The Soviet winter offensive in the south began on 18 January, 1942. Southwest Front’s 6th and 57th Armies attacked the Germans on a line between Balakleya and Slavyansk advancing 26 kilometers. The 37th Army made advances south of Slavyansk but were unable to penetrate the German defenses. 1st and 5th Cavalry assisted 57th Army’s advance to take Barvenkovo on 24 January. 6th Army turned north toward Kharkov.
An ad hoc German unit, ‘Mackensen’ Group, blocked the Soviet 57th Army north of Krasnoarmeyskoye. 6th, 57th, and 9th Armies with the assistance of a Cavalry Corps held a salient at Balakleya, Lozovanya, and Slavyansk 88 kilometers deep and 113 kilometers across. The attempt to defeat the Germans in the Donbass failed.
Against Army Group North the 2nd Shock Army penetrated the German line moving toward Lyuban. This fighting continued through February. The salient gained there could not be extended or widened. Ultimately, the Germans surrounded Vlasov’s 2nd Shock Army in March.
Returning to Army Group Center the Soviet 5th and 33rd Armies liberated Ruza, Mozhaysk, and Vereya on 20 January while the paratroops dropped on Zhelanye straddled the enemy routes to the rear. The Soviet 33rd Army, assisted by cavalry blocked the Warsaw road on 27 January striking for Vyazma, but German forces restored their line along the Ugra River. This success cut off Soviet forces near Zhelanye. They continued to fight alongside the partisans until April.
Shortage of shells prohibited an artillery offensive on 14 February. STAVKA’s directive of 20 March insisted on a more energetic prosecution of the German-held Rzhev, Gzhatsk, Vyazma triangle. The spring thaw finally forced STAVKA to accept a defensive posture. It also allowed the Germans to attack the concentration of partisans near Zhelanye inflicting severe casualties on them.
The winter offensive smashed the myth of the invincibility of the German Army. German losses included 500,000 men, 1,300 tanks, 2,500 guns and 15,000 assorted vehicles.
For the Soviets, the block on the German advance allowed the completion of the transfer of most of Soviet industry to the east and production began ramping up.
By 1 May Hitler’s plans for the Soviet Union solidified. He focused on the southern sector. Donbas would be removed from the Soviet military/economic balance. Transportation on the Volga would be cut off. He intended a siege on oil supplies and a conquest of Stalingrad as a hold on the Soviet military forces. The taking of the Caucasus oilfields would draw Turkey into the war.
Additionally, psychological operations ensured Stalin believed the capture of Moscow remained of high importance in German strategy.
For the summer offensive the Soviet Army possessed 5,500,000 men, 5,000 tanks, 41,000 guns and 2,500 combat aircraft.
The Germans possessed 217 divisions, and 20 brigades at 89 to 90% strength, and three air fleets. This force consisted of 6,200,000 men, 57,000 guns, 3,200 tanks and assault guns, 3,400 combat aircraft, 300 surface ships, and 44 submarines.
The next phase of the battle was about to begin.
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 Kharkov Offensives,” Colonel Vasili Morozov, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s