German Tiger tanks of the 2nd Battalion 503 heavy tanks heading for Kursk
The Battle of Kursk was a World War II engagement between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near the city of Kursk, (450 kilometers / 280 miles south of Moscow) in the Soviet Union in July and August 1943. It was both the largest series of armored clashes, including the Battle of Prokhorovka, and the costliest single day of aerial warfare in history. The battle was the final strategic offensive the Germans were able to mount in the east, and the decisive Soviet victory gave the Red Army the strategic initiative for the remainder of the war.
The Germans hoped to shorten their lines by eliminating the Kursk salient (also known as the Kursk bulge), created in the aftermath of their defeat at theBattle of Stalingrad. They envisioned pincers breaking through its northern and southern flanks to achieve a great encirclement of Red Army forces. The Soviets, however, had intelligence of the German Army's intentions, provided in part by the British. This and German delays to wait for new weapons, mainly the Tiger I heavy tank and what would become the first significant battlefield appearance of the new Panther medium tank, gave the Red Army time to construct a series of defense lines and gather large reserve forces for a strategic counterattack.
Advised months in advance that the attack would fall on the neck of the Kursk salient, the Soviets designed a plan to slow, redirect, exhaust, and progressively wear down the powerful German panzer spearheads by forcing them to attack through a vast interconnected web of minefields, pre-sighted artillery fire zones, and concealed anti-tank strong points comprising eight progressively spaced defense lines 250 km deep—more than 10 times as deep as the Maginot Line—and featuring a greater than 1:1 ratio of anti-tank guns to attacking vehicles. By far the most extensive defensive works ever constructed, it proved to be more than three times the depth necessary to contain the furthest extent of the German attack.
When the German forces had exhausted themselves against the defences, the Soviets responded with counter-offensives, which allowed the Red Army to retake Orel and Belgorod on 5 August and Kharkov on 23 August, and push the Germans back across a broad front.
Although the Red Army had success during the winter, this was the first successful strategic Soviet summer offensive of the war. The model strategic operation earned a place in war college curricula.[nb 10] The Battle of Kursk was the first battle in which a Blitzkrieg offensive had been defeated before it could break through enemy defenses and into its strategic depths.In the winter of 1942/43 the Red Army won the Battle of Stalingrad. About 800,000 Germans and other Axis troops were either killed or captured, including the entire German Sixth Army, seriously strengthening the strategic position of the Red Army.
During the months of November 1942 to February 1943, the German position in southern Russia became critical. With the encirclement of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad, a huge hole opened up in their lines. Follow-up Soviet forces pushed west, threatening to isolate Army Group A in the Caucasus as well.
German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein was reduced to desperate measures. Divisions were scraped up by thinning nonthreatened sectors. Noncombat personnel were pressed into service, along with tanks in rear area workshops. Ad hoc units were formed which blunted the Soviet advance spearheads.
In due course, the SS Panzer Corps arrived from France, fresh and up to strength. Other mechanized units such as the 11th Panzer Division arrived from Army Group A, along with the 6th and 17th Panzer Divisions. By 19 February, enough German armor was concentrated to launch a pincer-style counteroffensive against the overextended Soviet forces, notably Armored Group Popov.
The ensuing attack left the front line running roughly from Leningrad in the north to Rostov in the south. In the middle lay a large 200 km (120 mi) wide by 150 km (93 mi) deep Soviet-held salient, or bulge, centered round the town of Kursk between German forward positions near Orel in the north, and Belgorodin the south.
The spring thaw turned the countryside into a muddy quagmire, and both sides settled down to plan their next move.
Field Marshal Manstein initially believed that the German Army should go on the strategic defensive and deliver strong counterblows with their panzer divisions. He was convinced that the Red Army would deliver its main effort against Army Group South. He proposed to keep the left strong while retreating on the right to the Dnieper River, followed by a massive counterblow to the flank of the Red Army advance. This idea was rejected by Hitler, as he did not even temporarily want to give up so much terrain.
At the top of the German High Command (OKH), Colonel General Kurt Zeitzler and others did not approve of Manstein's defensive strategy and instead turned their attention to the obvious bulge at Kursk. Two Red Army Fronts, the Voronezh and Central Fronts, occupied the ground in and around the salient, and pinching it off would trap almost a sixth of the Red Army's manpower. It would also result in a much straighter and shorter line and recapture the strategically useful railway city of Kursk, located on the main north–south railway line from Rostov to Moscow.
In March, the plans crystallized. Walter Model's 9th Army would attack southwards from Orel while Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army and Army Group Kempf under the overall command of Manstein would attack northwards from Belgorod. They planned to meet at Kursk, but if the offensive went well, they would have permission to continue forward on their own initiative, with a general plan to re-establish a new line at theDon River, several weeks' march to the east.
The German commanders favoring the attack were confident and guided by the facts that the distance to Kursk was short, the attacking forces strong, and the Wehrmacht's history was one of always shattering Soviet front lines where it chose to.
Contrary to his recent behavior, Hitler gave the OKH considerable control over the planning of the operation. Over the next few weeks, they continued to increase the scope of the forces attached to the front, stripping other areas of the German line of anything useful for deployment in the operation. They first set the attack for 4 May, but delayed in order to allow more time for new weapons to arrive from Germany. Hitler postponed the offensive several more times. On 5 May, the launch date became 12 June. Due to the potential threat of an Allied landing in Italy and delays in armor deliveries, Hitler next set the launch date to 20 June. On 17 June, he further postponed it until 3 July, and then later to 5 July.[nb 11]
The concept behind the German offensive was the traditional (and for the Germans usually successful) double-envelopment, or Kesselschlacht (cauldron battle). The German Army had long favored such aCannae-style method, and the tools of Blitzkrieg made these types of tactics even more effective. Blitzkrieg depends upon a mass of armor concentrated at some weak point, followed by rapid breakthroughs where columns of tanks and mechanized infantry penetrate forward and then curve inward toward each other, trapping the enemy forces in between. Essential to such operations is control of the air space, so that one's tanks are not subject to aerial bombardment, but those of the enemy are. Upon encirclement of a portion of the opposing force, defeat follows through disruption of command and supply rather than continuation of a pitched battle.
Such breakthroughs were easier to achieve by attacking in unexpected locations, as the Germans had done in the Ardennes in 1940, Kiev in 1941, and towards Stalingrad and the Caucasus in the summer of 1942.
The OKH plan for the attack on the Kursk salient, Operation Citadel, violated one crucial principle of war: the element of surprise. As the Germans moved in more men and equipment, it became increasingly obvious what was happening.
