A field army is a military formation in many armed forces, composed of two or more corps and may be subordinate to an army group. Air armies are equivalent formation within some air forces. A field army is composed of 100,000 to 150,000 troops. Particular field armies are named or numbered to distinguish them from "army" in the sense of an entire national land military force. In English, the typical style for naming field armies is word numbers, such as "First Army". A field army may be given a geographical name in addition to or as an alternative to a numerical name, such as the British Army of the Rhine, Army of the Niemen or Aegean Army; the Roman army was among the first to feature a formal field army, in the sense of a large, combined arms formation, namely the sacer comitatus, which may be translated as "sacred escort". The term is derived from the fact that they were commanded by Roman emperors, when they acted as field commanders. While the Roman comitatensis is sometimes translated as "field army", it may be translated as the more generic "field force" or "mobile force".
In some armed forces, an "army" has been equivalent to a corps-level unit. Prior to 1945, this was the case with a gun within the Imperial Japanese Army, for which the formation equivalent in size to a field army was an "area army". In the Soviet Red Army and the Soviet Air Forces, an army was subordinate in wartime to a front, it contained at least three to five divisions along with artillery, air defense and other supporting units. It could be classified as either tank army. In peacetime, a Soviet army was subordinate to a military district. Modern field armies are large formations which vary between armed forces in size and scope of responsibility. For instance, within NATO a field army is composed of a headquarters, controls at least two corps, beneath which are a variable number of divisions. A battle is influenced at the field army level by transferring divisions and reinforcements from one corps to another to increase the pressure on the enemy at a critical point. NATO armies are commanded by a general or lieutenant general.
Armeeoberkommando Military unit Military history List of numbered armies
8th Army (Soviet Union)
The 8th Army was a field army of the Soviet Red Army during the Second World War. The 8th Army was formed in October 1939 from the Novgorod Army Operational Group of the Leningrad Military District with the task of providing security of the Northwestern borders of the USSR. On 30 November 1939 the Soviet Union attacked Finland in the Winter War; the strength of the 8th Army, or overall the Red Army, in the north of Lake Ladoga, surprised the Finnish general staff. The Finns deployed only two divisions, they had a support group of three brigades, bringing their total strength to over 30,000 uniforms; the Soviets had a division for all roads leading west to the Finnish border. The Eighth Army was led by Ivan Khabarov; the Vice Commander of the Southern Group was Vladimir Kurdyumov from December 1939, appointed the Vice Commander of the 15th Army. The mission was to destroy the Finnish troops in the area of Ladoga Karelia and advance to the area between Sortavala and Joensuu within ten days; the Soviets had the advantage of a three-to-one ratio in men, five-to-one in artillery and air supremacy.
The Finnish troops conducted a pre-planned retreat before the overwhelming opposition. On 7 December, in middle of the Ladoga Karelian front, the Finns retreated near the small stream of Kollaa; the waterway itself did not offer any protection, but alongside there were ridges up to ten meters. The battle of Kollaa lasted until the end of war. Up to north the Finns retreated from Ägläjärvi to Tolvajärvi on 5 December, defeated Soviet attacks by the 139th Rifle Division and 75th Rifle Division in the battle of Tolvajärvi on 12 December. In the south, two Soviet divisions were united on the northern side of the coastal road of Lake Ladoga; as before, these divisions were in a trap as the Finns could make counterattacks from a north to columns flank. The Finns made counterattacks in all fronts but were not successful – however the Red Army was now facing a position of defence rather than attack. On 19 December the Finns temporarily ceased their assaults, it was not until the period 6 to 16 January 1940 that the Finns made another major offensive, cut the Soviet division into a smaller group of different sized mottis.
Contrary to Finnish expectation, the encircled Soviets divisions did not try to breakthrough to the east but instead they stayed put and entrenched themselves. The Soviets were expecting auxiliary troops and service shipments support to arrive by the air. However, the Finns repelled all efforts of the Soviet Eighth Army to resupply the encircled troops, they did not get enough supplies from the air; as the Finns lacked the necessary heavy artillery equipment and were short of men, they did not directly attack the mottis they had created, but instead focussed on eliminating the most dangerous threats only and bide their time. In 1940 the Army became a part of the Baltic Special Military District. From the morning of 22 June 1941 as part of the Northwestern Front the army joined the heavy fighting with superior forces of the German Wehrmacht on the Shyaulyay axis. On 23–25 June its 12th Mechanised Corps with the part of the 3rd Mechanised Corps of the 11th Army southwest of Shyaulyaya executed a counterblow on the forces of the enemy’s Panzer Group 4, as a result of which their advance was delayed by several days.
