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The Battle Of Kursk: Nazi Military Operations Cannot be Separated from Hitler’s Genocidal Policies

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am reposting an older article today which was a paper that I wrote for a class as part of my second Masters Degree program.  Tomorrow, July 12th is the anniversary of the one of the largest tank battles in history, The Battle of Prokhorovka, the climax of the Battle Of Kursk, in which nearly 1000 German and Soviet tanks engaged in an often close quarters battle where both suffered staggering casualties, but the Soviets prevented a German breakthrough, and with it a potential German victory. 

The Battle of Kursk was the climactic battle on the Eastern Front from which the Germans never recovered. It was a battle that should not have been fought, at least at the time that it was fought. It was high risk operation with minimal payoff should it succeed. It did not and combined with the Allied landings in Sicily and other setbacks suffered by German forces in 1943 was the battle that doomed Germany to defeat. It was the last time that the German military had a chance to score a major victory against the Soviets and their defeat ensured the defeat of the Third Reich. 

The decision of Hitler and the High Command to launch this offensive is also connected for the need of the Nazis to complete the Final Solution Of the “Jewish Problem,” which was in the process of execution millions of Jews, with an emphasis on the systematic destruction of European Jewry, with the desire to eliminate the Russian Jews who as of yet remained under the protection of the Red Army. The German military campaign in the east can never be disconnected from the genocidal policies of the Nazis, and many of the German troops and commanders involved in Zitadelle were accomplices to Genocide or actively supported it. 

So when you read this article, do not just look at the military dimensions. Remember, that it, like every Nazi military operation was a necessary part of Hitler’s genocidal program. 

Until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

The German Situation and Dilemma in April 1943

Battle_of_Kursk_(map)

The Germans faced a dilemma in April 1943.  Manstein’s brilliant counter-stroke had turned what could have been disaster into an opportunity to salvage prospects for the Eastern Front. The German action had “repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, and nipped the Russian spearhead.”[i]Unfortunately for the Germans the spring thaw meant that Manstein could not continue immediately and eliminate the Kursk bulge which had been formed by Rokossovky’s offensive and Manstein’s own counter-stroke.  With the Germans stalled by the weather Stavka cancelled “other significant planned offensives to dispatch reinforcements to the Kursk region.”[ii] Despite the weather Manstein pushed Kluge for an immediate attack on both sides of the bulge but was rebuffed by Kluge who “insisted that his troops needed to rest and refit.”[iii] This rebuff combined with the onset of the Russian mud meant that in “March 1943 the war on the ground came to an end….The front was immobilized.”[iv]

manstein with tanks                 Field Marshal Erich von Manstein with Tiger I Tanks

Manstein’s offensive had “enabled the Germans to consolidate a firm position in the East, and build up strength afresh- not to its former level, but sufficient to provide a good prospect of holding the Russians at bay.”[v] As a result German armies in the south “held again nearly the same positions from which the Blau offensive had begun the previous spring.”[vi] Now the Kursk bulge some 250 Kilometers wide and 160 Kilometers deep[vii] protruded menacingly into the German lines and drew the attention of both sides, to the Germans it appeared to be designed for an encirclement battle.[viii] Thus it appeared that the Kursk bulge was the obvious place for the Germans to resume the offensive and maintain the initiative on the Eastern Front.

But was the Kursk necessary?  Was Operation ZITADELLE as obvious as it seemed to be to Hitler, Zeitzler and others?  The battle is the subject of many books and articles which often focus on tactical and operational details of the German offensive, particularly the battle on the southern side of the bulge and the clash of armor at Prokhorovka.  This essay will focus less on the battle and more on the strategic situation faced by the Germans in the spring of 1943. Key to this are the arguments for and against the operation, the operations timing and the option that the Germans had to conduct a mobile defense.   It is the strategic situation that must be looked at to determine whether Operation ZITADELLE was necessary at all. Manstein believed that had the offensive been launched early enough that it might have succeeded provided it “we launched it early enough we could hope to catch them in a state of unpreparedness.”[ix]Williamson Murray and Allan Millett agree with Manstein’s assessment but note that an early offensive was “riskier…but greater the prospect for a major success.”[x] Guderian on the other hand saw that nothing good could come of ZITADELLE and opposed it from the beginning.[xi] Glantz and House in their detailed study argue that “there is absolutely no basis for assuming that Citadel would have succeeded had it been launched in spring 1943.”[xii]

battle_kursk t 34            The Soviets Reinforced and Fortified the Kursk Salient

The Germans faced a number of major problems in early 1943.  First, among them was manpower.  The armed forces had been mauled on the Eastern Front, “after continuous operations from June 1942 to March 1943, most German units were worn out.”[xiii] Many infantry divisions “were reduced to two thirds of their original strength, with declining mobility and anti-tank defenses.”[xiv] Had the Germans only faced the Russians this might have been overcome, however they not only faced a rejuvenated Red Army, but challenges brought about by multi-theater operations and their weak, ineffective and reluctant allies.  The Allied air offensive which though it “did not decisively effect German arms production it nevertheless prevented a great deal of work from being carried on and had profound moral effects which communicated themselves to all the fronts.”[xv] Likewise the U-Boat campaign had been effectively defeated by May 1943 allowing for increasing numbers of American troops and supplies to reach Europe, including significant Lend-Lease aide for the Soviet Union.  Manpower became a major issue for the the German Army and industry.  Both the military and industryhad difficulty in getting the required number of personnel to meet their personnel needs, in January 1943 the German High Command “demanded 800,000 men-but even the most ruthless call-up was able to produce only 400,000” who were lost to the civilian war economy.[xvi] Even the “belated industrial mobilization of Germany, fueled by slave labor and directed by the organizational genius of men like Speer and Guderian, could do little beyond patching together existing units.”[xvii]

Bild 101I-139-1112-17General Heinz Guderian, Inspector of Panzer Troops was one of Few Senior German Officers to Oppose ZITADELLE from the Beginning

There were other challenges. The German and Italian armies in North Africa had surrendered, and about 330,000 Axis soldiers entered captivity.[xviii] Added to the heavy losses on the Eastern Front, the disasters in North Africa and Stalingrad had “effectively destroyed the Axis military alliance, such as it was.”[xix] Italy, Hungary and Romania all began to pull their forces out of the Eastern front after having them shattered by the Soviet Winter offensive.[xx]Italy, shaken by its losses in North Africa and the Russian front was wavering in its support for Germany; Mussolini’s government itself was on the verge of falling.  Likewise the Hungarian government sought contact with the Allies;[xxi]as did the Romanians.[xxii] Finland too was looking for a way out and limiting its participation in German offensive operations.[xxiii] As her allies looked for a way out, the British and Americans were about to open a new front in Southern Europe, while another had effectively been opened by partisans in Yugoslavia and Greece.[xxiv] The crisis in the south was great enough that OKW under General Jodl began to look at ways of shoring up those fronts in case Italy withdrew from the war including the use of units that would have to be withdrawn from the Eastern Front.[xxv] The Balkans drained German reserves such that the number of German divisions deployed there increased from 5 to 15 between July 1942 and July 1943.[xxvi] Additionally many units had to be created by the Replacement Army to build up the Western Front knowing that an Allied strike there would eventually take place, further depriving the Eastern Front of badly needed infantry replacements and divisions.

Benito_Mussolini_and_Adolf_HitlerHitler Felt Regaining the Initiative in the East was Critical to Keeping his Allies in the War

The German Options and Decision

The question for the Germans now was whether they “had any strategic options that would allow them to avoid defeat.”[xxvii] It is from this perspective that the necessity of Kursk must be examined. Most in the German High Command now realized that strategy in the east could no longer be “based on the illusion of conquering the vast Soviet Union.”[xxviii] As such the discussion turned to what direction the new strategy should take.  Political considerations came into play: Since the German allies were looking for ways to exit the war it was felt that “it was politically impossible for Germany to surrender the initiative on the Eastern Front.”[xxix] Realistically there were two options available: Wait and counterattack or launch a limited attack on the Kursk salient. The general impression among many German commanders in the East was that they had ended the last campaign “with a relative advantage over the Reds, an advantage that should be exploited as soon as the rasputitsa ended in April or early May.”[xxx] But the only strategy that looked feasible balancing the political and military goal of maintaining the initiative was what Manstein originally had in mind after Kharkov, to continue on, pinch out the Kursk bulge with the cooperation of Kluge’s Army Group Center.  As noted the opportunity to do so was lost with Kluge’s refusal and the onset of the spring thaw.  Yet this idea captured Zeitzler at OKH and Kluge at Army Group Center, though by April and May Manstein was more inclined toward “the ‘backhand’ stroke, which involved giving up the whole Donetz basin and staging a major Panzer offensive southeast from Kharkov.”[xxxi] However, this was too bold for Hitler who was “unwilling to give up the Donetz Basin with its industrial and mineral resources.”[xxxii]

battle_kursk_tiger advancing     The New Tiger Tanks Were to Play a Critical Role in the Attack

Manstein felt that the “moment of opportunity had passed, but his counterpart at Army Group Center…Kluge, was enthusiastic about the proposal.”[xxxiii]Zeitzler believed that an “attack at Kursk would be less risky”[xxxiv] than Manstein’s “backhand” and pushed the plan to Hitler.  There were advantages to this strategy if it could be carried out successfully. The Germans would encircle and destroy Russian forces in the salient and “shorten their own defensive lines after such an encirclement.”[xxxv] Yet the plan was opposed by others. Jodl at OKW argued against ZITADELLE “because he believed that it was dangerous to empty the strategic reserve when so many new crises threatened to develop in the Mediterranean.”[xxxvi] Zeitzler countered that because of German weakness in the east that they could not “wait to be hit.”[xxxvii] Guderian did not believe that either Army Group could be ready to mount the offensive that Zeitzler envisioned and “declared that the attack was pointless…if we attacked according to the plan of the Chief of the General Staff, we were certain to suffer heavy tank casualties, which we would not be in position to replace in 1943.”[xxxviii]Guderian asked Hitler at a separate conference “why he wanted to attack at all in the East in 1943.” When Keitel expressed that the reasons were political, Guderian asked Hitler “How many people do you think even know where Kursk is? It’s a matter of profound indifference to the world whether we hold Kursk or not…”[xxxix] Guderian and Speer both pointed out technical problems in producing the Tigers and Panthers but were overruled.[xl] Hitler himself reportedly had misgivings about the attack at one point reportedly stating that “the thought of the Zitadelle operation ‘made [his] stomach turn over’”[xli] In spite of Jodl and Guderian’s warnings, his own misgivings and those of Manstein and Model in April and May, Hitler “allowed himself to be tempted once more into taking the offensive. The Kursk salient…lured him into mounting his great pincer operation known as Citadel.”[xlii] Glantz and House maintain that he could “see no alternative politically and agreed to the plan.”[xliii]

The Facts on the Ground

Kursk_T34_and_Fieldgun-px800Soviet Forces Expected the Attack and Were well Prepared to Meet it

Once the decision to attack was made the question that remained was the timing of the attack. Manstein had preferred an early attack in May, but the operation was postponed to mid-June and then to July due to the request of Model who believed that his forces were too weak and needed reinforcements.[xliv] The attack was to be one of several “limited offensives designed to consolidate the German defenses while inflicting sufficient damage on the Red Army to delay any Soviet offensive.”[xlv] But the delays insisted on by Model and agreed to by Hitler were a fatal error.  The Germans failed to “factor into their decision was the unpalatable reality that Soviet strength in the Kursk salient was growing much faster than the Wehrmacht could muster forces to attack it.”[xlvi] Not only were the Soviet forces growing they knew about the German plans and could deploy their forces to counter them and for their own offensive.[xlvii] Stalin’s generals were able to convince him not to launch an attack and instead wait on the Germans so they could attack as the Germans exhausted their strength.[xlviii] They knew of it since April and reinforced the flanks of the salient with guns and armor at a faster pace than the Germans opposite them.[xlix] At Kursk “improved intelligence collection and analysis permitted the Red Army to predict almost exactly the strategic focal point of a major German offensive.”[l] Into the bulge “Vatutin and Rokossovsky crammed seven armies.”[li] The Russians deployed in depth in heavy fortified zones and minefields along the very sectors of the bulge that the Germans intended to attack, successfully masking their preparations from the Germans. It was “a measure of Soviet self-confidence that the senior commanders were looking beyond the German attack, beyond its failure, to the first major Soviet summer offensive.”[lii] Had the Germans succeeded in pinching off the salient “they would have faced several additional defensive belts constructed to the east of the salient.”[liii]

