World War II/The Beginning of the End

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From the summer of 1943 the Third Reich faced a grim holding operation on the Eastern Front in the face of the inexorable Soviet advance. In Italy, however, the British and Americans made slower progress. In the Pacific the Americans began a drive toward the Japanese home islands, bypassing a number of Japanese bases and garrisons in a strategy known as "island hopping".

Following the recapture of Kharkov by the Germans in mid-March 1943, fighting on the eastern front subsided as both sides made preparations for further offensives. Hitler calculated that the Red Army was marking time before launching another offensive in the winter of 1943. The aim of the first German offensive would be to eliminate the huge Soviet salient north of Kharkov around the town of Kursk in the Ukraine. This had been created by Manstein's counterblow after Stalingrad.

Opinions differed within the German high command over how to deal with the Kursk salient. Manstein favored what became known as the "backhand solution", waiting for the Red Army to burst out of the salient and then rolling up its advancing columns as the Soviet lines of supply grew ever longer. Hitler and General Kurt Zeitzler, Chief of the Army General Staff, favored a more aggressive strategy. Having rejected a proposal for a frontal attack on the salient, the German high command settled for a pincer attack, delivered on the northern and southern shoulders of the salient with the aim of pinching out the Kursk bulge and trapping the Soviet armies holding it. The operation was codenamed Citadel.

Operation Citadel was based on the dangerous assumption that the Red Army, well dug-in, would crumble at the first impact of German armor. It was also a measure of changing fortunes on the Eastern Front that, for all the massive preparations that preceded it, Citadel's principal objective was limited to a mere straightening of the front line. However, such was the scale of the coming offensive that it was clear to all involved in its preparation that failure would mean the complete collapse of the German strategy on the Eastern Front. Hitler confessed that every time he thought about the operation, his stomach turned over.

to the line of the Dnieper River.

to pass to the Red Army after its victory

the Red Army not only seized the initiative,

to counter with tactical initiative.

Allied Priorities[edit | edit source]