February 2nd, 1943 was a significant day. Field Marshall Paulus surrendered the German 6th Army in the ruins of Stalingrad and Stalin launched Operation Star and Gallop, 1,000 km's to the west. This latest Soviet operation had a much more ambitious goal than those that preceded it – the complete destruction of German forces in Southern Russia and the Ukraine.
Launched from the march, Voronezh & South Western Front's threw no less than 6 armies and 11 tank corps at a German line that was only just reforming after the constant retreats of the prior three months. Despite the arrival of the elite Gross Deutschland and three SS Divisions from the West, the German position was dire with a 40km gap in the line between Izyum and Slavyansk. Through this gap was pushed 1st Guards Army and the 4 tank corps of Lt General Popov's Mobile Group with orders to exploit into the rear of 1st & 4th Panzer Army's and ultimately cut their lines of communication.
With the capture of Kharkov by Voronezh Front and 25th Tank Corp approaching the critical Dnepr River crossings, the Soviet Stavka thought that finally the decisive moment had come. For German Field Marshall Manstein, it was all a calculated gamble - hold tough on the shoulders and allow the Soviets to punch into thin air and then as the Soviet forces over-extended, launch a counter offensive – the Backhand Blow.
So successful was Manstein's offensive that the Soviets were driven back beyond their starting lines and the front was in hiatus for three months till Kursk. Join the swirling battles in the Ukraine from the desperate defense at Kharkov to the open steppes in the Donbas as the two protagonists fought in deep snow and mud. Can you deliver the death blow to Germany or will you celebrate the last victory in Russia?
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