70 years ago the Great Battle of Kursk began. The battle on the Kursk Bulge in its scope, forces and means involved, tension, results and military-strategic consequences is one of the most important battles of the Second World War. The Great Battle of Kursk lasted 50 incredibly difficult days and nights (July 5 - August 23, 1943). In Soviet and Russian historiography, it is customary to divide this battle into two stages and three operations: the defensive stage - the Kursk defensive operation (July 5-12); offensive - Oryol (July 12 - August 18) and Belgorod-Kharkov (August 3 - 23) offensive operations. The Germans called the offensive part of their operation "Citadel". About 2,2 million people, about 7,7 thousand, participated in this great battle on the part of the USSR and Germany. tanks, Self-propelled guns and assault guns, over 29 thousand guns and mortars (with a reserve of more than 35 thousand), more than 4 thousand combat aircraft.
During the winter 1942-1943. the offensive of the Red Army and the forced withdrawal of the Soviet troops during the Kharkov defensive operation 1943 was formed. Kursk ledge. The Kursk Arc, a projection facing west, was as wide as 200 km and as deep as 150 km. During April - June 1943, an operational pause came on the Eastern Front, during the course of which the Soviet and German armed forces were tensely preparing for the summer campaign, which was to be decisive in this war.
On the Kursk salient were the forces of the Central and Voronezh fronts, threatening the flanks and rear of the German army groups Center and South. In turn, the German command, creating powerful attack groups on the Oryol and Belgorod-Kharkiv bridgeheads, could inflict strong flank attacks on the Soviet troops defending in the Kursk area, surround them and destroy them.
Plans and forces of the parties
Germany. In the spring of 1943, when the enemy’s forces were exhausted and there was a debauchery, nullifying the possibility of a quick attack, it was time to prepare plans for the summer campaign. Despite the defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad and the battle for the Caucasus, the Wehrmacht retained its offensive power and was a very dangerous opponent who longed for revenge. Moreover, the German command held a series of mobilization events and by the beginning of the summer campaign of 1943, compared with the number of troops at the beginning of the summer campaign of 1942, the number of Wehrmacht increased. There were 3,1 million people on the Eastern Front, without taking into account the SS troops and the Air Force, almost as many as 22 million people were in the Wehrmacht before the start of the campaign to the East on June 1941, 3,2. In terms of the number of formations, the Wehrmacht of the 1943 model was superior to the German armed forces of the 1941 period.
For the German command, unlike the Soviet, a waiting strategy, pure defense was unacceptable. Moscow could afford to wait with serious offensive operations, time played on it - the power of the armed forces grew, enterprises evacuated to the east began to work (they even increased production, compared to the pre-war level), the guerrilla struggle in the German rear spread. The probability of the Allied armies landing in Western Europe, the opening of a second front grew. In addition, it was not possible to create a solid defense on the Eastern Front, stretching from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea. In particular, Army Group South was forced to defend 32 by divisions up to 760 km long, from Taganrog on the Black Sea to the Sumy area. The balance of forces allowed the Soviet troops, if the enemy was limited only to defense, to conduct offensive operations on various sectors of the Eastern Front, concentrating the maximum amount of forces and means, pulling up reserves. The German army could not adhere only to defense, it was the way to defeat. Only a maneuver war, with breakthroughs of the front line, with access to the flanks and rear of the Soviet armies, allowed us to hope for a strategic turn in the war. Major success on the Eastern Front allowed us to hope, if not for victory in the war, then for a satisfactory political decision.
Adolf Hitler 13 March 1943 of the year signed the operational order number 5, where he set the task to preempt the Soviet army and "impose its will on at least one of the front sectors." In other sectors of the front, the task of the troops is to bleed the attacking forces of the enemy on the defensive lines created in advance. Thus, the strategy of the Wehrmacht was chosen in March 1943. It remained to determine where to hit. Kursk ledge emerged at the same time, in March 1943, during the German counteroffensive. Therefore, Hitler in the order number 5 and demanded the application of converging attacks on the Kursk ledge, wishing to destroy the Soviet troops stationed on it. However, in March 1943, the German troops in this area were significantly weakened by previous battles, and the plan of attack on the Kursk ledge had to be postponed indefinitely.
