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Battle of Kursk

Battle of Kursk
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II

2nd SS Panzer Division soldiers, Tiger I tank, during the battle.
Date 5 July 1943 (1943-07-05) – 16 July 1943 (1943-07-16) (German offensive:1 week and 4 days)
12 July 1943 (1943-07-12) – 23 August 1943 (1943-08-23) (Soviet offensive: 1 month, 1 week and 4 days)
Location Kursk, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Soviets liberate territory along a 2,000 km (1,200 mi) wide front
 Germany  Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Erich von Manstein
Günther von Kluge
Hermann Hoth
Werner Kempf
Walther Model
Georgy Zhukov
Konstantin Rokossovsky
Nikolai Vatutin
Ivan Konev
  • 912,460 men[1]
  • 2,928 tanks[1]
  • 9,966 guns and mortars[2]
  • 2,110 aircraft[3]
  • 1,910,361 men[4]
  • 5,128 tanks[4]
  • 25,013 guns and mortars[2]
  • 2,792[5][3] to 3,549[6][4] aircraft
Casualties and losses
Operation Citadel:[5]
  • 54,182 men[7][6]
  • 323 tanks and assault guns destroyed,[8] and ~600 tanks and assault guns damaged[9]
  • 159 aircraft[7][10]
  • ~500 guns[7]

    • Approximately 198,000 MIA, KIA, & WIA (per German military medical data) [11]
    • Estimate 760 tanks and assault guns destroyed,[12]
    • 681 aircraft (for 5–31 July)[13]
Operation Citadel:[5]
  • 177,847 men[14]
  • 1,614[15] – 1,956[16] tanks and assault guns destroyed or damaged
  • 459[15] aircraft
  • 3,929 guns

Battle of Kursk:[7]

  • 254,470 killed, missing or captured
    608,833 wounded or sick[17][8]
  • 6,064 tanks and assault guns destroyed or damaged[18][9]
  • 1,626 [15] – 1,961 aircraft[16]
  • 5,244 guns[15]
The eastern front at the time of Operation Citadel. Orange areas show the destruction of an earlier Soviet breakthrough. Green areas show German advances on Kursk

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 during 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 counter-offensives, 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.[19] By eliminating the Kursk salient they would also shorten their lines of defence, taking the strain off their overstretched forces.[20] The plan envisioned an envelopment by a pair of pincers breaking through the northern and southern flanks of the salient.[21] Hitler thought that a victory here would reassert Germany's strength and improve his prestige with allies who were considering withdrawing from the war.[22] It was also hoped that large numbers of Soviet prisoners would be captured to be used as slave labour in Germany's armaments industry.[20]

The Soviets had intelligence of the German intentions, provided in part by British intelligence service and Tunny intercepts.[23][24][25] Aware months in advance that the attack would fall on the neck of the Kursk salient, the Soviets built a defence in depth designed to wear down the German panzer spearheads.[26] 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.[27][28][29] 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.[30] In addition, Soviet mobile formations were moved out of the salient and a large reserve force was formed for strategic counteroffensives.[31]

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.[32][33] 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.[34]


  • Background 1
    • German plans and preparation 1.1
    • Soviet plans and preparation 1.2
    • Contest for air superiority and air support of the ground forces 1.3
  • Opposing forces 2
    • Germans 2.1
    • Soviets 2.2
    • Comparison of strength 2.3
      • Operation Citadel 2.3.1
      • Soviet offensive phase 2.3.2
    • Preliminary actions 2.4
  • Operation along the northern face 3
  • Operation along the southern face 4
    • II SS Panzer Corps 4.1
    • Army Detachment "Kempf" 4.2
    • First day summary 4.3
    • The battle progresses 4.4
    • Battle of Prokhorovka 4.5
  • Allied Invasion in Sicily and Termination of Operation Citadel 5
    • Controversy 5.1
  • Soviet counteroffensives 6
    • In the north: Operation Kutuzov 6.1
    • In the south: Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev 6.2
  • Results 7
  • Casualties and losses 8
    • Soviet losses 8.1
    • German losses 8.2
  • Analysis of Citadel 9
    • Analysis of northern assault 9.1
    • Analysis of southern assault 9.2
    • Military historian opinions 9.3
  • Notes 10
  • Citations 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13