Typically when one launches an offensive it is desirable to have numeric advantage over the defender, 3:1 is normally assumed to be sufficient. At Kursk the Germans were outnumbered by the Russians 2.3:1 in men and 1.6:1 in tanks[liv] yet somehow the offensive had now morphed from a spoiling attack into a strategic offensive, albeit with more limited objectives attacking one of the strongest points in the Russian line.  General Raus, commanding a corps in Army Detachment Kempf noted: “Considering Russian dispositions, defenses and terrain, German strength could be considered only minimally sufficient for the assigned mission.”[lv] The Chief of Staff of XLVIII Panzer Corps called Kursk “the strongest fortress in the world.”[lvi]

Danger Signs: Requests for Cancellation

keitel-jodl-hitlerGeneral Alfred Jodl at OKW Protested the Offensive Verbally and in Writing

As more delays occurred Manstein “came out in the open and protested that the operation was no longer feasible and must be abandoned, but it was too late.  The united stand of orthodox General Staff opinion, Keitel, Zeitzler, Kluge, had persuaded the Führer, whose mind, once made up, was never altered.”[lvii]Manstein felt that the idea had been to “attack the enemy before the enemy had replenished his forces and got over the reverses of the winter.”[lviii] He felt there was great danger to the Mius line and to the northern Orel bulge with each delay; and the felt the threat of an attack by the Allies in Western Europe.[lix] On 18 June Jodl and the OKW Operations Staff “recommended to Hitler that he abandon Operation Citadel in order to free strategic reserves for defense in both East and West.”[lx] Warlimont writes that Jodl “raised empathic objection to the premature commitment of the central reserves to the East; he pointed out both verbally and in writing that a local success was all that could be hoped from Operation Citadel and that it could have no strategic significance for the overall situation.”[lxi] Hitler again refused the request.  “The doubts of certain Chiefs of Staff of the attacking armies were disregarded, and in the case of Colonel von Schleinitz, answered with dismissal.”[lxii]

The Battle

battle_kursk tigersTigers Advancing

The attacking forces for ZITADELLE involved units of Army Group Center and Army Group South.  Spearheading the assault for Army Group Center was Model’s 9th Army.  2nd Army from the same Army Group took a defensive role in the center of the bulge while Army Group South’s 4th Panzer Army under Hoth and Army Detachment Kempf composed the Southern attack force.  Von Mellenthin noted that to muster the necessary divisions for the attacking armies “neighboring fronts were to be thinned out beyond the limits of prudence” and from a strategic point of view likened Citadel “to be a veritable ‘death ride.’”[lxiii]Manstein worried about stripping the Mius-Donetz salient which “had to hand over all their available forces.”[lxiv] The Germans sent 17 panzer divisions against Kursk including the elite 2nd Panzer, Grossdeutschland, Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf. Hoth’s army was the “strongest force ever put under a single commander in the German Army.”[lxv] While the Germans assembled the Russians waited, and beginning on 1 July the “Red Army defenders were on constant alert, waiting in their bunkers for the first sign of attack.”[lxvi]

battle_kursk_0020                                          Panzers on the Advance

ZITADELLE began on 4 July with a reconnaissance in force, the main blow scheduled for 0300 5 July. The Russians learned of the timing from a prisoner and quickly launched an artillery counter-preparation an hour prior to the German attack, disrupting it while air strikes were ordered against Luftwaffe airfields.[lxvii] Model’s 9th Army on the northern flank attacked the Russian “13th and 70th Armies on a frontage of 50 kilometers”[lxviii] with the focus being a 16 kilometer front where he concentrated 6 infantry divisions, a panzer division and all his Tiger and Ferdinand units.[lxix] He intended to break the Soviet defensive system “by constantly feeding in new units to grind down the defenses.”[lxx] The attack stalled by the 9July making minimal progress of “8 to 12 kilometers into the massive Soviet defenses.”[lxxi] A good deal of his problem was due to limited infantry strength which was  “far below established strength….moreover, the Ninth Army’s infantry- even the veterans- lacked experience in conducting set-piece attacks against prepared positions.”[lxxii]The Russians defined the battleground and forced Model into a battle determined by superior firepower on a constricted battlefield, “a game that the Wehrmacht could not win.”[lxxiii] This nullified any advantage the Germans might have had in mobility for their panzer divisions.  In savage battles to take the high ground at Ponyri station and Ol’khovatka Model’s assaults faltered.  9thArmy sacrificed about 50,000 men and 400 tanks to the god of war.”[lxxiv]Model continued to attack until 12 July when the Russians launched their offensive against the Orel bulge forcing him to redeploy to counter the Russian advance.  The battle in the north became “a savage defensive battle in which considerable parts of the offensive wing of Ninth Army were involved.”[lxxv]Model’s defeat made Hoth’s task “much more challenging.”[lxxvi]

battle_kursk_t-34s and infantry                                          Soviet T-34’s and Infantry

The Fourth Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf made better progress, nearly breaking through the Russian defenses after hard fighting. They penetrated “into the third Soviet defensive belt, a depth of 35 kilometers, but were stopped by Katukov’s 1st Tank Army.”[lxxvii] The critical point was reached on 11 and 12 July at Prokhorovka station when 5th Tank Army collided with 4thPanzer Army. “Over 1200 tanks from both sides were engaged in this struggle.”[lxxviii] It was the largest tank engagement of the war, over 700 tanks were destroyed and “German losses were too great to allow a decisive breakthrough.”[lxxix] Both sides took heavy casualties but the Germans could not replace theirs while the Russians still had formidable uncommitted reserves.  On 13 July the battle in the south drifted into a stalemate as XLVIII Panzer Corps and Hausser’s II SS Panzer Corps failed to break the Soviet line[lxxx] as the Russians “kept on throwing in fresh troops, and their reserves seemed inexhaustible.”[lxxxi] Manstein desired to continue the offensive as he believed that for his Army Group “the battle was now at its culminating point, that to break it off at this moment would be tantamount to throwing victory away.”[lxxxii] Although Manstein and Hoth felt that they could continue on and break the Russian line, they were now not in a position to do so. Model’s forces were in no shape to assist in the north and Manstein and Kluge were called to the Wolfsschanze by Hitler who, now preoccupied with the Allied invasion of Sicily necessitating withdraws of strong panzer forces from the east to face the threat in the west.[lxxxiii] Hitler rejected Manstein’s counsel to continue and ordered him to withdraw II SS Panzer Corps,[lxxxiv] effectively ending the ZITADELLE as the Russians launched their offensive on 17 July.

battle_kursk_destroyed panzers                                               Destroyed Panzers

Analysis of the Decision: Zitadelle Was Not Obvious, Necessary nor Well Executed

To Hitler and the supporters of ZITADELLE the operation seemed obvious.  In the two previous years the Germans had dealt punishing blows against the Red Army and the belief of Zeitzler and others was that the Wehrmacht was still qualitatively superior to the Soviets and that even a limited offensive would succeed in its objectives.  But the conditions on the ground had changed and the Germans failed to take the change into account.  The German Army did not have the resources for an offensive of the scope of Barbarossa or Blau. However this lack of resources did not lessen the optimism of some for ZITADELLE; particularly Zeitzler and Kluge. From their perspective the offensive to pinch out the Kursk salient seemed likely to succeed.  Yet as Clark notes the offensive was defined by a “lack of imagination and adaptability….Where the old Blitzkrieg formula….was fed into the computer, with little regard for the changed conditions….” [lxxxv] Von Mellenthin comments that by attacking Kursk, the “German Army threw away all their advantages in mobile tactics, and met the Russians on ground of their own choosing.”[lxxxvi] Glantz and House attribute this to the fact that the Germans “clung to outmoded assumptions about their own superiority over their opponents” due to their previous success. They point out that the Red Army had systematically reviewed its performance after every failure,” so that “Soviet doctrine, organization, and expectations were closer to battlefield reality than were those of the senior German leadership.”[lxxxvii] The German intelligence services failed them[lxxxviii] as they failed to detect the large strategic sized force that the Soviets had concentrated in the spring of 1943.  This was a force that Glantz and House believe would have caused ZITADELLE to fail even had it occurred in May, particularly in regard to the comparatively weak German forces fielded by Manstein.[lxxxix]

An offensive with what appeared to be reasonable objectives that were believed to be within the capabilities of the Wehrmacht failed.  Hitler according to Carell “gambled away not only victory but all hope of a draw.”[xc] Manstein categorized the offensive as a “fiasco.”[xci] Guderian called it “a decisive defeat” that made it “problematical” whether the armored formations could be “rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern Front.”[xcii] Warlimont who served at OKW commented: “Operation Citadel was more than a battle lost; it handed the Russians the initiative and we never recovered it again right up to the end of the war.”[xciii]Guderian’s biographer Kenneth Macksey wrote that “the failure at Kursk was due to the employment of a faulty plan which lacked the element of strategic as well as tactical surprise.”[xciv] Raus lists several factors for this.  However, his argument is summarized: “once we learned in May and June that this was the area in which the Russians were prepared to offer their stiffest resistance, we should have modified our plans.  Either we should have refrained from attacking at all, or the operation should have been carried out to strike the enemy not at his strongest, but at his weakest point.”[xcv]

Hitler felt that a decisive victory was needed for political and propaganda reasons, yet even a significant victory was unlikely to keep Italy in the war, even if it swayed the lesser allies to stay the course.  ZITADELLE was conducted too late to save the Italians, success in May might have given German supporters in Italy some leverage but the invasion of Sicily and the failure at Kursk emboldened Mussolini’s opponents. The Fascist Grand Council “voted to have Mussolini removed as prime minister” and King Vittorio Emmanuaele “dismissed Mussolini” who was then placed under arrest.[xcvi] Finland refused to take offensive action that might have cut the Murmansk railway[xcvii] and engaged the Americans in a round of “abortive negotiation”[xcviii] while the Hungarians and Romanians provided little assistance to the Germans, partially due to the German reluctance to assist in modernizing and rebuilding their armies.[xcix]

Of the German Generals involved it was only Guderian as Inspector of Armored Troops and Jodl at OKW who consistently opposed ZITADELLE, citing realistic assessments of strengths, risks and dangers in other theaters.  Manstein opposed it when he felt the opportunity had passed, though it was unlikely to succeed had it been launched in May as he desired.  Guderian and Jodl’s arguments proved correct in every respect. ZITADELLE engaged German the preponderance of German forces in a battle that had at best chances of local success. The offensive itself weakened and endangered the German position on all fronts.  In the end, despite the belief and decision of Hitler, Zeitzler Kluge and others in the High Command, Operation ZITADELLE was neither obvious nor necessary and played out with the disastrous results expected by those who opposed it.

                                                        Notes


[i] Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965. p. 306

[ii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.14

[iii] Ibid. Glantz and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  p.14

[iv] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. p. 335

[v] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. p.212

[vi] Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986. p.163

[vii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.157

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[ix] Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958  p.447

[x] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000. p.295

[xi] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.206

[xii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.261

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.14

[xiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xv] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945.Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.441

[xvi] Ibid. Carell. p.336

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xviii] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.312

[xix] DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005. p.174

[xx] Ibid. DiNardo. p.174. By the summer all Italians units had been withdrawn, all but two Hungarian divisions which were used in anti-partisan operations and nine Romanian divisions.

