After their crushing defeat at Stalingrad, the Germans were on the defensive for most of 1943. The Soviet Union’s Red Army had amassed an enormous amount of men and machines to throw against the ever dwindling German forces. Although on the defensive, the Germans were nowhere near defeat, however, and were able to put up ferocious resistance to all Soviet advances. Hitler was looking for a dramatic victory to swing the war in Russia back into Germany’s favor. He decided on a full counter attack aimed at the Soviet weak spot around the city of Kursk. What followed was the largest tank battle in history!
Hitler was convinced that the Soviet’s success lay in their superb T-34 tank. He thought that by building bigger, stronger tanks he would deliver the key to victory to the German forces. By the spring and summer of 1943, brand new Panther and Tiger tanks were rolling off the production lines, however, they were not being produced anywhere near the number of Soviet tanks. Hitler decided to delay his attack on Kursk until larger numbers of tanks could be produced and sent to the front. His generals on the other hand, who didn’t agree with the assault in the first place, protested even more fiercely to Hitler’s delay. This would give the Red Army ample time to prepare incredibly strong defenses, making the additional tanks unable to break through.
Hitler listened to his general’s pleas, alternative plans designed to maintain the German position in Russia, and outright objections before promptly ignoring all of them. In his mind, Hitler saw the coming battle of Kursk to be the definitive battle which would turn the tide of the war in the east. It is important to note that this is not the first nor the last time that Hitler gambled everything on a battle that he “knew” would win the war for Germany. Neither was this the first nor the last time he refused to listen to his officers. True to his generals’ fears, the Soviets, under the command of Georgy Zhukhov, recognized the weak point of Kursk and heavily fortified it.
The stage was set for a massive battle comprised of millions of men and nearly 7,000 tanks.