Kursk - could the outcome have been different?

Discussion in 'WWII History, Weapons and Tactics' started by ASLSARGE, Mar 19, 2017.

  1. Brian W

    Brian W Active Member

    Jan 29, 2003
    USA
    I don't think packing up and moving an army sized attack is that easy. The low resources included low levels of mobility. The attack on the Psel was already an axis that was not planned originally, but developed during the battle. And the Soviet + western allied economies were really getting into gear, so that any delay meant an increase in odds, at least in terms of equipment, both quality and quantity.

    Frankly, I think the Germans did as well as can be expected. It is the Soviets that could have performed far better than they did. Why does everyone always fixate on possible German improvements against a Soviet defense that is reified as stiff and unchanging as a bronze statute?
     
  2. Paul M. Weir

    Paul M. Weir Well-Known Member

    Apr 3, 2004
    Dublin
    The discussion has reminded me of the question of why the Southern arm got as far as it did while the Northern arm was stalled from the start.

    Some of the comments I have read over the years were to the effect that the Soviets expected the stronger thrust in the North, from AG Centre. The fact that it was AG Centre that threatened Moscow in '41 likely reinforced that opinion. If the stronger fortifications had been in the South then there might have been less or no need to use up Steppe & Southwestern Front reserves (5th Guards Army, 5th Guards Tank Army and 2nd Tank Army) to shore up the Southern lines.

    That might have had the result that Brian W suggested, later better Soviet counter offensive results.

    1. The historical result. Despite being wrong footed with regard to the relative N-S strengths, the Soviets recovered and blunted the Southern arm. Despite suffering far greater losses at Prokhorovka than the Germans, the Germans morale was severely battered and they started to doubt their ability to break through. Their tempo and confidence was their only real edge and once that was gone ... they were done. The mishandling of 5th GTA by Rotmistrov had later counter offensive repercussions. It was not entirely his fault, Stavka had a bad dose of the jitters and forced him into too hasty a deployment, but it could have been better.

    2. The Soviets had more of their forces in the South. That would have resulted in a bigger Northern incursion but given how little the Germans got there, I doubt that it would have affected the Northern battle and subsequent counter offensive. A stronger Southern line, while it might have only reduced the penetration a bit, might have led to a less panicky Stavka reaction and thus not committing the reserves or at least committing them in a more deliberate manner. That might have left 5th GTA in much better shape for the Southern counter offensive. The nett result would have been even more losses in units and land by the Germans post Kursk.

    3. The Germans, while posing as an envelopment attack, really attack the face. While initially more successful than historically would still have met the massive Soviet reserves that were available. They might have done more damage overall but could have been at risk of being (partially) pocketed themselves. I really don't know how that would have gone.

    4. The Germans sit on their hands and wait for the Soviet offensives. That would have been the best option, making the Soviets bleed more. Fortunately Hitler could not sit on his hands nor could any of his Generals sit on him hard enough to force that choice.

    Except for option 4, the Germans did about as good as they could given the force correlations in '43. They could have done much, much worse.
     
  3. witchbottles

    witchbottles Well-Known Member

    Feb 26, 2010
    Rio Vista, CA
    This bears weight in the grander scheme of things, yes. June 22nd , 1941 was a giant, obvious trap insofar as an armed assault on the USSR was concerned.

    Tactically, even Manstein was behind the idea that a single harsh blow needed to be landed in 1943, if for no other reason than to eat up the massive Soviet buildup of forces since the retreats of 1942. Zitadelle did this, at least as far as AG Center was concerned, the Soviets lacked a large enough reserve formation / unit capacity to take strategic advantage of their tactical victory at Kursk. If they had, Bagration would have begun in 1943, rather than 1844, and actually shortened the war by a year (more or less).
     
  4. witchbottles

    witchbottles Well-Known Member

    Feb 26, 2010
    Rio Vista, CA
    Perhaps in the 1960's to 1990's they did, but there are no western countries today that espouse an official line that their effort alone led the destruction of Nazi Germany. The former Soviet Union could always claim and rightly so, this idea, their individual republics still do.
     
