The Kursk battle took place in July 1943.The battle of Kursk refers to the Soviet and German operations on the Eastern Front of World War Two in the vicinity of the Kursk city. During the summertime the German forces were victorious, but during the winter months, the German advances were defeated by the Red Army. In February 1943 Germany suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad. A new target which was approximately a 160-mile Soviet salient that was located near Kursk was picked by the Nazi commanders as the Germans retreated from Stalingrad.
The objectives of the German commanders were to eliminate the Salient with pincers breaking through its southern and northern flanks to help them shorten their lines and as well as enable them to achieve another encirclement of Red Army forces.
An Operational Level Map
Manstein guided the German commanders. The Germans were guided on how they would attack Red Army offensive. According to Manstein, he suggested that the Red Army should be tricked to attack the Sixth from the South Army that re-establishing itself desperately and lead them to the basin of Donets which was in eastern Ukraine. After that, the commanders would then from the Kharkov turn south which was located at the Donets River which was on the eastern side and move towards Rostov so that they be in a position of trapping Red Army against the Sea of Azov in the wing that was placed in the southern.
On the other hand, the objective of the Soviet commanders was to attack in ahead of Kharkov and Orel to erase out the first attackers and probably result in an outbreak at the Pripyat Marshes region. Marshal Zhukov predicted the locations where the Germans were likely to attack, and therefore he wrote a statement to Stavka who was the General Staff of the Red Army and also directed on the strategy that the Red Army was supposed to follow. The supporters of the Red Army were the civilians. The civilians in that region helped the Red Army to lay approximately one million landmines whereby they dug about 5000 km of barriers of 175km in depth.
Review of the Tactical Situation
The Kursk terrain where the battle took place favored the defender greatly as there were no roadways that were improved and also there were many rivers that were flowing from east-west and also as a result of the heavy rains the area was muddy and several streams were swelled. The rural towns which were in that area played a significant role as they helped in defending, concealment and provision of cover to the defending forces. There were four major rivers in the area of operation which were the Svapa, Seim, Donets and Psel rivers. The smaller rivers and streams that had swelled after the rains were also a barrier for the German. During the Kursk battle, the weather greatly favored the Soviets. The sparse concealment and cover in the area of operation was also an aspect of terrain which helped the defender. The German had to deal with man-made barriers and natural barriers during the battle. The muddy roads made it difficult for the German to travel. The subsequent storms and the preceding cloud cover hampered the Luftwaffe as well in support of attacks during the German advances. The rivers helped the Russian defenses as they channeled the advances of the German into routes that were easily predictable by their opponents. The German was forced to divide themselves into two avenues of approach due to the terrain of the area. The Army Group Center was supposed to operate south and out of Orel city to Kursk ward. Through this, the attacking forces would be in a position of using a shorter route to Kursk and pass the Svapa and Seim rivers. On the other hand, the Army Group South was supposed to attack from the city of Belgorod which was to the northern side moving towards Kursk. Through this, the army would be in a position to use a short route to Kursk. The route used by the Army Group South was through the Prokhorovka city.
The key terrain in the Kursk battle was the Prokhorovka and Kursk cities. Kursk was a key terrain in the area of operations because it was located at the center and also the rear of the Kursk salient. Kursk was also the main railway hub and main road of that area. Losing the Kursk would have resulted in the Soviet salient being indefensible. If the German had managed to take the Kursk it would have resulted in the German army having a staging point which is ideal for operations in the future. The reason as to why the Prokhorovka city was considered as being a key terrain was because it was located along the attack route of the Army Group South. It was an obstacle to the German. Prokhorovka could act as a location for reinforcements as well as a supply node to the defenders because of its proximity to the rail line from Kursk and also it was centrally located.
The observation and the fire fields were considered good in the operations area. This was because the terrain where the battle took place was open farmland which had trees that were sparse which did not restrict the fields of fire nor observation. The farmland in the area of operation did not have any cover, and this helped the Russian defenders to have a clear observation of how they were supposed to attack the German defenders. The defenders of the Soviet used the scatters small trees and ravines to their advantage.
Comparing the Opposing Forces
The Germans deployed around 777,000 men, 7417 artillery pieces in 37 Infantry and Panzer Divisions, 2451 assault guns and tanks and 1800 aircraft. The Ninth Army was given the responsibility of attacking the Northern side. The Army Detachment Kempf and Fourth Panzer Army were supposed to attack the South. The armies were required to link around Kursk only. On the other hand, the Soviets packed forces into the Salient. In the North, they deployed 711,000 men at the Central Front, 1785 assault guns, and tanks.12453 pieces of artillery were strategically positioned behind mines which were approximately 80,000 mines. The Voronezh Front was supposed to attack in the south. The Voronezh Front consisted of 1704 tanks, 625,000 troops, over 130,000 mines and 9751 guns. The Soviets had higher chances to win the battle considering that they had more than 5000 tanks, 3500 aircraft, 31,000 guns and 1,900,000 men to attack the Germans.
