The Soviet Union the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were centralized; the country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Minsk, Alma-Ata, Novosibirsk, it spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, steppes and mountains; the Soviet Union had its roots in the 1917 October Revolution, when the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Russian Provisional Government which had replaced Tsar Nicholas II during World War I. In 1922, the Soviet Union was formed by a treaty which legalized the unification of the Russian, Transcaucasian and Byelorussian republics that had occurred from 1918. Following Lenin's death in 1924 and a brief power struggle, Joseph Stalin came to power in the mid-1920s.
Stalin committed the state's ideology to Marxism–Leninism and constructed a command economy which led to a period of rapid industrialization and collectivization. During his rule, political paranoia fermented and the Great Purge removed Stalin's opponents within and outside of the party via arbitrary arrests and persecutions of many people, resulting in at least 600,000 deaths. In 1933, a major famine struck the country. Before the start of World War II in 1939, the Soviets signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, agreeing to non-aggression with Nazi Germany, after which the USSR invaded Poland on 17 September 1939. In June 1941, Germany broke the pact and invaded the Soviet Union, opening the largest and bloodiest theatre of war in history. Soviet war casualties accounted for the highest proportion of the conflict in the effort of acquiring the upper hand over Axis forces at intense battles such as Stalingrad and Kursk; the territories overtaken by the Red Army became satellite states of the Soviet Union.
The post-war division of Europe into capitalist and communist halves would lead to increased tensions with the United States-led Western Bloc, known as the Cold War. Stalin died in 1953 and was succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev, who in 1956 denounced Stalin and began the de-Stalinization; the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred during Khrushchev's rule, among the many factors that led to his downfall in 1964. In the early 1970s, there was a brief détente of relations with the United States, but tensions resumed with the Soviet–Afghan War in 1979. In 1985, the last Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, sought to reform and liberalize the economy through his policies of glasnost and perestroika, which caused political instability. In 1989, Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe overthrew their respective communist governments; as part of an attempt to prevent the country's dissolution due to rising nationalist and separatist movements, a referendum was held in March 1991, boycotted by some republics, that resulted in a majority of participating citizens voting in favor of preserving the union as a renewed federation.
Gorbachev's power was diminished after Russian President Boris Yeltsin's high-profile role in facing down a coup d'état attempted by Communist Party hardliners. In late 1991, Gorbachev resigned and the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union met and formally dissolved the Soviet Union; the remaining 12 constituent republics emerged as independent post-Soviet states, with the Russian Federation—formerly the Russian SFSR—assuming the Soviet Union's rights and obligations and being recognized as the successor state. The Soviet Union was a powerhouse of many significant technological achievements and innovations of the 20th century, including the world's first human-made satellite, the first humans in space and the first probe to land on another planet, Venus; the country had the largest standing military in the world. The Soviet Union was recognized as one of the five nuclear weapons states and possessed the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, it was a founding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council as well as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the World Federation of Trade Unions and the leading member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact.
The word "Soviet" is derived from a Russian word сове́т meaning council, advice, harmony and all deriving from the proto-Slavic verbal stem of vět-iti, related to Slavic věst, English "wise", the root in "ad-vis-or", or the Dutch weten. The word sovietnik means "councillor". A number of organizations in Russian history were called "council". For example, in the Russian Empire the State Council, which functioned from 1810 to 1917, was referred to as a Council of Ministers after the revolt of 1905. During the Georgian Affair, Vladimir Lenin envisioned an expression of Great Russian ethnic chauvinism by Joseph Stalin and his supporters, calling for these nation-states to join Russia as semi-independent parts of a greater union, which he named as the Union of Soviet Republics of Europe and Asia. Stalin resisted the proposal, but accepted it, although with Lenin's agreement changed the name of the newly proposed sta
Western Front (World War II)
The Western Front was a military theatre of World War II encompassing Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. World War II military engagements in Southern Europe and elsewhere are considered under separate headings; the Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale combat operations. The first phase saw the capitulation of the Netherlands and France during May and June 1940 after their defeat in the Low Countries and the northern half of France, continued into an air war between Germany and Britain that climaxed with the Battle of Britain; the second phase consisted of large-scale ground combat, which began in June 1944 with the Allied landings in Normandy and continued until the defeat of Germany in May 1945. The Phoney War was an early phase of World War II marked by a few military operations in Continental Europe in the months following the German invasion of Poland and preceding the Battle of France. Although the great powers of Europe had declared war on one another, neither side had yet committed to launching a significant attack, there was little fighting on the ground.
