Battle of Kursk
- For other uses of "Operation Citadel", see Operation Citadel (disambiguation)
|Part of the Eastern Front of World War II|
SS Panzergrenadiers with a Tiger I of the 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Division Das Reich during the Battle of Kursk
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
Battle of Kursk:[g]
Battle of Kursk:[g]
The Battle of Kursk was a World War II engagement between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near the city of Kursk, (450 kilometers 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 would lead to one of the largest armoured clashes, the battle of Prokhorovka, in history. The German offensive eventually provoked two Soviet counteroffensives code-named Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev (Russian: Полководец Румянцев) and Operation Kutuzov (Russian: Кутузов). The battle saw the final strategic offensive the Germans were able to mount in the east, and the decisive Soviet victory gave the Red Army the strategic initiative for the rest of the war.
The Germans hoped to shorten their lines by eliminating the Kursk Salient (also known as the Kursk Bulge), which had been created in the aftermath of their defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad. They envisioned pincers breaking through its northern and southern flanks to encircle the Soviet forces in the salient. The Soviets, however, had intelligence of the German intentions, provided in part by the British. This, and German delays in waiting for new weapons, mainly the Tiger heavy tank and the new Panther medium tank, gave the Red Army plenty of time to construct a series of defensive lines and gather large reserve forces for a strategic counteroffensive.
Aware that the attack would fall on the neck of the Kursk salient months in advance, the Soviets withdrew forces to behind the salient and built up a defense in depth designed wear down the German panzer spearheads. The defensive preparations included a vast minefields, fortifications, pre-sighted artillery fire zones and anti-tank strong points. The defensive belts extended approximately 300 km (190 mi) in depth. After the German forces weakened, the Soviets launched two counter-offensive, pushing the Germans back across a broad front. These offensives allowed the Red Army to retake Orel north of the salient, and Belgorod and Kharkov to the south.
The Battle of Kursk was the first time in which a German strategic offensive had been halted before it could break through enemy defences and into its strategic depths. Although the Soviet Army had success in previous winter offensives, the Soviet counter-offensives were their first successful strategic summer offensives of the war.
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 forcibly 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 190 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 Center 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 Center extending between the cities of 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 Center. With this restructuring 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 Manstein's hand.
By February the Wehrmacht was in crisis. Adolf Hitler arrived at Army Group South headquarters at Zaporizhia just hours before the fall of Kharkov on 18 February. Hitler's decided distrust of the officers of the General Staff, and of Manstien in particular put him at odds with the erstwhile commanders of the Wehrmacht. Though Hitler secretly wished to relieve Manstein and saddle him with the blame for Stalingrad and the subsequent battles, he soon realized he could ill afford to loose the man largely regarded as the most capable commander in the Wehrmacht. Instead Hitler grudgingly gave him the freedom he had requested. Once given freedom of action, Manstein explained how he intended to concentrate his forces and make a series of counterstrokes to exploit the Soviets' overstretched lines, with the goal of destroying the Soviet spearheads and 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. Manstein's maneuver offensive first stabilized the front by cutting off the Soviet spearheads, then encircled and destroyed their main force. The Germans retook Kharkov on 15 March and Belgorod on 18 February. The German offensive wrested the initiative from the Soviets. An attack by the Central Front against Army Group Center, launched 25 February, had to be abandoned by 7 March as forces had to be redeployed south to counter the threat of the advancing forces under Manstein. Operations ceased by the end of March due to the onset of the spring rasputitsa and the exhaustion of the Wehrmacht. This state of exhaustion was mirrored in the Red Army. The counteroffensive stalled out before retaking Kursk, leaving a salient centred around the town bulging into the German lines.
German plans and preparation
In view of the exposed position of Army Group South, Manstein proposed that the German army 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 Dneiper. 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 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 enemy resistance in Kharkov was reduced, Manstein attempted to persuade the German command that an immediate attack should be made against the salient to keep the Soviets off balance and maintain the momentum. Hitler was equivocal, and Field Marshal Günther von Kluge of Army Group Centre was decidedly against the idea, noting that his forces were too weak to launch such an attack. Manstein's SS Panzer Corps pushed on northwards and took Belgorod on 18 March, but the advance was stalled by Soviet forces that had been rushed down from the Central Front to the 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. It was deemed critically important to attack before the Soviets had a chance to dig in or launch their own offensive. The plan, called Unternehmen Zitadelle (Operation Citadel), was to be a double pincer maneuver originating from the bases of the salient and directed toward Kursk. The result would be to surround and cut off the Soviet forces in the salient. The northern pincer, formed by the 9th Army under General Walter Model and subordinate to Army Group Center under Kluge, was to cut through the northern face of the salient and drive south toward Kursk. Army Group South, commanded by Manstein, would use the 4th Panzer Army (under Hermann Hoth) and Army Detachment "Kempf" (under Werner Kempf) to penetrate the southern face of the salient, driving northwards to Kursk. The western face of the salient was to be kept in check by the 2nd Army (commanded by Walter Weiß).
According to Friedrich von Mellenthin, "Model produced air photographs which showed that the Russians were constructing very strong positions at the shoulders of the salient and had withdrawn their mobile forces from the area west of Kursk." On 27 April Model met with Hitler to review the reconnaissance and 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 the Citadel operation should be radically revised.
Though in mid April Manstein had considered the Citadel offensive profitable, by May he shared Model's misgivings. He returned to his earlier assessment that the German forces should take the strategic defensive to allow the anticipated Soviet offensive to weaken their forces on German defences. He would deliver strong counterblows with flanking attacks against the Soviet penetration. 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.
Kurt Zeitzler (Chief of the OKH General Staff), the nominal author of Citadel, was in full support of the offensive. Hitler, acknowledging both Zeitzler's plan and Model's objections as worthy of consideration, presented both proposals at a conference of senior officers held 3–4 May. Opinions were divided between three main options: an immediate offensive, a delayed offensive to enable better preparation, and a complete cancellation of the Citadel offensive for a defensive operation or a radically revised offensive operation. Manstein, Model, and Heinz Guderian, among others, favoured the third option. Hans Jeschonnek (Chief of the Luftwaffe General Staff) argued for the first option, which was also supported by several others. Kluge and some others strongly argued for the second option. Wilhelm Keitel (Chief of Staff at OKW) later insisted that any of the options besides the third would suffice. The conference ended without reaching a decision, but Citadel was not aborted. Three days latter OKW announced 12 June as the new launch date for Operation Citadel.
Like many senior German officers, Guderian believed that the limited German resources in men and materiel should be conserved 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."
Despite these reservations, Hitler remained committed to the offensive. He and the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht; German Supreme Headquarters) 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: the Panzerkampfwagen VI (Tiger I), the Panzerjäger Tiger (P) (Elefant or Ferdinand), and the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther tank. He postponed the operation to await their arrival. Receiving reports of powerful Soviet concentrations in the Kursk area, he delayed delayed the offensive again to allow for more equipment to reach the front. Due to the potential threat of an Allied landing in Italy and delays in deliveries of the new tanks, Hitler postponed again, to 20 June.[j] On 17–18 June, following a discussion where the OKW Operations Staff suggested abandoning the offensive, he further postponed until 3 July. It was not until 1 July that Hitler announced 5 July as the final launch date.
Anticipating the possibility that Citadel might fail, in June Alfred Jodl (Chief of the OKW Operations Staff) instructed the armed forces propaganda office to portray it as a limited counteroffensive.
The weeks leading up to the attack saw a massive build-up of troops and resources by both sides. The total German forces that were slated for Operation Citadel (under 4th Panzer Army, Army Detachment "Kempf", 2nd Army, and 9th Army) numbered around fifty divisions, including 12 Panzer and 5 Panzergrenadier divisions. By the time the German buildup was complete, it amounted to about 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.[k]
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 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 from 12 to 15 April 1943 with his front-line commanders and senior officers of the General Staff, and 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 the the implementation of these plans 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, responsible for the destruction of the 6th Army in the Stalingrad pocket.