As the Battle of Stalingrad slowly ground to its conclusion, the Soviet army moved to a general offensive in the south, pressuring the depleted German forces. Hitler's belief that his own iron will would be the deciding factor in the conflict resulted in German forces being tied down in a rigid defence that did not permit them the liberty to move.[35][36] Since December, Field Marshall Erich von Manstein had been strongly requesting "unrestricted operational freedom" to allow him to use the forces in a fluid manner, a request which put him at odds with Hitler.[37] Time and again Hitler's policy of holding at all costs resulted in forces being left until their position was untenable, resulting in their being cut off and destroyed.[38] By January 1943, a 160 to 300 km (99 to 186 mi) wide gap had been created between Army Group B and Army Group Don. The advancing Soviet armies threatened to cut off all German forces south of the Don River, including Army Group A operating in the Caucasus.[39][40]
German soldiers in Orel pass by the Church of the Intercession, spring 1943
Meanwhile, Army Group Centre was under significant pressure as well. Kursk fell to the Soviets on 8 February, and Rostov on the 14th.[41] The Soviet Bryansk and Western Fronts, along with the newly created Central Front, prepared for an offensive which envisioned an encirclement of Army Group Centre extending between Bryansk and Smolensk.[39][42]

On 12 February, the remaining German forces were reorganized. To the south, Army Group Don was renamed Army Group South and its units placed under the command of Field Marshal Erich von Manstein. Directly to the north, Army Group B was dissolved, and its forces and areas of responsibility were divided between Army Group South and Army Group Centre. With this restructuring von Manstein inherited responsibility for the massive breach in the German lines.[43] January 1943 saw the arrival of the II SS Panzer Corps from France, refitted and up to near full strength.[44] Other armoured units from the 1st Panzer Army, part of Army Group A, which had slipped out of the trap of the Caucasus, further strengthened von Manstein's hand.[45]

By February the Wehrmacht was in danger of a general collapse. On 18 February, Adolf Hitler arrived at Army Group South headquarters, at Zaporizhia, hours before Kharkov was liberated by the Soviets. Hitler's distrust of the officers of the General Staff, and of von Manstein in particular, put him at odds with the high command of the Wehrmacht.[37][46] Though Hitler desired to relieve von Manstein and saddle him with the blame for Stalingrad and subsequent battles,[47] he soon realized he could ill afford to lose the man largely regarded as the most capable commander in the army.[48][36] Instead, Hitler grudgingly gave him the freedom he had requested.[37]
Waffen-SS soldiers aboard a Panzer IV in Kharkov, March 1943.
Once given freedom of action, von Manstein explained how he intended to concentrate his forces and make a series of counterstrokes to exploit the overstretched Soviets, with the goal of destroying the Red Army spearheads while retaking Kharkov and Kursk.[43][49] The Third Battle of Kharkov commenced on 19 February, spearheaded by the three SS divisions of the II SS Panzer Corps. Von Manstein's offensive cut off the Soviet spearheads, and then encircled and destroyed the main force. The Germans retook Kharkov on 15 March and Belgorod on 18 March.[49] The German offensive wrested the initiative from the Soviets. The 25 February offensive by the Central Front against Army Group Centre had to be abandoned by 7 March so that forces could be redeployed south to counter the threat of the advancing Germans.[50][51] Operations ceased by the end of March due to the onset of the spring rasputitsa and the exhaustion of the Germans. The exhaustion was mirrored in the Red Army.[52] The counteroffensive left a salient extending into the German area of control, centred on the city of Kursk.[52]

