATURN and the subsequent Kotel’nikovo operation (24–30 December), Soviet forces destroyed Italian Eighth Army, defeated German LVII Panzer Corps’ attempt to relieve the Stalingrad garrison, and, even more importantly, threatened the safe withdrawal of German Army Group ‛A“ from the Caucasus.

Exploiting the success of the LITTLE SATURN and Kotel’nikovo operations, in early January the Stavka planned a new series of offensives. This time its targets were Hungarian and German forces defending northward along the Don River and the remnants of German and Rumanian forces now clinging desperately to the land bridge east of Rostov, through which Army Group ‛A“ would have to pass to reach the safety of German lines. The Voronezh Front conducted the first of these new offensives, the Ostrogozhsk-Rossosh’ operation, from 13–27 January 1943, severely damaging the Hungarian Second Army and creating an even wider gap in the German strategic defenses. Then, on 24 January, the Voronezh and Bryansk Fronts turned on German Second Army, which was defending the Voronezh sector of the once vaunted but now shattered German defense line along the Don River. In the ensuing Voronezh-Kastornoe operation, the German Second Army escaped encirclement, but just barely, and by 5 February Soviet forces were approaching Kursk and Belgorod5. At the same time, Soviet Southwestern and Southern Fronts’ forces unrelentingly pressed German forces back toward Rostov.

Even before the Voronezh-Kastornoe operation commenced, the Stavka was planning to expand the strategic offensive’s scope. While Soviet forces were advancing westward along the Voronezh and Rostov axes, on 20 and 23 January, the Stavka ordered the Voronezh and Southwestern Fronts to conduct two new operations code-named STAR and GALLOP, respectively. In STAR the Voronezh Front’s forces were to attack on 2 February, capture Kharkov, and, if conditions permitted, exploit as far as Kremenchug on the Dnieper River. In GALLOP the Southwestern Front’s forces were to advance on 29 January, seize Voroshilovgrad and Stallion, and reach Zaporozh’e on the Dnieper and Mariupol’ on the Sea of Azov. The Stavka’s strategic aim was nothing short of the destruction of already weakened German Army Group Don and the encirclement of German Army Group ‛A“ in the Rostov and Mius River regions.

The preparations for operations STAR and GALLOP established a new planning pattern for the Winter Campaign. Given the severe time constraints and the extremely fluid situation, the Stavka formulated its new operational plans from the march while current operations were being prepared or conducted. True to this pattern and because of the spectacular successes achieved by Soviet forces around Voronezh, on 26 January the Stavka added Kursk to the list of objectives to be captured in operation STAR.

At least initially, the twin operations developed spectacularly. By 6 February Soviet forces had created huge gaps in the Germans’ defenses north and south of Kursk and between Kharkov and Slavyansk and were approaching Kursk, Belgorod, Kharkov, Slavyansk, and Voroshilovgrad. Although both German First and Fourth Panzer Armies had escaped to Rostov, thus avoiding entrapment in the Caucasus, now Rostov too was threatened and soon abandoned6. It seemed to the Stavka that the German position around Kursk and Kharkov and in the Donbass would become untenable if Soviet forces could accelerate their offensive actions. More important still, it seemed as if the entire German defense in southern Russia was in jeopardy of collapse. If this was so, then German Army Group Center’s southern flank was also vulnerable. Given the damage Soviet forces had already inflicted on that army group during their failed MARS offensive in the fall, there was every reason to be optimistic about prospects for expanding the Winter campaign to encompass operations against Army Group Center.

At this juncture and for these reasons, the Stavka revived its strategic hopes that had been dashed by the Germans, first in the winter of 1941–1942 and later in November 1942. Believing victory in the south was assured, it began thinking of ways to expand that victory to embrace its old nemesis, Army Group Center.

Planning for Operations against Orel and Bryansk

Central to Soviet strategic planning in early February 1943 was the fact that the German Stalingrad garrison had surrendered on 2 February. This released to Stavka control six combined-arms armies and one air army of Colonel General K. K. Rokossovsky’s Don Front (the 21st, 24th, 62d, 64th, 65th, and 66th Armies, and the 16th Air Army), which could be used elsewhere along the front7. Although all had suffered losses in the fierce fighting around Stalingrad, they were blooded and experienced forces commanded by equally experienced and skilled command cadre. These armies required extensive refitting after almost two months of fighting in the Stalingrad region, but some of this refitting and reorganization had been carried out before and immediately after the German surrender. In addition to its Stalingrad armies, the Stavka retained other strategic reserves under its control, many of which had been raised during the Stalingrad fighting. The most important of these formations were the 2d Tank and 70th Armies. Lieutenant General A. G. Rodin’s 2d Tank Army was formed in January and early February 1943 on the base of the Bryansk Front’s 3d Reserve Army and then assigned to the Bryansk Front’s reserve. Lieutenant General G. F. Tarasov’s 70th Army, which was formed between October 1942 and early February 1943 and which consisted of NKVD border guards and internal security forces from the Far Eastern, Central Asian, and Transbaikal Military Districts, was now also available for Stavka use. These fresh forces played a vital role in the Stavka plans for an expanded offensive.

The central feature of the Stavka’s expanded culminating stage of the Winter Campaign was a three-phase strategic offensive, which would ultimately encompass the forces of four fronts. The first phase, planned to begin on 12 February, would capitalize on the Bryansk Front’s success in the Voronezh-Kastornoe operation and its capture of Kursk (on 8 February). Between 12 and 17 February, the combined forces of the Western and Bryansk Fronts were to encircle and destroy German forces in the salient formed east of Orel. All the while, the Central Front’s armies would assemble in the Fatezh region west of Kursk. In the second phase, planned for 17 and 25 February, the new Central Front, spearheaded by its tank army and a cavalry-rifle group, would capture crossings over the Desna River near Novgorod-Severskii and Trubchevsk, while the Western and Bryansk Fronts’ forces would clear German forces from the Bryansk region. Finally, during the operation’s third phase, planned to begin on 25 February, the Kalinin Front’s forces would attack through Vitebsk to link up with Central Front forces near Orsha on the Dnieper River. These two fronts, together with the Western and Bryansk Fronts, would then capture Smolensk and complete the destruction of German Army Group Center by mid-March. The Stavka timed the entire offensive to coincide with the Voronezh and Southwestern Fronts’ operations, which it assumed would be successful. By mid-March the Stavka expected its forces to reach the Dnieper River line from Vitebsk in the north to Dnepropetrovsk and the Sea of Azov in the south.

Obviously, General Rokossovsky’s new Central Front would play a vital role in realization of this offensive’s ambitious goals. Marshal A. M. Vasilevsky, then Deputy Chief of the General Staff, recalled:

While discussing the situation in the south and reckoning that the complete defeat of the Paulus’ grouping was merely a matter of days, the Stavka of the Supreme High Command was thinking about the subsequent use of the Don Front’s forces, which were being freed up from Stalingrad. After numerous conversations between the Supreme Commander and leading figures at the Center and in the fronts, yet another decision had matured at the end of January and beginning of February: besides the operations in the south, to conduct a series of large-scale offensive operations linked together by a single strategic concept and plan, with the aim of defeating the main forces of German Army Group Center. First of all, the concept envisioned the defeat of the German’s 2d Panzer Army in the Orel region by the Bryansk Front and the Western Front’s left flank. Then, having brought the former Don Front’s forces forward and having renamed it the Central Front, develop the offensive and reach the rear area of the enemy’s Rzhev-Vyazma grouping by a blow through Bryansk toward Smolensk, in conjunction with the Kalinin and Western Fronts’ forces, and resolve the projected missions. A concrete plan of action was drawn up, and, in the early part of February, the Stavka issued directives to the fronts involved8.
Accordingly, the Stavka issued the following order to Rokossovsky, the commander of the Don Front, on 5 February 1943:

1. Form the Central Front by 15 February 1943.

2. Rename the field headquarters of the Don Front the field headquarters of the Central Front. The front’s headquarters is to be located in the Ol’shanets region, 10 kilometers east of Elets.

3. Appoint Colonel General K. K. Rokossovsky to command the Central Front, Major General K. F. Telegin as the member of the front’s Military Council, and Lieutenant General M. S. Malinin as the chief of staff.

4. Include the field headquarters of the 21st, 65th, and 70th Armies, 16th Air Army, 2d Tank Army, 2d Guards Cavalry Corps, and divisions... in the Central Front.


6. Leave your deputy commander, Lieutenant General K. P. Trubnikov, with a group of commanders in the Stalingrad region.

I. Stalin
G. Zhukov9

On 6 February the Stavka issued directives to the Western, Bryansk, and Central Fronts containing the fronts’ specific missions for each phase of the forthcoming operation10. The directive to the Western Front ordered Colonel General I. S. Konev to transfer Lieutenant General P. A. Belov’s 61st Army on the front’s left flank to Bryansk Front control. Then, together with the Bryansk Front’s 61st Army, the Western Front’s 16th Army and 9th Tank Corps were attack on 12 February through Zhizdra toward Bryansk. The combined force was to link up with the Bryansk Front’s 13th and 48th Armies near the city of Bryansk, thus encircling the entire German Orel grouping. In addition, the directive ordered Konev to prepare an attack on 25 February with his 50th and 10th Armies and two tank corps toward Roslavl’ and Elnya in concert with the Bryansk and Central Fronts’ expanding offensive.

The Stavka directive to the Bryansk Front ordered Colonel General M. A. Reiter’s forces to cooperate with the Western Front in the rapid encirclement and elimination of the German Orel-Bryansk grouping. After General Reiter’s 13th and 48th Armies reached the Droskovo, Maloarkhangelsk, and Fatezh line on 12 February, the 13th Army was to support the commitment of the Central Front’s forces to combat and advance along the Karachev and Bryansk axis. The 48th Army was to envelop Orel from the southwest. Meanwhile, the Bryansk Front’s 61st Army was to attack southward from the Belev region through Bolkhov to link up with the 48th Army’s forces at Orel. When the 61st Army’s forces reached Zmievka, the Bryansk Front’s 3d Army was to join the offensive on Orel from the east. The first phase of the operation was to culminate on 15–17 February with the complete destruction of the German Orel grouping. The second phase would climax from 23–25 February when the Bryansk Front’s 13th Army linked up with the Western Front’s 16th Army to destroy the German force grouping around Bryansk. Both the Western and Bryansk Fronts would then join the Central Front in the final drive to Smolensk and the Dnieper River to destroy the bulk of German Army Group Center.

Rokossovsky received detailed instructions from the Stavka on the night of 6 February. They read:

For the purpose of further exploiting the Bryansk and Voronezh Fronts’ success and reaching the rear area of the enemy’s Rzhev-Vyazma-Bryansk grouping, the Stavka orders:

  1. By 12.2.43 concentrate:

    a) The 2d Tank Army in the Dolgoe region;

    b) The 2d Guards Cavalry Corps with three ski brigades and two tank regiments in the Cheremisinovo region;
    c) The 65th Army in the region north of Dolgoe and south of Livny.

    Move the 2d Tank Army, the 65th Army, and the 2d Cavalry Corps out of their concentration region to the Kursk and Fatezh deployment line by the end of 14. 2. 43.
    Concentrate the remaining units of the 21st and 70th Armies in the Volovo, Dolgorukovo, and Livny regions as they arrive and send them after the advancing forces of the front’s first echelon.

