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Second World War Kursk 1943 - The greatest tank battle in history
Spring 1943, German Eastern Front: Almost two years have passed since the German Reich invaded the Soviet Union. The Wehrmacht has long since lost the aura of invincibility. The sinking of the 6th Army in Stalingrad on February 2, 1943 symbolically marks the turning point of the war. Hitler's campaign of conquest and extermination in the east failed.
Defensive on all fronts
Germany and its allies are increasingly on the defensive on other fronts as well. In Tunisia, on May 13, 1943, the German Africa Corps surrendered to the British and US Americans. An Allied attack on the south of Italy, including a withdrawal from the war by the allied Italians, threatens. In the Pacific, Germany's ally Japan fell on the defensive after the lost battle for the Midway Islands in June 1942.
South wing saved for the time being
After the defeat in Stalingrad, in which 300,000 German and allied soldiers fell or were taken prisoner, the entire German southern wing with well over a million men threatened to be cut off and destroyed by Soviet advances. But the advancing Soviet tank formations were instead cut off from their connections to the rear and in some cases completely wiped out. In the end, the Soviet troops at Stalingrad and in subsequent operations even suffer losses that are many times that of the German troops.
No strength for extensive operations
Nevertheless, after the extremely loss-making winter battles of 1942/43, the German military and even Hitler are aware that large-scale German operations such as 1941 and 1942 are no longer possible. Since 1941, the German army has not been able to make up for staff shortages. The annihilation of the 6th Army at the beginning of 1943 and the subsequent attrition fighting in the south of the Eastern Front dramatically exacerbated the already difficult situation of the German Eastern Army.
Pincer attack on the Kursk front arch
A debate therefore flares up among the German generals as to whether one should seek salvation in "striking from the hindquarters" - that is, in parrying opposing offensive acts - or still in "striking from the forehand" - that is, one's own offensive. Ultimately, the offensive idea prevails once again in the German leadership. The big blow against the Red Army is to take place near Kursk, a city in western Russia. Since the last winter fighting, a Soviet front arch has protruded far into the area occupied by the Germans. The German plan provides for the numerous Soviet units in the Kursk Bogen to be cut off from the hinterland in a great pincer movement and then destroyed.
Dispute about the right time to attack
Hitler and his military initially disagreed about the best time to launch the major offensive. The head of Army Group South, Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, whose troops are to advance on Kursk from the south, pleads for a quick strike. Other generals want to postpone the offensive as far back as possible. They argue that they need the time to equip their formations for the heavy fighting that is expected. Manstein, in turn, wants to liquidate the front arch before the "Russians" can develop it into a "fortress" through a deeply staggered defense system.
"The best associations, the best weapons"
In the end, Hitler decides to start the "Operation Citadel", the plan of attack for the offensive near Kursk, on July 5th. The upcoming battle is raised by the "Führer" to a question of prestige and fate, which is supposed to document the ability of the German army to still force a great victory. Hitler has particularly high hopes for newly supplied weapons such as the "Ferdinand" tank destroyer, which can shoot down enemy tanks from two kilometers away, the new "Panther" and the heavy "Tiger" tanks, which equate their Soviet competitors in terms of armor and firepower are clearly superior. "The best units, the best weapons," promised Hitler in his operational order for the "Citadel Operation".
Biggest battle of the Second World War
When the Kursk Battle broke out in the early morning hours of July 5, 1943, it actually developed into the largest battle of the Second World War and the largest tank battle in history, but also one of the largest aerial battles of mankind. Almost 800,000 German soldiers with almost 2,500 tanks and assault guns, almost 7,500 artillery pieces and almost 1,400 aircraft are to force the decision. They face around 1.9 million Soviet soldiers with almost 5,000 tanks and assault guns, over 31,000 guns and more than 3,600 aircraft.
Tank to tank near Prokhorovka
Although the Germans can partially compensate for the nominal superiority of the Soviets with better weapons and better tactical skills, the deeply staggered Soviet defensive positions and minefields in the Kursk Arc prevent the German soldiers from making rapid progress. Only in the south is it possible to indent the Soviet front 50 kilometers deep. On July 11th and 12th, near Prokhorovka, the largest tank battle of the entire operation takes place, in which the enemy tanks curve around each other at the closest range, shoot each other down and even ram them. Despite their superiority at Prokhorovka, the German associations did not succeed in cutting off the Kursk front arch.
Termination after strong counter-offensives
When the Soviet Army broke through the German front north of the arch near Orel on July 12 and a major offensive in the direction of Donetsk began a few days later, the Army High Command broke off the "Operation Citadel" on July 16. By then, the Germans will have to complain about 54,000 men killed, wounded and missing. By August 23, the total German casualties on the Eastern Front even rose to over 200,000 men. The Soviet side lost almost 178,000 soldiers by July 16 and around 863,000 soldiers by August 23 in the Kursk battle and in the subsequent operations.
However, while the Soviet Army can still make up for its losses, the German army's offensive power in the east has finally been broken. From now on it only goes back. At the end of 1944, the war against the Soviet Union, which began on June 22, 1941, reached German soil for the first time.
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