Zhukov's Greatest Defeat: The Red Army's Epic Disaster in Operation Mars, 1942


One of the least-known stories of World War II, Operation Mars was an epic military disaster. Designed to dislodge the German Army from its position west of Moscow, Mars cost the Soviets an estimated 335,000 dead, missing, and wounded men and over 1,600 tanks. But in Russian history books, it was a battle that never happened—a historical debacle sacrificed to Stalin's postwar censorship.

David Glantz now offers the first definitive account of this forgotten catastrophe, ...

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One of the least-known stories of World War II, Operation Mars was an epic military disaster. Designed to dislodge the German Army from its position west of Moscow, Mars cost the Soviets an estimated 335,000 dead, missing, and wounded men and over 1,600 tanks. But in Russian history books, it was a battle that never happened—a historical debacle sacrificed to Stalin's postwar censorship.

David Glantz now offers the first definitive account of this forgotten catastrophe, revealing the key players and detailing the major events of Operation Mars. Using neglected sources in both German and Russian archives, he reconstructs the historical context of Mars and reviews the entire operation from High Command to platoon level.

Orchestrated and led by Marshal Georgi Kostantinovich Zhukov, one of the Soviet Union's great military heroes, the twin operations Mars and Uranus formed the centerpiece of Soviet strategic efforts in the fall of 1942. Launched in tandem with Operation Uranus, the successful counteroffensive at Stalingrad, Mars proved a monumental setback. Fought in bad weather and on impossible terrain, the ambitious offensive faltered despite spectacular initial success in some sectors: Zhukov kept sending in more troops and tanks only to see them decimated by the entrenched Germans.

Illuminating the painful progress of Operation Mars with vivid battle scenes and numerous maps and illustrations, Glantz presents Mars as a major failure of Zhukov's renowned command. Yet, both during and after the war, that failure was masked from public view by the successful Stalingrad operation, thus eliminating any stain from Zhukov's public image as a hero of the Great Patriotic War.

For three grueling weeks, Operation Mars was one of the most tragic and agonizing episodes in Soviet military history. Glantz's reconstruction of that failed offensive fills a major gap in our knowledge of World War II, even as it raises important questions about the reputations of national military heroes.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Glantz brings Operation Mars vividly to life.
New York Review of Books
This gripping study of the Soviet counter-offensive--a work of permanent value--reveals the full extent of Zhukov's failure.
International History Review
Shows how greatly Soviet leaders distorted the war's history in their attempts to present themselves as incapable of error.
World War II
Vivid, powerful, compelling.
Library Journal
Forgotten by history and virtually denied by the Soviet Union, the disastrous Russian defeat of 1942 in Operation Mars is finally exposed in Glantz's exhaustive study of this massive battle on the Eastern Front. Glantz, a U.S. Army historian specializing in Russian military operations, uses memoirs, official reports, and previously hidden archival sources to create a comprehensive view of this gigantic Soviet operation against the Germans just west of Moscow. Operation Mars was commanded by Georgy Zhukov, one of Stalin's most trusted generals. Zhukov threw hundreds of thousands of soldiers and thousands of tanks against the entrenched Germans but was utterly crushed. Glantz explores the Soviets' strategic, operational, and tactical planning and execution of this offensive, with particular attention to Zhukov and his subordinates. The numerous maps and orders of battle are essential for a clear understanding of the scope of this major Soviet offensive and its complete failure. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--Col. William D. Bushnell, USMC (ret.), Brunswick, ME
One of the least-known stories of WWII was Operation Mars, a Soviet operation designed to dislodge the German Army from its position west of Moscow. This account of a catastrophe censored from postwar Soviet histories reveals key players and details major events, using sources in German and Russian archives to reconstruct the historical context of Operation Mars and review the entire operation from High Command to platoon level. Includes b&w photos and maps. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknew.com)
Kirkus Reviews
A meticulous, scholarly study of one of the great land battles of WWII, from from the founder of the US Army's Foreign Military Studies Office and editor of the Journal of Slavic Military Studies. Marshal Georgy Zhukov has long been considered one of the exceptional Soviet generals of WWII, the hero of the Siege of Stalingrad who brilliantly encircled the German attacking army and obliterated it. Despite this victory and Zhukov's drive to be the first Soviet general to conquer Berlin, his career in the "Great Patriotic War" was not without its setbacks. Primary of these was Operation Mars, in November 1942. Mars was the companion to the Soviet counterattack at Stalingrad (code-named Operation Uranus) and was key to Soviet attempts to regain the offensive. Glantz's writing of the history of the campaign, while thick with facts and figures, is unassailable. By pulling apart German and Russian reports and communications, as well as later histories, he creates the definitive account of the battle. He assesses the reasons for the failure, which include improper artillery support, poor training of such critical elements as tank crews, a Red Army that lacked winter clothing, and the necessity (due to the high personnel losses in the army) of using officers who had earlier been judged unfit for service. Though most of this prodigious book is filled with the details of strategy and counterstrategy, there are points at which the fascinating characters of Zhukov and his officers shine through and offer a compelling narrative. Top-end scholarship that is too dense for all but the most dedicated aficionados of the Soviet-German conflict. Nonetheless, an important study that should rest on the shelfnext to last summer's brilliant, and more readable, Stalingrad by Antony Beevor. (photos, maps, not seen) (History Book Club Main selection)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700614172
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 9/28/2005
  • Series: Modern War Studies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 421
  • Sales rank: 818,459
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Maps and Illustrations