  2. The 2d Tank Army, 65th Army, and 16th Air Army will launch an offensive in the general direction of Sevsk and Unecha Station on the morning of 15. 2. 43 with the immediate mission of severing the Bryansk-Gomel’ railroad line.
    Deploy Kruikov’s cavalry-rifle group on the left flank and send it through Novgorod-Severskyi, Staryi Bykhov, and Mogilev, where it is to cross to the Western bank of the Dnieper, secure crossings, and reach the Orsha region.
    Bear in mind that the Bryansk Front’s 13th Army will advance to Bryansk on your right, and the Western Front’s 16th Army will launch an offensive through Zhizdra to Bryansk.

  3. When your front’s armies have reached the Bryansk-Gomel’ line, conduct your main attack on Smolensk through Klimovichi and Khislovichi with the missions of seizing the Smolensk region and cutting off the withdrawal routes of the enemy’s Vyazma-Rzhev grouping. When your main forces reach the Unecha Station region, seize Gomel’ with two rifle divisions and the western bank of the Dnieper River in the Rechitsa and Zhlobin sector.
    Simultaneously with your forces launching the offensive against Smolensk from the Bryansk-Gomel’ line, the Western Front will conduct an offensive to Roslavl’ and subsequently to Smolensk, and the Kalinin Front will advance to Vitebsk and Orsha, and part of its forces to Smolensk, to link up with your main attack.

  4. The front’s boundary lines will be provided later. Bear in mind that the Voronezh Front’s 60th Army will be attacking on your front’s left in the general direction of Lgov, Glukhov, and Chernigov.

Stavka of the Supreme High Command
I. Stalin
G. Zhukov11

To plan such an operation was one thing. To carry it out was an altogether different matter, even if the Germans and circumstances permitted continued Soviet offensive progress in the south. Rokossovsky had to complete the concentration of his shock force in the Livny area within 6 days to meet the Stavka’s schedule, and the offensive itself was to commence in only 11 days. Although the 2d Tank Army and 2d Guards Cavalry Corps had already concentrated in the Livny region, the 70th Army’s forces had to move over 200 kilometers by road from the Elets region, and the 65th and 21st Armies had to complete their arduous railroad and road movement from Stalingrad. Heavy spring snows hampered all movement, the spring thaw [rasputitsa] was due to begin any day, and the roads from Livny and Elets to jumping-off positions at the front were already in parlous condition.

Although he objected to the stringent time requirements imposed by the Stavka, nevertheless Rokossovsky moved to Elets with his staff, leaving his deputy, Lieutenant General K. P. Trubnikov, in Stalingrad to facilitate further troop movements northward. At Elets, Rokossovsky coordinated with General Reiter, the Bryansk Front’s commander, and set up his own front command post. He later described the awesome task confronting his staff as the sought to meet the Stavka’s offensive timetable:

From the outset we encountered tremendous difficulties. There was only one single-track railroad functioning – the only one that had been restored by then. Naturally, it could not handle such traffic. Our transportation plans were bursting at the seams. Traffic schedules collapsed, there were not enough troop trains, and, in those that were available, the trucks were, as often as not, unsuited for carrying personnel or horses12.

Rokossovsky’s deployment problems were insurmountable. As a result, the Stavka had no choice but to delay the start of Central Front’s offensive from 15 to 25 February. Accordingly, the Kalinin and Western Fronts also postponed their offensives until late February or early March. Since the Central Front’s forces were unable to concentrate in the requisite time, the Stavka ordered the Bryansk and Voronezh Fronts to continue their exploitation with the forces of their 13th, 60th, and 48th Armies, while Rokossovsky completed his concentration and offensive preparations. The Bryansk Front’s armies and the Voronezh Front’s right wing proceeded to operate in accordance with the original plan, based on the assumption that their continued operations would only improve the situation for the Central Front when it finally launched its offensive. Lieutenant General N. P. Pukhov’s 13th Army seized Fatezh on 8 February, drove German Second Panzer Army’s forces to the outskirts of Maloarkhangelsk on 13 February, and threatened to envelop the German army’s right flank near Trosna with a special 13th Army operational group commanded by Lieutenant General Novosel’sky. By 23 February Pukhov’s lead division (the 132d Rifle Division) was struggling on the approaches to Dmitriev-Lgovskiy, a key road junction on the Second Panzer Army’s right flank. At the same time, General Lieutenant General P. L. Romanenko’s 48th Army pressed against the nose of the German’s Orel salient, reaching positions from southeast of Novosil’ to the northern outskirts of Maloarkhangelsk by 22 February. During these operations, the army actually pierced German defenses northeast of Maloarkhangelsk and threatened to advance on Orel from the southeast before it was halted by counterattacking German forces13.

Meanwhile, on the Voronezh Front’s left flank, Lieutenant General I. D. Cherniakhovsky’s 60th Army drove German Second Army’s 4th Panzer Division from Kursk on 8 February. Together, the 60th and 13th Armies opened a wide 60-kilometer gap between the German Second Panzer and Second Armies -- a breach Rokossovsky’s Central Front was expected to exploit14. While Rokossovsky prepared his forces for the offensive, the Voronezh Front ordered Cherniakhovsky’s army to capture Lgov by 15 February and Rylsk by 17 February so as to solidify Soviet positions along the southern flank of Rokossovsky’s intended penetration15. Without regrouping or reorganizing, Cherniakhovsky’s forces advanced westward from Kursk, but were halted on 20 February on the approaches to Lgov. Unable to penetrate into Lgov, Cherniakhovsky dispatched his 248th Student Rifle Brigade to the west with orders to ensure that the gap between the two German armies remains open

Meanwhile Rokossovsky’s lead armies, the 65th and 2d Tank Armies, raced to complete their deployment forward from Elets and Livny to Fatezh. Lieutenant General P. I. Batov moved his headquarters to Elets on 18 February to supervise the forward deployment of 65th Army, and his divisions began reaching their assigned concentration areas north of Fatezh by 24 February. Of necessity, Batov’s attack on 25 February would occur literally from the march. Lieutenant General A. G. Rodin’s 2d Tank Army had the daunting task of moving his tank army (with its 408 tanks) 200–220 kilometers from north of Livny to jumping-off positions near Fatezh. Despite the appalling road conditions, he did so in seven days, but at a cost of 96 tanks left behind in his assembly areas and 130 tanks broken down or mired along the treacherously muddy march route16. Rodin would commit 182 of his tanks into combat on 25 February, but the remaining armor would catch up later. Similarly, Major General V. V. Kriukov’s 2d Guards Cavalry Corps completed its concentration west of Fatezh by 24 February in somewhat better condition17.

Rokossovsky commenced his offensive as ordered on the morning of 25 February. Since Major General G. F. Tarasov’s 70th and Lieutenant General I. M. Chistiakov’s 21st Army were still on the move, they were ordered to join the attack as soon as they arrived in the region, even before their full concentration. Meanwhile, the Bryansk Front’s 13th and 48th Armies continued pounding the German Second Panzer Army’s weakened right flank, and on 22 February Lieutenant General I. H. Bagramian’s 16th Army of the Western Front struck German Second Panzer Army’s left flank north of Zhizdra. Despite the massive attack, rainy weather and a skillful German defense kept Bagramian’s forward progress to a minimum. At a cost of huge losses, his army advanced only 7 kilometers by 25 February. Because of the intense fighting and only limited gains, Colonel General I. S. Konev, the Western Front commander, denied Bagramyan permission to commit his 9th Tank Corps to complete the penetration. Bagramyan later bitterly lamented this decision and criticized Konev and his successor, Colonel General V. D. Sokolovsky, for their failure to adequately support the attack18. Nonetheless, Bagramyan had no choice but to continue his costly futile assaults is support of Rokossovsky’s offensive. Colonel General M. A. Belov’s 61st Army launched attacks north and east of Bolkhov in support of Bagramian’s effort, but these attacks too faltered after Soviet forces seized a small bridgehead on the west bank of the Oka River19.

Further north, the Western Front’s 5th Army attacked German defenses east of Gzhatsk on 22 February, and, simultaneously, the 33d Army’s forces struck at German defenses east of Vyazma20. However, there was very little hope that these attacks against strong and tested German defenses would do more than simply distract the Germans from the more important events taking place to the south. While the German’s defenses around the Rzhev-Vyazma salient held firm, the die was already cast for the salient’s defenders. The incessant Soviet attacks against German Army Group Center west of Moscow since November 1942 combined with the looming Soviet threat in the Orel region finally convinced the Germans to abandon the Rzhev-Vyazma salient. Apparently, the Soviet High Command was aware of German intentions and therefore, kept pressure on the defending Germans. Within days after the 5th and 33d Armies’ weak attacks had faltered, German forces began a phased withdrawal from the salient. This meant that Rokossovsky would soon have to contend with fresh German divisions freed up by the abandonment of the salient. In the meantime, the Stavka did all in its power to prevent this from occurring.

By the time Rokossovsky’s forces launched their offensive, there were already ominous signs that the overall Soviet strategic offensive was encountering unanticipated difficulties. Contrary to Stavka expectations, the frenetic and poorly coordinated Southwestern Front offensive faltered by mid-February. Thwarted in its attempts to overcome German defenses at Slavyansk and Voroshilovgrad, the bulk of the Southwestern Front’s front mobile formations raced haphazardly into the deep German rear. The lead elements of Mobile Group Popov’s four under-strength tank corps reached Krasnoarmeiskaya, south of Slavyansk, on 15 February, and the 25th Tank Corps approached the outskirts of Zaporozh’e on the Dnieper River on 20 February21.

After skillfully reorganizing his forces to bring the full force of his First and Fourth Panzer Armies and his newly arrived SS Panzer Corps to bear, von Manstein, the commander of German Army Group South, struck back at overextended Soviet forces. Attacking on 20 February, von Manstein’s XXXX Panzer Corps dismembered Mobile Group Popov in the Krasnoarmeiskaya region and chased its remnants back through Barvenkovo to the Northern Donets river22. Subsequently, the SS Panzer and XXXXVIII Panzer Corps inflicted a crushing defeat on the Southwestern Front’s overextended forces near Pavlograd and Lozovaya, destroyed the 25th Tank Corps and pushed the Soviet forces back to the Northern Donets River. At first the Stavka discounted the seriousness of the situation and steadfastly insisted that the German counteroffensive would expire or become irrelevant in light of Rokossovsky’s successes further north. The Stavka stubbornly refused to alter its plans, trusting that the Voronezh Front, whose forces were still advancing successfully south and west of Kharkov, could cope with the temporary setback in the Donbass. In essence, a deadly race ensued between Rokossovsky’s forces attacking toward Bryansk and von Manstein’s armored spearheads now approaching Kharkov from the south. At stake were Stavka strategic expectations and the fate of its Winter Campaign.

The Conduct of the Orel-Bryansk Operation

The two spearhead armies of Rokossovsky’s Central Front lunged into the gap between German Second Panzer and Second Armies on the morning of 25 February, two days after General Pukhov reported that his 13th Army’s had finally seized Maloarkhangelsk23. Covered by the 13th Army’s 132d Rifle Division and Group Novosel’sky, which were pressuring the German Second Panzer Army’s right flank, the advanced rifle divisions of Lieutenant General P. I. Batov’s 65th Army advanced towards Komarichi and Dmitriev-Orlovskiy in regimental column and against light enemy resistance. On the army’s right flank, the regiments of Colonel I. A. Kuzovkov’s 69th Rifle Division’s were deployed across a broad front and maintained only loose contact with the 13th Army’s operational group (separate ski brigades whose mission was to facilitate the 65th Army’s advance). In the 65th Army’s center and on its left flank, the 354th and 37th Guards Rifle Divisions advanced in similar fashion against weak resistance offered by elements of the German 137th Infantry Division24. At this juncture, the defending Germans sought only to monitor and slow Soviet forward progress until reinforcements arrived to establish a more solid defense. Batov’s dispersed attack formation could do no more than slowly press the defending Germans back. The 65th Army’s advance was also hindered by the delayed arrival of the 70th Army’s forces. Although the 70th Army had been assigned an offensive sector on the 65th Army’s right flank, the Batov’s forces had to cover the entire sector until troops from the 70th arrived. Finally, on 26 February an operational group from General Tarasov’s 70th Army reached the Gremiach’e area and began feeding the army’s divisions piecemeal into their respective offensive sectors25. For days, however, while the 65th Army pressed forward, the bulk of the 70th Army’s divisions continued struggling forward along the roads from Livny to Fatezh.