[xxi] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxiii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.180

[xxiv] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxv] Ibid. Warlimont. pp.317-318

[xxvi] Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003. p.53

[xxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.294

[xxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.339

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxxi] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxii] Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967. p.280

[xxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[xxxiv] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.157

[xxxvi] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxviii] Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957. pp.245-246

[xxxix] Ibid. Clark. p.325.

[xl] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157.

[xli] Ibid. Clark. p.325

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.341

[xliii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xliv]Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. pp.218-219

[xlv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.21

[xlvi] Ibid. Newton. p.219

[xlvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.295

[xlviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xlix] Ibid. Clark. p.326

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.63

[li] Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945. Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997. pp.200-201

[lii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.159

[liii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kurskp.64

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.65 This reference contains a listing of each sector and the force ratios of men, tanks and guns in each sector.

[lv] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.197

[lvi] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.81

[lvii] Ibid. Clark. p.327

[lviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.447

[lix] Ibid. Manstein. pp.447-448

[lx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.55

[lxi] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[lxii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.445

[lxiii] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p.262

[lxiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.448

[lxv] Ibid. Clark. p.328

[lxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.78

[lxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.81-84

[lxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxix] Ibid. Erickson. P.99

[lxx] Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983. p.99

[lxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxii] Ibid. Newton. p.222

[lxxiii] Ibid. Newton. 234

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxix] Ibid. Overy. p.209

[lxxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.215-217

[lxxxi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.274

[lxxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.217-218.

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.167

[lxxxv] Ibid. Clark. pp.329-330

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.264

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.269

[lxxxviii] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York,  2006. p.227

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p. 261

[xc] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[xcii] Ibid. Guderian. p.251

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[xciv] Ibid. Macksey. Guderian p.206

[xcv] Ibid. Raus. p.211

[xcvi] Ibid. DiNardo. p.178

[xcvii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.181

[xcviii] Ibid. Erickson. p.91

[xcix] Ibid. DiNardo. pp.182-188

Bibliography

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965

DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse.University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005

Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003

Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983

Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999.

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957

Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart.

Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975

Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York, 2006

Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000

Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005

Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945.Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997

Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964

Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)

Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986

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Kursk: The Death Ride of the Panzerwaffe

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am reposting an older article today which was a paper that I wrote for a class as part of my second Masters Degree program. 

The Battle of Kursk was the climactic battle on the Eastern Front from which the Germans never recovered. It was a battle that should not have been fought, at least at the time that it was fought. It was high risk operation with minimal payoff should it succeed. It did not and combined with the Allied landings in Sicily and other setbacks suffered by German forces in 1943 was the battle that doomed Germany to defeat. It was the last time that the German military had a chance to score a major victory against the Soviets and their defeat ensured the defeat of the Third Reich. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

The German Situation and Dilemma in April 1943

Battle_of_Kursk_(map)

The Germans faced a dilemma in April 1943.  Manstein’s brilliant counter-stroke had turned what could have been disaster into an opportunity to salvage prospects for the Eastern Front. The German action had “repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, and nipped the Russian spearhead.”[i]Unfortunately for the Germans the spring thaw meant that Manstein could not continue immediately and eliminate the Kursk bulge which had been formed by Rokossovky’s offensive and Manstein’s own counter-stroke.  With the Germans stalled by the weather Stavka cancelled “other significant planned offensives to dispatch reinforcements to the Kursk region.”[ii] Despite the weather Manstein pushed Kluge for an immediate attack on both sides of the bulge but was rebuffed by Kluge who “insisted that his troops needed to rest and refit.”[iii] This rebuff combined with the onset of the Russian mud meant that in “March 1943 the war on the ground came to an end….The front was immobilized.”[iv]

manstein with tanksField Marshal Erich von Manstein with Tiger I Tanks

Manstein’s offensive had “enabled the Germans to consolidate a firm position in the East, and build up strength afresh- not to its former level, but sufficient to provide a good prospect of holding the Russians at bay.”[v] As a result German armies in the south “held again nearly the same positions from which the Blau offensive had begun the previous spring.”[vi] Now the Kursk bulge some 250 Kilometers wide and 160 Kilometers deep[vii] protruded menacingly into the German lines and drew the attention of both sides, to the Germans it appeared to be designed for an encirclement battle.[viii] Thus it appeared that the Kursk bulge was the obvious place for the Germans to resume the offensive and maintain the initiative on the Eastern Front.

But was the Kursk necessary?  Was Operation ZITADELLE as obvious as it seemed to be to Hitler, Zeitzler and others?  The battle is the subject of many books and articles which often focus on tactical and operational details of the German offensive, particularly the battle on the southern side of the bulge and the clash of armor at Prokhorovka.  This essay will focus less on the battle and more on the strategic situation faced by the Germans in the spring of 1943. Key to this are the arguments for and against the operation, the operations timing and the option that the Germans had to conduct a mobile defense.   It is the strategic situation that must be looked at to determine whether Operation ZITADELLE was necessary at all. Manstein believed that had the offensive been launched early enough that it might have succeeded provided it “we launched it early enough we could hope to catch them in a state of unpreparedness.”[ix]Williamson Murray and Allan Millett agree with Manstein’s assessment but note that an early offensive was “riskier…but greater the prospect for a major success.”[x] Guderian on the other hand saw that nothing good could come of ZITADELLE and opposed it from the beginning.[xi] Glantz and House in their detailed study argue that “there is absolutely no basis for assuming that Citadel would have succeeded had it been launched in spring 1943.”[xii]

battle_kursk t 34The Soviets Reinforced and Fortified the Kursk Salient

The Germans faced a number of major problems in early 1943.  First, among them was manpower.  The armed forces had been mauled on the Eastern Front, “after continuous operations from June 1942 to March 1943, most German units were worn out.”[xiii] Many infantry divisions “were reduced to two thirds of their original strength, with declining mobility and anti-tank defenses.”[xiv] Had the Germans only faced the Russians this might have been overcome, however they not only faced a rejuvenated Red Army, but challenges brought about by multi-theater operations and their weak, ineffective and reluctant allies.  The Allied air offensive which though it “did not decisively effect German arms production it nevertheless prevented a great deal of work from being carried on and had profound moral effects which communicated themselves to all the fronts.”[xv] Likewise the U-Boat campaign had been effectively defeated by May 1943 allowing for increasing numbers of American troops and supplies to reach Europe, including significant Lend-Lease aide for the Soviet Union.  Manpower became a major issue for the the German Army and industry.  Both the military and industryhad difficulty in getting the required number of personnel to meet their personnel needs, in January 1943 the German High Command “demanded 800,000 men-but even the most ruthless call-up was able to produce only 400,000” who were lost to the civilian war economy.[xvi] Even the “belated industrial mobilization of Germany, fueled by slave labor and directed by the organizational genius of men like Speer and Guderian, could do little beyond patching together existing units.”[xvii]

Bild 101I-139-1112-17General Heinz Guderian, Inspector of Panzer Troops was one of Few Senior German Officers to Oppose ZITADELLE from the Beginning

There were other challenges. The German and Italian armies in North Africa had surrendered, and about 330,000 Axis soldiers entered captivity.[xviii] Added to the heavy losses on the Eastern Front, the disasters in North Africa and Stalingrad had “effectively destroyed the Axis military alliance, such as it was.”[xix] Italy, Hungary and Romania all began to pull their forces out of the Eastern front after having them shattered by the Soviet Winter offensive.[xx]Italy, shaken by its losses in North Africa and the Russian front was wavering in its support for Germany; Mussolini’s government itself was on the verge of falling.  Likewise the Hungarian government sought contact with the Allies;[xxi]as did the Romanians.[xxii] Finland too was looking for a way out and limiting its participation in German offensive operations.[xxiii] As her allies looked for a way out, the British and Americans were about to open a new front in Southern Europe, while another had effectively been opened by partisans in Yugoslavia and Greece.[xxiv] The crisis in the south was great enough that OKW under General Jodl began to look at ways of shoring up those fronts in case Italy withdrew from the war including the use of units that would have to be withdrawn from the Eastern Front.[xxv] The Balkans drained German reserves such that the number of German divisions deployed there increased from 5 to 15 between July 1942 and July 1943.[xxvi] Additionally many units had to be created by the Replacement Army to build up the Western Front knowing that an Allied strike there would eventually take place, further depriving the Eastern Front of badly needed infantry replacements and divisions.

Benito_Mussolini_and_Adolf_HitlerHitler Felt Regaining the Initiative in the East was Critical to Keeping his Allies in the War

The German Options and Decision

The question for the Germans now was whether they “had any strategic options that would allow them to avoid defeat.”[xxvii] It is from this perspective that the necessity of Kursk must be examined. Most in the German High Command now realized that strategy in the east could no longer be “based on the illusion of conquering the vast Soviet Union.”[xxviii] As such the discussion turned to what direction the new strategy should take.  Political considerations came into play: Since the German allies were looking for ways to exit the war it was felt that “it was politically impossible for Germany to surrender the initiative on the Eastern Front.”[xxix] Realistically there were two options available: Wait and counterattack or launch a limited attack on the Kursk salient. The general impression among many German commanders in the East was that they had ended the last campaign “with a relative advantage over the Reds, an advantage that should be exploited as soon as the rasputitsa ended in April or early May.”[xxx] But the only strategy that looked feasible balancing the political and military goal of maintaining the initiative was what Manstein originally had in mind after Kharkov, to continue on, pinch out the Kursk bulge with the cooperation of Kluge’s Army Group Center.  As noted the opportunity to do so was lost with Kluge’s refusal and the onset of the spring thaw.  Yet this idea captured Zeitzler at OKH and Kluge at Army Group Center, though by April and May Manstein was more inclined toward “the ‘backhand’ stroke, which involved giving up the whole Donetz basin and staging a major Panzer offensive southeast from Kharkov.”[xxxi] However, this was too bold for Hitler who was “unwilling to give up the Donetz Basin with its industrial and mineral resources.”[xxxii]

battle_kursk_tiger advancingThe New Tiger Tanks Were to Play a Critical Role in the Attack

Manstein felt that the “moment of opportunity had passed, but his counterpart at Army Group Center…Kluge, was enthusiastic about the proposal.”[xxxiii]Zeitzler believed that an “attack at Kursk would be less risky”[xxxiv] than Manstein’s “backhand” and pushed the plan to Hitler.  There were advantages to this strategy if it could be carried out successfully. The Germans would encircle and destroy Russian forces in the salient and “shorten their own defensive lines after such an encirclement.”[xxxv] Yet the plan was opposed by others. Jodl at OKW argued against ZITADELLE “because he believed that it was dangerous to empty the strategic reserve when so many new crises threatened to develop in the Mediterranean.”[xxxvi] Zeitzler countered that because of German weakness in the east that they could not “wait to be hit.”[xxxvii] Guderian did not believe that either Army Group could be ready to mount the offensive that Zeitzler envisioned and “declared that the attack was pointless…if we attacked according to the plan of the Chief of the General Staff, we were certain to suffer heavy tank casualties, which we would not be in position to replace in 1943.”[xxxviii]Guderian asked Hitler at a separate conference “why he wanted to attack at all in the East in 1943.” When Keitel expressed that the reasons were political, Guderian asked Hitler “How many people do you think even know where Kursk is? It’s a matter of profound indifference to the world whether we hold Kursk or not…”[xxxix] Guderian and Speer both pointed out technical problems in producing the Tigers and Panthers but were overruled.[xl] Hitler himself reportedly had misgivings about the attack at one point reportedly stating that “the thought of the Zitadelle operation ‘made [his] stomach turn over’”[xli] In spite of Jodl and Guderian’s warnings, his own misgivings and those of Manstein and Model in April and May, Hitler “allowed himself to be tempted once more into taking the offensive. The Kursk salient…lured him into mounting his great pincer operation known as Citadel.”[xlii] Glantz and House maintain that he could “see no alternative politically and agreed to the plan.”[xliii]

