Chris Chuba wrote the following comment. I am making it into a post.
"I want to start a thread on the Battle of Kursk for few reasons.
1. While it's a difficult choice, I'd choose this as the greatest battle of WW2.
2. I have recently read three books that have altered my view on it.
3. I'd like to see if anyone on this board would like to contribute to this topic, including other book recommendations.
The three books are …
1. David Glantz, "When Titans Clashed" (more of an overview of Kursk, plus I read a paper by him)
2. Niklas Zetterling, "Kursk 1943: A statistical Analysis"
3. Valeriy Zamulin, "Demolishing the Myth …"
For those who are unfamiliar with Kursk, it was the Battle of the Bulge on the Eastern Front. It was the last, large scale offensive by the German army and the greatest concentration of German armor in a single offensive. After this battle the Red Army went over to the offensive and kept the initiative for the rest of the war.
Here is a 45 minute webisode (in English) produced by the Russians in 2102 which is a joy to watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ichrcupEbvA
and a map depicting the original lines and high water mark of the battle https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/Battle_of_Kursk_%28map%29.jpg
In the original narrative that I read many years ago, the Germans suffered massive armor losses by foolishly attacking well prepared Soviet defenses. Their defeat was a fate accompli before the attack even started.
In the revised version, the Germans had normal, but not crippling, operational losses. Their total loss of armor during the offensive phase was about 300 tanks and SPG's but they remained in capable fighting condition before abandoning the offensive on 7/17/43.
This is not to disparage the Red Army it was a solid tactical victory. The significance Kursk was that for the first time, the Red Army was able to stop a German offensive at the beginning instead of getting crushed and then having to recover like they did the previous two summers. Using a combination of numerical superiority and improved tactics, the Russians were able to force the Germans to retreat and then launch their own counter-attack. They shut down the German offensive in the north (aka the central front) after a short advance. In the south (aka the Voronezh front) they parried a more successful German advance long enough to hasten a German withdrawal on 7/17. A counter-offensive in the north by the Russians at Orel and a pending counter-offensive further south at the Mius River caused the Germans to abandon their operation.
This is by necessity a very terse overview, the Battle of Kursk has many controversies and details that I glossed over. I believe these controversies exist because the Red army had just crossed the threshold where they surpassed the German army if you factor in BOTH their superior numbers AND improved tactical skill. Man for man, the German army was still better, but the Red Army was in its ascendency, a year later they would be a much more effective army and achieve very decisive offensive victories. Whenever you have an inflection point, it creates opportunities to ponder the what if's. The what if's are interesting but to me the tide was rolling in and the outcome, while not exactly the one the Soviets has planned, was no accident.
Some observations about the battle:
1. While the Germans 'only' lost about 300 out of about 2,200 tanks/SPG's. The Red Army did manage to damage up to 1,000 more but the Germans were able to repair most of them in the field within a day or two. Unlike the battle of the Bulge, the Germans had all of their fancy logistic toys, like specialized field cranes and were well supplied with both fuel and ammunition. This surprised the Russians and may have contributed to their decision to try a head on attack at Prokhorovka as they wrongly thought the Germans were depleted.
2. By this time of the war, the T34 had gone from being a state of the art tank down to a good enough tank. The German tanks and SPG's outgunned T34 and could destroy it at any practical combat range. Meanwhile, the T34, in the worst case match up, could only destroy a Tiger tank by shooting at its side armor from a range of 500m and was totally ineffective against its frontal armor (as were just about all of the Red Army's field guns). To make matters worse, the Russians had a surprisingly large number of light T70 tanks, comprising about 30% of their tank force. In 1944 the Russians would significantly close this quality gap with their next generation armor but none of this was available in 1943 at Kursk.
3. David Glantz emphasizes the increased competency of the Red Army while Zamulin, a former Director of a museum at Prokhorovka, shows a view of an army in transition; giving examples of brilliant competence along with tragic mistakes. Fighting defensive battles against a competent enemy is tough and the Germans were at the top of their game. Zamulin mentions that the approach of the 5th guards tank army at Prokhorovka was the first example of a forced march by a Russian mechanized group, over a long distance, about 400 miles, that experienced very few losses from either mechanical failure or air attacks which were common in previous attempts. He believes this to be an overlooked accomplishment as they arrived just as the last defensive belt was being tested by the 2nd SS Panzer Corp.
4. Zetterling's main theme is that this was not a blood fest as compared to previous battles on the eastern front. This makes sense to me. The Russians were more professional. The Germans would encounter a well placed Russian strong point and stop, they don't do stupid attacks. The Germans would wait for combined arms, artillery, air force, etc. However, this gives the Russians an opportunity to either retreat in good order or reorganize their defense; this is less costly but slows down the pace of their advance.
5. That Prokhorovka itself was not the largest single tank battle in history, is not that interesting to me. It was a large tank engagement, as many as 400 Russian vs about 200 or less German tanks. Zamulin makes an additional point that much of it was against well prepared German anti-tank guns. Overall, Kursk was the largest concentration of German armor during the war.
6. The Germans had 146 Tiger tanks at Kursk, sure, you can disable its tracks and then drop artillery shells on top of them but not having field guns that can take it out directly from its front armor was a disadvantage that troubled the Russians. The impact of the Tigers was larger than their numbers wouldo indicate. A total of 10 were lost by 7/17, more would have been disabled but that number is hard to pin down. Zetterling dedicated his book on German losses, armor strength, etc, while it's a statistical analysis it is actually good reading. He has a knack for presenting the material in a very readable manner. I especially liked how he compares the matchup between the German vs. Russian armor in the field.
7. It's fair to say that both the Germans and the Russians surprised each other at Kursk. The German advance was much slower than in previous summers. In 1941, Army Group Center was able travel 140 miles in 11 days, they encircled Minsk and the Red Army lost 350k soldiers. At Kursk, they only penetrated 20 miles in 12 days in the southern sector, and cut off one rifle corp which inflicted 15k losses. However, things did not go as planned for the Red Army. They intended to pin the Germans in between the first and second defensive belts, wear them down, and then launch their counter-attack. Instead, the 2nd SS Pz corp was able to break through both defensive belts, test the last defensive belt, and the Russians were forced to call up their strategic reserve to prevent a break out but they were able to do it.
8. If anyone wants to discuss the Manstein controversy, feel free, I have an opinion but my post is already too long." pl