Deploying forward from concentration areas around Fatezh, General Rodin’s 2d Tank Army attacked westward on 25 February through a screen erected by the 13th Army’s 132d Rifle Division, which had driven forces from the German 707th Security Division back to the outskirts of Dmitriev-Lgovskiy. The Germans fought hard to hold the town until reinforcements could arrive since it protected the critical road communications westward to Sevsk and northward to Bryansk. The tank army’s two attached rifle divisions (the 194th and 60th) fought their way through the swamps along the Svapa River, which covered the approaches to Dmitriev-Lgovskiy and Deriugino to the north, against spirited resistance while Rodin’s 11th and 16th Tank Corps followed26. Given the stiff German resistance, the 11th Tank Corps swung south of the town, crossed the Svapa River, and began a headlong drive toward Sevsk, more than 50 kilometers to the west. The 16th Tank Corps remained along the Svapa River to support the army’s two rifle divisions advance on Dmitriev-Lgovskiy. Exploiting the 11th Tank Corp’s enveloping maneuver, General Kriukov’s Cavalry-Rifle Group, with three ski brigades in the lead and the army’s 115th Rifle Brigade attached, followed the 11th Tank Corps into the breech.

The tenacious German defense of Dmitriev-Lgovskiy forced over half of Rodin’s forces to engage in close combat for the town. Rodin’s 16th Tank Corps and the 60th and 194th Rifle Division were forced to conduct an intense five-day struggle to overcome the Germans Dmitriev-Lgovskiy and Deriugino defense line. The other half of Rodin’s forces, the 11th Tank Corps and Kriukov’s Cavalry-Rifle Group, bypassed the German defenses and advanced along deteriorating roads toward Sevsk against lighter German resistance.

The Soviet Central Front’s offensive finally recorded some successes on 2 March, even though the attacks by the Bryansk Front’s 13th and 48th Armies had faltered at and north of Maloyaroslavets. On the Central Front’s right flank, Batov’s 65th Army carved a deep salient in the German defenses between Komarichi and Trosna on the flanks of German forces defending Dmitriev-Lgovskiy and Kromy. Although the Germans were forced to abandon the former, Batov’s forces were unable to exploit the penetration since the Germans reinforced their sagging defenses with the newly-arrived 78th Assault Infantry Division. Unbeknownst to Batov, the 78th Division had just arrived from German Ninth Army, which was just then beginning its withdrawal from the Rzhev-Vyazma salient. As such it represented the first of many fresh German divisions that would soon be flowing south to help thwart the Soviet Central Front’s offensive. At this point, however, Batov, was still brimming with optimism since he could now count on support from the 70th Army, whose lead divisions were assembling around Gremiach’e and preparing to enter combat in their hitherto vacant sector. Rokossovsky too was encouraged by events elsewhere in his front’s sector. Most important, the 11th Tank Corps and Kriukov’s Cavalry-Rifle Group had captured Sevsk from its Hungarian defenders and were preparing a precipitous exploitation westward against dwindling resistance27.

Despite the progress on his left and right flank, the situation in Rokossovsky’s central sector was less encouraging. After abandoning Dmitriev-Lgovskiy late on 1 March, the Germans withdrew to prepared defenses covering Deriugino and the main road to Bryansk. Even though General Rodin committed his entire 16th Tank Corps to combat, his infantry’s forward progress was agonizingly slow. Worse still, the heavy fighting diverted a significant portion of Rodin’s forces from their original attack axis through Sevsk to Trubchevsk and instead diverted them toward Komarichi and Lokat’, points to which German reserves were gravitating.

During the ensuing five days, Rokossovsky’s force made only grudging gains on his front’s right flank and in its center and spectacular but misleading progress on its left flank. On the right, Batov’s 65th Army was joined by an increasing flow of 70th Army divisions, which finally occupied their assigned front sector and struggled alongside the 65th Army’s divisions to penetrate the German 78th Infantry and 12th Panzer Divisions’ defenses protecting the southern approaches to Orel. Rokossovsky hounded the two army commanders to intensify their attacks. Tarasov’s 70th Army pounded German defenses west of Trosna unmercifully, but at high cost, and Batov’s forces pushed across the Usozha River and seized some villages on the approaches to Komarichi. However, progress in both sectors was agonizingly slow. It was becoming painfully apparent to all concerned that significant reinforcements were required to sustain any continued advance.

However, to the south and west, Rokossovsky’s force fared far better. Major General I. G. Lazarov’s 11th Tank Corps of Rodin’s 2d Tank Army captured Sevsk on 1 March and, rolling westward, seized the key road junctions at Seredina Buda and Suzemka on 4 March. Cooperating with partisan units, the corps’ 59th Tank Brigade swung north toward Igritskoe on the Usozha River in an attempt to find the Second Panzer Army’s open right flank. The 11th Tank Corps’ remaining brigades fanned out in support of General Kriukov’s Cavalry-Rifle Group’s drive toward its ultimate objective, Novgorod-Severskii, a key city on the Desna River astride vital German communications lines linking German Second Panzer and Second Armies. Although Kriukov’s cavalrymen reached the outskirts of Novgorod-Severskii, 160 kilometers into the German rear, on 7 March, his success was deceptive, since his forces were now spread thinly across a front of over 100 kilometers. While this thin screen of cavalrymen and riflemen could contend with the remnants of defending Hungarian light divisions, it could not deal successfully with German armor28. Sadly for Kriukov, his forces would soon face German armor.

The most immediate source of reinforcements for Rokossovsky’s faltering offensive was Lieutenant General I. M. Chistiakov’s 21st Army, which had been en route to the Livny area from Stalingrad since early February29. The lead elements of Chistiakov’s army reached their assembly areas around Fatezh on 4 March. Rokossovsky avoided repeating the mistake he had made previously when he committed the 70th Army to combat piecemeal and ordered Chistyakov to assemble his army fully before committing it to action. Once committed, Chistiakov’s force was to reinforce the advance of Batov and Tarasov’s forces on Orel. Rokossovsky’s reinvigorated offensive, however, now faced new time imperatives imposed by events taking place well outside of his area of operations. In fact, these imperatives forced him to renew his attacks before Chistiakov’s army was ready to go into action.

The most serious of these new factors was the success von Manstein’s expanded counteractions achieved to the south. Between 1 and 5 March, von Manstein’s Fourth Panzer Army encircled and utterly destroyed the Soviet 3d Tank Army in heavy fighting south of Kharkov, and his SS Panzer and XXXXVIII Panzer Corps then threatened the Soviet Voronezh Front’s defenses protecting the key Ukrainian city. Finally appreciating the gravity of the situation, the Stavka reassigned its strategic reserves to restore the situation. These reserves included the 62d and 64th Armies, which were en route from Stalingrad and which had earlier been earmarked to reinforce Rokossovsky’s offensive. Even at this juncture, however, the Stavka demurred and refused to halt Rokossovsky’s offensive30. Instead, on 7 March they altered Rokossovsky’s mission. Rather than striking deeply at Bryansk and Smolensk, the Stavka ordered Rokossovsky to regroup his forces to the Orel axis and conduct a shallower envelopment of the German Orel Grouping in conjunction with operations by the Bryansk and Western Fronts.

Specifically, the Stavka ordered Rokossovsky to concentrate his forces along the Usozha River and attack northward through Lokot’ toward Orel with his 2d Tank, 65th, and 70th Armies deployed from left to right. Chistiakov’s 21st Army was to join the attack as soon as his army was fully concentrated and combat ready. Simultaneously, the Stavka ordered Bagramian’s 16th Army of the Western Front, which had already been locked in fruitless combat for over two weeks on the Zhizdra axis, to renew its attacks and provided adequate reinforcements for it to do so. The Bryansk Front’s 61st, 13th and 48th Armies were to launch supporting attacks along the entire circumference of the Orel salient. Finally, General Cherniakhovsky’s 60th Army was to seize Rylsk and continue its attack to Glukhov so as to protect Rokossovsky’s long left flank.

The Stavka’s intention to support Rokossovsky’s new offensive with large-scale attacks by the Kalinin and Western Fronts on the German Rzhev-Vyazma salient was confounded within days by the German’s abandonment of the salient. Between 1 and 23 March, the Germans conducted a deliberate time-phased withdrawal from the salient to new positions between Velizh and Kirov, which they had begun constructing on 20 February. While the German withdrawal clearly offered the Stavka fresh opportunities, it also posed dangers that were less obvious. The withdrawal gave Soviet forces the opportunity to attack the Germans when they were most vulnerable, namely while they were conducting a delicate and tricky retrograde action. At the same time, by shortening their lines, the Germans could generate fresh divisions to assist the Second Panzer Army in its struggle with Rokossovsky’s forces. The Stavka’s solution was to order the Kalinin and Western Fronts to attack the withdrawing Germans across their entire front. The attacks, which began in early March and continued until the 23d, failed to inflict serious damage on the withdrawing Germans, but cost the two fronts over 138,000 casualties, including almost 40,000 dead. Nor did the Soviet attacks eliminate the less obvious dangers. For example, to Rokossovsky’s growing frustration, by mid-March the 72d and 102d Infantry Divisions, which had previously occupied defenses in the Rzhev region, appeared among the Second Panzer Army’s forces manning German defenses south of Orel.

Just as the Germans were beginning their withdrawal from Rzhev, Rokossovsky set about fulfilling the Stavka’s new orders. He ordered Rodin to reassemble his tank army south of the Usozha River and to deliver a concentrated blow along the Lokot’ and Orel axis in concert with Batov’s 65th Army. Tarasov’s 70th Army was to cooperate with Pukhov’s 13th and Romanenko’s 48th Armies of the Bryansk Front and smash German defenses from west of Trosna to north of Maloyaroslavets. In turn, Rodin ordered General Lazarev’s 11th Tank Corps and the 115th Rifle Brigade to turn over their offensive sector west of Sevsk to General Kriukov’s Cavalry-Rifle Group. Subsequently, the tank corps was to march northeastward and assemble on the 2d Tank Army’s left flank along the south bank of the Usozha River opposite the Second Panzer Army’s exposed right flank. This left Kriukov’s fragile cavalry force with the mission of defending a 150-kilometer wide operational sector at a time when the German Second Army to the south was also assembling forces for a concerted counterattack.

Although Rokossovsky’s began his new offensive on 7 March with heavy attacks by the 65th Army against German forces east of Komarichi, his offensive developed in piecemeal fashion, largely due to delays in assembling 2d Tank Army’s re-deploying 11th Tank Corps. Despite the 11th Tank Corps absence, Major General A. G. Maslov’s 16th Tank Corps and the 60th and 194th Rifle Divisions, attacking on the 65th Army’s left flank, drove German forces back to the Usozha River and, in desperate fighting, gained small footholds on the river’s north bank. Three days later on 10 March, the 11th Tank Corps brigades finally went into action and drove across the Usozha River southwest of Komarichi. By this time, the twin assaults by the 2d Tank and 65th Armies threatened to envelop German forces defending forward of Komarichi. However, Rokossovsky’s efforts were in vain, since the Second Panzer Army now committed fresh reserves (the 45th and 72d Infantry Divisions) into Rodin’s and Batov’s path. To the east, Tarasov, Pukhov’s, and Romanenko’s armies exhausted themselves in futile attacks on the German defenses east and west of Trosna. While the seesaw struggle continued unabated, once again events elsewhere frustrated Rokossovsky’s and the Stavka’s grand plans.

