The Battle of Kursk
Shortly before the German attack, the Soviet intelligence found out that it would begin at 3 a.m. The Commands of the Central (K. Rokossovsky) and the Voronezh (N. Vatutin) Fronts made a decision to carry out a preemptive artillery strike in the early hours of July 5 to confuse the enemy and to disrupt its preparations. The Soviet bombardment started at 2 am sharp. It forced the Germans to postpone their attack for several hours.
The offensive started at about 6 am. The German troops with a help of the new heavy tanks were able to punch several holes in the Soviet defense lines and to penetrate deep into the Red Army battle formations in some places. The advanced Soviet units unable to contain the onslaught of the Tiger tanks would not give up. They kept fighting and destroying the enemy’s infantry.
On July 10, Erich von Manstein decided to throw his tanks toward the village of Prokhorovka. The attack was carried out by II SS Panzer Corps under command of General Paul Hausser. It consisted of three tank divisions: Das Reich, Totenkopf, and Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. The largest tank battle of the war was fought there from July 10 to 16. As a result the Germans exhausted their resources and had to stop the offensive. Ever since, the Battle of Prokhorovka has symbolized the unbending courage and bravery of the Soviet tankers.
To prevent the German break through the Soviet Command moved into action the 5th Guards Tank Army of Lieutenant General P. Rotmistrov and also two tank corps and part of the forces of the 5th Guards Army of Lieutenant General A. Zhadov.
Modern studies apply the name of the Battle of Prokhorovka to the events from July 10 through July 16. They started with Manstein’s troops shifting their main direction from north-east toward Oboyan to the east toward the village of Prokhorovka and ended with the beginning of pursuit by Soviet forces of the retreating enemy. The “tank battle with head-on encounter”, or the counteroffensive of the Voronezh Front on July 12, 1943, is seen as a part of the Battle of Prokhorovka, which was undoubtedly won by the Red Army.
The Oryol Strategic Offensive, with codename Kutuzov was launched by troops of the Western, Central and Bryansk Fronts in the direction of the city of Oryol. It started on July 12, 1943. By that date, it had been realized by many German commanders that it was meaningless to continue the offensive.
The Soviet command sent fresh reserve armies to the battle field. Soon they forced their way through the German defense. The Red Army inflicted heavy losses on the German Army Group Center, destroying 15 of its divisions and liberated a considerable part of the soviet territory. On August 5 the city of Oryol was liberated and Russian units entered Belgorod. The frontline was pushed 150 km westward.
To celebrate the liberation of Oryol and Belgorod, Stalin ordered the first artillery salute in Moscow. 12 volleys from 124 guns thundered in the capital. Since then Oryol and Belgorod remained in history as the Cities of the First Salute. Kharkov was liberated on August 23. This event meant the end of the Great Battle of Kursk.
The Soviet victory in this battle of enormous scale marked the turning point in the course of the Great Patriotic War and the whole Second World War. The backbone of the German war machine was finally broken. The Red Army ultimately seized the strategic initiative.