Battle Spotlight #3: Operation Citadel

On the morning of July 5, Army Group Center surged across to try to close the Kursk salient by trapping it with a two prong assault. The resulting battle would be the largest tank battle in history, second only to the Falaise Gap.

After the disastrous Stalingrad campaign, Hitler was a shaken and debilitated man. His back was bent, and he was prone to angry outbursts and ill considered decisions. The inabillty to make rightful desicions might have explained why he decided to throw his troops into another massive battle with the Soviet Army. The plan was to attack with two prongs, cutting off the Kursk Bulge, in the middle of Army Group Centre and South. Field Marshall Von Manstein would lead the attack fro the South, and Field Marshall Model from the North. Luckily for Stalin, his intelligence “Lucy” had informed him of the attack. Instead of attacking, Stalin decided to prepare for the attack and build up his defenses.

Hitler would commit more than 700,000 men, 3000 tanks, almost 10,000 guns, and 2200 aircraft. The Panzer spearheads leading the charge would contain the new heavy tanks: (the Panther and the Tiger). Hitler initially planned for the attack to be on May 3, the Panther, which Hitler relied on to win the battle, had not yet “shed” development bugs. The Panther had a long range 75mm cannon, and had well sloped armor. The Tiger had  the 88mm cannon, but had poorly sloped armor. The Soviets realized even with their outstanding T-34, they needed another tank to counter the Panther and the Tiger. This led to the KV-85 heavy tank, with a 85mm cannon, and the JS-2, which had the 122mm cannon.

The Mark VI Tiger

The Mark V Panther

On the morning of July 5, the two forces attacked the bulge from the north and the south. Despite the preparations, the Soviets were overwhelmed by the initial onslaught of German armor. Reinforced by 2nd SS Panzer Corps, Von Manstein made better progress than Model. In the north, the Germans began to meet heavy resistance, facing 70 anti tank guns every km. Model decided to renew the offensive on the 10th of July with the 9th Army, but that force did not get far. By the end of 10th, the northern attack had been stopped.

The attack in the South, fared a little better. With the help of the SS divisions, the Southern force managed to gain more ground. The German force managed to push deep into the Bulge, but eventually they were stopped by the 69th Army and 5th Guards Army. While the north attack was thwarted July 10, the Southern force managed to hold their attack until July 16, when they retreated to their starting position.

The Battle of Kursk lasted from July 5- July 16, and resulted in a lot of German casualties. The two Army Groups were depleted, allowing the Red Army to make a counter attack, gaining more land and inflicting more German casualties.

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