Battle of Kursk
|Battle of Kursk|
|Part of the Eastern Front of World War II|
2nd SS Panzer Division soldiers, Tiger I tank, during the battle.
|Commanders and leaders|
| Erich von Manstein
Günther von Kluge
| Georgiy Zhukov
|Casualties and losses|
Battle of Kursk:[g]
The Battle of Kursk was a World War II engagement between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near Kursk (450 kilometres or 280 miles southwest of Moscow) in the Soviet Union in July and August 1943. The German offensive was code-named Operation Citadel (German: Unternehmen Zitadelle) and led to one of the largest armoured clashes in history, the Battle of Prokhorovka. The German offensive was countered by two Soviet counteroffensives, Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev (Russian: Полководец Румянцев) and Operation Kutuzov (Russian: Кутузов). For the Germans, the battle represented the final strategic offensive they were able to mount in the east. For the Soviets, the decisive victory gave the Red Army the strategic initiative for the rest of the war.
The Germans hoped to weaken the Soviet offensive potential for the summer of 1943 by cutting off a large number of forces that they anticipated would be in the Kursk salient assembling for an offensive. By eliminating the Kursk salient they would also shorten their lines of defence, taking the strain off of their overstretched forces. The plan envisioned an envelopment by a pair of pincers breaking through the northern and southern flanks of the salient. It was thought that a victory here would reassert Germany's strength and improve her prestige with 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 Germany's armaments industry.
The Soviets had intelligence of the German intentions, provided in part by British intelligence service and Enigma intercepts. Aware that the attack would fall on the neck of the Kursk salient months in advance, the Soviets built a defence in depth designed to wear down the German panzer spearheads. The Germans delayed the start date of 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 lines. The defensive preparations included minefields, fortifications, pre-sighted artillery fire zones and anti-tank strong points, which extended approximately 300 km (190 mi) in depth. In addition, Soviet mobile formations were moved out of the salient and a large reserve force was formed for strategic counteroffensives.
The Battle of Kursk was the first time a German strategic offensive had been halted before it could break through enemy defences and penetrate to its strategic depths. Though the Soviet Army had succeeded in winter offensives previously, their counter-offensives following the German attack were their first successful strategic summer offensives of the war.
- 1 Background
- 2 Opposing forces
- 3 Operation along the northern face
- 4 Operation along the southern face
- 5 Termination of Operation Citadel
- 6 Soviet counteroffensives
- 7 Results
- 8 Casualties and losses
- 9 Analysis of Citadel
- 10 Notes
- 11 Citations
- 12 References
- 13 External links
As the Battle of Stalingrad slowly ground to its conclusion, the Soviet army moved to a general offensive in the south, pressuring the depleted German forces. Hitler's belief that his own iron will would be the deciding factor in the conflict resulted in German forces being tied down in a rigid defence that did not permit them the liberty to move. Since December, Manstein had been strongly requesting "unrestricted operational freedom" to allow him to use the forces in a fluid manner, a request which put him at odds with Hitler. Time and again Hitler's policy of holding at all costs resulted in forces being left until their position was untenable, and they were being cut off and destroyed. By January 1943, a 160 to 300 km (99 to 186 mi) wide gap had been created between Army Group B and Army Group Don. The advancing Soviet armies threatened to cut off all German forces south of the Don River, including Army Group A operating in the Caucasus.
Meanwhile, Army Group Centre was under significant pressure as well. Kursk fell to the Soviets on 8 February, and Rostov on the 14th. The Soviet Bryansk and Western Fronts, along with the newly created Central Front, prepared for an offensive which envisioned an encirclement of Army Group Centre extending between Bryansk and Smolensk.
On 12 February, the remaining German forces were reorganized. To the south, Army Group Don was renamed Army Group South and its units placed under the command of Field Marshal Erich von Manstein. Directly to the north Army Group B was dissolved, and its forces and areas of responsibility were divided between Army Group South and Army Group Centre. With this restructuring von Manstein inherited responsibility for the massive breach in the German lines. January 1943 saw the arrival of the II SS Panzer Corps from France, refitted and up to near full strength. Other armoured units from the 1st Panzer Army, part of Army Group A, which had slipped out of the trap of the Caucasus, further strengthened von Manstein's hand.
By February the Wehrmacht was in danger of a general collapse. On 18 February, Adolf Hitler arrived at Army Group South headquarters, at Zaporizhia, hours before Kharkov was liberated by the Soviets. Hitler's distrust of the officers of the General Staff, and of von Manstein in particular, put him at odds with the high command of the Wehrmacht. Though Hitler desired to relieve von Manstein and saddle him with the blame for Stalingrad and subsequent battles, he soon realized he could ill afford to lose the man largely regarded as the most capable commander in the army. Instead, Hitler grudgingly gave him the freedom he had requested.
Once given freedom of action, von Manstein explained how he intended to concentrate his forces and make a series of counterstrokes to exploit the overstretched Soviets, with the goal of destroying the Red Army spearheads while retaking Kharkov and Kursk. The Third Battle of Kharkov commenced on 19 February, spearheaded by the three SS divisions of the II SS Panzer Corps. Von Manstein's offensive cut off the Soviet spearheads, and then encircled and destroyed the main force. The Germans retook Kharkov on 15 March and Belgorod on 18 March. The German offensive wrested the initiative from the Soviets. The 25 February offensive by the Central Front against Army Group Centre had to be abandoned by 7 March so that forces could be redeployed south to counter the threat of the advancing Germans. Operations ceased by the end of March due to the onset of the spring rasputitsa and the exhaustion of the Germans. The exhaustion was mirrored in the Red Army. The counteroffensive left a salient extending into the German area of control, centred on the city of Kursk.
German plans and preparation
Heavy losses sustained by the German military in the winters of 1941/42 and 1942/43 resulted in a marked shortage in artillery and infantry. Units along the Eastern Front were 470,000 men below their establishment. For the Germans to undertake an offensive in 1943, the burden would have to be carried by the panzer arm. In view of the exposed position of Army Group South, von Manstein proposed that his forces should take the strategic defensive. He anticipated that a Soviet offensive would attempt to cut off and destroy Army Group South by a move across the Donetz River toward the Dnieper. In February, he proposed waiting for this offensive to develop and then deliver a series of counterattacks into the exposed Soviet flanks. Hitler, concerned about potential political implications of taking a defensive stance and preoccupied with the economic potential of holding the Donetz basin, rejected this plan. On 10 March, von Manstein presented Hitler with an alternative plan whereby the German forces pinched off the Kursk salient with an offensive commencing as soon as the spring rasputitsa had subsided. On 13 March, Hitler signed Operational Order No. 5, which outlined the intended launch of several offensives, including one against the Kursk salient. As the last Soviet resistance in Kharkov was reduced, von Manstein attempted to persuade Günther von Kluge of Army Group Centre to immediately attack the Central Front, which was defending the northern face of the salient, to keep the Soviets off balance and maintain the momentum. Von Kluge refused, noting that his forces were too weak to launch such an attack. Von Manstein's SS Panzer Corps pushed on northwards and took Belgorod on 18 March, but further advances were blocked by Soviet forces that had been shifted down from the Central Front to an area north of Belgorod. By mid-April, amid poor weather and with the German forces exhausted and in need of refitting, the offensives of Operational Order No. 5 could not be undertaken.
Hitler's Operational Order No. 6, issued 15 April, called for the Kursk offensive operation to begin on 3 May or shortly thereafter. Kurt Zeitzler, the OKH Chief of Staff, provided the logistical planning for the operation. Zeitzler was a resourceful organizer of strategic moves, and had an exceptional capacity to solve movement problems. For the plan to succeed it was deemed essential to attack before the Soviets had a chance to prepare extensive defenses or launch an offensive of their own. The plan was codenamed Operation Citadel. According to some military historians, the operation envisioned a blitzkrieg attack.[j] Others state that the operational planning marked a change in German offensive thinking away from blitzkrieg. Some military historians and the German participants who wrote about it after the war, including von Manstein, make no mention of blitzkrieg in their characterization of the operation.[k] The plan for the operation consisted of a double envelopment that was directed at Kursk to surround the majority of the Soviet defenders and seal off the salient. Von Kluge's Army Group Centre was to provide General Walter Model's 9th Army to form the northern pincer. It would cut through the northern face of the salient, driving south to the hills east of Kursk, securing the rail line from Soviet attack. Von Manstein's Army Group South would commit the 4th Panzer Army, under Hermann Hoth, and Army Detachment Kempf, under Werner Kempf, to penetrate the southern face of the salient. This force would drive north to meet 9th Army east of Kursk. Von Mainstein's main attack was to be delivered by Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, spearheaded by the II SS Panzer Corps under the command of Paul Hausser. The XLVIII Panzer Corps, commanded by Otto von Knobelsdorff, would advance on the left flank of the Waffen SS troops while Army Detachment "Kempf" would advance on the right. The western face of the salient was to be controlled by the 2nd Army, under the command of Walter Weiss.
On 27 April, Model met with Hitler to review the reconnaissance information gathered and to express his concerns. He argued that the longer the preparation phase continued, the less the operation could be justified. He recommended Citadel be completely abandoned, allowing the army to await and defeat the coming Soviet offensive. Failing that, he believed that Citadel should be radically revised. Though in mid-April von Manstein had considered the Citadel offensive profitable, by May he shared Model's misgivings. He asserted that the best course of action would be for the German forces to take the strategic defensive, ceding ground to allow the anticipated Soviet forces to extend themselves and allow the German panzer forces to counterattack in the type of fluid mobile battle that they excelled at. Convinced that the Red Army would deliver its main effort against Army Group South, he proposed to keep the left wing of the army group strong while moving the right wing back in stages to the Dnieper River, followed by a counterattack against the flank of the Red Army advance. The counteroffensive would continue until the Sea of Azov was reached and the Soviet forces were cut off. This idea was rejected by Hitler, as he did not want to give up so much terrain, even temporarily. Zeitzler was profoundly concerned with the delay till the second week of June, but he was still in support of the offensive.
In early May, Hitler called together his senior officers and advisors to Munich for a meeting. Hitler spoke for about 45 minutes on the current situation and the plans for the offensive. Model then spoke, and produced reconnaissance photos revealing some of the extensive preparations the Soviets had made in preparation for the attack. A number of options were put forth for comment: going on the offensive immediately with the forces at hand, delaying the offensive further to await the arrival of new and better tanks, radically revising the operation or cancelling it all together. Von Manstein spoke against the offensive, but not forcefully. Albert Speer spoke of the difficulties of rebuilding the armoured formations and the limitations of German industry to replace losses. Guderian argued strongly against the operation, stating "the attack was pointless." The conference ended without Hitler coming to a decision, but Citadel was not aborted. Three days later OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht), Hitler's conduit for controlling the military, postponed the launch date for Citadel to 12 June.
Following this meeting, Guderian continued to voice his concerns over an operation that would likely degrade the panzer forces that he had been attempting to rebuild. He believed that the offensive, as planned, was a misuse of the panzer forces, as it violated two of the three tenets he had laid out as the essential elements for a successful panzer attack.[l] In Guderian's opinion, the limited German resources in men and materiel should be conserved as they would be needed for the pending defence of Western Europe. In a meeting with Hitler, on 10 May, he asked: "Is it really necessary to attack Kursk, and indeed in the east this year at all? Do you think anyone even knows where Kursk is? The entire world doesn't care if we capture Kursk or not. What is the reason that is forcing us to attack this year on Kursk, or even more, on the Eastern Front?" Hitler replied: "I know. The thought of it turns my stomach." Guderian concluded, "In that case your reaction to the problem is the correct one. Leave it alone."[m]
Despite reservations, Hitler remained committed to the offensive. He and OKW, early in the preparatory phase, were hopeful that the offensive would revitalize German strategic fortunes in the east. As the challenges offered by Citadel increased, he focused more and more on the expected new weapons that he believed were the key to victory: principally the Panther tank, but also the Elefant tank destroyer and greater numbers of the Tiger heavy tank. He postponed the operation, to await their arrival. Receiving reports of powerful Soviet concentrations behind the Kursk area, Hitler delayed the offensive again to allow for more equipment to reach the front. With pessimism for Citadel increasing with each delay, in June, Alfred Jodl, the Chief of Staff at OKW, instructed the armed forces propaganda office to portray the operation as a limited counteroffensive when the offensive finally did get underway. Due to concerns of an Allied landing in the south of France or Italy and delays in deliveries of the new tanks, Hitler postponed again, this time to 20 June.[n] On 17–18 June, following a discussion in which the OKW Operations Staff suggested abandoning the offensive, Hitler further postponed the operation until 3 July. Finally on 1 July, Hitler announced that 5 July would be the launch date of the offensive.
