Battle of Kursk 1943: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives
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Not only do the photographs track the sequence of events on the ground, they also show the equipment and weapons used by both sides, the living conditions experienced by the troops, the actions of the Soviet partisans, the fight against the Finns in the north, the massive logistical organization behind the front lines, and the devastation the war left in its wake.
The Russian Army Carrello 0. Registrati Accedi Email Password Accedi. Prenota Richiedi informazioni Dillo ad un amico. Continua gli acquisti Della stessa collana Il tuo nome. Il tuo cognome. La tua email. Thus they deliberately sacrificed tactical surprise. Nikolai Fyodorovich Vatutin, after receiving reports that the German offensive was imminent, ordered Voronezh Front to bombard German positions on the night of July 4.
In the afternoon, Stuka dive bombers blew a two-mile-wide gap in the Soviet front lines on the north in a period of 10 minutes, and then turned for home while the German artillery opened up to continue the pounding. The II SS Panzer Corps launched preliminary attacks to secure observation posts, and again met with strong resistance, until assault troops equipped with flamethrowers cleared the bunkers and outposts. At , the Red Army hit back with an artillery bombardment in the north and south. This barrage by over 3, guns and mortars expended about half of the artillery ammunition for the entire operation.
The goal was to delay and disorganize the German attack. In the northern face, the Central Front artillery fired mostly against German artillery positions and managed to suppress 50 of the German batteries they attacked, resulting in much weaker German artillery fire on the opening day of the attack. This bombardment disrupted German units and caused them to attack at different times on July 5. In the south, the Red Army chose to fire largely against the German infantry and tanks in their assembly areas.
This was partially successful in delaying the German attack, but caused few casualties. The real operation opened on July 5, The Red Army, now aware even of the exact time of the planned German offensive, launched a massive attack by the Soviet Air Force on the Luftwaffe airbases in the area, in an attempt to counter the classic German tactic of eliminating local air support within the first hour of operation. The next few hours turned into possibly the largest air operation ever fought. The Red Army co-ordination of the attack had failed: Red Air Force fighters were dispatched too soon, arriving over German airbases too early and having to withdraw before the arrival of their bombers due to lack of fuel.
The German fighters had nothing to prevent them from taking off and engaging the approaching attackers;  the Red Air Force lost aircraft. The Luftwaffe directed an all-out effort against Red Army positions on the northern flank during the first day of the operation, while Soviet deployment errors granted the Luftwaffe initial air-superiority.
Battle of Kursk 1943
On July 6, huge air battles raged over the Northern sector. However, there was a lack of Soviet air-to-ground liaison officers, and effectiveness suffered. Counter-attacking Red Army units often took ground very quickly, and there was no effective system in place to inform the Soviet air fleets in time; as a result Soviet bombers attacked areas now occupied by Soviet forces, inflicting casualties. The initial air battles enabled the Luftwaffe to at least maintain a balance in numbers, if not air superiority, over the area held by 47 PanzerKorps.
The Luftwaffe concentrated most of its 1 Fliegerkorps units to this sector. The Soviet 17th Guards Rifle Corps reported "Appearing in formations of or even aircraft at a time, the enemy air force played a vital role in the battle". The air support the Germans gave their army was crucial. The enemy met our attacking tanks with fire from artillery and heavy tanks located in shelters as well as with air attack in which up to aircraft took part.
Consequently, and owing also to the losses they suffered, the brigades were withdrawn from combat and received orders to occupy a defense…along the line .
However, the Soviets did gain a notable success on July 6. The 47 Panzerkorps had broken cover and attacked the 17th Guards Rifle Corps and the 16th Tank Corps, and were out in the open and vulnerable to air attack. The Soviet attack was devastating to the tanks of 47 Panzerkorps. Flying as low as six metres the Soviets destroyed as many as 20 in this action, and 40 damaged, for the loss of one IL On July 5 these groups had flown and sorties, by July 6, this had dropped to and missions.
