(Operation Citadel)Introduction The Battle of Kursk was one of the most important and well remembered battles of the Second World War. It decided which country would gain the advantage of power on the Eastern Front. A victory at Kursk was crucial for Germany.
If they had managed to break through the Russian defensive lines and achieve a strategic victory, it could have changed the tide of the war back into the favour of Germany. After facing a catastrophic defeat at Stalingrad in 1942-1943, the Germans launched a large offensive in the East known as Operation Citadel. The goal of the Citadel operation was to cut off a large salient that stretched 70 miles toward the West by attacking from both the North and South simultaneously. After the counterattack at Stalingrad, Erich von Manstein urged an attack on the Kursk salient as soon as possible. Adolf Hitler considered and accepted his suggestion but postponed the attack until July so the maximum number of the new Tiger, Panther, and Elephant tanks could reach the East.
With Hitler postponing the attack, the Soviets gained and ceased the opportunity to better improve defenses. The Soviets were able to move in reinforcements, prepare flanks with minefields, and move in defensive works. The Soviets had “dug in” for winter and the Germans were surely in for it now.
The German PreparationThe Germans managed to muster together a fairly large attack force, but it was miniscule compared to what the Soviets had prepared. The Germans managed 800,000 men, 3,000 tanks, 10,000 guns and mortars, and 2,000 aircraft. This is no small force, but, in comparison to the Soviets, Germany was lacking. The Soviets amassed 1.9 million soldiers, 5,000 tanks, 25,000 guns and mortars, and more than 3,000 aircrafts.
The Germans were considerably outnumbered as usual. But, the clock was ticking for Germany after the Western Allied forces landed in North Africa in November 1942. Soon Germany would be facing the war on two fronts it feared to a great degree. Many top German commanders wanted to attack earlier in May, such as Erich von Manstein, but an indecisive and very much under pressure Hitler decided to postpone the attack until later. It wasn’t until July 5, 1943 that the Germans finally attacked. After decision making and preparation, the German plan was to encircle the Russians in the classic Blitzkrieg styled pincer movement of German tanks from both the North and South and then destroy the encircled Soviets with relative ease. The German forces fighting in the battle of Kursk included some of the best and most well equipped divisions in the German army.
Such as, the Gross Deutschland, the Waffen-SS tank division, Leibstandarte, etc. Going into the battle, the odds were still not in favour of the Germans.Soviet PreparationsThe Russians had prior knowledge of the Kursk attack, although it was an obvious target and the Soviets knew a German offensive was inevitable. The Russians gained full intelligence about the impending attack through their “Lucy” spy network operating out of Switzerland.
The Soviets also verified the knowledge themselves to make sure they weren’t being given false information. The Russians prepared eight defensive lines one behind another. They also positioned strategic mobile reserves to the East of the salient incase the Germans managed to penetrate through all eight lines. The Russians had a simple but effective plan, they allowed the Germans to attack as they had planned going right into the dense lines of Soviet defenses.
When the Germans are fully engaged and there’s no turning back, the Soviets will begin the air attacks. After the German tanks are destroyed, the Red Army will begin its attack North and South of the Kursk salient and push the Germans west. The Russians were very well prepared for the German attack to come.The BattleOn July 5th, 1943 the Germans made their move. The Germans knew they were outnumbered but believed the superiority of their troops equipment and training would account for shortages, they were partially right. On the night of July 5th the Russians began artillery bombardment on the unexpecting German forces. At first the Germans were thrown into confusion and the attack was delayed by 3 hours. The Germans launched their attack in the early morning of July 5th, with their own artillery barrage.
The tank and infantry attack did not come until approximately 5:30 once air support had arrived. The main offensive consisted of 500 tanks, heavy tanks in the lead, with medium tanks behind and infantry following not far behind. The Germans had only managed to gain a few miles. The Soviet minefields proved effective in stalling German armour.
The Germans kept attacking, but the Soviets were stubborn defenders. The Germans had misplaced faith in their superior technology.The Soviets were able to quickly adapt to the new German armour and learned to target weak points on the side of the Tiger tanks. Despite this, the Germans generals continued the assault. The Germans made an attempt to capture Kursk with 1500 tanks on July 12th. Despite large Soviet tank losses, The Germans could not advance to Kursk. Within two weeks the German tank push had been forced back to where they started, South of the salient.