As the Soviets waited and the Germans attempted to build up their forces, a three-month quiet period descended upon the Eastern Front. The Germans used this period for specialized training of their assault troops. All units did unit training and combat rehearsals. The Waffen-SS had built a full scale duplicate Soviet strong point that was used to practice the techniques for neutralizing such positions. During the lull, the panzer divisions continued to try to replace equipment shortfalls and get up to strength. The total German forces to be used in the offensive included 12 panzer divisions and 5 panzergrenadier divisions, four of which could boast tank strengths greater than their neighboring panzer divisions. However, the force was markedly deficient in infantry divisions, which were essential to hold ground and secure the flanks. By the time the Germans initiated the offensive, their force amounted to around 777,000 men, 2,451 tanks and assault guns (70 per cent of the German armour on the Eastern Front), and 7,417 guns and mortars.[o]
Soviet plans and preparation
In 1943, an offensive by the Soviet Central, Bryansk, and Western Fronts against Army Group Centre was abandoned shortly after it began in early March, when the southern flank of the Central Front was threatened by Army Group South. Soviet intelligence received information about German troop concentrations spotted at Orel and Kharkov, as well as details of an intended German offensive in the Kursk sector through the Lucy spy ring in Switzerland. The Soviets verified the intelligence via their spy in Britain, John Cairncross at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, who clandestinely forwarded raw decrypts directly to Moscow. Anastas Mikoyan wrote that, on 27 March 1943, he was notified by Joseph Stalin about a possible German attack in the Kursk sector. Stalin and some senior officers were eager to strike first once the rasputitsa ended, but a number of key officers, including Deputy Supreme Commander Georgiy Zhukov, recommended a strategic defensive before going on the offensive. In a letter to Stavka and Stalin, on 8 April, Zhukov wrote:
In the first phase the enemy, collecting their best forces—including 13–15 tank divisions and with the support of a large number of aircraft—will strike Kursk with their Kromskom-Orel grouping from the north-east and their Belgorod-Kharkov grouping from the south-east... I consider it inadvisable for our forces to go over to an offensive in the near future in order to forestall the enemy. It would be better to make the enemy exhaust himself against our defences, and knock out his tanks and then, bringing up fresh reserves, to go over to the general offensive which would finally finish off his main force.
Stalin consulted with his front-line commanders and senior officers of the General Staff, from 12 to 15 April 1943. In the end he and Stavka agreed that Kursk was the likely German target. Stalin believed the decision to defend would give the Germans the initiative, but Zhukov countered that the Germans would be drawn into a trap where their armoured power would be destroyed, thus creating the conditions for a major Soviet offensive. They decided to meet the enemy attack by preparing defensive positions to wear out the German groupings, before launching their own offensive. Preparation of defences and fortifications began by the end of April, and continued until the German attack in early July. The two-month delay between the German decision to attack the Kursk salient and its implementation, allowed the Red Army ample time to thoroughly prepare.
The Voronezh Front, commanded by Nikolai Vatutin, was tasked with defending the southern face of the salient. The Central Front, commanded by Konstantin Rokossovsky, defended the northern face. Waiting in reserve was the Steppe Front, commanded by Ivan Konev. In February 1943, the Central Front had been reconstructed from the Don Front, which had been part of the northern pincer of Operation Uranus and had been responsible for the destruction of the 6th Army at Stalingrad.
The Central and Voronezh Fronts each constructed three main defensive belts in their sectors, with each subdivided into several zones of fortification.  The Soviets availed themselves of the labour of over 300,000 civilians.[p] Fortifying each echelon was an interconnected web of minefields, barbed-wire fences, anti-tank ditches, deep entrenchments for infantry, anti-tank obstacles, dug-in armoured vehicles, and machine gun bunkers. Behind the three main defensive belts were three more belts prepared as fallback positions; the first was not fully occupied or heavily fortified, and the last two, though sufficiently fortified, were mostly not occupied. The combined depth of the three main defensive zones was about 40 kilometres (25 mi). The six defensive belts on either side of Kursk were 130–150 kilometres (81–93 mi) deep. If the Germans managed to break through these defences they would still be confronted by additional defensive belts to the east, manned by the Steppe Front. These brought the total depth of the defences to nearly 300 kilometres (190 mi).
Red Army combat engineers laid 503,663 anti-tank mines and 439,348 anti-personnel mines, with the highest concentration in the first main defensive belt. More than 4,800 kilometres (3,000 mi) of trenches were dug, laid out in criss-cross pattern for ease of movement. The minefields at Kursk achieved densities of 1,700 anti-personnel and 1,500 anti-tank mines per kilometre, about four times the density used in the defence of Moscow. For example, the 6th Guards Army, of the Voronezh Front, was spread out over nearly 64 kilometres (40 mi) of front and was protected by 69,688 anti-tank and 64,430 anti-personnel mines in its first defensive belt with a further 20,200 anti-tank and 9,097 anti-personnel mines in its second defensive belt. Furthermore, mobile obstacle detachments were tasked with laying more mines directly in the path of advancing armoured formations. These units, consisting of two platoons of combat engineers with mines at division level and one company of combat engineers normally equipped with 500–700 mines at corps level, functioned as anti-tank reserves at every level of command.
In his letter of 8 April, Zhukov warned that the Germans would attack the salient with a strong armoured force:
We can expect the enemy to put [the] greatest reliance in this year's offensive operations on his tank divisions and air force, since his infantry appears to be far less prepared for offensive operations than last year ... In view of this threat, we should strengthen the anti-tank defences of the Central and Voronezh fronts, and assemble as soon as possible.
Nearly all artillery, including howitzers, guns, anti-aircraft and rockets, were tasked with anti-tank defence. Dug-in tanks and self-propelled guns further strengthened the anti-tank defences. Anti-tank forces were incorporated into every level of command, mostly as anti-tank strong points with the majority concentrated on likely attack routes and the remainder amply spread out elsewhere. Each anti-tank strong point typically consisted of four to six anti-tank guns, six to nine anti-tank rifles, and five to seven heavy and light machine guns. They were supported by mobile obstacle detachments as well as infantry with automatic weapons. Independent tank and self-propelled gun brigades and regiments were tasked with cooperating with the infantry during counterattacks.
Soviet preparations included increased activity of partisans, who attacked German communications and supply lines. The attacks were mostly behind Army Group North and Army Group Centre. During June 1943, partisans operating in the occupied area behind Army Group Centre destroyed 298 locomotives, 1,222 rail wagons, and 44 bridges, and in the Kursk sector there were 1,092 partisan attacks against railways. These attacks delayed the build-up of German supplies and equipment, and required German troops to be diverted to suppress the partisans, delaying their training for the offensive. Many of these attacks were coordinated through the Central Partisan Headquarters. In June Soviet Air Forces flew over 800 sorties at night to resupply the partisan groups operating behind Army Group Center. The VVS also provided communication and sometimes even daylight air support for major partisan undertakings.
Special training was provided to the infantry manning the defences to help them overcome the tank phobia that had been evident since the German invasion. Soldiers were packed into trenches and tanks were driven overhead until all signs of fear were gone.[q] The soldiers were also promised financial rewards for each tank destroyed, with the People's Commisariat of Defense providing 1,000 rubles for destroyed tanks. In combat, the soldiers would spring up in the midst of the attacking infantry to separate them from the spearheading armoured vehicles. The separated armoured vehicles could then be disabled or destroyed at point-blank range. These types of attacks were mostly effective against the Ferdinand tank destroyers, which lacked machine guns as secondary armament. If the armoured vehicles could be separated from their supporting infantry they became vulnerable to infantry armed with anti-tank rifles, demolition charges and Molotov cocktails.
The Soviets employed maskirovka (deception techniques) to mask defensive positions and troop dispositions and to conceal the movement of men and materiel. These included camouflaging gun emplacements, constructing dummy airfields and depots, generating false radio traffic, and spreading rumours among the Soviet front line troops and the civilian population in the German-held areas. Movement of forces and supplies to and from the salient was carried out at night only. Ammunition caches were carefully concealed to blend in with the landscape. Radio transmission was restricted and fires were forbidden. Command posts were hidden and motor transport in and around them was forbidden.
According to a Soviet General Staff report, 29 of the 35 major Luftwaffe raids on Soviet airfields in the Kursk sector, during June 1943, were against dummy airfields. The Soviet deception efforts were so successful that German estimates issued in mid-June placed the total Soviet armoured strength at 1,500 tanks. The result was not only a vast underestimation of Soviet strength, but a misperception of Soviet strategic intentions.
The main tank of the Soviet tank arm was the T-34, which the Red Army attempted to concentrate. The Soviet tank arm also contained large numbers of the T-70 light tank. For example, the 5th Guards Tank Army roughly contained 270 T-70s and 500 T-34s. In the salient itself, the Soviets had assembled a large number of lend lease tanks. These included U.S. manufactured M3 Lees, and British built Churchills, Matildas and Valentines. However, the T-34 made up the bulk of the Soviet armour. Without including the deeper reserves organised under the Steppe Front, the Soviets had massed about 1,300,000 men, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces, and 2,792 aircraft to defend the salient. This amounted to 26 per cent of the total manpower of the Red Army, 26 per cent of its mortars and artillery, 35 per cent of its aircraft, and 46 per cent of its tanks.
Contest for air superiority and air support of the ground forces
Both the Luftwaffe and the V.V.S. (the Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily, or "Military Air Forces") were air forces designed with their primary mission being to support their respective ground forces. Though the V.V.S. was always much larger than the Luftwaffe, in the early part of the campaign in the Soviet Union the Luftwaffe had achieved complete air superiority and inflicted huge losses upon the Soviet Air Force. The Luftwaffe's extensive air support to the German ground forces was checked only when the advance pushed beyond the range of their most forward airfields. Resupply by air of forward panzer units had been a Luftwaffe role since the start of the war, but the demand placed upon the Luftwaffe to resupply large isolated formations during the severe winter of 1941-42 and over Stalingrad the following winter cost the Luftwaffe a great deal in equipment and pilots. These losses could not be easily replaced.
By 1943, the Luftwaffe was still able to achieve local air superiority, but its strength was clearly weakening. The Luftwaffe command understood that for success to be found in Operation Citadel their support would be crucial, but their ability to project force was hampered by problems with supply shortfalls. Partisan activity, particularly behind Army Group Center, slowed the rate of re-supply and cut short the Luftwaffe's ability to build-up essential stockpiles of petrol, oil, and lubricants. They were unable to stockpile reserves of aircraft and engines, meaning that they would be unable to replace damaged aircraft over the course of the operation. Fuel was the most significant limiting factor. To help build up supplies for the support of Citadel, the Luftwaffe greatly curtailed its operations during the last week of June. Despite this husbanding of resources, the Luftwaffe did not have the resources to sustain an intensive air effort for more than a few days.