South of the Central Front’s large penetration, by 7 March the German Second Army had completed a major force regrouping by shifting forces northward from the Belopol’e and Sumy regions to assemble forces capable of closing the yawning gap between it and Second Panzer Army. While containing the advance of General Cherniakhovsky’s 60th Army on the immediate approaches to Rylsk, the Second Army assembled its 82d and 88th Infantry Divisions along the southern flank of General Kriukov’s Cavalry-Rifle Group west of Rylsk with orders to attack northward. At the same time, the 4th Panzer Division regrouped at Novgorod-Severskii with orders to attack the nose of the Soviet penetration. Although still fatigued from its long delaying action westward through Kursk, which it completed only days before, on 11 March the 4th Panzer Division attacked from the small German bridgehead across the Desna River at Novgorod-Severskii. It struck the overextended cavalry divisions and ski brigades of Kriukov’s Cavalry-Rifle Group and proved that the light Soviet infantry and cavalry force could not withstand the force of even a weakened German panzer division. Kriukov’s force recoiled steadily eastward, while, Rodin’s, Batov’s, and Tarasov’s weakened armies desperately hammered in vain at German defenses covering Komarichi, and the Bryansk Front’s exhausted armies expended their remaining strength in fruitless assaults east of Trosna. Recognizing the growing threat to his virtually open right flank and the mortal danger confronting Kriukov’s force, on 12 March General Cherniakhovsky shifted forces to the right flank of his 60th Army. As prudent as this measure was, it decreased Soviet pressure on Rylsk and permitted the German Second Army to reinforce further its 82d and 88th Infantry Divisions, which were now poised to strike Kruikov’s southern flank. The Second Army’s fully assembled counterattack force struck on 14 March on a front extending from Novgorod-Severskii to north of Rylsk. Kriukov’s position was clearly untenable, and his forces had no choice but to commence an agonizing but increasingly hasty retreat eastward.

Rokossovsky heeded Kriukov’s calls for assistance and appreciated his dilemma. Unfortunately, there was little he could do. Once again, events were beyond his control. While his assaults had recorded limited progress, the supporting attack by Bagramian’s 16th Army north of Orel had failed miserably at immense human cost. Nor had any of the other supporting attacks achieved anything. Worse still, von Manstein’s German Army Group South had renewed its offensive with a vengeance, this time against the Voronezh Front’s overextended and exhausted armies defending south of Kharkov. To the apparent surprise of the Stavka, von Manstein’s SS Panzer Corps and Corps Raus (which included the powerful Grossdeutschland Division) struck directly at Soviet forces defending Kharkov on 6 March and seized the city on 15 March. Then on 17 March, the force struck northward toward Belgorod in concert with Second Army forces attacking from the west. Von Manstein’s assault tore apart the Voronezh Fronts 3d Tank and 69th Armies and threatened the latter and 40th Army with encirclement between Belgorod and Sumy. Any subsequent successful German advance would clearly also threaten the southern flank and rear of Rokossovsky’s entire Central Front. If the experiences of the Southwestern and Voronezh Fronts were an accurate indicator of German capabilities, the Central Front was now in jeopardy. For the first time in weeks, the Stavka now fully appreciated the deteriorating situation. The crisis was, indeed, real.

Spurred to action, the Stavka hastily began to assemble strategic reserves necessary to halt the German advance and to preserve as many of the precious gains made during the Winter Campaign as possible. Its first decision, reached on 11 March, was to transfer General Chistiakov’s 21st Army, which had just completed its concentration near Fatezh, from Central to Voronezh Front control. As Chistyakov hastily moved his army southward through Kursk to Oboyan’, Rokossovsky’s last hopes for inflicting defeat on the German Orel grouping disappeared. Reflecting its increased desperation, the Stavka also ordered the 1st Tank Army southward from the Staraya Russa region to Kursk to back up the Voronezh Front and the 24th and 66th Armies from Stalingrad to concentrate at Voronezh in the Voronezh Front’s deep rear31. The Stavka correctly believed that these forces, together with the 62d and 64th Armies, which had just arrived from Stalingrad, would be sufficient to bring von Manstein’s juggernaut to a halt. Ironically, bad weather and exhaustion were enough to halt the German drive. Von Manstein called a halt to his attacks on 17 March, shortly after his forces captured Belgorod. The fighting then subsided and the lines stabilized along the southern face of the famous Kursk Bulge.

Rokossovsky’s forces continued limited offensive operations until 21 March. During this period he shifted reserves to help General Kriukov extricate his beleaguered cavalry and rifle forces from the German pincers closing on Sevsk. Meanwhile the Stavka undertook frenetic efforts to reorganize its forces along the Kursk, Orel axis. On 12 March the Stavka abolished the Bryansk Front, assigning its 61st Army to the Western Front, its 3d, 48th, and 13th Armies to the Central Front, and its front headquarters and 15th Air Army to the Stavka reserve. A week later the Stavka ordered the creation, effective 23 March, of the new Kursk Front, commanded by Colonel General Reiter and consisting of the 60th, 38th, and 15th Air Armies32. The new Kursk Front’s task was to employ the 60th and 38th Armies, the Voronezh Front’s right wing armies that emerged relatively intact from the preceding operations, to defend the critical nose of the emerging Kursk Bulge. The Stavka promised to reinforce the front with two additional armies as soon as feasible, probably the regrouped 63d and 66th Armies.

Within days, however, the Stavka once again reorganized its forces for defense. First, on 27 March it abolished the Kursk Front, assigning the 38th Army to the Voronezh Front, which had now stabilized its positions along a line extending from Sudzha to Belgorod33. It assigned the 60th Army to Rokossovsky’s Central Front and ordered Rokossovsky to defend the Bryansk, Kursk and Orel, Kursk axes. At the same time, it formed a new Orel Front consisting of the 3d and 61st Armies supported by the 15th Air Army, tasked with protecting the nose of the German Orel salient. Finally on 29 March, it completed this round of hasty reorganizations by renaming the Orel Front the Bryansk Front.

The Winter Campaign was at an end. By the end of March, the Stavka’s hopes for significant additional strategic gains in spring 1943 had been dashed. The gaze of strategic planners on both sides would now be riveted on the legacy of the failed Soviet strategic offensive, the Kursk Bulge.

Observations and Conclusions

As had been the case a year before, in the winter of 1942–43, Stavka offensive expectations during their Winter Campaign far exceeded the Red Army actual capabilities. The Stavka was inspired by its November victory at Stalingrad and emboldened by its subsequent seemingly endless series of successes. Consequently, in February 1943 the Stavka broadened its initial strategic aim of destroying German forces in southern Russia to encompass the destruction of German forces in central Russia, in particular, its old nemesis, Army Group Center. This over-optimism was not unprecedented. The Stavka routinely strove to accomplish too much too fast during its earlier campaigns and operations. Unfortunately, the Red Army’s soldiers inevitably paid a bloody price for the Stavka’s over-ambition. Although the Soviet military leadership displayed greater planning skill in early 1943 than before, planning was usually hasty. The rapidly changing military situation impelled the Stavka to make decisions too quickly without considering such factors as force fatigue and deteriorating weather conditions. As a result, the forces moved, regrouped, and concentrated at glacial speeds, and forces could not achieve the combined-arms mix requisite for conducting successful operations. In particular, tank and artillery support was inadequate, and logistical support often totally failed. In short, the Stavka still had to master the art of the possible in terms of establishing realistic aims and in planning and conducting large-scale operations34.

Archival materials vividly underscore the problems the Red Army encountered during Rokossovsky’s failed offensive. First and foremost, the Stavka and field commands required Red Army soldiers, who were exhausted by months of near constant combat, to perform tasks far beyond their capabilities. The high losses and immense human suffering that resulted was predictable. The combat records of the 13th Army’s 15th Rifle Division serve as a gruesome example. The division participated in the Voronezh-Kastornoe operation, helped capture Maloyaroslavets in late February, and then fought for a month northwest of the town. From 13 January through 20 February 1943, the division suffered 683 men dead, 1,581 wounded, and 542 missing, or about 25 percent its original combat strength. Nor did its heavy losses cease. The division lost an additional 119 dead, 243 wounded, and 53 missing by 28 February in heavy fighting at and north of Maloyaroslavets. The division’s agony continued right up to the end of the operation, as typified by a division daily report dated 17 March that noted the loss of 28 men dead and 164 wounded35. The division finally went over to the defense on 20 March. The 15th Rifle division’s losses, which ultimately reached about 50 percent of its original personnel strength, were typical for most rifle division and brigades serving in the 48th, 65th, and 70th Armies.

The Central Front command was especially upset by the unnecessary and excessive losses by the 70th Army, particularly those that the division suffered during its attacks west of Trosna against the German 18th Panzer Division between 8 and 17 March. Central Front Decree #00116, dated 4 April, sharply criticized the army, stating:

The unsuccessful offensive operations by the 70th Army to seize and hold the Svetlyi Luch, Novaya Ialta, Rzhavchik, Muravchik, and height marker 260.2 region and the suffering of huge losses numbering 8,849 men and material in this operation is explained by: the unsatisfactory preparations for this operation on the part of the Military Council and, first and foremost, by Major General Comrade Tarasov, the army commander; the weak organizational role and unsatisfactory control on the part of the staff; and the perfunctory attitude of the formation and unit commanders to the organization of combat...

On 30 March 1943 the army was missing (in addition to the combat losses) 7,802 rifles, 2,145 heavy machine guns, 326 submachine guns, 556 PPSh, 20 45 mm guns, 44 82 mm mortars, 93 50 mm mortars, and 240 antitank rifles36.

The troops in the supporting armies fared little better. We have already cited the 138,577 casualties suffered by the Kalinin and Western Fronts during their pursuit of German forces from the Rzhev-Vyazma salient. Among these were the 1,381 dead, 2,765 wounded, and 21 missing in the 20th Army, suffered primarily during its 4–5 March assault on defending German rearguard forces37. Although records are fragmentary regarding specific losses in individual divisions, loss figures for Soviet divisions that were defeated by von Manstein’s counteroffensive are instructive. For example, the Southwestern Front’s 38th Guards Rifle Division lost 1,997 men dead, 9,740 wounded, and 548 missing out of an original strength of less than 10,000 men during operations from December 1942 through 1 March 194338. By mid-March 1943, only 2,557 men from the Voronezh Front’s 350th Rifle Division remained in the field out of its original 10,000 men39. The same front’s 184th Rifle Division fielded 400 surviving riflemen out of its original strength of about 8,000 men40.

Overall, the Bryansk Front suffered 134, 903 casualties between 1 January and 12 March 1943, when the front was disbanded. These casualties included 37,423 men lost in the Voronezh-Kastornoe operation and almost 100,000 men lost during the February-March offensive. After 13 March the losses of the front’s former armies were counted in Western and Central Front loss figures. The Central Front, which played the greatest role in the offensive, lost 762,536 men between 24 February and 31 December 1943. Subtracting the 428,546 men it lost during the subsequent Kursk, Orel, Chernigov-Pripiat’, and Gomel’-Rechitsa operations and the intervening periods, the front lost approximately 300,000 men including about 90,000 dead, captured, and missing and 210,000 wounded in its February-March offensive41. Thus, while ignoring the losses suffered by the Voronezh Front’s 60th Army in its Lgov and Rylsk operations, the combined losses of the Kalinin, Western, Bryansk, and Central Fronts during the February-March offensive was approximately 500,000 men.

