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?


5 Answers 5


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] https://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. Apr 13, 2014 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, 2014 at 20:13
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    But how? Model was hardly making progress. Apr 13, 2014 at 21:12
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    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, 2014 at 19:12
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    The southern offensive was not working, it gained a few more miles than the northern probe and was essentially stopped. And the Soviets still had their reserve fronts unallocated..AND the forces used for the massive offensive that was kicking off north and south of the salient right about then. And even if you think the Germans might get to Kursk, there's nothing there worth taking or holding. It was a real mess of a campaign, and better off stopped on any excuse.
    – Oldcat
    Feb 19, 2015 at 0:28

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.


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, 2014 at 12:30
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    The Russians had their own spies that also had revealed the plan.
    – Oldcat
    Apr 14, 2014 at 19:10

Kursk was an exercise in futility by July of 1943.

Giving the Soviets 4-5 months to prepare the defenses around Kursk made the whole operation a waste of resources and time.

What Germany SHOULD HAVE done was to spend 1943 on the defensive as Guderian recommended. "How many people do you think even know where Kursk is? It's a matter of profound indifference to the world whether we hold Kursk or not..."

But what about handing the initiatives to the Allies? That can be solved trivially.

All Hitler had to do to prevent the Soviet from launching a massive attack in the summer, was to pretend that he was going to do an all out attack on Kursk (which was widely expected, as anyone with a map could see the value of such an attack). And then did what he always did, delay the attack and delay, and delay, until the best of the campaigning season is over.

Given his track record of delaying his offensives repeatedly, no one would doubt that the planned attack was coming.

But to answer the original question. Was Hitler right to cancel? Yes. He shouldn't even have authorized the offensive. While Manstein was making decent progress in the South. Model's northern arm was totally spent (by the time Hitler made his decision). Given the weather that followed (pelting rain) it would have been unlikely that Manstein could have broken through all the way to link up with Model. And even if he was able to do that, there was no real reason to believe there would have been enough German troops to prevent the Russian from reaching the newly cut off in the Kursk pocket. The problem was, the Soviet still had significant reserve left (the Steppe Front), and the Germans didn't.

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    You seem to argue that Kursk had no real value, i.e. "It's a matter of profound indifference to the world whether we hold Kursk or not..." and then assert that "anyone with a map could see the value of such an attack", perhaps a little rewording would clarify matters? Nov 6, 2018 at 16:35
  • I do not think there is a conflict. Kursk has no strategic value, asserted Heinz Guderian. But the rest of the world believed there was value. Taking it would shorten the German line by 150 miles, give the German a morale boosting victory, and keep the initiative in the East. That was the thinking of the standard strategists (Russia, German, Western) at the time. But Kursk itself was of no strategic value. A pretend attack could have achieved many of the german goals without the cost. As long as the Russians believed an all out attack was imminent, they would wait to launch theirs. Nov 6, 2018 at 17:55
  • Because Kursk was the obvious target for a short limited attack. Hitler wanted to pot control the Kursk fight, but ended up going all-in, by momentum. Nov 6, 2018 at 18:09

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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    Could you add references that SS units fought better in the East? With Italy surrendering, you'd want your most loyal troops there. Also, the II SS Panzer Corps was one corps out of 17 involved in the battle and only one division, 1st SS Panzer, was sent to Italy and later back to the East. The rest stayed on the Eastern front.
    – Schwern
    Oct 28, 2015 at 18:36
  • it wasn't just the SS, but the whole of the German army. A good example would be the 12th army. While the head was surrendering to the Americans, the rear was still bitterly fighting the Soviets. Also they fought a different kind of opponent there. The Soviet casualty figures seem to speak for themselves, about 80 000 in Berlin alone, I think. Jul 31, 2017 at 17:49
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    The question is about the Battle of Kursk. 12th Army was not SS. This doesn't support your answer.
    – Schwern
    Jul 31, 2017 at 17:59
  • There is no way to know how many the Wehrmacht regulars and how many the SS killed, but there are testimonies describing the waffen SS soldiers as more dangerous than the regulars. Also, as a whole, the German army killed far more Soviets than other allies. If you assume, the SS killed more, then removing them meant less offensive power for the Germans. Aug 1, 2017 at 21:58

I believe that the underlying intention of the High command was never to close the kursk salient with 2 pincers. This has been lauded as gospel for ages and ages and stands in the way of Mansteins thinking. I believe that the Soviet High command make a key strategic error when they positioned the bulk of their armour too close to the Northern pincer. The Northern "Pincer" was not the main pincer, in fact it's firepower was more defensive in charachter with all Ferdinands placed there and the defensive Hagen position available to fall back to which they did in good order. (Model had soaked up significant attacks at the Meat grinder of Rshev with the 9th army and the expectation was that he was to do it again) So essentially one sees what actually occurred in the Invasion of France in 1940 with a sickle through the ardennes now being the Southern Pincer. von Manstein having the core of the firepower, the massive SS corps and Gross Deutschlkand etc down South. Unlike the fiction of Prokhoroka being a Soviet victory it wasn't the 5th Guards etc was wasted...the Soviets actually had committed all reserves in the South and the German Armoured formations were both intact and had reserves. There was no substantive threat to the Eastern flank as those Soviet reserves had already been committed and slaughtered. Whilst Von Manstein had 3 additional panzer divisions in reserve. Its quiet clear that a break through could have been made and given that the rest of the Soviet armoured reserve units were out of position trying to break through against Model in the North. They would not have been able to turn South and get to von Manstein in time. The effect would have been a hammer blow comming up from the South against the soviet armoured units and pressed them against Models Hagen line (Anvil). The distance involved was open tank country...German tanks were being repaired at such a rate that in fact there was almost no difference between tank avaialability on the 13th than there was 5 days earlier...If Von Manstein could snatch a victory at Kharkiv outnumbered 8:1 what he would have done at Kursk could certainly have been within his grasp. As more and more detail comes out of the battle we realize that the Soviets were simply lieing lieing at infinitum Stalin had prepared the script before the battle even started. Hitler essentially pulled out as he did at the Invasion of France where Guderian didn't stop at Sedan but kept up the charge to Dunkirk where Adolf again made the wrong call.

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    Can you turn this wall of text into paragraph please?
    – Bregalad
    Jun 25, 2015 at 21:08
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    And provide a few references to back up the block of opinion.
    – MCW
    Jun 25, 2015 at 22:58
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    Tried to put this into paragraphs but could not find enough internal structure to find good points for breaks.
    – DevSolar
    May 20, 2016 at 12:17

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