04.07.

1943: Kursk: The Largest Tank Engagement in History

1943: Kursk: The Largest Tank Engagement in History
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons / Bundesarchiv

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 4 July 1943
  • The story of Franz Staudegger, commander of the German Tiger tank who engaged a group of 50 T-34 Soviet tanks with his single tank, is well-known. He destroyed 22 of them, while the others retreated. For his heroism, he was awarded the Knight's Cross and was invited to Hitler's headquarters to personally report to the Führer about his success.

The first fighting in Battle of Kursk, the largest tank battle in history, commenced on this day in 1943.

Hitler’s German troops tried to encircle and destroy the Soviet troops in a large area. In order to break through the Soviet defense, the Germans intended to use a Blitzkrieg tank strategy, a rapid penetration of heavy armored units deep into enemy territory.

They prepared almost 3,000 tanks, and even brought the most elite German units, including the famous 1st, 2nd, and 3rd SS Divisions (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, Das Reich and Totenkopf, i.e. “Skull” or “Death’s Head”).

The famous Großdeutschland (the most elite unit of the Wehrmacht) also participated. The problem was that the Germans delayed the offensive waiting for the latest Tiger and Panther tanks to arrive.

During this time the Soviets were able to build an incredibly strong defense around Kursk, because their intelligence found out where the Germans would attack. The Soviet defense was 250 kilometers deep.

The Germans went on the offensive with heavy tanks. The story of Franz Staudegger, commander of the German Tiger tank who engaged a group of 50 T-34 Soviet tanks with his single tank, is well-known. He destroyed 22 of them, while the others retreated.

For his heroism, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross and was invited to Hitler’s headquarters to personally report to the Führer about his success.

Despite such individual German successes, the Soviet defense proved impenetrable. Minefields and antitank guns stopped the Germans and the Soviets had brought in an incredible number of tanks, over 8,000 of them, outnumbering the Germans approximately 2.3 : 1.

When Hitler saw that the attack will not succeed, he ordered a halt to the offensive, and this at a time when it was at its peak, in order to send the units in Italy, where allies had just landed.

Many have criticized this Hitler’s move. The Soviets then initiated a counter-offensive and achieved victory at Kursk.

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