Given these heavy losses, the most vexing question was how the armies and divisions maintained any combat capability at all. The fact that they sustained the offensive as long as they did attests to the effectiveness of the Soviet personnel replacement system that ruthlessly refilled its armies’ rank with fresh levies from the newly liberated regions. For example, in late March the 60th Army’s 121st Rifle Division reported:

The division took part in the battles for Voronezh, Kursk, and Lgov. The division suffered heavy losses in the battles for the Lukashevka and Soldatskoe line due to the unskillful leadership of the former division commander, Bushin, for which the division commander was relieved from his duties. On 25 March 1943, the division had a strength of 7,025 men, of which 5,573 joined as replacements by means of a mobilization on the territory of Kursk region that was liberated from the German invaders42.

At roughly the same time, a status report by 60th Army’s 248th Student Rifle Brigade stated:

[The brigade] joined the 60th Army on 30 January 1943. It took part in the battles for Kursk and Lgov. The brigade operated especially skillfully and energetically during the Lgov operation. Dispatched far forward along the Nizhne Chupakhino and Konoprianovka line (along the western bank of the Svapa River) on the army’s flank, the brigade threatened Rylsk from the north and, by doing so, resolved the outcome of the operation for possession of Lgov. During that period U-2 aircraft supplied the brigade with ammunition and the division obtained its foodstuffs from local resources. The strength of the brigade on 25 March 1943 was 2,389 men, of which 774 joined as replacements by means of a mobilization conducted in the Kursk region, which was now liberated from the fascist invaders, and from the disbanded Drozdov Partisan Detachment43.

Although the brigade had lost about half of its combat strength, the report concluded, «The brigade is fully combat ready. Materials are being assembled for the awarding of a guards banner for [its] exemplary fulfillment of combat missions in the destruction of the German invaders while displaying good organization and firm discipline.»

Despite the effective forced levy for Red Army replacements, some reports indicated that the army’s blocking detachments, which were used to prevent desertions, were not always fully effective. For example, on 16 March the 13th Army issued specific orders to its three blocking detachments requiring that they remedy the problem. The order stated:

Replacements are joining the ranks of the Red Army from regions liberated from the enemy’s forces. In the struggle against possible instances of desertion and the avoidance of military service, THE ARMY COMMANDER ORDERS:

  1. Strengthen the blocking duties of army blocking detachments;

  2. Systematically conduct universal inspections of the entire male population in all population points;

  3. Comb all forests and orchards thoroughly and examine all haystacks, uninhabited buildings, and especially dugouts situated along the lines of the old defenses;

  4. Strengthen the inspection of documents of those passing through the populated points and suspicious persons.

Report on all implemented measures by 25 March 1943.

Major General Petrushevsky, the chief of staff of the 13th Army’s44

This draconian Soviet replacement system did not always improve unit discipline. For example, a report by the 121st Rifle Division, prepared on 12 March during the height of the 60th Army’s unsuccessful attempt to seize Rylsk, touched on the problem and provided a glimpse of a pettiness that masked real morale problems. In part, it stated:

The discipline of the [division’s] personnel fell precipitously during the period of offensive combat operations. The soldiers and commanders…no longer maintain their required military bearing…[they] neither tuck in [their boots] nor salute their seniors in rank. Consequently,

I ORDER: Organize one hour of military training daily for all personnel in all of the division’s units. In military training, first and foremost, work out [the troops] external appearance (the correct wearing of headgear, the tucking in of greatcoats, waist belts, equipment, leg-wrappings, etc.)...45

Given the length of the campaign, the high casualties, and the seemingly endless combat, it is quite understandable that the morale of officers and men alike began to flag. Among the many manifestations of this problem were the growing instances of drunkenness and self-mutilation among the troop and even the officers. This fact was recognized in a 31 March order of the 60th Army’s commander to his men. The report read:

Recently, many instances, which are inadmissible to Red Army soldiers and commanders, have been observed in the division’s units – including drinking binges, which have spread to a great degree among the command personnel. Instead of ceasing this unnecessary phenomenon, in some instances units and sub-unit commanders encourage these persons and often themselves participate in the brawls, which lead to a loss of Red Army’s soldiers state of mind and, in other instances, to the divulging of military secrets. Persons in an inebriated state use weapons in all instances of drunkenness, and, as a result, unnecessary and completely unwarranted losses occur. On 27 March 1943, while in an inebriated condition and without cause, Senior Lieutenant Remizov, the commander of an automatic weapons company in the 383d Rifle Regiment, shot two Red army soldiers in a burst of submachine gun fire.

The 121st Rifle Division commander Major General Ladygin
The 121st Rifle Division chief of staff Lieutenant Colonel Generalov46

A similar breakdown of discipline was noted in 65th Army Order #4 dated 25 March 1943, which read:

The presence of unstable elements that have carried out various crimes motivated by cowardice have appeared in our army’s units during the course of active military operations. Among these crimes, self-mutilation [self-inflicted wounds] is found to have been especially widespread. During the first half of March 1943, 22 men have been exposed and judged as self-mutilators in the 246th Rifle Division alone, of which the largest part appear in the 908th Rifle Regiment. Self-mutilation is the most widespread in the 37th Guards, 246th, and 354th Rifle Divisions...

Commander of the 65th ArmyMember of the Military Council
Lieutenant General BatovColonel Luchko
Chief of staff of the army Major General Glebov47

Archival records also extensively critiqued the conduct of the operation and provided lessons-learned so that the forces could improve their performance in the future. While these reports addressed a wide range of topics, they focused in particular on the conduct of combined-arms operations in harsh winter conditions and spring thaws. For example, during the early stages of the operation, the 13th Army issued an order to its divisions signed by the army chief of staff and the chief of the operational department which stated, ‛The army commander orders: Cease employing infantrymen in attacks without artillery support“48. The Bryansk Front chimed in on 3 February with sharp criticism of its armies’ infantry tactics, noting:

The experience of the initial battles indicates that a number of unit and sub-unit commanders are violating the Infantry Combat Regulations. During the attack, some portions of the commanders are situated in the general lines and, sometimes, even in front of their sub-units. As a result, units have suffered unnecessary losses of command personnel…[They] lose command and control, and [this] reduces the offensive tempo...Thus, in the 132d Infantry Division, the division lost 167 mid-level commanders alone during three days of combat operations. In addition, two deputy division commanders, the chief of staff of a regiment, a deputy regimental commander for political affairs, and a number of other were put out of action.

All formation and units commanders in combat will lead stringently according to the Infantry Combat Regulations. There will be severe punishment for deviating from the Regulations during offensive operations.

Colonel General Reiter, commander of the Bryansk Front’s forces
Major General of Tank Forces Susaikov, member of the Bryansk Front’s Military Council
Major General Sandalov, chief of the Bryansk Front’s staff49

Sometimes orders seemed to be contradictory. For example, a day later on 4 February the same front criticized its 13th and 48th Armies for the reverse problems, stating:

The 13th, and in particular, the 48th Army’s offensive combat experiences indicate that the weak command and control of forces on the battlefield results primarily from the fact that division and even battalion commanders are directing the battle from warm peasant houses in populated points with the help of telephones... rather than from their command posts, from which they would be able to see the battle on the main axis.

Division, regiment, and battalion commanders to direct battle exclusively from their command posts so that they can better see the field of battle on the main axis and respond to the situation in more timely fashion...

Inform the division, regiment, and battalion commanders of this directive without delay.

Colonel General Reiter, commander of the Bryansk Front’s forces
Major General Susaikov, member of the Bryansk Front’s Military Council
Major General Sandalov, chief of the Bryansk Front’s staff50

Other combat reports evidenced the decaying troop discipline during the operation and increased cases of looting. For example, a 1 February Bryansk Front order noted:

It has been determined that the chiefs of the armies’ rear services and the corps and division commanders do not immediately appoint garrison chiefs and commandants and do not establish required military order when occupying populated points liberated from the enemy. In light of this situation, railroad stations, public and state property, trophy property, and other material of value are not being protected at all, and property is being plundered.

When occupying a populated point, the garrison chief and commandant will fulfill their responsibilities and establish revolutionary order without delay51.

Logistical support became an Achilles heel for advancing Soviet forces and one of the primary reasons for the failure of the offensive. Among the numerous documents identifying this problems was a Bryansk Front order issued on 6 February to all of its subordinate units, which stated in part:

Demand that rear service units be more agile in the supply of units with all necessities. Do not simply note the fact that foodstuffs, ammunition, and fuel are absent, but instead implement yourself all measures necessary to supply the units with all necessities and, by doing so, support the successful offensive battles.

Colonel General Reiter, commander of Bryansk Front forces
Major General Susaikov, member of the Bryansk Front’s Military Council
Major General Sandalov, Bryansk Front chief of staff52

Ten days later, a Bryansk Front directive, dated 17 February criticized the poor cooperation between tank and infantry forces and once again linked this recurring problem with associated persistent logistical difficulties. It declared:

The employment of the front’s tank forces during the recent combat period shows that a considerable number of tanks are not taking part in the battles because of insufficient fuel and ammunition. This has resulted from the snowdrifts and the considerable gap between the tank units and the armies’ forward supply bases. The combined-arms commanders with which the tanks are cooperating are not evidencing concerns about their support and are not providing them with assistance. By failing to do so they are violating NKO USSR’s Order #325.
The responsibility for combat support of the tanks is to be placed on the combined-arms commanders with which the tank units are cooperating and on the commanders of the tank units.
Employ all types of transport, including the cart [horse] transport of the rifle divisions and regiments for the support of tank units with POL and ammunition54.

Sometimes, the congestion along the few and snowbound roads caused commanders to take the easy way out and place their headquarters together in convenient town and villages. This indiscretion created lucrative targets for the Germans and costly command casualties. Bryansk Front Order #4, dated 17 February documented one such case in the 48th Army during the fighting east of Maloyaroslavets, noting:

Contents: Concerning the inadmissibility of [having] a great number of formation and units staffs in a single populated point. The headquarters of the 137th Rifle Division, the headquarters of the 12th Artillery Division, and the headquarters of a guards mortar regiment gathered in the village of Markino on 11–12 February... On 12 February enemy aircraft bombed the village of Markino... We had intolerable losses in men and weapons.

1. Do not permit the placement of several headquarters in a single populated point. Formation and unit commanders will place their headquarters in the offensive sector of their own formation/unit;
2. When placing headquarters and forces in a populated point, carefully conceal them from the air;
3. In all cases, the chiefs of staff will provide antiaircraft measures and organize the repulsion of enemy air raids with not only existing weaponry but also with infantry weapons (rifles, machine guns, antitank rifles, etc.).54

A 13th Army order to all of its formation, prepared on 2 March, a week after the army’s second major attack north of Maloarkhangelsk, catalogued some of the recurring command deficiencies in that army’s conduct of tactical combat, stating:

The offensive combat conducted by the army’s units revealed a number of deficiencies in the forces’ tactical operations.

  1. The established requirement that battalion commanders be granted 2–3 hours of daylight for the organization of cooperation on the ground between tanks and artillery and within the battalions was forgotten... The attack against the enemy was delivered without the concentration of forces and weaponry on the necessary axes at the requisite moment of combat...

