The Battle of Kursk, fought from 5 July to 23 August 1943, marked a pivotal turning point on the Eastern Front during World War II. It remains one of the largest battles in military history, especially notable for its massive scale, the huge numbers of men and armored vehicles involved, and its outcome which permanently shifted the strategic initiative to the Red Army. The battle marked the first time that the Germans had been defeated in a major offensive operation. The German offensive, codenamed Operation Citadel, aimed to encircle and destroy the Soviet forces in the Kursk salient - a large bulge in the front line around the city of Kursk, roughly 500 kilometers south of Moscow.

Leading the German assault were some of their most skilled commanders and elite units. Army Group South, commanded by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, included the II SS Panzer Corps led by Paul Hausser. Hausser's corps was made up of three Waffen-SS divisions – the 1st SS Panzergrenadier Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Division Das Reich, and 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Division Totenkopf. Army Group Center, commanded by Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, contained the 9th Army under Walter Model, including the XLI, XLVI and XLVII Panzer Corps. The total German forces involved were 780,900 men, 2,928 tanks, 7,417 guns and 2,110 aircraft.

Against this, the Red Army amassed a force of 1,910,361 men from the Central Front under Konstantin Rokossovsky and the Voronezh Front under Nikolai Vatutin. They deployed 5,128 tanks, 31,415 guns and 3,549 aircraft. The Central Front included the 2nd Tank Army and the 9th and 19th Tank Corps. The Voronezh Front fielded the 1st Tank Army and the 2nd and 3rd Guards Tank Corps.

The German forces attempted to attack the northern and southern flanks of the salient and met with initial success, but they were soon bogged down by the Soviet defenses. The Red Army then launched their counter-offensive, Operation Kutuzov on the northern side and Operation Rumyantsev in the south. The 5th Guards Tank Army, positioned in the Steppe Front under Ivan Konev, was particularly effective in the south.

The scale of the tank battles during Operation Citadel was astounding. The Battle of Prokhorovka on 12 July, between the II SS Panzer Corps and the 5th Guards Tank Army, involved around 1,500 tanks and is sometimes claimed to be the largest tank battle in history. However, recent research suggests this figure is exaggerated and that, while the fighting was certainly fierce and losses heavy on the Soviet side, fewer than 500 tanks were involved, mostly T-34s on the Soviet side and German Panther and Tiger tanks.

Top photo: Kursk, Soviet Union. July 1943. Soviet Red Army infantry and armor in the fight.

Bottom photo: Kursk, Soviet Union. June 1943. German Panzer IV and Sd.Kfz. 251 halftrack. "Russland, Panzer IV und Schutzenpanzer in Fahrt." Source: Wikipedia and German Federal Archives.

After the German defeats at Prokhorovka and other sectors of the salient, Hitler canceled Operation Citadel on July 17. However, fighting continued into August as the Red Army pushed forward. The exhausted Germans eventually retreated from the salient. They had suffered 54,182 casualties and lost 252–323 tanks, while the Red Army lost 177,847 men and 1,614–1,956 tanks. Though the Germans, especially the Waffen-SS divisions, had fought well and inflicted heavy losses, they had been unable to break through the Soviet line or stop the following Soviet offensives, due largely to the Soviet superiority in numbers and defensive positions.

11028512273?profile=RESIZE_584xThe defeat at Kursk weakened the German Army, and they were never again able to launch a major offensive on the Eastern Front. The battle also demonstrated the effectiveness of Soviet defensive tactics and the superiority of their tanks and artillery. The Battle of Kursk demonstrated the shift in operational competency to the Red Army and resulted in a decisive Soviet victory that ended the German threat to the Eastern Front and turned the tide of World War II firmly in the Allies' favor. The German Army would never regain the strategic initiative after Kursk.


Glantz, David M., and Jonathan M. House. The Battle of Kursk. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999.

"Kursk WW2: Why Russia is Still Fighting World's Biggest Tank Battle." BBC Breaking News, World News, US News, Sports, Business, Innovation, Climate, Culture, Travel, Video & Audio. Last modified July 12, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48963295.

The Moscow Times. "On This Day: The Battle of Kursk Begins." The Moscow Times. Last modified July 5, 2019. https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2019/07/05/on-this-day-kursk-battle-a66291.

Timofeichev, Alexey. "The Battle of Kursk: How Hitler Lost His Last Hope for Winning WWII (PHOTOS)." Russia Beyond. Last modified 18, 2018. https://www.rbth.com/history/328785-battle-kursk-history-wwii.


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