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The Battle of Kursk

 

In the summer of 1943, despite the Stalingrad debacle, the Nazi leadership still had under its control almost the whole of Western Europe, most of the Ukraine, the whole of Belorussia, the Baltic region, and some of the Russian western regions. 

In this situation Hitler, still hoping to revive Germanys military fortunes, took the decision to mount a major assault on the Soviet salient around the city of Kursk in western Russia. The salient was a bulge in the Soviet lines that stretched 150 miles from north to south and protruded 100 miles westward into the German lines. The German high command planned a surprise attack on the salient from both north and south, hoping to surround and destroy the Soviet forces within the bulge.

The Germans had amassed over 900,000 men for the Battle of Kursk (5 July23 August 1943). However, the chief role in the assault was accorded to the panzer (tank) divisions: armed with 2,700 tanks and mobile assault guns, they were to break through the Soviet defense lines and make deep incursions into the Soviet rear. But the Soviet military command had surmised the German plan beforehand and had withdrawn their main forces from the vulnerable positions within the salient. The German assault started on 5 July but was soon slowed to a halt by deep antitank defenses and minefields, which the Soviets had prepared in anticipation of the attack. At the height of the battle on 12 July the Red Army began to counterattack, having built up by then a marked predominance of both troops and tanks. The Soviets soon developed a broad offensive that recovered the nearby city of Orel on 5 August and that of Kharkov (now Kharkiv, Ukraine) on 23 August. The battle entered military annals as the biggest tank battle in history, involving some 6,000 tanks: 3,306 Soviet tanks against 2,700 German tanks.

The Battle of Kursk marked the decisive end of the German offensive capability on the Russian Front and cleared the way for the great Soviet offensives of 194445. The Kursk victory put the strategic initiative firmly in the hands of the Red Army. Following only six months after the Stalingrad triumph, it demonstrated to the whole world that the defeat of Nazi Germany was now just a matter of time. To compensate the heavy losses suffered under Kursk, the German command was obliged to relocate ever more fresh divisions to the Russian Front. For instance, it felt compelled to transfer to Russia many of its panzer divisions stationed in Italy, replacing them with the heavily depleted infantry units routed by the Soviets. All this created favorable conditions for the USSRs Western Allies, which were able to invade southern Italy and launch the British-American advance into Italys central regions. The Kursk victory, the landing of British and U.S. troops in Italy, and the expulsion of the Italian and German armies from North Africa were all potent signs of the radical turn in the war.

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