After 30 June the 22nd Motor Rifle Division NKVD started operating as part of 10th Rifle Corps. During July–August the troops of the 8th Army conducted persistent defensive actions in the territory of Estonia. On 14 July, the army was transferred to the Northern Front, on 27 August of the Leningrad Front. In the beginning of September 1941 the army's troops fought on the neighboring approaches to Leningrad, retaining contact with the forces of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet on the Oranienbaum bridgehead which played an important role in the Siege of Leningrad. At the beginning of November, the Army headquarters and some formations and units of the 8th Army were relocated into the eastern sector of the defence of the Leningrad Front and to the bridgehead on the Neva River in Moscow Dubrovki. During November- December, they conducted persistent offensive combat for achieving Leningrad blockade break-through. At the end of January 1942 the administration of the army, crossed on Lake Ladoga ice to the Volkhov direction, combined formations and units for the Sinyavinsk operations group of 54th Army, which occupied defenses from the south coast of Ladoga lake to the Kirov railroad.
On 9 June, the army was subordinated to the Volkhov Front. In August- September, it acted as a part of the Front's assault group for the Sinyavinsk Offensive Operation. During January 1943, the 8th Army participated in the Leningrad blockade break-through, covering the southern flank of the Front’s assault group. During July–August it conducted furious fighting in the Mga Offensive Operation. During January 1944, the army headquarters and its support units were moved between Novgorod and Lake Peipus. After accepting new formations, the Army participated in the Novgorod-Luga Offensive Operation. After regrouping as part of the Leningrad Front, the Army made several attempts to enc
303rd Rifle Division (Soviet Union)
The 303rd Rifle Division began service as a standard Red Army rifle division shortly after the German invasion, in its first formation fought in the central part of the Soviet-German front for a few months, taking part in the first offensive success of the Red Army at Yelnya, before being encircled and annihilated in the fighting around Vyasma. A second 303rd was raised a few months and fought on in the central sector of Ukraine; the men and women of the division first distinguished themselves during the summer offensive of 1943, making an assault crossing of the Dniepr River at Verkhnodniprovsk and gaining a battle honor for it. A second such honor was won in the spring of 1944 for the division's role in the liberation of the city of Beltsy in Moldova, it ended the war at Prague, after advancing through Romania and Austria. The division was disbanded in 1946; the division began forming on July 1941 at Voronezh in the Oryol Military District. Col. Nikolai Pavlovich Rudnev was appointed as commanding officer on the same day.
The division's order of battle was as follows: 845th Rifle Regiment 847th Rifle Regiment 849th Rifle Regiment 844th Artillery Regiment 561st Sapper Battalion 741th Signal Battalion 365th Reconnaissance CompanyLess than a month after forming, the 303rd was assigned to Reserve Front, moving to 43rd Army of that Front on August 10, just as that Army was itself forming up. By the end of August it had been shifted to 24th Army, took part in the third counteroffensive against the Yelnya salient, beginning on August 30; the division led the southern Shock Group as part of the planned concentric attack to seal off the salient, advanced 2km on the first day, again on the second. After standing off German counterattacks for two days, it again advanced on September 3, with assistance from a tank battalion, it was still about 8km short of linking up with the northern Group when German Army Group Center ordered its forces to withdraw from the salient, carried out over the next four days. Army General G.
K. Zhukov gave the 303rd little credit for this success, stating that "The 303rd... operated poorly and without initiative". It was not chosen to become one of the first four Guards rifle divisions; as of September 12 the rifle regiments of the division averaged only 400 men each, indicating excessive casualties. By the end of September the division was reassigned yet again, to 49th Army of Reserve Front some 200km to the north in the area of Sychevka. Before this move could get well underway, the 303rd was swept up in the German Operation Typhoon, by October 10 was encircled north of Spas-Demensk. By the end of the month the division was destroyed as a fighting unit, but a cadre survived, Col. Alexsandr Gavrilovich Moiseevskiy was appointed to its command on October 31; the division lingered on the official order of battle until December 27. A new rifle division numbered the 448th, began forming on January 1, 1942, at Topki in the Siberian Military District, its first commander, Col. Lev Ivanovich Ostroukhov, was assigned on that date.
