Maloarkhangyel'sk Offensive Operation

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The 'Malo-Arkhangyel’sk Offensive Operation' was the Soviet sixth of the seven sub-operations together constituting the 'Voronezh-Kharkov Strategic Offensive Operation', and as such was a Soviet undertaking by the left-wing forces of the Bryansk Front with the object of destroying a significant part of the forces of Generalfeldmarschall GŁnther von Kluge’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' in the Orel region (5 February/2 March 1943).

Under the instructions of the Soviet high command, in February and March 1943, the forces of the Bryansk, Central, West and Kalinin Fronts undertook several offensive operations in the centre of the Eastern Front. The object of these offensives was to defeat the German forces opposite them and thereby expand in the central sector the successes achieved on the Eastern Front’s southern flank. In the sector of General Polkovnik Maksim A. Reyter’s Bryansk Front, the offensive was planned by the forces of General Major (from 13 February General Leytenant Nikolai P. Pukhov’s 13th Army and General Major Grigori A. Khalyuzin’s (from 12 February General Major Prokofi L. Romanenko’s) 48th Army. Together with General Major Ivan G. Pyatykhin’s 15th Air Army, which provided the necessary air support, and first-line reinforcement units, the front committed 240,160 men.

After only a short time for planning and preparation, the two armies began the offensive on 5 February, and in first days the offensive achieved little on the way of Soviet success. According to the new Stavka directive of 6 February, the two armies were to attack the right wing of Generaloberst Rudolf Schmidt’s 2nd Panzerarmee with the initial objective of reaching the line extending between Droskovo and Malo-Arkhangyel’sk, then bypass Orel from the south-west and connect with General Leytenant Pavel A. Belov’s 61st Army, which was undertaking a complementary assault. This should have resulted in the encirclement and defeat of the German forces in the Orel area no later than 17 February.

On 12 February, the 13th Army and 48th Army went over to the offensive for the second time. By this time, however, the Germans had completed the withdrawal of seven divisions from the Rzhev-Vyaz’ma salient and transferred them to the Orel area, where two Panzer and three infantry divisions were deployed against the Bryansk Front . Thus the renewed Soviet offensive from its first day met very stubborn resistance. In the two weeks of bloody fighting which followed, the Soviet forces were able to penetrate to a depth of only 6.2 to 18.6 miles (10 to 30 km) into the German defences. On 23 February, Malo-Arkhangyel’sk was liberated after heavy fighting, but the Soviet forces were then able to advance only another 3.1 miles (5 km) farther to the west. The offensive of the 61st Army gained no success at all. By the end of the month, the Soviet forces had been brought to a halt along the line linking Novosil, Malo-Arkhangyel’sk and Rozhdestvenskoye, along which there was no further movement until the end of the summer of 1943.

The 'Malo-Arkhangyel’sk Offensive Operation' remains notable for the high casualty rate of the Soviet forces, which was wholly incommensurate with the results achieved. The Soviet losses amounted to 19,684 men killed, missing or taken prisoner, and 34,615 men wounded or taken ill: this represented about 20% of the number of men initially committed. For his unsuccessful command and control of his troops during the operation, Khalyuzin was dismissed. The German losses are unknown, but were significantly lower than those of the Soviets.

The failure can be attributed to mistakes at all levels, and were in fact characteristic of the nature of events of the winter and spring of 1943 on the central sector of the Eastern Front. The Soviet high command then opted to undertake a number of smaller local operations at different times rather than co-ordinated major undertakings. All offensive operations were carried out at a considerable distance from each other, which deprived them of all possibility of mutual support. For the 'Malo-Arkhangyel’sk Offensive Operation', the committed force of two combined-arms armies was insignificant and the designated area of the offensive was small and easily blocked by the Germans. The Soviet effort was also hindered by a shortage of artillery and armour, and the continued Soviet predilection for tactical-level frontal attacks on fortified positions remained misconceived.