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.[l] 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). 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. The 6th Guards Army of the Voronezh Front, spread out over nearly 64 kilometres (40 mi) of front, was protected by 69,688 anti-tank and 64,430 anti-personnel mines in its first defensive belt and another 20,200 anti-tank and 9,097 anti-personnel mines in its second defensive belt.
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 in 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 on German communications and supply lines. For June 1943 alone, in the occupied area behind Army Group Centre, 298 locomotives, 1,222 rail wagons, and 44 bridges were destroyed by partisans, while in the Kursk sector there were 1,092 partisan attacks against railways. Many of these attacks were coordinated through the Central Partisan Headquarters. Soviet Air Forces flew in supplies and provided communication and sometimes even air support for major 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.[m] In combat the soldiers would spring up in the midst of the attacking infantry to separate them from the spearheading armoured vehicles, which could then be disabled or destroyed at point-blank range. Due to their lack of secondary armament like machine guns, this tactic would be successfully used against Ferdinand tanks. Once they were isolated from their supporting infantry they became vulnerable to infantry armed with anti-tank rifles, demolition charges, and Molotov cocktails.
The Soviets employed a number of 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 only at night. 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 transportation in and around them were forbidden.
According to a Soviet General Staff report, 29 of the 35 major Luftwaffe raids on Soviet airfields in the Kursk sector in June 1943 were on dummy airfields. So successful were Soviet efforts at deception that German estimates issued in mid-June placed 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. 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.
State of the Luftwaffe and Soviet Air Force
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (May 2013)|
In the early stages of the war, the Red Air Force, while numerically superior, suffered from a lack of training, poor operational management and obsolete aircraft. By 1943 Allied actions in Western Europe were beginning to have an impact on German military strength. Although actions in North Africa hardly constituted Stalin's much demanded second front, the operations in the Mediterranean and Africa did begin to take a toll on German strength. Air losses in the Luftwaffe were significant, with 40% of their air casualties in the last quarter of 1942 and the first half of 1943 occurring in the battles over Malta and Tunisia. German air superiority, a tenuous proposition from the outset, was no longer a certainty over the area of operation. The Soviet Air Force outnumbered the Luftwaffe and was gaining in quality as well. Both air forces possessed effective ground-attack aircraft capable of destroying armour: the Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik and the German Junkers Ju 87G Stuka (Initially the Ju 87D-3/5 with a pair of added Bordkanone 3,7 cm calibre cannon in underslung podss).
The Red Air Force improved throughout the war, and by the Battle of Kursk neither side had anything other than local air supremacy. With the coming of 1943, more modern aircraft were available to Soviet pilots, such as the Yakovlev Yak-9 and Lavochkin La-5 fighters. Pilot training also improved to some degree. In the battle, both German and Soviet formations suffered from many air attacks.
|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 Panzergrenadier Division and the 17th (Wiking) Panzer Division|
|Luftflotte 4||VIII Fliegerkorps|
|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||67st, 71st, and 90th Guards Rifle Divisions|
|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)[n]|
|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
German offensive phase
|German offensive phase (Citadel)||Men||Tanks||Guns|
|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|
For their attack, the Wehrmacht used three armies and a large proportion of their tanks on the eastern front. The 9th Army in the north had 335,000 men (223,000 combat soldiers), and in the south the 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment "Kempf" had 223,907 men (149,271) and 100,000 men (66,000) respectively, a grand total of 778,907 men (518,271) for all three armies.
The Red Army used two Fronts (the equivalent of Army Groups) for the defence, and one Front as a reserve. The Central and Voronezh Fronts fielded 12 armies. The Central Front had 711,575 men (510,983 combat soldiers), the Voronezh Front had 625,591 men (446,236) and the Steppe Front had 573,195 men (449,133) for a grand total of 1,910,361 (1,426,352).
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|
When the Red Army launched their counteroffensive in the north, the German 2nd Panzer Army was attacked by two Soviet Fronts: Bryansk and Western Front. The 107,000 men of the 2nd Panzer Army and some reinforcements in the south brought the Wehrmacht troops to approximately 950,000 men (approximately 650,000 combat soldiers). The two Soviet Fronts brought the Red Army to 2,629,458 men (1,987,463 combat soldiers).
Overview of sub-operations
For the Wehrmacht, the Battle of Kursk was the strategic offensive Operation Citadel (German: Unternehmen Zitadelle).
- Kursk Strategic Defensive Operation (includes the German Operation Citadel) (5–23 July 1943)
- Orel-Kursk Defensive Operation (5–11 July)
- Belgorod-Kursk Defensive Operation (5–23 July)
- Battle of Prokhorovka (12 July 1943)
- Aerial operations over the Kursk Bulge (5–23 July)
- Orel Strategic Counter-Offensive Operation (Operation Kutuzov) (12 July – 18 August 1943)
- Volkhov-Orel Offensive Operation (12 July – 18 August)
- Kromy-Orel Offensive Operation (15 July – 18 August)
- Aerial operations in Operation Kutuzov
- Belgorod–Kharkov Counter-Offensive Offensive Operation (Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev) (3–23 August 1943)
- Belgorod–Bogodukhov Offensive Operation (3–23 August)
- Belgorod–Kharkov Offensive Operation (3–23 August)
- Zmiyev Offensive Operation (12–23 August)
- Aerial operations in Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev
The exact definition of the "Kursk" battle varies. The Germans saw it only as Operation Citadel (4 to 16 July), while the Soviets combined Citadel with the subsequent Soviet counter-offensives, Operation Kutsuzov and Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev, as a single strategic event extending from 4 July to 23 August.
After two months of delay the Germans were ready to launch their attack. By this time they had added 90 Ferdinand Panzerjägers (tank destroyers), as well as 270 Tigers, late-model Panzer Mark IVs and even a number of captured T-34s. The Luftwaffe had also brought in new aircraft, including 79 Henschel Hs 129s and a large number of Focke-Wulf Fw 190s. In total they brought together some 777,000 men, 3,000 tanks and assault guns and 2,110 aircraft.
The start date for the offensive had been moved back repeatedly. On 1 July Hitler announced 5 July as the start date. For months, the Soviets had been receiving detailed information on the planning of the offensive from the Red Orchestra spy ring, the Government Code and Cypher School (as well as a Soviet spy [John Cairncross] in it) operating at Bletchley Park in the UK, and the Lucy spy ring whose sources allegedly included officers in the German aviation ministry and other parts of the Nazi administration. Moscow was alerted just hours after Hitler's announcement, and the following day on 2 July, Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky warned the Front commanders, Vatutin, Rokossovsky and Konev, that the anticipated German offensive would begin no later than 6 July.
Preliminary fighting started in the southern face of the salient on the evening of 4 July 1943, when the German forces launched a reconnaissance-in-force in preparation for the main assault scheduled for 5 July. The XLVIII Panzer Corps of the 4th Panzer Army stormed Soviet command and observation posts positioned on the high ground of the first main belt of defence manned by men from the 6th Guards Army. By 1600 hours on 4 July, elements of the "Großdeutschland", 11th and 3rd panzer divisions had seized the village of Butovo. They then stormed Gertsovka, some 7–10 km beyond the initial front line. The village was secured before the first hour of 5 July. The preliminary attacks and troop movements confirmed to the Soviet command that the main offensive was imminent. Having received these reports, Vatutin ordered 600 guns, mortars, and katyushas of the Voronezh Front to bombard the forward German positions, particularly those of the II SS Panzer Corps.
