Zhukov's Greatest Defeat
The Red Army's Epic Disaster in Operation Mars, 1942
David M. Glantz
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.
“The Soviet dead, missing and wounded were estimated at a staggering 335,000. Glantz describes the appalling carnage that occurred in the forests, mud, fog, freezing temperatures and raging snowstorms of western Russia [and] brings Operation Mars vividly to life.”
—New York Times Book Review
“This gripping study of the Soviet counter-offensive—a work of permanent value—reveals the full extent of Zhukov’s failure.”
—New York Review of BooksSee all reviews...
“Shows how greatly Soviet leaders distorted the war’s history in their attempts to present themselves as incapable of error.”
—International History Review
“Vivid, powerful, compelling.”
—World War II
“This is an outstanding contribution to the military history of a very important and little-known event in the campaign on the Eastern Front. That this major setback should have been so concealed from the outside world is characteristic of Soviet censorship; but the depth in which Glantz has studied the whole operation from High Command level to company or platoon using the widest range of source material deserves the highest praise. Also significant is Glantz’s placement of Operation Mars alongside the much better-known Stalingrad battle (Operation Uranus) in Soviet political-strategic planning. Glantz’s evidence is impressive, his conclusions totally convincing, and the actual military detail unrivaled in the literature. A truly important work.”
—Malcolm Macintosh, author of Juggernaut: A History of Soviet Armed Forces
“A very important book that radically challenges the 'received wisdom' about Stalingrad, the full significance of which cannot be grasped without understanding the role of Operation Mars. That story has remained largely unknown or unexplored for half a century, systematically concealed in Soviet historiography and deliberately misrepresented by Zhukov himself. Glantz’s indispensable account, fundamentally important for a proper understanding of the Soviet–German front in late 1942, rescues Operation Mars from such terrible oblivion.”
—John Erickson, author of The Road to Stalingrad
“Redressing a major imbalance in the historical record, Glantz does a remarkable job of unearthing the Soviet side of Operation Mars. This book is well worth reading for anyone interested in the Soviet Union’s monumental struggles in World War II.”
—Roger Reese, author of Stalin’s Reluctant Soldiers: A Social History of the Red Army, 1925–1941See fewer reviews...
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.