German plans and preparation

German plan of attack

Heavy losses sustained by the German military in the winters of 1941/42 and 1942/43 resulted in a marked shortage in artillery and infantry.[53] Units along the Eastern Front were 470,000 men below their establishment. For the Germans to undertake an offensive in 1943, the burden would have to be carried by the panzer arm. In view of the exposed position of Army Group South, von Manstein proposed that his forces should take the strategic defensive. He anticipated that a Soviet offensive would attempt to cut off and destroy Army Group South by a move across the Donetz River toward the Dnieper. In February, he proposed waiting for this offensive to develop and then deliver a series of counterattacks into the exposed Soviet flanks.[54] Hitler, concerned about potential political implications of taking a defensive stance and preoccupied with the economic potential of holding the Donetz basin, rejected this plan.[55] On 10 March, von Manstein presented Hitler with an alternative plan whereby the German forces pinched off the Kursk salient with an offensive commencing as soon as the spring rasputitsa had subsided.[56][57] On 13 March, Hitler signed Operational Order No. 5, which outlined the intended launch of several offensives, including one against the Kursk salient.[58][59] As the last Soviet resistance in Kharkov was reduced, von Manstein attempted to persuade Günther von Kluge of Army Group Centre to immediately attack the Central Front, which was defending the northern face of the salient, to keep the Soviets off balance and maintain the momentum. Von Kluge refused, noting that his forces were too weak to launch such an attack.[57] Von Manstein's SS Panzer Corps pushed on northwards and took Belgorod on 18 March, but further advances were blocked by Soviet forces that had been shifted down from the Central Front to an area north of Belgorod.[57][49] By mid-April, amid poor weather and with the German forces exhausted and in need of refitting, the offensives of Operational Order No. 5 could not be undertaken.[45][60]

Hitler's Operational Order No. 6, issued 15 April, called for the Kursk offensive operation to begin on 3 May or shortly thereafter.

The two new Panther battalions (the 51st and 52nd, and 200 tanks strong), which the offensive had been delayed for, were attached to the Großdeutschland Division in the XLVIII Panzer Corps of Army Group South. Arriving just prior to the launch of the offensive, the two units had little time to perform reconnaissance or to orient themselves to the terrain they found themselves in. This was a breach of the methods of the panzerwaffe, considered essential for the successful use of armour.[154][155][44] Though led by experienced panzer commanders, many of the tank crews were new recruits and had little time to become familiar with their new tanks and their temperamental transmissions, let alone train together to function as a unit. The two battalions came direct from the training ground and lacked combat experience.[156][157] In addition, the requirement to maintain radio silence until the start of the attack meant that the Panther units would have little training in radio procedures.[156] The new Panthers were still experiencing problems with their transmissions, and proved mechanically unreliable. By the morning of 5 July, the units had lost 16 Panthers due to mechanical breakdown, leaving only 184 available for the launching of the offensive.[158]

For their attack, the Germans used three armies along with a large proportion of their total tank strength on the Eastern Front. The 9th Army, of Army Group Center and based north of the bulge, contained 335,000 men (223,000 combat soldiers). In the south, the 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment "Kempf", of Army Group South, had 223,907 men (149,271 combat soldiers) and 100,000 men (66,000 combat soldiers) respectively. In total, the three armies had a total strength of 778,907 men, with 438,271 being combat soldiers. Army Group South was equipped with more armoured vehicles, infantry and artillery than the 9th Army.[152][153] The 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment "Kempf" had 1,377 tanks and assault guns, while the 9th Army possessed 988 tanks and assault guns.[153]


Opposing forces

In the months preceding the battle Luftflotte Six behind Army Group Center noted marked increase in the strength of the opposing VVS formations. These Soviet air groups showed indications of better training, improved equipment and increased aggressiveness.[151] The introduction of the Yakovlev Yak-9 and Lavochkin La-5 fighters gave the Soviet pilots near parity in equipment with the Luftwaffe. Furthermore, large numbers of ground attack aircraft (such as the Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik and the Pe-2) were available as well. In addition to Soviet designs, the Red Air Force contained large quantities of aircraft supplied by lend-lease. Huge stockpiles of supplies and ample reserves of replacement aircraft meant the Soviets would be able to conduct an extended campaign without slackening in the intensity of their effort.[148]

The changing strengths of the two opponents is underscored by operational changes made by the Luftwaffe at Kursk. Air operations in previous offensive campaigns were initiated with Luftwaffe raids conducted against opposing airfields to help achieve air superiority. By this point in the war, Soviet equipment reserves were extensive. The Luftwaffe commanders realized whatever aircraft they could destroy on the ground would be easily replaced by the Soviets within days, making such raids futile. For the Kursk battle, these missions were abandoned.[148] In previous campaigns, medium bombers – flying from well behind the frontline – had interdicted the arrival of Soviet reinforcements. However, this kind of mission was rarely attempted during Citadel.[148] Rather, the Luftwaffe confined its operations to the direct support of the ground forces.[149] The Luftwaffe continued to make use of the Junkers Ju 87G Stuka. A new development to this aircraft was the Bordkanone 3,7 cm calibre cannon, one of which could be slung under each wing of the Stuka in a gun pod. Half of the Stuka groups assigned to support Citadel were equipped with such weapons.[150] The air groups were also buttressed by the recent arrival of the Henschel Hs 129, with its 30 mm MK 103 cannon, and the ground attack ("jabo") version of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190.[146]

