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The Germans Did Much Better at Legendary Kursk Tank Battle Than People Say

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The title of Martin Caidin’s 1974 history of the Battle of Kursk is still evocative, with its imagery of Nazi Germany’s vaunted Tiger tanks in flames.

Tigers burning brightly are just one legend of the epic July 1943 battle between Germany and Russia. There are many more: The Greatest Tank Battle in History, the Turning Point of World War II, The Death Ride of the Panzers, Russian tanks ramming German tanks in a mechanized orgy of destruction….

All very colorful, and all mostly or partly untrue.

Kursk is the Santa Claus and Easter Bunny of World War II battles, whose popular history was constructed from German and Soviet propaganda, and based on early accounts lacking vital information buried in Russian archives until after the fall of the Soviet Union. Kursk was indeed an epic battle, that pitted 3 million German and Soviet soldiers and 8,000 tanks, all crammed into a small portion of southern Russia.

After the disaster at Stalingrad in February 1943, the Red Army pushed the Germans back all the way across southern Russia, until a Panzer counteroffensive in March halted the Russian advance. As spring mud and mutual exhaustion brought operations to a close, the front lines solidified with a 120-mile-wide Russian salient bulging into German lines near the city of Kursk.

Germany had a choice: wait to be hammered by another offensive from the Russian steamroller, or take the initiative by launching its own offensive. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking after the November 1942 Western Allied landings in North Africa signaled that Germany would soon be forced to split its armies between Eastern and Western Europe.

In 1941, Germany had been strong enough to attack on a thousand-mile-front from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Now the Germans could only muster enough troops to concentrate on a narrow sector.  An obvious target was the Kursk salient, so obvious in fact that any Russian general with a map could guess the German target (in addition, Moscow was tipped off by the “Lucy”). In effect, Kursk was the first Battle of the Bulge, but on a much larger scale than the Americans faced in December 1944.

Top commanders such as Erich Von Manstein wanted to attack in May, before the Soviets had time to dig in and reinforce the salient. But a nervous and indecisive Hitler decided to postpone Operation Citadel until July, to allow time to deploy his vaunted new Panther, Tiger and Elefant tanks. While the big cats lumbered off the railroad cars near the front lines, the Germans managed to amass nearly 800,000 men, 3,000 tanks, 10,000 guns and mortars, and 2,000 aircraft. It would be the last time the Germans could concentrate such an attack force (by comparison, at the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans had 400,000 men and 600 tanks). Yet as usual, the Germans were outnumbered. They faced 1.9 million Soviet soldiers, 5,000 tanks, 25,000 guns and mortars and more than 3,000 aircraft.

Citadel was a prophetic name for the German offensive. The Soviets used the extra time to build an incredibly dense defense system of multiple layers of fortifications, including trenches, bunkers, tank traps and machine gun nests 25 miles deep, as well as minefields that averaged more than 3,000 mines per kilometer.

Kursk was not an imaginative battle. The Germans attacked an obvious target, the Soviets fortified the obvious target, and the German offensive on July 4, 1943 was a traditional pincer move against the north and south base of the salient to cut off the defenders inside. Despite support by 89 Elefants (a Porsche version of the Tiger that the German army rejected), the northern pincer quickly bogged down after advancing just a few miles. But the southern pincer, led by the II SS Panzer Corps, managed to advance 20 miles to the town of Prokhorovka, until its advance was checked by the Soviet Fifth Guards Tank Army.

On July 10, Anglo-American troops landed on the beaches of Sicily. Two days later Hitler informed his generals that he was canceling the offensive and transferring the SS Panzer divisions to Italy, to repel any Allied landings on the Italian peninsula.

The German offensive was over. But the Soviets had only just begun. Stavka, the Soviet high command, used essentially the same trick that had worked at Stalingrad. It waited until the Germans had concentrated their forces at Kursk, and exhausted themselves against the Russian defenses. Then the Red Army launched a counteroffensive that punctured the weakly held German lines at Orel, north of Kursk, and Belgorod to the south. Thus the Germans found their pincer operation squeezed on either side by a Soviet pincers, in yet another masterful example of the Soviet gift for timing multiple offensives to keep the Germans off balance.

As they would do for the next 22 months, the Germans retreated. The Battle of Kursk was over. The battle over the history of Kursk was not.