The changing strengths of the two opponents is underscored by operational changes made by the Luftwaffe at Kursk. Air operations in previous offensive campaigns were initiated with Luftwaffe raids conducted against opposing airfields to help achieve air superiority. By this point in the war, Soviet equipment reserves were extensive. The Luftwaffe commanders realized whatever aircraft they could destroy on the ground would be easily replaced by the Soviets within days, making such raids futile. For the Kursk battle, these missions were abandoned. In previous campaigns, medium bombers - flying from well behind the frontline - had interdicted the arrival of Soviet reinforcements. However, this kind of mission was rarely attempted during Citadel. Rather, the Luftwaffe confined its operations to the direct support of the ground forces. The Luftwaffe continued to make use of the Junkers Ju 87G Stuka. A new development to this aircraft was the Bordkanone 3,7 cm calibre cannon, one of which could be slung under each wing of the Stuka in a gun pod. Half of the Stuka groups, assigned to support Citadel, were equipped with such weapons. The air groups were also buttressed by the recent arrival of the Henschel Hs 129, with its 30 mm MK 103 cannon, and the ground attack ("jabo") version of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190.
In the months preceding the battle Luftflotte Six behind Army Group Center noted marked increase in the strength of the opposing VVS formations. These Soviet air groups showed indications of better training, improved equipment and increased aggressiveness. The introduction of the Yakovlev Yak-9 and Lavochkin La-5 fighters gave the Soviet pilots near parity in equipment with the Luftwaffe. Furthermore, large numbers of ground attack aircraft (such as the Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik and the Pe-2) were available as well. In addition to Soviet designs, the Red Air Force contained large quantities of lend-lease supplied aircraft. Huge stockpiles of supplies and ample reserves of replacement aircraft meant the Soviets would be able to conduct an extended campaign without slackening in the intensity of their effort.
For their attack, the Germans utilized three armies along with a large proportion of their total tank strength on the Eastern Front. The 9th Army, of Army Group Center and based north of the bulge, contained 335,000 men (223,000 combat soldiers). In the south, the 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment "Kempf", of Army Group South, had 223,907 men (149,271 combat soldiers) and 100,000 men (66,000 combat soldiers) respectively. In total, the three armies had a total strength of 778,907 men, with 518,271 being combat soldiers. Army Group South was equipped with more armoured vehicles, infantry and artillery than the 9th Army. The 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment "Kempf" had 1,377 tanks and assault guns, while the 9th Army possessed 988 tanks and assault guns.
The two new Panther battalions (the 51st and 52nd, and 200 tanks strong), which the offensive had been delayed for, were attached to the Großdeutschland Division in the XLVIII Panzer Corps of Army Group South. Arriving just prior to the launch of the offensive, the two regiments had little time to perform reconnaissance or to orientate themselves to the terrain they found themselves in. This was a breach of the methods of the panzerwaffe, considered essential for the successful use of armour. Though led by experienced panzer commanders, many of the tank crews were new recruits and had little time to become familiar with their new tanks and their temperamental transmissions, let alone train together to function as a unit. The two battalions came direct from the training ground and lacked combat experience. In addition, the requirement to maintain radio silence until the start of the attack meant that the Panther units would have little training in radio procedures. The new Panthers were still experiencing problems with their transmissions, and proved mechanically unreliable. By the morning of 5 July, the units had lost 16 Panthers due to mechanical breakdown, leaving only 184 available for the launching of the offensive.
|Order of battle: Army Group Centre (Field Marshal Günther von Kluge)|
|Army||Army Commander||Note||Corps||Corps Commander||Divisions|
|9th Army||Walter Model||XX Army Corps||R. von Roman||45th, 72nd, 137th, and 251st Infantry Divisions|
|XLVI Panzer Corps||H. Zorn||7th, 31st, 102nd, and 258th Infantry Divisions|
|XLI Panzer Corps||J. Harpe||18th Panzer Division; 86th and 292nd Infantry Divisions|
|XLVII Panzer Corps||J. Lemelsen||2nd, 9th, and 20th Panzer Divisions; 6th Infantry Division|
|XXIII Army Corps||J. Frießner||216th and 383rd Infantry Divisions; 78th Assault Division|
|Army Reserve||4th and 12th Panzer Divisions; 10th Panzergrenadier Division|
|2nd Panzer Army||Erich-Heinrich Clößner||XXXV Army Corps||L. Rendulic||34th, 56th, 262nd, and 299th Infantry Divisions|
|LIII Army Corps||F. Gollwitzer||208th, 211th, and 293rd Infantry Divisions; 25th Panzergrenadier Division|
|LV Army Corps||E. Jaschke||110th, 112th, 134th, 296th, and 339th Infantry Divisions|
|Army reserve||5th Panzer Division|
|Army Group Reserve||8th Panzer Division (joined 2nd Panzer Army on 12 July 1943)|
|Luftflotte 6||I Flieger Division|
|Order of battle: Army Group South (Field Marshal Erich von Manstein)|
|Army||Army Commander||Note||Corps||Corps Commander||Divisions|
|4th Panzer Army||Hermann Hoth||LII Army Corps||General E. Ott||57th, 255th, and 332nd Infantry Divisions|
|XLVIII Panzer Corps||O. von Knobelsdorff||3rd and 11th Panzer Divisions; 167th Infantry Division: Panzergrenadier Division Großdeutschland|
|II SS Panzer Corps||General P. Hausser||1st (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler), 2nd (Das Reich), and the 3rd (Totenkopf) SS Panzergrenadier Divisions|
|Army Detachment Kempf||Werner Kempf||III Panzer Corps||H. Breith||6th, 7th, and 19th Panzer Divisions; 168th Infantry Division|
|Corps "Raus"||E. Raus||106th and 320th Infantry Divisions|
|XLII Army Corps||F. Mattenklot||39th, 161st, and 282nd Infantry Divisions|
|Army Group Reserve||XXIV Panzer Corps||W. Nehring||5th SS (Wiking) Panzergrenadier Division and the 17th Panzer Division|
|Luftflotte 4||VIII Fliegerkorps|
The Red Army used two Fronts, the equivalent of army groups, for the defence of Kursk, and created a third front behind the battle area which was held as a reserve. The Central and Voronezh Fronts fielded 12 armies, with 711,575 men (510,983 combat soldiers) and 625,591 men (446,236 combat soldiers) respectively. In reserve, the Steppe Front had an additional 573,195 men (449,133). Thus the total size of the Soviet force was 1,910,361 men, with 1,426,352 actual combat soldiers.
|Order of battle: Central Front (Army General Konstantin Rokossovsky)|
|13th Army||Nikolai Puchov||17th Guards Rifle Corps||6th, 70th, and 75th Guards Rifle Divisions|
|18th Guards Rifle Corps||2nd, 3rd, and 4th Airborne Guards Rifle Divisions|
|15th Rifle Corps||8th, 74th, and 148th Rifle Divisions|
|29th Rifle Corps||15th, 81st, and 307th Rifle Divisions|
|48th Army||Prokofiy Romanenko||42nd Rifle Corps||16th, 202nd, 399th, 73rd, 137th, 143rd, and 170th Rifle Divisions|
|60th Army||Ivan Chernyakhovsky||24th Rifle Corps||42nd and 112th Rifle Divisions|
|30th Rifle Corps||121st, 141st, and 322nd Rifle Divisions|
|Independent Divisions||55th Rifle Division|
|65th Army||Pavel Batov||18th Rifle Corps||69th, 149th, and 246th Rifle Divisions|
|27th Rifle Corps||60th, 193rd, 181st, 194th, and 354th Rifle Divisions; 37th Guards Rifle Division|
|70th Army||Ivan Galanin||28th Rifle Corps||132nd, 211th, 102nd, 106th, 140th, 162nd, and 280th Rifle Divisions|
|2nd Tank Army||Alexei Rodin||3rd Tank Corps|
|16th Tank Corps|
|Front Assets (Independent Units)||9th Tank Corps|
|19th Tank Corps|
|16th Air Army||General Sergei Rudenko||3rd Bombing Air Corps|
|6th Fighter Air Corps|
|6th Mixed Air Corps|
|Order of battle: Voronezh Front (Army General Nikolai Vatutin)|
|6th Guards Army||Ivan Chistyakov||22nd Guards Rifle Corps||67th Guards Rifle Division, 71st Rifle Division and the 90th Guards Rifle Division|
|23rd Guards Rifle Corps||51st and 52nd Guards Rifle Divisions; 375th Rifle Division|
|Independent Divisions||89th Guards Rifle Division|
|7th Guards Army||Mikhail Shumilov||24th Guards Rifle Corps||15th, 36th, and 72nd Guards Rifle Divisions|
|25th Guards Rifle Corps||73rd, 78th, and 81st Guards Rifle Divisions|
|Independent Divisions||213th Rifle Division|
|38th Army||Nikandr Chibisov||50th Rifle Corps||167th, 232nd, and 340th Rifle Divisions|
|51st Rifle Corps||180th and 240th Rifle Divisions|
|Independent Divisions||204th Rifle Division|
|40th Army||Kirill Moskalenko||47th Rifle Corps||161st, 206th, and 237th Rifle Divisions|
|52nd Rifle Corps||100th, 219th, and 309th Rifle Divisions|
|Independent Divisions||184th Rifle Division|
|69th Army||Vasily Kryuchenkin||48th Rifle Corps||107th, 183rd, and 307th Rifle Divisions|
|49th Rifle Corps||111th and 270th Rifle Divisions|
|1st Guards Tank Army||Mikhail Katukov||6th Tank Corps|
|31st Tank Corps|
|3rd Mechanized Corps|
|Front Assets (Independent Units)||35th Guards Rifle Corps||92nd, 93rd, and 94th Guards Rifle Divisions|
|2nd Guards Tank Corps|
|3rd Guards Tank Corps|
|2nd Air Army||Stepan Krasovsky||1st Bombing Air Corps|
|1st Assault Air Corps|
|4th Fighter Air Corps|
|5th Fighter Air Corps|
|Elements of the 17th Air Army|
|Order of battle: Steppe Front (Ivan Konev)[r]|
|5th Guards Army||Alexei Zhadov||32nd Guards Rifle Corps||13th and 66th Guards Rifle Divisions; 6th Airborne Guards Rifle Division|
|33rd Guards Rifle Corps||95th and 97th Guards Rifle Divisions; 9th Airborne Guards Rifle Division|
|Independent Divisions||42nd Guards Rifle Division and 10th Tank Corps|
|Independent 10th Tank Corps|
|5th Guards Tank Army||Pavel Rotmistrov||5th Guards Mechanized Corps|
|29th Tank Corps|
|5th Air Army||S. Gorunov||7th Mixed Air Corps|
|8th Mixed Air Corps|
|3rd Fighter Air Corps|
|7th Fighter Air Corps|
Comparison of strength
|Frieser[nc 1]||1,426,352||2.8:1||518,271||4,938[nc 2]||2:1||2,465||31,415||4:1||7,417|
Soviet offensive phase
|Soviet offensive phase||Men||Tanks||Guns|
|Frieser[nd 1]||1,987,463||3.2:1||625,271||8,200||3:1||2,699[nd 2]||47,416||5:1||9,467|
|Glantz[nd 3]||2,500,000||2.7:1||940,900||7,360[nd 4]||2.3:1||3,253|
Preliminary fighting started on the southern face of the salient on the evening of 4 July 1943, when German infantry launched attacks to seize high ground for artillery observation posts prior to the main assault. During these attacks, a number of Soviet command and observation posts along the first main belt of defence were captured. By 16:00, elements of the Panzergrenadier Division "Großdeutschland", 3rd and 11th Panzer Divisions had seized the village of Butovo and proceeded to capture Gertsovka before midnight. At around 22:30, Vatutin ordered 600 guns, mortars, and Katyusha rocket launchers, of the Voronezh Front, to bombard the forward German positions, particularly those of the II SS Panzer Corps.
To the north, at Central Front headquarters, reports of the anticipated German offensive came in. At around 02:00 5 July, Zhukov ordered his preemptive artillery bombardment to begin. The hope was to catch the German forces concentrating for the attack, but the effect of the bombardment was less than hoped for. The bombardment delayed the German formations, but failed in the goal of disrupting the German schedule or inflicting substantial losses. The Germans began their own artillery bombardment at about 05:00. This lasted 80 minutes in the northern sector and 50 minutes in the south. After the barrage, the ground forces attacked, aided by close air support provided by the Luftwaffe.
