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Home Historical events Preparations for the Decisive Battle of Kursk
In an attempt to take revenge for the defeat in the battles with the Red Army on the South-Western front, the Germans launched a counteroffensive under the command of Field Marshal Manstein.

As a result of fierce fighting, the enemy recaptured Kharkov, Belgorod and the north-eastern part of Donbass, recently liberated by Soviet troops. However, the German success was short-lived. Manstein never managed to break through to Kursk and surround the large groups of Soviet troops of the Central and Voronezh fronts.

In the spring of 1943, hostilities on the Soviet-German front temporarily ceased. The front-line units were weakened and were in desperate need of ammunition, fuel and reinforcements.

 

The General Staff decided to set up defensive fortifications, mobilize the necessary forces and means to carry out a strategic offensive operation.

 

The German troops also needed time to recover after their defeat.

The outcome of the war for both sides depended on their strategy for further action. The General Staff officers of both armies analyzed the situation and considered further developments, looking for weaknesses in the opponent's defences. The balance of power had changed after the battle of Stalingrad, which forced the German command to review its plans in order to regain strategic initiative. The loss of more than 100 Wehrmacht divisions in late 1942 and early 1943 had substantially reduced its combat potential.

 

Soviet forces had also suffered heavy losses, and the USSR went to great lengths to re-equip the army with new combat equipment and increase its strength. By the end of 1942, the beginning of 1943, the German army had lost its military and technical superiority. Now the Red Army had a greater number of tanks, aircraft and artillery guns. It had gained strategic initiative as well.

 

As a result of the winter offensive of the Red Army, the front line was pushed to the West and reduced almost by a third. By mid-1943, the front line went from the Barents Sea, by-passed Murmansk to the west, down to Lake Ladoga, on to Leningrad, then southward to Lake Ilmen, Novgorod, Velikiye Luki and Kirov. Then it went along the eastern ledge at Orel and round the deep wedge of the Kursk bulge. The front line then moved away to the south-east, north of Belgorod and Kharkov. From there, it went eastward to the south-east coast of the Azov sea, along the Donets and Mius rivers, coming out at Taganrog. From the Barents to the Black Sea in the spring of 1943, 12 Soviet fronts were opposed by four army groups of the Wehrmacht and German allies. The Soviet side had a 1.1 superiority in manpower, 1.4 in tanks,1.7 in artillery, 2 in combat planes.

 

A bulge protruded from the central section of the Soviet-German front near Kursk, which attracted the attention of both the Soviet and German sides. The German command planned an operation to surround the forces of the Voronezh and Central fronts. The bulge had extended the front line, cut across important communication routes of the Centre army group and could enable the Red Army to attack the Germans from the rear.

 

The enemy began preparing for the offensive bringing in forces to the Orel, Belgorod and Kursk bulge areas. The enemy's plan (code-named operation "Citadel") was to strike from both sides to cut off the Kursk bulge and destroy the Soviet troops there. Large forces from other parts of the front and formations from Germany, Norway and France were brought and deployed in the battle zone. Soviet intelligence revealed hidden enemy maneuvers to the north and south of the Kursk bulge. The Soviet commanders understood that without defeating the enemy forces at Kursk there would be no strategic offensive in the summer.

 

 

In March, the German command deployed shock troops in this area. For the attack on the Kursk bulge, which was about 600 km long, the German command deployed 50 divisions, including 16 armoured and motorized ones. The task force comprised over 900 000 troops, up to 10 000 guns and mortars, about 2700 tanks and assault guns, more than 2000 aircraft. The enemy particularly counted on the new heavy Tiger tanks and Panther medium tanks, as well as the heavy Ferdinand self-propelled guns.

 

 

The Soviet command in late March began preparations for the upcoming battle of Kursk. Marshal G.K. Zhukov, from the General Staff, arrived in the area of the Kursk bulge to assess the situation. Soviet intelligence had closely followed all the actions of the adversary This information was processed and analysed promptly in the General Staff, gradually revealing the plans of the enemy. Here is what Marshal A.M. Vasilevsky wrote about it:

Analyzing the intelligence on enemy preparations for the attack General Headquarters and Staff decided on setting up a defence ". But Marshal G.K. Zhukov in his report to the General Staff suggested to wear the enemy down at our defence lines, take out his tanks and then bring in fresh reserves to finish off the major enemy force. This proposal was supported by the Staff. The plan for the German defeat at Kursk involved organizing multi tier defence lines and skirmishes to harass the enemy with units of the Central and Voronezh fronts, and, consequently, launching a major counter-offensive with the troops of the Bryansk, Western, Central, the Voronezh and Steppe fronts.

 

The defensive and offensive operations of the battle of Kursk were intended to stop the German offensive and undermine the power of their tank formations, retain the initiative and launch a massive counter-attack turning into an overall offensive of the Red Army. The plan provided for two counter-attack operations: the Orel and the Belgorod-Kharkov ones.

 

After deploying fresh troops and equipment in the Kursk area , by early summer, for the first time since the war began, superiority over the enemy was achieved prior to their offensive . 1336000 troops, 19100 guns and mortars, 3444 tanks and self-propelled guns (including more than 900 light tanks) and 2900 aircraft were deployed at the Central ( Gen. Rokossovsky ) and Voronezh ( Gen. Vatutin ) fronts. In the rear of the two fronts, five conventional, a tank and air armies of the Steppe front ( Gen. Konev ) amassed on the Livny Stary Oskol boundary. The defence fortifications were 250-300 km into the rear. A total of 1500 anti-tank and 1700 anti-personnel mines were placed for every single kilometre of the front line. Several months of a tremendous amount of engineering work at the Central and Voronezh fronts resulted in about 10000 kilometres of trenches and tunnels having been dug. By early summer, everything was in place.