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The formation of the Rzhev salient during the winter of 1941-1942.

Rzhev Battles ( ) is a general term for a series of World War II offensives launched during January 8, 1942—March 22, 1943 by Sovietmarker forces in the general directions of Rzhevmarker, Sychevkamarker and Vyazmamarker against a German salient in the vicinity of Moscowmarker, known as the "Rzhev meat grinder" ("Ржевская мясорубка") for these battles' huge losses.

This part of the Great Patriotic War was poorly covered by Soviet military historiography, and what coverage exists occurred only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when historians gained access to relevant documents. Exact dates of particular battles, their names, outcomes, significance, and even losses have not been fully clarified.

A reminder of these nameless battles is the poem by Aleksandr Tvardovsky which contains the evocative phrase I was killed near Rzhev... (Я убит подо Ржевом, (1945-1946)).

The major operations that were executed as part of the strategic offensive were:

Sychevsk-Vyazma offensive operation ( ) (08.01-28.02.42)
Mozhaisk-Vyaz’ma offensive operation (Operation Jupiter) ( ) (10.01-28.02.42)
Toropets-Kholm Offensive Operation ( ) (09.01-06.02.42)
Vyazma airborne desant operation ( ) (18.01-28.02.42) (see also Operation Hannover)
Rzhev offensive operation (Operation Mars) ( ) (03.03-20.04.42)

Rzhev-Vyazma Strategic Offensive Operation

During the Soviet winter counter-offensive of 1941, and the Rzhev-Vyazma Strategic Offensive Operation (8 January 1942 - 20 April 1942), German forces were pushed back from Moscowmarker. As a result, a salient was formed along the front line in the direction of the capital, which became known as the Rzhev-Vyazma Salient. It was strategically important for the German Army Group Centre due to the threat it posed to Moscow, and was therefore heavily fortified and strongly defended.

Soviet forces along the Kalinin Front and Western Front broke through the German lines west of Rzhev in January, but because of a difficult supply route the troops of the Soviet Twenty-Second, 29th Army and 39th Armies became encircled. To eliminate this threat to the rear of the German 9th Army, the Germans had started Operation Seydlitz by the 2nd of July.

Operation Seydlitz

This operation resulted in the complete elimination of the trapped Russian forces on 12 July, the attempted rescue of 2nd Shock Army (13 May 1942 - 10 July 1942) and the Rzhev-Sychevka Offensive Operation (30 July 1942 - 23 August 1942). The front line around the salient was pushed closer to the city of Rzhev by Wehrmacht forces. During this period, the city of Zubtsovmarker was liberated by the Red Army.

Rzhev-Sychevka Strategic Offensive Operation (Operation Mars)

The next Rzhev-Sychevka Offensive (25 November 1942 - 20 December 1942) codenamed Operation Mars.the operation consisted of several incremental offensive phases
Sychevka Offensive Operation 24 November 1942 - 14 December 1942
Belyi Offensive Operation 25 November 1942 - 16 December 1942
Luchesa Offensive Operation 25 November 1942 - 11 December 1942
Molodoi Tud Offensive Operation 25 November 1942 - 23 December 1942
Velikie-Luki Offensive Operation 24 November 1942 - 20 January 1943

This operation was nearly as heavy in losses for the Red Army as the first offensive, and also failed to reach desired objectives, but the Red Army tied down German forces which may have otherwise been used to try and relieve the Stalingrad garrison, which was fighting for its life in Stalingradmarker.

The information about offensive was provided to OKH by an NKVD double agent known as Heine as part of the plan to distract German forces from Stalingrad.

However, due to the general course of the war, Hitler ordered German forces to withdraw from the salient in March, 1943 during operation 'Büffel'. The Stavka used this as an opportunity to pursue the retreating Wehrmacht troops.


For the whole series of Rzhev battles, the numbers are not clear but the total Soviet losses are estimated at between 500,000 and 1,000,000 men.The German losses are estimated at between 300,000 and 450,000 men.


In 2009 a television movie was aired in Russia entitled "Rzhev: Marshal Zhukov’s Unknown Battle"; it made no attempt to cover up the huge losses suffered by Soviet forces, as a consequence there were public calls in Russia for the arrest of some of those involved in its production.[107150]


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