This was the period in which the United Kingdom and France did not supply significant aid to Poland, despite their pledged alliance. While most of the German Army was fighting against Poland, a much smaller German force manned the Siegfried Line, their fortified defensive line along the French border. At the Maginot Line on the other side of the border, French troops stood facing them, whilst the British Expeditionary Force and other elements of the French Army created a defensive line along the Belgian border. There were only some minor skirmishes; the British Royal Air Force dropped propaganda leaflets on Germany and the first Canadian troops stepped ashore in Britain, while Western Europe was in a strange calm for seven months. In their hurry to re-arm and France had both begun to buy large numbers of weapons from manufacturers in the United States at the outbreak of hostilities, supplementing their own production; the non-belligerent United States contributed to the Western Allies by discounted sales of military equipment and supplies.
German efforts to interdict the Allies' trans-Atlantic trade at sea ignited the Battle of the Atlantic. While the Western Front remained quiet in April 1940, the fighting between the Allies and the Germans began in earnest with the Norwegian Campaign when the Germans launched Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Denmark and Norway. In doing so, the Germans beat the Allies to the punch. However, when the Allies made a counter-landing in Norway following the German invasion, the Germans repulsed them and defeated the Norwegian armed forces, driving the latter into exile; the Kriegsmarine, suffered heavy losses during the two-months of fighting required to seize all of mainland Norway. In May 1940, the Germans launched the Battle of France; the Western Allies soon collapsed under the onslaught of the so-called "blitzkrieg" strategy. The majority of the British and elements of the French forces escaped at Dunkirk. With the fighting ended, the Germans began to consider ways of resolving the question of how to deal with Britain.
If the British refused to agree to a peace treaty, one option was to invade. However, Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine, had suffered serious losses in Norway, in order to consider an amphibious landing, Germany's Air Force had to first gain air superiority or air supremacy. With the Luftwaffe unable to defeat the RAF in the Battle of Britain, the invasion of Great Britain could no longer be thought of as an option. While the majority of the German army was mustered for the invasion of the Soviet Union, construction began on the Atlantic Wall – a series of defensive fortifications along the French coast of the English Channel; these were built in anticipation of an Allied invasion of France. Because of the massive logistical obstacles a cross-channel invasion would face, Allied high command decided to conduct a practice attack against the French coast. On 19 August 1942, the Allies began an attack on Dieppe, France. Most of the troops were Canadian, with some British contingents and a small American and Free French presence along with British and Polish naval support.
The raid was a disaster two-thirds of the attacking force became casualties. However, much was learned as a result of the operation – these lessons would be put to good use in the subsequent invasion. For two years, there was no land-fighting on the Western Front with the exception of commando raids and the guerrilla actions of the resistance aided by the Special Operations Executive and Office of Strategic Services. However, in the meantime, the Allies took the war to Germany, with a strategic bombing campaign the US Eighth Air Force bombing Germany by day and RAF Bomber Command bombing by night; the bulk of the Allied armies were occupied in the Mediterranean, seeking to clear the sea lanes to the Indian Ocean and capture the Foggia Airfield Complex. Two early British raids for which battle honours were awarded were Operation Collar in Boulogne and Operation Ambassador in Guernsey; the raids for which the British awarded the "North-West Europe Campaign of 1942" battle honour were: Operation Biting – Bruneval, St Nazaire, Operation Myrmidon – Bayonne, Operation Abercrombie – Hardelot, Dieppe (19 Augus
48th Army (Soviet Union)
The 48th Army was a field army of the Soviet Red Army, active from 1941 to 1945. The army was first fought in the Leningrad Strategic Defensive Operation; the army was disbanded in early September. Its remnants were moved to the 54th Army. Reformed in April 1942 on the Bryansk Front, the army fought in the Maloarkhangelsk Offensive in the winter of 1943, it defended the northern face of the Kursk Bulge. During the summer, it fought in the Chernigov-Pripyat Offensive. From November, the army fought in the Gomel-Rechitsa Offensive; the army fought in Operation Bagration from June 1944. During the offensive, the army captured Zhlobin and Bobruisk and was on the Narew by early September. During early 1945, the army fought in the East Prussian Offensive and ended the war in East Prussia during May; the army was transferred to Poland in July 1945 and its headquarters was used to form the Kazan Military District in September. The army was established on 7 August 1941 from the Novgorod Operational Group, under command of Lt. Gen. Stepan Akimov, its initial order of battle was as follows: 1st Leningrad People's Militia Division 70th Rifle Division 128th Rifle Division 237th Rifle Division 1st Separate Mountain Rifle Brigade 21st Tank DivisionThe army was assigned to Northwestern Front and was responsible for the front's left flank north of Lake Ilmen.
