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171 CHAPTER NINE Operation Uranus The Destruction of Sixth Army SOVIET PLANNING Stalingrad marked a turning point not only in the conduct of the war but also in the Stavka’s planning system. While the Germans advanced despite a series of limited Soviet counterstrokes during July and August 1942, Stavka planners never lost sight of their goal, which was to resume large-scale offensive operations with the aim of destroying at least one German army group. Having found his own military intuition and that of his political cronies to be deficient, Stalin finally granted his military subordinates a greater role in planning and conducting operations. Nonetheless, the Soviet leader remained the ultimate authority. He determined the political aims of operations and often shaped those operations after listening to and acting upon the recommendations of his senior commanders.1 In June 1942, Boris Shaposhnikov’s fragile health had finally given way under the strain of war, and he went into semiretirement. His successor, Aleksandr Mikhailovich Vasilevsky, remained chief of staff, deputy defense commissar, and sometime field representative of the Stavka until February 1945, when he assumed command of the 3rd Belorussian Front, followed in July by command of the Far Eastern theater. Far less temperamental than Zhukov, Vasilevsky exercised a calming, rational influence on the dictator. The new chief of staff surrounded himself with superbly competent assistants , appointing Colonel General Aleksei Innokent’ovich Antonov as his first deputy and chief of the Operations Directorate in December 1942. To replace the cumbersome system of three Strategic Direction headquarters, Stalin and Vasilevsky increasingly used Stavka representatives to coordinate and supervise the conduct of major operations by one or more fronts. These senior officers, including Zhukov, N. N. Voronov, Timoshenko, and others, provided the critical link between operating fronts and the General Staff; they also gave Stalin a sense of confidence that field operations would be carried out in accordance with his wishes.2 Throughout the summer of Operation Blau and the desperate defense of Stalingrad, Vasilevsky kept a small group of staff officers, headed by Major General Fedor Efimovich Bokov, working on plans for a strategic counteroffensive , designed to be the first phase of an ambitious winter campaign 172 Chapter Nine that would embrace the entire central and southern regions of the front (see Map 12). A number of other officers, most notably Zhukov and Vasilevsky, later claimed authorship of the result (Operation Uranus), but their accounts do not match the facts.3 Newly released Stavka records now prove that Eremenko , commander of the Stalingrad Front, was responsible for proposing the concept for what ultimately became Operation Uranus. He did so on 6 October in response to Zhukov’s requests for comments from his front commanders about a fresh counteroffensive to encircle German Sixth Army. In September and early October, the Stavka had already launched several major counteroffensives from the Kotluban’ region north of Stalingrad and from areas south of the city, but these had proved costly failures. Recoiling in horror over the prospect of repeating these bloodlettings, Eremenko suggested a far broader envelopment operation from the bridgeheads across the Don River at Serafimovich and Kletskaia and from the lake region south of Stalingrad; the attacking forces would link up at Kalach on the Don, deep in Sixth Army’s rear.4 This concept involved penetrating Romanian rather than German defenses and employing cavalry and armor to carry out the enveloping maneuver. Zhukov, in his capacity as Deputy Supreme Commander, accepted Eremenko’s proposal, strengthened it significantly with armor, and convinced Stalin of the plan’s feasibility. By mid-October 1942, Stalin was sufficiently confident to expand this proposal into a series of strategic counteroffensives scheduled to begin in late October but ultimately delayed until mid-November.5 The first, Operation Uranus, aimed to encircle and destroy Axis forces in the Stalingrad region. It would be followed by Operation Saturn, an advance southwestward to Rostov aimed at isolating and destroying all of German Army Groups A and B. Simultaneously, Zhukov would coordinate the Western and Kalinin Fronts in Operation Mars, an attempt to collapse Army Group Center’s salient at Rzhev northwest of Moscow, seize Velikie Luki, distract German reinforcements from the south, and heavily damage Kluge’s army group.6 The final planet in this constellation of Soviet offensives was to be Jupiter or Neptune . Just as Saturn depended on the success of Uranus, Jupiter or Neptune was designed to build...


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