World War II in Europe. From Warsaw to Berlin. Part 9.1-Battle of Kursk


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Soviet soldiers in the trenches at the Battle of Kursk, 1943.

Iakov Bardin, Author

After the battles of Stalingrad and Rzhev, the Nazis were in big trouble. They had been kicked out of Africa, suffered the largest defeat in the bloodiest battle in history, and had only one chance to win against the USSR. That chance came in spring-summer 1943. The Soviet offensive after Stalingrad had created a huge curve near the town of Kursk. Hitler decided to start a massive offense there. His plan, called “Operation Citadel”, intended to encircle the Russian Central, and Voronezh fronts, create a huge hole in Soviet defenses, and attack Moscow. On April 15th, 1943, Hitler approved the plan. The”Kursk Curve”, and German plan of the offensive, “Operation Citadel.”

Thankfully, the Soviet General Staff did not just sit there. Instead, a meeting was held to determine where the Germans will attack during the summer of 1943. Marshal Zhukov (yes, he is the marshal now), proposed that the Nazi attack will come at Kursk, to surround and destroy the Soviet armies there. This made sense to everyone, but now, a new question appeared: should we attack now, or should we wear down the Germans in a brutal defensive fight, and then start a massive counter-attack? Zhukov managed to persuade Stalin to dig in the troops.

Soviet Soldiers digging trenches at Kursk in May-June, 1943.

Between April 15th, and June 5th (the start of the battle), soldiers dug 4,200 kilometers of trenches. This is more than the driving distance between Moscow and Madrid! More than that, the Soviets built a countless amount of forts along the trenches. If the USSR would have these defenses in 1941, the Germans would be annihilated.

But it was 1943, and Hitler had a trick under his sleeve: Tiger and Panther tanks, with SPG (Self-Propelled Gun/Artillery) Ferdinand. Neither T-34s, nor KVs could penetrate Soviet armor, while Tigers and Panthers could do so easily. Soviet generals knew that, but there was no time to replace tanks before the battle.

A German Tiger I & Panther tank (Operation Zitadelle). | Kursk, Panther tank, Tanks military
German tanks: Tiger 1 (on the left) and Panther (on the right)

On June 5th, at 1:00 AM, Soviet spies captured the Nazi soldier who confessed that, at 3 AM, German troops would go on the attack. When Zhukov and Stalin learned that, Zhukov proposed a pre-emptive artillery strike, a huge bombardment from all available artillery. When all the shells, Katusha (BM-13) rockets, fell on the Germans , they were in shock. It costed Germans 2 hours to re-organize, but on 5:00 AM, on June 5th 1943, German Forces went on the attack. The Battle of Kursk had begun.

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