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Operation Citadel


Soviet Postage Stamp (1963) commemorating the USSR's victory at the Battle of Kursk

USSR Stamp - 20th anniversary of Battle of Kursk
By the Summer of 1943, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had been at war for two years. German forces had failed to crush the Soviets in the initial Barbarossa offensives, and their 1942 campaign had ended in disaster at Stalingrad (Volgograd). With the threat from the Western Allies increasing, the Germans intended to switch to a defensive strategy in the East, bleeding the Soviets white using a combination of prepared defensive lines and limited offensives.

In the Spring of 1943, the German Field Marshall, von Manstein, had defeated Soviet attacks in the South, and urged new attacks in the same area. The German General Staff instead decided to launch an offensive against a large salient in the Soviet lines around the town of Kursk, and hoped to trap about a fifth of the Red Army's manpower in this attack. Although initially conceived as a limited attack, the planned scale of the operation increased time and again over the next few months, with the date repeatedly pushed back so more German forces could be assembled. By July, the Germans had gathered around 50 divisions with about 800,000 infantry troops, and 2,700 tanks including brand new Tiger and Panther tanks, as well as the equally new Elefant self-propelled assault guns.

Soviet commander, Marshal Georgy Zhukov, guessed the probable site of the German attack as early as April, and his deduction was later confirmed by intelligence from the Lucy spy ring in Switzerland. The Soviets thus prepared a massive series of concentric defensive works, including over 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometres) of trenches and over 1,000,000 mines, defended by even more men and tanks than the Germans could muster.

When the German offensive did begin on July 4th, it was quickly blunted by the Soviet defenses, and within a few days it became clear that no German breakthrough would be forthcoming. On July 10th, the Western Allies landed in Sicily, and Hitler decided to discontinue the Citadel offensive, although some German attacks did continue for a few days more.

The Soviets then launched their own offensives to the North and South of the Kursk salient, rapidly driving the Germans back. From this point onwards, the Soviets gained the initiative in the East, and the Germans would never again launch a major offensive.

The Soviets attack at Orel after victory at Kursk:
The Soviets attack at Orel after victory at Kursk


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