It was formed from men drafted out of the Kuzbass coal mining region, in March was re-designated as the second 303rd Rifle Division. At this time its composition by nationality was recorded as 60 % Siberian and others, it remained in the Siberian District until April. Its order of battle remained the same as that of the 1st formation, although an unknown numbered antitank battalion would have been included. Late in that month it moved to the Moscow Military District and was assigned to the 2nd Reserve Army in the STAVKA reserves. By July the division was in 3rd Reserve Army when it was re-designated the 60th Army for front-line service. On July 19 that Army went into Voronezh Front, on that same date, Col. Konstantin Stepanovich Fyodorovskiy was promoted from chief of staff to divisional command. Promoted to the rank of Major General on January 17, 1944, he remained in command until late December of the same year; the 303rd spent the remainder of 1942 in that Army in that Front, mounting an aggressive defense against what the STAVKA anticipated to be a German drive to the northeast towards Moscow.
In early 1943 it was moved to 40th Army, for a month in Voronezh Front reserves for rebuilding. Following this the 303rd was transferred to Southwestern Front, in April to 57th Army of that Front. Following the Battle of Kursk, 57th Army was moved to Steppe Front and in September the division was reassigned to the 7th Guards Army; the 303rd was destined to remain in that Front for the duration. It was in this period, during the Battle of the Dniepr, that the division was recognized for its efforts in a river-crossing operation at the town of Verkhnodniprovsk, received the following unusual honorific:"UPPER DNIEPR - Liberated on October 22, 1943 by troops of 2nd Ukrainian Front in the attack on the Krivoy Rog direction during the battle for the Dniepr... 303rd Rifle Division... By order of the Supreme High Command is given this name." The division was further recognized on January 8, 1944, with the award of the Order of the Red Banner. In February it was moved to the 52nd Army as part of the 78th Rifle Corps, in which it liberated the Moldovan town of Beltsy on March 26, earned its second battle honor:"BELTSY - 303rd Rifle Division...
The troops who participated in the battles during the crossing of the Dniestr and the liberation of Beltsy... by order of the Supreme High Command and a commendation in Moscow on 26 March 1944 are saluted with 24 salvoes from 324 guns." However, the Corps' advance ran out of steam the next month outside the Romanian city of Iași. In June
Fedor Ivanovich Tolbukhin was a Soviet military commander. Tolbukhin was born into a peasant family in the province of north-east of Moscow, he volunteered for the Imperial Army in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I. He was promoted, advancing from private to captain by 1916, he was decorated for bravery multiple times. In August 1918 Tolbukhin joined the Red Army, where he served as the chief of staff of the 56th infantry division. After the Russian Civil War ended, Tolbukhin was given a number of staff positions, he attended the Frunze Military Academy for advanced staff training, graduating in 1931. In 1937, after a series of staff positions, Tolbukhin was given command of a division. In 1938, he was made chief of staff of the Transcaucasus Military District. Tolbukhin remained in this position through the opening phases of Operation Barbarossa until August 1941, when he was made the chief of staff of the Crimean Front, which he held until March 1942. From May to July 1942, he was the assistant commander of the Stalingrad Military District.
After that, he was the commander of the 58th Army until March 1943. The 58th was involved in the Battle of Stalingrad, where Tolbukhin's superior, Colonel-General Andrei Yeremenko, praised his command organization and military prowess. After his command of the 57th, Tolbukhin was placed in command of the Southern Front. In October 1943 the Southern Front was renamed 4th Ukrainian Front. Tolbukhin assisted Rodion Malinovsky's 3rd Ukrainian Front in the Lower Dnieper Offensive and Dnieper–Carpathian Offensive. In May 1944, Tolbukhin was transferred to control of 3rd Ukrainian Front. During the Summer Campaign, from June to October 1944, Tolbukhin and Malinovsky launched their invasion of the Balkans and were able to conquer most of Romania. On September 12, 1944, two days after Malinovsky was promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union, Tolbukhin was promoted to the same rank. While Malinovsky moved northwest, towards Hungary and Yugoslavia, Tolbukhin occupied Bulgaria. Starting in the Winter Campaign, Tolbukhin shifted his army to the northwest axis, thereby liberating much of Yugoslavia and invading southern Hungary.
