The Battle of Kursk: Fields of Destruction

On July 5, 1943, the German Army launched Operation Citadel. It was an attempt to encircle and crush a bulge of Soviet troops concentrated in and around the city of Kursk. This bulge stretched for 150 miles from north to south, and jutted 100 miles west into German lines(https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Kursk). The Germans attempted to drive behind the bulge from both north and south, therein surrounding the Soviet forces at Kursk and eventually crushing them. In order to do this, the Germans had amassed some “50 divisions, two tank brigades, three tank battalions, and eight artillery assault divisions comprising 2,700 Tiger and Panther tanks, some two thousand aircraft, and 900,000 men in all”(http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1943-2/battle-of-kursk/). What could possibly go wrong?

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/Battle_of_Kursk_%28map%29.jpg
A map of the Battle of Kursk. Notice how the Germans gained little ground against the Soviet defenses.

Well for starters, the Soviets had anticipated such an attack. It seemed rather obvious that the giant bulge in their lines might try to be exploited! So to counter this, the Soviets withdrew the bulk of their forces from the bulge and set a nasty trap of minefields and anti-tank emplacements for their aggressors. When the Germans launched their assault, they made only 10 and 30 miles progress from the north and south respectively, losing many of their tanks in the process. With the Germans struggling to advance and vulnerable to counter-attack, the Soviets did just that! (https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Kursk).

https://www.historynet.com/the-battle-of-kursk-clash-of-the-tanks.htm
A column of infamous German “Tiger” tanks advance during the Battle of Kursk. The Tiger was one of the most feared tanks in Europe during the war, boasting up to 100mm of frontal armor and an 88mm main gun, it was all but impregnable to Soviet tanks except from the sides and rear.

On July 12, the Soviets began their counter-offensive, marking the beginning of the largest armored battle in the history of warfare. In all, around 6,000 tanks, two million men, and 4,000 aircraft would take part(https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Kursk). The combat took place mostly in and above the sprawling fields surrounding Kursk, making for an epic battle of man and machines. The Germans would go on to lose 30 of their 50 divisions, and some half of a million men(http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1943-2/battle-of-kursk/). The battle would draw to a close on August 23, marking the second in a string of Soviet major victories to come. The German army would not launch another comparable assault until the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944, which also failed miserably.

https://ludwigheinrichdyck.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/w-kursk-3-htsep06.jpg
Albeit grainy, this image shows a wave of Soviet T-34-85s along with infantry support advancing. The T-34-85 boasted an 85mm cannon, capable of engaging the feared Tigers frontally at close to medium ranges. Twentieth century problems require twentieth century solutions!

I found a personal account of the battle, at this location from a Soviet tank commander(https://iremember.ru/en/memoirs/tankers/fadin-alexander-mikhailovich/), and want to give a short excerpt from it:

“Three red signal flares soared up. After passing a few hundred meters we saw German tanks pushing forward. Both sides stared firing. Katyusha rockets swished over our heads and German defenses were wrapped in a cloud of dust. There we closed in. I couldn’t imagine that I would find myself in such a senseless, albeit well organized on both sides, slaughter. I feared I might get lost and run over one of the nearby friendly tanks! ” – Fadin Alexander Mikhailovich.

If this at all gets your blood pumping or you have the slightest interest in military history, please check out the link I left above. It contains some incredible stories and recollections from veterans of the Great Patriotic War! In creating this blog post, I spent at least an hour reading through some of these incredible accounts from Soviet men and women on this site(https://iremember.ru/en/).

To tie this whole post into the key concepts for this blog post, Kursk was the icing on the cake coming out of the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. Having been thwarted twice, and having lost some 800,000 men at Stalingrad alone, the Germans had no choice but to retreat(https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Stalingrad). The aforementioned Soviet victories showed the world, and more importantly the German army, that the Russians were not the disorganized band of peasants they were originally thought to be. Without those victories, I’m not sure that the Russian army would have been able to reach Berlin before the Western allies did.

https://rorytemplesoviethistory.files.wordpress.com/2020/04/d9300-1zzi3wjrz0mjwgey3gx9wwg.jpeg
A knocked out German “Ferdinand” tank destroyer at Kursk. For anyone with an interest in cars, the Ferdinand was designed by and christened after Ferdinand Porsche. Also known as the “Elefant”, notably for its massive size and weight, it was an impressive machine. However like many German tanks of the war, it was over-engineered. It boasted one main petrol powered motor, powering an electric motor and transmission for each tread, meaning it was a hybrid tank! Who knew tanks could be so eco-friendly? However it wasn’t, and it was prone to mechanical issues and constant breakdowns. Porsche eventually moved his engineering prowess into the automotive field, and the rest is history.