A number of German commanders questioned the idea, notably Guderian, who asked Hitler:
The German force numbered fifty divisions, including 17 Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions. Among them were the elite Wehrmacht Großdeutschland Division as well as three battle-hardened Waffen-SSdivisions; the 1st SS Panzergrenadier Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Division Das Reich and the 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Division Totenkopf, which were all grouped into the2nd SS Panzer Corps.
To the West! calls this Soviet poster, while a Soviet soldier destroys the German To the East! sign
The Red Army had also begun planning their summer offensives and had settled on a plan that mirrored that of the Germans. Attacks in front of Orel and Kharkov would flatten the line and potentially lead to a breakout near the Pripyat Marshes.
However, these ideas were abandoned, as Moscow received warning of the German build-up through the Lucy spy ring in Switzerland. Additional information came from John Cairncross in the UK, who forwarded decoded Lorenz cipher data from Bletchley Park. A sanitised version of the information from British decrypts with the source disguised was officially sent to Moscow, but Stalin was distrustful of information from the Allies, particularly if the source was unclear. Cairncross smuggled the decrypts known as Tunnywhich were due to be destroyed out of Hut 3 at Bletchley Park in his trousers, transferring them to his bag at the railway station before going to meet his KGB contact in London.
At first, Stalin did not accept Zhukov's conclusion. However, from 12 to 15 April 1943, when Stalin consulted the opinions of the Soviet Front commanders and high officers of the General Staff, all agreed that Kursk was the likely German target. It is Kursk.
The pattern of the war up until this point had been one of German offensive success in spring and summer. Blitzkrieg had worked against all opponents, including the Red Army. On the other hand, Soviet forces had attacked with success only during the winter. Although Joseph Stalin and some Stavka officers were eager to strike first, the majority, including Zhukov, advised a more cautious approach. In a letter to Stalin on 8 April 1943 he wrote:
Hitler delayed the launching of his offensive, which gave the Red Army two months in which to turn the salient into one of the most heavily defended areas in history. They evacuated most of their troops from the outer bulge, leaving a crust of defending infantry there. But at the base of the bulge on both sides, two fronts, the Central on the north face and Voronezh in the south manned the lines, with Steppe Front in nearby reserve.
To meet the German attack, the Central and Voronezh fronts created several main lines of defense in their sectors. Protecting the infantry in each line were enormous mine belts and anti-tank ditches in front.
The preparation of the battlefield by Red Army military engineers was thorough. Reports indicate 503,993 anti-tank mines and 439,348 anti-personnel mines were laid. On average, 1,500 anti-tank and 1,700 anti-personnel mines were laid per kilometre of front. In the sectors eventually attacked, densities were never lower than 1,400 per kilometre, and sometimes reached as high as 2,000 per kilometre.
Further supporting the Soviet infantry were 6,000 76.2 mm anti-tank guns which were skillfully camouflaged. Gunners were instructed to concentrate their fire on the more vulnerable Panzer IV tanks, which formed a majority of the Panzer division strength. The Soviet howitzers, mortars and machine gun posts had as their mission to eliminate German infantry attempting to close in on the anti-tank guns. The density of artillery in the salient was unusual. There were more artillery regiments than infantry regiments. The Red Army was determined to grind down the advancing Panzer formations with artillery and anti-tank obstacles in order to slow, stop, and counterattack them.
Further buttressing the Soviet infantry were independent armored brigades. Some of these tanks were dug into hull-down positions and used in a static role.
Waiting in reserve for the Germans if they should breach the Soviet lines was the Steppe Front consisting of 4th and 5th Guards, 27th, 53rd and 57th Armies, and the 5th Guards Tank Army.
The Soviets massed some 1,300,000 men, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces, and 2,792 aircraft. This amounted to 26% of the total manpower of the Red Army, 26% of its mortars and artillery, 35% of its aircraft, and 46% of its tanks. The Germans received reports of powerful Soviet concentrations in the Kursk area and delayed the offensive to allow for more Panther tanks to reach the front line.
Many of the Soviet forces assigned to the defense of the salient were recent veterans of the Battle of Stalingrad. But the Red Army also added over one million new men in the first half of 1943. Hence the Red Army was comparatively stronger in 1943, while the German army was smaller.
Red Army machine gun crew in action
Like the Germans, the Soviets employed numerous deceptions. Dummy positions were constructed. Mock aircraft were placed on false airfields and misleading radio traffic sent to confuse German intelligence. Camouflage for battlefield positions was excellent. Generally, the first warning German units received of the presence of Soviet guns was their own vehicles exploding.
State of the Red Air Force
In the early stages of the war, the Red Air Force, while numerically superior, suffered from an abundance of obsolete designs and insufficient training. Many Soviet pilots learned to fly as civilian members of air clubs set up by the Osoaviakhim.
By 1943, more formal training was introduced, and modern aircraft such as the Yakovlev Yak-9 fighter, Petlyakov Pe-2 light bomber and Ilyushin Il-2 ground attack aircraftwere available in large numbers.
Consequently, the Red Air Force had greatly improved by the Battle of Kursk, to the point where neither side gained ascendancy in the air. Both German and Soviet armored columns suffered from bombing attacks. For their attack, the Wehrmacht used three armies and a large proportion of their tanks on the eastern front. The 9th Army in the north had 335,000 men (223,000 combat soldiers), the 4th Panzer Army had 223,907 men (149,271) and Army detachment Kempf had 100,000 men (66,000) for a grand total of 778,907 men (518,271).
The Red Army used two Fronts (Army groups) for the defence and one Front as a reserve. The Central and Voronezh Fronts fielded 12 armies. Central Front had 711,575 men (510,983 combat soldiers), Voronezh Front had 625,591 men (446,236) and Steppe Front had 573,195 men (449,133) for a grand total of 1,910,361 (1,426,352).
When the Red Army launched their counteroffensive in the north, the German 2nd Panzer Army was attacked by two Soviet Fronts: Bryansk and West. The 107,000 men of the 2nd Panzer Army and some reinforcements in the south brought the Wehrmacht troops to approximately 950,000 men (approximately 650,000 combat soldiers). The two Soviet Fronts brought the Red Army to 2,629,458 men (1,987,463 combat soldiers).
Battle of Kursk
Waffen-SS soldiers assemble in preparation for the attack
It took four months before Hitler allowed Manstein to attack, by which time the Germans had added 90 Ferdinand Panzerjäger tank destroyers, all 79 flyable Henschel Hs 129 ground attack aircraft, as well as 270 Tigers, late-model Panzer Mark-IVs and even a number of captured T-34s. In total, they assembled some 3,000 tanks and assault guns, 2,110 aircraft[nb 3] and 435,000 men. It formed one of the greatest concentrations of German fighting power ever put together. Even so, Hitler expressed doubts about its adequacy.