After the war, Tolbukhin was commander-in-chief of the Southern Group of Forces, which comprised the Balkan region. In January 1947, Tolbukhin was made the commander of the Transcaucasus Military District, a post he held until his death on October 17, 1949. Tolbukhin is regarded as one of the finest Soviet generals of World War II. Meticulous and not overly ambitious like some Soviet commanders, Tolbukhin was well respected by fellow commanders and his men since he had a dedication to keeping casualty rates low. Tolbukhin was the recipient of numerous awards and medals including the highest Soviet medal and rank, the Victory Order and Hero of the Soviet Union, respectively. Tolbukhin was a hero of Yugoslavia, whose capital Belgrade he liberated; the urn containing his ashes is buried in the Kremlin necropolis wall, there is a monument to him in his native Yaroslavl. Hero of the Soviet Union Order of Victory Two Orders of Lenin Order of Red Banner, three times Order of Suvorov, 1st class, twice Order of Kutuzov, 1st class Order of the Red Star Order of St. Anna, 3rd class Order of St. Stanislaus, 3rd class Order of the People's Hero Hero of the People's Republic of Bulgaria Order of Bravery Order of Georgi Dimitrov Order of the "Hungarian freedom" Grand Cross of the Order of "The Republic of Hungary" Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour Honorary Citizen of Sofia and Belgrade To the Valiant Soldier of the Karelian Front Medal "For the Defence of Stalingrad" Medal "For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945" Medal "For the Capture of Budapest" Medal "For the Capture of Vienna" Medal "In Commemoration of the 800th Anniversary of Moscow" Jubilee Medal "XX Years of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army" Medal "For the Liberation of Belgrade" Jubilee Medal "30 Years of the Soviet Army and Navy" The Bulgarian city of Dobrich was renamed Tolbukhin, a name it held until the fall of communism in 1989.
A Prospect in Odessa holds his name. One of the main streets in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, was named Marshal Tolbukhin Street; the street was named Макензијева / Makenzijeva, after Scottish missionary Francis Mackenzie who purchased and developed this part of the city in the late 19th century. After the fall of Communism in Serbia and democratic changes in 2000, the name of the street was reverted to its original name. Instead, Goce Delčeva Street, in the new section of the city was renamed Boulevard of Marshal Tolbukhin in 2016. Budapest, the capital of Hungary had one of its streets named after Tolbukhin, as he was one of the major Soviet commanders in the Hungarian war theatre; the previous Mészáros utca was renamed Vámház körút during the construction of the area in 1875. The road was renamed after the Tsar of Bulgaria, Ferdinand in 1915, when Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in the First World War. In 1919 the road got back its old name, Vámház körút, which it bore until 1942, when it was once more renamed, this time after son of Regent of Hungary, Admiral Miklós Horthy, István Horthy.
In 1945, the road was named after Marshal Tolbukhin, it held this name until 1990 w
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army shortened to Red Army was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established after the 1917 October Revolution; the Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; the Red Army provided the largest land force in the Allied victory in the European theatre of World War II, its invasion of Manchuria assisted the unconditional surrender of Imperial Japan. During operations on the Eastern Front, it accounted for 75–80% of casualties the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS suffered during the war and captured the Nazi German capital, Berlin. In September 1917, Vladimir Lenin wrote: "There is only one way to prevent the restoration of the police, and, to create a people's militia and to fuse it with the army."
At the time, the Imperial Russian Army had started to collapse. 23% of the male population of the Russian Empire were mobilized. The Tsarist general Nikolay Dukhonin estimated that there had been 2 million deserters, 1.8 million dead, 5 million wounded and 2 million prisoners. He estimated the remaining troops as numbering 10 million. While the Imperial Russian Army was being taken apart, "it became apparent that the rag-tag Red Guard units and elements of the imperial army who had gone over the side of the Bolsheviks were quite inadequate to the task of defending the new government against external foes." Therefore, the Council of People's Commissars decided to form the Red Army on 28 January 1918. They envisioned a body "formed from the class-conscious and best elements of the working classes." All citizens of the Russian republic aged 18 or older were eligible. Its role being the defense "of the Soviet authority, the creation of a basis for the transformation of the standing army into a force deriving its strength from a nation in arms, furthermore, the creation of a basis for the support of the coming Socialist Revolution in Europe."