Luftwaffe flak units protected bridges and were drawn into the ground combat

By 1943, the Luftwaffe was still able to achieve local air superiority, but its strength was clearly weakening. The Luftwaffe command understood that for success to be found in Operation Citadel their support would be crucial, but their ability to project force was hampered by problems with supply shortfalls. Partisan activity, particularly behind Army Group Center, slowed the rate of re-supply and cut short the Luftwaffe's ability to build up essential stockpiles of petrol, oil, and lubricants. They were unable to stockpile reserves of aircraft and engines, meaning that they would be unable to replace damaged aircraft over the course of the operation.[144] Fuel was the most significant limiting factor.[145] To help build up supplies for the support of Citadel, the Luftwaffe greatly curtailed its operations during the last week of June.[146] Despite this husbanding of resources, the Luftwaffe did not have the resources to sustain an intensive air effort for more than a few days.[147]

Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 ground-attack aircraft.

Both the Luftwaffe and the V.V.S. (the Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily, or "Military Air Forces") were air forces designed with their primary mission being to support their respective ground forces. Though the V.V.S. was always much larger than the Luftwaffe, in the early part of the campaign in the Soviet Union the Luftwaffe had achieved complete air superiority and inflicted huge losses upon the Soviet Air Force. The Luftwaffe's extensive air support to the German ground forces was checked only when the advance pushed beyond the range of their most forward airfields.[142] Resupply by air of forward panzer units had been a Luftwaffe role since the start of the war, but the demand placed upon the Luftwaffe to resupply large isolated formations during the severe winter of 1941–42 and over Stalingrad the following winter cost the Luftwaffe a great deal in equipment and pilots.[143] These losses could not be easily replaced.

Contest for air superiority and air support of the ground forces

[101] This amounted to 26 per cent of the total manpower of the Red Army, 26 per cent of its mortars and artillery, 35 per cent of its aircraft, and 46 per cent of its tanks.[141][101] The main tank of the Soviet tank arm was the

M3 Lee lend-lease tanks at Kursk. Unpopular with its crews, the M3 was nicknamed "A coffin for seven brothers".

According to a Soviet General Staff report, 29 of the 35 major Luftwaffe raids on Soviet airfields in the Kursk sector, during June 1943, were against dummy airfields.[135] The Soviet deception efforts were so successful that German estimates issued in mid-June placed the total Soviet armoured strength at 1,500 tanks.[138][139] The result was not only a vast underestimation of Soviet strength, but a misperception of Soviet strategic intentions.[136]

The Soviets employed maskirovka (deception techniques) to mask defensive positions and troop dispositions and to conceal the movement of men and materiel.[133][134] These included camouflaging gun emplacements, constructing dummy airfields and depots, generating false radio traffic, and spreading rumours among the Soviet frontline troops and the civilian population in the German-held areas.[135] Movement of forces and supplies to and from the salient was carried out at night only. Ammunition caches were carefully concealed to blend in with the landscape. Radio transmission was restricted and fires were forbidden. Command posts were hidden and motor transport in and around them was forbidden.[136][137]

Special training was provided to the infantry manning the defences to help them overcome the tank phobia that had been evident since the German invasion.[129][130] Soldiers were packed into trenches and tanks were driven overhead until all signs of fear were gone.[17][130] The soldiers were also promised financial rewards for each tank destroyed, with the People's Commisariat of Defense providing 1,000 rubles for destroyed tanks.[131] In combat, the soldiers would spring up in the midst of the attacking infantry to separate them from the spearheading armoured vehicles. The separated armoured vehicles could then be disabled or destroyed at point-blank range.[130] These types of attacks were mostly effective against the Ferdinand tank destroyers, which lacked machine guns as secondary armament. If the armoured vehicles could be separated from their supporting infantry they became vulnerable to infantry armed with anti-tank rifles, demolition charges and Molotov cocktails.[132]