  5. witchbottles

    witchbottles Well-Known Member

    Feb 26, 2010
    Rio Vista, CA
    I am of a considered opinion myself that Paul is correct- from an operational viewpoint, the invasion of the Soviet Union failed the day Hoth and Guderian turned form the Smolensk-Moscow road to close the Kiev pocket. Those 6 weeks of campaigning weather ended any hope for Barbarossa.

    From a strategic standpoint, Hitler lost the war on June 22nd, 1941.
     
  6. witchbottles

    witchbottles Well-Known Member

    Feb 26, 2010
    Rio Vista, CA
    This.... Manstein faced the same strategic problem that Rommel had faced the year before after Tobruk fell. Allied build-up was going to outpace the German ability to contend with it if left alone, so the only remaining option was to attack in order to deplete the Allied resource pools before they could grow to levels impossible to contend with.
     
  7. jrv

    jrv Vare, legiones redde!

    May 25, 2005
    Teutoburger Wald
    The Germans should have skipped the Ferdinand RG and maxed their Sniper instead.

    JR
     
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  8. Eagle4ty

    Eagle4ty Active Member

    Nov 7, 2007
    Eau Claire, Wi
    Though somewhat in jest, jrv does hit a salient point, neither the Panther not the Ferdinand delivered on their promise of being the super weapons that would defeat the masses of Soviet armor. In fact the critical engagements on the Southern Front were fought with the "old Reliables", the PzKpfw III's, IV's and a smattering of Tigers supported by the ubiquitous StuGs and various Tank Destroyers as most of the Panthers were lost in simply moving up or due to terrible employment. The fate of the Ferdinands employed on the northern shoulder had even a less successful debut, though by most accounts were systems to be feared when employed correctly, as Tank Destroyers.

    As Paul & Perry have stated, the real Achilles' Heal in the German Order of Battle was their paucity of infantry. However, one cannot or should not imagine that the Soviets had masses of trained and combat ready reserves to throw into the fight either. Many of the Russian reserves were units in refit or training. Though some reserve formations did exist as whole units, for many of the newly arriving armies one need only to look at heir order of battle to see that they were made from a mix of remnants of previously engaged units, units pulled out of other fronts and newly formed formations (the state of training being suspect based upon their subsequent performance against a depleted and badly shaken opponent). The Soviet formations employed against Orel may have been a little different as this part of their Summer Offensive had been planned for well in advance and was considered to be against the most dangerous German Army Group, at least as it pertained to the defense of Moscow and Russia proper.
     
  9. The Germans had a far harder time replacing their losses than did the Russians and, of course, during their retreat they lost Kharkiv. I don't think that Kursk lengthened the war.
     
  10. witchbottles

    witchbottles Well-Known Member

    Feb 26, 2010
    Rio Vista, CA
    I'
    I'd disagree. No attack at all would have left a huge buildup of Soviet forces more than capable of breaking AG Center's positions wide open in the summer of 1943, the Germans still would not have had any forces to stop the major onslaught, the Germans would not have been able to field any effective late generation AFVs in any role (as they did not on the attack, they would not have on the defense, either.), the Soviets would have established air superiority over the bulge as they did anyway, only this time in support of their own assaults, and the bulge itself would have presented the same opportune location that it did in 1944, only this time a full year sooner. Further, an entire year spent grinding down the entire front in the East in defense, pockets, destruction, failed breakouts, Hitler's fortress cities being surrounded and destroyed - all adds up to less forces that could have been pulled out to face Overlord in 1944. The Soviets would have been on the Polish border by Christmas, 1943, and on the Oder by the summer of 1944. It was the destruction of the reserve forces, supplies, units, equipment, planes, tanks, ammunition expenditures, casualties needing replaced, and the drawn in reinforcements of lower quality also being chewed up - all by Zitadelle, that stymied any Soviet advance in strength in 1943. Take Zitadelle away completely, and the Eastern front becomes another Alamein - a catastrophic loss for Germany. Zitadelle was not a catastrophic loss. It accomplished Manstein's goals in the operation, stopping a major Soviet thrust in 1943. To expect anything more was simply to buy into Hitler's paranoid fantasies in the first place.
     