So let’s explode some of the hype about Kursk:

There were lots of flaming tanks at Kursk. They were mostly Russian. Loss estimates for Kursk are fuzzy, but historians David Glantz and Jonathan House estimate the Germans lost 323 tanks destroyed, or about 10 percent of the tanks committed to the offensive (and a fraction of the 12,000  tanks and self-propelled guns the Third Reich built in 1943). Many German tanks damaged by mines or Soviet weapons, or that broke down, were subsequently recovered.

The Soviets lost at least 1,600 tanks, a 5:1 ratio in Germany’s favor. The Germans probably lost 45 tanks at Prokhovoka, most of which were subsequently recovered and repaired. The Soviets may have lost 300 tanks destroyed and another 300 damaged, a 15:1 ratio in Germany’s favor.

As for Tigers at Kursk, the Germans deployed 146. Only 6 were destroyed.

Given that the German offensive ran into perhaps the most extensive fortified zone in history, and then fought against the numerically superior Soviet tank force, Panzer losses were remarkably light. It was the German infantry, which as in most armies took the most casualties and received the least glory, that was roughly handled at Kursk.

2. Kursk was not a turning point of the war:

The Germans could blame their defeats at Moscow and Stalingrad on the Russian winter, overstretched supply lines and incompetent Rumanian and Italian allies. Kursk demonstrated that the Red Army could hold its own against fully rested and equipped German troops fighting in good weather. More important, Kursk showed that the momentum on the Eastern Front had changed. From June 1941 until July 1943, the tempo of the Russo-German war was mostly determined by German offensives and Soviet responses.  After Kursk, the Germans remained on the defensive, their elite Panzer divisions constantly moving up and down the Eastern Front to plug Soviet breakthroughs and rescue encircled German troops.

Yet the momentum on the Eastern Front had already shifted six months earlier at Stalingrad, where an entire German army, and several hundred thousand German and satellite troops, were erased from the Axis order of battle. Kursk was bloody: the German offensive alone cost 54,000 Germans and 178,000 Soviet casualties — yet there were no major encirclements or surrenders. Kursk was a battle of attrition rather than decisive maneuver. Both armies were damaged yet both remained intact.

The Red Army had become too competent to let the German Panzers slice and dice them as in 1941. And unless Germany could win the sort of victories it achieved in 1941, and filled the POW cages with a million Soviet prisoners, it is hard to see how Kursk could have been decisive. If the Germans had destroyed a few Soviet divisions and eliminated the Kursk salient, the Soviets would merely have rebuilt their strength and attacked somewhere else. By 1943, there were simply not enough German troops to conquer the Soviet Union or to solidly defend a thousand-mile front.

3. Prokhorovka was not the Greatest Tank Battle in History:

The meeting engagement between the II SS Panzer Corps and the 5th Guards Tank Army at Prokhorovka has been lauded as history’s greatest tank battle, probably because it involved SS Panzer divisions and a handful of Tigers. The actual battle only pitted about 300 German tanks against roughly 800 Soviet vehicles. The biggest tank battle in history may be Dubna, in June 1941, where 750 German tanks defeated 3,500 Soviet vehicles.

4. The Red Army was still not as good as the German Army:

The Red Army in 1943 had come a long way since its pitiful performance in 1941-42. But despite the postwar propaganda, Kursk showed the Soviets still had a long way to go. As Russian Kursk expert Valeriy Zamulin demonstrates in “Demolishing the Myth: The Tank Battle at Prokhorovka, Kursk, July 1943,” Soviet tactical performance was clumsy and troop morale was brittle. Though the Red Air Force was able to provide some support, its performance was also lacking: for example, a surprise strike on German airfields on July 5 quickly turned into a turkey shoot for the Luftwaffe fighter aces.

Military theory holds that the attacker should outnumber the defender three-to-one, and that fighting through dense fortifications will render an attack ever more costly. The fact was that the Germans were outnumbered at Kursk, and fought through multiple trench lines and minefields, yet inflict three times as many casualties and destroy three times as tanks and aircraft as the Germans themselves lost.

5. It was the Soviet counteroffensive that bled the Germans:

Accounts of Kursk tend to focus on the dramatic German attack and desperate Soviet defense. Yet as was the case throughout the war, German losses were relatively light as long as they remained on the offensive, where they could use their talents for battlefield flexibility and improvisation to the maximum. It was when the Germans were on the defense, where they had less room to maneuver and were vulnerable to massive artillery barrages, that they tended to take heavy casualties.

