German forces on the southern edge of the Kursk bulge began reconnaissance in force in the late afternoon of 4 July, feeling out the Soviet defenses. To the east Grossdeutschland Grenadiers and the 11th Panzer Division also tested the Russians.
After midnight, in the midst of a thunderstorm, the Soviets began an artillery bombardment all along the front. Early on the morning of 5 July the Soviet Air Force launched its assaults on German air fields. German interceptors and anti-aircraft artillery claimed large numbers of Soviet aircraft. In spite of the exaggerated German claims, the Soviet air offensive had limited results.
In the north Model’s IXth Army began its artillery bombardment at 0430. The air attack began at 0510. The tank and infantry attack struck the Soviet 13th Army on a 40 kilometer front. Soviet resistance was assisted by the 16th Air Army. The northern forces were limited to an eight kilometers advance, breaking through the first Soviet defensive belt west of Ponyri.
In the south von Manstein’s forces, including Hoth’s IV Panzer Army and Operational Group Kempff’s III Panzer Corps, attacked the 6th Guard’s Army and the 7th Guards Army. The German attack included 700 tanks and was supported by 2,000 sorties by the Luftwaffe. By the end of the day Hausser’s SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and SS Totenkopf penetrated twenty kilometers creating a gap in the second defensive belt.
Sources: The Battle of Kursk, David M. Glantz & Jonathan M House, University of Kansas, 1999
‘Kursk: The Clash of Armour’, Colonel G. A. Koltunov, History of the Second World War Magazine
Author: Jack Kruse writes military historical fiction set in World War II. He is currently completing a novel, tentatively titled Cauldron, about the aerial battle of the Kursk Salient, a key confrontation on the Russian front in which German and Soviet fighters and bombers engaged in an intensive series of engagements over the steppes of the Ukraine.