  2. The requirement for continuous reconnaissance was entirely forgotten.

  3. The attack was carried out in disorganized fashion, there was no impetuosity and camouflage, and the charges [rushes] were excessively long...

  4. The unit commanders often forgot to develop their sub-units’ success in timely fashion, they did not exploit weak places in the enemy’s defense for decisive movement forward and the envelopment of his strong points.

  5. Recently, separate instances took place of nothing less than unwarranted withdrawals by separate sub-units and even units under attack by counterattacking enemy battalions and companies.

  6. The enemy is very sensitive to night attacks and fears them; nevertheless, often the night attacks have no success. This can be explained by the absence of the element of surprise and the weak discipline of a night attack (clamor and noise).

  7. There is insufficient employment of assault groups during combat for populated points and inadequate practice in direct firing from artillery weapons...

  8. Infantry weapons and antitank rifles are seldom used to combat low-flying aircraft, and when they are they are employed in disorganized fashion…Infantry weapons can successfully conduct combat with enemy aircraft.

  9. The regulations require the elimination of all possible intervals between the end of the artillery preparation and the beginning of the attack.

Indeed, these requirements are not being observed. Often the infantry are late in launching the attack (such as the 148th Rifle Division), and the enemy regains his senses and meets the attackers with organized fires.

Commander of the 13th Army Member of the Military Council
Lieutenant General PukhovMajor General Kozlov
Chief of staff of the 13th Army
Major General Petrushevsky55

These problems persisted until the very end of the operation, contributing to the continuing high casualty rates. For example, a 13th Army’s order prepared on 21 March declared:

Of late, combat operations have been limited to only night reconnaissance raids by small number of scouts. However, force losses remain considerable despite the lull along the front. The army has lost 555 men, including 108 command personnel, and 59 horses during the period from 1 through 20 March 1943. The main reasons for this situation, which will be intolerable in the future, are the absence of required order in the forward edge of the defense, non-observation of elementary maskirovka [camouflage] measures, and the absence of a struggle against senseless losses in combat personnel.

Major General Petrushevksy, the chief of staff of the 13th Army
Colonel Grechikhin, the chief of the 13th Army’s operational department56

The Central Front’s records also cast considerable light on the employment of penal units and sub-units in combat, which was apparently extensive. Thus, an 18 March directive lamented the failure of the front’s armies to employ penal units properly throughout the operation, stating:

An investigation has established the following facts regarding treachery to the Homeland that took place in the 13th, 70th, 65th, and 48th Armies:
Weak discipline and unsatisfactory organizational work in the training and education of the personnel in penal companies and battalions and a flagrant violation of NKO USSR Order #227 on the employment of penal sub-units. Especially intolerable was the fact of the desertion to the Germans side of 19 men of the 179th Penal Company of the 13th Army’s 148th Rifle Division, who had been sent on reconnaissance by Major General Mishchenko, the division commander. The commander of the 148th Rifle Division grossly violated the NKO USSR’s Order #227, which envisioned the employment of penal sub-units for particularly difficult missions with obligatory blocking detachments allocated to follow after them. This was not done in the 148th Rifle Division. The penal troops displayed cowardice, a portion of them fled from the field of battle, and 19 men surrendered to the enemy. The command personnel in that company did not train its personnel satisfactorily, and, evidently, the representatives of the special department [osobyi otdel’] worked ineffectively, since the squad’s timely preparations for treachery remained unknown to them.

The front Military Council demands that:
Penal sub-units be employed only in situations that permit blocking detachments to be deployed immediately after them.

General Rokossovsky was even blunter in his criticism of his front’s operations, in particular about the dismal performance of General Tarasov’s 70th Army. He spelled out his complaints in an 18 March directive to his armies, a copy of which was sent to the Stavka along with his personal request that Tarasov be immediately relieved from command. His directive.

The harshness of Rokossovsky’s criticism was justified, for General Tarasov had long displayed his unfitness for command. Only months before, in November-December 1942, when he commanded the Kalinin Front’s 41st Army in Operation Mars, his poor leadership and ineptitude in combat became apparent when his 41st Army suffered serious defeat in the Belyi region. This time the Stavka recognized their mistake and heeded Rokossovsky’s advice. Although it relieved Tarasov, however, the damage was done.58

The vast amount of archival materials on the February-March offensive vividly underscore the fact that the Red Army was not capable of achieving the many tasks the Stavka assigned to it in February 1943. Its command cadre lacked the necessary experience, its forces were fatigued after months of successful offensive action, its equipment had suffered heavy attrition, and discipline and morale in the ranks had begun to weaken. Most important, the Stavka itself had yet to understand its forces’ true capabilities and reflect those capabilities in its strategic plans. It is now abundantly clear that the offensive aims the Stavka established for its forces on 6 February 1943 were excessive.

Given the situation, however, the Stavka’s decision to expand the offensive was understandable and bold. The Red Army’s military successes in the south were striking and seemingly limitless. Numerous and powerful new armies were available after the surrender of the German Stalingrad group, and these new armies could be employed in a variety of ways. At the time, it seemed prudent to employ them to reinforce an already successful offensive against a German force subject to collapse at any moment. The alternative was to retain them for summer operations and, in the meantime, provide the German Army with the opportunity for restoring its defenses in southern Russia. The Soviets chose the former option. However, force and weather conditions forced the Stavka to employ its new strategic reserves piecemeal rather than en mass, and this limited their impact on the ensuing operations. When all is said and done, while the reserves were insufficient to guarantee greater strategic victory, they did prevent even greater defeat.

Several other factors combined to limit the usefulness of the new strategic reserve (the ‛Stalingrad“ armies). First, the German forces encircled at Stalingrad held out until 2 February 1943. This prevented Rokossovsky’s armies from deploying into their new operational sectors in the period specified by the Stavka’s ambitious offensive timetable. Second, the harsh weather conditions and the early rasputitsa [thaw] wrought havoc with the Russian road and rail system and made all movement difficult if not impossible. Consequently, strategic redeployments were agonizingly slow, and offensive operations were repeatedly delayed. When they did occur, operations developed in uncoordinated fashion and with only partially assembled forces. Third, German strategic decisions had a critical impact on the outcome of the Soviet Winter Campaign. The most important of these decisions was Hitler’s appointment of von Manstein to command Army Group Don (later South) and his belated decision to permit von Manstein to conduct a maneuver defense. In addition, the German decision to abandon the Rzhev-Vyazma salient upset Soviet offensive plans and released enough forces to tip the military balance in the Orel region in the Germans’ favor.

Finally, the imaginative and impulsive counterstroke launched by von Manstein in mid-February and the skill with which German forces carried out von Manstein’s plans spelled doom for the ambitious Soviet strategic venture. If the Germans had not struck back at the time they did, the Soviet strategic offensive would likely have achieved greater success. If the 21st Army had been able to join the Central Front’s March thrust, the Germans Orel position would certainly have become untenable. Further, the Soviet 64th and 62d Armies, which reached the Belgorod and Kharkov regions in early March, could have also reinforced Rokossovsky’s offensive, making the German strategic position even more perilous. Finally, the 24th and 66th Armies, which deployed from Stalingrad to Voronezh in early April, were waiting in the wings. Thus, von Manstein’s counterstroke, which has long been credited with temporarily restoring German fortunes on the Eastern Front, had significantly greater implications than previously believed. In fact, measured by its achievements, von Manstein’s operations had strategic rather than operational impact. Thus, in essence, his counter-stoke was a counteroffensive.

The failed Soviet February offensive left a powerful legacy. First, it had a significant impact on the Stavka’s subsequent strategy. While planning its Summer Campaign, for the first time in the war, the Stavka displayed prudence, patience, and restraint. The ensuing plan included an initial defensive phase followed by a series of counteroffensives whose objectives were realistic and, hence, achievable. Not coincidentally, the ultimate Soviet strategic objective was the Dnieper River line. This was because the Red Army had rehearsed that scenario in the winter of 1943, and, as a result, they now had a clearer understanding of the art of the possible.

Second, the failed February offensive taught the Stavka and the Red Army’s front and army commanders indelible operational (and tactical) lessons. For example, Soviet counteroffensive planning in the summer focused on defeating the powerful German forces deployed in the Belgorod-Kharkov and Orel salients instead of the weaker German defenses at the western edge of the Kursk Bulge. While some Soviet commanders urged the Stavka to repeat its February plan by attacking directly to the west and the Dnieper River, Stalin and the Stavka, however, well understood what had occurred in February and March. Thus, they insisted on striking and eliminating the German forces in the Orel and Belgorod regions as a prerequisite for subsequent offensive success

Finally, the February offensive had an effect on subsequent German operations and fortunes. First, the plan for Operation CITADELLE attempted to replicate von Manstein’s February counterstroke on an even greater scale. Ultimately German forces would attack the base of the Kursk Bulge from both north and south along the Belgorod, Kursk and the Orel, Kursk axes. The assumption was that von Manstein’s February thrust could be resumed in July with equally lethal effect. The fact that it could not evidences how much the Red Army learned from its February experiences. Second, and less important, after the failed February offensive, sizable Soviet partisan and former cavalry forces remained encircled in the Bryansk forests behind German lines. Although the Germans tried to clear this region before their July offensive, large German forces (including elements of the 4th Panzer Division) were still involved in mopping-up operations near Bryansk and were not available to participate in the Kursk offensive. The Soviet forces encircled south of Bryansk also likely provided valuable intelligence data about the forthcoming German offensive.

In the end, the Stavka’s February-March offensive was a bold gamble that failed, and the expected victory turned into embarrassing defeat. The price of that boldness was the loss of 500,000 Red Army soldiers. While the Stavka succeeded in stabilizing the situation on March, it would be seven months before the Red Army would reach the Dnieper to stay. To do so would require the Battle of Kursk, the most immense Red Army strategic offensive effort to date, and the sacrifices of another 3.5 million Red Army soldiers.

1. Among these many histories, only that of John Erickson mentions Soviet plans for an expanded offensive against Army Group Center. A particularly perceptive German account also detected the ultimate Soviet plan for an expanded strategic offensive in February 1943. See Generalleutnant a. D. A.D. von Plato, Die Geschichte der 5. Panzerdivision 1938 bis 1945 [The History of 5th Panzer Division from 1938 to 1945], (Regensburg: Walhalla u, Praetoria Verlag KG Georg Zwickenpflug, 1978).

2. For an account of the Donbas and Khar'kov operations, see David M. Glantz, From the Don to the Dnepr: Soviet Offensive Operations, December 1942-August 1943, (London: Frank Cass and Co., Ltd, 1991). Among the few candid Soviet accounts of the Khar'kov and Donbas operations are V. P. Morozov, Zapadnee voronezha [West of Voronezh], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1956) and A. G. Ershov, Osvobozhdenie donbassa [The liberation of the Donbas], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1973). The extensive, recently released Soviet archival collections prepared during and after the war by the Soviet General Staff mention neither of the operations. Nor does this material cover the expanded February offensive in any detail.