Enlistment was conditional upon "guarantees being given by a military or civil committee functioning within the territory of the Soviet Power, or by party or trade union committees or, in extreme cases, by two persons belonging to one of the above organizations." In the event of an entire unit wanting to join the Red Army, a "collective guarantee and the affirmative vote of all its members would be necessary." Because the Red Army was composed of peasants, the families of those who served were guaranteed rations and assistance with farm work. Some peasants who remained at home yearned to join the Army. If they were turned away they would prepare care-packages. In some cases the money they earned would go towards tanks for the Army; the Council of People's Commissars appointed itself the supreme head of the Red Army, delegating command and administration of the army to the Commissariat for Military Affairs and the Special All-Russian College within this commissariat. Nikolai Krylenko was the supreme commander-in-chief, with Aleksandr Myasnikyan as deputy.
Nikolai Podvoisky became the commissar for Pavel Dybenko, commissar for the fleet. Proshyan, Steinberg were specified as people's commissars as well as Vladimir Bonch-Bruyevich from the Bureau of Commissars. At a joint meeting of Bolsheviks and Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, held on 22 February 1918, Krylenko remarked: "We have no army; the demoralized soldiers are fleeing, panic-stricken, as soon as they see a German helmet appear on the horizon, abandoning their artillery and all war material to the triumphantly advancing enemy. The Red Guard units are brushed aside like flies. We have no power to stay the enemy; the Russian Civil War occurred in three periods: October 1917 – November 1918: From the Bolshevik Revolution to the First World War Armistice, developed from the Bolshevik government's nationalization of traditional Cossack lands in November 1917. This provoked the insurrection of General Alexey Maximovich Kaledin's Volunteer Army in the River Don region; the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk aggravated Russian internal politics.
The situation encouraged direct Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, in which twelve foreign countries supported anti-Bolshevik militias. A series of engagements resulted, amongst others, the Czechoslovak Legion, the Polish 5th Rifle Division, the pro-Bolshevik Red Latvian Riflemen. January 1919 – November 1919: Initially the White armies advanced: from the south, under General Anton Denikin; the Whites defeated the Red Army on each front. Leon Trotsky reformed and counterattacked: the Red Army repelled Admiral Kolchak's army in June, the armies of General Denikin and General Yudenich in October. By mid-Nove
Southern Group of Forces
The Southern Group of Forces was a Soviet Armed Forces formation formed twice following the Second World War, most notably around the time of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. On June 15, 1945, the 26th and 37th Armies in Romania and Bulgaria, plus a division which had reached Yugoslavia, were grouped into the Southern Group of Forces, it was commanded by Fyodor Tolbukhin. In 1946, the 37th Army became the 10th Mechanised Army. 57th Army to become 9th Mechanised Army, was part of the Group. Colonel general Vyacheslav Tsvetayev commanded the army between its disbandedment. After the signing of the Paris Peace Treaties in 1947, the SGF disbanded, along with HQ 26th Army, passed on its functions to the 10th Mechanised Army, which had now been redesignated the Special Mechanized Army; the Group was re-created for a second time with its staff in Budapest during September 1955. Lenskii says that it was re-created in 1955 to control the Soviet troops in Hungary following the disbandment of the former Central Group of Forces which had controlled troops in Austria and Hungary from 1945 to 1955, the Soviet withdrawal from Austria.