15 April, Hitler signed Operational Order No. 6. Operation "Citadel" was planned to begin as soon as weather conditions allow. Army Group South should strike from the Tomarovka-Belgorod line, break through the Soviet front at the Prilepa-Oboyan line, connect at Kursk and east of it with the connections of the amy group Center. Army Group "Center" struck from the line of Trosna - the area south of Maloarkhangelsk. Her troops were to break through the front in the Fatezh-Veretenovo sector, concentrating their main efforts on the eastern flank. And to connect with the Army Group "South" in the area of Kursk and east of it. The troops between the strike groups, on the western flank of the Kursk salient, the forces of the 2 Army, were to organize local attacks and when the Soviet troops retreated, immediately go on the offensive with all their might. The plan was pretty simple and obvious. They wanted to cut off the Kursk ledge by converging blows from the north and south - on 4, the day was supposed to be surrounded and then destroyed by Soviet troops (Voronezh and Central Front). This made it possible to create a vast gap in the Soviet front and intercept the strategic initiative. In the Eagle region, the main strike force was represented by the 9 Army, in the Belgorod region, the 4 Army and the Kempf task force. Operation “Panther” was to follow the operation “Citadel” - a blow to the rear of the South-Western Front, an attack in the northeast direction in order to reach the deep rear of the central group of the Red Army and create a threat to Moscow.
The start of the operation was scheduled for mid-May 1943. Army Group-General Marshal Erich von Manstein, the commander of Army Group South, believed that it was necessary to strike as early as possible, preventing the Soviet offensive in the Donbas. He was supported by the commander of the Army Group Center, Field Marshal Gunter Hans von Kluge. But not all German commanders shared his point of view. Walter Model, the commander of the 9 Army, had enormous prestige in the eyes of the Führer and 3 prepared a report in May, expressing doubts about the possibility of successfully carrying out Operation Citadel if it began in mid-May. The basis of his skepticism was intelligence data on the defensive potential of the opposing 9 Army of the Central Front. The Soviet command prepared a deeply echeloned and well-organized line of defense, reinforcing artillery and anti-tank potential. And the mechanized units diverted from the forward positions, removing the enemy from a possible strike.
3-4 in May, Munich discussed this report. According to the Model, the Central Front under the command of Konstantin Rokossovsky had almost double the superiority in the number of combat units and equipment over the 9 of the German army. The 15 infantry divisions of the Model had a number of infantry half the size of the regular ones; in some divisions, 3 from the 9 regular infantry battalions were disbanded. Artillery batteries instead of four had three guns, and in some batteries 1-2 guns. By May 16, the 9 Army's divisions had an average "combat strength" (the number of soldiers directly involved in the battle) in 3,3 thousand people. For comparison, the 8 infantry divisions of the 4 tank army and the Kempf group had a “combat strength” at the level of 6,3 thousand people. And the infantry was needed to crack the defensive lines of the Soviet troops. In addition, the 9 Army experienced serious transport problems. Army Group South, after the Stalingrad catastrophe, received units that were re-formed in the rear in 1942. The Model was mainly infantry divisions, which were on the front with 1941 year and needed urgent replenishment.
The report of the Model made a strong impression on A. Hitler. Other military leaders could not put forward serious arguments against the calculations of the commander of the 9 th army. In the end, we decided to move the beginning of the operation by a month. This decision of Hitler will then become one of the most criticized by the German generals, who shoved their mistakes at the commander-in-chief.
Otto Moritz Walter Model (1891 - 1945).
It must be said that although this delay led to the strengthening of the strike power of the German troops, but the Soviet armies were seriously strengthened. The balance of forces between the Model army and the Rokossovsky front from May to early July did not improve, and even worsened for the Germans. In April, the 1943 Central Front numbered 538,4 thousand people, 920 tanks, 7,8 thousand guns and 660 aircraft; in early July - 711,5 thousand people, 1785 tanks and self-propelled guns, 12,4 thousand guns and 1050 aircraft. The 9 Army Model in the middle of May had 324, 9 thousand people, about 800 tanks and assault guns, 3 thousand guns. In early July, the 9 Army reached 335 thousand, 1014 tanks, 3368 guns. In addition, it was in May that the Voronezh Front began to receive anti-tank mines, which would become a real scourge of German armored vehicles in the Battle of Kursk. The Soviet economy worked more efficiently, replenishing troops with technology faster than German industry.