3. On 5 July 1942, the Soviet 5th Tank Army spearheaded an unsuccessful offensive by the Bryansk Front to halt the German drive to the Don River. Although open source accounts limit this action to 5–12 July, the attack intensified in late July. For details, see «Boevye deistviia voisk Bryanskogo i Voronezhskogo frontov letom 1942 na voronezhkom napravlenii» [Combat actions of Bryansk and Voronezh Front forces in Summer 1942 on the Voronezh direction], in the formerly classified Sbornik voenno-istoricheskikh materialov Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny [Collection of military-historical materials of the Great Patriotic War], Vol. 15 (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1955), pp. 115–46. Classified secret. Declassified in 1964. On 27 July the Stavka issued the new plan, which called for a strategic offensive by the Bryansk, Voronezh, and Stalingrad Fronts from Elets in the north to Kotel'nikovo in the south, against Army Groups «B» and «A». This offensive involved simultaneous attacks by the reinforced 5th Tank Army west of Voronezh and the 1st, and 4th Tank Armies in the great bend of the Don River. For sketchy details, see S. Mikhalev, «O razrabotke zamysla i planirovanii kontrnastuleniia pod stalingradom» [About working out the concept and planning of the Stalingrad counteroffensive], Vestnik voennnoi informatsii [Herald of military information], #8 (August 1992), p. 7. German Second Army records underscore the massive nature of 5th Tank Army's attacks, which included corps commanded by such luminaries as Katukov, Rotmistrov, and Solomatin.

4. While SATURN was to follow URANUS, the precise code-name for the follow-on operation to MARS remains unknown. Presumably it was also named for a planet (JUPITER or NEPTUNE being the best candidates).

5. For an account of the Voronezh-Kastornoe operation, see Ershov and the formerly classified Soviet General Staff study, «Voronezhsko-kastornenskaia nastupatel'naia operatsiia voisk voronezhskogo i levogo kryla Bryanskogo frontov» [The Voronezh-Kastornoe offensive operation of forces of the Voronezh and left wing of the Bryansk fronts], Sbornik voenno-istoricheskikh materialov Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny, vypusk 13 [Collection of military-historical materials of the Great Patriotic War, Issue 13], (Moscow: Military-historical Directorate of the Soviet Armed Forces General Staff, 1954). Classified secret. Declassified 1964.

6. The First Panzer Army was transferred from the Caucasus to Army Group Don beginning on 27 January, and the Fourth Panzer Army withdrew from Rostov to the Mius River line from 8–18 February. See Earl F. Ziemke, Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East (Washington, DC: US Army Office of the Chief of Military History, 1968), pp. 85, 88.

7. The Don Front's 57th Army soon became the 68th Army, which was activated in the Northwest Front in February 1943.

8. A. M. Vasilevsky, Delo vsei zhizni [A lifelong cause], (Moscow: Politizdat, 1983), pp. 279–80. Detailed Stavka records on the planning of this operation have yet to be released from the russian archives. Based on materials already released, this account by Vasilevsky is correct, as far as it goes.

9. Ibid., pp. 282–283. See also K. Rokossovsky, A Soldier's Duty, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1985), p. 174.

10. Vasilevsky, Delo, pp. 283–284; S. M. Shtemenko, General'nyi shtab v gody voiny [The General Staff at War], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1968), pp. 107–08; K. F. Telegin, Voiny neschitannye versty [Uncounted versts of war], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1988), p. 173.

11. Vasilevsky, pp. 283–84.

12. Rokossovsky, pp. 175–76; see also, P. I. Batov, V pokhodakh i boiakh [In marches and battles], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1966), pp. 289–90.

13. The German Second Panzer Army's records indicate that the 48th Army forced the German 45th and 299th Infantry Divisions to abandon Droskovo (northeast of Maloiaroslavets) in heavy fighting between 8 and 12 February. By 17 February the 48th Army's forces, spearheaded by the 6th Guards and 399th Rifle Divisions, the 9th Ski Brigade, and the 43d Tank Regiment, had captured Pokrovskoe. The attack created a large salient in the German's defenses northwest of Pokrovskoe from which the 48th Army's forces threatened to cross the Neruch River and sever the Orel-Kursk railroad line in the rear of German forces defending Maloiaroslavets. However, by 22 February the Germans were able to contain the Soviet advance east of the Neruch River.

14. For accounts of the 13th, 60th, and 38th Armies' operations during this and subsequent periods, see V plameni srazhenii: boevoi put' 13-i armii [In the flames of battle: the combat path of 13th Army], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1973), pp. 84–88; A. Sharipov, Cherniakhovskii, (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1971), pp. 185–95; and K. S. Moskalenko, Na iugo-zapadnom napravlenii, T.2 [On the southwestern direction, Vol. 2], (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo «Nauka,» 1969), pp. 397–451.

15. See «Considerations concerning the conduct of the 60th Army's L'gov-Ryl'sk operation,» classified top secret, from. «Materialy po planirovaniiu i provedeniiu Voronezhskoi i L'govsko-Ryl'skoi nastupatel'noi operatsii 2. 1–18. 3. 43g» [Materials concerning the planning and conduct of the Voronezh and L'gov-Ryl'sk offensive operations, 2 January-18 March 1943]. TsAMO, F. 417, op. 10564, d. 256, ll. 63–65.

Cherniakhovsky's orders read:

1. The mission of the 60th Army is to destroy the opposing enemy and reach the Arbuzova Station, Studenok, Ryl'sk, and Snagost' line by 17 February 1943, having captured the cities of L'gov, Ryl'sk, and Korenevo. Deploy the army's grouping along [the following] line: the 248th Separate Rifle Brigade on the right flank from Arbuzova to Griady with the mission of protecting the army's right flank; a shock group consisting of the 322d, 121st, and 141st Rifle Divisions, the 129th Rifle Brigade, and the 150th Tank Brigade in the center from Studenok through Ryl'sk to (excluding) Korenevo with the mission to be prepared to attack either Glukhov or Putivl'; and the104th Separate Rifle Brigade with the 8th Destroyer Brigade on the left flank in the Korenevo and Snagost' region with the mission of protecting the army's left flank. The 14th Destroyer Brigade will be kept in reserve in the Suchkino region, in anticipation of being employed to consolidate success on the central axis. The 129th Rifle Division, which is approaching late, will be used to relieve the 141st Rifle Division on the designated line, and the latter will be withdrawn into reserve in the Ivanovskoe region.

2. The concept of the operation is to deliver the main attack in the general direction of L'gov-Ryl'sk, while avoiding any sort of complex regrouping and by using the existing army grouping as the jumping off position for the new operation.

3. The stages of the operation [are as follows]: 1st Stage (13–15. 2. 43) — the capture of L'gov and Shereki#The entire army will reach the St. Sokovninka, Konyshevka, Prilepy, Shirkovo, Kudintsevo, Sergeevka, Sherekino, Liubomorivka, Vyshnie Dereven'ki, Kromskie Byki, Anastas'evka, Khitrovka, Pogrebki, and Viktorovka front by the end of 15. 2. 43. The 2d Stage (16–17. 2. 43) — the capture of Ryl'sk and Korenevo. Having captured Ryl'sk, reach the Arbuzovo, Studenok, Ryl'sk, korenevo, and Snagost' line by the end of 17. 2.

Major General Krylov, the 60th Army chief of staff


16. For details of the 2d Tank Army's difficult march see «Operativnoe marshi tankovykh i mekhaninizirovannykh soedineniii» [The operational marches of tank and mechanized formations] in Sbornik materialov po izucheniiu opyta voiny, #9 noiabr'-dekabr' 1943 g. [Collection of Materials for the Exploitation of War Experience, #9, November-December 1943], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1944), pp. 59–63.

17. For a detailed account of the 2d Tank Army's operations, see F. I. Vysotsky, M. E. Makukhin, F. M. Sarychev, M. K. Shaposhynikov, Gvardeiskaia tankovaia [Guards tank], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1963), pp. 15–23. Some Soviet sources state that the offensive began on 26 February. This disparity results from the fragmented nature of the attack.

18. I. H. Bagramyan, Tak shli my k pobede [As we went on to victory], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1988), pp. 371–78, details the 16th Army's operations from 22 February through late March. More details from the divisional level are found in V. Lobanov, Vosemnadtsataia gvardeiskaia [18th Guards], (Kaliningrad: Kaliningradskoe knizhnoe izdatel'stvo, 1975), pp. 74–77 and P. G. Kuznetsov, Gvardeitsy-moskvichi [Guards-muscovites], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1962), pp. 190–93. Extensive Second Panzer Army records document the scope and intensity of Bagramian's effort. Sokolovsky replaced Konev on 28 February.

19. The 61st Army attacked in two sectors. The 12th Guards Rifle Division attacked north of Bolkhov but its attack failed immediately. Meanwhile, the 5th, 342d, 356th, and 283d Rifle Divisions seized a bridgehead from Chegodaevo to Gorodische east of Bolkhov and reinforced the bridgehead with the re-deployed 12th Guards Rifle Division. However, by 24 February the German 112th Infantry Division had contained the attack. Later, by 12 March, it counterattacked and eliminated the bridgehead. See also D. K. Mal'kov, Skvoz' dym i plamia [Through smoke and flames], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1970), pp. 61–62, a history of the 12th Guards Rifle Division, which provides a detailed assessment of why its assault failed.

20. The 5th Army employed its 29th Guards Rifle Division, 153d Rifle Brigade, and 153d Tank Brigade in this attack, which took place in a narrow sector northwest of Gzhatsk defended by the German 35th Infantry Division. Simultaneously, the 33d Army launched its attack southeast of Temkino with at least its 160th Rifle Division.

21. For details about Soviet conduct of the Donbas and Khar'kov operations, see David M. Glantz, From the Don to the Dnepr, (London: Frank Cass, 1991).

22. Here and elsewhere, I use the standard German Army roman numeral designation for German panzer corps numbered XXXX through XXXIX instead of XL through XLVI. The Germans used the former in their operational maps and records to avoid numerical confusion.

23. For operational and tactical detail regarding the disposition and actions of German forces throughout the operation, see Pz AOK 2, 37075/46, Chefkarten, 28 Anlagen, Anlagenband 33, Pz AOK 2, Ia, Lagenkarten 1.2.1943 — 28. 2. 1943, NAM T-313, Roll 171; Pz AOK 2, 37075/47, Chefkarten, 14 Anlagen, Pz AOK 2, Is, Lagenkarten 18. 3.1943 — 31. 3. 1943, NAM T-313, Roll 171; and AOK 2, 31811/2, Anlage zum Kriegstagebuch A. O. K. 2 — Ia, Russland Teil 9, Lagenkarten 1. Januar 1943 bis 31. Marz 1943, NAM T-312, Roll 1213. For German intelligence appreciations, see AOK 2, 31811/123, (no German title) Situation maps and overlays (1:300,000), prepared by the Second Army, Counter-intelligence Officer (Ic/AO), December 1942-July 1943, NAM T-312, Roll 1223. This intelligence material verifies the Soviet accounts of the operation and clearly indicates Soviet offensive intent.

24. For additional details of the 65th Army's operations throughout the entire period, see G. S. Nagysev, Na sluzhbe shtabnoi [In staff service], (Riga: Izdatel'stbo «Pissma», 1972), pp. 110–13; and I. N. Pavlov, Ot Moskby do Shtrol'zunda [From Moscow to Strasland], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1985), pp. 45–47. The latter is a history of the 354th Rifle Division.

25. Batov, pp. 295–98. For coordination problems between 65th Army and 70th Army and for details of the 69th Rifle Division's operations, see A. A. Andreev, Po voennym dorogam [Along military roads], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1971), pp. 36–57. One of the few available accounts of the 70th Army's operations is from the perspective of the 102d Rifle Division found in A. M. Andreev, Ot pervogo mgnoveniia do poslednego [From the first moment to the last], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1984), pp. 70–76 and in the records of opposing German forces.

26. An account of the 194th Rifle Division's role in the operation is found in K. K. Shilov, Rechitskaia krasnoznamennaia [Rechitsa red banner], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1984), pp. 63–73.