During the early morning, the Red Air Force launched a large raid against German airfields, hoping to catch the Luftwaffe on the ground. This effort failed, and the Soviets suffered considerable losses.[s] The Soviets lost 176 aircraft in the attack (The losses of the 16th Air Army were lighter than those suffered by the 2nd Air Army.), compared to the 26 aircraft lost by the Luftwaffe. Though the Luftwaffe was able to gain and maintain air superiority over the southern portion of the battle, the control of the skies over the northern face was evenly contested throughout.
Over the course of the offensive, the Luftwaffe's chronic shortage of fuel, lubricants and spare parts began to hamper the serviceability of their aircraft and thus limited their ability to fly sorties. In addition, the need to provide ground forces with assistance, in defeating strong points and knocking out Soviet artillery positions, meant that missions could not be flown to attack Soviet airfields to help gain air superiority, giving the much more numerous Red Air Force the opportunity to have a greater presence over the battlefield. The consequences of the greater numbers of Soviet aircraft over the Luftwaffe was enhanced by the fact that by mid-1943, the Luftwaffe no longer held as great a technical superiority as it once held over its adversary.
Operation along the northern face
Model's main attack was delivered by XLVII Panzer Corps, supported by 45 Tigers of the attached 505 Heavy Tank Battalion. Covering their left flank was XLI Panzer Corps, with an attached regiment of 83 Ferdinand tank destroyers. On the right flank, XLVI Panzer Corps (in name only) consisted of four infantry divisions with just nine tanks and 31 assault guns. To the left of XLI Panzer Corps was XXIII Army Corps, which consisted of a reinforced assault infantry division (the 78th) and two regular infantry divisions. While the corps contained no tanks, it did have 62 assault guns. Opposing the 9th Army was the Central Front, deployed in three main heavily fortified defensive belts.
Model had decided not to employ his armoured force at the start of the offensive in order to prevent it from being worn out while breaking the Soviet defences. Therefore his initial attack force, tasked with breaking the first line of defence was primarily infantry, working with artillery and Luftwaffe support. Once the breakthrough had been achieved, the panzer divisions would exploit and advance towards Kursk. Jan Möschen, a major in Model's staff, later commented that Model expected a breakthrough on the second day, but that his corps commanders thought it would be extremely unlikely. Given Model's tactics, even if a breakthrough did occur the briefest delay in bringing the panzer divisions up would give the Soviets time to react and plug the gap.
Following a preliminary bombardment, the 9th Army opened its attack at 05:00. Nine infantry divisions and one panzer division, with attached assault guns, heavy tanks, and tank destroyers, pushed forward. Two companies of Tiger tanks were attached to the 6th Infantry Division, and were the largest single grouping of Tigers employed that day. Facing this onslaught was the 13th and 70th Armies of the Central Front.
The 20th Panzer and 6th Infantry divisions, in close cooperation, spearheaded the advance of the XLVII Panzer Corps. Behind them the remaining two panzer divisions followed, ready to exploit any breakthrough. The heavily mined terrain and fortified positions of the 15th Rifle Division slowed the attack down. By 08:00, safe lanes had been cleared through the minefield. That morning, information from the intelligence staff of the attacking divisions, obtained via prisoner interrogation, had identified a weakness at the boundary of the 15th and 81st Rifle Divisions caused by the German preliminary bombardment. The Tigers were redeployed, and struck towards this area. The Soviets countered this move with a force of around 90 T-34s. In the resulting three-hour battle, the Soviets lost 42 tanks while the Germans lost a mere two Tigers and a further five more immobilized with track damage. While the Soviet counter-attack was defeated and the first defensive belt breached, the fighting had delayed the advancing Germans long enough for the rest of 29th Rifle Corps - behind the first line - to seal the breach and prevent a breakthrough. After a bloody engagement 10 to 13 km (6.2 to 8.1 mi) into the Soviet defences, the XLVII Panzer Corps attack stalled.
The German attack had been along a 45-kilometre (28 mi) wide front. However, due to extensive minefields and the tenacity of the Soviet defenders, the attack had stalled. Efforts by Engineers to clear paths through the minefields were hampered by Soviet fire. Goliath and Borgward IV remote-controlled engineer mine clearing vehicles met with limited success. Of the 653rd Heavy Panzerjäger Battalion's 45 Ferdinands sent into battle, all but 12 of them were immobilized by mine damage before 17:00. Most of these were later repaired and returned to service, but the recovery of these very large vehicles was difficult. During the first day, the Germans penetrated 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) into the Soviet lines for the loss of 1,287 men killed and missing and a further 5,921 wounded.
The following day, the Central Front launched a counterattack against the German XLVI Tank Corps. The Red Army attacked with the 2nd Tank Army and the XIX Tank Corps. The Soviet counterattack was halted by the German Tiger tanks, which knocked out 69 Soviet tanks. After the encounter with the German Tigers, Rokossovsky decided to dig in most of his remaining tanks to minimize their exposure.
During the next two days, heavy fighting took place around the strong point of Ponyri (on the Orel–Kursk railway), which was one of the most heavily fortified positions in the northern sector. Both sides saw this area as a vital point. The Soviets had placed 70 anti-tank guns per kilometre in this region. The German 86th and 292nd Infantry Divisions attacked Ponyri, and captured the town after intense house-to-house fighting on 7 July. A Soviet counterattack forced the Germans to withdraw, and a series of counterattacks ensued by both sides with control of the town being exchanged several times. By the evening of 8 July, the Germans had secured most of the town. The Ferdinands were called into action to take Hill 253.5 and succeeded on 9 July. This attack developed into a battle of attrition, with heavy casualties on both sides. The historian John Keegan called Ponyri "the new Douaumont", referencing the major battles that occurred around Fort Douamount during the First World War's Battle of Verdun. By this point, the frontline German units were exhausted, while the Soviets were able to bring up fresh reserves.
Model ordered his forces to halt to reorganize. On 9 July, a meeting was held, at the headquarters of the XLVII Panzer Corps, between von Kluge and Model. To both, it had become clear that they lacked the strength to obtain a breakthrough, but von Kluge wished to maintain the pressure on the Soviets in order to aide the southern offensive. Soviet defensive strongpoints were to be bypassed and the schwerpunkt was to shift to XLVI Panzer Corps. The 12th Panzer Division, thus far held in reserve, was to be committed. By this point, both the German and the Soviet commanders realised that the outcome of the battle had already been decided.
On 10 July, the attack was renewed with air support. However, the gains made by this renewed effort were small as fresh Soviet formations had arrived to repel the German attacks. The diary of the 9th Army describes the heavy fighting as a "new type of mobile attrition battle".[t] On 12 July, the Soviet's launched Operation Kutuzov: their counter-offensive upon the Orel salient. The attack threatened the flank and rear of Model's 9th Army. Two Fronts, the Bryansk Front and the Western Front, commenced the attack along the thinly held north and northeast sectors of the salient held by the 2nd Panzer Army. The Western Front assault was led by the 11th Guards Army, under Lieutenant General Hovhannes Bagramyan, and was supported by the 1st and 5th Tank Corps. The Soviet spearheads sustained heavy casualties, but pushed through and in some areas achieved significant penetrations. These penetrations threatened the German supply routes, but more importantly threatened to encircle the 9th Army and presented the chance to destroy it. With this threat, 9th Army was compelled to withdraw.
A review of the attack frontage and depth of the German penetration highlights the success of the Red Army defensive tactics. While Citadel began with a 45-kilometre-wide (28 mi) attack front, by 6 July it had been reduced to 40-kilometre-wide (25 mi). The following day, this dropped to 15-kilometre-wide (9.3 mi) and on both the 8 and 9 July penetrations of only 2-kilometre-wide (1.2 mi) occurred. By 10 July, the Soviets had completely halted the German advance.
Operation along the southern face
At around 04:00, the German attack commenced with a preliminary bombardment. Von Manstein's main attack was delivered by Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, which was organized into densely concentrated spearheads. Opposing the 4th Panzer Army was the Soviet 6th Guards Army, which was composed of the 22nd Guards Rifle Corps and 23rd Guards Rifle Corps. The Soviets had constructed three heavily fortified defensive belts to slow and weaken the attacking armoured forces. Though they had been provided superb intelligence, the Voronezh Front headquarters had still not been able to pinpoint the exact location where the Germans would place their offensive weight.
The panzergrenadier division Großdeutschland, commanded by Walter Hörnlein, was the strongest single division in the 4th Panzer Army. It was supported on its flanks by the 3rd and 11th Panzer Divisions. Großdeutschland's Panzer IIIs and IVs had been supplemented by a company of 15 Tigers, which were used to spearhead the attack. At dawn on 5 July, the Grossdeutschland Division, backed by heavy artillery support, advanced on a two-mile front upon the 67th Guards Rifle Division of the 22nd Guards Rifle Corps. The Panzerfüsilier Regiment, advancing on the left wing, stalled in a minefield and subsequently 36 Panthers were immobilized. The stranded regiment was subjected to a barrage of Soviet anti-tank and artillery fire, which inflicted numerous casualties. Engineers were moved up and cleared paths through the minefield, but suffered casualties in the process. With paths cleared, the regiment resumed its advance towards Gertsovka. In the ensuing battle, heavy casualties were sustained including the regimental commander Colonel Kassnitz. Due to the fighting, and the marshy terrain south of the village, surrounding the Berezovyy stream, the regiment once more bogged down.
 The panzergrenadier regiment of Großdeutschland, advancing on the right wing, pushed through to the village of Butovo. The tanks were deployed in a classic arrow formation, with the Tigers leading and the Panzer IIIs, IVs and assault guns fanning out to the rear. They were followed by infantry and combat engineers. Attempts by the Red Air Force to impede the advance were repulsed by the Luftwaffe. 
The 3rd Panzer Division, advancing on the left flank of Großdeutschland, made good progress and by the end of the day had captured Gertsovka and reached Mikhailovka. The 167th Infantry Division, on the right flank of the 11th Panzer Division, also made sufficient progress, reaching Tirechnoe by the end of the day. By the end of 5 July, a wedge had been created in the first line of the Soviet defences.
II SS Panzer Corps
To the east, during the night of 4–5 July, SS combat engineers had infiltrated no-man's land and cleared lanes through the Soviet minefields. At dawn, the three divisions of II SS Panzer Corps – SS Panzergrenadier Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Division Das Reich and the 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Division Totenkopf – attacked the 6th Guards Army's 52nd Guards Rifle Division. The main assault was led by a spearhead of 42 Tigers, but in total 494 tanks and assault guns attacked across a seven and half-mile front. Totenkopf, the strongest of the three divisions, advanced towards Gremuchhi and screened the right flank. The 1st SS Panzergrenadier Division advanced on the left flank towards Bykovka. The 2nd SS Panzer Division advanced between the two formations in the center. Following closely behind the tanks, was the infantry and combat engineers, coming forward to demolish obstacles and clear trenches. In addition, the advance was well supported by the Luftwaffe, which greatly aided in breaking Soviet strong points and artillery positions.
By 09:00 hours, the II SS Panzer Corps had advanced deep into the Soviet first line of defence along its entire front. While probing positions between the first and second Soviet defensive belts, at 1300 hours, the 2nd SS Panzer Division's vanguard came under fire from two T-34 tanks, which were quickly dispatched. 40 more Soviet tanks soon engaged the division. The 1st Guards Tank Army clashed with the 2nd SS Panzer Division in a four hour battle, resulting with the Soviet tanks withdrawing. However, the battle had bought enough time for units of the 23rd Soviet Guards Rifle Corps, lodged in the Soviet second line, to prepare itself and be reinforced with additional anti-tank guns. By the early evening, 2nd SS Panzer Division had reached the minefields that marked the outer perimeter of the Soviet second line of defence. The 1st SS Division had secured Bykovka by 1610 hours. It then pushed forward towards the second line of defence at Yakovlevo, but its attempts to breakthrough were rebuffed. By the end of the day, the 1st SS Division had sustained 97 dead, 522 wounded, 17 missing and lost about 30 tanks. Together with the 2nd SS Panzer Division, it had forced a wedge far into the defences of the 6th Guards Army.
