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212 CHAPTER ELEVEN Kursk to the Dnepr GERMAN PREPARATIONS AND FORCES Given the peculiar shape of the Kursk salient, the German operational plan was obvious to both sides: two massive, armor-tipped thrusts, aimed at the northern and southern shoulders of the bulge, would aim to meet at the middle, surround all the forces in the pocket, and tear a major wound in the Soviet defensive front. Fifty divisions, including nineteen panzer and motorized divisions with 2,451 tanks and assault guns, would be supported by over 1,800 aircraft (see Map 16).1 On the northern shoulder, in the region of Field Marshal von Kluge’s Army Group Center, General Walter Model’s Ninth Army controlled XXIII and XX Army Corps and XXXXI, XXXXVI, and XXXXVII Panzer Corps. The panzer corps included four panzer divisions, backed by two panzer divisions and 10th Panzer-Grenadier Division in army reserve, plus fifteen infantry divisions, for a total of 335,000 soldiers. The XXXXI Panzer Corps also contained two battalion-sized detachments of Elephant self-propelled guns, and XXXXVII Panzer Corps controlled 21st Panzer Brigade, the latter including thirty-one Tigers and a number of other assault guns. Overall, Model had 920 tanks and assault guns, most of the tanks being Panzer III and IV vehicles, although not all were operational when the battle began. As described in the previous chapter, the hasty development of Germany’s third generation of armor resulted in significant maintenance issues and impeded combinedarms training with the new vehicles.2 Sixth Air Fleet supported Army Group Center with more than 730 combat aircraft and 100 dual-purpose 88mm guns. However, the air fleet received only two-thirds of its required levels of aviation fuel, seriously impeding close air support efforts.3 The main assault would come from Field Marshal von Manstein’s Army Group South, attacking the southern shoulder. Colonel General Hermann Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army of 223,907 men and 1,089 tanks and assault guns controlled both the lavishly equipped II SS Panzer Corps of three panzergrenadier divisions (SS Leibstandarte, Das Reich, and Totenkopf ) and XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, with the refurbished 3rd and 11th Panzer Divisions as well as the oversized Panzer-Grenadier Division Grossdeutschland. The three SS divisions totaled 364 tanks, including 42 Tigers, and 130 assault Map 16. Soviet Defensive Actions in the Battle of Kursk, 5–23 July 1943 214 Chapter Eleven guns, and the Grossdeutschland had 329 tanks and 35 assault guns, including almost all available Panther tanks (200) grouped in 10th Panzer Brigade.4 On Hoth’s right (eastern) flank stood Army Detachment Kempf, named for its commander, Lieutenant General Werner Kempf. Kempf had a total of nine divisions in three corps, of which the main offensive strength was III Panzer Corps. This corps contained three panzer divisions (the 6th, 7th, and 19th) with 299 tanks, a separate detachment of 45 Tigers, plus 31 assault guns and an infantry division, for an overall strength of 375 tanks and assault guns. Originally designated as the flank guard for Fourth Panzer Army, Kempf’s force, which fielded a total of 419 tanks and assault guns, had unusual success because, perhaps unintentionally, it cut diagonally through the Red defenses, crossing unit boundaries laterally rather than attacking head on.5 Manstein also held XXIV Panzer Corps in reserve, including 17th Panzer Division and 5th SS Panzer-Grenadier Division Wiking, plus 23rd Panzer Division after 7 July, with a total of 181 tanks and assault guns. Overall, Army Group South’s forces at Kursk included twenty divisions, of which six were panzer and four were elite panzer-grenadier divisions, for a total of 1,508 tanks and assault guns, although again not all of these weapons were operational. Fourth Air Fleet, with 1,100 German and Hungarian aircraft, supported this army group, but here too there were major fuel shortages. Moreover, most ground support had to come from obsolescent Ju-87s.6 SOVIET PREPARATIONS AND FORCES Soviet air and ground reconnaissance observed every detail of the German preparations. As the Central Partisan Headquarters in Moscow, together with the NKVD, developed greater control over the partisan groups in the field, the Stavka was able to use those forces in conjunction with Red Army scout units. The latter infiltrated German rear areas to both observe and hamper enemy movement. Equally important, by mid-1943 the General Staff’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) had created an effective hierarchy of staff officers to collect, analyze...


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