In Central Front headquarters, reports of the anticipated attack continued to come in. At around 0200 hours, Zhukov authorized the planned preemptive artillery bombardment to begin. The effect of the Soviet bombardment was limited. The bombardment delayed the German formations from 40 minutes to as much as three hours, but failed in its goal of disrupting the German schedule as intended. As the Soviet artillery fell silent, the Germans launched their own artillery bombardment. This lasted 80 minutes in the northern sector and some 50 minutes in the south. After the barrage the ground forces advanced, supported by close air support from the Luftwaffe.
During the early morning German artillery bombardment, the Red Air Force launched a large raid against German airfields, hoping to destroy the Luftwaffe on the ground. This failed, and the Soviets suffered considerable losses.[o] That morning, the Soviet Air Force lost 176 aircraft, whereas the Luftwaffe lost 26. The 16th Air Army, which was the air unit attached to the Central Front, suffered lighter losses in the preemptive attack than the 2nd Air Army attached to the Voronehz Front; and therefore, unlike in the southern face of the salient where the Luftwaffe had gained and maintained air superiority on 5 July, the control for the skies over the northern face was even. In the days immediately following the first day of the offensive, the Red Air Force began to assert its dominance as the Luffwaffe's chronic shortage of fuel, lubricants and spare parts began to hamper serviceability. Also the strong Soviet resistance met by the ground forces obliged air-support missions to take precedence over the ongoing battle for air superiority, giving the much more preponderant Red Air Force the opportunity to seize control of the air space. The grim consequences of the overwhelming preponderance of the Red Air Force over the Luftwaffe had been further aggravated by the fact that by the summer of 1943, the Luftwaffe could no longer boast the significant technical superiority it once held over its adversary.
Operation at the northern face
Model's main attack was delivered by XLVII Panzer Corps, to which was also attached 45 Tigers of the 505 Heavy Tank Battalion. Covering the left flank of the main attacking corps was XLI Panzer Corps, to which was attached a regiment of 83 operational Ferdinand tank destroyers, and covering the right flank was XLVI Panzer Corps, which was a panzer corps just in name – consisting of four infantry divisions and 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 – with two regular infantry divisions. The corps had no tanks, but it did have 62 assault guns. Therefore from west to east, the 9th Army's attacking force was positioned as follows: XLVI Panzer Corps, XLVII Panzer Corps, XLI Panzer Corps and XXIII Army Corps. 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 and being unable to exploit any breakthrough. Therefore his initial attack force, tasked with breaking the first line of defence, consisted of mostly infantry and artillery with Luftwaffe support. His plan was that once a breakthrough was achieved, the panzer divisions would then be released for a drive straight to Kursk. Jan Möschen, a major in Model's staff, later commented that Model expected a breakthrough on the second day and that the corps commanders thought it would be extremely unlikely given Model's tactics of infantry first and then armour, and even if it did occur, the briefest delay in waiting for the panzer divisions to be brought up to exploit the breakthrough would only give the Soviets more time to react and plug the gap.
As the German preliminary bombardment on the early morning of 5 July ended, by 05:00 the 9th Army was attacking the northern face of the salient with one panzer division – the 20th, (of XLVII Panzer Corps) – and nine infantry divisions equipped with assault guns, a regiment of Ferdinands and two companies of Tigers from the 505 Heavy Tank Battalion. Both companies of Tigers were attached to the 6th Infantry Division (of XLVII Panzer Corps), and would be the largest single group of Tigers employed on that day. Dug-in in the path of the attack were the 70th and 13th Armies of the Central Front.
The 20th Panzer and 6th Infantry Divisions, operating in tight cooperation, spearheaded the advance of the XLVII Panzer Corps, with the remaining two panzer divisions following behind at a safe distance and poised to exploit any breakthrough. But the mine-infested terrain overlooking the carefully positioned artillery and tanks, and the fortified positions of the troops of the 15th Rifle Division (of the 29th Rifle Corps), immediately slowed the attack down. It was not until 08:00 that safe lanes were 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 quickly struck towards the area. The armoured attack provoked a Soviet counterattack delivered by about 90 T-34s. In the resulting three-hour battle, the Soviets lost 42 tanks for two destroyed Tigers and five more immobilized due to damaged tracks. Although the counter-attack was defeated, resulting in the breach of the Soviet first defensive belt, it succeeded in stalling the German advance for the duration of the battle and buying time for the rest of 29th Rifle Corps lodged beyond the first belt to adequately prepare itself. By the time the attacking forces of the XLVII Panzer Corps had reorganized and attacked the positions beyond the first defensive belt, Soviet resistance had stiffened and had indeed become unbreakable. The attack faltered after a bloody confrontation and at 6 to 8 miles (9.7 to 13 km) into the Soviet defences, XLVII Panzer Corps was held for the rest of the day.
The 9th Army attacked on a 45-kilometer (28 mi) wide front. The Germans soon found themselves delayed in the extensive minefields the Russians had laid in preparation for the attack. Engineer units were brought up to clear paths through the fields, but were hampered by Russian fire. A few Goliath and Borgward IV remote-controlled engineer vehicles were used to clear lanes through the minefields, with limited success. These vehicles lacked marking systems to show the following tanks where the cleared lanes lay. Red Army units covering the minefields with small arms and artillery fire, delayed the German engineer teams clearing the mines manually, and losses amongst the engineers were high. The end of the day found the 9th Army far short of its objectives for 5 July.
The 653rd Heavy Panzerjäger Battalion began the attack with 45 Ferdinands. All but 12 of them were immobilized in unmarked German and Soviet minefields before 17:00 on 5 July. Most of these were later repaired and returned to service. During the first day of the offensive, German units penetrated 8 kilometers (5.0 mi) into the Soviet lines, for the loss of 1,287 killed and missing and 5,921 wounded.
Although excellent against any Soviet tank, the Ferdinand had some problems. Guderian noted in his diary:
Incapable of close-range fighting since they lacked sufficient ammunition (armour-piercing and high-explosive) for their guns and this defect was aggravated by the fact that they had no machine-guns. Once they had broken through into the enemy's infantry zone, they literally had to go quail-shooting with cannon. They did not manage to neutralise, let alone destroy, the enemy's rifle and machine guns, so that our own infantry was unable to follow up behind them. By the time they reached the Soviet artillery they were on their own.
On the second day, the Central Front under Rokossovsky started a counterattack against the German 9th Army, directed against the XLVI Tank Corps. The Red Army attacked with the 2nd Tank Army and the XIX Tank Corps. Soviet tanks there sustained heavy losses in their first combat with the Tiger tanks of the 505th Heavy Tank Battalion. The 107th and 164th Tank Brigade lost 69 tanks and the Soviet counterattack was stopped. After the encounter with the German Tigers, Rokossovsky decided to dig-in most of his remaining tanks to minimize their exposure.
The next two days of the attack saw heavy fighting around the strong point of Ponyri (on the Orel–Kursk railway), which was one of the most fortified positions in the northern sector. Both sides saw this area as a vital point. The Soviets had placed 70 anti-tank guns per kilometer 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 a German withdrawal and a series of counterattacks ensued by both sides, with control of the town being exchanged many times. By the evening of 8 July the German units 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", (A reference to Fort Douamount – a central part of the battle of Verdun in World War I). The German frontline units were exhausted, while the Soviet brought up their reserves.
Model paused to rearrange his units and renewed his attack on 10 July with additional air support, but his gains were small. Fresh Soviet formations repelled German attacks and only limited penetrations were achieved; the diary of the 9th Army describes the heavy fighting as a "new type of mobile attrition battle".[p] Model called off the new attack.
With the cancellation of the attack came a change in German plans. Model accepted that his forces did not have enough power to advance directly through the Soviet defensive strongpoints. He decided to bypass the heights of Ol'chovatka and shift the schwerpunkt to XLVI Panzer Corps. He also decided to use the uncommitted 12th Panzer Division. For the first time in the northern sector, a heavy concentration of tanks was planned. By 12 July the German northern forces had lost only 63 tanks and assault guns.