The plan for the offensive of the 9th Army from the Oryol direction was somewhat different from that typical of the German school of admission - the Model was going to break the enemy’s defenses with infantry, and then bring tank units into battle. The infantry was supposed to attack with the support of heavy tanks, assault guns, aviation and artillery. Of the 8 mobile units that the 9th Army had, only one was immediately introduced into the battle - the 20th Panzer Division. In the zone of the main attack of the 9th Army, the 47th Panzer Corps was to advance under the command of Joachim Lemelsen. The strip of his advance lay between the villages of Gnilets and Butyrki. Here, according to German intelligence, there was a junction of two Soviet armies - the 13th and 70th. In the first echelon of the 47th Corps, the 6th Infantry and 20th Panzer Divisions advanced, they struck on the first day. In the second echelon were located more powerful - 2nd and 9th tank divisions. They should have been introduced already in the breakthrough, after breaking the Soviet line of defense. In the direction of the Ponyrei, on the left flank of the 47th Corps, the 41st Panzer Corps advanced under General Joseph Harpe. The 86th and 292nd infantry divisions were in the first echelon, and the 18th Panzer Division was in reserve. To the left of the 41st Panzer Corps was the 23rd Army Corps led by General Frisner. He was supposed to deliver a distracting blow with the forces of the 78th assault and 216th infantry divisions in Maloarkhangelsk. On the right flank of the 47th Corps, the 46th Panzer Corps of General Hans Zorn was advancing. In its first strike echelon there were only infantry formations - the 7th, 31st, 102nd and 258th infantry divisions. Three more mobile formations - the 10th motorized (tank-grenadier), 4th and 12th tank divisions were in reserve of the army group. After von Kluge, they had to transfer them to the Model after breaking the strike forces into the operational space behind the defensive lines of the Central Front. It is believed that the Model did not initially want to attack, but was waiting for the Red Army to advance, and even prepared additional defensive lines in the rear. And he tried to keep the most valuable mobile units in the second echelon, so that, if necessary, he would transfer him to a site that would collapse under the blows of Soviet troops.
The command of Army Group South was not limited to striking Kursk by the forces of Colonel-General German Goth's 4 Tank Army (52 Army Corps, 48 Armored Corps and 2 CC SS Corps). In the north-east direction, the Kempf task force under the command of Werner Kempf was to attack. The group was facing east along the Seversky Donets River. Manstein believed that as soon as the battle began, the Soviet command would throw into battle strong reserves, located east and northeast of Kharkov. Therefore, the attack of the 4 tank army on Kursk should have been secured from the eastern direction from suitable Soviet tank and mechanized formations. The Kempf Army Group was to have General X-NUMX-X (42-X, 39-I and 161-I infantry divisions) of General Franz Mattenklot keep the line of defense on the Donets. Her 282 Tank Corps, led by General of the Tank Forces Herman Bright (3, 6, 7 Tank and 19 Infantry Divisions) and 168 Army Corps, General of Tank Forces Erhard Raus, before starting operations and until July 11 was called the Routh Special Reserve Command Reserve (20, 106 and 198 infantry divisions), were to provide active operations to ensure the offensive of the 320 tank army. The Kempf group was planned to subjugate another tank corps, which was in the reserve of the army group, after it captured a sufficient area and secured freedom of action in the northeast direction.
Erich von Manstein (1887 - 1973).
Command of Army Group South was not limited to this innovation. According to the memoirs of the Chief of Staff of the 4 Tank Army, General Friedrich Fangor, at a meeting with Manstein 10 - 11 in May, the offensive plan was adjusted at the suggestion of General Goth. According to intelligence data, a change in the location of Soviet tank and mechanized forces was observed. The Soviet tank reserve could quickly join the battle, passing into the corridor between the Donets and Psel rivers in the Prokhorovka area. There was a danger of a strong blow to the right flank of the 4 tank army. This situation could lead to disaster. Got believed that it was necessary to introduce into the oncoming battle with the Russian tank forces the most powerful force that he had. Therefore, the Paul Hausser 2 Tank Corps is part of the 1 Tank Grenadier Division of the SS Leibstartart Adolf Hitler, the 2 Tank Grenadier Division of the Reich SS and 3 Tank Grenadier Division of the SS Totem Grenadier Division of the Reich Tank Tank Grenadier Division and the XNUMX Tank Tank Grenadier Division of the SS Reich and the XNUMX Tank Grenadier Division of the SS Reich Dead Head ”) should not now have moved directly north along the Psel River, he should have turned north-east to the Prokhorovka area to destroy the Soviet tank reserves.
