VITE History Channel. Part 11. WW2. Great Patriotic War in Russia. The Battle of Kursk
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The Battle of Kursk was a Second World War engagement between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near Kursk (450 kilometres or 280 miles south-west of Moscow) in the Soviet Union, during July and August 1943. The battle began with the launch of the German offensive, Operation Citadel, on 5 July, which had the objective of pinching off the Kursk salient with attacks on the base of the salient from north and south simultaneously. After the German offensive stalled on the northern side of the salient, on 12 July the Soviets commenced their Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation with the launch of Operation Kutuzov against the rear of the German forces in the northern side. On the southern side, the Soviets also launched powerful counterattacks the same day, one of which led to a large armoured clash, the Battle of Prokhorovka. On 3 August, the Soviets began the second phase of the Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation with the launch of Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev against the German forces in the southern side of the Kursk salient.
The battle was the final strategic offensive that the Germans were able to launch on the Eastern Front. Because the Allied invasion of Sicily had begun, Adolf Hitler was forced to have troops training in France diverted to meet the Allied threat in the Mediterranean, rather than use them as a strategic reserve for the Eastern Front. Hitler canceled the offensive at Kursk after only a week, in part to divert forces to Italy. Germany's extensive losses of men and tanks ensured that the victorious Soviet Red Army enjoyed the strategic initiative for the remainder of the war.
The Germans hoped to weaken the Soviet offensive potential for the summer of 1943 by cutting off the forces that they anticipated would be in the Kursk salient. The Kursk salient or bulge was 250 kilometres (160 mi) long from north to south and 160 kilometres (99 mi) from east to west. The plan envisioned an envelopment by a pair of pincers breaking through the northern and southern flanks of the salient. Hitler believed that a victory here would reassert German strength and improve his prestige with his allies, who were considering withdrawing from the war. It was also hoped that large numbers of Soviet prisoners would be captured to be used as slave labour in the German armaments industry.
Heinz Wilhelm Guderian, German Inspector General of Armoured Troops
The Soviet government had foreknowledge of the German intentions, provided in part by the British intelligence service and Tunny intercepts. Aware months in advance that the attack would fall on the neck of the Kursk salient, the Soviets built a defence in depth designed to wear down the German armoured spearhead. The Germans delayed the offensive while they tried to build up their forces and waited for new weapons, mainly the new Panther tank but also larger numbers of the Tiger heavy tank. This gave the Red Army time to construct a series of deep defensive belts. The defensive preparations included minefields, fortifications, artillery fire zones and anti-tank strong points, which extended approximately 300 km (190 mi) in depth. Soviet mobile formations were moved out of the salient and a large reserve force was formed for strategic counter-offensives.
Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov, Marshal of the Soviet Union
In the north, the entire German 9th Army had been redeployed from the Rzhev salient into the Orel salient and was to advance from Maloarkhangelsk to Kursk. But its forces could not even get past the first objective at Olkhovatka, just 8 km (5.0 mi) into the advance. The 9th Army blunted its spearhead against the Soviet minefields, frustratingly so considering that the high ground there was the only natural barrier between them and flat tank country all the way to Kursk. The direction of advance was then switched to Ponyri, to the west of Olkhovatka, but the 9th Army could not break through here either and went over to the defensive. The Red Army then launched a counter-offensive, Operation Kutuzov.
On 12 July the Red Army battled through the demarcation line between the 211th and 293rd divisions on the Zhizdra River and steamed towards Karachev, right behind them and behind Orel. The southern offensive, spearheaded by 4th Panzer Army, led by Gen. Col. Hoth, with three Tank Corps made more headway. Advancing on either side of the upper Donets on a narrow corridor, the II SS Panzer Corps and the Großdeutschland Panzergrenadier divisions battled their way through minefields and over comparatively high ground towards Oboyan. Stiff resistance caused a change of direction from east to west of the front, but the tanks got 25 km (16 mi) before encountering the reserves of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army outside Prokhorovka. Battle was joined on 12 July, with about one thousand tanks being engaged.
After the war, the battle near Prochorovka was idealized by Soviet historians as the largest tank battle of all time. The meeting engagement at Prochorovka was a Soviet defensive success, albeit at heavy cost. The Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army, with about 800 light and medium tanks, attacked elements of the II SS Panzer Corps. Tank losses on both sides have been the source of controversy ever since. Although the 5th Guards Tank Army did not attain its objectives, the German advance had been halted.
At the end of the day both sides had fought each other to a standstill, but regardless of the German failure in the north Erich von Manstein proposed he continue the attack with the 4th Panzer Army. The Red Army started the strong offensive operation in the northern Orel salient and achieved a breakthrough on the flank of the German 9th Army. Also worried by the Allies' landing in Sicily on 10 July, Hitler made the decision to halt the offensive even as the German 9th Army was rapidly giving ground in the north. The Germans' final strategic offensive in the Soviet Union ended with their defence against a major Soviet counteroffensive that lasted into August.
The Battle of Kursk was the first time in the Second World War that a German strategic offensive was halted before it could break through enemy defences and penetrate to its strategic depths. The maximum depth of the German advance was 8–12 kilometres (5.0–7.5 mi) in the north and 35 kilometres (22 mi) in the south. Though the Red Army had succeeded in winter offensives previously, their counter-offensives following the German attack at Kursk were their first successful strategic summer offensives of the war.
Quality content about The Battle of Kursk
Song about The Battle of Kursk – «Panzerkampf»
Fields of Prokhorovka where heat of battle burned,
Suffered heavy losses and the tide of war was turned.
Driving back the Germans, fighting on four fronts,
Hunt them out of Russia, out of Soviet land.
Reinforce the frontline, force the Axis to retreat.
Send in all the reserves, securing their defeat.
Soldiers of the Union broke the Citadel,
Ruins of an army... Axis rest in hell!
Russian cover of this song
Soviet film with English subtitles about The Battle of Kursk «Liberation, Film I: The Fire Bulge» (29:36 Start the battle)
Russian State Military Historical Museum-Preserve “Prohorov Field”
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