The Germans lost about 50,000 men during their attempted breakthrough. They may have suffered another 150,000 casualties during the dual Soviet offensives — Operations Kutuzov and Rumyantsev — in mid-July through August. German tank losses were not excessive during their offensive, but once the long retreat to the Reich began, equipment frequently had to be abandoned or blown up.

6. Soviet tanks didn’t ram German tanks at Kursk:

The story is probably apocryphal. Even considering the Red Army’s bravery and discipline, trying to ram another tank before it blows you to smithereens would be an act of battlefield Darwinism.

7. Kursk was an Anglo-American victory as well as a Soviet one:

Just as the SS Panzers were about to achieve a decisive breakthrough — or so Von Manstein claimed — an Anglo-American amphibious force landed on Sicily. Hitler called off Operation Citadel and transferred the SS Panzer divisions to Italy. The timing was coincidental. The Anglo-Americans didn’t land on Sicily to support the Soviets at Kursk, nor could they have mounted a large amphibious invasion on such short notice. But the practical effect was to draw German troops from the Eastern Front at a critical time.

Pointing this out takes nothing away from the bravery and skill of the Red Army, any more that it disparages the Western Allies to point out that the Soviets fought and destroyed the bulk of the German army. But today, as America and Russia confront one another, it is worth remembering there was a time when both nations cooperated to save the world from a new Dark Ages.


Source: The National Interest

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Q&A: What is the British government doing to help Brits in Italy overcome post-Brexit hurdles?

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On Wednesday the British embassy in Rome organised a town hall-style question and answer session to allow British residents in Italy to raise concerns and put their questions to Minister Wendy Morton and British Ambassador to Italy Jill Morris.

After the session, The Local was granted a brief interview with the minister to discuss some of the major issues for UK nationals in Italy that we’ve been reporting on this past year.

From residency rights to driving licences, here are the minister’s answers to our questions about the post-Brexit rights of British citizens in Italy.

How is the UK government assisting British nationals struggling to access the new carta di soggiorno elettronica?

UK citizens living in Italy have been encouraged by the British government to apply for a carta di soggiorno elettronica, a new biometric card that proves their right to live in Italy under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.

While the card is not required by the Italian government, it’s strongly recommended as the simplest way for Brits who have been resident in Italy since before January 1, 2021 to demonstrate their rights of residency and ensure they can continue to access essential services.

Some UK citizens, though, have had trouble accessing the card due to processing delays or the fact that their local police station, or questura, hasn’t yet got set up to issue the document – and have run into problems obtaining work contracts and applying for driving licenses as a result.

Anti-Brexit protesters on September 22, 2017 in Florence, Italy. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

The minister said that the British embassy in Rome has been holding regular online meetings to listen to residents’ concerns about the card, and also provides updates via a newsletter.

“Our ambassador has a newsletter that is a way of communicating regularly to British citizens, so they can sign up to this, as well as signing up to the Foreign Office’s ‘Living In…’ guide, to get up to date information on an ongoing basis,” she said.

Ambassador Morris highlighted that the British embassy is collecting reports from British citizens who have experienced problems accessing the card (as well as any other issues) via a contact form on its website.

“We encourage British residents in Italy to report to us when they have any difficulties exercising their rights, whether that’s related to healthcare, whether that’s at the questura to get the carta di soggiorno elettronica, or any other issues people may have,” the ambassador said.

“We log the individual cases; we also look for trends, so when we see there’s a trend of a problem, for example stamping passports at a particular airport, then we target the authorities at that airport to give them information and make sure all the border guards have that information.”

The embassy sends a monthly update to the Italian authorities to alert them to ongoing issues, she added.

You can find the embassy’s contact form here.

The ambassador also noted that the British embassy has worked with Italy’s national association of mayors, Anci, to distribute a booklet to comuni across the country laying out the post-Brexit rights of British citizens.

Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement on reciprocal driving licenses before the grace period expires at the end of this year?

After Britain left the EU at the end of last year, British residents who hadn’t yet got around to converting their UK license to an Italian one were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to use their British license in Italy.

Many hoped that Italy and the UK would later come to an agreement which would allow drivers to continue using their British license beyond that point.

But with less than four months to go before the grace period expires, Brits are now wondering whether to gamble on the two countries reaching an accord by the end of this year – and risk being unable to drive come January 1st – or to undergo the time-consuming and expensive process of retaking their driving test in Italy.

