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Kursk (by popular demand!)

Discussion in 'Eastern Europe February 1943 to End of War' started by CrazyD, Aug 8, 2002.

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  1. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    Up to the second half of 1940 the panzer division was the only true mecanized unit in existence outside the USSR, the French units were totally unsuited for mechanized warfare and the British were still forming.
    going by memory:
    A 1940 Panzer division two to four tank batallions, 3 infantry batallions, an artillery regiment, recon batallion, AT batallion, Engineer batallion, lots of support troops, it was capable of sustained offensive operations though it was a bit short in inantry for defensive roles.
    British Amoured Division: two tank regiments and a brigade sized support group of infantry and artillery, it the desert campaign the unit proved to be capable of sustained offensive ops though 1st Armoured in France failed to achieve anything significant.
    British Army Tank Brigade was an Infantry tank support unit with no organic infantry or artillery to speak of.
    French DCR two tank regiments and very little else, same limitation as the British Army Tank Brigade.
    French DLM was a light division geared for reconnaisance, a role where they failed miserably though their heavier tanks were a tough nut to crack for the Panzers. The TOE is pretty interesting 160 tanks (80 Somua 35 and 80 Hotckiss 35) and around 100 Panhard 178 armoured cars (though that number looks high) a sizeable infantry complement including 3 companies if engineers and one of bridging engineers but very little arty and .... an anachronistic detachment of carrier pigeons !


    The Kursk era Panzer division was not terribly different from it's1940 predecessor, two batalion of tanks 4 of infantry (6 in the SS), an artillery regiment (significantly stronger than the 1940 one), recon batallion, AT batallion, Engineer batallion, lots of support troops.
     
  2. Tamino

    Tamino Doc - The Deplorable

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    Klug states that: ''using the Panzerkeil was akin to using a sword like a club as the tanks attempted to bludgeon their way through the Soviet defenses rather than creating a penetration and exploiting it. Furthermore, this tactic often gave up the standoff advantage of the Tiger, as it had to close with the enemy in order to protect the older tanks.''

    It was less important how they utilized their weapons than what was they have been dealing with. Notorious Blitzkrieg tactics was effective against opponents fighting in an old-fashionable way of 1917: like French and British armies in 1939 and even worse, the Soviets in 1941. In the summer of 1943 the Wehrmacht faced a defense consisting of integrated artillery, mortars, rocket artillery, and anti-tank guns of all calibers into the defensive scheme. In fact, for the first time during the war a Soviet defense had one and a half times more artillery regiments than it had infantry regiments.
    Just walking from the southern shoulder of the bulge to Kursk would have been a difficult task, let alone to penetrate six lines of defense. And then they would have to face fresh troops of the entire Soviet reserve allocated east of Kursk.

    Manstein claimed that the battle of Kursk was yet another »Lost Victory« but he ignores the fact that the battle of Prokhorovka was just the end of the first part of operations fought in the vicinity of Kursk in the summer of 1943. In the subsequent operations Kutuzov and Rumantsyev, which were an integral of the defensive-offensive Soviet plan, the Wehrmacht lost any chance to re-gain initiative on the Eastern front. The battle of Prokhorovka was the end for the Wehrmacht – it wasn't a 'tactical draw' whatsoever.
     
  3. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    Kutuzov and Rumantsyev started already during Zitadelle .
     
  4. Tamino

    Tamino Doc - The Deplorable

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    Of course, but many authors choose to "end" the battle of Kursk prematurely to minimize the impression of obvious scale of the Wehrmacht debacle during the summer of 1943.

    There is, however, quite interesting aspect of the battle of Kursk: intelligence and particularly, the lack of documented, credible sources. This problem was addressed on several occasions in this tread.

    Over the recent weeks I've been reading several books about the battle for Kursk, but in another quite different book I've found what I was looking for, for long time: a documented source about the transfer of intelligence from Bletchley Park to the Soviets. Recently declassified materials eddied by B. Jack Copeland in a book entitled "Colossus: The secrets of Bletchley Park's code-breaking computers" reveals how the intelligence gathered by the "Tunny" was send to Russian allies. The book cites a word-for-word translation of an intercepted "Tunny" message of 25 April 1943 signed by Weichs to the OKH.
    Here is a passage from that chapter describing the transfer of intelligence to Moscow:

    "Highly important messages such as this were conveyed directly to Churchill, usually with covering note "C", Chief of the Intelligence Service. On 30th April an intelligence report based on the content of the message, but revealing nothing about its origin was send to Churchill's ally, Stalin. (Ironically, however, Stalin had a Spy inside Bletchley Park: John Cairncross was sending raw Tunny decrypts directly to Moscow by clandestine means.)"
     
