The Battle of Kursk remains to this day, the largest ever tank battle; and the costliest day of aerial warfare in history.
The battle took place 280 miles south of Moscow during July and August 1943. Code-named ‘Operation Zitadelle’ this was Hitler’s final strategic offensive mounted on the Eastern Front during the Second World War. Their ultimate defeat gave the Soviet Red Army the strategic initiative for the rest of the war.
Hitler had declared in his orders of April 15th 1943
This offensive is of decisive importance. It must end in swift and decisive success. Every commander, every private soldier, must be indoctrinated with awareness of the decisive importance of this offensive. Victory at Kursk will be a beacon for the whole world.
For the offensive, Germany had had massed 990,000 troops, 10,000 artillery guns, 2,700 tanks and over 2,000 aircraft. Russia however was prepared. Their Intelligence had alerted them to the planned offensive and they knew exactly where it would take place. Facing Hitler\’s force would be 1,300,000 soldiers, 20,000 artillery guns, 3,600 tanks and 2,400 aircraft. This was going to be the \’Clash of the Titans\’
In preparation, the Soviets had laid 400,000 mines. 2,500 anti-tank mines and 2,300 anti-personnel mines for every square mile. They dug out thousands of miles of trenches and repaired more than 1800 miles of road.
Intelligence had also been obtained, indicating that the German offensive would begin at sunrise on July 5th. Deciding to pre-empt this attack, the Russians launched a massive artillery bombardment in the early hours of the morning of the 5th, taking the Germans completely by surprise.
With their plan of surprise attack now compromised, the Germans launched their attack at 04.30. The artillery barrage was followed one hour later with the main thrust of 500 heavy Tiger and Panzer tanks.
For the next 24 hours, the Germans tried to break through the Soviet defences. They gained 6 miles during that assault, but at a huge cost in terms of men and machines. 25,000 troops were killed or or wounded, 200 tans were destroyed and 200 aircraft were lost.
This ferocious battle continued relentlessly around the Kursk Salient until August 23rd. By which time over 500,000 Germans had been killed, wounded or were missing. The consequences were severe. From this point on in the war, Germany faced retreat from the continuing onslaught of the Soviet Red Army.