It had under command the Ilmen Detachment of Ships. On 12 August the army, along with the 11th, 27th and 34th Armies, began a series of assaults against the German X Army Corps near Staraya Russa; these attacks failed to regain much territory but delayed the German advance on Leningrad by a further week. Following this, the 48th took up positions forward of Luga and Novgorod as part of the Luga defense line; that line was penetrated in the renewed German advance, Luga fell on 20 August, with heavy Soviet casualties. It was transferred to the Northern Front and ordered to defend the Gruzino-Liuban sector southeast of Leningrad. On 23 August Northern Front was subdivided, 48th Army became part of the new Leningrad Front. On 1 September the 48th comprised the 128th and 311th Rifle Divisions, the mountain brigade, the 541st Gun Artillery Regiment of the Reserve of the Supreme High Command and the 21st Tank Division. At this time, it was commanded by Lieutenant General Maxim Antoniuk. Heavy attacks by the German XXXIX Motorized Corps forced the army to abandon Mga, a key railway link.
Akimov was ordered to retake the town, which he did with the help of a fresh division of NKVD border guards, but the town was lost again the next day. During the first week of September the 20th Motorized Division, reinforced with elements of 12th Panzer Division, ground its way northwards against the resistance of the mountain brigade and the NKVD men before capturing Shlisselburg on Lake Ladoga on 8 September, isolating Leningrad, with the bulk of the army outside, to the east. On 12 September, the remnants of 48th Army were disbanded; the army was formed for a second time from 28th Mechanized Corps Headquarters on 20 April 1942, part of the Bryansk Front. It included a mortar regiment and a separate engineer battalion; the army was commanded by Major General Grigory Khalyuzin. On 1 June, the army included the 6th 8th, 211th and 280th Rifle Divisions, it included the 118th and 122nd Rifle Brigades as well as the 80th and 202nd Tank Brigades. Artillery and engineer units were included. Air support was provided by the 879th Light Bomber Aviation Regiment.
Army troops took up positions on the Korobka River west of Novosil. From the end of June to July, the army fought in heavy defensive battles in the Yeletsky direction. During the battles, the army was able to hold the German troops at the line of Bolshoy Malinovets, Zalegosh and Svetitsky. On 27 August the deputy commander of the army, Major General Konstantin Ignatievich Novik, was killed in action at Dishnia Station during a heavy enemy artillery raid. In February 1943, the army launched an offensive in the Maloarkhangelsk direction. On 12 February, Lieutenant General Prokofy Romanenko took command of the army. By 23 February it was in position southwest of northwest of Maloarkhangelsk. On 13 March, the army was transferred to the Central Front. During the summer and fall of 1943, the army fought in battles on the northern face of the Kursk Bulge, Operation Kutuzov and the Chernigov-Pripyat Offensive. Continuing to advance towards Gomel along with the 61st and 65th Armies, the 48th Army cleared the left bank of the Sozh of German troops by 10 October.