Most of the German combat missions were flown by fighters; although they continued to heavily outscore the Soviets, the continual pressure of Soviet aviation began to take its toll on the Luftwaffe and the Heer. Fliegerdivision 1, to 1, , but the Soviets, with a few exceptions, were able to prevent further heavy losses, and inflicted serious damage to German ground formations.
Soviet losses in the air of bombers and ground attack aircraft on 7 July were light. The Luftwaffe also conducted effective operations at low cost, claiming to destroy 14 Soviet tanks, 60 motorized vehicles, 22 artillery pieces and eight ammunition stores. A further 22 tanks were claimed damaged and 25 artillery guns "silenced. The 9th Army attack in the north fell far short of its objectives on July 5.
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The attack sector had been correctly anticipated by the Red Army Central Front. Attacking on a kilometer-wide front, the Germans found themselves trapped in the huge defensive minefields, and needed engineering units to come up and clear them under artillery fire.
Although a few Goliath and Borgward remote-control engineering vehicles were available to clear lanes in the minefields, they were not generally successful. Even when the vehicles cleared mines, they had no on-board marking system to show following tanks where the cleared lanes were. Red Army units covered the minefields with small arms and artillery fire, delaying German engineers clearing mines manually; German losses in the Red Army minefields were high. Although most of the lost vehicles were mobility kills rather than permanent losses, they were out of action until they could be repaired.
While idle they added nothing to German combat power and were easier for Red Army artillery to knock out permanently. Since the Germans were advancing, any repairable vehicles could be recovered, repaired, and put back into action. The Germans also noted a fundamental flaw in their armored vehicles, particularly the Elefant.
Although excellent against any Soviet tank at long to medium range, they lacked secondary armament and were vulnerable to attacks from Soviet slit trenches once separated from the heavy machine gun protection of the lighter tanks, vehicles and infantry. Guderian noted in his diary:. Once they had broken through into the enemy's infantry zone they literally had to go quail-shooting with cannons. They did not manage to neutralize, let alone destroy, the enemy's rifle and machine guns, so that our own infantry was unable to follow up behind them. By the time they reached the Soviet artillery they were on their own .
Review of attack frontages and depth of German penetration shows clearly that the Red Army defensive tactics were succeeding. Beginning with a kilometer-wide attack frontage on July 5, the next day the German 9th Army attacked on a kilometer front. This dropped to 15 kilometers wide by July 7, and only 2 kilometers on July Each day, the depth of the German advance slowed: 5 kilometers on the first day, 4 on the second, never more than 2 km each succeeding day.
By 10 July 9th Army was stopped in its tracks. A great deal of the Soviet defensive success was down to its method of fire control, known to the Germans as Pakfront. This relied upon a group of 10 or more anti-tank guns under a single commander, which would fire at a single target at a time. These positions were protected with heavy concentrations of mortar and machine-gun nests, which were ordered to fire on German infantry only.
On July 26, Model ordered a withdrawal from the Orel salient, to avoid another "cauldron. As German forces retreated they applied the "Scorched earth" policy, destroying everything of use to the advancing Soviets. After a week of heavy fighting, the Wehrmacht had advanced only 12 km. The Luftwaffe was called upon to halt the offensive, and its actions proved decisive to saving the German armies from encirclement. The Luftwaffe organized a massive aerial offensive to blunt the threat.
On July 16, the Luftwaffe flew 1, sorties, double that of the previous days. On July 17 further attempts to intervene on the battlefield were hindered by the arrival of an overwhelming Soviet aviation force. This forced German bombers to operate from higher altitudes, and bombing accuracy suffered. The Soviet 16 VA had greatly improved its organization and ground control methods, and its pilots were now improving their tactics.