Some German units managed to make respectable progress, but the Soviets ordered a counter attack and pushed the Germans back about 45 miles. The battle was now looking very grim for Germany, and German commanders managed to convince Adolf Hitler to call off the offensive. So, Hitler declared the German retreat to reinforce troops in Italy, a response to the successful Western Allies landing in Sicily. This allowed Soviets to easily plow through remaining german forces and liberate the cities of Kharkov, Orel, and Belgorod. The Battle of Kursk had been won by the Soviets.Aftermath of the BattleBoth sides of the battle suffered heavy casualties, the Germans are estimated to have 200,000 casualties, and lost 500 tanks. While the Soviets are estimated to have over 800,000 casualties, and 1500 lost tanks.
Although the Soviets suffered much higher losses, the battle was won. The Soviets could easily rebound from their 1500 lost tanks as their tank factories had just begun peaking in production volume. The Germans on the other hand, already had their factories under heavy strain and were unable to compare to the Soviets numerically again. The control of the Eastern Front had completely shifted in favour of Russia.
This was the first time a major German offensive had been conducted with no major breakthroughs. Strategically I think Germany won the battle, despite the Soviets having more than enough time to prepare defenses, prior knowledge about the attack plan from the “Lucy” spy ring, The Germans managed much lighter casualties than the Soviets and were actually able to recover many of the tanks “destroyed” in the battle. Although, the German air force suffered pretty heavily with losses and began losing control over the skies after this battle. German production was at a low, and Soviet production was just reaching its peak. Along with the high production and American lend-lease military aid, the Soviets were now unstoppable. With their increasing successes, Joseph Stalin saw his advisers planning as being justified and well on the battlefield and felt less a need to interfere with the Red Army’s military operation.
The Germans had no chance at regaining control in the East, the fight was won for the Soviet powerhouse. Weapons of BattleThere were many different weapons and vehicles used on both sides, some more modern and powerful than others. The German tanks consisted of the Panzer 1, Panzer 2, Wespe, Marten I, Marten III, Panzer 3, Sturmgeschütz III, Panzer 4, Hummel, Brummbar, Sturmgeschutz IV, Panzer 5, Panzer 6, and Elephant. While the Soviet tanks consisted of, The British made A22, KV-1, KV-85, Su-122, Su-152, Su-76, T-34, and the T-70.
The German tanks were manufactured better and had more powerful design (for the most part) but, that did not stop Soviet tanks from triumphing. Many more Soviet tanks were destroyed in the Battle of Kursk than German, further adding to the point that German tanks were superior. Soviet artillery weapons however, out matched the Germans.
The Soviets artillery consisted mainly of the M1942, while the Germans were mainly of the German 88. Although weapons and vehicles were important the battle came down to the men operating them, and who could adapt to new changes faster.ConclusionIn conclusion, the Battle of Kursk was one of the biggest battles of the second world war and a great turning point on the Eastern Front for the Soviets. The Russians defended Kursk fiercely and their efforts paid off when the Germans finally called off the offensive and retreated. After a crushing and brutal defeat at Stalingrad, Operation Citadel was the last major effort in the East that Germany could amass. The Germans needed a victory here to shift the tide of the war back into their favour. But extensive Soviet preparations lead to the defeat and retreat of the Germans.
The Battle of Kursk is largely remembered as the biggest tank battle in the history of the world with an estimated 8000 tanks involved. The tank battles however were not concentrated in a single area but rather all along the bulge of the Kursk salient. The destruction caused by the battle was catastrophic, both sides combined suffered an estimated 1000000 casualties and 2000 tanks destroyed. The battle raised the spirits of the Soviets and pushed them to cease control in the East and end the war.
The Battle of Kursk is debated to be one of the most important events of the Second World War and a massive shift of momentum not only on the Eastern Front, but for all Allied forces. The Battle of Kursk proved to the world that the Germans could be stopped and Blitzkrieg could be defended against effectively. The Russians also proved that quick adaptation is the perfect counter to new weapons. Although the Soviets are rightfully credited for their victory, it should not be forgotten that the Germans took a significant amount less losses and in my opinion won the strategic side of the battle. Had the Germans attacked earlier like Manstein and other high ranking commanders suggested, the outcome of the battle could have differed greatly as the Soviets would not have had enough time to mount and position as many defenses as they did. The Soviets also had knowledge of almost the entire German plan before it was even conducted, although an offensive on Kursk was obvious to any Russian commander with a map as it was essential to move on to the capture of Moscow.
In the end, I think the Battle of Kursk was fought viciously from both sides and too much credit should not be taken from the Germans as they still fought strategically well despite all the advantages the Soviets had over them.