The Facts on the Ground

Kursk_T34_and_Fieldgun-px800Soviet Forces Expected the Attack and Were well Prepared to Meet it

Once the decision to attack was made the question that remained was the timing of the attack. Manstein had preferred an early attack in May, but the operation was postponed to mid-June and then to July due to the request of Model who believed that his forces were too weak and needed reinforcements.[xliv] The attack was to be one of several “limited offensives designed to consolidate the German defenses while inflicting sufficient damage on the Red Army to delay any Soviet offensive.”[xlv] But the delays insisted on by Model and agreed to by Hitler were a fatal error.  The Germans failed to “factor into their decision was the unpalatable reality that Soviet strength in the Kursk salient was growing much faster than the Wehrmacht could muster forces to attack it.”[xlvi] Not only were the Soviet forces growing they knew about the German plans and could deploy their forces to counter them and for their own offensive.[xlvii] Stalin’s generals were able to convince him not to launch an attack and instead wait on the Germans so they could attack as the Germans exhausted their strength.[xlviii] They knew of it since April and reinforced the flanks of the salient with guns and armor at a faster pace than the Germans opposite them.[xlix] At Kursk “improved intelligence collection and analysis permitted the Red Army to predict almost exactly the strategic focal point of a major German offensive.”[l] Into the bulge “Vatutin and Rokossovsky crammed seven armies.”[li] The Russians deployed in depth in heavy fortified zones and minefields along the very sectors of the bulge that the Germans intended to attack, successfully masking their preparations from the Germans. It was “a measure of Soviet self-confidence that the senior commanders were looking beyond the German attack, beyond its failure, to the first major Soviet summer offensive.”[lii] Had the Germans succeeded in pinching off the salient “they would have faced several additional defensive belts constructed to the east of the salient.”[liii]

Typically when one launches an offensive it is desirable to have numeric advantage over the defender, 3:1 is normally assumed to be sufficient. At Kursk the Germans were outnumbered by the Russians 2.3:1 in men and 1.6:1 in tanks[liv] yet somehow the offensive had now morphed from a spoiling attack into a strategic offensive, albeit with more limited objectives attacking one of the strongest points in the Russian line.  General Raus, commanding a corps in Army Detachment Kempf noted: “Considering Russian dispositions, defenses and terrain, German strength could be considered only minimally sufficient for the assigned mission.”[lv] The Chief of Staff of XLVIII Panzer Corps called Kursk “the strongest fortress in the world.”[lvi]

Danger Signs: Requests for Cancellation

keitel-jodl-hitlerGeneral Alfred Jodl at OKW Protested the Offensive Verbally and in Writing

As more delays occurred Manstein “came out in the open and protested that the operation was no longer feasible and must be abandoned, but it was too late.  The united stand of orthodox General Staff opinion, Keitel, Zeitzler, Kluge, had persuaded the Führer, whose mind, once made up, was never altered.”[lvii]Manstein felt that the idea had been to “attack the enemy before the enemy had replenished his forces and got over the reverses of the winter.”[lviii] He felt there was great danger to the Mius line and to the northern Orel bulge with each delay; and the felt the threat of an attack by the Allies in Western Europe.[lix] On 18 June Jodl and the OKW Operations Staff “recommended to Hitler that he abandon Operation Citadel in order to free strategic reserves for defense in both East and West.”[lx] Warlimont writes that Jodl “raised empathic objection to the premature commitment of the central reserves to the East; he pointed out both verbally and in writing that a local success was all that could be hoped from Operation Citadel and that it could have no strategic significance for the overall situation.”[lxi] Hitler again refused the request.  “The doubts of certain Chiefs of Staff of the attacking armies were disregarded, and in the case of Colonel von Schleinitz, answered with dismissal.”[lxii]

The Battle

battle_kursk tigersTigers Advancing

The attacking forces for ZITADELLE involved units of Army Group Center and Army Group South.  Spearheading the assault for Army Group Center was Model’s 9th Army.  2nd Army from the same Army Group took a defensive role in the center of the bulge while Army Group South’s 4th Panzer Army under Hoth and Army Detachment Kempf composed the Southern attack force.  Von Mellenthin noted that to muster the necessary divisions for the attacking armies “neighboring fronts were to be thinned out beyond the limits of prudence” and from a strategic point of view likened Citadel “to be a veritable ‘death ride.’”[lxiii]Manstein worried about stripping the Mius-Donetz salient which “had to hand over all their available forces.”[lxiv] The Germans sent 17 panzer divisions against Kursk including the elite 2nd Panzer, Grossdeutschland, Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf. Hoth’s army was the “strongest force ever put under a single commander in the German Army.”[lxv] While the Germans assembled the Russians waited, and beginning on 1 July the “Red Army defenders were on constant alert, waiting in their bunkers for the first sign of attack.”[lxvi]

battle_kursk_0020Panzers on the Advance

ZITADELLE began on 4 July with a reconnaissance in force, the main blow scheduled for 0300 5 July. The Russians learned of the timing from a prisoner and quickly launched an artillery counter-preparation an hour prior to the German attack, disrupting it while air strikes were ordered against Luftwaffe airfields.[lxvii] Model’s 9th Army on the northern flank attacked the Russian “13th and 70th Armies on a frontage of 50 kilometers”[lxviii] with the focus being a 16 kilometer front where he concentrated 6 infantry divisions, a panzer division and all his Tiger and Ferdinand units.[lxix] He intended to break the Soviet defensive system “by constantly feeding in new units to grind down the defenses.”[lxx] The attack stalled by the 9July making minimal progress of “8 to 12 kilometers into the massive Soviet defenses.”[lxxi] A good deal of his problem was due to limited infantry strength which was  “far below established strength….moreover, the Ninth Army’s infantry- even the veterans- lacked experience in conducting set-piece attacks against prepared positions.”[lxxii]The Russians defined the battleground and forced Model into a battle determined by superior firepower on a constricted battlefield, “a game that the Wehrmacht could not win.”[lxxiii] This nullified any advantage the Germans might have had in mobility for their panzer divisions.  In savage battles to take the high ground at Ponyri station and Ol’khovatka Model’s assaults faltered.  9thArmy sacrificed about 50,000 men and 400 tanks to the god of war.”[lxxiv]Model continued to attack until 12 July when the Russians launched their offensive against the Orel bulge forcing him to redeploy to counter the Russian advance.  The battle in the north became “a savage defensive battle in which considerable parts of the offensive wing of Ninth Army were involved.”[lxxv]Model’s defeat made Hoth’s task “much more challenging.”[lxxvi]

battle_kursk_t-34s and infantryT-34’s and Infantry

The Fourth Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf made better progress, nearly breaking through the Russian defenses after hard fighting. They penetrated “into the third Soviet defensive belt, a depth of 35 kilometers, but were stopped by Katukov’s 1st Tank Army.”[lxxvii] The critical point was reached on 11 and 12 July at Prokhorovka station when 5th Tank Army collided with 4thPanzer Army. “Over 1200 tanks from both sides were engaged in this struggle.”[lxxviii] It was the largest tank engagement of the war, over 700 tanks were destroyed and “German losses were too great to allow a decisive breakthrough.”[lxxix] Both sides took heavy casualties but the Germans could not replace theirs while the Russians still had formidable uncommitted reserves.  On 13 July the battle in the south drifted into a stalemate as XLVIII Panzer Corps and Hausser’s II SS Panzer Corps failed to break the Soviet line[lxxx] as the Russians “kept on throwing in fresh troops, and their reserves seemed inexhaustible.”[lxxxi] Manstein desired to continue the offensive as he believed that for his Army Group “the battle was now at its culminating point, that to break it off at this moment would be tantamount to throwing victory away.”[lxxxii] Although Manstein and Hoth felt that they could continue on and break the Russian line, they were now not in a position to do so. Model’s forces were in no shape to assist in the north and Manstein and Kluge were called to the Wolfsschanze by Hitler who, now preoccupied with the Allied invasion of Sicily necessitating withdraws of strong panzer forces from the east to face the threat in the west.[lxxxiii] Hitler rejected Manstein’s counsel to continue and ordered him to withdraw II SS Panzer Corps,[lxxxiv] effectively ending the ZITADELLE as the Russians launched their offensive on 17 July.

battle_kursk_destroyed panzersDestroyed Panzers

Analysis of the Decision: Zitadelle Was Not Obvious, Necessary nor Well Executed

To Hitler and the supporters of ZITADELLE the operation seemed obvious.  In the two previous years the Germans had dealt punishing blows against the Red Army and the belief of Zeitzler and others was that the Wehrmacht was still qualitatively superior to the Soviets and that even a limited offensive would succeed in its objectives.  But the conditions on the ground had changed and the Germans failed to take the change into account.  The German Army did not have the resources for an offensive of the scope of Barbarossa or Blau. However this lack of resources did not lessen the optimism of some for ZITADELLE; particularly Zeitzler and Kluge. From their perspective the offensive to pinch out the Kursk salient seemed likely to succeed.  Yet as Clark notes the offensive was defined by a “lack of imagination and adaptability….Where the old Blitzkrieg formula….was fed into the computer, with little regard for the changed conditions….” [lxxxv] Von Mellenthin comments that by attacking Kursk, the “German Army threw away all their advantages in mobile tactics, and met the Russians on ground of their own choosing.”[lxxxvi] Glantz and House attribute this to the fact that the Germans “clung to outmoded assumptions about their own superiority over their opponents” due to their previous success. They point out that the Red Army had systematically reviewed its performance after every failure,” so that “Soviet doctrine, organization, and expectations were closer to battlefield reality than were those of the senior German leadership.”[lxxxvii] The German intelligence services failed them[lxxxviii] as they failed to detect the large strategic sized force that the Soviets had concentrated in the spring of 1943.  This was a force that Glantz and House believe would have caused ZITADELLE to fail even had it occurred in May, particularly in regard to the comparatively weak German forces fielded by Manstein.[lxxxix]

An offensive with what appeared to be reasonable objectives that were believed to be within the capabilities of the Wehrmacht failed.  Hitler according to Carell “gambled away not only victory but all hope of a draw.”[xc] Manstein categorized the offensive as a “fiasco.”[xci] Guderian called it “a decisive defeat” that made it “problematical” whether the armored formations could be “rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern Front.”[xcii] Warlimont who served at OKW commented: “Operation Citadel was more than a battle lost; it handed the Russians the initiative and we never recovered it again right up to the end of the war.”[xciii]Guderian’s biographer Kenneth Macksey wrote that “the failure at Kursk was due to the employment of a faulty plan which lacked the element of strategic as well as tactical surprise.”[xciv] Raus lists several factors for this.  However, his argument is summarized: “once we learned in May and June that this was the area in which the Russians were prepared to offer their stiffest resistance, we should have modified our plans.  Either we should have refrained from attacking at all, or the operation should have been carried out to strike the enemy not at his strongest, but at his weakest point.”[xcv]

Hitler felt that a decisive victory was needed for political and propaganda reasons, yet even a significant victory was unlikely to keep Italy in the war, even if it swayed the lesser allies to stay the course.  ZITADELLE was conducted too late to save the Italians, success in May might have given German supporters in Italy some leverage but the invasion of Sicily and the failure at Kursk emboldened Mussolini’s opponents. The Fascist Grand Council “voted to have Mussolini removed as prime minister” and King Vittorio Emmanuaele “dismissed Mussolini” who was then placed under arrest.[xcvi] Finland refused to take offensive action that might have cut the Murmansk railway[xcvii] and engaged the Americans in a round of “abortive negotiation”[xcviii] while the Hungarians and Romanians provided little assistance to the Germans, partially due to the German reluctance to assist in modernizing and rebuilding their armies.[xcix]

Of the German Generals involved it was only Guderian as Inspector of Armored Troops and Jodl at OKW who consistently opposed ZITADELLE, citing realistic assessments of strengths, risks and dangers in other theaters.  Manstein opposed it when he felt the opportunity had passed, though it was unlikely to succeed had it been launched in May as he desired.  Guderian and Jodl’s arguments proved correct in every respect. ZITADELLE engaged German the preponderance of German forces in a battle that had at best chances of local success. The offensive itself weakened and endangered the German position on all fronts.  In the end, despite the belief and decision of Hitler, Zeitzler Kluge and others in the High Command, Operation ZITADELLE was neither obvious nor necessary and played out with the disastrous results expected by those who opposed it.