When we raised this issue with Ms. Morton, she said: “We absolutely are continuing to negotiate with the Italian government on the right to exchange a UK license for an Italian one without the need to retake a driving test, and I can assure you it’s our absolute priority to reach an agreement before the end of the grace period which is at the end of this year.”

REAL ALSO: Reader question: Will my UK driving licence still be valid in Italy after 2021?

Photo: Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

What is government doing to help British-Italian families wanting to return to live in the UK?

UK nationals wanting to return to live in Britain with their EU partners have until the end of March 2022 before the bar for being granted a spousal visa will be significantly raised. That deadline is fixed and will not be extended, the minister confirmed on Wednesday.

“If they want to apply, it’s important that they apply before the deadline,” she told The Local.

“Close family members of UK nationals who return from living in the EU by the 29th of March next year can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme as long as that relationship existed before exit day,” said the minister.

“It’s also worth remembering that family members of individuals from the EU, from Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Lichtenstein, as well as the families of British citizens may also be eligible to apply for a family permit under the EU Settlement Scheme, which will make it easier to travel with a family member to the UK.”

READ ALSO: Brits with EU partners warned over future problems returning to live in UK

Some EU-British couples, however, are already experiencing problems having their right to live together in the UK recognised, with reports coming out that the Home Office has denied some applications on seemingly flimsy or technical grounds.

“The fundamental thing here is that British citizens can return to the UK at any time. And it’s important that we remember that,” the minister said when asked about this issue.

In case you were wondering.

For British-Italian couples in Italy experiencing problem, “the first port of call should be our team here in the embassy; it may be that they then need to be signposted if it’s a Home Office issue,” said the minister.

“The Home Office has made a whole range of advice available online, and can also be contacted by telephone and by email.”

See The Local’s ‘Dealing with Brexit‘ section for the latest news and updates.



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DUP queries whether President is ‘snubbing’ North centenary events

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The DUP has questioned whether President Michael D Higgins is “snubbing” events marking Northern Ireland’s centenary after it emerged he declined an invitation to attend a commemorative church service with Queen Elizabeth.

DUP Assembly member Peter Weir also asked if Mr Higgins was joining Sinn Féin and the SDLP in “boycotting” such events, a move which he said “speaks volumes” about Ireland’s “commitment to reconciliation and progress”.

Mr Weir said on Wednesday he had written to Mr Higgins “asking if his office is officially snubbing all events marking this milestone in the decade of centenaries”. If this was the case, Mr Weir said, “I have urged him to think again”.

Ulster Unionist MLA and former party leader Mike Nesbitt also queried why Mr Higgins was unable to attend the service and said it was “surprising, uncharacteristic and regrettable”.

However, he said the reciprocal state visits of the queen to Ireland and Mr Higgins to Britain were “the high water mark in Anglo-Irish relations”. He said Mr Higgins has “shown a consistent willingness to outreach and a focus on reconciliation. So until we know the reason why he can’t attend we cannot be critical.”

Armagh service

The Service of Reflection and Hope, taking place in Armagh next month, will mark 100 years since the partition of Ireland and the creation of Northern Ireland. It is organised by the leaders of the island’s main Christian churches, who had anticipated Mr Higgins would take part as head of State.

However it has emerged that Mr Higgins would not be present. Mr Higgins, who is on a four-day visit to Rome, has not yet commented on his decision.

The President attended a meeting of non-executive presidents from 14 EU States yesterday but made no public comment other than remarks on the meeting itself.

His spokesman had told The Irish Times on Tuesday that the President was “not in a position to attend” the service. He did not elaborate on Wednesday or say why the President could not attend. Asked about the DUP’s remarks, his spokesman said the President had nothing further to add.

The President does not need to request Government permission to travel to Northern Ireland so the decision was made by his office, without reference to the Department of the Taoiseach. Sources said a Government representative will attend the service but it had not yet received an invitation.

The Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Church of Ireland primate Archbishop John McDowell and other church leaders will be present at the service on October 21st.

It is being organised by the Church Leaders’ Group “as part of their wider programme of collective engagement around the 1921 centenaries, with an emphasis on their common Christian commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation.”

A statement on Wednesday from the group – which is made up of the two Archbishops, the Presbyterian Moderator and the presidents of the Methodist church and the Irish Council of Churches – did not reference Mr Higgins but said the service was “offered as a contribution to the work of building community and deepening relationships”.

A spokesman for Dr Martin commented earlier that “the important thing is that this service is going ahead. It is an initiative of the main Christian denominations on this island and is underpinned by prayer, peace and reconciliation”.