The 3rd SS Panzer Division was making slow progress. They had managed to isolate the 155th Guards Regiment, of the 52nd Guards Rifle Division (of the 23rd Guards Rifle Corps), from the rest of its parent division, but its attempts to sweep the regiment eastward into the flank of the neighbouring 375th Rifle Division (of the 23rd Guards Rifle Corps) had failed when the regiment was reinforced by the 96th Tank Brigade. Hausser, the commander of II SS Panzer Corps, requested aid from the III Panzer Corps to his east, but they were unable to assist due to facing serious challenges of its own. By the end of the day, the 3rd SS Division had made very limited progress due in part to a tributary of the Donets river. The lack of progress undermined the advance made by its sister divisions and exposed the right flank of the corps to Soviet forces.
Army Detachment "Kempf"
Facing Army Detachment "Kempf", consisting of III Panzer Corps and Corps "Raus" (commanded by Erhard Raus), were faced by the 7th Guards Army, dug in on the high ground on the eastern bank of the Northern Donets. The two German corps were tasked with crossing the Northern Donets, smashing through the 7th Guards Army and support the right flank of the 4th Panzer Army. The 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion – equipped with 45 Tigers – was also attached to the III Panzer Corps, split up so that one company of 15 Tigers was attached to each of the three panzer divisions of the corps. Although the river was bridged during the night of 4 July, the crossing points were targeted by Soviet artillery during the preemptive bombardment.
At the Milkhailovka bridgehead, just south of Belgorod, eight infantry battalions of the 6th Panzer Division (of the III Panzer Corps) assembled there and were subjected to heavy artillery fire during the Soviet preliminary bombardment. Eventually, most of the infantry got across to the eastern bank. When a company of the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion began to cross, it too was targeted by Soviet artillery and the bridge was destroyed. Although some of the tanks managed to get across, the rest of the 6th Panzer Division had to be redeployed southward to another crossing. Clemens Graf Kageneck, battalion commander, described it thus:
Suddenly, a red sunrise arose on the far side as hundreds of Stalin's organs hurled their rockets exactly onto the crossing site. The bridge was totally demolished and the engineers, unfortunately, suffered heavy losses. Never have I hugged the dirt so tightly as when these terrible shells sprayed their thin fragments just above the ground.
With the need to redeploy the 6th Panzer Division, it became clear that the division was falling behind schedule. The predicament was further aggravated when it was reported to Walther von Hünersdorff, the division's commander, that the designated crossing was already clogged with traffic. Failing to find another crossing, the remaining elements of the division remained on the western bank of the river throughout the day. Meanwhile, those units of the division that had succeeded in getting across the river, launched an attack led by Tigers on Stary Gorod. However, the attack stalled due to poorly cleared minefields and strong resistance.
To the south of the 6th Panzer Division, the 19th Panzer Division successfully crossed the river, but was delayed by mines that damaged some of the Tigers spearheading the advance. The division advanced eight kilometres by the end of the day. Further south, infantry and tanks of 7th Panzer Division managed to cross the bridges. The Tigers, supporting the 7th, were unable to cross due to their weight. Attempts were made to drive the Tigers across the river to relieve the infantry and tanks of the 7th, as both were under heavy attack. However, the effort was unsuccessful due to their weight and the massive Soviet artillery bombardment. Eventually, engineers constructed bridges strong enough to take the Tigers across, where they relieved their beleaguered comrades. Despite a poor start, the 7th Panzer Division eventually broke into the first line of the Soviet defence and pushed on between Razumnoe and Krutoi Log, advancing about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) during the day. This effort was the furthest advance achieved by Army Detachment "Kempf" during the day.
Operating to the south of 7th Panzer Division, were the two infantry divisions – 106th and 320th Infantry Divisions – of Corps "Raus". The two formations, without armour support, advanced across a 20-mile front and made little progress. The advance began well, with the successful crossing of the river and a swift advance against the 72nd Guards Rifle Division. The Soviet defenders were taken by surprise with the speed of the advance. Erhard Raus, later wrote:
The advancing infantry surprised them and had no difficulty ferreting them out. But when the infantry reached the two to three-mile deep zone of the battle positions prepared in the preceding months, they had to make extensive use of hand grenades in order to mop up [a] maze of densely dug-in trenches and bunkers, some of which were a dozen or more feet deep. At the same time, artillery and flak fired counter-battery missions against the enemy heavy weapons that had resumed fire from rear positions. They also fired on reserves infiltrating through the trench system, as well as against [Soviet] medium artillery.
After a fierce battle, involving some hand-to-hand fighting, Corps "Raus" took the village of Maslovo Pristani punching a hole in the first Soviet line of defence. However, the lodgement was nearly lost during a Soviet counterattack supported by about 40 tanks. The counterattack was eventually rebuffed with the assistance of artillery and flak batteries. However, having suffered 2,000 casualties since the morning and still facing considerable resistance, the corps could penetrate no further and therefore dug-in for the night.
First day summary
By the end of the first day Army Group South's attack had penetrated the first Soviet defensive line. II SS Panzer Corps had broken through the first line of defence by 09:00 and were pushing to breach the second. Some though, particularly the divisions of Army Detachment Kempf, had barely breached the first line. Along the entire southern face of the salient, the German thrust had been slowed, allowing the Soviets time to prepare their second line of defence to meet the German attack on 6 July. The 7th Guards Army, which had soaked up the attack of III Panzer Corps and Corps "Raus", was reinforced with two rifle divisions from the reserve. The 15th Guards Rifle Division was also moved up to the second line of defence, right in the path of III Panzer Corps. The 6th Guards Army, which had absorbed the attack by XLVIII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps, was reinforced with tanks from the 1st Tank Army, along with reinforcements from the 2nd Guards Tank Corps and the 5th Guards Tank Corps. The 51st and 90th Guards Rifle Divisions were moved up to the vicinity of Pokrovka (not to be confused with Prokhorovka 40 kilometres to its northeast), right in the path of the 1st SS Panzer Division. Behind them, the 93rd Guards Rifle Division was deployed along the road leading from Pokrovka to Prokhorovka.
The battle progresses
The steady progress of the Germans forced the Soviet leaders to commit some of their strategic reserves, as nearly all operational reserves were in action. As early as 6 July, Stavka decided to send the 2nd and 10th Tank Corps and the 5th Guards Tank Army to the southern sector. A day later, other formations were ordered to the front. Vatutin planned an operational counterstrike against the German units, but decided to cancel learning of the failure of the northern counterattack. Over Zhukov's objection, Vatutin ordered tanks to be dug in.
German officers reported being slowed by the "silent tanks" – tanks dug into fortified emplacements. Not all the Soviet tanks were dug-in, and a number of Soviet units launched counterattacks. On 7 July, SS Unterscharführer Franz Staudegger, commanding a Tiger tank, encountered a group of 50 T-34s. In the ensuing battle, Staudegger knocked out 22 T-34s. For his actions, he was awarded the Knight's Cross (the first Tiger commander to be awarded such a medal).
Though the German advance in the south was slower than desired, it was much faster than the Soviets expected. On 9 July, the first German units reached the Psel River. The next day, the first German infantry crossed the river. Despite the deep defensive system and minefields, German tank losses were low. At this point, Hoth turned the II SS Panzer Corps from a northward heading directed toward Oboyan to a northwest heading towards Prokhorovka. The main concern of von Manstein and Hauser was the inability of Army Detachment "Kempf" to advance and protect the eastern flank of the II SS Panzer Corps. On 11 July, Army Detachment "Kempf" finally achieved a breakthrough. In a surprise night attack, the 6th Panzer Division seized a bridge across the Donets. Once across, Breith made every effort to push troops and vehicles across the river for an advance on Prokhorovka from the south. A link up with the II SS Panzer Corps would result with the Soviet 69th Army becoming encircled. It appeared the hoped for breakthrough was at hand.
Battle of Prokhorovka
Hausser had expected to continue his advance on Prokhorovka, and late on the evening of 11 July issued orders for a classic maneuver battle for the attack the next day. The attack would begin north of the Psel river, with the 3rd SS Panzer Division driving northeast until reaching the Karteschewka-Prokhorovka road. Once there, they were to strike southeast to attack the Soviet positions at Prokhorovka from the rear. 1st and 2nd SS Panzer divisions were to wait until Totenkopf's attack had destabilized the Soviet positions at Prokhorovka. Once the Soviets at Prokhorovka were under attack from the rear, the Leibstandarte was to join the attack, advancing through the main Soviet defenses on the west slope before Prokhorovka. To Leibstandarte's right, the 2nd SS was to advance eastward to the high ground south of Prokhorovka, then turn south to roll up the Soviet line and open a gap. Unbeknownst to Hausser, Rotmistrov had moved his 5th Guards Tank Army up to an assembly area just below Prokhorovka, on the night of 11/12 July, in preparation for a massive attack the following day. Throughout the night, German front line troops could hear the ominous sounds of Soviet tank engines to the east as the 18th and 29th Tank Corps moved into their assembly areas.
At 06:15, a Soviet artillery barrage began. At 06:30, Rotmistrov radioed his tankers: "Steel, Steel, Steel!", the order to commence the attack. Down off the west slopes, before Prokhorovka, came the massed armour of five tank brigades from the two Soviet tank corps. They had been ordered to approach at high speed. Rotmistrov, fearing that German Tiger tanks comprised a large component of his opponents forces, had instructed his tankers to move forward at speed to close range quickly, firing on the move in an attempt to obtain a flank or rear firing position on the German tanks. During this time period, firing on the move was highly inaccurate, particularly while moving at high speed. Soviet intelligence estimates fixed the number of German Tiger tanks, in the Prokhorovka area, at approximately 100. In actuality, the II SS Panzer Corps had only 15 Tiger tanks. Ten of these tanks were north of the Psel River with the 3rd SS, the 1st SS had four operational Tiger tanks, and the 2nd SS had only one.
The 1st SS had just started to advance, when it was taken largely by surprise. As the Soviet tanks aggressively advanced down the corridor, they carried the 9th Parachute Division into battle mounted on the tanks with the paratroopers holding onto rails. At the base of Hill 252.2, was a Soviet dug anti-tank ditch. With the firing of purple warning flares across the entire front, Rudolf von Ribbentrop (a company commander) stated he knew at once that a major attack was at hand. He ordered his company's seven remaining Panzer IVs to start up and follow him, over a bridge that had been constructed over an anti-tank ditch, onto the lower slope of Hill 252.2. On the crest of the hill, above him, was Joachim Peiper's 2nd SS Panzergrenadiers (supported by their halftracks) who were being overrun. As Ribbentrop's tanks fanned out on the lower slope, he looked up to the crest of the hillside. He recalled: "In front of me appeared fifteen, then twenty, then thirty, then forty tanks. Finally there were too many of them to count. The T-34s were rolling toward us at speed, and carrying mounted infantry." The Soviet tanks charged down the west slope of the hill, firing as they moved. Amid the swirls of dust, a highly confused tank battle began. The Panzer IV, to Ribbentrop's right, was set ablaze. The company was soon swamped by the large numbers of Soviet tanks advancing down the hill. At the base of the hill, the advancing Soviet armour was held up by the anti-tank ditch. Heavy firing commenced between the Soviet armour and tanks of the 1st SS based on the opposite side of the ditch. Meanwhile, the Soviet tanks searched for a route across the ditch. On the hilltop, with the passage of the first waves of Soviet tanks, Peiper's surviving panzergrenadiers emerged from trench lines to engage the Soviet paratroopers and attack Soviet tanks with magnetic shaped charges. Twenty of the battalion's half-tracks were lost in the fighting, some destroyed when they attempted to ram the much heavier Soviet tanks in an effort to stop them from destroying the company.