The Germans were also in possession of indirect-fire artillery tracked which were self-propelled. Both the Germans and the Soviets had an approximately equal amount of strength regarding their artillery's strength. The Germans used weapons that were more technological and advanced as compared to the ones that they had been using in the past years. They both had the potential of terrifying their enemy's infantry by calling on rocket equipment. The Soviet used rocket equipment which was self-propelled as compared to the rockets that were owned by the Germans. The guards of the Soviets had been trained and had also been equipped with a level of intelligence that was superb.
The Germans lacked unity of command. The German army did not demonstrate the unity of command at the strategic level. It was not clear who was making decisions for the German army during the events that led up to the Kursk battle. Army chief of staff Zeitzler wrote the Citadel plan which was then endorsed by Von Kluge who was the commander of Army Group Center. The Security of the Germans was also compromised severally as they were preparing for Operation Citadel. This placed the Soviet in a better position as they were able to know the plans of the German.
Describing the Action
In the map below the blue arrow shows the main counter attack direction of the Soviet. The red arrows indicate the direction that the German used to attack and black arrows shows the salient and the bulge in the Soviet line that protruded into the territory of the German.
The attacking forces of the German were divided into two groups which were Army Group Center and Army Group South which had large mechanized forces, and they were armored. The Army Group Centre was supposed to start attacking south and put down the Soviet defenses who were around the Kursk city to be able to surround the other forces who were in the salient. The Army Group Centre would then join with the Army Group South to attack the Soviet forces who would be remaining and destroy them to help the German army be in a position of preventing further enemy offensive action and as well as retain the initiative. The German Army Group South was supposed to attack northeast and north from Belgorod with the same objective of destroying the Soviet army. The Army Group Centre had been provided with 1,200 assault guns and tanks which were mainly on a front of 30km initially. The Army Group South, on the other hand, had approximately 1,500 assault guns and tanks. The whole of the Eastern Front was part of these forces to increase the power of the combat to attack.
The Soviet who were the opposing forces in the battle formed the Voronezh and Soviet Central fronts. There was a coordinated defense in each front which had six belts which were well prepared. The commanders of the Soviet Central Front which were opposing the German forces were led by General Konstantin K.Rokossovsky while General Nikolai F.Vatutin led the Voronezh Front. The plan of the Soviet during the battle of Kursk was that they would fortify the salient and after defeating the attacking forces of the Germans, they would then start their counterattack. One of the Soviet advisories were the Lucy spy ring in Switzerland who gave Moscow a warning regarding the plans by the Germans.
The offensive of the German started in the South on July 4th as opposed to the plan as it was scheduled to start on 5th July in the morning. The battle started as well in the North as the German engineers were trying to remove some of the minefields that belonged to the Soviets. The Central Front of the Soviets started by releasing a bombardment that was massive to the Germans positions that were forming up as well as to the 9th Army artillery lines.
The 9th Army, in turn, tried to defend itself by attacking the first line of the Red Army in the north. Most of the strong points of the Red Army were able to defend themselves and hence were able to continue pinning down the German assault battalions and engineers. The strong points of the Soviets were concealed and positioned in a manner that was canning whereby the bark of an anti-tank gun bark which was then followed by slapping that was round into a vehicle that was leading was an indication that they were around. The Germans, on the other hand, arranged their tanks into wedges that were armored. The wedges had the Tiger, the Panther, and heavy vehicles at the tips which were then followed by the lighter tanks. Hoth changed his attack strategy as he considered the direct one as being obvious to be used on Kursk and therefore decided to attack from northeast towards the location of Prokhorovka and then move towards the north on Kursk. This assisted the Germans to overthrow the balance of the Red Army.
Operation Kutuzov took place in the north. The offensive operations of the Soviet were supposed to start after the Kursk offensive had exhausted the German's forces strength. Operation Kutuzov was launched on July 12th by the Soviets since the momentum of the Germans at the north had gone down. The operation was against the Group Centre Army that was on the northern side of the Kursk salient. The fighting in the north was at a climax in the areas of the hill 274 that was near Olkhovatka, hill 253.5 that was near Ponyri and hill 272 that laid on the south of Teploye. The Red Army defended these regions strongly and constantly brought reinforcement to those regions. The 11th Guards Army of the Soviet started countera...
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