Soviet formations, including the 3rd Tank Army and the 11th Guards Army, commenced a flanking attack against the German 2nd Panzer Army, positioned to the left (north) and rear of 9th Army. The Soviet forces established a deep penetration and threatened German supply routes to the forward 9th Army units and a successful Soviet advance on Orel threatened to encircle the 9th Army.
The end of Citadel in the north
With the threat of being cut off, the 9th Army was compelled to withdraw. Their part in the offensive was over. Because the German armour was not concentrated and used with the same intensity as in the south, the German armour losses were comparatively light – 143 vehicles between 5 and 14 July. Central Front losses were 526 tanks.[q]This failed to keep up with the steady influx of new soldiers and materiél arriving for the Red Army. Few Red Army guns were captured, and those Russian units that retreated did so on orders. The German attack failed to break through the main Soviet defence zones, and with their counter-offensive, Model was compelled to withdraw.
A number of factors explain the 9th Army's lack of progress, mainly the combination of Soviet defensive planning and German lack of concentration of force. German armour was committed piecemeal rather than in strength, and often without sufficient infantry support. Soviet defensive preparation was also a major factor. The Central Front under Marshal Rokossovsky had correctly anticipated the likely areas of German attack and had fortified those areas very heavily, holding other areas more thinly. The 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 army had fewer tanks than Manstein had in the south, and the German 9th Army committed major units piecemeal because Model was afraid of the Bryansk Front, which stood ready for a counterattack to the north of his army. Model decided to place his most powerful corps, Gruppe "Esebeck" (2 Panzer Division and 10 Panzer Grenadier Division), far behind the frontline to use it as a "fire brigade" against a possible onslaught by the Bryansk Front. Model's decision not to use his Panzer divisions as a concentrated force can be seen as the most significant reason for the poor penetration of the northern pincer. Finally, the 9th Army led with reinforced infantry divisions that were already in the line facing the Red Army, rather than attacking with uncommitted formations.
A review of attack frontages and depth of German penetration clearly shows the success of the Red Army defensive tactics. While it began with a 45-kilometer-wide (28 mi) attack front on 5 July, the next day the German 9th Army's front was reduced to 40 km. This dropped to 15 km wide by 7 July and to only 2 km on 8–9 July. Each day, the depth of the German advance slowed: five km on the first day, four on the second, never more than two km on each succeeding day. By 10 July the 9th Army had been stopped.
Much of the Soviet defensive success is attributable to its method of fire control, known to the Germans as Pakfront. This relied upon a group of 10 or more anti-tank guns under a commander, which would fire at one target at a time. These positions were protected with heavy concentrations of mortar and machine gun nests, which were ordered to fire only on German infantry.
Operation at the southern face
Von Manstein's troops (Army Group South) were equipped with more armoured vehicles, infantry and artillery than Model's in the north (Army Group Centre). 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.
At around 0400 hours the German attack commenced with a preliminary bombardment. Mainstein's main attack was delivered by the 4th Panzer Army (commanded by Hermann Hoth), of which its right flank was covered by Army Detachment "Kempf" (commanded by Werner Kempf). The strike of the 4th Panzer Army was spearheaded by the XLVIII Panzer Corps (commanded by Otto von Knobelsdorff), which was actively supported on its right by the II SS Panzer Corps (commanded by Paul Hausser); its left flank was covered by the LII Corps. Directly in the path of the XLVIII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps was the Soviet 6th Guards Army, which was composed of the 22nd Guards Rifle Corps and 23rd Guards Rifle Corps. The defence of the southern face of the salient by the Voronezh Front was deployed in three main heavily fortified defensive belts, with the third line composed of front reserves. The Voronezh Front headquarters had not been able to pinpoint where the Germans would place their offensive weight and this forced them to spread out their defences. And also Manstein, unlike his northern counterpart, had organized his tanks into densely concentrated spearheads; this proved more successful.
The Panzergrenadier Division Großdeutschland (commanded by Walter Hörnlein), was the main attacking force of the XLVIII Panzer Corps, and was supported at its flanks by the 3rd and 11th Panzer Divisions. Großdeutschland was allotted 384 tanks in total, but not all were operational on the first day of the offensive. In addition to the usual Panzer IIIs and IVs, the tanks allotted to the division included a company of 15 Tigers and 200 Panthers of the 51st and 52nd Panzer Battalions; both units were attached to the Panzerfüsilier Regiment of Großdeutschland, and had arrived at the front line on 1 July and 30 June respectively, leaving little opportunity for them to orientate themselves and conduct much needed reconnaissance. And although well trained at the platoon-level of combat, the two battalions had no large-unit combat experience. The new Panthers also proved unreliable and failed to perform to expectations, 45 out of the 200 new tanks experienced mechanical problems requiring repair. On the morning of 5 July, eight Panthers would be lost to mechanical failure, only 192 would reach the front line.
At dawn on 5 July, Großdeutschland, backed by heavy artillery support and led by its tank units, advanced on a two-mile front straight into the 67th Guards Rifle Division (of the 22nd Guards Rifle Corps), towards the villages of Gertsovka and Butovo. That morning, the Panzerfüsilier Regiment, advancing as the left wing of the division, after initial rapid progress stalled, when it plunged into a minefield and 36 Panthers were disabled. The stranded regiment was subjected to a barrage of Soviet anti-tank and artillery fire. Combat engineers were moved up immediately to clear paths through the minefield but a constant barrage made it very costly. Heavy casualties were sustained in the ensuing battle, including the commander of the Panzerfüsilier Regiment, Colonel Kassnitz. However, attempts by the Red Air Force to impede the advance of the XLVIII Panzer Corps were repulsed by the Luftwaffe. Therefore, although XLVIII Panzer Corps reported on the morning of 5 July: "The entire corps sector is under heavy attack by Soviet Il-2 ground-attack planes and bombers," this was only relative to what it was used to facing. Ultimately, many more enemy aircraft were repelled than managed to break through the Luftwaffe defence cordon.
Meanwhile, the Panzergrenadier Regiment of Großdeutschland, advancing as the right wing of the division, pushed through more successfully to the village of Butovo. Leading the way were the Tigers, which were employed in a classic arrow formation, with the lighter Panzer IIIs, Panzer IVs and assault guns fanning out to the rear. They were followed by infantry and combat engineers. The Panzerfüsilier Regiment also resumed its advance towards Gertsovka once safe paths were cleared through the minefields, but it was bogged down again just south of the village by the marshy ground surrounding the Berezovyy stream. The Red Air Force made another attempt to cripple the advancing forces, leading the commander of XLVIII Panzer Corps, Otto von Knobelsdorff, to report to Manstein:
Soviet air forces repeatedly attack the large concentrations of tanks and infantry near the crossings at Berezovyy. There are heavy losses, especially among officers. Großdeutschland's Command Post received a direct hit, killing the adjutant of the grenadier regiment and two other officers.
The 3rd Panzer Division, advancing on the left flank of Großdeutschland, made good progress and by the end of 5 July had taken Gertsovka and advanced past it to reach Mikhailovka. The 167th Infantry Division on the right flank of the 11th Panzer Division also made sufficient progress, advancing to the vicinity of Tirechnoe by the end of the day (5 July). These successes meant that by the end of the first day a wedge had been speared deep into the Soviet first line of defence by the XLVIII Panzer Corps.