By this time, Allied action in Western Europe was beginning to have a significant impact on German military strength. Although actions in North Africa hardly constituted the Red Army's longed-for second front, the operation there did begin to take its toll on the Germans, and in the last quarter of 1942 and the first half of 1943, 40% ofLuftwaffe losses occurred in the battles over Malta and Tunisia. German air superiority was no longer guaranteed. The Soviet Air Force outnumbered the Luftwaffe and was gaining in technological quality as well. Both air forces possessed very effective ground-attack aircraft types capable of destroying armor: the Soviet Ilyushin Il-2Shturmovik and the German Junkers Ju 87G Stuka (Initially Ju 87D-3/5 with a pair of added Bordkanone 3,7 cm calbre cannon in gun pod mounts).
The start date for the offensive had been moved repeatedly as delays in preparation had forced the Germans to postpone the attack. Finally, on 1 July, the orders were issued to attack on 5 July. The following day, Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky warned the Front commanders (N. F. Vatutin, Konstantin Rokossovsky and I. S. Konev) that the long-awaited German offensive would begin sometime between 3 and 6 July. For months, the Soviets had been receiving detailed information on the planning of the offensive from the Red Orchestra spy ring(German: Rote Kapelle), and the "Lucy Group" espionage organization, whose sources allegedly included officers in Hermann Göring's aviation ministry and other parts of the Nazi administration.
Preliminary fighting started on 4 July 1943 in the south, as 4th Panzer Army elected to try to take Soviet outposts prior to the main assault on 5 July, sacrificing tactical surprise. Nikolai Fyodorovich Vatutin, having received reports that the German offensive was imminent, ordered Voronezh Front to bombard German positions on the night of 4 July.
In the afternoon Stuka dive bombers attacked the Soviet front lines on the north, and then returned to their airfields while the German artillery opened up to continue the pounding. Kempf's armored spearhead, the 3rd Panzer Corps, then advanced on the Soviet positions around Zavidovka. At the same time, the Großdeutschland Division attacked Butovo in torrential rain, and the 11th Panzer Division took the high ground around Butovo. To the west of Butovo the going proved tougher for Großdeutschlandand the 3rd Panzer Division; they met stiff Soviet resistance and did not secure their objectives until midnight. The 2nd SS Panzer Corps launched preliminary attacks to secure observation posts and again met with strong resistance, until assault troops equipped with flamethrowers cleared the bunkers and outposts.
At 02:30, the Red Army hit back with an artillery bombardment in the north and south. This barrage by over 3,000 guns and mortars expended about half of the artillery ammunition for the entire operation. The goal was to delay and disorganize the German attack. In the northern face, the Central Front artillery fired mostly against German artillery positions and managed to suppress 50 of the 100 German batteries they attacked, resulting in much weaker German artillery fire on the opening day of the attack. This bombardment disrupted German units and caused them to attack at different times on 5 July. In the south, the Red Army chose to fire largely against the German infantry and tanks in their assembly areas. This was partially successful in delaying the German attack, but caused few casualties.
Tiger I tanks spearhead the assault in the northern sector
The 9th Army's attack in the north fell far short of its objectives on 5 July. The attack sector had been correctly anticipated by the Red Army's Central Front. Attacking on a 45-kilometre wide front, the Germans found themselves trapped in the huge defensive minefields and needed engineering units to come up and clear them under artillery fire. Although a few Goliath and Borgward remote-controlled engineering vehicles were available to clear lanes in the minefields, they were not generally successful. Even when the vehicles cleared mines, they had no on-board marking system to show following tanks where the cleared lanes were. Red Army units covered the minefields with small arms and artillery fire, delaying German engineers clearing manually; German losses were high.
For example, the German 653rd Heavy Panzerjäger Battalion began the attack with 49 Ferdinand (known in the West, and later renamed by Hitler as Elefant heavy tank destroyers once up-armed with hull machine guns after the Kursk offensive) tank destroyers engaging the Red Army; 37 of them were lost in the minefields before 17:00 on 5 July. Although most of the lost vehicles were mobility kills rather than permanent losses, they were out of action until they could be repaired. They were also easier for Red Army artillery to knock out permanently. However, since the Germans were advancing, any repairable vehicles could be recovered, repaired, and put back into action. After the first day of attack, the German units penetrated 8 km deep into the Soviet lines, for the loss of 1,287 killed and missing and 5,921 wounded.
The Germans noted a fundamental flaw in their armored vehicles, particularly the Ferdinand. Although excellent against any Soviet tank at long to medium range, they lacked secondary armament and were vulnerable to attacks from Soviet slit trenches, once they were separated from the heavy machine gun protection of the lighter tanks, vehicles and infantry. Guderian noted in his diary:
On the second day, the Central Front under Rokossovsky started a counterattack against the German 9th Army, particularly the XLVI Tank Corps. The Red Army attacked with the 2nd Tank Army and the XIX Tank Corps, but this operational counterattack was launched too early. Soviet tanks sustained heavy losses in their first combat with Tiger tanks of 505th Heavy Tank Battalion. The 107th and 164th Tank Brigade lost 69 tanks and the Soviet attack was stopped. After the encounter with German Tigers, Rokossovsky decided to dig in most of his tanks and use them as static anti-tank guns.
The next two days of the attack saw heavy fighting around the strong point of Ponyri (on the Orel–Kursk railway), which was one of the most fortified positions in the northern sector. Both sides saw this area as a vital point; a very intense battle took place. The German tanks were awaited by 70 antitank guns per km. On 7 July the 86th and 292nd German Infantry Divisions attacked Ponyri and captured the town after intense house-to-house fighting. The Soviets counterattacked and forced the German troops to withdraw temporarily; many counterattacks by both sides followed, and the town changed hands many times. Not before the evening of 8 July did the German units capture most of the town. The heavy Ferdinands were called into action to take Hill 253.5 and succeeded on 9 July. It developed into a battle of attrition with heavy casualties for both sides; Keegan called Ponyri "the new Douaumont". German units were exhausted, while Soviet reserves were committed.
Model decided to pause to rearrange his units. On 10 July, he renewed his attack with additional air support, but his gains were minor. Fresh Soviet formations repelled German attacks and only limited penetrations were achieved; the diary of the 9th Army describes the heavy fighting as a "new type of mobile attrition battle". Model canceled the new attack.