Notes


[i] Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965. p. 306

[ii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.14

[iii] Ibid. Glantz and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  p.14

[iv] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. p. 335

[v] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. p.212

[vi] Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986. p.163

[vii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.157

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[ix] Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958  p.447

[x] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000. p.295

[xi] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.206

[xii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.261

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.14

[xiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xv] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945.Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.441

[xvi] Ibid. Carell. p.336

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xviii] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.312

[xix] DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005. p.174

[xx] Ibid. DiNardo. p.174. By the summer all Italians units had been withdrawn, all but two Hungarian divisions which were used in anti-partisan operations and nine Romanian divisions.

[xxi] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxiii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.180

[xxiv] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxv] Ibid. Warlimont. pp.317-318

[xxvi] Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003. p.53

[xxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.294

[xxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.339

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxxi] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxii] Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967. p.280

[xxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[xxxiv] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.157

[xxxvi] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxviii] Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957. pp.245-246

[xxxix] Ibid. Clark. p.325.

[xl] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157.

[xli] Ibid. Clark. p.325

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.341

[xliii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xliv]Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. pp.218-219

[xlv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.21

[xlvi] Ibid. Newton. p.219

[xlvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.295

[xlviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xlix] Ibid. Clark. p.326

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.63

[li] Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945. Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997. pp.200-201

[lii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.159

[liii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kurskp.64

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.65 This reference contains a listing of each sector and the force ratios of men, tanks and guns in each sector.

[lv] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.197

[lvi] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.81

[lvii] Ibid. Clark. p.327

[lviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.447

[lix] Ibid. Manstein. pp.447-448

[lx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.55

[lxi] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[lxii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.445

[lxiii] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p.262

[lxiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.448

[lxv] Ibid. Clark. p.328

[lxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.78

[lxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.81-84

[lxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxix] Ibid. Erickson. P.99

[lxx] Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983. p.99

[lxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxii] Ibid. Newton. p.222

[lxxiii] Ibid. Newton. 234

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxix] Ibid. Overy. p.209

[lxxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.215-217

[lxxxi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.274

[lxxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.217-218.

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.167

[lxxxv] Ibid. Clark. pp.329-330

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.264

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.269

[lxxxviii] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York,  2006. p.227

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p. 261

[xc] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[xcii] Ibid. Guderian. p.251

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[xciv] Ibid. Macksey. Guderian p.206

[xcv] Ibid. Raus. p.211

[xcvi] Ibid. DiNardo. p.178

[xcvii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.181

[xcviii] Ibid. Erickson. p.91

[xcix] Ibid. DiNardo. pp.182-188

Bibliography

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965

DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse.University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005

Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003

Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983

Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999.

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957

Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart.

Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975

Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York, 2006

Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000

Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005

Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945.Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997

Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964

Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)

Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986.

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Filed under History, Military, nazi germany, world war two in europe

Lessons in Coalition Warfare: Admiral Ernest King and the British Pacific Fleet

The genesis and strategy of British Royal Navy’s participation in the Pacific in 1945 is a little studied aspect of the Pacific campaign.  Prior to 1945 the participation of the Royal Navy in the Pacific ended at the Battle of the Java Sea.  After that the Royal Navy operated in the Indian Ocean in support of British operations in Burma and against German surface raiders. Michael Coles in “Ernest King and the British Pacific Fleet: The Conference at Quebec, 1944 (Octagon) published in The Journal of Military History January 2001, 65, 1 Research Library pp. 105-129 provides a good analysis of the Allied decision to allow the Royal Navy a role in the Pacific and the objections of Admiral Ernest King to the proposal.

The renewal of the Royal Navy’s Pacific role began at the 1944 Octagon Conference where the Allied Joint Staff made the decision to bring the Royal Navy back to the Pacific. Admiral Ernest King was the only dissenter in the question of Royal Navy operations in the Pacific.  The strategic aspects of this decision are seldom addressed by most who chronicle the Pacific war.[i] William Kimball in “Forged in War: Roosevelt Churchill and the Second World War” never mentions the naval strategy discussed at the Octagon conference. Samuel Elliott Morison in “The Two-Ocean War” described the decision for the Royal Navy to enter the Pacific as “important” and outlines King’s opposition to it without addressing strategic considerations.[ii] John Costello in “The Pacific War” described how Churchill insisted on the Royal Navy being committed to operations against Japan and how Roosevelt’s agreed to “to avoid a bitter clash.”[iii] Likewise Williamson Murray and Allen R. Millett in “War to Be Won” note that one of the goals of Octagon was “to determine the level and nature of British in the air-naval war in the Pacific.” However they do so as do the others without addressing the naval strategy.[iv] Max Hastings mentions Octagon in “Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-1945” again without specific reference to naval strategy.  However later in the book later discusses the Royal Navy’s limitations in ships, manning, logistics and operational art as it entered the Pacific campaign.[v] Other writers chronicle British operations in the Pacific but usually focus in the gallantry and determination of the Royal Navy and not its weaknesses.[vi]

Coles’ article is invaluable to understand the decision in relation to the political, military and economic considerations which influenced both King’s opposition to the deployment and the performance of the British fleet in the Pacific.  Coles analyzes tensions between King and the other participants at Octagon. He judges King to be more realistic and informed regarding Royal Navy capabilities and more importantly its limitations than British leaders especially Churchill.[vii]

King was surprised at Roosevelt’s decision to accept Churchill’s offer of the Royal Navy without prior discussion by the Combined Chiefs of Staff.  Coles notes that King may have kept silent at subsequent meetings of the Combined Chiefs, because he either assumed that his positions were logical and apparent to all or that he believed that Churchill was lying about his navy’s capabilities. Of course it was politically impossible for King to suggest such.[viii]

King’s realism on the subject was a directly related to the political tensions between American and British visions for the outcome of the Pacific war, and the pressing strategic considerations necessitated by Japanese offensives in Burma and China. The British goal of re-establishing colonial rule in Southeast Asia was a major bone of contention.  Many Americans believed that the British goals were “aimed primarily at the resurgence of British political and economic ascendancy in South East Asia and restoration of British prestige.”[ix] Yet the US wanted to defeat Japan’s formidable Army in Asia without the sacrifice of large numbers of American troops or material which necessitated British participation.[x] The introduction of large numbers of American troops on the Asian continent was impossible due to the lineation of the US Army to 90 divisions, most of which were engaged in Europe.  Likewise US domestic issues regarding war production and the Navy’s share of it in relations to changing wartime conditions was a major concern for King.  King and the Navy argued for high naval production while others including George Marshall were beginning to question it, especially if the British could provide “make substantial Naval forces available in the Pacific.”[xi]

American Lend Lease aid to Britain was another issue.  Roosevelt calculated that the US needed Britain to be active in post-war Europe, this required significant post war aid. Roosevelt viewed “vigorous participation” by the Royal Navy as a means to gain congressional support in spite of the fact that Britain could no longer play a global military role without US support.[xii] One of the problems faced in the Pacific was how British mandated modifications to weapons systems supplied by the United States caused problems in production and caused shortages in key weapons systems, especially naval aircraft.  Coles’ notes how King had problems with this and wondered if supplying the Royal Navy’s Pacific operations “represented the most effective use of American industrial capacity.[xiii] However King did not chose to argue this point at the conference, once again demurring to President Roosevelt.

The most compelling factor discussed by Coles was the operational and logistic problems related to the deployment, supply and operation of the Royal Navy. There were a number of problems that the Royal Navy faced as it deployed to the Pacific.  First among them was the fact that the Royal Navy was in large part short-legged and cold water Navy.  Its ships were designed mainly for service in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and ill-suited for the Pacific. The Royal Navy did not have the operational experience of the Americans in regard to Fast Carrier Task Forces, especially coordination of refueling and resupply operations or coordination of air group operations.  Admiral Philip Vian insisted that “Before joining the Americans…we needed to be adept at using a great many more aircraft at a time, and for longer periods.”[xiv] Max Hastings’ noted that the Royal Navy was “overstretched and war weary”[xv] and Coles goes to great lengths to illustrate British weakness while analyzing tensions in the British-American relationship particularly the shift in the relationship as the Americans took the leading role.

King had the foresight to recognize that the British contribution would be more of a liability than help.[xvi] The principal Royal Navy purpose in the Pacific was political, not military and Coles asks if it helped or hindered “the achievement of the respective nations’ policy objectives.” Coles does not believe that it helped; that in fact the Royal Navy would not have been able to continue had the war continued.  He quoted a British liaison officer who wrote that the Royal Navy would have “been unable to continue operations because of lack of logistic support.”[xvii] Coles calls the Royal Navy’s effort in the Pacific an “expensive instrument of failed policy” and that Admiral King seemed to have recognized this better than others, arguing that King’s opinions were not based on simple personal prejudice.[xviii]

Coles uses an excellent mix of primary and secondary sources including diaries, operational reports, histories and journal articles from American and British sources to document his work providing ample references throughout his article. His work is important in recognizing the importance strategy plays in making political decisions in coalition warfare.  Likewise he places value on individuals such as King who are able to recognize the strategic aims and limitations in coalition warfare by various partners.

Though the Royal Navy’s participation in the Pacific War was a relatively insignificant in terms of its overall role in the war it provides lessons for our time. Coalition warfare requires that members of the coalition be able to function our time we can see a similar situation where many of the NATO forces in Afghanistan are dependent on the US for most of their operational and logistic support. It also requires that the members of the coalition have a firm grip on the overall strategy and understand the capabilities and limitations of each.  In Afghanistan the United States faces a situation where it needs capable alliance partners.  It does not have the force capacity to go it alone and political support for additional troops has weakened in congress and in the public.  It is a somewhat similar situation to the Second World War where the United States needed significant British participation in the Asian ground war to ensure that the United States would not have to make major commitments to on the Asian mainland.  Likewise it was needed to get congressional support for post war aid to Britain.  Likewise George Marshall and others wondered if the British could provide significant naval support which would alleviate the need for high naval production which they questioned.  Strategy and the desired end state must be central to how coalitions fight wars.

 


[i] See Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan. The Free Press and Division of MacMillan, Inc. New York, NY 1985. Spector nowhere mentions the British Navy in his history of the campaign  and in his short reference to Octagon he does not mention the debate over the Royal Navy’s inclusion in the campaign. p.419

[ii] Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. An Atlantic Monthly Press Book, Boston MA 1963. pp. Morrison does also mention some of the specific actions of Royal Navy in the Pacific. Pp.423-424.

[iii] Costello, John. The Pacific War: 1941-1945 Quill Publishers, New York, NY 1981. p.495.

[iv] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000. pp.484-485.

[v] Hastings, Max. Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-1945. Alfred A Knopf, New York, NY 2008. Originally published in Great Britain as Nemesis: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45, Harper Press, London, 2007.  p.112-113 and 400-402.

[vi] “Ernest King and the British Pacific Fleet: The Conference at Quebec, 1944 (Octagon). By Michael  Coles.  Published in The Journal of Military History January 2001, 65, 1 Research Library. p.127

[vii] Ibid. pp.111-112

[viii] Ibid. p.111

[ix] Ibid. p.113

[x] Ibid. p.114

[xi] Ibid. p.117

[xii] Ibid. p.118

[xiii] Ibid. p.120 Coles describes several instances where the “Anglicized” systems delayed deliveries and lengthened transportation to operational British units.  Modifications included flight helmets, radios and aircraft modifications. He also discusses how ineffectively the British used the large number of Escort Carriers provided by the US.

[xiv] Ibid. p.123

[xv] Hastings. p.400

[xvi] Coles. p.127. This is something that Morison does with utmost deference to the British.

