For the historian Dietrich Eichholtz, the "Citadel Operation" was not decisive for the war
These days it is the seventieth anniversary of the Red Army's victory over the Adolf Hitler's in the battle of the Kursk Arch. It is well known how Guido Knopp sees the event. How the history of East Germany classified the battle, not so much. A conversation with Jürgen Kuczynski student Dietrich Eichholtz who taught at the Ernst Moritz Arndt University in Greifswald and wrote the history of the German war economy from 1939-1945, reprinted by De Gruyter.
Mr. Eichholtz, could the battle in the Kursk Bend have turned the tide for Hitler again if the Wehrmacht had won?
Dietrich Eichholtz: Well, first of all, I think it is unlikely that any victory at Kursk could have made a decisive turn in the east. Second, Hitler's troops after Stalingrad were actually essentially weakened, but not so far that Kursk could not have achieved success. My opinion on "Operation Citadel", however, is that the battle is grossly overestimated by West German historiography: it was a moderately large operation and short-lived. Hitler wanted to achieve a standstill on the eastern front in order to fortify his eastern wall and to be able to stand up to the west. In his estimation, at least, this would have prolonged the war indefinitely. It was nothing more.
Why was the battle in West Germany overrated?
Dietrich Eichholtz: The people were in a sense disappointed that the war for the fascists from Stalingrad was more or less over. The battle in the Kursk Arch was the only opportunity to project certain hopes into it retrospectively. I have a completely different opinion.
In this battle, the Red Army was far better equipped than the Wehrmacht, both in terms of personnel and material. Was there a real chance for the National Socialists to win this battle or did you have to be a racist here to be able to believe in the success of the company?
Dietrich Eichholtz: In terms of material and human resources, the Soviet Union as a whole had been on the road to victory since Stalingrad, but the Nazi army was by no means poorly equipped. Nevertheless, as I said, there was no chance for them to win the war with this battle. Even if the Nazis had brought a tank battle to a victorious end, they would still have been at the mercy of Soviet strategy. Even a great success of the fascists would not have changed anything at the end of the war, it would only have been postponed. The surprise element of the operation was zero, which also contributed to the fact that the matter was over within two weeks and the Nazis disappeared backwards.
Hitler delayed the offensive several times in order to bring new Tiger and Panther tanks to the front, which in turn allowed the Soviets to further develop their defensive position. Did Hitler's decision benefit the Red Army?
Dietrich Eichholtz: The Soviets had prepared themselves beforehand to defend the Kursk Arch. In this battle, of course, Hitler relied on the modern armored weapon as the last trump card and scraped together Tiger and Panther tanks, as far as they were available.
The battle of the Kursk Arch has gone down in history as the largest tank battle to date. Was the use of this type of weapon crucial to the battle? Which units have shown themselves to be superior, the German or the Soviet with their highly effective T-34 tanks?
Dietrich Eichholtz: Not many of the Tiger tanks had yet been produced. These were capable of fighting, but so heavy that they could not even drive over some bridges, while the Panthers were not yet fully developed in terms of technological development and were permanently out of action even without the intervention of the Red Army. Whether this conflict was the biggest tank battle in history is very doubtful for me, but in any case two huge tank groups collided here.
Apropos: A typical example of the funny West German historiography is the famous tank battle of July 12 near Prokhorovka, where both sides fought mercilessly with hundreds of armored vehicles in the smallest of spaces: First of all, this battle is claimed as a victory, even if there were no territorial gains . Second, the fascists' losses were extremely dodged, using highly questionable sources, compared to more than 300 total Soviet losses. This peculiar scheme of settlement between Germans and Soviets is a school in military-historical literature today.
On the other hand, I state: In any case, the Soviets were well prepared for the tank battle on July 12th, there was a ruthless and brutal slaughter on both sides, both sides suffered terrible losses and the battle was won by Hitler after violent clashes in the German one Army command canceled after only 11 days and without any significant gain in terrain. The territorial gains of the Germans were during the entire battle, measured against what one wanted to achieve with it (namely to cut off the Kursk arch, to destroy the troops assembled in it and to ensure a robust position of the Germans against the Soviets until the east wall was strengthened), ridiculous. It all went to pieces.
Did the general development of the war (the situation in North Africa, the Allied landings in Sicily) have any influence on the outcome of the battle?
Dietrich Eichholtz: The Allies have landed and quickly exerted influence. It was a shock for Hitler, who feared that he would now have to wage war on three fronts. He broke off the battle. This was particularly resentful of Erich von Manstein, who absolutely wanted to win this battle. Hitler made this soup too salty for him because he feared the outcome of the fighting in North Africa. In my opinion, as it turns out well into 1945, the German army was strong enough to launch a massive attack and ignore other points on this huge front. But she has just tried to win a small section of the front and she has not succeeded in that in any way. (Reinhard Jellen)
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