The cancellation of the attack changed German plans; Model accepted that his forces did not have enough power to advance directly through the Soviet strongpoints. He decided to bypass the heights of Ol'chovatka and shift the schwerpunkt to XLVI Panzer Corps. He also decided to use the uncommitted 12th Panzer Division. For the first time in the northern sector, a heavy concentration of tanks was planned. Model's hesitation to use the concept of concentration, which is described as the decisive element of an armored attack, led to a slow advance of the 9th Army. Because of the limited action of the tank units, only 63 tanks and assault guns were written off by 12 July.
Soviet formations, including the 3rd Tank Army and the 11th Guards Army, attacked the German 2nd Panzer Army, positioned in the rear of 9th Army. The outnumbered 2nd Panzer Army had trouble with the Soviet attack. Soviet formations made a deep penetration and threatened German supply routes. With their advance on Orel the encirclement of the 9th Army was possible.
The end of Zitadelle in the north
The 9th Army had to withdraw and used an opportunity created for them by the Luftwaffe. Their part in the offensive was over. Because the German armor was not concentrated and used with the same intensity as in the south, the German armor losses were comparatively light—143 vehicles were total losses between 5 and 14 July. Central Front losses were 526 tanks. This failed to keep up with the steady influx of new soldiers and matériel arriving for the Red Army. Few Red Army guns were captured, and those Red Army units that retreated did so on orders. The German attack failed to break through the main Soviet defence zones, and stalled. The Soviet counter-offensive compelled Model to withdraw or risk the destruction of both German Armies. Northern analysis
A number of factors explain the 9th Army's lack of progress, mainly the combination of Soviet defensive planning and German lack of concentration of force. German armor was committed piecemeal rather than in strength, and often without sufficient infantry support. Soviet defensive preparation was also a major factor. The Central Front under Marshal Rokossovsky had correctly anticipated the likely areas of German attack and had fortified those areas very heavily, holding other areas more thinly. The 13th Army, which bore the brunt of the German attack, was far stronger in men and anti-tank guns than the other Central Front units and held the strongest defensive positions in the salient.
Model's army had fewer tanks than Manstein had in the south, and the German 9th Army committed major units piecemeal because Model was afraid of the Bryansk Front, which stood ready for counterattack to the north of his army. Model decided to place his most powerful corps, Gruppe Esebeck (2 Pz. Div and 10 Pz. Gren. Div), far behind the frontline to use it as "fire brigade" against a possible onslaught by the Bryansk Front. Model's decision not to use his Panzer divisions as a concentrated force can be seen as the most significant reason for the poor penetration of the northern pincer. Finally, the 9th Army led with reinforced infantry divisions that were already in the line facing the Red Army, rather than attacking with uncommitted units.
Review of attack frontages and depth of German penetration clearly shows the success of the Red Army defensive tactics. While it began with a 45-kilometer-wide (28 mi) attack front on 5 July, the next day the German 9th Army's front was reduced to 40 km. This dropped to 15 km wide by 7 July and to only 2 km on 8–9 July. Each day, the depth of the German advance slowed: 5 km on the first day, 4 on the second, never more than 2 km each succeeding day. By 10 July the 9th Army had been stopped.
Much of the Soviet defensive success is attributable to its method of fire control, known to the Germans as Pakfront. This relied upon a group of 10 or more anti-tank guns under a commander, which would fire at one target at a time. These positions were protected with heavy concentrations of mortar and machine gun nests, which were ordered to fire on German infantry only.
Main operations – the southern face
A Waffen-SS Tiger I engages enemy armor. The Tiger's advanced optics and accurate main gun allowed it to hit targets at long range.
Von Manstein's troops in the south were better equipped than Model's in the north. The 4th Panzer Army and Army Group Kempf had 1,377 tanks and assault guns, while the 9th Army possessed 988 tanks and assault guns. The 1,377 tanks included 102 Tiger I tanks and 200 Panthers.
The 4th Panzer Army (Hoth) attacked in two directions with the 48th Panzer Corps and the 2nd SS Panzer Corps. The flanks of the spearheads were protected by the 52nd Corps on the left and by Army Group Kempf on the right. The XLVIII Tank Corps was to be the lead spearhead, so they were reinforced with 200 Panthers. Their opponent was the Voronezh Front.
At 04:00 the attack began; nearly all units advanced with good speed despite encountering well-prepared defensive positions and minefields. Manstein's tanks were much more successful than their northern counterparts. The main reason for this was his better use of tanks in concentrated spearheads. In the south the Red Army had not been able to pinpoint the German attack sectors; this forced them to spread out their defenses evenly. Three of the four armies of the Voronezh Front had about 10 antitank guns per kilometer of front, whereas in the Central Front, guns were distributed twice as heavily in the active sectors. The Voronezh Front made the decision to hold the tactical zone thinly, leaving a higher proportion of units in deeper positions than in the Central Front. The Voronezh Front was weaker than the Central Front, and it faced much stronger German forces.
The crew of a PzKpfw III tank assigned to the 2nd SS Panzer DivisionDas Reich, resting in the southern sector.
The new Panther tanks proved unreliable and failed to perform to expectations. When they moved to their assembly areas, 45 out of 200 new tanks experienced mechanical problems requiring repair. When the remaining Panthers launched their attack, they immediately ran into a minefield, and many were immobilized.
In the first two days the 2nd SS Panzer Corps penetrated 25 km into the Soviet lines and took Jakovlevo. The 200 Panthers of the 48th Tank Corps to their left spent more time in the workshops than fighting the enemy. Army Group Kempf, which was to assist the 2nd SS Panzer Corps, was outnumbered and had problems crossing the Donets River.
The steady progress of the German units forced the Soviet leaders to commit some of their strategic reserves, as nearly all operational reserves were in action. The Steppe Front had been formed in the months leading up to the operation as a central reserve. As early as 6 July, Stavka decided to send the 2nd and 10th Tank Corps and the 5th Guards Tank Army to the southern sector; a day later, other formations got their marching orders. Vatutin planned an operational counterstrike against the German units, but decided to cancel it after the failure of the northern counterattack. Instead of seeking open battle against the German tanks, Vatutin let his tanks dig in, as Rokossovsky did in the north. Zhukov protested against this use of the tanks, but Vatutin's decision stood.
German officers reported that they were slowed down by the "silent tanks" (Schweigepanzer), because it cost much time to overcome these camouflaged "bases". Despite the order to dig in many of their tanks, the Soviet units still had enough tanks to launch some counterattacks. On 7 July a German Tiger I commanded by SS Unterscharführer Franz Staudegger met a group of about 50 T-34s. In the ensuing battle, Staudegger knocked out 22 T-34s; he was the first Tiger commander to be awarded the first Knight's Cross.