[xvii] Ibid. p.128

[xviii] Ibid. p.129

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, world war two in the pacific

Unequal Allies: Lessons from The German’s and Their Allies on the Eastern Front for Today

patton with french tankPatton with French Renault F1 Tank in WWI

One of the problems that any coalition of unequal partners as is the case in Afghanistan is the role of the lesser partners, their capabilities and limitations imposed on them by their own governments.  When NATO joined the US led effort in Afghanistan a number of NATO allies contributed troops to the effort.  The same was true of the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq.  While obviously the US appreciated and continues to appreciate the efforts of its allies in both theaters the unique problems associated with coalition warfare are often not appreciated until the strengths and weaknesses of each junior partner in the coalition are shown to include the effect of each nation’s choice of units sent, logistics capability and rules of engagement.  Thus when some Americans are critical of the contribution of some allies, or the limitations imposed by their governments they should remember that in the First World War the United States was dependant on France and Britain for the majority of the Artillery, all of the tanks and aircraft as well as instructors and training facilities for the rapidly recruited American Expeditionary Force.

RickenbackerUS Ace Eddie Rickenbacker with French Supplied Nieuport 28

Every nation works within its own national interests and domestic political situation as well as its military capabilities. Unfortunately many people do not look at history to see how a coalition of a major power allied with a number of minor powers each with their own limitations as well as motivations for entering the war execute that war after the initial plan is foiled.  This is something that has happened in Afghanistan after the initial success disappeared with the corrupt and ineffective Afghan government, the resurgent Taliban and the resiliency of Al Qaida in their bases in the remote border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

nato_france_a_0403French Troops in Afghanistan: The French, British and Canadians have the most Robust Rules of Engagement of Non US NATO Forces (Time Magazine Photo)

One of the best places to find such an example is the German relationship with their allies on the Eastern Front.  The question of the German dominated European Axis alliance in the Second World War is one of the more neglected subjects of World War Two II. In most accounts of the war, the relationship of the Germans to their coalition is minimal.  This includes the works of B.H. Liddell-Hart, Williamson Murray, Chester Wilmot and David M Glantz.   Italy usually receives some attention in the context of the campaign in North Africa and Mediterranean.  Hungary, Romania and Finland receive scant attention from anyone except as to how their armies were overrun during the Stalingrad campaign. Popular German memoirs provide little substantive help. Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s memoirs and Erwin Rommel’s papers give some views of the Italian efforts in North Africa and the Mediterranean and Erich Manstein gives a limited amount of attention to the Italians, Finns, Hungarians and Rumanians in Russia.

Finland-HitlerConflicting War Aims: Hitler with Finland’s Field Marshal Von Mannerheim

In his essay The Dysfunctional Coalition Robert Di Nardo examines the relationship of Germany to her allies on the Eastern Front where the Germans due to their own limitations were forced into a coalition war with weak allies of uncertain reliability. This is a subject that Di Nardo expanded on in his book Germany and the Axis Powers: from Coalition to Collapse (University of Kansas Press, 2005).  Di Nardo believes that there are important lessons to be learned from the failure of Germany and its coalition. Unfortunately we in the west are more often than not content to judge coalitions by the success of the Allies in the Second World War.  Di Nardo’s work on the subject is something that the United States must learn from as it works with coalitions whose members have significant military weaknesses often magnified by the domestic political climates in their own country. The situation, especially in Afghanistan places he United States in a similar position to Germany in relation to the current wars on terror and campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

m 13-40 tankItalian M 13-40 tanks were the mainstays of Italian Armored Units, Slow, Undergunned and Poorly Armored they were No Match for Soviet T-34s

Di Nardo asserts “the way in which Germany conducted coalition warfare was reflective of the manner in which Hitler and the German military looked at the world, as well as the war in general.”  Germany often displayed a haughtiness toward its allies and even knowing their weaknesses was both unable and often unwilling to do much to strengthen them for the fight against the Soviet Union.  Di Nardo believes that the German attitudes were “a significant factor that contributed to the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany.” (p.712)  In the essay Di Nardo notes the few successes of the coalition. In particular he looks at the German work with Rumanian air defense around the Ploesti oil refineries and the German-Finnish Winter Warfare School.  Apart from these instances he characterizes Axis coalition warfare on the eastern front as “poor” with “failures at every level.” (p.713)

italian troops stalino

Di Nardo analyzes the problems with language barriers, the wide differences of modernity of the armies and levels of technology and training of the coalition partners many of which are common to the war in Afghanistan. Germany’s failure to become the “arsenal of Fascism” which the United States became “the Arsenal of Democracy” for its allies hindered the Germans in their relationship to their poorly equipped allies.  Likewise, the lack of understanding of all the partners regarding the “relationship between national objectives, strategy and the morale of soldiers of officers and soldiers alike”(p.713) was a major obstacle.

finnish at gun

Di Nardo provides a good description of the German liaison detachments allotted to the coalition armies.  These teams functioned as advisors to their allies as well as liaisons between the German army and the allies. These teams dealt with language, tactical communications weaknesses and often displayed the generally haughty attitude that the Germans displayed to their partners. There is an excellent illustration of this in dealing with the failure of XLVIII Panzer Corps at Stalingrad when the German Liaison to the Romanian 1st Panzer Division was wounded.  At the operational and strategic levels Di Nardo describes the German policies and attitudes toward their allies as “imperialist.” (p.718)

He examines the wide gap in transportation capabilities of the various armies and the failure of the Germans to better provide for the needs of their partners in contrast to the United States assistance to her allies.   Germany provided obsolete captured Czech and French weapons and vehicles to her allies.  They refused to supply the Romanians and Hungary with the plans to build German tank and aircraft in Romanian and Hungarian industrial concerns capable of their manufacture. (pp.718-719) Di Nardo notes how this lack of modern equipment impacted the allies operations against the Red Army and their defeat at the hands of the Soviets.  Although Di Nardo alludes to how even elite German formations had substandard equipment he does not explain principle reason for this.   This was due to the fact that the Germans did not go to a “total war” footing in regard to industrial production until Albert Speer took over as Armaments Minister in 1943.

spanish blue divsion

The number of troops contributed by the German Allies was substantial. Hungary began Barbarossa with two corps, including its Mobile Corps and in 1942 supplied their 2nd Army which was composed of 1 Armored and 9 Infantry Divisions. 2nd Army was crushed by the Soviet offensive against Stalingrad. The Italians began with an expeditionary corps of 2 Semi-Motorized and 1 Light Infantry Divisions. In early 1943 they added 4 Infantry and 3 Alpine Divisions and a number of other smaller formations. This force became the 8th Army. It fought well during the advance toward Stalingrad but spread out over a wide front with little armored or air support was decimated by the Soviet offense against the city.  The remnants were no longer battle worthy and were evacuated to Italy.  Most of the Finnish Army was engaged in the war but after September 1939 made no major offensive contribution to the war. In 1944 following a major Soviet offensive which forced them to withdraw from the territory that they had captured in 1941 the Finnish government sued for peace. The Russians occupied a number of border provinces and islands and Finland was obliged to expel German Forces.  This resulted in the “Lapland War” between the Finns and the Germans with the Germans adopting a scorched earth policy as they withdrew from the country. The quality of the Finnish forces was generally higher than that of Germany’s other Allies.

romanian r35Obsolete French Built Romanian R-35 Light Tank

The Romanians contributed 19 divisions organized into 3 Armies to Barbarossa. They were limited by their equipment and logistics. The 3rd and 4th Romanian Armies were shattered at Stalingrad forcing a major reorganization as they continued the war.  In August 1944 with the Soviets pressing their border King Michael led a coup to overthrow the Fascist dictatorship of Antonescu. The Germans elected to fight and the Romanians changed sides and joined the Russian advance to the end of the war with their 1st Army taking part in the Prague offensive. Another contributor of troops was Franco’s Spain although it was a neutral country. Spain provided a division of volunteers which became the famous “Spanish Blue Division” or the 250th Infantry Division. It was outfitted as a German unit and received additional training from the Germans before it went into action. The division fought near Leningrad and was engaged in many tough fights.  A Spanish “Blue” Fighter squadron allotted to and equipped by the Luftwaffe also distinguished itself. In October 1943 Spain under allied pressure withdrew the division from the front although many soldiers volunteered to remain and fight on as smaller units attached to German formations. One volunteer company became part of the 11th SS Panzergrenadier Division Nordland at Berlin.  One thing that probably was a factor in the Spanish effectiveness as well as commitment to to German cause was their genuine loathing of the Soviets following the Spanish Civil War.

The final part of Di Nardo’s essay deals with the strategic goals and conflicts among the Axis coalition which were never worked out.  Examples of this include how the Finns never signed a formal alliance with Germany and how their national strategy did not allow them to deeper into the Soviet Union instead settling on recovering territory lost to the Soviets in 1939 with a few minor gains.  There was also the problem that the Romanians and Hungarians distrusted each other so much that they could not work together over their own territorial disputes.  The Italians joined the campaign late and their 8th Army participated in the German advance toward Stalingrad protecting the German flank.  While the Italians provided their own equipment including armor and aircraft they and their weapons were woefully suited for the war that they faced on the Eastern Front.  Di Nardo finishes his essay noting morale problems in the Hungarian, Italian and Romanian armies, the lack of understanding and general lack of motivation for the campaign.

Romanian_Me109-px800Romanian ME-109 E4, The Romanian Air Force Was One of the Axis Success Stories

This article is well sourced. Di Nardo uses histories, archival sources, operational orders and analysis by the various armies as well as interviews with participants. Of particular note is that he goes to sources of the coalition partners and not just German sources.  This allows him to be far more nuanced and detailed in his discussion as opposed to others who simply ignore the contributions of the Axis partners.  His footnotes provide added detail and provide and lend support to his arguments.

The importance of this essay is twofold.  First it provides a look at the relationship of German to her coalition partners on the Eastern Front.  This is important from a historic standpoint simply because it is such a neglected topic in most histories of the period and gives added depth to the reasons for Germany’s defeat.  One has to ask the “what if questions” in regard to had the Germans better treated, equipped and recognized their allies’ contributions to the war effort.

The second and probably more important for Afghanistan is that it provides lessons to any nation which has to engage in coalition warfare.  In particular it has lessons for the United States which has found itself as the senior and vastly superior partner in a war which has multiple coalition partners in several theaters of operations.  Each coalition partner has certain military strengths and weaknesses in relationship to the United States, national interests, geo-political and economic relationships with competitors to the United States and internal political realities which impact their cooperation in the war.  As such the United States cannot allow itself to be cast in the role of a haughty imperialistic senior partner as did Germany.  The US instead must cultivate an attitude of assistance, respect and trust among its partners to assure their full cooperation and assistance in relation to U.S. goals in the war. This is particularly important now was it appears that the Afghan war is reaching a point where the deteriorating situation on the ground could invite the early withdraw of allies and necessitate either the addition of more US troops or a strategic withdraw which would be for all intents and purposes a defeat for the US and NATO. The consequences would not be good and while the Taliban may be able to be contained they undoubtedly would invite Al Qaida back and provide them with a sanctuary just as Pakistan has stepped up its efforts on the border.

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The Battle that Wasn’t Necessary: Kursk 1943

The Battle of Kursk was the climactic battle on the Eastern Front from which the Germans never recovered. It was a battle that should not have been fought, at least at the time that it was fought. It was high risk operation with minimal payoff should it succeed. A while back I posted an “alternative history” of this entitled “Operation DACHS.” I have also posted articles on events leading up to Kursk, one on Stalingrad and the other on Manstein’s counter-stroke.  In a sense this is a trilogy with an alternative scenario included.

