By early July, the Germans had amassed hundreds of thousands of men along with 3000 tanks. Opposite them, the Russians had nearly 2 million men ready to commit to battle and over 5000 tanks! The Red Air Force controlled the skies and could provide overwhelming fire power in support of the Soviet ground forces. In addition to this, the Soviets had constructed 7 layers of defense to contain and repel the German advance. The stage was set for a dramatic German defeat rather than the war-winning success Hitler had in mind.
On July 5th, 1943, the battle began with a pre-dawn massive artillery barrage and an all out assault on the Soviet lines. Men and machines poured into the battle and losses were horrible on both sides. Estimates put several hundred tanks destroyed the very first day with thousands upon thousands of men killed or wounded. After almost a week of bitter fighting, the Germans had pushed nearly 20 miles into the Soviet’s defensive lines, but it wasn’t quite enough to make the desperately needed breakthrough. The town of Prokhorovka was next under German attack due to its strategic railway junction.
On July 12th, the largest tank battle in history began. The Red Army command staff knew that if the Germans took the town of Prokhorovka they could unhinge the entire Soviet defense. As a result of this, Russian troops were rushed to the town to aid in the defense. The new German Tigers and Panthers mauled the Soviet Fifth Guards Tank Army, inflicting a 50% casualty rate on the Russians. Despite this, the German’s lack of numbers soon began to show as the enormous losses suffered in the battle for Prokhorovka caused the attack to stall and then halt completely. The German flanks had been weakened to funnel troops into the attack on the town and now the Soviet army conducted a series of fierce counter attacks aimed at the German flanks. They met with tremendous success and the Germans began a fighting retreat that lost them all the land they had taken in the Battle of Kursk plus much more.
Both the Germans and the Russians had lost an enormous amount of soldiers and armor, however, the Germans could not afford the losses while the Russians had more than enough men in reserve to bring themselves back to full strength. Ultimately, the Battle of Kursk had gained the Germans nothing and had cost them priceless men and materials that could have been better used in a defensive position rather than wasted in a hopeless attack. The Russians began an advance that would not stop until it took the German capital of Berlin itself.