Formation of the Kursk Salient

The battle for Stalingrad is one of the most familiar actions on the Eastern Front for most Americans. At the height of the fighting for Stalingrad, the Germans occupied the majority of the city. On November 19, 1942, the Soviet South-West Front, the Don Front, and the Stalingrad Front launched attacks from the northwest, the north, and the southeast of Stalingrad wrapping around the city and surrounding the VI Army led by General von Paulus. By November 23 the encirclement of VI Army was complete, and the Soviet siege began.

General Hoth attempted to penetrate the Soviet encircling force to relieve the VI Army, striking north from Kotelnikovo beginning on December 12. The relief attempt was brought to a halt on the Myshkova River by December 18. Even while the relief effort was taking place. The Voronezh Front under General Golikov, with the assistance of Vatutin’s South-West Front, attacked the Italian VIII Army and the Rumanian III Army, northwest of the city, opened a gap in the German line causing von Manstein to plug the hole with the replacements Hoth needed to continue his relief attempt.

On December 24 the South-West Front, the Don Front, and the Stalingrad Front attacked the stalled relief force taking Kotelnikovo on December 29 and driving Hoth’s forces back to the Aksay River. The time now seemed right for a general offensive by the Soviet Army. On January 13, 1943, from Orel in the north to Rostov on the Sea of Azov, the Bryansk Front, the Voronezh Front, the South-West Front, and the South Front surged forward. The Voronezh Front under General Golikov crossed the upper Don River and defeated the II Hungarian and VIII Italian Armies. General Vatutin took Voronezh on January 26.

General von Paulus surrendered the VI Army in Stalingrad on February 2, 1943.

The Soviet Army took Kursk on February 8, Kharkov and Voroshilovgrad on February 16, and Pavlograd, near Dnepropetrovsk on February 17. With Golikov attacking toward Kharkov and Vatutin advancing southwest toward Dnepropetrovsk, a gap opened in the Russian line of which von Manstein, the German commander, took advantage. On February 20 German forces attacked north from Krasnoarmeyskoye, and south from Krasnograd to cut off South-West Front’s spearhead attacking Dnepropetrovsk, while another assault from Poltava was thrust into the gap between the two Soviet armies aiming for Belgorod and Kharkov. With Vatutin retreating from von Manstein’s forces, Golikov’s left flank was exposed. He was able to move units south to cover his flank, but, ultimately he was forced to yield Kharkov, which the Germans took, again, on March 15, and Belgorod on March 18.

Manstein’s next planned move was to strike north toward Kursk, however, the spring thaw prevent it. The front stabilized on March 26 leaving a bulge in the line stretching west more than 100 miles, and 100 miles from north to south with Kursk very nearly in its center.

Sources: “Stalingrad: The Relief”, Colonel Alexander M. Samsonov, World War II Magazine; Kursk: the Clash of Armour, Geoffrey Jukes, Ballentine Books, 1968

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