 

The German Situation and Dilemma in April 1943

Battle_of_Kursk_(map)

The Germans faced a dilemma in April 1943.  Manstein’s brilliant counter-stroke had turned what could have been disaster into an opportunity to salvage prospects for the Eastern Front. The German action had “repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, and nipped the Russian spearhead.”[i] Unfortunately for the Germans the spring thaw meant that Manstein could not continue immediately and eliminate the Kursk bulge which had been formed by Rokossovky’s offensive and Manstein’s own counter-stroke.  With the Germans stalled by the weather Stavka cancelled “other significant planned offensives to dispatch reinforcements to the Kursk region.”[ii] Despite the weather Manstein pushed Kluge for an immediate attack on both sides of the bulge but was rebuffed by Kluge who “insisted that his troops needed to rest and refit.”[iii] This rebuff combined with the onset of the Russian mud meant that in “March 1943 the war on the ground came to an end….The front was immobilized.”[iv]

manstein with tanksManstein with Tiger I Tanks

Manstein’s offensive had “enabled the Germans to consolidate a firm position in the East, and build up strength afresh- not to its former level, but sufficient to provide a good prospect of holding the Russians at bay.”[v] As a result German armies in the south “held again nearly the same positions from which the Blau offensive had begun the previous spring.”[vi] Now the Kursk bulge some 250 Kilometers wide and 160 Kilometers deep[vii] protruded menacingly into the German lines and drew the attention of both sides, to the Germans it appeared to be designed for an encirclement battle.[viii] Thus it appeared that the Kursk bulge was the obvious place for the Germans to resume the offensive and maintain the initiative on the Eastern Front.

But was the Kursk necessary?  Was Operation ZITADELLE as obvious as it seemed to be to Hitler, Zeitzler and others?  The battle is the subject of many books and articles which often focus on tactical and operational details of the German offensive, particularly the battle on the southern side of the bulge and the clash of armor at Prokhorovka.  This essay will focus less on the battle and more on the strategic situation faced by the Germans in the spring of 1943. Key to this are the arguments for and against the operation, the operations timing and the option that the Germans had to conduct a mobile defense.   It is the strategic situation that must be looked at to determine whether Operation ZITADELLE was necessary at all. Manstein believed that had the offensive been launched early enough that it might have succeeded provided it “we launched it early enough we could hope to catch them in a state of unpreparedness.”[ix] Williamson Murray and Allan Millett agree with Manstein’s assessment but note that an early offensive was “riskier…but greater the prospect for a major success.”[x] Guderian on the other hand saw that nothing good could come of ZITADELLE and opposed it from the beginning.[xi] Glantz and House in their detailed study argue that “there is absolutely no basis for assuming that Citadel would have succeeded had it been launched in spring 1943.”[xii]

battle_kursk t 34The Soviets Reinforced and Fortified the Kursk Salient

The Germans faced a number of major problems in early 1943.  First, among them was manpower.  The armed forces had been mauled on the Eastern Front, “after continuous operations from June 1942 to March 1943, most German units were worn out.”[xiii] Many infantry divisions “were reduced to two thirds of their original strength, with declining mobility and anti-tank defenses.”[xiv] Had the Germans only faced the Russians this might have been overcome, however they not only faced a rejuvenated Red Army, but challenges brought about by multi-theater operations and their weak, ineffective and reluctant allies.  The Allied air offensive which though it “did not decisively effect German arms production it nevertheless prevented a great deal of work from being carried on and had profound moral effects which communicated themselves to all the fronts.”[xv] Likewise the U-Boat campaign had been effectively defeated by May 1943 allowing for increasing numbers of American troops and supplies to reach Europe, including significant Lend-Lease aide for the Soviet Union.  Manpower became a major issue for the the German Army and industry.  Both the military and industryhad difficulty in getting the required number of personnel to meet their personnel needs, in January 1943 the German High Command “demanded 800,000 men-but even the most ruthless call-up was able to produce only 400,000” who were lost to the civilian war economy.[xvi] Even the “belated industrial mobilization of Germany, fueled by slave labor and directed by the organizational genius of men like Speer and Guderian, could do little beyond patching together existing units.”[xvii]

Bild 101I-139-1112-17General Heinz Guderian, Inspector of Panzer Troops was one of Few Senior German Officers to Oppose ZITADELLE from the Beginning

There were other challenges. The German and Italian armies in North Africa had surrendered, and about 330,000 Axis soldiers entered captivity.[xviii] Added to the heavy losses on the Eastern Front, the disasters in North Africa and Stalingrad had “effectively destroyed the Axis military alliance, such as it was.”[xix] Italy, Hungary and Romania all began to pull their forces out of the Eastern front after having them shattered by the Soviet Winter offensive.[xx] Italy, shaken by its losses in North Africa and the Russian front was wavering in its support for Germany; Mussolini’s government itself was on the verge of falling.  Likewise the Hungarian government sought contact with the Allies;[xxi] as did the Romanians.[xxii] Finland too was looking for a way out and limiting its participation in German offensive operations.[xxiii] As her allies looked for a way out, the British and Americans were about to open a new front in Southern Europe, while another had effectively been opened by partisans in Yugoslavia and Greece.[xxiv] The crisis in the south was great enough that OKW under General Jodl began to look at ways of shoring up those fronts in case Italy withdrew from the war including the use of units that would have to be withdrawn from the Eastern Front.[xxv] The Balkans drained German reserves such that the number of German divisions deployed there increased from 5 to 15 between July 1942 and July 1943.[xxvi] Additionally many units had to be created by the Replacement Army to build up the Western Front knowing that an Allied strike there would eventually take place, further depriving the Eastern Front of badly needed infantry replacements and divisions.

Benito_Mussolini_and_Adolf_HitlerHitler Felt Regaining the Initiative in the East was Critical to Keeping his Allies in the War

The German Options and Decision

The question for the Germans now was whether they “had any strategic options that would allow them to avoid defeat.”[xxvii] It is from this perspective that the necessity of Kursk must be examined. Most in the German High Command now realized that strategy in the east could no longer be “based on the illusion of conquering the vast Soviet Union.”[xxviii] As such the discussion turned to what direction the new strategy should take.  Political considerations came into play: Since the German allies were looking for ways to exit the war it was felt that “it was politically impossible for Germany to surrender the initiative on the Eastern Front.”[xxix] Realistically there were two options available: Wait and counterattack or launch a limited attack on the Kursk salient. The general impression among many German commanders in the East was that they had ended the last campaign “with a relative advantage over the Reds, an advantage that should be exploited as soon as the rasputitsa ended in April or early May.”[xxx] But the only strategy that looked feasible balancing the political and military goal of maintaining the initiative was what Manstein originally had in mind after Kharkov, to continue on, pinch out the Kursk bulge with the cooperation of Kluge’s Army Group Center.  As noted the opportunity to do so was lost with Kluge’s refusal and the onset of the spring thaw.  Yet this idea captured Zeitzler at OKH and Kluge at Army Group Center, though by April and May Manstein was more inclined toward “the ‘backhand’ stroke, which involved giving up the whole Donetz basin and staging a major Panzer offensive southeast from Kharkov.”[xxxi] However, this was too bold for Hitler who was “unwilling to give up the Donetz Basin with its industrial and mineral resources.”[xxxii]

battle_kursk_tiger advancingThe New Tiger Tanks Were to Play a Critical Role in the Attack

Manstein felt that the “moment of opportunity had passed, but his counterpart at Army Group Center…Kluge, was enthusiastic about the proposal.”[xxxiii] Zeitzler believed that an “attack at Kursk would be less risky”[xxxiv] than Manstein’s “backhand” and pushed the plan to Hitler.  There were advantages to this strategy if it could be carried out successfully. The Germans would encircle and destroy Russian forces in the salient and “shorten their own defensive lines after such an encirclement.”[xxxv] Yet the plan was opposed by others. Jodl at OKW argued against ZITADELLE “because he believed that it was dangerous to empty the strategic reserve when so many new crises threatened to develop in the Mediterranean.”[xxxvi] Zeitzler countered that because of German weakness in the east that they could not “wait to be hit.”[xxxvii] Guderian did not believe that either Army Group could be ready to mount the offensive that Zeitzler envisioned and “declared that the attack was pointless…if we attacked according to the plan of the Chief of the General Staff, we were certain to suffer heavy tank casualties, which we would not be in position to replace in 1943.”[xxxviii] Guderian asked Hitler at a separate conference “why he wanted to attack at all in the East in 1943.” When Keitel expressed that the reasons were political, Guderian asked Hitler “How many people do you think even know where Kursk is? It’s a matter of profound indifference to the world whether we hold Kursk or not…”[xxxix] Guderian and Speer both pointed out technical problems in producing the Tigers and Panthers but were overruled.[xl] Hitler himself reportedly had misgivings about the attack at one point reportedly stating that “the thought of the Zitadelle operation ‘made [his] stomach turn over’”[xli] In spite of Jodl and Guderian’s warnings, his own misgivings and those of Manstein and Model in April and May, Hitler “allowed himself to be tempted once more into taking the offensive. The Kursk salient…lured him into mounting his great pincer operation known as Citadel.”[xlii] Glantz and House maintain that he could “see no alternative politically and agreed to the plan.”[xliii]

The Facts on the Ground

Kursk_T34_and_Fieldgun-px800Soviet Forces Expected the Attack and Were well Prepared to Meet it

Once the decision to attack was made the question that remained was the timing of the attack. Manstein had preferred an early attack in May, but the operation was postponed to mid-June and then to July due to the request of Model who believed that his forces were too weak and needed reinforcements.[xliv] The attack was to be one of several “limited offensives designed to consolidate the German defenses while inflicting sufficient damage on the Red Army to delay any Soviet offensive.”[xlv] But the delays insisted on by Model and agreed to by Hitler were a fatal error.  The Germans failed to “factor into their decision was the unpalatable reality that Soviet strength in the Kursk salient was growing much faster than the Wehrmacht could muster forces to attack it.”[xlvi] Not only were the Soviet forces growing they knew about the German plans and could deploy their forces to counter them and for their own offensive.[xlvii] Stalin’s generals were able to convince him not to launch an attack and instead wait on the Germans so they could attack as the Germans exhausted their strength.[xlviii] They knew of it since April and reinforced the flanks of the salient with guns and armor at a faster pace than the Germans opposite them.[xlix] At Kursk “improved intelligence collection and analysis permitted the Red Army to predict almost exactly the strategic focal point of a major German offensive.”[l] Into the bulge “Vatutin and Rokossovsky crammed seven armies.”[li] The Russians deployed in depth in heavy fortified zones and minefields along the very sectors of the bulge that the Germans intended to attack, successfully masking their preparations from the Germans. It was “a measure of Soviet self-confidence that the senior commanders were looking beyond the German attack, beyond its failure, to the first major Soviet summer offensive.”[lii] Had the Germans succeeded in pinching off the salient “they would have faced several additional defensive belts constructed to the east of the salient.”[liii]

Typically when one launches an offensive it is desirable to have numeric advantage over the defender, 3:1 is normally assumed to be sufficient. At Kursk the Germans were outnumbered by the Russians 2.3:1 in men and 1.6:1 in tanks[liv] yet somehow the offensive had now morphed from a spoiling attack into a strategic offensive, albeit with more limited objectives attacking one of the strongest points in the Russian line.  General Raus, commanding a corps in Army Detachment Kempf noted: “Considering Russian dispositions, defenses and terrain, German strength could be considered only minimally sufficient for the assigned mission.”[lv] The Chief of Staff of XLVIII Panzer Corps called Kursk “the strongest fortress in the world.”[lvi]

Danger Signs: Requests for Cancellation

keitel-jodl-hitlerGeneral Alfred Jodl at OKW Protested the Offensive Verbally and in Writing

