When Nazi Germany lost the last chance to win the war: Battle for Kursk

Soldiers of the Reich! This day you are to take part in an offensive of such importance that the whole future of the war may depend on its outcome. 
- Adolf Hitler - 5th July 1943

The battle of Kursk... the forcing of the Dnieper... and the liberation of Kiev, left Hitlerite Germany facing catastrophe.
- General Vasili I. Chuikov - Commander of the 8th Guards Army
What was the Battle for Kursk?

In July 1943, the biggest battle of the WWII started in the vast area between Orel and Kursk. This strategic offensive of the Russian High Command started with a major disinformation campaign. During the battle, the Soviet Command managed to create a felling of the coming victory among the Nazi commanders but instead, ensnared the bigger part of the German army into a trap and gradually eliminated them. The battle of Kursk is also known for its biggest ever clash of armor during the WWII

The Russians without a doubt knew of the impending German offensive with the massive build up of German armor and troops around the salient and through their "Lucy" spy network in Germany and also from ULTRA codes intercepted by the British and passed on to Stalin.

Night tank war at Kursk. July 1943. One could use the word "beautiful" if the whole thing was not so horrible.


"The battle of Kursk... the forcing of the Dnieper... and the liberation of Kiev, left Hitlerite Germany facing catastrophe."
General Vasili I. Chuikov - Commander of the 8th Guards Army - (Speaking after the war)
The Soviet 76.2 mm guns ready to take on the German onslaught.



Recently appointed Inspector General of Armored Forces, assigned the enormous task of rebuilding the Panzer divisions, Heinz Guderian made his case to Hitler. Looking forward to the inevitable English and American initiatives, he urged withdrawal to a shorter, more defensible line; limited operations during 1943; rebuilding of mobile reserves; with no return to the offensive until 1944. Along similar lines, Manstein recommended strategic withdrawals to create the kind of fluid conditions that had worked so well when he retook Kharkov. By going to the strategic defensive, setting up mobile reserves, he was certain he could ‘strike the Russians on the backhand' and bleed them white. Given the vast buffer spaces Germany still occupied an elastic defense was the rational military policy to adopt.

Unfortunately for the army and the nation, after Stalingrad Hitler was a changed man. Back bent, left hand trembling, eyes protruding, he was more excitable and more apt to lose composure. Prone to ill-considered decisions and angry outbursts when presented with contradictory facts or opinions, he was less inclined to listen to his advisors, yet more indecisive. Such was his state of mind and state of health when he responded to Guderian, among others, that for political reasons, Germany could not sit idle in 1943. Nor would there be any withdrawal. For economic reasons, Germany must hold the Donets Basin. Doubled over his increasingly detailed map tables, Hitler's gaze fixed upon Kursk.
From: militaryhistoryonline
A Russian tank T-34 races past a burning village.


General Mainstein had advised the attack on Kursk to take place in March, 1943. Hitler decided to wait for four months. He believed his new Mark 4 tanks with their technical superiority would overwhelm the numbers the Russians had. It was a mistake. The Soviets used the time to make their own formidable T-34 tanks in large numbers.

Most historians say that if only Hitler had listened to his generals... The fact is that though Hitler was no military man, but the Germans got so far in Russia was because of the sheer guts and determination of the man. It needed courage to attack Russia. Only Hitler had that. A Wehrmacht general would not have dared.


PART 2/2

The rolling landscape at Kursk was ideal for tank warfare.

With the German defeat at Kursk, the Soviets gained the strategic initiative for good. The subsequent Soviet offensive during the summer of 1943 proved devastating for the Wehrmacht . During the retreat, the SS formations became the "fire brigades" in the East. As motorized divisions, they were routinely rushed to the critical points on the front to seal a breach in the German lines or slow down the Soviet onslaught long enough for other formations to escape. They had in the words of General Wohler, commander of the 8th Army, "stood like a rock in the Army, while the enemy broke through in neighboring sectors."
Battered German tanks. The new tanks had turned out a very disappointing show with most of the Mk V Panthers breaking down on the first day due to problems with the complex electrical cooling systems (from a total of 200 only forty were in running order at the end of the first day). TheElefant tanks although a formidable machine with their 88mm gun had also proved a disappointment with Russian infantry simply attacking the 73 ton monsters with satchel charges and Molotov cocktails when they were separated from the infantry with relative ease due to the absence of a hull machine gun as a secondary defenses.

