Battle of Kursk
|Date||July 5 to August 23, 1943.|
|Place||South of the Soviet Union.|
|Belligerents||Soviet troops vs. Nazi Germany.|
The Battle of Kursk was a series of armed clashes between Soviet and German troops in the southern Soviet Union . This took place between July 5 and August 23, 1943 , during World War II .
Because about 3 million soldiers, about 6,000 tanks and about 5,500 aircraft participated in it, historians consider it one of the largest battles in history.
The German army troops made their last offensive effort on the eastern front, using most of their armored forces and their most modern weapons .
The German offensive came to a halt before it could break through all of the enemy defenses. It was followed by a Soviet counteroffensive, which drove the Germans back and sealed their defeat.
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Background to the Battle of Kursk
In the spring of 1943, the eastern front line featured a ledge that was 250 kilometers long and 160 kilometers wide. In the center of that ledge was the Soviet city of Kursk .
To eliminate this projection of the front line to the west, the leader of Nazi Germany , Adolf Hitler , drew up a plan of attack that contemplated a double pincer movement that from the north and from the south would strangle the neck of the ledge. In this way, large numbers of Soviet troops would be encircled in a large “pocket”.
Hitler thought that a victory in Kursk would reaffirm the German strength, put in doubt after the defeat in the battle of Stalingrad . He also hoped to capture large numbers of Soviet prisoners to use as manpower in the arms industry.
The German offensive, initially scheduled for May 1943, was delayed to await the arrival of new tanks, with wider tracks and better weaponry and armor than previous models.
On the Soviet side, the leader Iósif Stalin knew of the Führer’s intentions due to the information provided by the British intelligence service, which had deciphered the keys used by the Nazis.
The German delay in attacking gave the Red Army time to build a series of defensive belts that included minefields, barbed wire fences, anti-tank ditches and machine gun nests. The Soviets also had time to concentrate their own armored units .
In early July 1943 Hitler managed to gather some 800,000 men, 2,900 tanks, 7,000 guns, and 2,000 aircraft. For its part, the Red Army forces numbered around 2 million troops and had 3,250 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces and 3,500 aircraft.
Development of the Battle of Kursk
The German attack, called Operation Citadel , began on July 5, both from the north and from the south. After a preliminary artillery bombardment, the armored ground forces and infantry advanced supported by the aviation.
At first, the fighting favored the Germans, who managed to surpass the first defensive belt and advance towards the enemy lines. But with the passing of the days the Soviets recovered and by July 11 they had managed to stop the attack .
On July 13, Hitler summoned Marshals Von Kluge and Von Manstein, leaders of the offensive, to his headquarters in East Prussia. The Führer was disappointed with the depth of the advance, only 12 kilometers to the north and 35 kilometers to the south. He was also concerned about the Allied invasion of Sicily, on the night of July 9-10, and the Soviet counteroffensive north of Kursk, launched the day before. Hitler ordered his generals to end the offensive and to redistribute their forces, to send units to the Mediterranean front .
Von Kluge agreed, as he was aware of the virulence of the Soviet counterattack. Von Manstein, instead, requested that the attack continue because he believed victory was at hand. Hitler, attentive to what was happening in the west, only allowed offensive operations in the south to continue until the Soviet reserves could be destroyed.
Then Operation Roland began , showing significant progress on July 15 and 16, when the Germans were about to take the city of Prokhorovka.
However, on July 17 the Soviets launched a major offensive that put an end to the German advances . During the following weeks, Stalin launched various counteroffensive that drove back the German armies and culminated in the capture of the city of Kharkov on 23 August. Thus ended the Battle of Kursk.
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Aftermath of the Battle of Kursk
The main consequences of the Battle of Kursk were as follows:
- The Germans, despite using better armor on their tanks, compared to the offensives of 1941 and 1942, were surprised by the huge reserves of the Red Army and suffered a great defeat , from which they never managed to recover.
- The Soviets won a strategic victory that changed the pattern of war operations on the eastern front . From then on, the Red Army took the initiative and the Germans limited themselves to defending themselves and falling back.
- The Germans lost 200,000 men, 3,000 artillery pieces, 1,300 tanks, and 1,000 aircraft.
- The Soviets lost about 600,000 men. They were also destroyed 3 times more armored vehicles than the Germans. However, the industrial potential of the Soviet Union and the large amount of available manpower made it possible to quickly replenish weapons.
- Although the attack plan on the Kursk salient was prepared by Hitler, he blamed the defeat on his General Staff. From then on his distrust of his generals and interference in military affairs increased progressively.
- The opposite happened with Stalin. Kursk’s victory increased his confidence in the judgment of his commanders and in his ability to make decisions on the battlefield. After Kursk, Stalin left operational planning in the hands of commanders such as Zhukov or Konev, which gave the Red Army more leeway for the rest of the war.