Kursk was the last major German offensive on the East Front. After Kursk, the ininitiative passed to the Red Army. This was a very different Red Army than the Germans encountered at the onset of Barbarossa. It was a young army, but the junior officers that joined the Army after Barbarossa now had considerable experience. They had learned from the Germans. Their T-34 Tanks provided considerable punch and their artillery had grown considerably in size. Lend Lease in addition to the Soviet arms industry was providing arms to the Red Army in quantities that the Whermact could only dream about. And the Red Air Force was increasingly masteing the Luftwaffe which was bding drained by the conflict with the Americans and British in the air battles over northern Europe. The game changer on the Eastern Front in many ways were the Stidabaker trucks supplied in huge quantity under Lend Lease. These trucks provided the Red Army a mobility that the Wehrmacht did not have even in the heady days of 1939-41. The result was a series of spectacularly successful Red Army offensives that destroyed Army Group Sout and liberated the rest of the Ukraine and the Crima. The Wehrmacht became skilled at defensive warfare, but the skill of local commanders was undercut by several fctors. First, the rapidly expanding size and skill of Soviet formations. Second, Hitler's unwillingness to fall back to defensible lines. Three, OKW's failure to appreciate just how mobile the Red Army had become.
The defeat in North Africa was punishing, but it was on the Eastern Front against the Soviets that the great bulk of the Wehrmacht was deployed. The Germans after Stalingrad fell back, but began amassing their forces for a third summer offensive of the Russian campaign. The offensive this time was even more limited than in 1942. The target was a buldge in the Soviet line, the Kursk salient. The effort was code named Citidel. The fighting on the huge Eastern Front involved vast armies in some of the most savage fighting ever recorded and Kursk may well have been the most vicious fighting of the War. Hitler delayed the offensive until the Wehrmacht could be equipped with the new Panzer Mark IV tanks. The Mark IV could take on the Soviet T-34, but it was a mich more complicated tanl. Not only could it not be produced in the numbers of T-34s, but it required much more intensive maintenance than the T-34. The Offensive was overseen by von Manstein. Guderian objected to the plan for the battle approved by Hitler. It was to be a set piece battle. Guderian argued that the battle plan deprived the Panzers from the mobility which was their greatest advantage. The Soviet defense was planned by Zukov. The delays in the Germany preparations gave the Soviets the time to lean of the German plans and to prepare both defenses and to reinforce the forces around Kursk. The result was the largest tank battle in history. Although D-Day was a year in the future, the estern Allies played a major role in the battle. Not only was American Lend Lease playing a majopr role in supplying Soviet armies, but the Allied strategic bombing campaign had forced the Luftwaffe to concentrate in strength to defend German cities. Thus Luftwaffe support for the German offensive was limited. Although not yet on the Continent, the Allied invasion of Soicily caused Hitler to pull our of the oiffensive two key SS armoured divisions (Das Reich and Yoten Kompf). While quickly returned to the battkle when the offensive bogged down, the loss of position and tctical advantage was considerable. At Kursk, the Wehrmacht suffered losses from which they never recovered. It was their last important offensive on the Eastern Front. Without the Soviet defeat of the Wehrmacht, the Western Allies would have been hard pressed to contain the Germans or cross the Channel. A victorious Russian ally, however, meant that peace following the War would be far from ideal and leave the peoples of Eastern Europe locked into a new totalitarian dictatorship for a half a century.
The Red Army suffered many terrible encirclements where German Panzers pincers cut off whole armies and in the case of the great encirclement at Kiev, several armies. After Stalingrad it was the Whermacht that came to fear encirclements. Not only because of the increased power and mobility of the Red Army, but because the German soldier knew what capture by the Red Army would mean. The Red Army strived for such feats and almost suceeded several times. The Soviets managed to surround XXXXVII Corps of Army Group South (January 1944). In all six German divisiobs were surrounded in the dead of winter by the 1st and 2nd Ukranian Fronts. (A Front in Soviet parlance was a group of armies.) The Germans were cut off around the village of Korsun. The action occurred almost precisely 1 year after the surrender of the beseiged Stalingrand garrison. The Germans were cut off for 2 weeks. The Germans were kept alive by a Luftwaffe airlift using a primitive airfield near Korsun. The Soviets were sure they had bagged the Germans. Gamed Panzer expert, General Erich von Manstein, launched a Panzer attack and then ordered the trapped men to break out.
The Germans reached the Crimea in Barbarossa, but did not finally take the Peninsula until mid-1942, defeating a major Soviet offense and smashing the defenses at Sevasttpol (July 1942). The Soviet victory at Stalingrad (January 1943) and resulting offense led to Kursk (July 1943). The Soviet victory undermined German control of the Ukraine. The Soviers pressed the Germans throughout the Ukraine. The 17th Armee was forced to retreat from the Kuban Bridgehead across the Kerch Strait to the temporary safety of the Crimea (October 1943). The Red Army advance placed the Germans and Romanians in the Crimea in a dangerous position. The Crimea was one of the many positions in the East that Hitler was determined to hold. The Romanians wanted to evacuate, but Hitler insisted the Crimea be defended. The German commander assured Hitler that they could hold the Soviets at the narrow neck of the Peninsula. He badly underestimated the growing strength of the Red Army and the mobility provided by American Lend Lease trucks. Thus the Germans did not evacuate when they still had the opportunity. The Red Army steadily pushed back the Germans in the southern Ukraine. This mean they eventually reached the Perekop Isthmus and cut off the land connection of 17. Armee with German lines (November 1943). As a result, the Soviets had succeeded in cutting off a sizeable force in the Crimea Penensula. Soviet troops begin their offensive to liberate Crimea (April 8, 1944). This set up the Battle for the Crimea. The Red Army's 4th Ukrainian Front engaged the German and Romanian 17th Armee (Army Group South). The 4th Ukrainian Front smshed through the German-Romanian defenses. The Germans finally attempted to evacuate across the Black Sea, but the effort was poorly executed. Both the Germans and Romanians experienced severe losses. Soviet troops recapture Sevastopol (May 9). The last Germans surrender in the Crimea (May 12).
M�ller, Rolf-Dieter and Gerd R. Uebersch�r. Hitler's war in the East, 1941-1945 (Bibliothek f�r Zeitgeschichte/Bruce Little).
Zetterling, Niklas and Anders Frankson. The Korsun Pocket: The Encirclement and Breakout of a Germany Arm in the East, 1944
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