The title of Martin Caidin’s 1974 historical past of the Battle of Kursk continues to be evocative, with its imagery of Nazi Germany’s vaunted Tiger tanks in flames.
Tigers burning brightly are only one legend of the epic July 1943 battle between Germany and Russia. There are lots of extra: The Best Tank Battle in Historical past, the Turning Level of World Struggle II, The Loss of life Trip of the Panzers, Russian tanks ramming German tanks in a mechanized orgy of destruction….
All very colourful, and all principally or partly unfaithful.
Kursk is the Santa Claus and Easter Bunny of World Struggle II battles, whose in style historical past was constructed from German and Soviet propaganda, and based mostly on early accounts missing important data buried in Russian archives till after the autumn of the Soviet Union. Kursk was certainly an epic battle, that pitted 3 million German and Soviet troopers and eight,000 tanks, all crammed right into a small portion of southern Russia.
After the catastrophe at Stalingrad in February 1943, the Purple Military pushed the Germans again all the way in which throughout southern Russia, till a Panzer counteroffensive in March halted the Russian advance. As spring mud and mutual exhaustion introduced operations to a detailed, the entrance strains solidified with a 120-mile-wide Russian salient bulging into German strains close to the town of Kursk.
Germany had a selection: wait to be hammered by one other offensive from the Russian steamroller, or take the initiative by launching its personal offensive. In the meantime, the clock was ticking after the November 1942 Western Allied landings in North Africa signaled that Germany would quickly be compelled to separate its armies between Japanese and Western Europe.
In 1941, Germany had been sturdy sufficient to assault on a thousand-mile-front from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Now the Germans might solely muster sufficient troops to focus on a slim sector. An apparent goal was the Kursk salient, so apparent actually that any Russian basic with a map might guess the German goal (as well as, Moscow was tipped off by the “Lucy”). In impact, Kursk was the primary Battle of the Bulge, however on a a lot bigger scale than the Individuals confronted in December 1944.
High commanders akin to Erich Von Manstein needed to assault in Could, earlier than the Soviets had time to dig in and reinforce the salient. However a nervous and indecisive Hitler determined to postpone Operation Citadel till July, to permit time to deploy his vaunted new Panther, Tiger and Elefant tanks. Whereas the massive cats lumbered off the railroad automobiles close to the entrance strains, the Germans managed to amass almost 800,000 males, 3,000 tanks, 10,000 weapons and mortars, and a couple of,000 plane. It could be the final time the Germans might focus such an assault pressure (by comparability, on the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans had 400,000 males and 600 tanks). But as traditional, the Germans had been outnumbered. They confronted 1.9 million Soviet troopers, 5,000 tanks, 25,000 weapons and mortars and greater than 3,000 plane.
Citadel was a prophetic identify for the German offensive. The Soviets used the additional time to construct an extremely dense protection system of a number of layers of fortifications, together with trenches, bunkers, tank traps and machine gun nests 25 miles deep, in addition to minefields that averaged greater than 3,000 mines per kilometer.
Kursk was not an imaginative battle. The Germans attacked an apparent goal, the Soviets fortified the plain goal, and the German offensive on July 4, 1943 was a conventional pincer transfer in opposition to the north and south base of the salient to chop off the defenders inside. Regardless of help by 89 Elefants (a Porsche model of the Tiger that the German military rejected), the northern pincer rapidly slowed down after advancing just some miles. However the southern pincer, led by the II SS Panzer Corps, managed to advance 20 miles to the city of Prokhorovka, till its advance was checked by the Soviet Fifth Guards Tank Military.
On July 10, Anglo-American troops landed on the seashores of Sicily. Two days later Hitler knowledgeable his generals that he was canceling the offensive and transferring the SS Panzer divisions to Italy, to repel any Allied landings on the Italian peninsula.
The German offensive was over. However the Soviets had solely simply begun. Stavka, the Soviet excessive command, used primarily the identical trick that had labored at Stalingrad. It waited till the Germans had concentrated their forces at Kursk, and exhausted themselves in opposition to the Russian defenses. Then the Purple Military launched a counteroffensive that punctured the weakly held German strains at Orel, north of Kursk, and Belgorod to the south. Thus the Germans discovered their pincer operation squeezed on both aspect by a Soviet pincers, in yet one more masterful instance of the Soviet present for timing a number of offensives to maintain the Germans off stability.
As they’d do for the subsequent 22 months, the Germans retreated. The Battle of Kursk was over. The battle over the historical past of Kursk was not.
So let’s explode a few of the hype about Kursk:
There have been numerous flaming tanks at Kursk. They had been principally Russian. Loss estimates for Kursk are fuzzy, however historians David Glantz and Jonathan Home estimate the Germans misplaced 323 tanks destroyed, or about 10 % of the tanks dedicated to the offensive (and a fraction of the 12,000 tanks and self-propelled weapons the Third Reich in-built 1943). Many German tanks broken by mines or Soviet weapons, or that broke down, had been subsequently recovered.
The Soviets misplaced no less than 1,600 tanks, a 5:1 ratio in Germany’s favor. The Germans in all probability misplaced 45 tanks at Prokhovoka, most of which had been subsequently recovered and repaired. The Soviets could have misplaced 300 tanks destroyed and one other 300 broken, a 15:1 ratio in Germany’s favor.
As for Tigers at Kursk, the Germans deployed 146. Solely 6 had been destroyed.
