The battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943 was a pivotal battle of World War II. The defeat at Kursk placed the Wehrmacht on the permanent strategic defensive on the Eastern Front. The opening of the Soviet archives after 1989 has permitted more thorough analysis of that battle and produced greater appreciation of the Red Army’s performance, while casting doubt on the notion that the Germans were close to an operational victory.
Preceding the clash, both sides prepared feverishly, attempting to bring the units involved to their maximum capability by replacing personnel, upgrading equipment, and conducting training. The Germans delayed the attack several times to deploy the new armored vehicles. Soviet leaders gathered intelligence from their own sources as well as from ULTRA, which was the codename for British intelligence gained from the German Enigma machine. The Soviets, in anticipation of the onslaught, built a massive and intricate defense.
Kursk began on July 4, 1943 with a German attack in the south to gain observation for artillery. The main battle began on July 5 when the Germans attacked both shoulders of the Kursk salient. The fighting was furious. In the north the frontlines quickly stabilized, but in the south German forces made progress. The critical moment occurred when they reached the village of Prokhorovka on July 12. The II SS Panzer Corps and the Soviet Fifth Guards Tank and Fifth Guards Armies fought to a tactical draw with hundreds of tanks lost on both sides. However, the Allied invasion of Sicily prompted Hitler to transfer panzer divisions from Kursk to the Mediterranean Theater, thus seriously reducing the assets available to Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, the commander of the German units in the south. This decision essentially ended the Battle of Kursk.
Had Hitler given his subordinates more freedom to destroy the Soviet armored reserves, they might have mitigated the catastrophe. But the Germans at Kursk could not have achieved victory. It was a simple matter of the Soviets outnumbering the Germans in all categories, and the Red Army had improved its capabilities to the point it could execute devastating deep, combined arms operations against the Wehrmacht.