Kursk: The German Plan Delayed

The Kursk Bulge thrust westward out from the front line nearly 150 kilometers. Centered on Kursk, the bulge extended 280 kilometers north to south. The most obvious operation to eliminate the bulge and straighten the front line was concentric attacks from the north and south to pinch off the bulge at the base. The Germans expected to slice through the Soviet defenses, meet at Kursk itself and cut off and surround all Soviet forces within the bulge. The Germans used this technique effectively at Minsk, Smolensk and Kiev in the 1941 attacks. Hitler’s operational order, issued 15 April, 1943, outlined the plan, but no effective date was given. Hitler advised his generals to expect the execute order anytime after 1 May.

Hitler wanted significant numbers of the new Panzerkampfwagen V Panther, and the VI Tiger tanks for the planned attack. The weapon for the Tiger tank was the legendary 88 millimeter anti-tank gun,  and Hitler wanted the Tiger fitted with a longer barreled variant of the gun, but problems fitting the modified gun into the turret of the Tiger proved to be impossible. The answer was to place the longer barreled gun on a Porsche chassis yielding the Elephant. Hitler insisted that this weapon be made available for the Kursk offensive.

The initial start date of 1 May became 12 June, and then 1 July, then 3 July and finally 5 July. Even with these delays only 347 of the Panthers, Tigers, and Elephants were available out of a total of 1,866 armored vehicles available for use in the battle. The majority of the German tanks turned out to be Panzerkampfwagen IIIs and IVs. Both of these armored vehicles had been updated with improved armor and guns. The Mark IV was equivalent to the primary Soviet medium tank, the T-34 model 1943.

Source: The Battle of Kursk, David M. Glantz and Johathan M. House, University Press of Kansas, 1999

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