Generals At War episode 4 – The Battle of Kursk: 1943 – Germany and Russia clash near the Soviet city of Kursk, as each vies for control of the Eastern Front. The Germans are led by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein – an aristocratic master tactician. Facing him is the Red Army’s Marshal Zhukov – ruthless, opinionated and dangerous to know.
Hitler is convinced new super-weapons like the Tiger tank will win the fight and insists von Manstein hold off his attack until more arrive. Zhukov exploits the delay and orders his men to dig for victory. They create an elaborate network of defences to grind the enemy down – or blow them up…
The two armies finally meet in a titanic clash of tanks – the biggest tank battle of all time – which will change the course of the war.
Generals At War episode 4 – The Battle of Kursk
Battle of Kursk
The Battle of Kursk was a Second World War engagement between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near Kursk (450 kilometres or 280 miles south-west of Moscow) in the Soviet Union, during July and August 1943. The battle began with the launch of the German offensive Operation Citadel, on 5 July, which had the objective of pinching off the Kursk salient with attacks on the base of the salient from north and south simultaneously.
After the German offensive stalled on the northern side of the salient, on 12 July the Soviets commenced their Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation with the launch of Operation Kutuzov against the rear of the German forces in the northern side. On the southern side, the Soviets also launched powerful counterattacks the same day, one of which led to a large armoured clash, the Battle of Prokhorovka. On 3 August, the Soviets began the second phase of the Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation with the launch of Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev against the German forces in the southern side of the Kursk salient.
The battle was the final strategic offensive that the Germans were able to launch on the Eastern Front. Because the Allied invasion of Sicily began during the battle, Adolf Hitler was forced to have troops training in France diverted to meet the Allied threat in the Mediterranean, rather than use them as a strategic reserve for the Eastern Front. Hitler canceled the offensive at Kursk after only a week, in part to divert forces to Italy.
Germany’s extensive losses of men and tanks ensured that the victorious Soviet Red Army enjoyed the strategic initiative for the remainder of the war. The Battle of Kursk was the first time in the Second World War that a German strategic offensive was halted before it could break through enemy defences and penetrate to its strategic depths. Though the Red Army had succeeded in winter offensives previously, their counter-offensives after the German attack at Kursk were their first successful summer offensives of the war.
Erich von Manstein
Fritz Erich Georg Eduard von Manstein (24 November 1887 – 9 June 1973) was a German commander of the Wehrmacht, Nazi Germany’s armed forces during the Second World War. He attained the rank of field marshal.
Born into an aristocratic Prussian family with a long history of military service, Manstein joined the army at a young age and saw service on both the Western and Eastern Front during the First World War (1914–18). He rose to the rank of captain by the end of the war and was active in the inter-war period helping Germany rebuild her armed forces. In September 1939, during the invasion of Poland at the beginning of the Second World War, he was serving as Chief of Staff to Gerd von Rundstedt’s Army Group South. Adolf Hitler chose Manstein’s strategy for the invasion of France of May 1940, a plan later refined by Franz Halder and other members of the OKH.
Anticipating a firm Allied reaction should the main thrust of the invasion take place through the Netherlands, Manstein devised an innovative operation—later known as the Sichelschnitt (“sickle cut”)—that called for an attack through the woods of the Ardennes and a rapid drive to the English Channel, thus cutting off the French and Allied armies in Belgium and Flanders. Attaining the rank of general at the end of the campaign, he was active in the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. He led the Axis forces in the Siege of Sevastopol (1941–1942) and the Battle of the Kerch Peninsula, and was promoted to field marshal on 1 July 1942, after which he participated in the Siege of Leningrad.
Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov was a Soviet general and Marshal of the Soviet Union. He also served as Chief of the General Staff, Minister of Defence, and was a member of the Presidium of the Communist Party (later Politburo). During the Second World War, Zhukov oversaw some of the Red Army’s most decisive victories.
Born to a poor peasant family from central Russia, Zhukov was conscripted into the Imperial Russian Army and fought in the First World War. He served in the Red Army during the Russian Civil War. Gradually rising through the ranks, by 1939 Zhukov was given command of an army group and won a decisive battle over Japanese forces at Khalkhin Gol, for which he won the first of his four Hero of the Soviet Union awards. In February 1941, Zhukov was appointed as chief of the Red Army’s General Staff.
Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Zhukov lost his position as chief of the general staff. Subsequently, he organized the defense of Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad. He participated in planning several major offensives, including the Battle of Kursk and Operation Bagration. In 1945, Zhukov commanded the 1st Belorussian Front; he took part in the Vistula–Oder Offensive and the Battle of Berlin, which resulted in the defeat of Nazi Germany, and the end of the war in Europe. In recognition of Zhukov’s role in the war, he was chosen to accept the German Instrument of Surrender.