As more delays occurred Manstein “came out in the open and protested that the operation was no longer feasible and must be abandoned, but it was too late.  The united stand of orthodox General Staff opinion, Keitel, Zeitzler, Kluge, had persuaded the Führer, whose mind, once made up, was never altered.”[lvii] Manstein felt that the idea had been to “attack the enemy before the enemy had replenished his forces and got over the reverses of the winter.”[lviii] He felt there was great danger to the Mius line and to the northern Orel bulge with each delay; and the felt the threat of an attack by the Allies in Western Europe.[lix] On 18 June Jodl and the OKW Operations Staff “recommended to Hitler that he abandon Operation Citadel in order to free strategic reserves for defense in both East and West.”[lx] Warlimont writes that Jodl “raised empathic objection to the premature commitment of the central reserves to the East; he pointed out both verbally and in writing that a local success was all that could be hoped from Operation Citadel and that it could have no strategic significance for the overall situation.”[lxi] Hitler again refused the request.  “The doubts of certain Chiefs of Staff of the attacking armies were disregarded, and in the case of Colonel von Schleinitz, answered with dismissal.”[lxii]

The Battle

battle_kursk tigersTigers Advancing

The attacking forces for ZITADELLE involved units of Army Group Center and Army Group South.  Spearheading the assault for Army Group Center was Model’s 9th Army.  2nd Army from the same Army Group took a defensive role in the center of the bulge while Army Group South’s 4th Panzer Army under Hoth and Army Detachment Kempf composed the Southern attack force.  Von Mellenthin noted that to muster the necessary divisions for the attacking armies “neighboring fronts were to be thinned out beyond the limits of prudence” and from a strategic point of view likened Citadel “to be a veritable ‘death ride.’”[lxiii] Manstein worried about stripping the Mius-Donetz salient which “had to hand over all their available forces.”[lxiv] The Germans sent 17 panzer divisions against Kursk including the elite 2nd Panzer, Grossdeutschland, Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf. Hoth’s army was the “strongest force ever put under a single commander in the German Army.”[lxv] While the Germans assembled the Russians waited, and beginning on 1 July the “Red Army defenders were on constant alert, waiting in their bunkers for the first sign of attack.”[lxvi]

battle_kursk_0020Panzers on the Advance

ZITADELLE began on 4 July with a reconnaissance in force, the main blow scheduled for 0300 5 July. The Russians learned of the timing from a prisoner and quickly launched an artillery counter-preparation an hour prior to the German attack, disrupting it while air strikes were ordered against Luftwaffe airfields.[lxvii] Model’s 9th Army on the northern flank attacked the Russian “13th and 70th Armies on a frontage of 50 kilometers”[lxviii] with the focus being a 16 kilometer front where he concentrated 6 infantry divisions, a panzer division and all his Tiger and Ferdinand units.[lxix] He intended to break the Soviet defensive system “by constantly feeding in new units to grind down the defenses.”[lxx] The attack stalled by the 9July making minimal progress of “8 to 12 kilometers into the massive Soviet defenses.”[lxxi] A good deal of his problem was due to limited infantry strength which was  “far below established strength….moreover, the Ninth Army’s infantry- even the veterans- lacked experience in conducting set-piece attacks against prepared positions.”[lxxii] The Russians defined the battleground and forced Model into a battle determined by superior firepower on a constricted battlefield, “a game that the Wehrmacht could not win.”[lxxiii] This nullified any advantage the Germans might have had in mobility for their panzer divisions.  In savage battles to take the high ground at Ponyri station and Ol’khovatka Model’s assaults faltered.  9th Army sacrificed about 50,000 men and 400 tanks to the god of war.”[lxxiv] Model continued to attack until 12 July when the Russians launched their offensive against the Orel bulge forcing him to redeploy to counter the Russian advance.  The battle in the north became “a savage defensive battle in which considerable parts of the offensive wing of Ninth Army were involved.”[lxxv] Model’s defeat made Hoth’s task “much more challenging.”[lxxvi]

battle_kursk_t-34s and infantryT-34’s and Infantry

The Fourth Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf made better progress, nearly breaking through the Russian defenses after hard fighting. They penetrated “into the third Soviet defensive belt, a depth of 35 kilometers, but were stopped by Katukov’s 1st Tank Army.”[lxxvii] The critical point was reached on 11 and 12 July at Prokhorovka station when 5th Tank Army collided with 4th Panzer Army. “Over 1200 tanks from both sides were engaged in this struggle.”[lxxviii] It was the largest tank engagement of the war, over 700 tanks were destroyed and “German losses were too great to allow a decisive breakthrough.”[lxxix] Both sides took heavy casualties but the Germans could not replace theirs while the Russians still had formidable uncommitted reserves.  On 13 July the battle in the south drifted into a stalemate as XLVIII Panzer Corps and Hausser’s II SS Panzer Corps failed to break the Soviet line[lxxx] as the Russians “kept on throwing in fresh troops, and their reserves seemed inexhaustible.”[lxxxi] Manstein desired to continue the offensive as he believed that for his Army Group “the battle was now at its culminating point, that to break it off at this moment would be tantamount to throwing victory away.”[lxxxii] Although Manstein and Hoth felt that they could continue on and break the Russian line, they were now not in a position to do so. Model’s forces were in no shape to assist in the north and Manstein and Kluge were called to the Wolfsschanze by Hitler who, now preoccupied with the Allied invasion of Sicily necessitating withdraws of strong panzer forces from the east to face the threat in the west.[lxxxiii] Hitler rejected Manstein’s counsel to continue and ordered him to withdraw II SS Panzer Corps,[lxxxiv] effectively ending the ZITADELLE as the Russians launched their offensive on 17 July.

battle_kursk_destroyed panzersDestroyed Panzers

Analysis of the Decision: Zitadelle Was Not Obvious, Necessary nor Well Executed

To Hitler and the supporters of ZITADELLE the operation seemed obvious.  In the two previous years the Germans had dealt punishing blows against the Red Army and the belief of Zeitzler and others was that the Wehrmacht was still qualitatively superior to the Soviets and that even a limited offensive would succeed in its objectives.  But the conditions on the ground had changed and the Germans failed to take the change into account.  The German Army did not have the resources for an offensive of the scope of Barbarossa or Blau. However this lack of resources did not lessen the optimism of some for ZITADELLE; particularly Zeitzler and Kluge. From their perspective the offensive to pinch out the Kursk salient seemed likely to succeed.  Yet as Clark notes the offensive was defined by a “lack of imagination and adaptability….Where the old Blitzkrieg formula….was fed into the computer, with little regard for the changed conditions….” [lxxxv] Von Mellenthin comments that by attacking Kursk, the “German Army threw away all their advantages in mobile tactics, and met the Russians on ground of their own choosing.”[lxxxvi] Glantz and House attribute this to the fact that the Germans “clung to outmoded assumptions about their own superiority over their opponents” due to their previous success. They point out that the Red Army had systematically reviewed its performance after every failure,” so that “Soviet doctrine, organization, and expectations were closer to battlefield reality than were those of the senior German leadership.”[lxxxvii] The German intelligence services failed them[lxxxviii] as they failed to detect the large strategic sized force that the Soviets had concentrated in the spring of 1943.  This was a force that Glantz and House believe would have caused ZITADELLE to fail even had it occurred in May, particularly in regard to the comparatively weak German forces fielded by Manstein.[lxxxix]

An offensive with what appeared to be reasonable objectives that were believed to be within the capabilities of the Wehrmacht failed.  Hitler according to Carell “gambled away not only victory but all hope of a draw.”[xc] Manstein categorized the offensive as a “fiasco.”[xci] Guderian called it “a decisive defeat” that made it “problematical” whether the armored formations could be “rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern Front.”[xcii] Warlimont who served at OKW commented: “Operation Citadel was more than a battle lost; it handed the Russians the initiative and we never recovered it again right up to the end of the war.”[xciii] Guderian’s biographer Kenneth Macksey wrote that “the failure at Kursk was due to the employment of a faulty plan which lacked the element of strategic as well as tactical surprise.”[xciv] Raus lists several factors for this.  However, his argument is summarized: “once we learned in May and June that this was the area in which the Russians were prepared to offer their stiffest resistance, we should have modified our plans.  Either we should have refrained from attacking at all, or the operation should have been carried out to strike the enemy not at his strongest, but at his weakest point.”[xcv]

Hitler felt that a decisive victory was needed for political and propaganda reasons, yet even a significant victory was unlikely to keep Italy in the war, even if it swayed the lesser allies to stay the course.  ZITADELLE was conducted too late to save the Italians, success in May might have given German supporters in Italy some leverage but the invasion of Sicily and the failure at Kursk emboldened Mussolini’s opponents. The Fascist Grand Council “voted to have Mussolini removed as prime minister” and King Vittorio Emmanuaele “dismissed Mussolini” who was then placed under arrest.[xcvi] Finland refused to take offensive action that might have cut the Murmansk railway[xcvii] and engaged the Americans in a round of “abortive negotiation”[xcviii] while the Hungarians and Romanians provided little assistance to the Germans, partially due to the German reluctance to assist in modernizing and rebuilding their armies.[xcix]

Of the German Generals involved it was only Guderian as Inspector of Armored Troops and Jodl at OKW who consistently opposed ZITADELLE, citing realistic assessments of strengths, risks and dangers in other theaters.  Manstein opposed it when he felt the opportunity had passed, though it was unlikely to succeed had it been launched in May as he desired.  Guderian and Jodl’s arguments proved correct in every respect. ZITADELLE engaged German the preponderance of German forces in a battle that had at best chances of local success. The offensive itself weakened and endangered the German position on all fronts.  In the end, despite the belief and decision of Hitler, Zeitzler Kluge and others in the High Command, Operation ZITADELLE was neither obvious nor necessary and played out with the disastrous results expected by those who opposed it.


[i] Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965. p. 306

[ii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.14

[iii] Ibid. Glantz and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  p.14

[iv] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. p. 335

[v] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. p.212

[vi] Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986. p.163

[vii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.157

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[ix] Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958  p.447

[x] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000. p.295

[xi] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.206

[xii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.261

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.14

[xiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xv] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.441

[xvi] Ibid. Carell. p.336

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xviii] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.312

[xix] DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005. p.174

[xx] Ibid. DiNardo. p.174. By the summer all Italians units had been withdrawn, all but two Hungarian divisions which were used in anti-partisan operations and nine Romanian divisions.

[xxi] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxiii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.180

[xxiv] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxv] Ibid. Warlimont. pp.317-318

[xxvi] Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003. p.53

[xxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.294

[xxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.339

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxxi] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxii] Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967. p.280

[xxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[xxxiv] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.157

[xxxvi] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxviii] Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957. pp.245-246

[xxxix] Ibid. Clark. p.325.

[xl] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157.

[xli] Ibid. Clark. p.325

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.341

[xliii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xliv]Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. pp.218-219

[xlv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.21

[xlvi] Ibid. Newton. p.219

[xlvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.295

[xlviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xlix] Ibid. Clark. p.326

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.63

[li] Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945. Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997. pp.200-201

[lii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.159

[liii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.64

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.65 This reference contains a listing of each sector and the force ratios of men, tanks and guns in each sector.

[lv] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.197

[lvi] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.81

[lvii] Ibid. Clark. p.327

[lviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.447

[lix] Ibid. Manstein. pp.447-448

[lx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.55

[lxi] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[lxii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.445

[lxiii] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p.262

[lxiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.448

[lxv] Ibid. Clark. p.328

[lxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.78

[lxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.81-84

[lxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxix] Ibid. Erickson. P.99

[lxx] Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983. p.99

[lxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxii] Ibid. Newton. p.222

[lxxiii] Ibid. Newton. 234

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxix] Ibid. Overy. p.209

[lxxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.215-217

[lxxxi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.274

[lxxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.217-218.

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.167

[lxxxv] Ibid. Clark. pp.329-330

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.264

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.269

[lxxxviii] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York,  2006. p.227

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p. 261

[xc] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[xcii] Ibid. Guderian. p.251

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[xciv] Ibid. Macksey. Guderian p.206

[xcv] Ibid. Raus. p.211

[xcvi] Ibid. DiNardo. p.178

[xcvii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.181

[xcviii] Ibid. Erickson. p.91

[xcix] Ibid. DiNardo. pp.182-188

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