The Red Army in 1943 had come a long way since its pitiful performance in 1941-42. But despite the postwar propaganda, Kursk showed the Soviets still had a long way to go. As Russian Kursk expert Valeriy Zamulin demonstrates in "Demolishing the Myth: The Tank Battle at Prokhorovka, Kursk, July 1943," Soviet tactical performance was clumsy and troop morale was brittle. Though the Red Air Force was able to provide some support, its performance was also lacking: for example, a surprise strike on German airfields on July 5 quickly turned into a turkey shoot for the Luftwaffe fighter aces.
Military theory holds that the attacker should outnumber the defender three-to-one, and that fighting through dense fortifications will render an attack ever more costly. The fact was that the Germans were outnumbered at Kursk, and fought through multiple trench lines and minefields, yet inflict three times as many casualties and destroy three times as tanks and aircraft as the Germans themselves lost.
5. It was the Soviet counteroffensive that bled the Germans:
Accounts of Kursk tend to focus on the dramatic German attack and desperate Soviet defense. Yet as was the case throughout the war, German losses were relatively light as long as they remained on the offensive, where they could use their talents for battlefield flexibility and improvisation to the maximum. It was when the Germans were on the defense, where they had less room to maneuver and were vulnerable to massive artillery barrages, that they tended to take heavy casualties.
The Germans lost about 50,000 men during their attempted breakthrough. They may have suffered another 150,000 casualties during the dual Soviet offensives -- Operations Kutuzov and Rumyantsev -- in mid-July through August. German tank losses were not excessive during their offensive, but once the long retreat to the Reich began, equipment frequently had to be abandoned or blown up.
6. Soviet tanks didn't ram German tanks at Kursk:
The story is probably apocryphal. Even considering the Red Army's bravery and discipline, trying to ram another tank before it blows you to smithereens would be an act of battlefield Darwinism.
7. Kursk was an Anglo-American victory as well as a Soviet one:
Just as the SS Panzers were about to achieve a decisive breakthrough -- or so Von Manstein claimed -- an Anglo-American amphibious force landed on Sicily. Hitler called off Operation Citadel and transferred the SS Panzer divisions to Italy. The timing was coincidental. The Anglo-Americans didn't land on Sicily to support the Soviets at Kursk, nor could they have mounted a large amphibious invasion on such short notice. But the practical effect was to draw German troops from the Eastern Front at a critical time.
Pointing this out takes nothing away from the bravery and skill of the Red Army, any more that it disparages the Western Allies to point out that the Soviets fought and destroyed the bulk of the German army. But today, as America and Russia confront one another, it is worth remembering there was a time when both nations cooperated to save the world from a new Dark Ages.
Image: Creative Commons.
This first appeared last August.