Soviet preparations included increased activity of partisans, who attacked German communications and supply lines.[125] The attacks were mostly behind Army Group North and Army Group Centre.[27] During June 1943, partisans operating in the occupied area behind Army Group Centre destroyed 298 locomotives, 1,222 rail wagons, and 44 bridges, and in the Kursk sector there were 1,092 partisan attacks against railways.[112][126][127] These attacks delayed the build-up of German supplies and equipment, and required German troops to be diverted to suppress the partisans, delaying their training for the offensive.[27] Many of these attacks were coordinated through the Central Partisan Headquarters. In June Soviet Air Forces flew over 800 sorties at night to resupply the partisan groups operating behind Army Group Center.[128] The VVS also provided communication and sometimes even daylight air support for major partisan undertakings.[125]

Nearly all artillery, including howitzers, guns, anti-aircraft and rockets, were tasked with anti-tank defence.[123] Dug-in tanks and self-propelled guns further strengthened the anti-tank defences.[114][123] Anti-tank forces were incorporated into every level of command, mostly as anti-tank strong points with the majority concentrated on likely attack routes and the remainder amply spread out elsewhere.[123] Each anti-tank strong point typically consisted of four to six anti-tank guns, six to nine anti-tank rifles, and five to seven heavy and light machine guns. They were supported by mobile obstacle detachments as well as infantry with automatic weapons.[124] Independent tank and self-propelled gun brigades and regiments were tasked with cooperating with the infantry during counterattacks.[124]

We can expect the enemy to put [the] greatest reliance in this year's offensive operations on his tank divisions and air force, since his infantry appears to be far less prepared for offensive operations than last year ... In view of this threat, we should strengthen the anti-tank defences of the Central and Voronezh fronts, and assemble as soon as possible.[102]

In his letter of 8 April, Zhukov warned that the Germans would attack the salient with a strong armoured force:

Red Army combat engineers laid 503,663 anti-tank mines and 439,348 anti-personnel mines, with the highest concentration in the first main defensive belt. More than 4,800 kilometres (3,000 mi) of trenches were dug, laid out in criss-cross pattern for ease of movement.[112][114] The minefields at Kursk achieved densities of 1,700 anti-personnel and 1,500 anti-tank mines per kilometre, about four times the density used in the defence of Moscow.[117][118][119] For example, the 6th Guards Army, of the Voronezh Front, was spread out over nearly 64 kilometres (40 mi) of front and was protected by 69,688 anti-tank and 64,430 anti-personnel mines in its first defensive belt with a further 20,200 anti-tank and 9,097 anti-personnel mines in its second defensive belt.[111][120][121] Furthermore, mobile obstacle detachments were tasked with laying more mines directly in the path of advancing armoured formations.[122] These units, consisting of two platoons of combat engineers with mines at division level and one company of combat engineers normally equipped with 500–700 mines at corps level, functioned as anti-tank reserves at every level of command.[123]

The Central and Voronezh Fronts each constructed three main defensive belts in their sectors, with each subdivided into several zones of fortification.[111] [112][113] The Soviets availed themselves of the labour of over 300,000 civilians.[16] Fortifying each echelon was an interconnected web of minefields, barbed-wire fences, anti-tank ditches, deep entrenchments for infantry, anti-tank obstacles, dug-in armoured vehicles, and machine gun bunkers.[114] Behind the three main defensive belts were three more belts prepared as fallback positions; the first was not fully occupied or heavily fortified, and the last two, though sufficiently fortified, were mostly not occupied.[115][116] The combined depth of the three main defensive zones was about 40 kilometres (25 mi). The six defensive belts on either side of Kursk were 130–150 kilometres (81–93 mi) deep.[116] If the Germans managed to break through these defences they would still be confronted by additional defensive belts to the east, manned by the Steppe Front. These brought the total depth of the defences to nearly 300 kilometres (190 mi).[115]

The Voronezh Front, commanded by Nikolai Vatutin, was tasked with defending the southern face of the salient. The Central Front, commanded by Konstantin Rokossovsky, defended the northern face. Waiting in reserve was the Steppe Front, commanded by Ivan Konev.[107][108] In February 1943, the Central Front had been reconstructed from the Don Front, which had been part of the northern pincer of Operation Uranus and had been responsible for the destruction of the 6th Army at Stalingrad.[109][110]