Provided that the German offensive bumped into maybe probably the most intensive fortified zone in historical past, after which fought in opposition to the numerically superior Soviet tank pressure, Panzer losses had been remarkably mild. It was the German infantry, which as in most armies took probably the most casualties and acquired the least glory, that was roughly dealt with at Kursk.
2. Kursk was not a turning level of the struggle:
The Germans might blame their defeats at Moscow and Stalingrad on the Russian winter, overstretched provide strains and incompetent Rumanian and Italian allies. Kursk demonstrated that the Purple Military might maintain its personal in opposition to absolutely rested and geared up German troops combating in good climate. Extra vital, Kursk confirmed that the momentum on the Japanese Entrance had modified. From June 1941 till July 1943, the tempo of the Russo-German struggle was principally decided by German offensives and Soviet responses. After Kursk, the Germans remained on the defensive, their elite Panzer divisions consistently transferring up and down the Japanese Entrance to plug Soviet breakthroughs and rescue encircled German troops.
But the momentum on the Japanese Entrance had already shifted six months earlier at Stalingrad, the place a complete German military, and several other hundred thousand German and satellite tv for pc troops, had been erased from the Axis order of battle. Kursk was bloody: the German offensive alone value 54,000 Germans and 178,000 Soviet casualties — but there have been no main encirclements or surrenders. Kursk was a battle of attrition moderately than decisive maneuver. Each armies had been broken but each remained intact.
The Purple Military had turn out to be too competent to let the German Panzers slice and cube them as in 1941. And except Germany might win the form of victories it achieved in 1941, and stuffed the POW cages with 1,000,000 Soviet prisoners, it’s arduous to see how Kursk might have been decisive. If the Germans had destroyed a number of Soviet divisions and eradicated the Kursk salient, the Soviets would merely have rebuilt their energy and attacked elsewhere. By 1943, there have been merely not sufficient German troops to beat the Soviet Union or to solidly defend a thousand-mile entrance.
3. Prokhorovka was not the Best Tank Battle in Historical past:
The assembly engagement between the II SS Panzer Corps and the fifth Guards Tank Military at Prokhorovka has been lauded as historical past’s best tank battle, in all probability as a result of it concerned SS Panzer divisions and a handful of Tigers. The precise battle solely pitted about 300 German tanks in opposition to roughly 800 Soviet autos. The largest tank battle in historical past could also be Dubna, in June 1941, the place 750 German tanks defeated 3,500 Soviet autos.
4. The Purple Military was nonetheless inferior to the German Military:
The Purple Military in 1943 had come a great distance since its pitiful efficiency in 1941-42. However regardless of the postwar propaganda, Kursk confirmed the Soviets nonetheless had a protracted solution to go. As Russian Kursk professional Valeriy Zamulin demonstrates in “Demolishing the Fantasy: The Tank Battle at Prokhorovka, Kursk, July 1943,” Soviet tactical efficiency was clumsy and troop morale was brittle. Although the Purple Air Power was capable of present some help, its efficiency was additionally missing: for instance, a shock strike on German airfields on July 5 rapidly became a turkey shoot for the Luftwaffe fighter aces.
Navy principle holds that the attacker ought to outnumber the defender three-to-one, and that combating via dense fortifications will render an assault ever extra pricey. The actual fact was that the Germans had been outnumbered at Kursk, and fought via a number of trench strains and minefields, but inflict thrice as many casualties and destroy thrice as tanks and plane because the Germans themselves misplaced.
5. It was the Soviet counteroffensive that bled the Germans:
Accounts of Kursk are inclined to give attention to the dramatic German assault and determined Soviet protection. But as was the case all through the struggle, German losses had been comparatively mild so long as they remained on the offensive, the place they might use their skills for battlefield flexibility and improvisation to the utmost. It was when the Germans had been on the protection, the place that they had much less room to maneuver and had been susceptible to large artillery barrages, that they tended to take heavy casualties.
The Germans misplaced about 50,000 males throughout their tried breakthrough. They could have suffered one other 150,000 casualties through the twin Soviet offensives — Operations Kutuzov and Rumyantsev — in mid-July via August. German tank losses weren’t extreme throughout their offensive, however as soon as the lengthy retreat to the Reich started, tools continuously needed to be deserted or blown up.
6. Soviet tanks did not ram German tanks at Kursk:
The story might be apocryphal. Even contemplating the Purple Military’s bravery and self-discipline, making an attempt to ram one other tank earlier than it blows you to smithereens can be an act of battlefield Darwinism.
7. Kursk was an Anglo-American victory in addition to a Soviet one:
Simply because the SS Panzers had been about to realize a decisive breakthrough — or so Von Manstein claimed — an Anglo-American amphibious pressure landed on Sicily. Hitler referred to as off Operation Citadel and transferred the SS Panzer divisions to Italy. The timing was coincidental. The Anglo-Individuals did not land on Sicily to help the Soviets at Kursk, nor might they’ve mounted a big amphibious invasion on such brief discover. However the sensible impact was to attract German troops from the Japanese Entrance at a important time.
Pointing this out takes nothing away from the bravery and talent of the Purple Military, any extra that it disparages the Western Allies to level out that the Soviets fought and destroyed the majority of the German military. However at the moment, as America and Russia confront each other, it’s value remembering there was a time when each nations cooperated to avoid wasting the world from a brand new Darkish Ages.
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