The 'Mozdok-Malgobek Defensive Operation' was the Soviet fifth of the seven sub-operations together constituting the 'North Caucasus Strategic Defensive Operation' (1/28 September 1942).
The other sub-operations were the 'Tikhoretsk-Stavropol Defensive Operation' (25 July/5 August), the 'Armavir-Maikop Defensive Operation (6/17 August), the 'Krasnodar Defensive Operation (7/14 August), the 'Novorossiysk Defensive Operation (19 August/26 September), the 'Tuapse Defensive Operation (25 September/20 December) and the 'Nalckik-Ordzhonikidze Defensive Operation (25 October/12 November).
The undertaking was effected by General Leytenant Ivan I. Maslennikov’s Northern Group of Forces of Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Semyon K. Budyonny’s Trans-Caucasus Front to stem the advance of part of Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm List’s Heeresgruppe 'A' deep into the Caucasus during 'Edelweiss', and as such was intended to repel the Germans' offensive and disrupting their attempts to break through to the oil regions of the Caucasus.
After reaching the line connecting Prokhladny, Mozdok and Ishcherskaya, the Germans intended to break through the defences of the Soviet troops on the Terek river, which flows first to the north west and then bends round to the east to flow into the western side of the Caspian Sea, destroy the main forces of General Major Konstantin A. Koroteyev’s 9th Army and develop an offensive along the Alkhan-Churt valley toward Grozny, Ordzhonikidze and Makhachkala. To achieve this goal, the primary German formation was Generaloberst Ewald von Kleist’s 1st Panzerarmee, which comprised three Panzer and three infantry divisions: single Panzer and infantry divisions were to advance on Nalchik, and the other four divisions were to focus their attack on Malgobek, where the main blow was to be delivered. In the first echelon of the Northern Group of Forces were General Major Piotr M. Kozlov’s 37th Army in the Nalchik area and the 9th Army in the Malgobek area. Supported by General Major Nikolai F. Naumenko’s 4th Air Army, these two formations were allocated the formidable task of creating a defence sufficiently stubborn to prevent any German breakthrough.
By 1 September, the balance of all the forces except those of tanks and aircraft favoured the Northern Group of Forces. This numerical superiority was offset, however, by the Soviet distribution of all it strength, and especially the artillery, evenly along the front. This meant that the Germans were able to concentrate, on their main points of attack, locally superior strength at the ratio of more than 6/1 in artillery and more than 4/1 in armour. Of the 2,356 guns and mortars available in the Northern Group of Forces, only 237 guns and mortars were available, therefore, in the Malgobek area during the course of the first period of the 'Mozdok-Malgobek Defensive Operation'.
On the night of 1 September, the Germans made diversionary attacks in the area to the east of Mozdok. On the morning of the following day, the German breakthrough forces, supported by tactical warplanes and a major concentration of artillery, began to cross the Terek river in the area to the south of Mozdok. Formations and units of the 9th Army fought back with determination, inflicting heavy losses on the Germans, and many settlements changed hands several times. Having concentrated four divisions and 200 tanks against one infantry division and two infantry brigades of the 9th Army, the Germans were able to force the Terek river and drive a wedge into the Soviet defences as much as 7.5 miles (9 km) deep. The Soviets responded by redeploying to the threatened area reserve forces and elements from sectors that were not under attack. On 6/7 September, the Germans were driven back about the same distance to the north by the XI Guards Corps. Even so the Germans, after strengthening their assault force with parts of Generalleutnant Traugott Herr’s 13th Panzerdivision, took the western part of Malgobek on 12 September despite the air support provided by the 4th Air Army: on 6 September alone, for example, the air army flew 460 sorties over the Predmostny and Kizlyarskoye areas against German infantry and armour. By 19 September, the Germans had been compelled to suspend their attack on Malgobek. However, the Germans did not abandon their plan to break into the Alkhan-Churt valley. To strengthen their forces in the Mozdok area, the Germans moved SS-Gruppenführer Felix Steiner’s SS Division 'Wiking', a motorised formation, from the coastal area of Tuapse inland to the Mozdok and Malgobek area. After the SS formation’s arrival on 25 September, the Germans renewed the attack on Malgobek.
On 28 September, near Sagopshi at the entrance to the Alkhan-Churt valley, there occurred one of the largest armoured battle of the summer and autumn campaign 1942. As many as 120 tanks and self-propelled guns were committed by each side. On the Soviet side, the armour was mainly the forces of Major V. I. Filippov’s 52nd Separate Tank Brigade, and on he German side the tank battalion attached to the SS Division 'Wiking'. The battle was a Soviet victory, and the Germans suffered many casualties in men and armour as they were driven back to their original positions.
At the cost of further heavy losses, the Germans nonetheless managed to drive back parts of the 9th Army, and by 28 September to capture Terek, Planovskoye and Illarionovka. After regrouping, and with the benefit of powerful air support and s many as 45 batteries of artillery, the Germans pushed forward and, in the course of bloody urban combat between 5 and 7 October, the SS division and Generalleutnant Hermann Recknagel’s 111th Division captured Malgobek, which was now little more than ruins. There was still much close-quarter fighting, and the Germans could achieve nothing more than tactical successes and thus went over to the defensive. The Soviet forces' persistent and steadily increasing resistance combined with their great losses in the region’s intense battles for Mozdok, Malgobek and Elkhotovo to force the Germans to abandon their offensive toward Grozny. An important part was played in this Soviet operational-level success was the Soviets' good use of manoeuvre through the nicely considered use of reserves, the much improved co-operation between all branches of the Soviet military, and the determination of the Soviet soldiers at all levels.
During the 'Mozdok-Malgobek Defensive Operation', the Germans had been unable to reinforce Heeresgruppe 'A' as these were needed at Stalingrad, where the Germans were still attempting to take the city. At the same time, the Germans could not remove any strength from Heeresgruppe 'A' to bolster Generalfeldmarschall Maximilian Reichsfreiherr von Weichs’s Heeresgruppe 'B' as it moved on Stalingrad. Thus, the course and outcome of the 'Mozdok-Malgobek Defensive Operation' had a significant impact on the disruption of Germany’s plans to seize the Grozny and Baku oil regions, and on the course of the battle for the Caucasus.