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  5. Berez

    Berez New Member

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  6. Tamino

    Tamino Doc - The Deplorable

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    Thanks for the links to these two Russian documentaries. In these two documentaries I have seen some scenes for the first time and I've been able "understand" some words even though I never learned Russian.

    However, right now I am reading S. H. Newton's "Kursk: The German view" because I want to see history from different points of view. The truth is, as always, somewhere in between.

    Thanks again. :)
     
  7. ptimms

    ptimms Member

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    Yes it is, the Germans must have been scared by the time travelling T34/85's. It really grates with me that even the Russians (who must have thousands of hours of T34/76 footage) get this wrong.
     
  8. green slime

    green slime Member

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    But given that you have to attack the defended sector, as in Hitler's orders, there really isn't a "better" alternative. The best alternative would've been Manstein's original suggestion to husband resources and deliver a defensive backhand. Once the decision was made to envelop Kursk, which was subsequently known to the Soviets, the depths of defenses and necessity to close distance, there was no better alternative. They were trying to "create a penetration", but the defenses were so extensive. Where does Klug suggest the penetration should've taken place instead? The standoff advantage is irrelevant, as in order to advance, you have to close distance, otherwise, you're not advancing!

    With the Tigers leading, you at least have the ability to engage as soon as is practible for the Tiger, and retain some level of long range capability (visibility dependant). Whereas leading with PzIII's, they'd 1) reduce the Tiger's field of vision, by virtue of being a bloody friendly tank in the way 2) stir up dust, further reducing visibility for the Tigers.

    Given the level of Intelligence the Soviets had about German intentions, it wouldn't have mattered where the Germans decided to attack. The only option would've been to delude the Allied intelligence services, cancel the attack (well before it was started, it was realised that the Russians had made massive preparations, and it should've been realised that the operation was compromised), and prepare a mobile defense. You don't win battles by doing the obvious or the predictable.
     
  9. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    The problem with the backhand is that it assumes that the Soviets will attack exactly where the Germans want them to. Operation Bagration was so successful in part because the Germans planned on the Soviets attacking in the south and sent their reserves south. When the real attack came in the north the Germans could not adjust in time. Even at Kursk the Germans badly miscalculated on how quickly the Soviets could launch an offence against Orel. The second issue is the Soviets could afford to launch two separate offences and even if one is stalled the other should have success.
     
  10. Tamino

    Tamino Doc - The Deplorable

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    @greenslime: I agree with your reasoning but the real problem is elsewhere: in the decision making process. The Citadelle itself was feasible for the end of April and yet that outdated concept managed to survive until the beginning of July because the Germans weren't able to admit its infeasibility and trash it altogether. The Germans just attacked but an attack wasn't really an initiative because they did exactly what the Russians wanted and expected them to do. Therefore, the Germans failed at Kursk because of their incapability for adaptive reasoning. In contrast to that rigid mentality, Vasilevsky during the execution of the operation Saturn/Little Saturn, managed to change the operation fundamentally in just few days. After just short visit to the front, he proposed substantial variations of an initial plan which even changed its initial objectives. Changes were accepted by the STAVKA with no big fuss.
     
  11. green slime

    green slime Member

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    "Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate."
    -Sun Tzu.

    “Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”
    Sun Tzu, The Art of War

    “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”
    Sun Tzu, The Art of War

    “Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory:
    1 He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
    2 He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
    3 He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
    4 He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
    5 He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.”
    Sun Tzu, The Art of War

    “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”
    Sun Tzu, The Art of Warfare

    “If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”
    Sun Tzu

    “Ultimate excellence lies not in winning every battle, but in defeating the enemy without ever fighting.”
    Sun Tzu

    “So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak.”
    Sun Tzu, The Art of War

    So much about the Battle of Kursk for Nazi Germany is a catalogue of how not to fight a war.

    http://www.theblackvault.com/documents/ADA377406.pdf


    "... the example of Kharkov shows on the operational level how an Army can succeed even when badly outnumbered."

    "... Kursk shows the neglect of basic principles of warfare by the German High Command."

    "It is particularly worthwhile to study Kharkov as an example of Manstein's operational thinking."
     