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  11. RRschultze

    RRschultze Active Member

    212
    Sep 14, 2004
    Chester, UK
    Ferdinand and later Elephant were the most succesful tank destroyer of WW2 period. They were deployed incorrectly at Kursk. Obviously there were never enough of them. As per other posts, the Germans lost the war when invading Russia. They might of had a chance if they allowed if they fought with the Ukrainians who were desperate to break free from the clutches of Stalin and would of willingly fought for the Germans.
    What i cant get my head around is that the Germans knew the Russians were heavily fortifying the Kursk area but nevertheless continued with 'Zitadelle'. Following the defeat at Stalingrad and the subsequent demise of 6th Army and the failed attempt to break through 'Wintergetter?' the Germans were forced on the defensive from 1943 onwards. I read somewhere that Hitler insisted on Zitadelle to 'focus' the minds of the russian generals as the russians were in the process of lauching a number of operations elsewhere on the eastern front, namely 'Bagration' which ultimately was delayed due to Zitadelle.
     
  12. Brian W

    Brian W Active Member

    Jan 29, 2003
    USA
    You should of seen what happened at Verdun in the previous war. :)

    The German army had a history of penetrating defenses, which they did in the southern attack at Kursk.
     
  13. witchbottles

    witchbottles Well-Known Member

    Feb 26, 2010
    Rio Vista, CA
    I would be most interested to see surviving action reports in the Bundesarchiv that reported AFV kills by unit, on hand strength in AFVs and recent losses.

    Given the service life, the sheer numbers produced, the anecdotal autobiographical evidence I can find, the employment across the battlefields - I'd say the StuG III was the overall most successful German tank destroyer of the war - albeit it was built as an Assault Gun, not a tank destroyer. I highly doubt either the Ferdinand or the Elefant were in action long enough or prolific enough to score a total number of AFV kills that came anywhere close to the Stugs' record. The "proof in the pudding" would be scans of the original unit action reports, which do exist, for most units of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS, over most of the war years.

    KRL, Jon H
     
  14. Yuri0352

    Yuri0352 Active Member Silver Supporting Member

    882
    Nov 21, 2014
    25-30 Hexes
    I disagree with this opinion. Historical and anecdotal evidence would suggest that the Ferdinand/Elephants may have been among the least successful tank destroyers of the war. Their design flaws are many; too large, too slow, too heavy, overly mechanically complex. As a powerfully armed, massively armored self-propelled A-T pillbox, the Ferdinand was a success. My opinion is from a purely design standpoint, and not based upon how these vehicles were tactically deployed.

    In terms of success, in my opinion,the Stug's, M-36 series, and SU-85\Su-100 series were the most successful tank destroyer designs of WWII.
     
  15. I think you hit he nail on the head. Yes they had a great kill ratio until they broke down, ran out of gas, or got too far behind. There was a good reason they only made a few of them. There is a great tendency for people lionize German weapons because many of them look really cool or have what was wiz bang technology for the time. However, they always forget that the German weapons were generally very complex and hard to manufacture. That was not a good combination when using slave labor for one's industry.
     
  16. RRschultze

    RRschultze Active Member

    212
    Sep 14, 2004
    Chester, UK
    I like opinions. I should have elaborated the Ferdinand/elephant was the most successful tank destroyer of WW2 based on kills to loss ratio. The 653rd heavy tank claimed to have killed 320 tanks for a loss of 13 of their own.
     
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  17. Tom Morin

    Tom Morin Active Member

    748
    Feb 17, 2003
    New Port Richey, FL.
    This.
     

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