The Germans' advance was slowed. On 9 July the first German units reached the Psel River. The next day the first infantry units crossed the Psel. By 10 July German units in the south had lost 166 tanks. Despite the deep defensive system and minefields, German tank losses were remarkably low. 11 July was a successful day for German units; Army Group Kempf achieved a breakthrough, and its 3rd Panzer Corps (6th, 7th and 19th Panzer Divisions) penetrated deep into Soviet lines. The next night the 6th Panzer Division took a bridge over the Donets with a swift surprise attack. The 3rd Panzer Corps then advanced to Prokhorovka from the south and the 2nd SS Panzer Corps from the west, almost trapping the Soviet 69th Army. At this moment Manstein thought the final breakthrough was achieved, and now free of the minefields, could operate freely and destroy the Soviet armored reserves in the open. The Soviets, indeed, began moving their tank reserves toward the spearheads of Army Group South.
Main article: Battle of Prokhorovka
The Red Army did enough, at great cost, to stop a German breakthrough. In that sense Prokhorovka remains a crucial turning point of the battle and of the Eastern Front.
Memorial on Prokhorovka Field
On the morning of 12 July, Hoth, determined to push for a breakthrough, collected reserves of the 4th Panzer Army and advanced on Prokhorovka. At the same time the 5th Guards Tank Army launched a series of attacks as part of a multi-front counteroffensive in an attempt to catch the Germans off balance. The SS and Guards units collided west of Prokhorovka in country punctuated by farms, rolling hills and gullies.
In stifling heat, an eight-hour battle began. The German units had 494 tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces in the attack, 90% of them operational. The German force found itself heavily outnumbered by the 5th Guards Tank Army, who, moving mainly at night, had brought 593 tanks and 37 self-propelled artillery pieces into position at Stary Oskol. They had not yet been committed to battle, so they were fresh.
The Soviet 31st Guards Tank Corps and the 33rd Guards Rifle Corps fought the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf to a standstill by getting in close to the German armor and attacking the vulnerable sides of the Tigers. The 2nd SS Panzer Corps was soon forced onto the defensive. Although the German formation held, it lost half its armor in a prolonged engagement. By the night of 11–12 July, the only success the Germans had to show for their losses was a captured bridgehead over the Donets river at Rzavets. The 1st SS Division Leibstandarte had been stopped by the Soviet 18th Tank Corps, while the 3rd Panzer Corps and 2nd SS Panzer Division were checked by the 2nd Guards Tank Corpsand two other Soviet reserve corps.
The air battle was also intense. Von Manstein had intended it to be the decisive blow against the Red Army forces to prevent a breakthrough to Oboyan and Kursk. Sturmoviksfrom 291 ShAD attacked the 2nd SS Panzer Division throughout the day, causing significant damage to German armored formations. Simultaneously, waves of Hs 129s and Ju 87s inflicted losses on the 69th Army and 5th Guards Army. Although Soviet tank losses are unknown, a report from the 29th Tank Corps reported "heavy losses in tanks through enemy aircraft and artillery". Losses were so heavy that the advance had to be halted and a switch to the defensive ordered.
The Luftwaffe had complete air superiority over Prokhorovka, due to the VVS being concentrated over the flanks of the 4th Panzer Army.
The battle can best be described as a costly tactical loss but an operational draw for the Red Army. Neither the 5th Guards Tank Army nor the 2nd SS Panzer Corps accomplished their missions that day. After the battle was over, the Soviets held the area and were able to recover their disabled tanks and wounded crews.
Tank losses in the battle have been a contentious subject. Red Army losses have been given from 200 to 822 tanks, but the records show about 300 complete losses and as many damaged. German losses have been reported to be as low as 80 and as high as several hundred. The Soviets claim the Germans lost 400 tanks in this battle and 3,500 soldiers killed, but newer research suggest only about 500 lost men and much lower tank losses, with only a few tanks completely destroyed and about 40–80 damaged.
The end of Zitadelle in the south
While the German offensive had been stopped in the north by 10 July, in the south the overall situation still hung in the balance, even after 12 July. German forces on the southern wing, exhausted and heavily depleted, had breached the first two defensive belts and believed that they were about to break through the last belt. In fact at least five more defensive zones awaited them, although they were not as strong as the initial belts, and some of them did not have troops deployed. Red Army defenders had been weakened, and major parts of their reserve forces had been committed. Still, the available uncommitted Red Army reserves were far larger than the few available German reserves.
On 16 July, German forces withdrew to their start line. Severely depleted, the Germans then had to face Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev, an offensive launched to smash the German forces in the Belgorod–Kharkov area which was launched on 3 August. Belgorod fell on 5 August, and on 23 August, Kharkov fell, despite fierce resistance from German forces. With the capture of Kharkov, the Soviets considered the Battle of Kursk over.
The German forces made steady progress, but, as in the north, attack frontage width and penetration depth tended to drop as the attack proceeded. The trend was not as marked as in the north, however. A 30-kilometer-wide (19 mi) attack frontage on 5 July became 20 km wide by 7 July and 15 km by 9 July. Likewise, the depth of penetration dropped from 9 km on 5 July to 5 km on 8 July and 2–3 km each day thereafter until the attack was cancelled.
Red Army minefields and artillery were successful in delaying the German attack and inflicting losses. The ability of dug-in Red Army units to delay the Germans allowed their own reserves to be brought up into threatened sectors. Over 90,000 additional mines were laid during the operations by small mobile groups of engineers, generally working at night immediately in front of the expected German attack areas. There were no large-scale captures of prisoners nor any great loss of artillery, indicating that Soviet units were giving ground in good order.
German losses can be seen in the example of the Großdeutschland Division, which began the operation with 118 tanks. On 10 July, after five days of fighting, the division reported it had 3 Tigers, 6 Panthers, and 11 Pzkw-III and Pzkw-IV tanks operational. XLVIII Panzer Corps reported, overall, 38 Panthers operational with 131 awaiting repair, out of the 200 it started with on 5 July.
Hitler cancels the operation
On the night of 9–10 July, the Western Allies mounted an amphibious invasion of Sicily. Three days later, Hitler summoned Günther von Kluge and Erich von Manstein to his Wolfsschanze headquarters in East Prussia and declared his intention to "temporarily" call off Operation Zitadelle. Von Manstein attempted to dissuade him, arguing that Zitadelle was on the brink of victory: "on no account should we let go of the enemy until the mobile reserves which he had committed were decisively beaten". In an unusual reversal of their roles, Hitler gave von Manstein a few more days to continue the offensive, but on 16 July, he ordered a withdrawal and canceled the operation. He then ordered the entire SS Panzer Corps to be transferred to Italy.