  12. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    Actually there was no good time. The German army was too exhausted in March and by the time April ended the Soviets were already reinforcing the troops in the bulge. At no time would the Germans have an acceptable correlation of forces that would allow a victory,
     
  13. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    One reason for the long wait by Hitler was to wait for the miracle weapons like Panthers and Ferdinands that were pretty useless in the end. Then again the German infantry numbers have been calculated to be inadequate for the operation even to start with, and with the close to massive losses there was not enough troops to support the armor to go ahead, and even then the Soviet troops had made defensive structures forcing the attacking Germans into traps, areas where guns could crossfire them, mine fields, massive artillery fire etc. Also, Hitler believed he could cause enough damage so that even if Zitadelle failed, he would have bought time to keep the battle zone where it was early June 1943. Big mistake by Hitler again.

    In the books it is mentioned Stalin wanted to attack first but Zhukov made him change his mind, to defend and wear the German units to zero, and then attack. Wonder what the result would have been by Stalin as he favoured attacking in a broad line, and remembering for instance Kharkov 1942 where the Soviet attack was annihilated. Then again in Kursk I think Stalin had so much man power he could throw punch after punch and probably win by his method as well.
     
  14. green slime

    green slime Member

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    Manstein's defence of Kharkov was magnificent. Pure Genius.

    It showed the outnumbered Germans could still inflict terrible losses on the Soviets, for minimal German losses. Given the disparity in resources, and the inability of German arms to force a conclusion, it was the only realistically possible way forward. Bleeding the Soviets until a negotiated peace could occur. All the resources in the world won't help a demoralised army, and a leadership that questions itself.

    Hitler was never willing to risk space, and would not consider peace with Russia: it was a war of Annihilation. His dogma destroyed the thousand year Reich.
     
  15. arminiuss

    arminiuss New Member

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    Citadel should never have been fought the way it was. If von Manstein had his way and it started soon after Kharkov it may have had some success. However all the delays, be it weather or wonder weapons, destroyed any chance that it was going to be a benefit for Germany to fight that battle. It should have been obvious even to German intelligence gathering that the soviets knew what was up. And then to go ahead and attack where the defense was the strongest was insane.

    They should have spared their strength as per Guderian for defensive fighting. They should have used a mobile defense of giving up ground like at Kharkov. The one advantage the German army usually had was their superiority in mobile operations.

    Maybe a change in schwerpunkt from the flanks to an attack up the middle would have some more chance of success but since whatever the plan was the soviets would know about it as soon as the OKW did I doubt it.

    Instead of eliminating the bulge by pinching it off they should have pulled back their lines after the soviets built up their defenses and straightened out the lines that way. Germany could no longer really win the war at that point. The only real chance they had was to inflict alot of casualties on the red army while risking as little of the heer as possible. Then try for a separate peace with Stalin. I think that would have been possible but Hitler would have to give operational command to von Manstein, Guderian and the like. That was unlikely in the extreme.
     
  16. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    I have seen better arguments.
     
  17. arminiuss

    arminiuss New Member

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    That's not an argument, it's just contradiction.
     
  18. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    It is a myth that Manstein could have single handedly marched to Moscow if he was in control. (exaggeration of course) As soon as the Kharkov counter offence ended the Soviets had already taken steps to prepare the Kursk bulge. Troops were replaced and reinforced, defense's were began. At no time were the Soviets ever just ripe and ready for another counter blow. As far as the Manstein method of defense, it only works if the Soviets attacked exactly were the Germans wanted and over extended them selves as they did at Kharkov. Manstein refuses to accept that the Soviets were capable of learning from their mistakes and being able to adjust their strategy.
     
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  19. arminiuss

    arminiuss New Member

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    Which is exactly what the soviets did in Kursk. I never said that von Manstein would be able to turn everything around. Just that citadel was over before it began. Even if it was successful it would have been just a temporary advantage that the Germans would not have been able to capitalize on. What I am saying is that all the resources Guderian built up could have been better used than being thrown away in an operation that was going to generate alot of casualties that the Russians could tolerate but the Germans could not. It was never going to be a strategic victory.

    As to whether or not it would have worked in the spring, I am just saying that with far fewer forces put at risk it may have had some positive effect on the German war effort with far fewer casualties. Even if it failed the strain on German forces would have been far less. The only hope at that point in the war was for an elastic defense that bled soviet forces while keeping wehrmacht losses to a minimum. If that could be sustained for a time it may have brought Stalin to the conference table. I think that was all that Germany could hope for at that point.

    You actaully think citadel was a good idea?
     
  20. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    What I meant is that Manstein exaggerates what he could have done, he pretends that he had in March the forces he had later. Yes, Soviet troops were not as ready in March, but the German army was also in very poor shape, Im not sure what Manstein thinks he could have done with the forces he had in March.
     

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