WhenJuly 5–16, 1943

WhereThe area around the Russian city of Kursk (dead center in map), an important railroad junction nearly 280 miles southwest of Moscow

Location of Battle of Kursk

WhoElements of Field Marshal Guenther von Kluge’s (1892–1944) Army Group Center and Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s (1887–1973) Army Group South faced Gen. Konstantin Rokossovsky’s (1896–1968) Central Front, Gen. Ivan S. Konev (1897–1973), Steppe Front, and Gen. Nikolai Vatutin’s (1901–1944) Voronezh Front under the direction of Supreme Commander-in-Chief Marshal Georgy Zhukov (1896–1974).

WhatOperation Citadel (German, Zitadelle), Hitler’s strategic offensive of 1943 aimed at eliminating the Soviet salient (bulge), 150 miles long and 100 miles wide, near the middle of the Eastern Front centered around Kursk, trapping, and destroying nearly one-fifth of the Red Army. For the Soviets, repelling the attack, des­troying as much German armor as possible, and counterattacking were the goals. The Soviets had 1.3 million men, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces, and 2,400 aircraft. Facing the Soviets were 50 German divisions, 900,000 men, 2,700 tanks and assault guns, 10,000 artillery pieces, and 1,800 aircraft. The clash of armor on July 12, 1943, involving some 1,800 tanks, was the largest tank battle of the war. The next day Hitler called off Operation Citadel.

WhyOnly having resources for a limited offensive in the east and needing a victory to reassure wavering Axis allies after the German defeat at Stalingrad, the Kursk salient provided the Germans with an apparently manageable strategic objective.

OutcomeThe German offensive failed with a loss of close to 80,000 dead, wounded, or captured, 320 tanks, and 200 aircraft. Soviet loses were nearly 180,000 dead, wounded, or captured, more than 400 tanks, and 459 aircraft. The Soviet counterattack initiated the long retreat of Axis forces from Soviet soil as the growing strain of fighting a multifront war sapped Axis resources. The strategic balance in the east had shifted in favor of the Soviets for good.

Battle of Kursk: The Greatest Tank Battle of All Time