From Moscow to Kursk (January 1942-August 1943)
At the beginning of January 1942 the Stavka met to discuss plans for a counter-offensive to drive the Wehrmacht away from Leningrad and Moscow and to crush the German forces in the south. Stalin was in an overly optimistic mood, insisting that the Germans, having been defeated at the gates of Moscow and being ill equipped for winter warfare, were an easy prey. Much to Zhukov's horror, he therefore called for a general offensive on all fronts. The Red Army lacked the resources, particularly artillery, for such a grandiose operation, which even under optimum conditions would have been a dangerous dissipation of effort. Zhukov therefore argued in favour of exploiting the weaknesses of Army Group Centre and insisted that offensives to the north and south would be doomed to failure. None of this had any effect. Stalin had made up his mind before the Stavka met, and directives had already been sent to the front commanders.
The offensive was to be carried out along the entire front from Leningrad to the Crimea so that Soviet forces, who suffered from acute shortages of food, fuel and ammunition, were spread so thinly across almost one thousand miles of front that there could be little chance of success. From his bunker in the Kremlin Stalin issued meaningless orders to terrified commanders, while his entourage shielded him from the harsh realities at the front. By moving armies from one point on the front to another he further undermined the efforts of his front-line commanders, who were doing their utmost to make the best of an almost impossible situation. Soviet forces either ran up against German strong points, were worn down and beaten back, or they advanced through the spaces between them and were encircled by skilful counter-attacks. It soon became obvious