The brilliant armor strategist Heinz Guderian once asked Hitler "Was it really necessary to attack Kursk and indeed in the East that year at all. Do you think anyone even knows where Kursk is?" to which Hitler agreed with him saying, "I know. The thought of it turns my stomach."

A dead Russian soldier: Aftermath of the Battle for Kursk.

The Russians had mobilised themselves well. Russian soldiers walk past brand new T-34 tanks.

The Battle of Kursk was the first battle in which a blitzkrieg offensive had been defeated before it could break through enemy defences and into its strategic depths.

Artillery, Stalin's 'god of war'. A Soviet 152 mm gun fires.
The Societs achieved a massive concentration of artillery at Kursk, employing an estimated 20 000 guns and heavy mortars.

For months, the Soviets had been receiving detailed information on the planning of the offensive from their Red Orchestra (German: Rote Kapelle, and the "Lucy Group") organization, whose sources included officers in Hermann Goring’s aviation ministry and other parts of the Nazi administration.

Armor and troop concentrations were also built up by both sides with the Russians amassing 1,300,000 men, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces and 2,400 aircraft. The Germans also assembled a formidable fighting force which was slightly smaller with 900,000 men 2,700 tanks 2,000 aircraft. As well as the three premierWaffen SS divisions taking part.

Russian women soldiers march to battle.

The Soviets knew the Germans were coming and built a huge defensive network 150-200 miles (241-321 km) deep. There were five to six defensive ‘belts, ’ each 2-3 miles (3.2-4.8 km) deep. Most of the engineering effort went into the first 20 miles (32 km) —the ‘tactical zone’, with field defences, mines, and anti-tank guns.

The Russians without a doubt knew of the impending German offensive with the massive build up of German armor and troops around the salient and through their "Lucy" spy network in Germany and also from ULTRA codes intercepted by the British and passed on to Stalin. It was obvious anyway that this would be the next German point of attack as the "bulge" presented too tempting a target for the Germans to ignore and the Russians saw this as a catalyst to start their own summer offensive.

This is how the Battle for Kursk went.

Hitler needed a victory that would regain the initiative in the east and declared that Operation Zitadelle (Citadel) as it was known" would shine like a beacon to the world" and would avenge the crushing defeat at Stalingrad earlier in the year, but even he had misgivings about the whole affair.

Soviet Katyusha rockets fire in Kursk. They were popularly known amongst Russian soldiers as "Stalin's organ"

The Germans lost 400 tanks and 10, 000 men. The Soviets lost more, but they could afford them more. In the entire battle, which equated to the armoured actions on both Israeli fronts in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the Red Army claimed to have killed or captured 500, 000 Germans and destroyed 1, 500 tanks. The Germans claimed to have destroyed 1, 800 tanks on the south face alone. Through an inferno of blazing armoured vehicles and scorched and shattered bodies surrounded by shell-cases and stale bread, the Soviet counter-attack—the BELGOROD-KHARKOV operation—began. In the air, and on the ground, the fundamental balance of forces had shifted in favour of the USSR. It had been Germany's last chance to win the war.
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Points To Ponder


It is difficult to distinguish between the quality of both the German and Russian soldiers. Both were motivated by their love for their motherland. But there were others factors that drove the two sides to such desperate fighting.

One, both sides knew that this was a no-holds bar war. Not fighting was thus not an option.

Second, both Hitler and Stalin had squads that killed any deserter. Turning away from fighting was just not possible.

Thus was seen some of the most bitter, brutal and desperate fighting on the WW2 eastern (Russian) Front.
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
-- George Santayana


"Be polite; write diplomatically; even in a declaration of war one observes the rules of politeness."
--Otto von Bismarck

"When the enemy advances, withdraw; when he stops, harass; when he tires, strike; when he retreats, pursue.'
--Mao Zedong


"The main thing is to make history, not to write it."
--Otto von Bismarck

"When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite."
--Winston Churchill


"In time of war the loudest patriots are the greatest profiteers."
--August Bebel

"God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best."

Quotes about War....

"Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war."
---Otto von Bismarck


"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
--Hermann Goering


"To conquer the enemy without resorting to war is the most desirable. The highest form of generalship is to conquer the enemy by strategy."
--Tzu Sun

"All men are brothers, like the seas throughout the world; So why do winds and waves clash so fiercely everywhere?"
--Emperor Hirohito