Under its command were the 2nd Guards'Nikolayevsk-Budapest' Mechanised Division, the 17th Guards'Yenakievskiy-Danube' Mechanised Division, two air divisions, other troops. Lenskii says their function was'to cover the boundary with neutral Austria and to guarantee communications in the case of the advancement of troops from the USSR'. On October 24, 1956 the 33rd Guard Kherson Mechanized Division stationed in Romania near the Romanian-Hungarian border, two divisions from the Carpathian Military District, the 11th Guards'Rovenskaya' Mechanized and 128th Guards Rifle Division, entered Hungary under the control of a Rifle Corps; the forces in Hungary and those entering totalled 31,500 men. The 33rd Guards Mechanised Division took the lead role in suppressing the Hungarian Revolution in Budapest, lost, according to Soviet sources, 14 tanks and assault guns as well as 9 armoured personnel carriers. Seven months afterward, on May 28, 1957, an agreement on the status of Soviet troops, comprising the Southern Group of Forces, was made between the USSR and Hungary.
The 11th Guards Mechanised and 128th Guards Rifle Divisions returned to the Carpathian Military District and were replaced by the 21st Guards'Poltava' Tank Division and the 27th'Cherkassy' Motor Rifle Division, both under the command of the Carpathian Military District's 38th Army. 2nd Guards Mechanised Division was re-formed into the 19th Guards Tank Division, the 17th Guards Mechanised Division was re-formed into the 17th Guard Motor Rifle Division and withdrawn to the USSR. The 33rd Guards Mechanised Division was replaced by the 35th Guards'Kharkov' Mechanised Division. Either in 1957 or 1965, three of the four divisions in the Group were redesignated, toward the end of the 1980s the Group comprised: 13th Guards Tank Poltava Division - in Veszprém. 36th Air ArmySmaller units included the 327th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment, headquartered at Szolnok and tasked with airfield defence. In 1967, the 22nd Missile Brigade became part of the Southern Group of Forces at Dombóvár; the removal of Soviet troops from Hungary began during May 1989, with the withdrawal and disbandment of 13th Guards Tank Division.
The 19th Guards Tank Division was withdrawn to the Belorussian Military District and the 254th Motor Rifle Division to the Kiev Military District. The 93rd Guards Motor Rifle Division was withdrawn in early 1991 to the Kiev Military District and the Group disbanded on 16 June 1991. December 1956 - October 1960 - Army General Mikhail Kazakov October 1960 - August 1961 - Colonel General Matvei Nikitin August 1961 - September 1962 - Army General Pavel Batov September 1962 - October 1969 - Colonel General Konstantin Provalov October 1969 - December 1975 - Colonel General Boris Ivanov December 1975 - March 1979 - Colonel General Fedot Krivda March 1979 - August 1982 - Colonel General Vladimir Sivenok August 1982 - August 1985 - Colonel General Konstantin Kochetov August 1985 - June 1988 - Colonel General Alexey Demidov June 1988 - December 1990 - Colonael General Matvei Burlakov December 1990 - September 1992 - Lieutenant General Viktor Shilov The following units were part of the Southern Group of Forces Air Forces, designated the 36th Air Army between 1967 and 1981.11th Guards Fighter Aviation Division 5th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment 14th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment 515th Fighter Aviation Regiment 1st Guards Fighter Bomber Aviation Regiment 727th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment 328th Separate Guards Reconnaissance Aviation Regiment 396th Separate Guards Helicopter Regiment 294th Separate Electronic Warfare Helicopter Squadron 8th Separate Target-Towing Aviation Squadron 201st Separate Mixed Aviation Squadron 37th Separate Helicopter Unit 38th Separate Helicopter Unit 72nd Separate Helicopter Unit 74th Separate Helicopter Unit 18th Separate Communications and Automated Control Regiment The 11th Guards Fighter Aviation Division moved from Parndorf in Austria to Veszprém-Jutas in Hungary in Nove
Second Battle of Kharkov
The Second Battle of Kharkov or Operation Fredericus was an Axis counter-offensive in the region around Kharkov against the Red Army Izium bridgehead offensive conducted 12–28 May 1942, on the Eastern Front during World War II. Its objective was to eliminate the Izium bridgehead over Seversky Donets or the "Barvenkovo bulge", one of the Soviet offensive's staging areas. After a winter counter-offensive that drove German troops away from Moscow but depleted the Red Army's reserves, the Kharkov offensive was a new Soviet attempt to expand upon their strategic initiative, although it failed to secure a significant element of surprise. On 12 May 1942, Soviet forces under the command of Marshal Semyon Timoshenko launched an offensive against the German 6th Army from a salient established during the winter counter-offensive. After a promising start, the offensive was stopped on 15 May by a massive German campaign of airstrikes. Critical Soviet errors by several staff officers and by Joseph Stalin, who failed to estimate the 6th Army's potential and overestimated their own newly raised forces, facilitated a German pincer attack on 17 May which cut off three Soviet field armies from the rest of the front by 22 May.
