|Battle of Khursk ( July 5, 1943 to August 23, 1943)|
Seventy-eight years ago, a battle in a remote part of Southern Russia finally turned the fortunes of the combatants in the Second World War.
The Nazi forces had just suffered a devastating defeat in Stalingrad but Hitler was determined to regain momentum. Desperate to defeat the Soviets, he gathered his forces for one final assault in the summer of 1943 at the city of Khursk, seven hundred kilometers west of Stalingrad, near the Ukrainian border.
The numbers associated with the attack and siege of Stalingrad are mind-numbing. Fought between August, 1942 and February, 1943, the Axis forces totaled 1,040,000 men while the Soviet force totaled 1,143,000.
By the final count, the Nazi forces had lost perhaps 900,000 soldiers while the Soviets lost 1,130,000 men. Half the German Luftwaffe had been shot down. The fate of the civilians who stayed behind to defend the city was worse. Thousand died of starvation and disease. Indeed, people were reduced to eating rats and straw. The ferocity of the battle can be gauged by these two facts: the average life of a soldier in that battle was just one day and, second, only 4,000 German soldiers returned home alive after Stalingrad. It remains the largest and most deadly battle ever fought in human history.
The defeat humiliated Hitler. Determined to regain momentum and to defeat the Soviets once and for all, he ordered a counter- attack in the beginning of July, 1943. He aimed to encircle the Soviet forces inside a bulge in the battlefield at the village of Khursk. He reinforced his army with tanks, aircraft and men from the Western Front. In all, 900,000 troops, 2,700 tanks and 2,100 planes took part. The Soviets anticipated the battle and heavily fortified the area. Stalin replied with 2,500,000 men, 7,360 tanks and up to 3,500 aircraft.
In contrast to the battle of Stalingrad, the battle of Khursk ended quickly and with finality. The battle turned out to be a disaster for the Nazi army. In just five weeks, the Soviets fully defeated Hitler’s armies. It remains the largest armored (tank) battle in history, with the Germans losing 7,000 cannon and tanks, 3,000 airplanes, while suffering 710,000 casualties.
The battle of Khursk finally dismantled the Nazi war machine. The vaunted Luftwaffe was almost completely destroyed. The Nazis hardly had any motorized artillery or tanks remaining. From being the most feared offensive juggernaut the world had ever seen, they were reduced to a purely defensive role. Before Stalingrad, the Nazis had never lost a battle; after Khursk, they didn’t win a single major combat for the rest of the war. The Russians proceeded westwards and pushed the Nazis slowly back across Eastern Europe.
It was only time before the Third Reich fell. While the Soviets rolled into Eastern Germany in June of 1944, the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy. In less than a year, on May 7, 1945, Nazi Germany surrendered.