At a meeting of STAVKA on 5 January, 1942, Stalin called for an “all-out offensive” against the Germans. The proposal consisted of attacks by all nine fronts against all three German army groups.
In the north the objective was the freeing of Leningrad from encirclement. In the center Stalin wanted liberty for the Donbas region. In the south an assault to retake the Crimea.
General Zhukov, honored as the savior of Moscow, and Voznesensky objected based on the weakened condition of the Soviet Army. With the support of Timoshenko, Beria, and Malenkov, Stalin overrode the objections.
The attacks started on 7 January. Northwest Front struck north from south of Lake Ilmen but failed to take Staraya Russa. On 13 January the Volkov Front on the Volkov River found itself unable to move against the Germans. Lack of ammunition, food, and fuel prevented the troops from passing into and through Lyuban.
On 9 January 3rd and 4th Shock Armies cut south behind Army Group Center. Short of food, the troops knew the only way to succeed was to take the German supply dump at Toropets.
Kalinin Front worked to surround the German IX Army near Sychevka while cavalry attacked to surround German forces in Rzhev. General Zhukov’s forces moved through the ‘Kaluga Gap’ and attacked north toward Vyazma to surround Sukinichi.
The Luftwaffe flew in supplies for seven German divisions surrounded in Demyansk.
Fifteen hundred Soviet paratroops were dropped on Zhelanye and operated behind German lines with the assistance of partisans.
The less than spectacular results of these operations prompted Stalin to take command. He transferred the 3rd and 4th Shock Armies to the Kalinin Front. First Shock Army was detached from Kalinin Front and assigned to Northwest Front. He then directed 16th Army detached from Zhukov’s forces and sent to Bryansk Front to take Sukhinichi.
Govin’s spearheads were on the road to Minsk when Army Group Center, itself nearly surrounded, cut off those forces near Vyazma.
Casualties during this offensive were high. By late January Kalinin Front had 35 tanks remaining. High Command Reserve Artillery had only six guns. Rifle divisions had 3,000 to 3,700 soldiers each. 13th Army, originally assigned 11,500 soldiers, had been reduced to the size of a division. Tank brigades possessed 15 to 20 tanks, and artillery regiments had 12 guns.
Air support for ground forces vanished as the front moved out of the range of fighters.
General Model surrounded the Soviet 39th and 29th Armies at Rzhev.
In Army Group South’s area General Timoshenko crossed the Donets River and drove a wedge 97 kilometers deep into the German positions near Izyum.
In the Crimea Soviet troops crossed from the Kerch Peninsula and moved as far west as Feodosiya before the Germans forced them to a stop.
Sources: “The Russian Recovery,” John Erickson, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s
“The Moscow Counterblow,” Marshal Zhukov, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s
The Soviet Air Force in World War II, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Co, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973