The army pursued the German troops to the south of Gomel. On 20 October, it transferred to the Belorussian Front and from the first week of November fought in the expansion of the bridgehead on the right bank of the Sozh. From 19 November, it fought in the Gomel-Rechitsa Offensive. During early 1944, the army carried out an attack towards Bobruisk. At the outset of Operation Bagration on 23 June 1944, the 48th Army had been reinforced, was comprised as follows: 29th Rifle Corps 42nd Rifle Corps 53rd Rifle Corps 197th Rifle Division 115th Fortified Region 22nd Artillery Division 68th Light Artillery Brigade 220th Guards Antitank Artillery Regiment 479th Mortar Regiment 31st Antiaircraft Artillery Division 461st Antiaircraft Artillery Regiment 42nd and 231st Separate Ta
50th Army (Soviet Union)
The 50th Army was a Soviet field army during World War II. It was deployed on the southwest approaches to Moscow. Encircled and destroyed by German Second Panzer Army in the opening stages of Operation Typhoon, enough of the army escaped that it could be reinforced to defend the city of Tula in November, it was at this time that the 50th came under the command of Lt. Gen. Ivan Boldin, who continued in command until February, 1945. During most of its career the army was small and accordingly served in secondary roles, it finished the war in East Prussia, under the command of Lt. Gen. Fyodor Ozerov, as part of 3rd Belorussian Front; the Army became active on Aug. 16, 1941 along the Desna River as part of the newly-forming Bryansk Front. The Army's first commander, Major General Mikhail Petrov, issued his Combat Order No. 1 on that date. In it, he recorded the composition of the 50th Army as follows: 217th Rifle Division 258th Rifle Division 260th Rifle Division 269th Rifle Division 279th Rifle Division 280th Rifle Division 55th Cavalry Division Artillery regiments of 2nd and 20th Rifle Corps 753rd and 761st Antitank Regiments 86th Separate Antiaircraft Battalion 10th Separate Armored Car Battalion 5th Separate Sapper BattalionExcept for the 217th which formed in late June, all of these rifle divisions had formed in July, as few as four weeks earlier.
Bryansk Front was under the command of Gen. Andrey Yeryomenko. During the balance of August and most of September he ordered his forces, including the fresh 50th Army, into repeated clashes with the German XLVII Motorized Corps over its possession of a bridgehead over the Desna anchored on the towns of Pochep and Pogar; this was an attempt to disrupt 2nd Panzer Army as it prepared to strike southwards towards Kiev. These operations had little effect on the German forces and severely weakened the Front just as it was to face its greatest test; as of Sept. 30, strength returns for 50th Army showed 61,503 personnel, 780 guns and mortars, but only 7 tanks. It was still one of the stronger armies before Moscow, but not so strong. On Sept. 30, 1941, the 2nd Panzer Army launched Operation Typhoon in the 50th Army's sector. On the third day it had penetrated the weak 13th Army and a day reached Oryol; the 50th Army was bypassed. On Oct. 2, Major I. Shabalin, the head of the army's political section, wrote:"A continuous rumble of enemy artillery can be heard, masses of their aircraft are flying overhead – our antiaircraft guns are shooting at them constantly.
It is clear we are facing a major assault along our whole front, in many sectors our troops have been pushed back." On Oct. 7, Major General Petrov was given temporary command of Bryansk Front after Yeryomenko was wounded. Major General Arkady Yermakov, leading an operational group within the Front, took up command of 50th Army until late November; the pocketed forces were split in two when 17th Panzer Division and 167th Infantry Division linked up on Oct. 10, with 50th Army in the northern pocket, but the eastern perimeter was only lightly held so the army was never cut off from the main front. On that date, General Weichs, commander of German 2nd Army, reported that "a strong part of the Red Fiftieth Army... could not be prevented from escaping." General Guderian of the 2nd Panzer Army further reported that his forces were committed to containing breakouts from the southern pocket and had nothing available to help with the northern one. The 50th was able to fall back beyond Bryansk without catastrophic losses.
By late October 50th Army had fallen back towards the city of Tula and repaired its strength. Three depleted divisions, the 293rd, 413th and 239th, arrived from the front, each with between 500 and 1,000 men, who were exhausted and with little equipment. Within two months these divisions reinforced to authorized strength. With the disruption of Bryansk Front, 50th Army was reassigned to Western Front. Army Group Center's supplies had been adequate for the encirclement phases of Typhoon, as the autumn rains turned the roads to mud, Guderian was forced to postpone his drive on Tula until Oct. 23. The town of Chern fell on the 25th. A battlegroup, forcing its way up the one available highway, got within 5 km of the city on Oct. 29 and tried to take it off the march, but the defenders were prepared and drove the panzers off with strong antitank and antiaircraft fire. 50th Army was in a much better position for supplies, with munitions coming directly from Tula's factories. In mid-November General Yermakov came under investigation by the Special Department of the NKVD led by Viktor Abakumov, was accused of dereliction of duty during the Bryansk encirclement.