This post has been my favorite so far, wherein I’ve been able to apply some of my useless knowledge about tanks and WWII! I apologize in advance for my ramblings in the image captions, and hope that you found them and my post somewhat informative and pertinent to our studies!

Featured image link: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.historynet.com%2Fthe-crucible-at-kursk.htm&psig=AOvVaw3pAymDfzW8mIUFEuB-iS79&ust=1586803485985000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAIQjRxqFwoTCLDAyqjS4-gCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAf

19 thoughts on “The Battle of Kursk: Fields of Destruction

  1. The Battle of Kursk was such an important part of the Soviet victory in the Eastern front. It’s a shame that we don’t learn more about the Russian side of this war in high school. I think this post was fantastic and really captured the scale of the battle and it very much encompassed the doom of the German Reich by this point.

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    1. Hey Andrew thank you so much! I absolutely agree with you that I would have loved to learn more about the Eastern Front in high school. It’s a shame they focus so much on the Western narrative, and I think that Russian involvement gets downplayed to a shameful extent.

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  2. Hi Rory, great and informative blog post! I took a WW2 class last semester and learned about the Battle of Kursk. Our professor did not go into much detail and facts about the amount of tanks used and the many who died during this battle. I vaguely remember my professor saying that the Germans knew they would not win this war because of this specific battle.

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    1. Thank you for the kind feedback Siria! That’s awesome that you were able to take a WW2 class, I tried this semester but it wasn’t being offered. I would not be surprised that the German higher ups, not Hitler of course, came to that realization after Kursk given the fact that their panzers proved to be no match for the shear number of tanks that the Soviets could field. I’m glad that you found my post to be so informative!

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  3. This was a fantastic overview of Kursk! I don’t think I’ve ever really processed the number of men, weapons, and aircraft that were deployed in the battle. My post this week is focusing on tanks, and I ran into a stat saying that the Germans only produced about 6,000 Panthers, and 1,300 Tiger I tanks. To deploy a full third of that strength into one operation is astonishing.

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    1. Thank you so much Michael! It is really staggering that the Germans could pour so many resources and so much manpower into one operation, and I think that their thought process relied on their superior panzers. Despite the fact that the Soviets suffered much greater losses in terms of tanks, the Germans were outnumbered and outgunned by the mass produced and easily deployed Soviet tanks.

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  4. I agree with professor Nelson, you did a good job at going into the details of the battle highlighting your impressive knowledge of tanks, but also not losing sight of the bigger picture of what the battle represented. I find it interesting that the Soviets knew a battle was coming and decided to wait for the Germans to attack and waited for them to exhaust their forces then strike back!

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  5. Hey Rory! I really enjoyed reading your post! I was really interested about the Battle of Kursks when I was reading the Freeze text, and I think what’s so interesting about this battle is the turnaround you can see from the Russian army. At the begininning of the war, they were mediocre at best, so their ability to come back eventually and crush half a million Nazis is insane, and I think your “icing on the cake” paragraph covers this nicely. The graphic that you included of the battle was really interesting as well! Nice job!

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    1. Thank you so much Kendall, I’m glad that we both found Kursk to be so interesting! I thought that the graphic you mentioned really puts the whole thing in perspective since numbers on a page can often be glossed over. I really appreciate your feedback.

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  6. No apology needed and no rambling noted! Your post does a wonderful job of explaining the significance of the b. of Kursk without losing sight of the big picture. And I’m so glad you enjoyed reading materials on the “I remember” site. It’s such gripping stuff.

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    1. Thank you Dr. Nelson! I’m glad that you enjoyed my post, and I absolutely agree that the content on that site is awesome. I’m definitely going back to read some more of those accounts!

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  7. Rory, thanks for your post about the Battle of Kursk! I found your images, especially the map of the Battle of Kursk, to be great visuals. The personal account from the tank commander also helps put into perspective the chaos and “senseless slaughter” that persisted during this battle. I can also tell you spent a lot of time and effort in creating this awesome post which made it more enjoyable to read! Your post connects well with Chase and Chris Cesternino’s blogs in that you all wrote about the Battle of Kursk.

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    1. Hey Natalie, thank you for the kind feedback! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the visuals and my post, and thank you for pointing me in the direction of Chris and Chase. I will be sure to check out their posts!

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  8. Winning the siege and this battle was crucial to the Soviet Morale and to the allied forces. However, it is crazy to see the extent of Soviet casualties that were taken but the victory was still achieved. I liked reading about the tanks and I’m glad to see that hybrid tanks were actually a thing, who knew.

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  9. Your post was a nice read. You do a good job explaining the decisions of the Germans that led to their defeat at Kursk and how that tied into their eventual defeat in the war. I think the excerpt you included from the Soviet tank commander was fascinating and emphasises the confusion and chaos, but also sense of order, in the battle.

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