One. Prelude

-To Stalingrad: The Wehrmacht and Operation Blau

-Halting the German Juggernaut: Not a Step Back

-Thunder in the North

-Counteroffensive of the Gods: The Genesis of Operations Mars, Uranus, Saturn, and Jupiter

-On the Eve

Two. The Red God of War Unleashed

-Storm along the Vazuza River

-The Belyi Deep Thrust

-The Advance up the Luchesa Valley

-The Assault across the Molodoi Tud River

Three. The Red God of War Contained

-The Sychevka Meat Grinder

-Formation of the Belyi Pocket

-Stalemate in the Luchesa Valley

-The Struggle for Urdom

Four. Frustration, Fury, and Defeat

-The Encirclement and Destruction of the Belyi Pocket

-Reinforcing Failure along the Vazuza River

-Exhaustion in the North

-Defeat in the Luchesa River Valley

-Taking Stock

Five. Epilogue

-The Eclipse of Mars and the Demise of Jupiter

-The Achievements of Uranus and Transformation of Saturn

-The Reputations of Gods and Men


-From the Archives: Selective Orders and Directives from Operation Mars

-Red Army Command Personnel in Operation Mars

-Orders of Battle

-Comparative Data on Operations

-Postscript on Losses


Selective Bibliography


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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 17, 2012

    As the reviewer "The_Paradox" mentioned, there was mor

    As the reviewer "The_Paradox" mentioned, there was more focus on the Russian vs. German perspective (probably 2:1), and would also agree that it is a good resource. I, however, found that the story didn't come to life as the scope and scale of the battle/campaign make it difficult to develop detail with which one can emotionally connect. The book generally strung together factual actions and results of those actions by the combatants in an organized fashion. The front-end of the book spent some time modestly developing the key characters, but lacked a deep probe of how the characters, their relationships and motivations impacted the conflict and its outcome (e.g., Zhukov, Stalin and higher-ranking players - who was aggressive, who was deliberate, what were the politics inside the Russian and German war machines, etc.).

    For comparison, see "The Battle of the Generals: The Untold Story of the Falaise Pocket-The Campaign That Should Have Won World War II". In that book ... not trying to put in a plug, just explain where I think this book is lacking ... the character development of key participants, their relationships, motivations, personalities and actions develops interest at a more personal level, and contributes to an explanation of results beyond "this division's attack was repulsed by this regiment's defense". It would have also been interesting to see some comparison of the combatants relative effectiveness through a post-mortem assessment. I have focused on the negatives, but would still like to suggest that this work is worth reading if simply not for an insight into a little written about battle of such significance.

    There were the factual components of the Russian failure, including weather, weariness of troops who were asked to fight without relief and appropriate reserves, etc., but my guess is that there was so much more to the success and failure - maybe the relative strength, training and armaments, the ambitious reach of the plan and strategy, conflicts in leadership, etc., and this is why this book gets 3 stars in my opinion - but still a worthwhile read, if somewhat tedious read.

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  • Posted February 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    An Excellent Book

    In this book Glantz highlights a mostly forgotten defeat of the Russians against Army Group Center. His authoritative use of extensive research shows the reader a view from the conscript with a rifle on up. While he spends the majority of the book on the Russians, he also does examine some of the moves by the Germans and has some interesting pages about von Arnim and the Germans who were facing off the Russian hordes.
    Filled in the back of the book with appendexes and after-action information, this book is an invaluable resource and I would highly recommend it to other historians.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2002

    Must reading for eastern front readers

    Excellent book with a good balance between German and Soviet sources.

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