Hitler's decision to call off the operation at the height of the tactical battle has since been strongly criticized by German generals in their memoirs, and by some historians. For example, it has been pointed out that the SS Panzer Corps would have taken three months to be transferred to Sicily, and thus could not possibly have affected the outcome there, while its contribution to the Kursk operation was vital.
Only one German division, the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, departed for Italy, without their equipment. The remainder stayed to face the Red Army counteroffensive launched in the wake of the failed German offensive.
Reasons for the failure of Zitadelle
Historian Karl-Heinz Frieser points out these reasons for the failure of Operation Zitadelle:
Military expert Steven Zaloga offers these insights about the Red Army at Kursk:
Historian Richard Overy makes the following interpretations:
Operation Kutuzov was launched on 12 July against the southern wing of Army Group Centre. The counterattack was launched before the Germans had stopped their attack, so Operation Kutuzov had a bigger effect on the outcome of Zitadelle when compared to the southern counterattack, which was launched after the cancellation of Zitadelle.
The Bryansk Front (commanded by Markian Popov) and parts of the Western Front (commanded by Vasily Sokolovsky) attacked the largely undefended German north flank of the 2nd Panzer Army on 12 July. The 2nd Panzer Army was diminished, as many tanks were transferred to other armies before Zitadelle. On 12 July the attacking forces numbered 487,111 combat troops supported by 1,401 tanks and 15,109 guns. Three days later the second phase of Operation Kutuzov started with the attack of the German 9th Army by several Soviet armies. The combined troops deployed for Kutuzov now numbered 1,286,049 men supported by 2,409 tanks and 26,379 guns.
The operations of the Bryansk Front marked the beginning of the Soviet summer offensive. The artillery barrage was heavy and the first German lines were overrun. German defensive lines were deeper than expected, and many Soviet spearheads were slowed and sustained heavy casualties, but in some areas the Soviet units achieved deep penetrations. The Germans lacked reserves to block these penetrations, so the situation became very dangerous for the 2nd Panzer Army. On 13 July, Army Group Centre gave command of the 2nd Panzer Army to Model, who already commanded the German 9th Army. Model now was in control of all German units in the Orel area.
The situation for the Germans worsened as Soviet breakthroughs threatened the entire 9th Army. Model sent nearly all of his Panzer units to aid the 2nd Panzer Army, whose northern front was about to collapse, while the 4th Army in the north sent the 253rd Infantry Division. German units achieved a temporary stabilization of the front, but meanwhile the 9th Army started to withdraw from the captured ground. Initially, the Soviet Central Front followed hesitantly, but then started attacking in earnest with heavy air support. On 18 July the 9th Army was at the same position as on 5 July, before the start of Zitadelle.
Soviet tank formations failed to achieve an operational breakthrough despite their numerical superiority. Red Army tank armies repeated their attacks against the same positions with the same methods and suffered heavy casualties in men and tanks. For example, the 4th Tank Army lost 84% of their T-34s and 46% of their light tanks within a few days. After two weeks of fighting the 3rd Guards Tank Army had lost half of their 800 tanks. The German armies conducted a fighting withdrawal to Hagen-Stellung.
Organized by the Red Army, approximately 100,000 partisans supported the Soviet operations. German movements were hampered by partisans disrupting German supply routes, especially railway lines. On 3 August partisans launched a large operation against the German rear, the so-called "Railway-war".
By shortening their line the Wehrmacht freed 19 divisions, which could be used elsewhere or held as reserves. Nevertheless, the Soviets achieved a complete breakthrough. The Soviets massed a concentration of artillery and tanks on small narrow fronts and used sophisticated artillery techniques to defeat German fortified positions despite tenacious German defences. Operation Kutuzov "was a perfect example of the newly sophisticated Soviet way of war". On 5 August the 3rd Guards Tank Army entered Orel and by 18 August, the Bryansk Front had reached the city Bryansk, "completely eliminating the German salient in the region".
The battle was the bloodiest of the three major operations during the Battle of Kursk. The German overall losses were 86,064 men; the Red Army lost 112,529 men and 317,361 were wounded. The losses for the Red Army were particularly high for tanks and assault guns: 2,586 of them were written off during Kutuzov. German tank losses are not available for this battle, but Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Center) lost 343 during both Zitadelle and Kutuzov.
Some of the Soviet commanders were displeased, complaining that an even greater victory might have been won. Marshal Rokossovsky said, "Instead of encircling the enemy, we only pushed them out of the bulge... The operation would have been different if we had used our force for two heavy punches which met at Bryansk". Zhukov held a similar opinion. Stalin instead thought encirclement tactics could wait: "It is our task to push them from our territory. We can trap them when they are weaker.
In the south: Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev
Main article: Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev
Southern sector of the Battle of Kursk.
To the south the Red Army needed time to regroup after the losses sustained in July, and could not launch another offensive until 3 August, when Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev commenced. Stavka planned Operation Rumyantsev as the major thrust of their summer offensive. The aim was to destroy Manstein's 4th Panzer Army and Army Group Kempf and later the southern wing of Heeresgruppe Süd (Army Group South). The German 1st Tank Army and newly formed 6th Army were to be trapped by an advance to the Black Sea. The Soviet Southern Front and the Southwestern Front attacked as early as 17 July.
The Voronezh Front and the Steppe Front deployed about 1,144,000 men supported by 2,418 tanks and 13,633 guns and rocket launchers for the attack. At the start of Rumyantsev the Germans fielded only 237 tanks and assault guns. Manstein believed that the Soviets were incapable of launching an offensive in the southern sector, and dispatched his reserves (II SS Panzer Corps, XXIV Corps and XLVIII Panzer Corps) southward to deal with Soviet offensives aimed at the Dnieperand Mius Rivers. The Soviet operations in those regions were actually carefully planned diversion operations. The Soviet plan worked; German reserves were removed from the critical Kharkov axis (conforming to Maskirovka: military deception. The tactical operations across the Mius were unsuccessful, but achieved their primary aim of diverting German forces further away from Kharkov, although by Soviet accounts, the Stavka had wished for more.
For the Kharkov offensive the Red Army focused enormous firepower on a 30 km front. The 5th and 6th Guards Armies, two elements that had borne the brunt of the German offensive, and the Soviet 53rd Army took part. The artillery concentration was necessary to puncture the first five German defensive lines between Kursk and Kharkov. The 1st Tank Army and 5th Guards Army, supported by two additional mobile corps, would act as a mobile operational unit to encircle Kharkov from the north and west. To the west, four separate tank corps would support, and the 27th and 40th Armies would make supporting attacks. To the east and south-east, the 69th and 7th Guards Armies, followed by the 57th Army of the Southwestern Front, would also support the attack.
