|Battles of Rzhev|
|Part of Eastern front of World War II|
The formation of the Rzhev salient during the winter of 1941-1942.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Ernst Busch||Georgy Zhukov|
Rzhev Battles (Ржевская битва) is a general term for a series of World War II offensives launched during January 8, 1942—March 22, 1943 by Soviet forces in the general directions of Rzhev, Sychevka and Vyazma against a German salient in the vicinity of Moscow, known as the "Rzhev meat grinder" ("Ржевская мясорубка") for its huge losses.
This part of the Great Patriotic War was poorly covered by Soviet military historiography, and what coverage exists occurred only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when historians gained access to relevant documents. Exact dates of particular battles, their names, outcomes, significance, and even losses have not been fully clarified.
A reminder of these nameless and apparently futile battles is the poem by Aleksandr Tvardovsky which contains the evocative phrase I was killed near Rzhev... (Я убит подо Ржевом, (1945-1946)).
During the Soviet winter counter-offensive of 1941, and the First Rzhev-Vyazma Offensive of January–April, 1942 (one of the bloodiest Soviet offensives), German forces were pushed back from Moscow. As a result, a salient was formed along the front line in the direction of the capital, which became known as the Rzhev-Vyazma Salient. It was strategically important for the German Army Group Centre, and was therefore strongly defended.
Soviet forces along the Kalinin Front and Western Front broke through the German lines west of Rzhev in January, but because of a bad supply route the troops of the Russian 22th, 29th and 39th Armies became encircled. To eliminate this threat to the rear of the German 9th Army, the Germans had started Operation 'Seydlitz' by the 2nd of July. This operation resulted in the complete elimination of the trapped Russian forces on the 12th of July.
Between July and October Russian forces made multiple attempts to break through again but failed. The frontline around the salient however, was pushed closer to the city of Rzhev. During this period the city of Subzow came back into Russian hands.
The next Rzhev-Sychevka Offensive of November–December, 1942, codenamed Operation 'Mars', was nearly as bloody as the first, and also failed, although the Soviets tied down German forces which may have otherwise been used to try and relieve the Stalingrad garrison, which was fighting for its life in Stalingrad.
However, due to the general course of the war, Hitler ordered German forces to depart the salient in March, 1943 during operation 'Buffel'. This turned into a Russian pursuit of the retreating Germans.
Belov behind enemy lines
Leveling the salient
Criticism and result
Evacuation of Rzhev salient
For the whole series of Rzhev battles, the numbers are not clear but the total Soviet losses are estimated at between 500,000 and 1,000,000 men. The German losses are estimated at between 300,000 and 450,000 men.