Hemmed into a narrow area, the 250,000-strong Soviet force inside the pocket was exterminated from all sides by German armored and machine gun firepower as well as 7,700 tonnes of air-dropped bombs. After six days of encirclement, organized Soviet resistance came to an end as the Soviet formations were either killed or taken prisoner; the battle was an overwhelming German victory, with 280,000 Soviet casualties compared to just 20,000 for the Germans and their allies. The German Army Group South pressed its advantage, encircling the Soviet 28th Army on 13 June in Operation Wilhelm and pushing back the 38th and 9th Armies on 22 June in Operation Fridericus II as preliminary operations to Case Blue, launched on 28 June as the main German offensive on the Eastern Front in 1942. By late February 1942, the Soviet winter counter-offensive, had pushed German forces from Moscow on a broad front and ended in mutual exhaustion. Stalin was convinced that the Germans were finished and would collapse by the spring or summer 1942, as he said in his speech of 7 November 1941.
Stalin decided to exploit this perceived weakness on the Eastern Front by launching a new offensive in the spring. Stalin's decision faced objections from his advisors, including the Chief of the Red Army General Staff, General Boris Shaposhnikov, generals Aleksandr Vasilevsky and Georgy Zhukov, who argued for a more defensive strategy. Vasilevsky wrote "Yes, we were hoping for, but the reality was more harsh than that". According to Zhukov, Stalin believed that the Germans were able to carry out operations along two strategic axes, he was sure that the opening of spring offensives along the entire front would destabilize the German Army, before it had a chance to initiate what could be a mortal offensive blow on Moscow. Despite the caution urged by his generals, Stalin decided to try to keep the German forces off-balance through "local offensives". After the conclusion of the winter offensive and the Soviet Armed Forces General Staff believed that the eventual German offensives would aim for Moscow, with a big offensive to the south as well, mirroring Operation Barbarossa and Operation Typhoon in 1941.
Although Stavka believed that the Germans had been defeated before Moscow, the seventy divisions which faced Moscow remained a threat. Stalin, most generals and front commanders believed that the principal effort would be a German offensive towards Moscow. Emboldened by the success of the winter offensive, Stalin was convinced that local offensives in the area would wear down German forces, weakening German efforts to mount another operation to take Moscow. Stalin had agreed to prepare the Red Army for an "active strategic defence" but gave orders for the planning of seven local offensives, stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. One area was Kharkov, where action was ordered for March. Early that month, the Stavka issued orders to Southwestern Strategic Direction headquarters for an offensive in the region, after the victories following the Rostov Strategic Offensive Operation and the Barvenkovo–Lozovaya Offensive Operation in the Donbas region; the forces of Marshal Semyon Timoshenko and Lieutenant General Kirill Moskalenko penetrated German positions along the northern Donets River, east of Kharkov.
Fighting continued into April, with Moskalenko crossing the river and establishing a tenuous bridgehead at Izium. In the south, the Soviet 6th Army had limited success defending against German forces, which managed to keep a bridgehead of their own on the east bank of the river. Catching the attention of Stalin, it set the pace for the prelude to the eventual offensive intended to reach Pavlohrad and Sinelnikovo and Kharkov and Poltava. By 15 March, Soviet commanders introduced preliminary plans for an offensive towards Kharkov, assisted by a large number of reserves. On 20 March, Timoshenko held a conference in Kupiansk to discuss the offensive and a report to Moscow, prepared by Timoshenko's chief of staff, General Lieutenant Ivan Baghramian, summed up the conference, although arguably leaving several key intelligence features out; the build-up of Soviet forces in the region of Barvenkovo and Vovchansk continued well into the beginning of May. Final details were settled following discussions between Stalin and the leadership of the Southwestern Strategic Direction led by Timoshenko throughout March and April, with one of the final Stavka directives issued on 17 April.
By 11 May 1942, the Red Army was able to allocate six armies und