The Soviets took advantage of their superior strength to initiate a series of huge aerial offensives against German positions, using waves of up to aircraft per strike. The limited engagement of the German bomber and ground attack units resulted in only 24 Soviet tanks and 31 lorries being destroyed. However the German fighter units destroyed 90 Soviet aircraft on that date, for 12 losses. Fliegerdivision had carried out 1, sorties that day. Another 1, sorties were flown on July 18, and the Junkers Ju 87 units took a heavy toll of Red Army tank forces; Ju 87s of StG 3 destroyed at least 50 tanks.
On July 19 the Luftwaffe initiated the aerial operation that, alone, would stop a Soviet breakthrough at Khotynets, which would have taken out a vital rail link, and severed the connection between the two German armies.
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Some Stuka pilots flew up to six missions on this date. The Fw equipped SchG 1 also contributed to the attacks with kg bombs. Mixed formations of Hs s and Ju 87s attacked the Soviet tank formations in three days of "relentless" action against the Is Tank Corps and 70th Tank Brigade.
Our "cannon aircraft" took a terrible toll of Soviet armor. We attacked at very low altitude…and my pilot opened fire at a distance of only 50 metres. Most of our attacks were made against the side of the tanks, because in that way they offered the largest targets. I know that some pilots attacked from behind because that was where the armor was weakest, but that also meant the target was so small that it was difficult to hit.
By this time Soviet tank crews appeared to be well aware of the potency of our "cannon planes. Occasionally we could see tank crews jump out of the hatches and abandon their tanks when we dived to attack them. The Soviet losses were so heavy that they were forced to retreat.
Tanks that had managed to reach German positions had been quickly routed. Fliegerdivision had claimed tanks put out of action on 19 July, with a total of 66 destroyed.
Battle of Kursk 1943: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives [Book]
The 1st Tank Corps had only 33 tanks remaining on 20 July. Army Corps. Once again the Luftwaffe contributed decisively. The Soviet fighter units in the area were disorganized due to constant redirections along the front, and as a result were overwhelmed by a concentrated attack by Luftwaffe forces throughout the day. Over 1, sorties were flown, and 38 Soviet tanks, 85 vehicles, eight tank transporters and ten pontoon bridges were destroyed for 13 losses.
The 9th Army had to withdraw, their part in the offensive over. Because the German armor was not concentrated and used with the same intensity as in the South, the German armor losses were comparatively light— armored vehicles were total losses in the period July 5 Few Red Army guns were captured, and those Red Army units that did retreat did so on orders. The German attack failed to penetrate beyond the Red Army tactical zone.
The offensive opened, as in the north, with a mass of air activity. German air attacks helped badly maul the Soviet 57th and 67th Guard Divisions. As the Luftwaffe shifted its attention against the 6th Tank Corps, it left the skies empty over the 4. In desperation, the Germans launched waves of Fw Fs of 4. Using SD-2 anti-personnel bombs, the Luftwaffe was able to inflict heavy losses to Soviet soldiers and "soft" vehicles.
G 1 noted: "It was impossible for us to count how many tanks we knocked out. SS Panzerkorps alone, and failed, with heavy losses. The Soviets lost approximately 90 machines on this date, while the Luftwaffe suffered 11 losses, mostly of which were Ju 87s. The Soviets began attacking German rear areas at night, with the 2 and 17 VA flying sorties in 24 hours. The armored spearhead of Hoth's 4th Panzer Army forced its way forward, and by the 6th had reached some 15 km past the lines.
Again, Red Army planning played a big role. In the south the Red Army had not been able to pinpoint the German attack sectors; this forced them to spread out their defenses more evenly. For example, three of the four Armies of the Voronezh Front had about ten antitank guns per kilometer of front; this contrasts sharply with the Central Front's distribution of guns, which was twice as heavy in the active sectors.
Also, the Voronezh Front made the decision to hold the tactical zone much more thinly, leaving a much higher proportion of units in deeper positions compared to the Central Front.
Finally, the Voronezh Front was weaker than the Central Front, yet it faced much stronger German forces. The German forces made steady progress against the Red Army defenses, but, as in the north, attack frontages width and penetration depth tended to drop as the attack proceeded. The trend was not as marked as in the north, however.
