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On the night of 9/10 July, the Western Allies mounted an amphibious invasion of Sicily. Three days later, Hitler summoned Günther von Kluge and Erich von Manstein to his Wolfsschanze headquarters in East Prussia and declared his intention to "temporarily" call off Operation Zitadelle. Von Manstein attempted to dissuade him, arguing that Zitadelle was on the brink of victory: "on no account should we let go of the enemy until the mobile reserves which he had committed were decisively beaten". In an unusual reversal of their roles, Hitler gave von Manstein a few more days to continue the offensive, but on 17 July, he ordered a withdrawal and canceled the operation. He then ordered the entire SS Panzer Corps to be transferred to Italy.[87]

While Hitler often made notoriously poor judgments for all the wrong reasons, did he make the right decision for Germany (for the wrong reason) in this specific isolated case? Was Zitadelle really on the brink of victory as Von Manstein believed?

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3 Answers 3

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Hitler was right in this instance. It was Manstein that extended the battle too far.

The "official" reason for the offensive, was to recapture the city of Kursk. That was within the reach of the Germans.

The REAL purpose of the offensive was to cut off the Russian salient, of which Kursk was the tip. The reason this didn't work was that the Russians concentrated their defense lines at the BASE of salient (south and north of Orel and Belgorod), on either side, instead of concentrating their forces at Kursk, where they could be cut off.

What Manstein should have done was to "snap off" Kursk at the tip of the salient, then "declare victory and go home." What he actually did was to WIDEN the front by moving the German forces east to Prokhorovka. This turned the battle from one of decision (which favored the Germans) to one of attrition (which favored the Russians), who could trade their more numerous tanks for German vehicles at a rate of about one to one.

This was because Manstein had let the Kursk operation deteriorate from the [1] "set piece battle" to a "meeting engagement" in which Germany had no advantage.

So Hitler was right to stop the Kursk operation, with or without regard to what was happening in Italy.

[1] http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/48646/what-is-the-meaning-and-origin-of-set-piece-battle

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But the northern front hardly made any progress, how could Manstein snap off anything? If I remember correctly he veered east, because moving there was easier. Without the northern front also advancing, nothing could close the pincers even if he could advance north. I've always thought the error was, that they did not attack the soviet reserve outright and attempt a massive encirclement. –  user1095108 Apr 13 at 20:03
    
@user1095108: Kursk was at the tip of the salient. Manstein could just about snap it off, "declare victory, and go home." Trying for more than that was too much. That includes a "massive encirclement" because detachment Kempf (on Mantein's east) was late to the battle. –  Tom Au Apr 13 at 20:13
    
But how? Model was hardly making progress. –  user1095108 Apr 13 at 21:12
    
Kursk is not at the tip. It is about where the two offenses would have met, had they worked, which they did not. –  Oldcat Apr 14 at 19:12
    
@Oldcat: Actually, the southern offense was "working" (but only at the west end of the salient), and might have carried the day at Kursk. The point I tried to make was that was the "maximum" von Manstein should have hoped for, not the "minimum" as he did. –  Tom Au Apr 14 at 19:17

The whole operation was doomed from the start because the Allies at Bletchley Park had deciphered the German plans for the attack.

The British gave the Russians ample warning time of this, although the Russians already knew about it as they had spies of their own within British intelligence.

http://www.colossus-computer.com/colossus1.html

Given that the Russians had several weeks forewarning, they amassed tanks, guns and soldiers in great number and prepared many layers of defence lines to defeat the German assault.

Had the Germans never launched Zitadelle they would have preserved their precious tanks and probably prolonged the war although the end result would have been the same. Hitler made the right decision on this occasion, by calling the operation off, but he should have done so sooner.

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+1 for mentioning the futility of the whole operation. There can be no "right" decisions when the war is effectively lost already. –  DevSolar Apr 14 at 12:30
    
The Russians had their own spies that also had revealed the plan. –  Oldcat Apr 14 at 19:10

I think he was only partially right and this is because the units transferred were SS units. In the east, the SS fought both its racial and ideological enemies (the Bolshevik Jewry; which was mostly propaganda, but people believed it). There it was in its element, both as regards the savagery of fighting and the atrocities inflicted on the civilian population. In light of later massive surrendering of Germans to the western Allies, but stiff resistance against the Russians, no SS unit should probably ever have been transferred from the East, except for rest and refit.

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