More German attacks
At dawn on 5 July, the three divisions of II SS Panzer Corps (commanded by Paul Hausser) – SS Panzergrenadier Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (commanded by Theodor Wisch), 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Division Das Reich (commanded by Walter Krüger) and the 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Division Totenkopf (commanded by Hermann Prieß) – attacked the 52nd Guards Rifle Division (of the 23rd Guards Rifle Corps, of the 6th Guards Army). All three SS divisions were elite formations with fearsome reputations. During the night of 4–5 July, SS combat engineers had infiltrated no-man's land and cleared lanes through the Soviet minefields. The main assault of the corps was led by a panzerkeil headed by 42 Tigers; in total 494 tanks and assault guns attacked across a seven and half mile front. The 3rd SS Division Totenkopf, the strongest of the three divisions, screened the right flank of the attack by advancing towards Gremuchhi, with the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler on the left flank, advanced towards Bykovka and the 2nd SS Panzer Division moved in-between. The advance, although it was not seriously impeded by minefields, was met with a massive barrage of artillery and anti-tank fire but the corps was supremely well supported by the Luftwaffe, which greatly aided in softening up the Soviet positions. The infantry and combat engineer units followed the armoured spearhead closely, demolishing obstacles and emptying trenches.
By 0900 hours on 5 July, 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, but soon 40 more engaged the division. It was not long before a ferocious battle between units of the 1st Guards Tank Army and the 2nd SS Panzer Division was underway. The battle lasted four hours, ending with the withdrawal of the 1st Guards Tank Army. However, the battle bought time for units of the 23rd Soviet Guards Rifle Corps lodged in the Soviet second line to prepare itself and be reinforced with more anti-tank guns. By the early evening of 5 July, 2nd SS Panzer Division had reached the minefields that marked the outer perimeter of the Soviet second line of defence. The 1st SS Division, operating on the 2nd SS Panzer Division's left, had secured Bykovka at 1610 hours and pushed forward towards the second line of defence at Yakovlevo, but 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 Division, operating as the right flank of II SS Panzer Corps made very limited progress, which meant that the corps' developing penetration was precarious. The division 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 attempts to sweep the regiment eastward into the flank of the neighbouring 375th Rifle Division (of the 23rd Guards Rifle Corps), failed when the regiment was reinforced by the 96th Tank Brigade. Furthermore, the northern movement of the 3rd SS Division was stifled by a tributary of the Lipovyi-Donets river. Paul Hausser, the commander of II SS Panzer Corps, called on III Panzer Corps (commanded by Hermann Breith) (of the Army Detachment "Kempf") on his right flank to lend some support, but his request was refused because the Army Detachment "Kempf" was facing serious challenges of its own. By the end of 5 July, the 3rd SS Division's attainment was far short of expectation, leaving the right flank of the 2nd SS Panzer Division exposed.
Facing the Army Detachment "Kempf" was the 7th Guards Army, dug in on the high ground on the eastern bank of the Northern Donets. The III Panzer Corps and Corps "Raus" (commanded by Erhard Raus) (both of Army Detachment "Kempf"), were tasked wih crossing the Northern Donets, smash 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 III Panzer Corps. Although the river was bridged during the night of 4 July by combat engineers, the crossing points were targeted by the 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 were subjected to heavy artillery fire during the Soviet preliminary bombardment. Eventually most of the infantry got across to the eastern banks, but when a company of the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion began to cross the bridge in order to support the infantry, it too was targeted by Soviet artillery and the bridge was destroyed. Although some of the tanks of the company 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 for redeployment of the remnants of the 6th Panzer Division to another crossing, it became clear that the division was falling behind the agreed schedule. But the predicament was further aggravated when it was reported to Walther von Hünersdorff, commander of the 6th Panzer Division, that the designated crossing was already clogged with traffic. Failing to find another crossing, the remnants of the 6th remained on the western bank of the river for 5 July. Meanwhile, units of the 6th Panzer Division that had succeeded in getting onto the eastern bank of the river through the original crossing launched an attack led by Tigers on Stary Gorod, but it stalled due to poorly cleared minefields and strong resistance.
To the south of the 6th Panzer Division, the 19th Panzer Division (of III Panzer Corps) successfully crossed the river but immediately ran into Soviet mines, which stalled the Tigers spearheading the advance. The division later recovered and managed to advance to a depth of about five miles by the end of 5 July.
To the south of the 19th Panzer Division, the infantry and light and medium tanks of 7th Panzer Division managed to cross the bridges but the Tigers could not, due to their weight. Attempts were made to drive the Tigers across the river to relieve the infantry and lighter tanks that were already taking a tremendous pounding on the opposite bank, but that was unsuccessful due to their weight and the massive Soviet artillery bombardment. Eventually, combat engineers constructed bridges strong enough to take the Tigers across, where they relieved the beleaguered infantry. 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) by the end of 5 July, which was the best achieved in Army Detachment "Kempf"'s sector for 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 advanced across a 20 mile front, and devoid of tanks, apparently only 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 Russian 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 when a Soviet counterattack supported by about 40 tanks crashed into the corps. The counterattack was eventually rebuffed with the assistance of artillery and flak batteries; however, having suffered about 2,000 casualties since the start of the offensive that morning and still facing considerable resistance, the corps could penetrate no further and therefore dug-in for the night of 5 July.
By the end of 5 July, Army Group South's attack against the Voronezh Front had failed to dislodge the Soviet defenders. Although several of the divisions of the 4th Panzer Army had blown large holes in the Soviet first line of defence, they still remained short of cracking the second line, and even so, exposed vulnerable flanks; many other attacking units 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 about 1,000 tanks from the independent 2nd Guards and the 5th Guards Tank Corps and the 1st Tank Army. The 51st and 90th Guards Rifle Division were moved up to the vicinity of Pokrovka (not to be confused with Prokhorovka 25 miles to its northeast,) right in the path of the 1st SS Division. And right behind them, the 93rd Guards Rifle Division was spread out on the road leading to Prokhorovka from Pokrovka.
The Soviets counter-attack
The steady progress of the German units forced the Soviet leaders to commit some of their strategic reserves, as nearly all operational reserves were in action. The Steppe Front had been formed in the months leading up to the operation as a central reserve. 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 got their marching orders. Vatutin planned an operational counterstrike against the German units, but decided to cancel it after the failure of the northern counterattack. Instead of seeking open battle against the German tanks, Vatutin let his tanks dig in, as Rokossovsky did in the north. Zhukov protested against this use of tanks, but Vatutin's decision stood.
German officers reported that they were slowed down by the "silent tanks" (Schweigepanzer) – tanks dug into fortified emplacements – because it cost much time to overcome these camouflaged "bases". Despite the order to dig-in many of their tanks, the Soviet units still had enough tanks to launch some counterattacks. On 7 July a German Tiger I commanded by SS Unterscharführer Franz Staudegger met a group of about 50 T-34s. In the ensuing battle, Staudegger knocked out 22 T-34s; he was the first Tiger commander to be awarded the Knight's Cross.
The Germans' advance was slowed. The first German units reached the Psel River on 9 July. The next day the first infantry units crossed the river. By 10 July, German units in the south had lost 166 tanks. Despite the deep defensive system and minefields, German tank losses were remarkably low. 11 July was a successful day for German units; Army Detachment "Kempf" achieved a breakthrough, and its III Panzer Corps penetrated deep into the Soviet lines. The next night the 6th Panzer Division took a bridge over the Donets with a swift surprise attack. III Panzer Corps then advanced on Prokhorovka from the south and the II SS Panzer Corps from the west, almost trapping the Soviet 69th Army. At this moment Manstein thought the final breakthrough was achieved, and now free of the minefields, could operate freely and destroy the Soviet armoured reserves in the open. The Soviets, indeed, began moving their tank reserves toward the spearheads of Army Group South.
The Red Army did enough, at great cost, to stop a German breakthrough. In that sense Prokhorovka remains a crucial turning point of the battle and of the conflict on the Eastern Front. On the morning of 12 July, Hoth, determined to push for a breakthrough, grouped the armoured formations on the right wing of the 4th Panzer Army and advanced on Prokhorovka. At the same time the 5th Guards Tank Army launched a series of attacks as part of a larger counteroffensive in an attempt to throw the Germans off balance. The opposing forces clashed south and west of Prokhorovka.
