- Sputnik International
Get the latest news from around the world, live coverage, off-beat stories, features and analysis.

'Point of No Return' for Nazi Germany: 74th Anniversary of the Battle of Kursk

© Sputnik / Fedor LevshinMachine-gunners going to a firing position. The Kursk Bulge.
Machine-gunners going to a firing position. The Kursk Bulge. - Sputnik International
Lying 315 miles south of Moscow and straddling the Kur, Tuskar and Seym Rivers, Kursk is a small, picturesque Russian city, home to around 500,000 citizens and the world's largest known iron-ore reserve. However, between July 4, 1943 and August 23, 1943 it hosted a titanic showdown between Nazi Germany's Wehrmacht, and the Soviet Union's Red Army.

By 1943, Operation Barbarossa — the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union — was in dire straits. After several stunning initial successes, the Red Army had turned the tide in epic victories at Moscow in 1941, and Stalingrad in 1942, and the Wehrmacht was now in retreat.

Kursk was a last ditch effort, in which Nazi Germany committed unprecedented resources into tipping the balance of war in their favor — or at least stopping the inexorable advance of Soviet forces.

In all, 900,000 Nazi troops, 10,000 artillery guns, 2,700 tanks and 2,000 aircraft — roughly a third of German's entire military might — were concentrated there.

​The Nazis' aim was to encircle and crush five Soviet armies, a quintet that stood poised to smash Marshal Rokossovsky's Central Army and Marshal Vatutin's Voronezh Army in a brutal pincer movement. 

The Kursk Bulge - Sputnik International
The Kursk Bulge

While obviously a desirable military objective, the strategy had political considerations at its core — the Soviet leadership were becoming increasingly frustrated at the unwillingness of their Western allies to open up a second front, and ease the intense burden they had struggled under ever since 1941. Hitler knew success in the East could permanently derail the burgeoning association between the Soviet Union, US and UK.

Moreover, it would prove Nazi Germany had only been severely maimed, not fatally wounded, at Stalingrad.

Planning for operation began in February 1943, but Adolf Hitler was keen to delay the strike as long as possible, despite Field Marshal Erick von Manstein's desire to launch as soon as possible.

Knowing the role played by the unforgiving Soviet winter on Barbarossa, the Fuhrer wanted to bide time until the ground had thoroughly thawed — moreover, his love of the new Tiger tank, of which he thought one battalion was worth a division of any other tank, convinced Hitler to delay until more were available.

At a production rate of 12 per week, Manstein faced a long wait — during which the Red Army made their position virtually impregnable.

​Come July 4, Soviet forces were well prepared — in some areas they occupied, artillery regiments outnumbered infantry by five to one, with over 20,000 guns trained on the Wehrmacht, including over 6,000 76.2mm anti-tank guns and 920 Katyusha multiple rocket launchers.

Hand to Hand Combat and Burning Tanks at Battle of Kursk Reenactment

Moreover, with the help of Kursk's entire civilian population, the Red Army had dug around 5,000 kilometers of trenches, equipped with barbed wire, electrified obstacles and flamethrowers.

Some Soviet defensive zones were six kilometers deep, and 2,200 anti-tank and 2,500 anti-personnel mines had been laid across every single mile of the front, a density four times that which had defended Stalingrad.

In all, over half a million anti-tank mines and nearly 440,000 anti-personnel mines were laid.

Nonetheless, the Wehrmacht began their assault July 4 in the village of Prokhorovka. Fighting would last for 50 days.

World War II is a conflict heaving with mindboggling statistics, and Kursk gives birth to some of the most astonishing — a combined three million troops, eight thousand tanks and five thousand warplanes were involved, and its constituent clashes include history's biggest tank battle, and costliest single day of aerial warfare.

​When compared with the Battle of Britain, the Bulge, D-Day, El Alamein or Midway, the clash for civilization at Kursk is obscure in the West — rarely mentioned in mainstream discourse and seemingly recognized only by a few professional historians. However, those who possess even a cursory knowledge of Kursk are keenly aware of its seismic significance, and believe it to be the most significant clash of World War II.

In this June 6, 1944 file photo, first wave beach battalion Ducks lay low under the fire of Nazi guns on the beach of southern France on D-Day, June 6, 1944 during World War II. One invader operates a walkie talkie radio directing other landing craft to the safest spots for unloading their parties of fighting men. - Sputnik International
D-Day's 73rd Anniversary: Why Everything You Know About the Landings Is Wrong

Among them is the eminent Dennis Showalter — in his book Armor and Blood, Showalter concludes the fight was the Eastern Front's "transition point… its point of no return."

After Kursk, never again did the Nazis step bravely and confidently into a new day, pushed as they were into a virtually perpetual defensive standing in Europe.

Conversely, had the Wehrmacht prevailed, the tide of war could've been decisively turned in their direction — potentially leading to the defeat of the Soviet Union, and the triumph of Nazi Germany in Europe, if not the world itself.

When Western troops landed in Normandy, June 6, 1944, they met disheveled German forces with no air cover, lacking fuel and supplies — had the Red Army not triumphed at Kursk, the invading American, British and Canadian troops would have encountered the Nazis at full strength, and D-Day may well not have succeeded.

To participate in the discussion
log in or register
Заголовок открываемого материала