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German election roundup: Immigration, pension reform and tough questions from children

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More immigration needed in Germany to prop up pension system

Immigration is a huge topic ahead of the September 26th election. And today the pro-business Free Democrats have been sharing their views on it, as well as the pension system. 

The FDP say many more workers from abroad – half a million per year – are needed to help keep the German pension system functioning.

“We need a fundamental rethink in migration policy,” parliamentary group vice chairman and financial politician Christian Dürr told DPA. 

“If we manage to make Germany an open, modern immigration country and at the same time stabilise the pension, we will gain more as a society than we can imagine today.”

READ ALSO: ‘Germany needs more immigrants to fill jobs’

Dürr accused the CDU/CSU and the SPD of putting the financing of pensions on the back burner which he said is a fatal mistake.

For the next federal government, he said, the ageing society will be a major challenge. He said more people were retiring but fewer contributors were entering the labor market.

“The state already has to subsidise pension insurance with large sums of money,” Dürr said. “In the long run, we can’t afford that.”

The FDP is proposing a reform of pension financing based on higher migration into the labour market and an equity pension, in which pension funds invest in stocks to generate higher returns.

“If we want to stabilise our public finances and reduce debt, our country needs at least 500,000 immigrants per year,” Dürr said.

The FDP advocates for a points-based system based on the Canadian model to increase immigration. 

People who want to come to Germany would be classified according to education, work experience, language skills and age. Meanwhile, Germany should make it easier to recognise professional qualifications gained abroad, according to the FDP.

READ ALSO: Where do Germany’s political parties stand on dual citizenship and nationalities 

In the debates for the leading candidates in the Bundestag elections, the financing of pensions has been controversial lately. Green Party candidate for chancellor Annalena Baerbock also spoke out in favour of more immigration of skilled workers. The Left Party leader Janine Wissler called for politicians and civil servants to pay into the statutory pension fund.

Chancellor candidates Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Armin Laschet (CDU/CSU) have been arguing about whether young people should be guaranteed that the retirement age and pension level remains stable. Scholz advocates for this guarantee, while Laschet said it doesn’t need to be considered at the moment.

The latest polls

Here’s a snapshot of some of the latest polls on Wednesday, with SPD still in the lead ahead of the CDU/CSU. 

Bavaria’s Söder sees signs of a turnaround for conservatives

Despite the polls, CSU leader Markus Söder remains confident that CDU/CSU can win the election race.

“We are already seeing the first signs of a turnaround,” Söder said on Wednesday. “I think anything is possible, we can still catch up with the SPD. It is much closer than most believe at the moment.”

Söder is confident that the CDU/CSU – also known as the Union – would become the strongest force in the federal election.

“We will be ahead on election night,” he said. Söder went on to compare politics to football, saying “you have to be an optimist, as a fan of FC Nuremberg anyway”.

We won’t pretend we know much about German football, but Nuremberg must not be at the top of the Bundesliga right now – I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if they make a comeback.

Laschet caught out by children 

There was another awkward moment for the CDU’s Armin Laschet, who’s bidding to become the next Angela Merkel. 

Laschet – and the SPD’s Olaf Scholz – faced a series of questions from young people, on a range of issues. 

One of the youngsters – Romeo – asked about Laschet’s position on marriage for all. Laschet denied he had been against same-sex marriage before Germany voted to legalise it in 2017.

In true professional style, Romeo referred to a previous interview in Spiegel where Laschet had said that as a member of the Bundestag he had voted against the motion on same-sex marriage by the SPD. Laschet tried to dodge the answer by saying: “You were already reading Spiegel so long ago? That’s great.”

To which Romeo replied, “Nah, I Googled it.”

Scholz also had to deal with hard questions. 

Romeo, for instance, asked Scholz why children have drowned in the sea because they want to get to Germany, and why a plane was not sent to them to pick them up.

Scholz replied that many people were looking for ways to come to Germany that were not safe. He said authorities had to try and save them, and make their homeland safer.

Hats off to the young people asking the tough questions. 

Scholz: No tax cuts for the rich 

In a Tuesday interview on ZDF talk show Klartext, SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Sholz declared that “there will be no leeway for tax cuts” for the rich after the election.

In order to ease the tax burden on lower and middle incomes – as he plans – “you have to make sure that those who have a lot contribute a little more,” he told the interviewers. 

READ ALSO: What the German parties tax pledges mean for you



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