In stifling heat, an eight-hour battle began. The German forces found themselves heavily outnumbered by the 5th Guards Tank Army; who, moving mainly at night, had brought 593 tanks and 37 self-propelled guns into position at Stary Oskol.
The Soviet 33rd Guards Rifle Corps fought the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf to a standstill by getting in close to the German armour and attacking the more vulnerable sides of the Tigers. The II SS Panzer Corps was soon forced onto the defensive. Although the German formation held, it lost half of its armour in a prolonged engagement; although many of these losses were repairable, and hence temporary. By the night of 11–12 July, the only success the Germans had to show for their losses was a captured bridgehead over the Donets river at Rzavets. The 1st SS Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler had been stopped by the Soviet 18th Tank Corps, while III Panzer Corps and 2nd SS Panzer Division were checked by the 2nd Guards Tank Corps and two other Soviet reserve corps.
The Luftwaffe had complete air superiority over Prokhorovka, due to the VVS being concentrated against the units flanking II SS Panzer Corps. Waves of Hs 129s and Ju 87s inflicted losses on the 5th Guards Tank Army. Although Soviet tank losses are unknown, a report from the 29th Tank Corps reported "heavy losses in tanks through enemy aircraft and artillery [attacks]. [...] due to continuous air attacks, they were unable to advance further and shifted to the defence".
The battle can best be described as a costly tactical loss for the Red Army but an operational draw. Neither the 5th Guards Tank Army nor the II SS Panzer Corps accomplished their objectives that day. After the battle was over, the Soviets held the area and were able to recover their disabled tanks and wounded crews.
Tank losses in the battle have been a contentious subject. Red Army losses have been given from 200 to 822 tanks, but the records show about 300 complete losses and as many damaged. German losses have been reported to be as low as 80 and as high as several hundred. The Soviets claim the Germans lost 400 tanks in this battle and 3,500 soldiers killed, but newer research suggests only about 500 deaths and much lower tank losses, with only a few completely destroyed and about 40–80 damaged.
The end of Citadel in the south
While the German offensive had been stopped in the north by 10 July, in the south the overall situation still hung in the balance, even after 12 July. German forces on the southern wing, exhausted and heavily depleted, had breached the first two defensive belts and believed that they were about to break through the last belt. In fact at least five more defensive zones awaited them, although they were not as strong as the initial defences, some of them did not have troops deployed. Red Army defenders had been weakened, and major elements of their reserve forces had been committed. Nevertheless, the available uncommitted Red Army reserves were far larger than the few available German reserves.
On 16 July, German forces withdrew to their start line. Severely depleted, the Germans then had to face Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev, a Soviet offensive to smash the German forces in the Belgorod–Kharkov area which was launched on 3 August. Belgorod fell on 5 August, and on 23 August, Kharkov fell, despite fierce resistance from German forces. With the capture of Kharkov, the Soviets considered the Battle of Kursk over.
The German forces made steady progress, but, as in the north, attack frontage width and penetration depth dropped as the attack proceeded. The trend was not as marked as in the north, however. A 30-kilometer-wide (19 mi) attack frontage on 5 July became 20 km (12 mi) wide by 7 July and 15 km (9.3 mi) by 9 July. Likewise, the depth of penetration dropped from 9 km (5.6 mi) on 5 July to 5 km (3.1 mi) on 8 July and 2–3 km (1.2–1.9 mi) each day thereafter until the attack was cancelled.
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.
German losses can be seen in the example of the Großdeutschland Division, which had began the operation with 118 tanks. On 10 July, after five days of fighting, the division reported it had three Tigers, six Panthers, and 11 Pzkw-III and Pzkw-IV tanks operational. XLVIII Panzer Corps reported, overall, 38 Panthers operational with 131 awaiting repair, out of the 200 it started with on 5 July.
Termination of Operation Citadel
On the night of 9–10 July, the Western Allies mounted an amphibious invasion of Sicily. Three days later, Hitler summoned Günther von Kluge and Erich von Manstein to his Wolfsschanze headquarters in East Prussia and declared his intention to "temporarily" call off Operation Citadel. Von Manstein attempted to dissuade him, arguing that Citadel was on the brink of victory: "on no account should we let go of the enemy until the mobile reserves which he had committed were decisively beaten". In an uncommon reversal of their roles, Hitler gave von Manstein a few more days to continue the offensive, but on 16 July, he ordered a withdrawal and cancelled the operation. The following day, on 17 July, OKH ordered the entire SS Panzer Corps to be withdrawn and transferred to Italy.
Hitler's decision to call off the operation at the height of the tactical battle has since been strongly criticized by German generals in their memoirs, and by some historians. For example, it has been pointed out that the SS Panzer Corps would have taken three months to be transferred to Sicily, and thus could not possibly have affected the outcome there, while its contribution to the Kursk operation was vital.
Only one German division, the 1st SS Panzer (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler), departed for Italy, without their equipment. The remainder stayed to face the Red Army counteroffensive launched in the wake of the failed German offensive.
Reasons for the failure of Citadel
Historian Karl-Heinz Frieser points out these reasons for the failure of Operation Citadel:
- The Soviets had numerical superiority. Frieser points out that the biggest problem of the OKW was the shortage of infantry. The OKH had no operational reserve, while the Red Army could field an entire front (Steppe Front) as reserve. That the Red Army had more tanks than the Wehrmacht had less influence on the outcome, according to Frieser.
- Repeated delays by Hitler gave the Red Army enough time to turn the bulge around Kursk into an enormous fortress. Senior officers like Manstein and Zeitzler pushed for a fast attack to catch the Red Army unprepared and low on morale after the third battle of Kharkov. The overlap with the Allied invasion of Sicily made Hitler's date for the attack the "most adverse possible".
- The German defeat at Kursk did not come about by the "often-exaggerated numerical superiority" of the Soviet armed forces. The principal factor at Kursk 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 Soviet doctrine (Soviet deep battle), producing new procedures. Glantz and House have asserted the tank strength was almost even, between 1:1 and 1.5:1 in the Soviets' favour.
- 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 in the Kutuzov operations, the Red Army gained experience with mobile armoured formations and mechanized corps that became the hallmark of Soviet deep operations. These formations demonstrated their ability to match the best efforts of the German Panzer 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. Skillful use of anti-tank artillery in strong points and the use of separate tank brigades, tank regiments and self-propelled gun units to support them offered mobile defence support. These units participated in wearing down tactical attacks against enemy spearheads. The transitional year of 1943 was decisive for the Soviet war effort. Operational and tactical techniques tested and smoothed out in 1943; they would be refined further and perfected in 1944 and 1945. "The elementary education the Red Army received in 1941–42 gave way to the secondary education of 1943. In 1944 and 1945 the Soviets would accomplish university-level and graduate study in the conduct of war"
Military expert Steven Zaloga offers these insights about the Red Army at Kursk:
- The popular perception of Soviet victory "by numbers" was a myth created by German generals in their memoirs written in the 1950s. He rejects the caricature of the Red Army relying on mass rather than tactical skill, but accepts that at the tactical end (the platoon and company level), the Red Army was not particularly impressive and received significantly poorer training. Zaloga points out that there were still many tactical lessons to be learned; however, 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. Zaloga asserts that Soviet operational methods were superior, allowing Soviet field commanders to bluff, baffle and overwhelm their opponents.
Historian 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 model (with its 76 mm main gun) was out-ranged by the German Tiger I and the Panther, the T-34 was faster and more maneuverable than the Tiger, and the latter had too many mechanical difficulties at the Battle of Prokhorovka. To counter the Tiger tank, the Soviets used their tanks in a "hand-to-hand" combat role. 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: the range of the German tanks' 88 mm gun, German air superiority and attacking a well-dug-in enemy in flat rolling terrain. Even so, the loss ratio was less than 2:1 – 320 German and 400 Soviet AFVs.
