Malinovsky’s Guards
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
September 2016

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.

Snow-clad Guards aboard a T-60, winter, 1942.

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.

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.

Former sergeant,
future Defense Minster,
Rodion Malinovsky.

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.

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.

The architect of victory.

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 turn:

  • 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 command staff.

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.