He was executed. In late November Lieutenant General Ivan Boldin was summoned to Moscow and offered command of the army to direct the continued defense of this crucial city. Boldin was a popular hero for having led a group of 1,650 men back from the frontier to Soviet lines near Smolensk during July and early August, he had been acting as deputy commander of Western Front until being wounded in another breakout in October. Boldin admitted that defending the city against Guderian was a challenging task to undertake, but although Tula was outflanked by the beginning of December, it never fell. In conjunction with 10th Army, the 50th Army went on the offensive and drove Guderian's forces back from the southern approaches to Moscow. In the initial phase, elements of the 50th overran one battalion of the elite Grossdeutschland Regiment. In December, more divisions were added to the army: four rifle divisions
Markian Mikhaylovich Popov was a Soviet military commander, Army General, Hero of the Soviet Union. During the German–Soviet War at various times he commanded a number of Armies and a number of Fronts, his career was uneven. In June 1941 he was Commander of the Leningrad Military District Northern Front; the Germans advanced with a terrific speed, but they were halted just before Leningrad. The army group was on 26 August renamed as Leningrad Front, he participated in Zhukov's counteroffensive before Moscow. Zhukov, who co-ordinated several fronts in this Moscow sector, tried to collect able commanders in the area. So for example the 16th Army was headed by General Rokossovsky, the 4th Shock Army’s commander was General Yeryomenko, the 5th Army was under General Govorov. On December 18 Popov was appointed Commander of the 61st Army and fought well during the counteroffensive, he maintained this position until 28 June 1942. He was shifted to the Stalingrad area, he was Assistant Commander of the Stalingrad Front Commander of the 5th Shock Army.
On December 26 this army was switched to Vatutin's Southwestern Front. In 1943 firstly he commanded a larger mechanized group, he was appointed Commander of the Bryansk Front, with which he participated in the Battle of Kursk. During the battle, the Bryansk Front was successful in crushing German opposition, was able to capture Oryol and Bryansk in August, he was promoted to Army General. After the Battle of Kursk he was sent to command the 2nd Baltic Front, he was demoted to Colonel General because of the unsuccessful actions in the Baltic area, commissar at the front. Until the end of the war he was Chief of Staff of the Leningrad Front. After the war he was promoted again to Army General. In 1956–62 he was Chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Ground Forces, he died 22 April 1969 in an accidental fire. He was never given the rank Marshal of the Soviet Union, although Marshal of Aviation Golovanov and Marshal Vasilevsky considered him talented. Page from warheroes.ru in Russian Army Gen. M. M. Popov at Generals.dk
Yakov Timofeyevich Cherevichenko was a Soviet military leader. Yakov Cherevichenko was born to peasant parents in the village of Novosyolovka in the Russian Empire, he was conscripted into the Imperial Russian Army at the beginning of the First World War in 1914 and was a senior NCO by the time of the October Revolution in 1917. Cherevichenko returned to his native region to organize a partisan group to defend the newly formed Bolshevik government against the anti-Bolshevik White movement after the Revolution, this group became part of the Red Army in October 1918. Cherevichenko joined the Bolshevik Party at the height of the Russian Civil War in 1919 and served in the 1st Cavalry Army. Cherevichenko attended the Red Army's Higher Cavalry School in 1924 and graduated from the Frunze Military Academy in 1935, he was awarded the rank of lieutenant-general when the traditional general officer ranks were introduced in the Red Army and served as commander of the Odessa Military District from 1940 to 1941.
He was promoted to colonel-general in February 1941. Cherevichenko was the commanding officer of the 9th Army from June to September 1941 and the 2nd Army from 29 September to 4 October 1941, he assumed command of the Southern Front from Lieutenant-General Dmitry Ryabyshev on 5 October 1941. With the majority of Ukraine in German hands by October 1941, Kleist's Panzers advanced across the Mius River to Russia's Rostov Oblast and had occupied the city of Taganrog by November 4, preparing to move further for an attack on Rostov. Cherevichenko and the Army's commander for the Southwestern Direction, Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, prepared to attempt a counterattack. Timoshenko shifted two rifle divisions and a tank brigade from the Southwestern Front to prepare a Southern Front reserve and settled on a plan worked out with his chief of staff, Major-General Alexey Antonov, Stavka provided the 37th Army to reinforce the operation on Timoshenko's request. Though preferring to delay the counterattack because of the delays needed in assembling some of his units, Cherevichenko was pressed to commence the operation by Stavka and had the attack begin on November 17 with just four rifle divisions and one tank brigade, but only one day late.