27. For details of the 11th Tank Corps operations, see I. I. Iushchuk, Odinnadtsatyi tankovyi korpus v boiakh za rodinu [The 11th Tank Corps in battles for the fatherland], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1962), pp. 18–27.

28. Originally, the only forces opposing the exploiting the 11th Tank Corps and Kriukov's cavalry were the Hungarian 104th and 108th Light [Jager] Division, which withdrew from Sevsk westward toward the Desna River.

29. For 21st Army's role in the operation, see Po prukazu Rodiny [By order of the fatherland], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1971), pp. 68–75, and I. M. Chistiakov, Sluzhim otchizne [In the service of the fatherland], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1975), pp. 130–37.

30. Originally, both the 62d and 64th Armies had probably been designated to reinforce the Soviet February offensive after they had completed refitting, either in Central Front's sector or elsewhere. They began their movements forward in late February and completed assembly by mid-March.

31. The 1st Tank Army had been formed near Ostashkov in the Northwestern Front's sector between 30 January and 23 February 1943 around the nucleus of the 29th Army's headquarters. Initially, it consisted of one tank corps (the 6th), one mechanized corps (the 3d), a separate tank brigade (the 112th), two guards airborne divisions (the 6th and 9th), six ski brigades, and several separate tank regiments. In mid-February it joined Lieutenant General F. I. Tolbukhin's 68th Army, itself a special assault army made up primarily of airborne divisions, to form Group Khozin. Khozin's group was designated as the exploitation force for a major Northwestern Front offensive, which was planned for late February against German Sixteenth Army. After exploiting the attack of the 1st Shock Army, Group Khozin was to seize Dno and exploit through Luga to the Baltic Sea to isolate the German Leningrad Group. However, on 23 February (9 March according to another source), it was alerted to move south, either to participate in offensive operations elsewhere (possibly the Western Front's Rzhev-Viaz'ma offensive of 2 March or the Central Front's offensive), or to help thwart von Manstein's counterstroke. Its main combat elements reached the Oboian region by 23 March. The fact that the Stavka intended to use this powerful force in a major offensive (code-named POLAR STAR) south of Leningrad further attests to ambitiousness of the Stavka's offensive planning in February 1943. For further details, see M. E. Katukov, Na ostrie glavnogo udara [On the point of the main attack], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1976), pp. 193–197, and A. Kh. Babadzhanian, N. K. Popol', M. a. Shalin, I. M. Kravchenko, Liuki otkryli v berline [They opened the hatchway to Berlin], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1973), pp. 7–13.

The deployment of the 24th and 66th Armies to the Voronezh region is covered in Ot volzhskikh stepei do avstrilskikh al'p [From the Volga steppes to the Austrian Alps], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1971), pp. 26–27, and I. A. Samchuk, P. G. Skachko, Iu. N. Babikov, I. L. Ghedoi, Ot Volgi do El'by i Pragi [From the Volga to the Elbe and Prague], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1970), pp. 45–49. The 66th Army received its movement order on 23 March.

32. See «Boevoi prikaz #001 shtaba Kurskogo fronta» [Combat Order #001 of the Kursk Front's headquarters} from «Prikazy NKO i voiskam Voronezhskogo fronta (1943)» [Orders of the NKO and to the Voronezh Front's forces]. F. 417, op. 10564, d. 243, l. 12, which read:

Directive #30077 of the Stavka of the Supreme High Command, dated 19. 3. 43, forms the Kursk Front, consisting of the 60th Army, the 38th Army, and the 15th Air Army as of 2300 hours 23 March 1943. Two more armies will be included in the front in the immediate future. I am appointed as the front commander. The boundary lines are: Voronezh, Kastornoe, Kursk, and Novgorod-Severskii on the right; and (excluding) Staryi Oskol, (excluding) Kazatskoe, the Psel River, (excluding) Peschanoe, (excluding) Krasnopol'e, and (excluding) Boromlia on the left.

Commander of the Kursk Front Colonel General Reiter

Member of the front's Military Council Lieutenant General of Tank Forces Susaikov

Front chief of staff Lieutenant General Sandalov


33. See V srazheniiakh za Pobedy: Boevoi put' 38-i armii v gody Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny 1941–1945 [The battles for the Homeland: the combat path of the 38th Army in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945] (Moscow: «Nauka,» 1974), p. 220.

34. For example, planning time for the Stalingrad operation lasted more than one month. Thus, offensive preparations were extensive. Planning time for other operations was as follows: «Little Saturn» -- over three weeks; Ostogozhsk-Rossosh' -- about 20 days; and about one week for the Voronezh-Kastornoe and subsequent operations.

35. For details see, «Perepiski operativnogo otdela shtaba 13A co shtabom 15sd» [Correspondence of the operational department of the 13th Army's headquarters with the headquarters of the 15th Rifle Division], TsAMO, f. 361, op. 6079, d. 183, ll. 193, 204, 206, and 285.

36. «Direktivy SVGK, GSh, KA voiskam Bryanskogo fronta, 3A, 2. 1–20. 7. 43» [Directives of the Stavka of the Supreme High Command to the forces of the Bryansk Front and the 13th Army, 2 January-20 July 1943], TsAMO, f. 361, op. 6079, d. 173, ll. 142–144.

37. G. F. Krivosheev, ed., Grif sekretnosti sniat: poteri vooruzhennykh sil SSR v voinakh, boevykh deistviiakh i voennyk konfliktakh {Secret classification removed: The losses of the USSR's Armed Forces in wars, military operations, and military conflicts], (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1993), p. 226.

38. For the full report see «Boevaia kharakteristika 38 gv RD» [The combat characteristics of the 38th Guards Rifle Division]. TsAMO, F. 1131, op. 1, d. 3, ll. 7–8.

39. See «Operativnoe svodki i boevye donesenii 350 sd» [Operational summaries and combat reports of the 350th Rifle Division], TsAMO, f. 1669, op. 1, d. 24, l. 165.

40. See «Otchety shtaba 184 rd o boevykh desistviiakh» [A headquarters 184th Rifle Division account of its combat operations]. TsAMO, f. 1435, op. 1, d. 8, l. 31.

41. These figures are taken from Krivosheev, pp. 186–227.

42. «Boevaia kharakteristika na 121 sd» [Combat Characteristics of the 121st Rifle Division] from «Boevye rasporiazheniia shtaba Voronezhskogo fronta» [Combat orders of the Voronezh Front], TsAMO, f. 417, op. 10564, d. 252, l. 12.

43. Boevaiai kharakteristika na 248 otdel'nuiu kursantskuiu strelkovuiu brigadu" [Combat characterisitics of the 248th Student Rifle Brigade] from «Boevye rasporiazheniia shtaba Voronezhskogo fronta» [Combat orders of the Voronezh Front], TsAMO, f. 417, op. 10564, d. 252, l. 13.

44. «Komandiram 1, 2, 3 armeiskikh zagradotriadov. 16. 3. 43g. #0224» [Order #0224, dated 16 March 1943 to the commanders of the 1st, 2d, and 3d Army Blocking Detachments], in «Direktivy SVGK, GSh, KA voiskam Bryanskogo fronta, 13A, 2. 1–20. 7. 43» [Directives of the Stavka of the Supreme High Command to the Bryansk Front and 13th Army, 2 January-20 July 1943]. TsAMO, f. 361, op. 6079, d. 173, l. 105.

45. See «Prikaz chastiam 121sd #0045. 12. 3. 43.» [Order #0044 to the 121st Rifle Division's units, dated 12 March 1943] from «Boevye prikazy i pazporiazheniia soedinenii 60A (1942–1943 gg.)» [Combat orders and instructions of the 60th Army's formations (1942-1943)]. TsAMO, f. 417, op. 10564, d. 215, l. 67.

46. "Prikaz chastiam 121 sd #074. 31. 3. 43g. [Order #074 to the 121st Rifle Division's units, dated 31 March 1943] from «Boevye prikazy soedinenii 60A (1943g.)» [Combat orders to the 60th Army's formations (1943)]. TsAMO, f. 417, op. 10564, d. 251, l. 6.

47. From «Prikaz 65A. 25. 3. 43g.» [65th Army Order #4, dated 25 March 1943] in «Dokumenty iz fondov 65A» [Documents from the archives of the 65th Army]. TsAMO, f. 422, op. 10496, d. 81, l. 12.

48. See "Komandirom divizii 13A. #0144. 11. 3. 43g. [Order #0144, dated 11 March 1943, to the commanders of the 13th Army's divisions]. TsAMO, f. 361, op. 6079, d. 173, l. 80.

49. «Politupravlenie Bryanskogo fronta. 3. 2. 34g. #0523. Komanduiushchim 13 I 48 armii. Sovershenno sekretno»[Order #0523, dated 3 February 1943, of the Bryansk Front's Political Directorate. To the commanders of the 13th and 48th Armies. Top secret from Direktivy SVGK, GSh, KA voiskam Bryanskogo fronta, 13A (2. 1–20. 7. 43g.) [Directives of the Stavka of the Supreme High Command and Red Army General Staff to the forces of the Bryansk Front and 13th Army (2 January-20 July 1943)], TsAMO, f. 361, op. 6079, d. 173, l. 76.

50. «Iz direktivy Voennogo Soveta Bryanskogo fronta komanduiushchemu 13 armii (kopiia komanduuishchemu 3 armii. 4. 2. 43g.» [From a directive of the Bryansk Front's Military Council to the 13th Army commander, dated 4 February 1943, with a copy to the 3d Army commander], from «Direktivy SVGK» [Directives of the Stavka of the Supreme High Command], TsAMO, f. 361, op. 6079, d. 173, l 74.

51. «Prikaz voiskam Bryanskogo fronta #31/2. 1. 2. 43g. Sekretno» [Order #31/2 to the Bryansk Front's forces, dated 1 February 1943. Secret] from «Direktivy SVGK» [Directives of the Stavka of the Supreme High Command], TsAMO, f. 361, op. 6079, d. 174, l. 70.

52. "Iz direktivy Voennogo Soveta Bryanskogo fronta ot 6.2 43g. komanduiushchim, chlennam Voennykh Sovetov, nachal'nikam politotdelov armii [From a 6 February order of the Bryansk Front's Military Council to the commanders, members of the Military Councils, and political workers of the armies] from «Direktivy SVGK» [Directives of the Stavka of the Supreme high Command], TsAMO, f. 361, op. 6079, d. 174, l. 79.

53. "Iz direktivy Voennogo Soveta Bryanskogo fronta ot 17. 2. 43g. [From a 17 February 1943 directive of the Bryansk Front's Military Council] from «Direktivy SVGK» [Directives of the Stavka of the Supreme High Command], TsAMO, f. 361, op. 6079, d. 174, I. 87.

54. «Direktivy i prikazy SVGK. Genshtaba Kr. Ar. Bryanskogo fronta voiskam» [Directives and orders of the Stavka of the Supreme High Command to the Bryansk Front's forces]. TsAMO, f. 361, op. 6079, d. 174. l. 35.

55. «Direktivy SVGK, GSh, KA voiskam Bryanskogo fronta, 13A, 2. 1–20. 7. 43» [Directives of the Stavka of the Supreme High Command to Bryansk Front and 13th Army forces, 2. 1.-20. 7. 43.] TsAMO, f. 361, op. 6079, d. 173, ll. 138–140.

56. Ibid., l. 164.

57. Direktiva Voennogo Soveta Tsentral'nogo fronta #027 ot 18. 4. 43g. [Directive #027 of the Central Front's Military Council of 18. 4. 43]: [l. 166]

58. General Tarasov was killed in action in Hungary in October 1944 while serving as deputy commander of the 53d Army.

Author: David M. Glantz

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