The Battle of Kursk took place when German and Soviet forces confronted each other on the Eastern Front during World War II in the vicinity of the city of Kursk, (450 kilometers / 280 miles south of Moscow) in the Soviet Union in July and August 1943. It remains both the largest series of armored clashes, including the Battle of Prokhorovka, and the costliest single day of aerial warfare in history. It was the final strategic offensive the Germans were able to mount in the east. The resulting decisive Soviet victory gave the Red Army the strategic initiative for the rest of the war.
The Germans hoped to shorten their lines by eliminating the Kursk salient (also known as the Kursk bulge), created in the aftermath of their defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad. They envisioned pincers breaking through its northern and southern flanks to achieve a great encirclement of Red Army forces. The Soviets, however, had intelligence of the German Army's intentions. This and German delays to wait for new weapons, mainly the Tiger heavy tank and what would become the first significant battlefield appearance of the new Panther medium tank, gave the Red Army time to construct a series of defense lines and gather large reserve forces for a strategic counterattack.
Advised months in advance that the attack would fall on the neck of the Kursk salient, the Soviets designed a plan to slow, redirect, exhaust, and progressively wear down the powerful German panzer spearheads by forcing them to attack through a vast interconnected web of minefields, pre-sighted artillery fire zones, and concealed anti-tank strong points comprising eight progressively spaced defense lines 250 km deepâ€”more than 10 times as deep as the Maginot Lineâ€”and featuring a greater than 1:1 ratio of anti-tank guns to attacking vehicles. By far the most extensive defensive works ever constructed, it proved to be more than three times the depth necessary to contain the furthest extent of the German attack.
When the German forces had exhausted themselves against the defences, the Soviets responded with counter-offensives, which allowed the Red Army to retake Orel and Belgorod on 5 August and Kharkov on 23 August, and push the Germans back across a broad front.
Although the Red Army had had success in winter, this was the first successful strategic Soviet summer offensive of the war. The model strategic operation earned a place in war college curricula. The Battle of Kursk was the first battle in which a Blitzkrieg offensive had been defeated before it could break through enemy defenses and into its strategic depths.