General Nikolai Vatutin

Stalin consulted with his front-line commanders and senior officers of the General Staff, from 12 to 15 April 1943. In the end he and Stavka agreed that Kursk was the likely German target.[103] Stalin believed the decision to defend would give the Germans the initiative, but Zhukov countered that the Germans would be drawn into a trap where their armoured power would be destroyed, thus creating the conditions for a major Soviet offensive.[104] They decided to meet the enemy attack by preparing defensive positions to wear out the German groupings, before launching their own offensive.[102][105] Preparation of defences and fortifications began by the end of April, and continued until the German attack in early July.[106][103] The two-month delay between the German decision to attack the Kursk salient and its implementation allowed the Red Army ample time to thoroughly prepare.[80][81]

In the first phase the enemy, collecting their best forces—including 13–15 tank divisions and with the support of a large number of aircraft—will strike Kursk with their Kromskom-Orel grouping from the north-east and their Belgorod-Kharkov grouping from the south-east...[99][100] I consider it inadvisable for our forces to go over to an offensive in the near future in order to forestall the enemy. It would be better to make the enemy exhaust himself against our defences, and knock out his tanks and then, bringing up fresh reserves, to go over to the general offensive which would finally finish off his main force.[101][102]
Marshal Zhukov

In 1943, an offensive by the Soviet Central, Bryansk, and Western Fronts against Army Group Centre was abandoned shortly after it began in early March, when the southern flank of the Central Front was threatened by Army Group South.[39][51] Soviet intelligence received information about German troop concentrations spotted at Orel and Kharkov, as well as details of an intended German offensive in the Kursk sector through the Stavka and Stalin, on 8 April, Zhukov wrote:

Soviet plans and preparation

As the Soviets waited and the Germans attempted to build up their forces, a three-month quiet period descended upon the Eastern Front. The Germans used this period for specialized training of their assault troops.[90] All units did unit training and combat rehearsals. The Waffen-SS had built a full-scale duplicate Soviet strong point that was used to practice the techniques for neutralizing such positions. During the lull, the panzer divisions continued to try to replace equipment shortfalls and get up to strength. The total German forces to be used in the offensive included 12 panzer divisions and 5 panzergrenadier divisions, four of which could boast tank strengths greater than their neighboring panzer divisions. However, the force was markedly deficient in infantry divisions, which were essential to hold ground and secure the flanks.[91] By the time the Germans initiated the offensive, their force amounted to around 777,000 men, 2,451 tanks and assault guns (70 per cent of the German armour on the Eastern Front), and 7,417 guns and mortars.[70][92][15]

A Raupenschlepper Ost, designed in response to the poor roads of Russia, moves material up shortly before the Kursk offensive.

Despite reservations, Hitler remained committed to the offensive. He and OKW, early in the preparatory phase, were hopeful that the offensive would revitalize German strategic fortunes in the east. As the challenges offered by Citadel increased, he focused more and more on the expected new weapons that he believed were the key to victory: principally the Panther tank, but also the Elefant tank destroyer and greater numbers of the Tiger heavy tank.[27] He postponed the operation, to await their arrival.[72][83] Receiving reports of powerful Soviet concentrations behind the Kursk area, Hitler delayed the offensive again to allow for more equipment to reach the front.[84] With pessimism for Citadel increasing with each delay, in June, Alfred Jodl, the Chief of Staff at OKW, instructed the armed forces propaganda office to portray the operation as a limited counteroffensive when the offensive finally did get underway.[85][79][86] Due to concerns of an Allied landing in the south of France or Italy and delays in deliveries of the new tanks, Hitler postponed again, this time to 20 June.[14] On 17–18 June, following a discussion in which the OKW Operations Staff suggested abandoning the offensive, Hitler further postponed the operation until 3 July.[87][85][88] Finally on 1 July, Hitler announced that 5 July would be the launch date of the offensive.[87][88][89]

