The Battle of Kursk in July 1943 was without doubt one of most decisive battles to stop Germany’s Eastern Front and leading to their ultimate defeat. Russia had won this key battle against Germany by never giving up against the best trained combat hardened elite forces in the world. Although Russia had superior numbers of men and equipment, nevertheless the losses were disproportionally much higher than German losses. As shocking as it may be, Germany, defying overwhelming odds of going on the offensive with a significant mass differential (see notes below), was winning. Their loss was much less when they remained on the offensive than when after delay and loss of momentum they had to go on the defensive. Another key event of note is after the dismal beginning of Russia in 1941/42 things quickly changed as Russia adapted after each defeat.
The 3 essential spiritually applicable lessons learned here are:
1. Never giving up; stay in the fight with an offensive counter attack
2. Adapting by learning from mistakes
3. Stay on the offensive; defense doesn’t win in the end
- Accounts of Kursk tend to focus on the dramatic German attack and desperate Soviet defense. Yet as was the case throughout the war, German losses were relatively light as long as they remained on the offensive, where they could use their talents for battlefield flexibility and improvisation to the maximum. It was when the Germans were on the defense, where they had less room to maneuver and were vulnerable to massive artillery barrages, that they tended to take heavy casualties. The Germans lost about 50,000 men during their attempted breakthrough. They may have suffered another 150,000 casualties during the dual Soviet offensives — Operations Kutuzov and Rumyantsev — in mid-July through August. German tank losses were not excessive during their offensive, but once the long retreat to the Reich began, equipment frequently had to be abandoned or blown up. 1
- Top commanders such as Erich Von Manstein wanted to attack in May, before the Soviets had time to dig in and reinforce the salient. But a nervous and indecisive Hitler decided to postpone Operation Citadel until July, to allow time to deploy his vaunted new Panther, Tiger and Elefant tanks. While the big cats lumbered off the railroad cars near the front lines, the Germans managed to amass nearly 800,000 men, 3,000 tanks, 10,000 guns and mortars, and 2,000 aircraft. It would be the last time the Germans could concentrate such an attack force (by comparison, at the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans had 400,000 men and 600 tanks). Yet as usual, the Germans were outnumbered. They faced 1.9 million Soviet soldiers, 5,000 tanks, 25,000 guns and mortars and more than 3,000 aircraft. Citadel was a prophetic name for the German offensive. The Soviets used the extra time to build an incredibly dense defense system of multiple layers of fortifications, including trenches, bunkers, tank traps and machine gun nests 25 miles deep, as well as minefields that averaged more than 3,000 mines per kilometer. 1
- During the battle, the Soviets displayed overwhelming mass where and when it was needed, and the Germans failed to achieve mass. Mass, as a principle of war, is the concentration of the effects of combat power at the decisive place and time.24 In offensive operations, it is a generally accepted axiom that the attacker must achieve a 3-to-1 ratio of forces to be successful. At the battle of Kursk, the ratio of forces was actually in favor of the defender. The Soviet forces had a 1.9-to-1 advantage in tanks, a 2.5-to-1 advantage in men, and a 2.1-to-1 advantage in field guns.25 The Soviet’s advantage is further demonstrated by the density of antitank guns and mines in the region: 12 to 15 antitank guns per km and 1,600 antitank mines per km in the Kursk salient, an increase of 300 percent and 400 percent, respectively, over the densities used at the defense of Moscow and Stalingrad. In certain key areas, the density of antitank guns exceeded 100 per km of defensive front. Furthermore, the Soviet pattern of defense was arrayed in such a way that the Soviet forces were able to bring an unprecedented amount of direct and indirect fires on key points on the battlefield.26 Clearly, the German army did not have the mass it needed to defeat the Soviet defenses. 2