Battle of Kursk is considered a Soviet decisive victory, no doubt it was the last major German offensive at the Eastern front. But why so?

Casualties indicate the Soviets suffered 1 million casualties (MIA, KIA, WIA) while the Germans suffered 180K casualties. The Soviets tank losses were 10 times higher than the Germans.

Why were the Soviets so efficient at recruiting and replacing the lost man-power and material?

I don't take the "Soviet had twice as big population as of Germany's" as an answer.
Germany had allies: Italy, Hungary, Romania and Finland, also the occupied German territories where foreigners could join the SS (Scandinavia, Netherlands, France, Bosnia and Ukraine). Plus, Germany had occupied a huge part of the Soviet Union with many of the population still there. So the Soviet Union population wasn't really twice as big during 1941-1943...

  • 4
    You like it or not, that is big part of the answer.Germany was fighting on 3 fronts at the end of the war, Soviets on one. Most of allies had minimal contribution, and often lacked quality and equipment. Soviets were in the defense, ready to fight till the last men and women, Germans were in offensive, with many their troups tied down in occupation and not enough men in factories or on the fields working. Both side were very persuasive when recruited people, but the Soviets had much bigger men and material resources.
    – Greg
    Jan 28, 2019 at 15:52
  • 4
    You're basically saying you don't take the answer as the answer. The allied armies that existed were often in the wrong place, and of course could only provide their stuff not miraculously become German
    – user31561
    Jan 28, 2019 at 15:54
  • How much Lend-Lease helped USSR to win is a hard question, but it should be a (small or medium?) part of the answer too. If Ivan is not needed in industry because the Allies are sending stuff, then Ivan can be conscripted. You could also argue that soviet workers really worked hard during the war - long hours with few benefits or safety - also needing less people. On the other hand, Germans used foreign slave labor in industry with exactly the same rationale - Fritz must go to war, not make bullets.
    – Luiz
    Jan 28, 2019 at 16:03
  • Germany had allies So did the Soviet Union, and Soviet allies were many times more powerful than German allies.
    – Semaphore
    Jan 28, 2019 at 16:09
  • 1
    What is your resource that declares that number of casualties?
    – Santiago
    Jan 28, 2019 at 17:36

1 Answer 1


One word: Resources.

Natural Resources

Germany was resource-starved on just about everything.

  • Iron ore had to be imported from Sweden (which expected to be payed for that -- and protecting those supplies was a big part of why Germany invested resources in invading and occupying Norway).
  • Oil was in desperately short supply from the get-go.
  • Huge amounts of coal went into synthetic fuel production to make up for the oil shortage as best they could (but yielding poor / low octane fuel).

Nickel, chrome, and other alloy materials that are required to produce high-grade steel. (The reason why the Me-262's Jumo 004 engines had such a short service live, for example, was that those alloy materials were unavailable by that point in the war.)

Rubber. Food. The list goes on. Germany relied on imports for all of these. So did the UK, but Britannia ruled the waves. So when England and France went to war over the invasion of Poland, German shipping was blockaded pretty effectively, while the Kriegsmarine -- for all its partial successes -- never managed to get close to the stranglehold on shipping that would have been required to even the odds on the resource front.

Russia, in the meantime, was sitting on a wealth of natural resources, by comparison -- and what they didn't have, they got from the USA by convoy, both across the Atlantic and across the Pacific (see above).

Trained Personell

With the situation in natural resources being bleak and just getting worse with time, Germany's strategy revolved around winning quickly.

That hinged on the German army being as well-trained, and highly motivated, as it was. There was no point to plan for a long war, because Germany could not win a long war, especially not while Britain kept fighting. This meant that many long-term developments, especially troop and pilot training, were de-emphasized in favor of maximum impact right now.

So with every battle fought, with every soldier fallen, with every aircraft shot down, with every tank destroyed, Germany had to replace losses with less well-trained troops and pilots.

I cannot and will not judge whether the degree of training in the Red Army actually improved over the course of the war, or basically stayed on the same level. But it did not get worse the way it did for the Wehrmacht, that's for sure.

Result of Kursk.

Germany's goal was to cut off the Kursk salient, cutting off five Russian armies, and gaining the strategic initiative (as to eventually get to a point were they could, you know, "win the war" by forcing Russia into an armistice).

Russia's goal was to deny them that.

And while the Russian losses were high, they did deny the Wehrmacht every single of their strategic objectives. After the battle, the German Wehrmacht was exhausted, low on fuel and equipment, and utterly unable to conduct offensive operations.

The Russians were not.

What was once a crack, very much attacking force that had swept through France and Poland was no longer. Russia had the initiative, and thus the Battle of Kursk was a Russian victory, no matter the casualties.

You are comparing the wrong numbers, anyway.

So now, with all the above being said, let's look at your question, which exhibits "the usual misconception":

Casualties indicate the Soviets suffered 1 million casualties (MIA, KIA, WIA) while the Germans suffered 180K casualties. The Soviets tank losses were 10 times higher than the Germans.

Why were the Soviets so efficient at recruiting and replacing the lost man-power and material?

You make the error of comparing X losses against Y losses.

But what you have to compare is:

  • X losses against X resupply, and
  • Y losses against Y resupply.

Look at all what I said above.

Germany was resource-starved, blockaded, bombed, fighting on multiple fronts, and had lost its best bid at victory: A decisive blow, dealt on the move. This "best bid" was not Kursk. By the time that battle came around, Germany was already firmly on the losing side for the reasons mentioned above. It had been replacing crack troops with green troops rushed through training for quite some while, and was firmly on the defensive now. There was no respite in sight, and actually, the biggest tragedy is that it took them almost three more years and countless dead from "this did not work out the way we planned" (which I, personally, consider to be obvious by winter 1941/42, summer 1942 at the very latest) to finally fold to the inevitable.

Russia was resource-rich, convoy-supplied, its factories out of bomber range, and had been learning the lessons it had been taught by the Wehrmacht for two years. Their losses were gruesome, but could be replaced. It does not matter if that is an "only just" or a "comfortably". The balances of attrition were firmly in their favor, with all threat to their economical backbone removed.

  • VE day was less than 2 years after Kursk. Jan 24, 2021 at 16:59
  • @JohnBentin If you are referring to the line that "it took them almost three more years", I was referring to the time span between the last time Germany had a halfway "realistic" chance at coming out of the war under any kind of favorable terms -- which I consider to be summer 1942 -- and the German capitulation. By the time of the Battle of Kursk, Germany was already firmly on the losing side, for the reasons mentioned above. When it became clear that Russia would not fold in mid 1942, there was no other way it could have turned out than utter defeat.
    – DevSolar
    Jan 24, 2021 at 19:32
  • OK. I just understood "it took them almost three more years" to be in relation to the last event with a definite date (Kursk) to be mentioned in your post. Excellent post (+1), by the way. Jan 24, 2021 at 19:48
  • Re "the Kriegsmarine -- for all its partial successes -- never managed to get close to the stranglehold on shipping that would have been required to even the odds": Not really true. The **U-Boat First Happy time (July 1940 to January 1941) and Second happy Time (January 1942 to August 1942) both came close to starving the U.K. out. Both times Britain evaded disaster, but it was a close call. Whether the Germans could have actually closed the noose is unanswerable, but it cannot simply be assumed that the task was impossible, given how close they came. Jan 25, 2021 at 17:14
  • @PieterGeerkens: There were partial successes, that is what I said. But at no point did the UK come even close to considering filing for an armistice. That's the other thing I said. The call wasn't as close as you make it to be.
    – DevSolar
    Jan 25, 2021 at 18:48

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