Following this meeting, Guderian continued to voice his concerns over an operation that would likely degrade the panzer forces that he had been attempting to rebuild. He believed that the offensive, as planned, was a misuse of the panzer forces, as it violated two of the three tenets he had laid out as the essential elements for a successful panzer attack.[12] In Guderian's opinion, the limited German resources in men and materiel should be conserved as they would be needed for the pending defence of Western Europe. In a meeting with Hitler, on 10 May, he asked: "Is it really necessary to attack Kursk, and indeed in the east this year at all? Do you think anyone even knows where Kursk is? The entire world doesn't care if we capture Kursk or not. What is the reason that is forcing us to attack this year on Kursk, or even more, on the Eastern Front?" Hitler replied: "I know. The thought of it turns my stomach." Guderian concluded, "In that case your reaction to the problem is the correct one. Leave it alone."[82][13]

Guderian being transported to the eastern front, 1943.

In early May, Hitler called together his senior officers and advisors to Munich for a meeting. Hitler spoke for about 45 minutes on the current situation and the plans for the offensive. Model then spoke, and produced reconnaissance photos revealing some of the extensive preparations the Soviets had made in preparation for the attack.[76] A number of options were put forth for comment: going on the offensive immediately with the forces at hand, delaying the offensive further to await the arrival of new and better tanks, radically revising the operation or cancelling it all together. Von Manstein spoke against the offensive, but not forcefully. Albert Speer spoke of the difficulties of rebuilding the armoured formations and the limitations of German industry to replace losses. Guderian argued strongly against the operation, stating "the attack was pointless."[77] The conference ended without Hitler coming to a decision, but Citadel was not aborted.[73][78][79] Three days later OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht), Hitler's conduit for controlling the military, postponed the launch date for Citadel to 12 June.[79][80][81]

On 27 April, Model met with Hitler to review the reconnaissance information gathered and to express his concerns.[71] He argued that the longer the preparation phase continued, the less the operation could be justified. He recommended Citadel be completely abandoned, allowing the army to await and defeat the coming Soviet offensive. Failing that, he believed that Citadel should be radically revised.[72][73] Though in mid-April von Manstein had considered the Citadel offensive profitable, by May he shared Model's misgivings.[73][62] He asserted that the best course of action would be for the German forces to take the strategic defensive, ceding ground to allow the anticipated Soviet forces to extend themselves and allow the German panzer forces to counterattack in the type of fluid mobile battle that they excelled at.[74] Convinced that the Red Army would deliver its main effort against Army Group South, he proposed to keep the left wing of the army group strong while moving the right wing back in stages to the Dnieper River, followed by a counterattack against the flank of the Red Army advance. The counteroffensive would continue until the Sea of Azov was reached and the Soviet forces were cut off. This idea was rejected by Hitler, as he did not want to give up so much terrain, even temporarily.[74] Zeitzler was profoundly concerned with the delay till the second week of June,[75] but he was still in support of the offensive.[73][58]

Buchterkirch (left) in discussion with General Model.

[68][70].Walter Weiss, under the command of 2nd Army The western face of the salient was to be controlled by the [69], would advance on the left flank of the Waffen SS troops while Army Detachment "Kempf" would advance on the right.Otto von Knobelsdorff, commanded by XLVIII Panzer Corps. The Paul Hausser under the command of II SS Panzer Corps Von Manstein's main attack was to be delivered by Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, spearheaded by the [68][67][66], to penetrate the southern face of the salient. This force would drive north to meet 9th Army east of Kursk.Werner Kempf, under Army Detachment Kempf, and Hermann Hoth Von Manstein's Army Group South would commit the 4th Panzer Army, under [65] to form the northern pincer. It would cut through the northern face of the salient, driving south to the hills east of Kursk, securing the rail line from Soviet attack.9th Army's Walter Model that was directed at Kursk to surround the majority of the Soviet defenders and seal off the salient. Von Kluge's Army Group Centre was to provide General double envelopment The plan for the operation consisted of a [11] Some military historians and the German participants who wrote about it after the war, including von Manstein, make no mention of blitzkrieg in their characterization of the operation.[64] Others state that the operational planning marked a change in German offensive thinking away from blitzkrieg.[10] attack.blitzkrieg According to some military historians, the operation envisioned a [63] The plan was codenamed Operation Citadel.[63][62] For the plan to succeed it was deemed essential to attack before the Soviets had a chance to prepare extensive defenses or launch an offensive of their own.[61]

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