Sir Harry Hinsley, a World War II historian who worked at Bletchley Park during the war, has said:
- 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 was giving them decrypts of German Military communications. Hinsley said that some speculate that without Ultra, Germany would have won at Kursk, and "Hitler could have carved up Russia". Ultra decrypts were also given to the Soviets concerning German plans for Stalingrad.
In the north: Operation Kutuzov
The Soviets had offensive operations of their own planned for the summer of 1943, one of which, Operation Kutusov, was launched on 12 July against the German forces (Army Group Centre) in the Orel salient north of Kursk. It kicked off before the German attack on Kursk had concluded. Two Soviet Fronts, the Bryansk Front under the command of Markian Popov and the Western Front commanded by Vasily Sokolovsky, attacked the eastern and northern faces of the Orel salient respectively, which was defended by the 2nd Panzer Army. The southern face of the salient was also attacked, and German forces were withdrawn from the Kursk offensive to meet Operation Kutuzov.
Operation Kutuzov was successful in diverting German reserves earmarked for Operation Citadel. In addition, the Soviets reduced the Orel salient and inflicted substantial losses on the German army, setting the stage for the liberation of Smolensk. Although Soviet losses in the operation were heavy, they were better able to replace them. Operation Kutuzov allowed the Soviets to seize the strategic initiative, which they held through the remainder of the war.
In the south: Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev
Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev was intended as the main Soviet offensive for the summer of 1943. It's aim was to degrade the German 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 in the path of 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 and made broad, deep penetrations past their lines. By 5 August the Soviets had taken Belgorod, and by the 12th they had reached the outskirts of Kharkov. The advance was finally checked by a counter-attack on 12 August by the 2nd SS "Das Reich" and 3rd SS "Totenkopf" divisions. In the ensuing tank battles the Soviet armies were checked, suffering heavy losses in their armour. After this setback the Soviet troops focused on Kharkov and captured it after heavy fighting on 23 August. The battle is usually referred to as the Fourth Battle of Kharkov by the Germans and the Belgorod–Kharkov offensive operation by the Soviets.
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, and it changed the pattern of operations on the Eastern Front. The victory had not been cheap; the Red Army, although preventing the Germans from achieving their goals, lost considerably more men and materiél than the Wehrmacht.
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 Russians 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
From this point on, a new pattern emerged. The initiative had firmly passed to the Red Army, while the Germans spent the rest of the war reacting rather than attacking. A new front had opened in Italy, diverting some of Germany's resources and attention. Both sides suffered great losses, but only the Soviets had the manpower and the industrial production to recover fully. The Germans never regained the initiative after Kursk and never again launched a major offensive in the East.
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. By the end of the war he was attempting to make tactical decisions on battlefields that he had no direct knowledge of. The German Army went from loss to loss as Hitler attempted to stubbornly hold on to every inch of realestate that had been captured, with little understanding of the benefits of a mobile defense, nor regard to the loss of life in his army. His attempts to manage the day-to-day operations were increasingly limiting as Germany's conflict expanded into a three-front war. The opposite was true for Stalin. Throughout the Kursk campaign he trusted the judgment of his commanders, and upon these plans justified on the battlefield he came to trust their military judgment more and more. He stepped back from operational planning, only rarely overruling military decisions. The Red Army gained more freedom of action and became more and more fluid as the war continued.
The casualties between the two combatant nations are difficult to determine, due to a number of factors. In regard to the German army, equipment losses were complicated by the fact that the German army had an aggressive tank recovery and repair program. Tanks knocked out one day from mine damage often appeared again a day or two later once the tracks or running gear had been repaired. Personnel losses are clouded by the loss of access to German unit records, which were seized by the victors following at the end of the war. Many of these records were taken to the United States national archives and not made available until 1978, while others were seized by the Soviets, who declined to even confirm their existence.
Grigoriy Krivosheyev, who based his figures on the Soviet archives, is considered by David Glantz as the most reliable source for Soviet casualty figures. Krivosheyev calculates total Soviet losses during the German offensive of Operation Citadel at 177,877 casualties. This is broken down from the three Soviet Fronts or army groups as follows: the Central Front suffered 15,336 of what the Soviet's termed irrecoverable casualties. It also lost 18,561 medical casualties for total casualties of 33,897 men. The Voronezh Front suffered 27,542 irrecoverable casualties and 46,350 medical casualties, for a total of 73,892, and the Steppe Front suffered 27,452 irrecoverable casualties with 42,606 medical casualties, for a total of 70,085.
For the Soviet counter-offensives, Soviet losses during Operation Kutuzov at 112,529 irrecoverable casualties and 317,361 medical casualties, for a total loss of 429,890 men. The Western Front reported the loss of 25,585 as 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 were 255,566 men, with 71,611 listed as irrecoverable casualties and 183,955 as medical casualties. Between the Fronts involved the casualties broke down as follows: 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. The total Soviet casualties for their two counter-offensives were 685,456 men.
Soviet materiel losses during the German offensive operations at Kursk amounted to 2,586 tanks and self-propelled guns. This represents over a 50% loss of the 3,925 vehicles committed to the battle, roughly seven times the number of German losses. Materiel losses during Operation Kutuzov totaled 2,349 tanks and self-propelled guns. This is out of an initial strength of 2,308, well over 100 percent. The materiel losses in the Polkovodets Rumyantsev operation were also heavy. Krivosheyev's numbers of 1,864 tanks and self-propelled guns out of 2,439 engaged also reflect well over a 50 percent rate of loss. The loss ratio was roughly 5:1 in the Germans' favor.
Large reserves of equipment and the high rate of Soviet production enabled the Soviet Tank armies to rapidly replace lost equipment and maintain their fighting strength. Frieser supports Krivosheyev's casualty figures for men and armour.
According to Christer Bergström, Red Air Force losses amounted to 677 aircraft on the northern flank and 439 on the southern flank of the bulge during the German offensive. Other unit 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.
German historian Karl-Heinz Frieser, who reviewed German archive record, calculated that the Wehrmacht suffered 54,182 casualties in total during the German offensive of Operation Citadel. Of these 9,036 personnel were killed in action, another 1,960 were reported missing and 43,159 wounded. The German 9th Army (under the command of Army Group Centre) suffered 23,345 casualties while Army Group South suffered 30,837 casualties.
For the Soviet counter-offensives Frieser reports 86,064 German casualties, with 14,215 killed, 11,300 missing (presumed killed or captured), and 60,549 wounded during Operation Kutuzov. For Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev, Frieser states the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS units suffered 25,068 casualties, including 8,933 killed and missing. Total casualties for the three battles were about 170,000 men.
In terms of equipment losses, Frieser reports the Wehrmacht lost 252 tanks and assault guns during the German offensive of Operation Citadel. Army Group South submitted losses of 161 tanks and 14 assault guns by 16 July. The 9th Army reported the loss of 41 tanks and 17 assault guns up to and including 14 July. Among these were 10 Tigers and 42 Panthers, as well as 19 Elefant heavy tank destroyers. Other losses included 109 Panzer IVs, 38 Panzer IIIs, three flame tanks and 31 assault guns.
As stated above, the number of tank losses for the German offensive of Operation Citadel and the Soviet counter offensives is difficult to establish. Frieser gives the number of 1,331 tanks destroyed for the entire Eastern Front for July and August, and estimates the number of tanks destroyed during the Battle of Kursk at 760.
Frieser reports German aircraft losses totalled 524 planes, with 159 lost during the German offensive of Operation Citadel, while 218 were destroyed during Opertion Kutuzov and a further 147 during Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev.
Christer Bergström established similar numbers on review of the reports of the Generalquartiermeister der Luftwaffe. The Luftwaffe reported losses of 681 aircraft lost or damaged from July 5 to July 31 (335 for Fliegerkorps VIII and 346 for Luftflotte 6). Of this total 420 were completely written off; 192 from Fliegerkorps VIII and 229 from Luftflotte 6.