To the north and east, the 3rd SS was engaged by the Soviet 33rd Guards Rifle Corps. Tasked with destabilizing the Soviet defenses before Prokhorovka, the unit first had to beat off a number of attacks before they could go over onto the offensive. Most of the division's tank losses occurred late in the afternoon as they advanced through mine fields against well hidden Soviet anti-tank guns. Although the 3rd SS succeeded in reaching the Karteschewka-Prokhorovka road, their hold was tenuous and it cost the division half of its armour. The majority of German tank losses suffered at Prokhorovka occurred here. To the south, the Soviet 18th and 29th Tank Corps, of the 5th Guards Tank Army, had been thrown back by the 1st SS acting alone. Meanwhile, the 2nd SS was holding a line to the south against the 2nd Tank Corps and the 2nd Guards Tank Corps.
The Soviet attacks had been checked by the II SS Panzer Corps, without the Germans losing any ground. By early afternoon, it was clear that Rotmistrov's attack had failed. Luftwaffe air superiority, over the battlefield, also contributed to the Soviet losses, partly due to the VVS being directed against the units flanking II SS Panzer Corps. Hs 129s and Ju 87s inflicted significant losses on the 5th Guards Tank Army. Soviet tank losses were extremely heavy. A report from the 29th Tank Corps reported "heavy losses in tanks through enemy aircraft and artillery [attacks]" and commented that "due to continuous air attacks, they were unable to advance further and shifted to the defence". By the end of the day, the Soviets had fallen back to their starting positions.
The battle is considered a tactical defeat for the Red Army due to the heavy tank losses, but operationally the battle was a draw. Neither the 5th Guards Tank Army nor the II SS Panzer Corps accomplished their objectives. Though the Soviet counterattack failed and they were thrown back onto the defensive, they did enough to stop a German breakthrough. Tank losses during the battle has been a contentious subject. Red Army tank losses have been given from 200 to 822, but records show about 300 complete losses and as many damaged. The Soviets claimed enormous German losses, stating they had destroyed at least 400 tanks, including 100 Tiger tanks, and inflicting 3,500 deaths. German records indicate that their losses were minute in comparison to the Soviet claims. Three to five tanks were destroyed, and between 40 and 70 were damaged. Manpower losses were in the region of 500 killed. The 1st SS and 2nd SS Panzer Divisions reported 186 tanks, assault guns, and tank hunters serviceable on the eve of battle, and 190 available the evening after.
Termination of Operation Citadel
On the evening of 12 July, Hitler summoned von Kluge and von Manstein to his headquarters at Rastenburg, in East Prussia. Two days prior, the Western Allies invaded Sicily. The threat of further Allied landings in Italy or along southern France made Hitler believe it was essential to move forces from Kursk to Italy and to discontinue the offensive. Von Kluge welcomed the news, as he was aware that the Soviets were initiating a massive offensive against his sector, but von Manstein was less welcoming. Von Manstein's forces had just spent a week fighting through a maze of defensive works and he believed they were on the verge of breaking through to more open terrain, which would allow him to engage and destroy the Soviet armoured reserves in a mobile battle. Von Manstein stated "On no account should we let go of the enemy until the mobile reserves he [has] committed [are] completely beaten." Hitler agreed to temporarily allow the continuence of the offensive in the south part of the salient, but the following day he ordered von Manstein's reserve - the XXIV Panzer Corps - to move south to support the 1st Panzer Army. This removed the force von Manstein believed was needed to succeed.
On 16 July, German forces withdrew to their start line. The following day, OKH ordered the II SS Panzer Corps to be withdrawn and transferred to Italy. The strength of the Soviet reserve formations had been greatly underestimated by German intelligence, and the Soviets soon went onto the offensive.
The German generals were highly critical of Hitler's decision to call off the operation, at the height of the tactical battle. This criticism has been supported by German officers of the post-war Bundeswehr, and by a number of historians. Both von Manstein and Guderian had anticipated that the Western Allies would conduct some form of operation in Western Europe, and had argued that forces would need to be deployed there and had used this argument to oppose the undertaking of Operation Citadel. Von Manstein argued that transferring forces from Army Group South, taking away Luftwaffe support and transferring his reserve, deprived his forces of its striking power at, what he believed was, the decisive point of the battle. Whether or not von Manstein's assessment is correct, is debated. The extent of Soviet reserves was far greater than von Manstein had realized. These reserves were used to re-equip the mauled 5th Guards Tank Army, for Operation Rumyantsev. However, rebuilding this formation would take time. Hitler's unwillingness to accept risk in continuing the operation, resulted in his forces not being concentrated nor committed and restricted his commanders from fighting the type of mobile battle they wanted (as von Manstein has done very successfully only a few months beforehand). Hitler's micromanagement constrained the freedom of action of his commanders, and pushed his military into a battle of attrition that they were not prepared for and had little chance of winning.
In the north: Operation Kutuzov
Soviet offensive operations for the summer of 1943 were planned to begin after the strength of the German forces had been dissipated by their Kursk offensive. As the German momentum in the north slowed the Soviets launched Operation Kutusov on 12 July against Army Group Centre in the Orel salient, north of Kursk. The Bryansk Front, under the command of Markian Popov, attacked the eastern face of the Orel salient while the Western Front, commanded by Vasily Sokolovsky, attacked from the north. The thinly stretched 2nd Panzer Army stood in the way of this Soviet force. The German commanders had been wary of such an attack and forces were quickly withdrawn from the Kursk offensive to meet the Soviet offensive.
Operation Kutuzov reduced the Orel salient and inflicted substantial losses on the German military, paving the way for the liberation of Smolensk. Soviet losses were heavy, but were replaced. The offensive allowed the Soviets to seize the strategic initiative, which they retained for the remainder of the war.
In the south: Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev
Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev was intended as the main Soviet offensive for 1943. Its aim was to degrade the 4th Panzer Army and cut off the extended southern portion of Army Group South. After the heavy losses sustained by the Voronezh Front, during Operation Citadel, the Soviets needed time to regroup and refit, delaying the start of the offensive until 3 August. Diversionary attacks, launched two weeks earlier across the Donets and Mius Rivers into the Donets Basin, drew the attention of German reserves and thinned the defending forces that would face the main blow. The offensive was initiated by the Voronezh Front and Steppe Fronts against the northern wing of Army Group South. They drove through the German positions, making broad and deep penetrations. By 5 August, the Soviets had liberated Belgorod. By 12 August, the outskirts of Kharkov had been reached. The Soviet advance was finally halted by a counter-attack by the 2nd and 3rd SS Panzer Divisions. In the ensuing tank battles, the Soviet armies suffered heavy losses in armour. After this setback, the Soviets focused on Kharkov. After heavy fighting the city was liberated on 23 August. This battle is referred to by the Germans as the Fourth Battle of Kharkov, while the Soviets refer to it as the Belgorod–Kharkov offensive operation.
The campaign was a decisive Soviet success. For the first time, a major German offensive had been stopped before achieving a breakthrough. The Germans, despite using more technologically advanced armour than in previous years, were unable to break through the in-depth Soviet defences and were surprised by the significant operational reserves of the Red Army. This was an outcome that few had predicted. This result changed the pattern of operations on the Eastern Front. The Soviet victory had not come cheap. The Red Army, although preventing the Germans from achieving their goals, lost considerably more men and materiel. However, the Soviet Union had more industrial potential and a larger pool of manpower to draw from giving them the ability to eventually fully recover.
With the failure of Zitadelle we have suffered a decisive defeat. The armoured formations, reformed and re-equipped with so much effort, had lost heavily in both men and equipment and would now be unemployable for a long time to come. It was problematical whether they could be rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern Front ... Needless to say the [Soviets] exploited their victory to the full. There were to be no more periods of quiet on the Eastern Front. From now on, the enemy was in undisputed possession of the initiative. — Heinz Guderian
With victory, the initiative firmly passed to the Red Army. For the remainder of the war the Germans were limited to reacting to Soviet advances, and were never able to regain the initiative or launch a major offensive on the Eastern Front. The Western Allied landings, in Italy, opened up a new front, further diverting Germany resources and attention.
Though the location, plan of attack, and timing were determined by Hitler, he blamed the defeat on his General Staff. Unlike Stalin, who gave his commanding generals the liberty to make important command decisions, Hitler's interference in German military matters progressively increased while his attention to the political aspects of the war decreased. The opposite was true for Stalin. Throughout the Kursk campaign he trusted the judgment of his commanders, and as their decisions led to battlefield success it increased his trust in their military judgment. Stalin stepped back from operational planning, only rarely overruling military decisions, resulting in the Red Army gaining more freedom of action during the course of the war.
Casualties and losses
The casualties suffered by the two combatants are difficult to determine, due to several factors. In regard to the Germans, equipment losses were complicated by the fact that they made determined efforts to recover and repair tanks. For example, tanks disabled one day often appeared a day or two later repaired. German personnel losses are clouded by the lack of access to German unit records, which were seized at the end of the war. Many were transferred to the United States national archives and were not made available until 1978, while others were taken by the Soviet Union, which declined to confirm their existence.
Grigoriy Krivosheyev, who based his figures on the Soviet archives, is considered by historian David Glantz as the most reliable source for Soviet casualty figures. His figures are supported by Karl-Heinz Frieser. Krivosheyev calculated total Soviet losses during the German offensive of at 177,877 casualties. The Central Front suffered 15,336 irrecoverable casualties and 18,561 medical casualties, for a total of 33,897 casualties. The Voronezh Front suffered 27,542 irrecoverable casualties and 46,350 medical casualties, for a total of 73,892. The Steppe Front suffered 27,452 irrecoverable casualties and 42,606 medical casualties, for a total of 70,085.
During the two Soviet offensives, total casualties amounted to 685,456 men. During Operation Kutuzov, Soviet losses amounted to 112,529 irrecoverable casualties and 317,361 medical casualties, for a total loss of 429,890 men. The Western Front reported 25,585 irrecoverable casualties and 76,856 medical casualties. The Bryansk Front suffered 39,173 irrecoverable casualties and 123,234 medical casualties. The Central Front lost 47,771 irrecoverable casualties and 117,271 medical casualties. Soviet losses during Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev totaled 255,566 men, with 71,611 listed as irrecoverable casualties and 183,955 as medical casualties. The Voronezh Front lost 48,339 irrecoverable casualties and 108,954 medical casualties, for a total of 157,293. The Steppe Front lost 23,272 irrecoverable casualties and 75,001 medical casualties, for a total of 98,273.
Soviet equipment losses during the German offensive came to 1,614 tanks and self-propelled guns destroyed or damaged of the 3,925 vehicles committed to the battle. The Soviet losses were roughly three times larger than the German losses. During Operation Kutuzov, 2,349 tanks and self-propelled guns were lost out of an initial strength of 2,308; a loss of over 100 percent. During Polkovodets Rumyantsev 1,864 tanks and self-propelled guns were lost out of the 2,439 employed. The loss ratio suffered by the Soviets was roughly 5:1 in favour of the German military. However, large Soviet reserves of equipment and their high rate of tank production enabled the Soviet tank armies to soon replace lost equipment and maintain their fighting strength.
According to Christer Bergström, Red Air Force losses, during the German offensive, amounted to 677 aircraft on the northern flank and 439 on the southern flank. Total casualties are uncertain. Bergström's research indicates total Soviet air losses between 12 July and 18 August, during the German offensive and the Operation Kutuzov counteroffensive, were 1,104.
