By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Georgi Zhukov, the mastermind of the Soviet
Operation Mars, foresaw an offensive in two
stages. Josef Stalin approved this approach,
as it dovetailed nicely with that of Col.
Gen. A.M. Vasilevsky for Operation Saturn
around Stalingrad. If one of the two efforts
showed more promise than the other, the STAVKA’s
general reserves could be sent to that front
and success could be reinforced.
Stalin is justly damned for his criminal
oversight of the murders of millions of Soviet
citizens, but often does not get credit for
his flashes of leadership. By insisting on
reinforcing success rather than failure, Stalin
overrode the natural tendencies of his subordinates
to make good their defeats and instead gave
the Red Army the chance to turn small victories
into large ones. That this often occured at
the cost of tens of thousands of lives seems
not to have bothered the general secretary.
Snow-clad Guards aboard a T-60, winter,
Operation Mars launched on 25 November 1942,
and despite good preliminary intelligence
work, massive artillery support and over 2,500
tanks, the divisions of Kalinin and Western
Fronts could not achieve sustainable breakthroughs
of the German lines. The harsh terrain benefited
the Germans, who skillfully deployed panzer
divisions from their reserves and managed
to stop the Red Army’s onslaught. Great
bravery went for nought and the attacks finally
ground to a halt.
Third Tank Army was to spearhead the second
phase of the operation, code-named Jupiter.
As the Stalingrad offensive gained momentum,
Stalin considered releasing it to Vasilevsky.
Zhukov succeeded in gaining a reprieve, and
on 8 December Stalin agreed to await one final
effort by 20th Army — but without informing
Zhukov, Stalin had the general staff prepare
orders for Third Tank Army’s move south.
Twentieth Army launched a frontal assault on
11 December, which gained only a few hundred
yards at the cost of thousands of lives. Third
Tank Army received its orders while the tanks
still burned. There would be no Operation Jupiter.
future Defense Minster,
Had Jupiter proceeded, the next army committed
after 3rd Tank would have been Rodion Malinovsky’s
2nd Guards Army. Commitment to Operation Mars
had been discussed during the planning stages,
but ultimately Stalin ordered the army concentrated
around Tambov — much closer to the Mars
theater than that of Saturn. Based on events,
Stalin himself would decide where to commit
this elite force.
Malinovsky, a staunch Old Bolshevik and
former Tsarist sergeant, had six good rifle
divisions and the powerful 2nd Guards Mechanized
Corps. On 24 November, a day before the Mars
offensive was to jump off, Stalin informed
Zhukov that he was already considering re-allocating
Malinovsky to the south. “Do not act
impatiently,” Zhukov warned Great Stalin.
“Remember where Moscow is, and remember
that Smolensk lies along the road to Berlin.”
Stalin’s patience lasted less than
a week. As soon as it became evident that
no great breakthroughs would occur near Rzhev,
he ordered Malinovsky to join Vasilevsky in
the south. By the time 3rd Tank Army officially
received its orders, Stalin’s enthusiams
for Operation Mars had already given way to
exictement over the great victory at Stalingrad.
But the best wargames allow players to explore
alternatives to historical events, and Red
God of War is no exception. Third
Tank Army is included in the game, and can
enter combat if the Soviet player meets certain
objectives. We did not include 2nd Guards
Army, as we felt it unlikely that it would
appear on the battlefield unless the Germans
had already suffered a catastrophic defeat.
Did Stalin remove Zhukov’s chance for
victory at Rhzev by withholding Malinovsky’s
troops? In this variant, the following units
appear as Soviet reinforcements on the 1-2 December
The architect of victory.
- 2nd Guards Army headquarters
- 3rd Guards Rifle Division
- 24th Guards Rifle Division
- 33rd Guards Rifle Division
- 49th Guards Rifle Division
- 2nd Guards Mechanized Corps
- 98th Rifle Division
- 387th Rifle Division
They enter at any road or rail hex on the
eastern edge of the map, using the same entry
procedure as German reinforcements. All are
assigned to the 2nd Guards Army headquarters.
On the 1-2 December turn, the Soviet player
may place the 2nd Guards chit in the activation
container. If it is not drawn, it may be placed
there again on the next turn and so on until
it is drawn. The Soviet player may not decline
to place it in the container. On the turn
it enters play (this may occur on a later
turn if Operational Halt die rolls are especially
unkind to the Workers and Peasants), 2nd Guards
headquarters is combat-supplied at no cost
to the Soviet player.
Increase the number of victory hexes the
Soviet player must control to four in Scenario
One (at the end of the 9-10 December turn,
not 1-2 December as the victory conditions
state). In Scenario Two, the Soviet player
must control 10 of the listed hexes to win.
German victory conditions are unchanged —
the German high command had no idea of the
extent of the Soviet commitment and one additional
army more or less would not have changed their
expectations of the German Ninth Army’s
Note that 2nd Guards Mechanized Corps has
no associated tank brigade; it has integrity
(5.5) all by itself.
You can download the 2nd
Guards Army pieces here.
Red God of War is just $19.99 — click here to order!
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.