For the attack on Kursk, Germany had grouped 900,000 soldiers in the region, 10,000 artillery guns, 2,700 tanks and 2,000 aircraft. About 1/3rd of all Germany’s military strength was concentrated in the area. Elite Luftwaffe units were ordered there.
Hitler ordered that “there must be no failure”. Reconnaissance planes photographed all the defensive systems that the Russians had built.
However, Russia’s military leaders had not been sitting idly by. Their intelligence had alerted them to a massive German offensive; they knew where it would be, the numbers involved and near enough when it would start. They decided on a defensive strategy to allow the Germans to wear themselves out. The defence of Kursk was put into the hands of two generals – Rokossovsky and Vatutin. In preparation for a massive counter-offensive (and also to be used if the Germans were initially successful) a huge force of reserves was based in the rear led by Koniev. In charge of all these men was Marshall Zhukov.
The Russians had also placed vast numbers of men and equipment in the Kursk bulge. 1.3 million soldiers were based there, 20,000 artillery pieces, 3,600 tanks and 2,400 planes. The Russians had guessed where the Germans would try to use their tanks in depth – and placed a large number of their anti-tank artillery guns there. Trenches and other anti-tank traps were dug. The depth of defences included the laying of 400,000 mines, which equated to 2,400 anti-tank and 2,700 anti-personnel mines every mile – more than at the Battle of Moscow and the Battle of Stalingrad. By June 1943, 300,000 civilians were helping the Russians build defences around the Kursk salient. They repaired 1,800 miles of road and dug thousands of miles of trenches.
German prisoners captured by Russian shock troops before the battle actually started, told the Russians that the attack was to be on July 5th. To pre-empt the attack, the Russians launched a massive artillery bombardment at 02.00 on July 5th. This had an impact on the morale of the Germans as it was clear that their plan had been compromised. After the bombardment had finished, it took nearly two hours for the Germans to reorganise themselves.
Tags: World war 2, WW2, tanks, battle of kursk, eastern front, allies, axis, hitler, stalin, wehrmact, Waffen SS, luftwaffe, defense, T34, Tiger, panzer, anti-tank, offensive, counter-offense, world at war
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