Following the catastrophic loss at Stalingrad, Hitler was desperate to regain the initiative in Russia. The Russian army capitalized on their success at Stalingrad, with victories over the Hungarians and Italians, and pushed on to Kursk and Kharkov with relative ease. The Russians fully expected the German army, which was in disarray, to pull back beyond the Dniepr River. However, a timely arrival of German reinforcements allowed von Manstein to conduct a “Backhand Blow” counter offensive retaking Kharkov and Belgorod and driving the Russians back on their heels. As the Germans continued their advance the weather played out in the Russian’s favor once again, as the start of the ‘mud season’ forced both sides to put a temporary halt to operations. This halt gave the Germans time to regroup, and reinforce their armies. It also gave time to plan Unternehmen Zitadelle (Operation Citadel), a huge offensive planned to be launched near the city of Kursk.
Dr. Forczyk’s book covers, in detail, the planning, execution, and ultimate result of Operation Zitadelle, with a specific focus on the southern front of the campaign. The Battle of Kursk is known as the largest tank battle in history with well over a thousand armored vehicles involved in the operation. However, this book clearly demonstrates that the conflict was much more than tank versus tank, and in fact, the deciding factor in the outcome could have well been the simple landmine.
Hitler’s desire to stop the Russian advances on the Eastern Front, was bolstered as much by von Manstein’s successful “Backhand Blow”, as it was with the newest German tank, the mighty Panther. Unfortunately for Hitler, the Russians were much better prepared to counter the German attacks, and were committed to putting all their resources to stopping them. The book covers in detail, how the Russian planning and terrain were able to slow, or in some cases completely reverse, the famed German pincer attack that had been so successful across Europe and into Russia until the summer of 1943.
This book is loaded with campaign maps, and some rare photographs, as well as excellent original artwork, showing how the German offensive played out, and how the Russians countered it at a very high price. I found the details about the involvement of the Pioneering/Engineer troops on both sides of the battle incredibly interesting. The author also demonstrates how a simple stream crossing would all but stop the advance of the newer, heavier German armor due to a lack of bridging equipment that could accommodate the heavier vehicles. Hitler’s belief that his super weapons would simply win failed to consider the need for support vehicles for these weapons.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Operation Citadel, or the battles on the Eastern front. It is well researched and a fascinating read with excellent illustrations and photos. Thanks to Osprey Publishing and IPMS USA for this review copy.