On 3 August the initial attack demonstrated the growing sophistication of Soviet tactical art. Heavy and long-range artillery bombarded German positions, supported by anti-tank shock groups, ready to repel counterattacks. The German defense was tenacious, and two tank armies had to enter the battle to secure a penetration. By 5 August the Soviets had broken deep into the German rear and captured Belgorod, advancing some 60 km into German lines. Each combined-arms army pressed the German defenses from the north and east.
German reserves were rushed from the Orel sector and north from the Donbas regions (where Soviet maskirovka operations had diverted them) and tried to break up Soviet attacks. The only success was achieved by the Grossdeutschland Panzergrenadier Division, which succeeded in delaying the 40th Army from 6 to 7 August. Four infantry divisions and seven Panzer and motorized divisions were assembled under the III Panzer Corps. Manstein tried to repeat the success of the Third Battle of Kharkov, where the Soviets had been over-extended and defeated. This time the Soviets were alert to the danger, and it was the German forces that were worn down. On 12 August, units of the newly arrived 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Division Das Reich and 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Division Totenkopf started a counterattack against two Soviet Armies near Bogodukhov, 30 km northwest of Kharkov. The Waffen-SS units trapped and annihilated many Soviet units during the following maneuver battles. To assist the 6th Guards Army and the 1st Tank Army, the 5th Guards Tank Army joined the battles. All three Soviet armies suffered heavily, and the tank armies lost more than 800 of their initial 1,112 tanks.
After the counterattack of the two German divisions, the Soviet tank armies were no longer capable of offensive actions. The Soviet advance around Bogodukhov was stopped, so the German units now tried to close the gap between Achtryrka and Krasnokutsk. The counterattack started on 18 August, and on 20 August Totenkopf and Großdeutschland met behind the Soviet units. Parts of two Soviet armies and two tank corps were trapped, but the trapped units heavily outnumbered the German units. Many Soviet units were able to break out, while suffering heavy casualties. After this setback the Soviet troops focused on Kharkov and captured it after heavy fighting on 23 August. The battle is usually referred to as the Fourth Battle of Kharkov by the Germans and the Belgorod–Kharkov offensive operation by the Soviets.
Soviet casualties in the Belgorod–Kharkov sector during this operation were 71,611 killed and 183,955 wounded; 1,864 tanks and 423 artillery guns were lost.
German losses were 10,000 killed and 20,000 wounded. German tank losses are estimated at least 8 times lower than Soviet tank losses of 1,864.
The battlefield grave of Heinz Kühl, a German soldier. The Third Reich did not recover from the losses sustained at Kursk and found itself in a strategic retreat for the remainder of the campaign in the east.
The campaign was a decisive Soviet success. For the first time, a major German offensive had been stopped before achieving a breakthrough. The Germans, despite using more technologically advanced armor than in previous years, were unable to break through the in-depth Soviet defenses, and were surprised by the significant operational reserves of the Red Army. This was an outcome that few had predicted, and it changed the pattern of operations on the Eastern Front. The victory had not been cheap; the Red Army, although preventing the Germans from achieving their goals, lost considerably more men and matériel than the Wehrmacht.
Common experiences bound Hess and Hitler as well. Both had honorably served in battle.
Both participated in an awkward uprising that history remembers as the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, a coup d’etat against the Weimar Republic that landed them briefly in Landsberg prison where conditions were relaxed for dissidents.
There, acting as Hitler’s private secretary, Hess volunteered as stylist and copy editor for Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, for which world Jewry would never forgive him.Much nastiness has been claimed, then and since, about the Nazi leadership in general, but I have never read a single word of hate against Hess from his own inner circle. He was feared and persecuted with an inexorable hatred by Jewry.
He was kept isolated from human interaction for more than half of his life, beset and tormented like few other men on this earth. Why? What did this man know? What did he try to convey to the world – and was prevented from sharing?Expanding his backgroundRudolf Hess’s path in life was tragedy writ large.
In 1941, On the eve of war with the Soviet Union, Hess flew solo to Scotland on a private peace mission in an attempt to ward off the horror to come. Instead, he was arrested by the British government and held incommunicado until the war was over.
Rudolf Hess - Open Cockpit Days
After the guns fell silent, Hess was handed over to the Nuremberg Tribunal, tried in a political show trial where white became black, found “not guilty of crimes against humanity” but “guilty for conspiring against peace”, and sentenced to life internment at Spandau Prison.
Although he was in captivity for almost 4 years of the war and thus he was basically absent from it, in contrast to the others who stood accused at Nuremberg.
He was 52 years old when he set foot in Spandau. He lived another 41 years. He died mysteriously in 1987 – as widely advertised, by suicide, as even more widely believed, by murder.
Allegedly, the magnanimous peace offer he had in his briefcase, were it to come out, would embarrass the Brits to his day. I belong to a handful of skeptics who suspect he was about to offer something vastly more important, which would have made short shrift of the prevailing political order based on expensive energy provided by the industries we know.
Metapedia, the dissident counterpart website to Wikipedia, describes this failed peace mission as follows:
In his final statement to the court on August 31, 1946 after his conviction, Hess declared in words that are sheer poetry in German but can only be an approximation in English:
After having served in prison for 20 years with other leaders of the Reich, the last two prisoners, Baldur von Schirach and Albert Speer, were released. Hess remained. He was the sole remaining inmate of Spandau Prison for yet another 21 years.
During his rare meetings with his wife and son, Hess was not allowed to embrace or even touch them. Why this inhuman cruelty?
Of the four powers that had won the war against Germany, three – the U.S., Russia, and France – proposed that he be released on humanitarian grounds due to his age. The British government balked. Thatcher was Prime Minister of Britain, and Chancellor Kohl – some call him Cohn or Cohen – was heading Germany.
On 17 August 1987, Hess died while under Four Power imprisonment at Spandau Prison in West Berlin. At 93, he was one of the oldest prisoners in the world. He was found in a summer house in a garden located in a secure area of the prison with an electrical cord wrapped around his neck. His death was ruled a suicide by self-asphyxiation, accomplished by tying the cord to a window latch in the summer house.
Prison guards who knew him in his last years say that he was so crippled by arthritis that he could not lift his arms above his shoulders. No way could this old man have strangled himself.
Hess was buried in Wunsiedel, and Spandau Prison was subsequently demolished to prevent it from becoming a shrine. Instead, his grave became exactly that.