Karl-Heinz Frieser, who reviewed the German archive record, calculated that during Operation Citadel 54,182 casualties were suffered. Of these, 9,036 were killed, 1,960 were reported missing, and 43,159 were wounded. The 9th Army suffered 23,345 casualties, while Army Group South suffered 30,837 casualties. Throughout the Soviet offensives, 86,064 casualties were suffered. In facing Operation Kutuzov, 14,215 men were killed, 11,300 were reported missing (presumed killed or captured), and 60,549 were wounded. During Polkovodets Rumyantsev, 25,068 casualties were incurred, including 8,933 killed and missing. Total casualties for the three battles were about 170,000 men.
During Operation Citadel, 252 to 323 tanks and assault guns were destroyed. By July 5, when the Battle of Kursk started, there were only 184 operational Panthers. Within two days, this had dropped to 40. On July 17, 1943 after Hitler had ordered a stop to the German offensive, Gen. Heinz Guderian sent in the following preliminary assessment of the Panthers:
Due to enemy action and mechanical breakdowns, the combat strength sank rapidly during the first few days. By the evening of 10 July there were only 10 operational Panthers in the front line. 25 Panthers had been lost as total writeoffs (23 were hit and burnt and two had caught fire during the approach march). 100 Panthers were in need of repair (56 were damaged by hits and mines and 44 by mechanical breakdown). 60 percent of the mechanical breakdowns could be easily repaired. Approximately 40 Panthers had already been repaired and were on the way to the front. About 25 still had not been recovered by the repair service... On the evening of 11 July, 38 Panthers were operational, 31 were total writeoffs and 131 were in need of repair. A slow increase in the combat strength is observable. The large number of losses by hits (81 Panthers up to 10 July) attests to the heavy fighting.
By 16 July, Army Group South submitted 161 tanks and 14 assault guns had been lost as total writeoffs. Up to 14 July, 9th Army reported they had been lost as total writeoffs of 41 tanks and 17 assault guns. These losses break down as 109 Panzer IVs, 42 Panthers, 38 Panzer IIIs, 31 assault guns, 19 Elefants, 10 Tigers, and three flame tanks. Before the Germans ended their offensive at Kursk, the Soviets began their counteroffensive, and succeeded in pushing the Germans back into a steady retreat. Thus, a report on August 11, 1943 showed that the numbers of total writeoffs in Panthers swelled to 156, with only 9 operational. The German Army was forced into a fighting retreat and increasingly lost tanks in combat as well as from abandoning and destroying damaged vehicles. Across the entire Eastern Front 50 Tiger tanks were lost during July and August, with some 240 damaged. Most of these occurred during their offensive at Kursk Some 600 tanks sustained damage in the period from 5 July 18 July.
The total number of German tanks and assault guns destroyed during July and August along the entire Eastern Front amount to 1,331. Of these, Frieser estimates that 760 were destroyed during the Battle of Kursk.
Frieser reports Luftwaffe losses at 524 planes, with 159 lost during the German offensive, 218 destroyed during Operation Kutuzov, and a further 147 lost during Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev. In reviewing the reports of the quartermaster of the Luftwaffe, Christer Bergström presents different figures. Between 5 and 31 July, Bergström reports 681 aircraft lost or damaged (335 for Fliegerkorps VIII and 346 for Luftflotte 6) with a total of 420 being written off (192 from Fliegerkorps VIII and 229 from Luftflotte 6).
Analysis of Citadel
Analysis of northern assault
A number of factors explain the 9th Army's lack of progress: a lack of concentration of force, and the Soviet defensive planning. German armour was committed piecemeal, rather than in strength, and often without sufficient infantry support. Marshal Rokossovsky's Central Front had correctly anticipated the likely areas of German attack, and heavily fortified those areas. The Soviet 13th Army, which bore the brunt of the German attack, was far stronger in men and anti-tank guns than the other Central Front units and held the strongest defensive positions in the salient.
Model's decision not to use his panzer divisions as a concentrated force, is seen as the most significant reason for the lack of progress. His army lacked the tank strength of von Manstein, and Model was well aware that the Soviets were preparing for an attack to the north. As a result, he placed his most powerful corps, Gruppe "Esebeck" (comprising the 2nd Panzer Division and 10th Panzer Grenadier Division), in a reserve position behind the front to use as a "fire brigade" against any Soviet attacks upon his flank.
Analysis of southern assault
Red Army minefields and artillery were successful in delaying the German attack and inflicting losses. The ability of dug-in Red Army units to delay the Germans allowed their own reserves to be brought up into threatened sectors. Over 90,000 additional mines were laid during the operations, by small mobile groups of engineers, generally working at night immediately in front of the expected German attack areas. There were no large-scale captures of prisoners nor any great loss of artillery, indicating that Soviet units were giving ground in good order.
Military historian opinions
Karl-Heinz Frieser highlights the following reasons for the failure of Operation Citadel:
- The Soviets held numerical superiority. However, he argues the Red Army's superiority in tank strength had little influence on the outcome of the battle. Furthermore, the Germans had a shortage of infantry and lacked operational reserves. In comparison, the Red Army were able to field the Steppe Front as a reserve.
- Senior officers, such as von Manstein and Zeitzler, had pushed for a fast attack to catch the Red Army unprepared and to take advantage of their low morale following the Third Battle of Kharkov. However, Hitler's repeated delays allowed the Red Army enough time to turn the bulge, around Kursk, into an enormous fortress. Finally, he argues that Hitler's date for the attack was the "most adverse possible" as it coincided with the Western Allied invasion of Sicily.
David Glantz draws the following conclusions:
- The German defeat at Kursk did not come about by the "often-exaggerated numerical superiority" of the Soviet armed forces, and asserts the tank strength was almost even, between 1:1 and 1.5:1 in the Soviets' favour. He argues the principal factor was the revolution in Soviet command, staff, operational, and tactical techniques. The General Staff had learned lessons from previous battles and disseminated "war experience" based on an "exhaustive" analysis of battles, operations and campaigns. These lessons were added to the Soviet doctrine of deep battle, producing new procedures.
- The Soviets introduced new operational and tactical techniques, and had solved many of the problems of integrating arms and services into "a true combined arms operation". He emphasizes "sophisticated understanding of intelligence, deception, and anti-tank defence". Similar improvements were made in the combined use of artillery, tanks, engineers and infantry to break German defences on a narrow front. At Prokhorovka, and during Operation Kutuzov, the Red Army gained experience with mobile armoured formations and mechanized corps that became the hallmark of future Soviet operations. These formations demonstrated their ability to match the best efforts of the German tank force. Operations still needed to be perfected to reduce huge casualties. Nevertheless, the German command recognized that at Kursk they faced an entirely new and more competent Red Army than in earlier battles.
- Defensive tactics had improved. Skilful use of anti-tank artillery, in strong points, and the use of separate tank and self-propelled gun units to support them offered mobile defence support. These units participated in wearing down German tactical attacks.
Steven Zaloga offers the following insights about the Red Army at Kursk:
- The popular perception of Soviet victory "by numbers", is a myth created by the German generals when writing their memoirs. He rejects the caricature of the Red Army relying on mass, rather than tactical skill, but accepts that at the tactical level the Red Army was not particularly impressive and received significantly poorer training. He comments that that there were still many tactical lessons to be learned, but by 1943 the gap between Soviet and German tank crew training had "narrowed greatly" and the Soviets were soon at a comparable level with the Germans.
- The Soviets, in terms of operational art, were adept at using mobile tank formations. He asserts that Soviet operational methods were superior, allowing Soviet field commanders to bluff, baffle and overwhelm their opponents.
Richard Overy makes the following observations:
- The quality of the two air forces were even. The Soviets had introduced air-to-ground communications, radar, a proper maintenance system, and depots for forward fuel reserves. This allowed aircraft to fly twenty missions in the heat of the battle, while the Luftwaffe suffered shortages.
- The Soviet tanks were not inferior in quality. Although the T-34 was out-ranged by the German Tiger and Panthers, it was faster, more manoeuvrable, and more mechanically reliable than its German counterparts. To counter the Tiger tank, Soviets crews were ordered to close the distance so that range would not become an issue. According to Glantz and House, the Soviet tanks pressed home their initial attacks despite significant German advantages.
- Information decrypted by Ultra was given to the Soviets, which helped them prepare for the offensive. The Soviets had a spy at Bletchley Park (John Cairncross), who gave them decrypts of German military communications. Hinsley speculates that without Ultra, Germany would have won at Kursk, and "Hitler could have carved up Russia".
- "With the final destruction of German forces at Kharkov, the Battle of Kursk came to an end. Having won the strategic initiative, the Red Army advanced along a 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) front." Taylor & Kulish 1974, p. 171.
- "After Kursk, Germany could not even pretend to hold the strategic initiative in the East." Glantz & House 1995, p. 175.
- The breakdown as shown in Bergström (2007, pp. 127–128) is as follows: 1,030 aircraft of 2nd Air Army and 611 of 17th Air Army on the southern sector (Voronezh Front), and 1,151 on the northern sector (Central Front).Bergström 2007, p. 21.
- The breakdown as shown in Zetterling & Frankson (2000, p. 20) is as follows: 1,050 aircraft of 16th Air Army (Central Front), 881 of 2nd Air Army (Voronezh Front), 735 of 17th Air Army (only as a secondary support for Voronezh Front), 563 of the 5th Air Army (Steppe Front) and 320 of Long Range Bomber Command.
- Operation Citadel refers to the German offensive from 4 to 16 July, but Soviet losses are for the period of 5–23 July.
- The breakdown as shown in Frieser (2007, p. 154) is as follows: 9,063 KIA, 43,159 WIA and 1,960 MIA.
- The whole Battle of Kursk refers to the period of the German offensive (Operation Citadel) and the subsequent Soviet counteroffensives, from 4 July to 23 August.
- The breakdown as shown in Krivosheev (1997, pp. 132–134) is as follows: Kursk-defence: 177,847; Orel-counter: 429,890; Belgorod-counter: 255,566.
- The breakdown as shown in Krivosheev (1997, p. 262) is as follows: Kursk-defence; 1,614. Orel-counter; 2,586. Belgorod-counter; 1,864.
- Some military historians consider Operation Citadel, or at least the southern pincer, as envisioning a blitzkrieg attack or state it was intended as such. Some of the historians taking this view are: Lloyd Clark (Clark 2012, p. 187), Roger Moorhouse (Moorhouse 2011, p. 342), Mary Kathryn Barbier (Barbier 2002, p. 10), David Glantz (Glantz 1986, p. 24; Glantz & House 2004, pp. 63, 78, 149, 269, 272, 280), Jonathan House (Glantz & House 2004, pp. 63, 78, 149, 269, 272, 280), Hedley Paul Willmott (Willmott 1990, p. 300), and others. Also, Niklas Zetterling and Anders Frankson specifically considered only the southern pincer as a "classical blitzkrieg attack" (Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 137).
- Many of the German participants of Operation Citadel make no mention of blitzkrieg in their characterization of the operation. Several German officers and commanders involved in the operation wrote their account of the battle after the war, and some of these postwar accounts were collected by the U.S. Army. Some of these officers are: Theodor Busse (Newton 2002, pp. 3–27), Erhard Raus (Newton 2002, pp. 29–64), Friedrich Fangohr (Newton 2002, pp. 65–96), Peter von der Groeben (Newton 2002, pp. 97–144), Friedrich Wilhelm von Mellenthin (Mellenthin 1956, pp. 212–234), Erich von Manstein (Manstein 1958, pp. 443–449), and others. Mellenthin stated: "The German command was committing exactly the same error as in the previous year. Then we attacked the city of Stalingrad, now we were to attack the fortress of Kursk. In both cases the German Army threw away all its advantages in mobile tactics, and met the Russians on ground of their own choosing." (Mellenthin 1956, p. 217) Some of the military historians that make no mention of blitzkrieg in their characterization of the operation are: Mark Healy (Healy 2008), George Nipe (Nipe 2010), Steven Newton (Newton 2002), Dieter Brand (Brand 2000), Bruno Kasdorf (Kasdorf 2000), and others.