- "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 kilometers (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.
- 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.
- 651 knocked out tanks, 526 write offs. Primary source: CAMO (Ministry of Defence of Russia). Frieser 2007, p. 111.
- 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.
- Clark 2012, p. 408.
- Frieser 2007, p. [page needed]. A rough estimation by Frieser since no numbers are available
- Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 116, 117. For all participating German armies in the Kursk area, there were 203,000 casualties for July and August
- 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.
- Dunn 1997, p. 94.
- Kasdorf 2000, p. 16.
- Glantz 1989, pp. 149–159.
- Glantz & House 2004, pp. 64–67.
- 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.
- 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.
- Clark 2012, p. 187.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 25.
- Glantz 2013, p. 183.
- Glantz 1986, p. 24.
- Clark 2012, pp. 194,196.
- Glantz & House 2004, pp. 51–53.
- Clark 2012, p. 194.
- Clark 2012, p. 193.
- Healy 2010, p. 79.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 1–3.
- Manstein 1983, pp. 480–482.
- Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 10.
- Clark 2012, p. 192.
- Healy 2010, p. 23.
- Healy 2010, p. 86.
- Clark 1966, p. 327.
- Taylor & Kulish 1974, p. 170.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 55.
- Mulligan 1987, p. 329.
- Clark 2012, p. 223.
- Kursk Press release July 1943 — Retrieved 02 June 2013
- Dunn 1997, p. 63.
- Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 18.
- Innovation News 2011.
- Copeland, Colossus.
- Clark 2012, pp. 188, 190–191.
- "ВОЕННАЯ ЛИТЕРАТУРА – [Мемуары] – Микоян А.И. Так было". Militera.lib.ru. Archived from the original on 4 July 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-06.
- 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."
- Google Books preview – The memoirs of Marshal Zhukov. This is for the verification of the presented English translation of the original Russian text. 1971. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
- Taylor & Kulish 1974, p. 168.
- Clark 2012, p. 189.
- Рокоссовский Константин Константинович, Солдатский долг. — М.: Воениздат, 1988 (Russian) — Retrieved: 17 June 2013
- Clark 2012, p. 190.
- Glantz & Orenstein 1999, p. 28.
- Glantz & House 2004, pp. 28–29.
- Clark 2012, p. 204.
- Glantz 2013, p. 195.
- Clark 2012, p. 202.
- The Front's history.
- Clark 2012, p. 203.
- Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 22.
- Glantz & House 2004, pp. 64–65.
- Clark 2012, p. 211.
- Glantz & Orenstein 1999, pp. 41, 49.
- 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.
- Glantz & Orenstein 1999, p. 290.
- Glantz 1986, p. 20.
- Healy 2010, p. 74.
- Clark 2012, p. 208, Clark states 300 locomotives instead of 298..
- Barbier 2002, p. 58.
- Glantz & House 1995, p. 90.
- Clark 2012, p. 267.
- Clark 2012, p. 268.
- Clark 2012, p. 210.
- Gerwehr & Glenn 2000, p. 33.
- Glantz & Orenstein 1999, p. 241.
- Healy 2010, p. 78.
- Glantz & Orenstein 1999, p. 135.
- Healy 2010, p. 77.
- Clark 2012, p. 222.
- Clark 2012, p. 204, provides similar but more specific figures.
- Bergström 2007, pp. 79–81, 102, 106, 114, 118.
- 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..
- Clark 2012, pp. 475–477.
- Clark 2012, pp. 478–484.
- Frieser 2007, p. 100.
- Frieser 2007, p. 91.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 346.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 345.
- Glantz 1990, pp. 82–113.[verification needed] Reason for verification: the massive page range of 30 pages suggests a summary and perhaps speculative interpretation of the cited source
- Töppel 2001, pp. 33–34.
- Bergström 2007, pp. 124–125.
- Mulligan 1987, pp. 236, 254.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 81.
- Barbier 2002, p. 59.
- Clark 2012, p. 224.
- Clark 2012, p. 226.
- Clark 1966, p. 329.
- Clark 2012, pp. 227, 233.
- Glantz & House 2004, pp. 84–86.
- 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. 308-309.
- Clark 2012, p. 265.
- Clark 2012, p. 266.
- Clark 2012, pp. 120, 266.
- Münch 1997, pp. 50–52.
- Frieser 2007, p. 108.
- Clark 1966, p. 333.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 93.
- Rokossovsky, p. 266.
- Piekalkiewice, Unternehmen Zitadelle, p. 154.
- Keegan 2006, p. 72.
- Frieser 2007, p. 111.
- Overy 1995, p. 205.
- Restayn & Moller 2002, pp. 333–336.
- Overy 1995, pp. 204–205.
- Restayn & Moller 2002, p. 333.
- Frieser 2007, p. 107.
- Overy 1995, p. 204.
- Clark 1966, pp. 331–332.
- Clark 2012, p. 196.
- Frieser 2007, p. 112.
- Clark 2012, p. 197.
- Clark 2012, p. 237.
- Clark 2012, pp. 308–309.
- Healy 1992, p. 41.
- Frieser 2007, p. 113.
- Clark 2012, p. 238.
- Clark 2012, p. 240.
- Clark 2012, p. 241.
- Clark 2012, p. 242.
- 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.
- Glantz House, p. 102.
- Frieser 2007, p. 116.
- Wendt p.18
- Geheime Kommandosache
- Frieser 2007, p. 118.
- Manstein 1983, p. 500.
- Bergström 2007, p. 77.
- Healy 1992, pp. 84–87.
- Bergström 2007, pp. 79–80.
- Clark 1966, p. 337.
- Healy 1992, pp. 76–77.
- "чпеообс мйфетбфхтб – [чПЕООБС ЙУФПТЙС] – уБНУПОПЧ б.н. лТБИ ЖБЫЙУФУЛПК БЗТЕУУЙЙ 1939–1945". Militera.lib.ru. Retrieved 2010-08-06.
- Bergström 2007, p. 81.
- Brand 2003.
- Frieser 2007, pp. 130, 132.
- Glantz & Orenstein 1999, p. 275.
- Taylor & Kulish 1974, p. 171.
- Clark 1966, pp. 337–338.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 218.
- Manstein 1983, p. 504.
- Engelmann, Zitadelle p. 5.
- Carell & Osers 1966–1971, p. [page needed].
- Frieser 2007, p. 149.
- Magenheimer, die Militärstrategie Deutschlands 1940–1945 p.244
- Glantz & House 1995, p. 176.
- Glantz & House 1995, pp. 149–150.
- Glantz 1991, pp. 132–133.
- Glantz 1991, pp. 136–137.
- Zagola 1989, p. 6.
- Zagola 1989, p. 18.
- Zagola 1989, p. 7.
- Bergström 2007, pp. 48–49.
- Overy 1995, p. 192.
- Overy 1995, p. 207.
- Overy 1995, pp. 207–209.
- Hinley 1996.
- Frieser 2007, p. 188.
- Glantz & House 1995, p. 297.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 241.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 245.
- Frieser 2007, p. 196.
- Glantz & House 2004, p. 249.
- Glantz & House 1995, p. 70.
- Bergström 2007, p. 121.
- Liddell Hart 1948, p. 216.
- Liddell Hart 1948, p. 218.
- Frieser 2007, p. 82.
- Healy 2010, p. 366.
- Nipe 2010, p. vi.
- Glantz & Orenstein 1999, p. 274.
- Glantz & Orenstein 1999, p. 276.
- Glantz & Orenstein 1999, pp. 276–277.
- Healy 2010, p. 367.
- Frieser 2007, pp. 150, 200, and the pages onward.
- Bergström 2008, p. 121.
- Frieser 2007, p. 202.
- Frieser 2007, p. 151.
- Frieser 2007, p. 204.
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