In May 1942 the powerful German Wehrmacht and the massive Soviet Red Army were engaged in a bitter struggle. The initially rapid advance of the Wehrmacht deep into the Soviet Union against the Red Army had been halted by the spring of 1941. Red Army counteroffensives had stopped the German advance at Moscow by the spring of 1942 and the Soviet leadership was convinced the Wehrmacht was fatally stretched. A counterthrust by the Red Army at the southern end of the front line, near the town of Kharkov, would, they imagined, be a vital step in pushing the German Army back. The reality was very different. Soviet overconfidence meant that hundreds of thousands of their soldiers lost their lives in one of the most catastrophic offensives in Russian military history. For over half a century the Soviets kept the scale of their defeat secret. Only in the last decade were the documents made generally available.
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