The Battle of Kursk was a World War II engagement between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near Kursk (450 kilometres or 280 miles southwest of Moscow) in the Soviet Union in July and August 1943. The German offensive was code-named Operation Citadel (German: Unternehmen Zitadelle) and led to one of the largest armoured clashes in history, the Battle of Prokhorovka. The German offensive was countered by two Soviet counteroffensives, Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev (Russian: Полководец Румянцев) and Operation Kutuzov (Russian: Кутузов). For the Germans, the battle represented the final strategic offensive they were able to mount in the east. For the Soviets, the decisive victory gave the Red Army the strategic initiative for the rest of the war.
The Germans hoped to weaken the Soviet offensive potential for the summer of 1943 by cutting off a large number of forces that they anticipated would be in the Kursk salient assembling for an offensive. By eliminating the Kursk salient they would also shorten their lines of defence, taking the strain off of their overstretched forces. The plan envisioned an envelopment by a pair of pincers breaking through the northern and southern flanks of the salient. It was thought that a victory here would reassert Germany’s strength and improve her prestige with allies who were considering withdrawing from the war It was also hoped that large numbers of Soviet prisoners would be captured to be used as slave labour in Germany’s armaments industry.
The Soviets had intelligence of the German intentions, provided in part by British intelligence service and Enigma intercepts. Aware that the attack would fall on the neck of the Kursk salient months in advance, the Soviets built a defence in depth designed to wear down the German panzer spearheads. The Germans delayed the start date of the offensive while they tried to build up their forces and waited for new weapons, mainly the new Panther tank but also larger numbers of the Tiger heavy tank. This gave the Red Army time to construct a series of deep defensive lines. The defensive preparations included minefields, fortifications, pre-sighted artillery fire zones and anti-tank strong points, which extended approximately 300 km (190 mi) in depth. In addition, Soviet mobile formations were moved out of the salient and a large reserve force was formed for strategic counteroffensives.
The Battle of Kursk was the first time a German strategic offensive had been halted before it could break through enemy defences and penetrate to its strategic depths. Though the Soviet Army had succeeded in winter offensives previously, their counter-offensives following the German attack were their first successful strategic summer offensives of the war.
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Volkswagen Type 82 Kübelwagen (literally, tub or bucket car) WH-1276387 ‘Feldgendarmerie’ on the Eastern Front during’ Operation Citadel’, June 21, 1943.
Soviet troops manning a PTRD-41 Degtyaryov Anti-Tank Rifle under cover of a knocked out German Panzer V ‘Panther’ tank during the Battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943.
German plan of attack.
German penetration during the Battle of Kursk.
Modern Day Photos
Memorial on Prokhorovka Field near Kursk.
Black and White Photos
Tiger engaging a target at the Battle of Kursk.
Buchterkirch (left) in discussion with General Model.
German soldiers in Orel pass by the Church of the Intercession, Spring 1943.
Panther battalion attached to Großdeutschland Division.
2nd SS Panzer Division soldiers, Tiger I tank, during the battle.
Waffen-SS soldiers aboard a Panzer IV in Kharkov, March 1943.
German Panzer IV and Sdkfz 251 halftrack at Kursk.
Two Tiger tanks of “Totenkopf” and a StuG assault gun carrying infantry.
The conditions during the battle were hot and humid. Here, Alfred Kurzmaul, of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion, drinks water aboard a Tiger I during a lull in the fighting.
The crew of a Panzer III of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich rest during the Battle of Kursk.
German motorized troops prepare to move out.
Soldiers of the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf on the Eastern Front.
Tiger I tanks spearhead the assault in the northern sector at Kursk.
The commander of a Tiger I attached to 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich
Tiger tank Company Das Reich during the Battle of Kursk.
A Waffen-SS Tiger I lands a direct hit on a T-34.
Exhausted German soldiers pause during the fighting at Kursk.
German soldiers move along an anti-tank ditch, while pioneers prepare charges to breach it.
Panzer IIIs and IVs advance against the southern face of the salient
Heavy field howitzer 18 (15cm) near Kursk July 1942.
Thunderclouds over the battleground. Intermittent heavy rains created mud and marsh that made movement difficult at Kursk.
Wespes at the Battle of Kursk.
Luftwaffe flak units protected bridges and were drawn into the ground combat at Kursk.
Guderian being transported to the eastern front, 1943.
A Raupenschlepper Ost, designed in response to the poor roads of Russia, moves material up shortly before the Kursk offensive.
A Tiger tank undergoes repair from mine damage suffered early in the battle of Kursk.
German infantry pass a knocked out Soviet KV-1 heavy tank.
German soldier inspects a knocked out T-34 during the Battle of Kursk.
Soviet KV-1 heavy tanks prepare to counter-attack at Kursk.
Soviet PTRD anti-tank rifle team, during the fighting.
StuG III, Ausf G belonging to the 1. SS-Panzer-Division Leibstandarte in the area of Orel, July 1943 during the Battle of Kursk.
Russian soldiers inspect a captured GermanFerdinand during the Battle of Kursk.
Soviet troops follow their T-34 tanks during a counterattack.
M3 Lee lend-lease tanks at Kursk. Unpopular with its crews, the M3 was nicknamed “A coffin for seven brothers”.
Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 ground-attack aircraft.
The grave of Heinz Kühl, a German soldier killed at Kursk.
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