When picking a turning point on the Eastern Front of World World II, many think of the bloody Battle of Stalingrad. Stalingrad was of course a major upset for the Germans, and the continued Soviet offensive at one point threatened to destroy all of Army Group South. However, the Germans counterattacked and broke the Soviet offensive, and it appeared that they still maintained an advantage in operational strength. There was now a large Soviet salient located at Kursk, and the Nazis planned an attack to attempt to pinch off and trap the Red Army forces there.
Hitler was nervous about attacking the salient, but under the pressure from his top generals he eventually agreed. He delayed the attack by a few months in order to allow new tanks to reach the front, but this only gave the Soviets even more time to dig themselves in. German intelligence suggested that at this point, the Red Army forces in the area were growing exhausted, low on supplies, and increasingly desperate. Unfortunately for the Germans, their intelligence on the Soviet position at Kursk had been compromised by an elaborate Soviet misinformation and counter-intelligence plan. The Germans knew it had been heavily mined and reinforced, but the extent to which the Soviet’s had fortified Kursk was lost on them. Kursk was now home to more anti-tank firepower than had ever been emplaced in a single location.
Kursk ended in a decisive Soviet victory. German efforts in the north were halted almost immediately as the attack began. The offensive in the south fared slightly better in the beginning, but eventually the massive amount of Soviet defensive preparations bogged down the advance. Kursk became the largest tank battle in history, a grinding engagement of attrition that the Germans could ill afford. In the skies, the German Luftwaffe found itself outnumbered and increasingly overwhelmed. A week into fighting, on July 12th, Hitler scrapped the operation. Allied forces led by the Americans had invaded Sicily, and the entire Italian peninsula was now in jeopardy, pulling Hitler’s attention back to the west.
The repercussions of Kursk were massive. Unlike the Germans, the Soviets were rolling out massive numbers of tanks from their factories, especially the now proven T-34. Their armored divisions quickly replaced their losses. Operational initiative on the Eastern Front now lay securely with the Soviets. It is difficult to determine what role Hitler’s delay on the operation had on its outcome, as well as the impact of the Soviet deceptions regarding intelligence during the planning process. What remains certain is that Kursk was a pivotal turning point in the war. Even though the Hitler withdrew partly due to the situation in Sicily, by that time his forces in Kursk were already caught in the jaws of defeat. From this point forward, the Red Army opened the flood gates, rapidly advancing towards the German heartland.