It has often been said that a people defeated, besieged from all sides but not neutered, , will keep its myths alive. I have been told a few. One of them has it that the Führer is said to have insisted that there would be one “Last Battalion” that would come back after certain defeat and would finish what he himself could not do. That “Last Battalion” would be German.
An extraordinary secret archive has revealed for the first time how thousands of Soviet citizens collaborated with Nazi invaders during World War II.
The cache of documents, some retrieved from the files of the KGB, shows how many viewed the Germans as Christian liberators – and their own masters as godless Communists.
This view was reinforced when the soldiers of the Third Reich opened up 470 churches in north-western Russia alone and reinstated priests driven from their pulpits by Stalin.
In turn, the clergy co-operated closely with S.S. death squads in betraying Communist officials, Jews and partisan resistance groups.
A group of Russians captured by the Nazis during Operation Barbarossa: Documents from secret archives have revealed how some Soviets believed the Germans were Christian crusaders come to throw of the yoke of communism
Ablaze: The city of Stalingrad was totally decimated during Operation Barbarossa though the Soviets did finally manage to hold off the Nazi siege
Perhaps most astonishingly, the Germans even shipped numerous mayors, journalists, policeman and teachers back to the Reich to show them the ‘German way of life.’
Russia has always portrayed the war against the Germans as a historic struggle which cost 27million lives but ultimately defeated the Nazis forever.
Until now, there has been little examination of the extent of collaboration by Soviet citizens with the invaders. And there is no doubt that there many Russians detested the Nazis who inflicted mass atrocities on the civilian population. But the archive, assembled by Professor Boris Kovalyov of the University of Novgorod, undermines the one-dimensional nationalist view of Soviet history.
Brutal: Nazi soldiers (right) march in to Russia in 1941 as the first Soviet prisoners are brought back to Germany (left)
Enemies: Adolf Hitler (left) launched the attack after he became increasingly convinced Stalin intended to seize vast swathes of resource-rich territory
BARBAROSSA, THE BRUTAL AND BLOODY CAMPAIGN WHICH FINALLY SEALED HITLER'S FATE
Operation Barbarossa, launched on June 22 1941, was the biggest military campaign in history.
Each army numbered more than three million soldiers – but the Russians had far heavier fire power with 20,000 tanks to 3,300.
Despite the Communists’ superior arsenal, the Nazis made rapid progress, advancing 20 miles a day for the first few weeks of a brutal and bitterly fought campaign.By October they were within striking distance of Moscow.
It was at this point, with the savage Russian winter already closing in, that Hitler made a fatal error. He diverted a huge chunk of the Moscow-bound column, sending them as backup to forces struggling to seize the Ukraine.
And by the time he turned his attention back to the Russian capital, heavy snowfall made movement almost impossible and further hampered the Germans’ poor supply lines. In addition, the Nazis were terribly equipped for plunging temperatures. Progress ground to a halt.
In spring 1942, the Germans finally advanced on Stalingrad and launched one of the most notorious battles in history. The city was bombed to oblivion. Reinforcements drowned as they tried to get into position. The life expectancy of a Russian solider was less than 24 hours.
Against all odds, the Soviets held the city. Many view the terrible victory as the decisive moment of World War II.
But despite the defeat, the Germans fought on.
They were routed again at the Battle of Kursk in July 1943 (pictured above), the biggest tank battle in history, and the Russians pushed back.
From that point on, the fate of Hitler – who had launched Barbarossa to block Kremlin expansion - was sealed.
After another two years of mass slaughter on both sides, Soviet soldiers hoisted the red hammer and sickle over the Reichstag. The victory, however, was catastrophically won. Vast swathes of Russia had been destroyed and 27million Soviets and around 4.3million German soldiers lay dead.
Unsurprisingly, the research has already triggered a huge debate in Russia about attitudes to the Nazis.
‘The files give an extraordinary glimpse into a country that was deeply divided and not at all as heroic as Stalin made out,’ Prof Kovalyov, who teaches historical jurisprudence, said.
‘They show how local journalists strove under S.S. supervision to present to their compatriots the Nazis as friends of the Russians.
‘There was even praise in newspapers edited by former Communists for Alfred Rosenberg, the chief racial theorist for the Nazis who had made speeches in the past talking of the “sub-humanity of the Russians.”
‘Of course these newspapers were all collected and burned, or locked away, when the tide of war turned. And those who wrote the articles were executed.’
The Nazis marched on Russia in summer 1941 after Hitler put plans for the invasion of Britain on hold.
He had met heavy resistance and had become increasingly paranoid about the Soviets grabbing valuable natural resources as they expanded their empire.
The campaign was code-named Operation Barbarossa and plunged the Third Reich into a catastrophic situation of war on all fronts.
Troops were given stark rules of engagement. They were to press ahead with a ‘war without rules’ that would see the merciless execution of millions.
But the freshly rediscovered archives reveal a far more complex situation.
In many instances, the Nazi commanders attempted a 'hearts and minds' campaign to win over civilians already oppressed by Communist dictates which included a ban on religious worship.
The propaganda war had considerable success, with newspapers and collaborators praising the Germans.
‘We pray to the all-powerful that he gives Adolf Hitler further strength and power for the final victory over the Bolsheviks!’ ran one article in the newspaper 'For the Homeland!' that was printed in Pskow in December 1942.
Clandestine tours of Germany were also hugely effective for provincials who had never travelled ten miles beyond their birthplace, never seen indoor plumbing or central heating, such trips worked wonders.
When they returned to the Soviet Union, said Professor Kovalyov, they were ‘deeply impressed"’ and worked hard to undermine the stiffening Soviet resistance to the Nazi armies.
Even in January 1943, as the fate of the German Sixth Army was being sealed at Stalingrad - and with it the war - many Russians still enthused about the charms of Nazism.
Ian Borodin, a village mayor from Piskowitschi, wrote that month: ‘Germany is a country of gardens, first class steelworks and autobahns. It has exemplary order. We should fight for it!’
In the end it was the Nazis themselves who squandered the opportunity to rally an entire people to its cause.
As news of German atrocities spread and the Soviet Red Army began pushing the invader back, the population that had been initially so enthusiastic for Hitler now began to turn against him.
The Nazis were eventually driven out of Russia and the Red Army pressed on to Berlin, routing Hitler's forces on the way.
For those tens of thousands who had shown disloyalty to Stalin during the occupation there was only death awaiting them or long years in the gulag.
Professor Kovalyov intends to publish a book based on his research next year.
Terrible victory: Soviet soldiers hoist the red hammer and sickle flag over Berlin's Reichstag on May 2, 1945 after finally defeating the Nazis