- Guderian developed and advocated the strategy of concentrating armoured formations at the point of attack (schwerpunkt) and deep penetration. In "Achtung Panzer!" he described what he believed were essential elements for a successful panzer attack. He listed three elements: surprise, deployment in mass, and suitable terrain. Of these, surprise was by far the most important.Guderian 1937, p. 205
- "I urged him earnestly to give up the plan of attack. The great commitment certainly would not bring us equivalent gains."Guderian 1952, p. 308
- Source includes: German Nation Archive microfilm publication T78, Records of the German High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht) Roll 343, Frames 6301178–180, which confirms Hitler's teleprinter messages to Rommel about reinforcing southern Italy with armoured forces that were already destined to be used for Citadel.
- According to Zetterling & Frankson (2000, p. 18) these figures are for 1 July 1943 and accounts for only units that eventually fought in Operation Citadel (4th Panzer Army, part of Army Detachment "Kempf", 2nd Army and 9th Army). The figure for German manpower refers to ration strength (which includes non-combatants and wounded soldiers still in medical installations). The figures for guns and mortars are estimates based on the strength and number of units slated for the operation; the figure for tanks and assault guns include those in workshops.
- Over 105,000 in April and as much as 300,000 in June, according to Zetterling & Frankson (2000, p. 22).
- Nikolai Litvin, a Soviet anti-tank gunner present at the battle of Kursk, recalls his experience during the special training to overcome tank phobia. "The tanks continued to advance closer and closer. Some comrades became frightened, leaped out of the trenches, and began to run away. The commander saw who was running and quickly forced them back into the trenches, making it sternly clear that they had to stay put. The tanks reached the trench line and, with a terrible roar, clattered overhead ... it was possible to conceal oneself in a trench from a tank, let it pass right over you, and remain alive." Litvin & Britton 2007, pp. 12–13.
- This order of battle does not show the complete composition of the Steppe Front. In addition to the units listed below, there are also the 4th Guards, 27th, 47th and 53rd Armies. Clark 2012, p. 204. Perhaps the order of battle below represents only the formations relevant to Operation Citadel.
- The air operation is misunderstood in most accounts. The German Freya radar stations at Belgorod and Kharkov in 1943 had only picked up Soviet air formations approaching Belgorod and were not responsible for the failure of the entire Soviet preemptive air strike on the eve of Operation Citadel. Bergström 2007, pp. 26–27.
- KTB AOK9 9 July (Daily war diary of the 9th Army). Frieser 2007, p. 110.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 338.
- Glantz & House 1995, p. 165.
- Bergström 2007, pp. 123–125. Figures are from German archives. Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv, Freiburg; Luftfahrtmuseum, Hannover-Laatzen; WASt Deutsche Dienststelle, Berlin.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 337.
- Bergström 2007, p. 127–128, figures are from Russian archives; Russian aviation trust; Russian Central Military Archive TsAMO, Podolsk; Russian State Military Archive RGVA, Moscow; Monino Air Force Museum, Moscow..
- Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 20.
- Frieser 2007, p. 154.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 276.
- U.S. Army Concepts Analysis Agency, Kursk Operation Simulation and Validation Exercise – Phase III (KOSAVE II), p. 5-14 through 5-15.
- Clark 2012, p. 408.
- Frieser 2007, p. [page needed]. A rough estimation by Frieser since no numbers are available
- Frieser 2007, p. 201. Exact numbers are unknown; the entire German eastern front lost 1,331 tanks and assault guns for July and August, so the number of 760 is an estimate.
- Bergström 2008, p. 120. Figures for 5–31 July, as given by the Luftwaffe logistics staff (Generalquartiermeister der Luftwaffe).
- Krivosheev 2001, Kursk.
- Krivosheev 2001, Kursk equipment
- Frieser 2007, p. 150.
- Krivosheev 1997, pp. 132–134.
- Krivosheev 1997, p. 262.
- Glantz & Orenstein 1999, p. 1.
- Healy 2008, p. 90.
- Nipe 2010, p. 6.
- Healy 2008, p. 42.
- Healy 2008, p. 65.
- Newton 2002, p. 12.
- Dunn 1997, p. 94.
- Kasdorf 2000, p. 16.
- Glantz & House 2004, pp. 64–67.
- Glantz 1989, pp. 149–159.
- Glantz & House 1995, p. 167.
- Glantz 2013, p. 184.
- Glantz 1986, p. 66.
- Liddell Hart 1948, p. 189.
- Healy 2010, p. 26.
- Healy 2010, p. 27.
- Liddell Hart 1948, p. 210.
- Kasdorf 2000, p. 7.
- Clark 2012, p. 167.
- Clark 2012, p. 176.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 11.
- Kasdorf 2000, p. 8.
- Dunn 1997, p. 61.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 13.
- Liddell Hart 1948, p. 198.
- Clark 2012, p. 177, according to Joseph Goebbels's diary..
- Liddell Hart 1948, p. 63.
- Clark 2012, p. 177.
- Kasdorf 2000, p. 10.
- Glantz & House 2004, pp. 11, 13.
- Clark 2012, p. 178.
- Healy 2008, p. 43.
- Manstein 1983, p. 445.
- Manstein 1983, p. 446.
- Clark 2012, p. 184.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 14.
- Clark 2012, p. 186.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 354.
- Clark 2012, pp. 178, 186.
- Liddell Hart 1948, p. 57.
- Clark 2012, p. 187.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 25.
- Battistelli 2008, pp. 4-6, "The main purpose of this new offensive was to regain the initiative, and unlike the two previous summers, no one was thinking any longer of blitzkrieg.... Facing its own shortcomings and the growing capabilities of the enemy the notion of blitzkrieg died. Firepower prevailed over speed and maneuverability with the result being that Operation Citadel would be based on a concept inconceivable a year earlier: attacking the enemy where it was strongest.".
- Newton 2002, p. 13.
- von Mellenthin 1956, p. 218.
- Clark 2012, pp. 194,196.
- Glantz & House 2004, pp. 51–53.
- Clark 2012, p. 197.
- Clark 2012, p. 194.
- Healy 2010, p. 79.
- Clark 2012, p. 193.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 1–3.
- Manstein 1983, pp. 480–482.
- Healy 2008, p. 83.
- von Mellenthin 1956, p. 216.
- Guderian 1952, p. 307.
- Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 10.
- Glantz 2013, p. 183.
- Clark 2012, p. 192.
- Barbier 2002, p. 39.
- Guderian 1952, p. 308.
- Healy 2010, p. 86.
- Clark 1966, p. 327.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 55.
- Kursk Press releases July 1943 — Retrieved 2 June 2013
- Taylor & Kulish 1974, p. 170.
- Mulligan 1987, p. 329.
- Clark 2012, p. 223.
- Healy 2008, p. 132.
- Newton 2002, p. 25.
- Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 18.
- Innovation News 2011.
- Copeland, Colossus.
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- Glantz & House 2004, pp. 28–29, mentions Nikolai Vatutin and Mikhail Malinin.
- Clark 2012, p. 189, mentions Stalin.
- "Разгром фашистских войск на Курской дуге" [The defeat of the Nazi troops on the Kursk Bulge]. Retrieved 17 June 2013. "на первом этапе противник, собрав максимум своих сил, в том числе до 13–15 танковых дивизий, при поддержке большого количества авиации нанесёт удар своей орловско-кромской группировкой в обход Курска с северо-востока и белгородско-харьковской группировкой в обход Курска с юго-востока."
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- Glantz & House 2004, pp. 28–29.
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- Glantz 2013, p. 195.
- Clark 2012, p. 202.
- The Front's history.
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- Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 22.
- Glantz & House 1999, pp. 64–65.
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- Glantz 1986, p. 19, Glantz states 1,500 anti-tank mines per kilometre and 1,700 anti-personnel mines per kilometre..
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 65, Glantz states there were 2,400 anti-tank and 2,700 anti-personnel mines per mile..
- Healy 1992, p. 31, Healy states there were 2,400 anti-tank and 2,700 anti-personnel mines per mile..
- Glantz & Orenstein 1999, p. 39.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 67.
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- Glantz 1986, p. 20.
- Glantz 1986, p. 24.
- Healy 2010, p. 74.
- Clark 2012, p. 208, Clark states 300 locomotives instead of 298..
- Barbier 2002, p. 58.
- Newton 2002, p. 151.
- Glantz & House 1995, p. 90.
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- Healy 2008, p. 113.
- Clark 2012, p. 268.
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- Gerwehr & Glenn 2000, p. 33.
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- Healy 2010, p. 77.
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- Healy 2008, p. 172.
- Clark 2012, p. 204, provides similar but more specific figures.
- Liddell Hart 1948, pp. 176-177.
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- Healy 2008, p. 103.
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- Clark 2012, p. 237.
- Healy 1992, p. 41.
- Healy 2008, p. 201.
- Nipe 2010, p. 143.
- Healy 2008, p. 205.
- Clark 2012, pp. 475–477, The 2nd Panzer Army and 2nd Army are not included in the order of battle in the source. The 2nd Panzer Army did not take part in Operation Citadel, but played a significant part in Operation Kutuzov. The 2nd Army was tasked with pushing the western face of the salient once the encirclement was completed, but never got do so since the northern and southern pincers failed to meet at Kursk..
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- Clark 2012, pp. 478–484.
- Frieser 2007, p. 100.
- Frieser 2007, p. 91.
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- Glantz & House 2004, p. 345.
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- Barbier 2002, p. 59.
- Clark 2012, p. 224.
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- Clark 1966, p. 329.
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- Clark 2012, p. 236.
- Clark 2012, pp. 236, 263.
- Clark 2012, p. 281.
- Clark 2012, p. 201.
- Clark 2012, p. 195.
- Clark 2012, p. 261.
- Clark 2012, p. 264.
- Clark 2012, p. 265.
- Clark 2012, p. 266.
- Clark 2012, pp. 120, 266.
- Münch 1997, pp. 50–52.
- Frieser 2007, p. 108.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 93.
- Rokossovsky, p. 266.
- Piekalkiewice, Unternehmen Zitadelle, p. 154.
- Keegan 2006, p. 72.
- Healy 2008, p. 286.
- Healy 2008, p. 287.
- Rendulic, Die Schlacht von Orel, p. 134.
- Frieser 2007, p. 185.
- Frieser 2007, p. 111.
- Overy 1995, p. 205.
- Overy 1995, pp. 204–205.
- Overy 1995, p. 204.
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- Clark 2012, p. 240.
- Clark 2012, p. 242.
- Clark 2012, p. 241.
- Clark 2012, p. 68.
- Clark 2012, p. 246.
- Clark 2012, p. 247.
- Clark 2012, p. 248.
- Clark 2012, p. 250.
- Clark 2012, pp. 252–253.
- Clark 2012, p. 254.
- Clark 2012, p. 255.
- Clark 2012, p. 256.
- Clark 2012, p. 257.
- Clark 2012, p. 258.
- Clark 2012, p. 259.
- Clark 2012, p. 260.
- Healy 2008, p. 210.
- Healy 2008, p. 216.
- Glantz House, p. 102.
- Frieser 2007, p. 116.
- Wendt p.18
- Geheime Kommandosache
- Healy 2008, pp. 301-302.
- Newton 2002, p. 7.
- Nipe 2010, p. 311.
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- Brand 2003, p. 12.
- Brand 2003, p. 1.
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- Healy 2008, p. 354.
- Healy 2008, p. 355.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of Kursk.|
- irbergui (YouTube id), German newsreels showing the Battle of Kursk, YouTube, Retrieved 2008-09-19
- Licari, Michael J. The Battle of Kursk: Myths and Reality, Mike Licari's Home Page, Retrieved 2008-09-19
- Licari, Michael J. A Review Essay: Books on the Battle of Kursk, Mike Licari's Home Page, Retrieved 2008-09-19
- Wilson, Alan. Kursk – Raw Data to Download, 6 February 1999. —Information from the US Army KOSAVE II study on the southern face battle
- Wilson, Alan. The Kursk Region, July 1943 (maps), 27 October 1999