Beginning with a kilometer-wide attack frontage on July 5, this dropped to kilometers wide by July 7 and 15 km by July 9. Likewise, the depth of the penetration dropped from 9 km on July 5 to 5 km on July 8 and km each day thereafter until the attack was cancelled. Red Army minefields and artillery were again successful in delaying the German attack and inflicting losses. The ability of dug-in Red Army units to delay the Germans was vital to allow their own reserves to be brought up into threatened sectors.
Over 90, additional mines were laid during the operations by small mobile groups of engineers, generally working at night immediately in front of the expected German attack areas. There were no large-scale captures of prisoners nor any great loss of artillery, again indicating that Soviet units were giving ground in good order. Nevertheless, it was obvious that the threat of a German breakthrough in the south had to be reckoned with. The Steppe Front had been formed in the months prior to the operation as a central reserve for such an eventuality. Units of the Steppe Front began movement to the south as early as July 9.
This included the 5th Guards Tank Army and other combined-arms armies. The German flank, however, stood unprotected as the Red Army 7th Guards Army stalled Kempf's divisions, aided by heavy rain, after the Germans had crossed the Donets River. The 5th Guards Tank Army, reinforced with two additional Tank Corps, moved into positions to the east of Prokhorovka and had started to prepare a counterattack of their own when II SS Panzer Corps arrived and an intense struggle ensued.
The Red Army managed to halt the SS, but only just. Little now stood in the way of the 4th Panzer Army, and a German breakthrough looked like a very real possibility. The Soviets therefore decided to deploy the rest of 5th Guards Tank Army. Accounts of this battle remain shrouded in controversy and dispute. The original Soviet account of brave but reckless if ultimately successful mass Red Army assault on heavily armed German armor is now generally discounted; the most recent revisionist accounts suggest a complete Soviet debacle, with the Soviet charge on German armor disrupted not by German tanks but fundamentally because so many Ts fell down a Soviet anti-tank ditch.
On the morning of July 12, Hoth, determined to push for a breakthrough, scraped together the available reserves of the 4th Panzer Army and advanced on Prokhorovka at the same time that the 5th Guards Tank Army launched a series of attacks as part of multi-front counteroffensive scheduled for July 12 and in an attempt to catch the Germans off balance.
The SS and Guards units collided west of Prokhorovka in open country punctuated by farms, rolling hills and gullies. What happened next is open to debate with the release of new information from archives.
Battle of Kursk
In stifling heat an eight-hour battle began. The German units had tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces in the attack, with 90 percent operational. The German force found itself heavily outnumbered. After the battle was over, the Soviets held the area, and were able to recover their disabled tanks and wounded crews.
The battle can best be described as a very costly tactical loss but an operational draw for the Red Army. The air battle was also intense: von Manstein had intended it to be the decisive blow against the Red Army forces, preventing a breakthrough to Oboyan and Kursk.
The 5th Guards Tank Army had moved mainly at night, bringing tanks and 37 self-propelled artillery pieces into position at Staryy Oskol. The 17 VA could muster just over machines. SS Panzer Division throughout the day, causing significant damage to German armored formations.
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Although Soviet tank losses are unknown, a report from the 29th Tank Corps reported "heavy losses in tanks through enemy aircraft and artillery. The II SS was soon forced onto the defensive. Although the German formation held, it lost 50 percent of its armor in a prolonged engagement.
Significantly, earlier in the operation the attacking German units had been squeezed into ever-narrowing frontages by the defenders. Elite Red Army Guards Airborne units were holding firm on the flanks of the very narrow German penetration. The Germans could not squeeze many units into this narrow front, nor did they have the combat power to widen the penetration. Thus, as the attacking Corps moved forward, they continually lost strength due to the need to hold their own flanks.
While the German offensive had been stopped in the north by July 10, in the south the overall situation still hung in the balance, even after July