The experience of the war with the Red Army convinced the German command that there would certainly be strong counterattacks. Therefore, the command of Army Group "South" tried to minimize their consequences. Both decisions - the strike of the Kempf group and the turn of the 2 SS tank corps towards Prokhorovka had a significant impact on the development of the Battle of Kursk and the actions of the Soviet 5 Guards Tank Army. At the same time, the division of the forces of Army Group South to the main and auxiliary strike in the northeast direction deprived Manstein of serious reserves. In theory, Manstein had a reserve — Walter Nering’s 24 tank corps. But he was a reserve of the army group in case of the Soviet offensive in the Donbas and was located quite far from the point of impact on the southern face of the Kursk salient. As a result, it was used to defend the Donbass. He did not have any serious reserves, which Manstein could immediately enter into battle.
For offensive operations, the best generals and the most combat-ready units of the Wehrmacht were recruited, a total of 50 divisions (including 16 tank and motorized) and a significant number of individual formations. In particular, shortly before the operation, the 39 tank regiment (200 Panther) and the 503 battalion of heavy tanks (45 Tigers) arrived in Army Group South. From the air, the shock groups supported the 4 th air fleet of the General-Marshal of the Air Force Wolfram von Richthofen and the 6 th air fleet under the command of Colonel-General Robert Ritter von Graeme. In total, more than 900 thousand soldiers and officers participated in Operation Citadel, about 10 thousand guns and mortars, more than 2700 tanks and assault guns (including 148 new T-VI Tiger heavy tanks, Panther X-VUM tanks and 200 assault guns "Ferdinand"), near 90 aircraft.
The German command placed great hopes on the use of new types of military equipment. Waiting for new technology was one reason why the attack was postponed to a later time. It was assumed that the heavily armored tanks (the Soviet researchers "Panther", which the Germans considered the medium tank, considered to be heavy) and self-propelled guns will become a ram for the Soviet defense. The medium and heavy T-IV, TV, T-VI tanks that came into service with the Wehrmacht, the Ferdinand assault guns combined good armor protection and strong artillery weapons. Their 75-mm and 88-mm guns with the 1,5-2,5 km direct shot range were about 2,5 times the range of the 76,2-mm gun of the main Soviet T-34 medium tank. At the same time, due to the high initial velocity of the projectiles, the German designers achieved high armor penetration. To combat the Soviet tanks, armored self-propelled howitzers that were part of the artillery regiments of the tank divisions were used - 105-mm Vespa (German. Wespe - "wasp") and 150-mm Hummel (German. "Bumblebee"). German combat vehicles had excellent Zeiss optics. The German Air Force received new Focke-Wulf-190 fighter jets, Henkel-129 fighter jets. They were to win air supremacy and carry out assault support for the advancing troops.
Self-propelled howitzers "Vespe" ("Wespe") 2-th battalion of the artillery regiment "Great Germany" on the march.
Stormtrooper Henschel Hs 129.
The German command tried to keep the operation in secret, to achieve a surprise strike. To do this, they tried to misinform the Soviet leadership. Conducted enhanced training operations "Panther" in the band of the army group "South". They carried out demonstrative reconnaissance, threw tanks, concentrated transport means, conducted active radio communications, stepped up their agents, spread rumors, etc. On the contrary, they tried to conceal all actions as much as possible, to hide them from the enemy. The events were carried out with German thoroughness and methodicalness, but they did not give the desired results. The Soviet command was well informed about the impending offensive of the enemy.
German shielded tanks Pz.Kpfw. III in a Soviet village before the start of Operation Citadel.
In order to protect their rear forces from the strike of partisan units, in May-June 1943 of the year the German command organized and conducted several large punitive operations against the Soviet partisans. In particular, 20 divisions were deployed against approximately 10 thousand Bryansk partisans, and in the Zhytomyr region 40-thousand were sent against the partisans. grouping. However, the plan was not fully realized; the partisans retained the possibility of delivering strong blows to the occupiers.
To be continued ...