Battle of Kursk

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Subject essay: James von Geldern

The Battle of Kursk, which involved the largest tank battle of the Second World War, was fought on the steppe of Kursk oblast between July 5 and August 23, 1943. It was initiated by the Germans who, in retreat after their spectacular defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad, concentrated 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. The Soviet forces, consisting of General K. K. Rokossovskii’s Army of the Center, General N. F. Vatutin’s Voronezh Army, and the reserve army of the Steppe Front under General I. S. Konev, numbered 1.3 million troops, 3,600 tanks, and 2,800 aircraft.

The German offensive, code named “Citadel,” involved two simultaneous thrusts against the Soviet-held northern and southern salients. Both were successfully repulsed, and by July 12, the Soviet forces had gone over to the offensive. On August 4, the city of Orel was liberated and by the 18th the German army took up defensive positions east of Bryansk. It had lost 30 of its 50 divisions and up to 500,000 men killed, wounded or missing in action. From its victory in the Battle of Kursk, the Soviet Red Army went on to liberate most of Ukraine in the autumn of 1943, marching into Kiev on November 6. Although Western historiography traditionally marks the beginning of the German downfall to the D-Day invasion of Normandy, the crushing defeat of Kursk makes a more likely turning point for the war.

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