Battle of Kharkov Timeline (February - March 1942)
The Soviet's haphazard offensive netted them ground against the Germans, only to lose it all a short time later thanks to Manstein's methodical response.
As it stood, the Soviet city of Kharkov was the fourth largest city in the whole of the USSR. The taking of such a city would certainly be a feather in Hitler's cap and a blow against Stalin. Winter was in full swing and the hard turf of the Soviet countryside was ripe for battle. A massive Soviet offensive was launched to regain the ground lost to the Germans the year before. Across three major fronts, the Soviet Army moved in. On February 8th, 1942, the Russians move in and retake the city of Kharkov from its German occupiers through bloody and intimate hand-to-hand street fighting - there since November of 1941.
The Russian offensive proved an initial success as German invaders were being driven away from Soviet towns and bridgeheads. While some of the German retreat was of necessity, other retreats were strategic moves meant to buy the German Army some more time and allow the Red Army to use up its energy, resources and supplies. German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein convinced Adolph Hitler of his retreat plan and the Russians were falling right into the trap. After the loss of his men in Stalingrad, Hitler was open to retreat.
The Soviet advanced proved pricey for their forward elements were stretched thin and low in number - particularly in tanks but also in infantry. Time was of the essence for both sides, however, for the Russian spring was at hand, a time when solid frozen turf would soon turn into impassable muddy nightmares.
While the Soviet Army pushed on against the "retreating" Germans, Manstein unleashed his counterattack when all his pieces were in place. For days, the hapless Russian infantry and their few tanks were shellacked into oblivion with all sorts of random actions and uncoordinated retreats following. German artillery opened up on the Eastward-bound Russians and pounded them while infantry, air strikes and armor attacks did their part.
By March 14th, the 4th Panzer Army completes its surrounding of Kharkov until the city is officially recaptured on March 15th with full control coming on March 18th. Spring now approached and both sides dug in and around the city waiting for their next orders to come down the pipe. The retaking of territory and the capture of Kharkov proved the German's brilliance in the age of mechanized warfare - and also proved how much more the Russians had to learn about such actions.