MOSCOW, August 23. /TASS/. August 23 marks 74 years since the day on which the Red Army defeated Nazi forces in what was destined to become the largest armor battle ever fought in human history – the Battle of the Kursk Salient.
President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree on March 13, 1995 adding August 23 to the list of days of Russia’s military glory and commemorative dates.
On Monday, August 23, 1943, Soviet forces liberated the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkov marking an end to the battle that began on the most decisive elements of victory in World War II.
It started on July 5, 1943, and lasted 51 days, encompassing three phases – the Kursk defense operation (through to July 23), the Oryol offensive operation (from July 12 through to August 18) and the Belgorod/Kharkov offensive operation (from August 3 through to August 23).
A westwards-extending curve, which military historians would term later as the Salient of Kursk, some 150 km deep and 200 km wide, took shape during the winter offensive of the Red Army and the subsequent counter-offensive by the Wehrmacht. It was there that the German command decided to conduct a strategic breakthrough effort. For the purpose, it designed an operation codenamed Zitadelle (Citadel) in April 1943.
To make the operation efficacious, the German command brought in the most combat-seasoned units – fifty divisions in all. Of that number, there were 16 armor and mechanized divisions and a big number of separate units incorporated in the Ninth and Second Field Armies of Heergruppe Mitte (Army Group Center) and in the Fourth Tank Army and Kempf operation group of Heergrupper Sud (Army Group South).
The overall grouping concentrated at the bulge of Kursk had more than 900,000 men and officers, about 10,000 artillery guns and mortars, 2,245 tanks, and 1,781 warplanes.
On the Soviet side of the frontline, there were more than 1,900 men and officers fighting in the units of the Central, Voronezh and Steppe Fronts, more than 26,000 artillery guns and mortars, more than 4,900 tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts, and about 2,900 warplanes.
The Soviet central staff also concentrated the cream of the commanding military elite on the Kursk Salient – marshals Georgy Zhukov and Alexander Vassilevsky, Army General Konstantin Rokossovsky, Army General Nikolai Vatutin, and Colonel-General Ivan Konev.
On July 5, 1943, the strike groups of the Wehrmacht began an offensive on the city of Kursk, the administrative center of a big region of the same name, from the positions near Oryol and Belgorod. The offensive and the efforts to contain it came to a climax on a vast field near the township of Prokhorovka on July 12, which brought together as many as 1,200 tanks and sell-propelled artillery mounts on both sides.
Hitlerite troops lost up to 400 tanks and assault weapons in the Battle of Prokhorovka that remains unsurpassed to this day as a combat clash of armor forces in terms both size and scope.
The Red Army launched an offensive on its side on July 12 and the Wehrmacht had to begin a pullback of its forces on July 16. The cities of Oryol, halfway between Moscow and Kursk, and Belgorod, halfway between Kursk and Kharkov, were liberated on August 5. The Soviet authorities marked the occasion by a major firework in Moscow, the first one since the beginning of World War II.
Soviet troops took Kharkov on August 23 and ascertained a highly favorable position for themselves for a further general liberation of the regions of Ukraine along the left-hand bank of the river Dnieper.
All in all, the Battle of the Kursk Salient evidenced the combat engagement of over 4 million men and officers, more than 70,000 artillery weapons and mortars, more than 13,000 tanks and self-propelled units, and about 12,000 warplanes.
The Red Army defeated 30 German divisions, including seven tank divisions. The Wehrmacht lost more than 500,000 men and officers in killed, missing or taken prisoner by Soviet forces.
The losses on the Soviet side were bigger and totaled 860,000 men and officers, including 255,000 in killed and missing in action.