Though able to capture Rostov, Kleist's Panzer Army was caught by surprise in the counterattack and was compelled to abandon the city by the end of the month. On November 30, Pravda published a photograph of Cherevichenko alongside Marshal Stalin's praise of the Rostov defenders. On December 2, the German rode their tanks back to the Mius River. Credited for his successful work at Rostov, Cherevichenko was made commander of the Bryansk Front – formed for the second time from the 3rd Army from the Central Front, the 13th Army from the Southwestern Front, the 61st Army from the reserve – on 24 December 1941; this Front would take part in the last phase of the Battle of Moscow in conjunction with the adjacent Western Front of Army General Georgy Zhukov and the Kalinin Front of Colonel-General Ivan Konev. Relieved as commander of the Bryansk Front by Lieutenant-General Filipp Golikov in April 1942, Cherevichenko was made deputy commander of the North Caucasus Front, subordinated to Front Commander Marshal Semyon Budyonny, Cherevichenko's commanding officer in the 1st Cavalry Army in the Civil War.
In August 1942, Budyonny named Cherevichenko commander of the Black Sea Group of Forces, whose responsibility included the defense of the port city of Novorossiysk and its Black Sea Fleet naval base, which fell to the Germans in the course of Operation Blue in the fall of 1942. No longer as esteemed as by superior officers in the high command, Cherevichenko was made commander of the 5th Army of the Soviet Western Front in October 1942, replacing Lieutenant-General Ivan Fedyuninsky upon his promotion to deputy commander of the Volkhov Front. Relieved of this command in favor of Lieutenant-General Vitaly Polenov, Cherevichenko was left at the disposal of Stavka without commander's responsibility until April 1943, when he was made an assistant of the commander of the Northern Caucasus Front. Cherevichenko held the position of commanding officer of the Kharkov Military District upon its recreation in September 1944 until January 1944 served at the disposal of Stavka and the military councils of the 2nd and 1st Belorussian Fronts.
He was appointed commanding officer of the VII Rifle Corps in late April 1945. Cherevichenko was an assistant to the commander for the Tauride Military District from 1948 to 1950. Cherevichenko retired from the military service in 1950, he died on 4 July 1976. Yakov Cherevichenko was awarded: two Orders of Lenin Order of the October Revolution four Orders of the Red Banner, Order of Kutuzov and 2nd class Order of Suvorov Order of the Red Star Medal "For the Defence of Sevastopol" Medal "For the Defence of the Caucasus" Medal "For the Capture of Berlin" Medal "For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945" Jubilee Medal "XX Years of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army" Polish Cross of Grunwald, third class Medal "For the Odra, Baltic"
Battle of Kursk
The Battle of Kursk was a Second World War engagement between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near Kursk in the Soviet Union, during July and August 1943. The battle began with the launch of the German offensive, Operation Citadel, on 5 July, which had the objective of pinching off the Kursk salient with attacks on the base of the salient from north and south simultaneously. After the German offensive stalled on the northern side of the salient, on 12 July the Soviets commenced their Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation with the launch of Operation Kutuzov against the rear of the German forces in the northern side. On the southern side, the Soviets launched powerful counterattacks the same day, one of which led to a large armoured clash, the Battle of Prokhorovka. On 3 August, the Soviets began the second phase of the Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation with the launch of Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev against the German forces in the southern side of the Kursk salient; the battle was the final strategic offensive that the Germans were able to launch on the Eastern Front.
Because the Allied invasion of Sicily had begun, Adolf Hitler was forced to have troops training in France diverted to meet the Allied threat in the Mediterranean, rather than use them as a strategic reserve for the Eastern Front. Hitler canceled the offensive at Kursk in part to divert forces to Italy. Germany's extensive losses of men and tanks ensured that the victorious Soviet Red Army enjoyed the strategic initiative for the remainder of the war; the Germans hoped to weaken the Soviet offensive potential for the summer of 1943 by cutting off the forces that they anticipated would be in the Kursk salient. The Kursk salient or bulge was 250 kilometres long from north to south and 160 kilometres from east to west; the plan envisioned an envelopment by a pair of pincers breaking through the northern and southern flanks of the salient. Hitler believed that a victory here would reassert German strength and improve his prestige with his allies, who were considering withdrawing from the war, it was hoped that large numbers of Soviet prisoners would be captured to be used as slave labour in the German armaments industry.
The Soviet government had foreknowledge of the German intentions, provided in part by the British intelligence service and Tunny intercepts. Aware months in advance that the attack would fall on the neck of the Kursk salient, the Soviets built a defence in depth designed to wear down the German armoured spearhead; the Germans delayed the offensive while they tried to build up their forces and waited for new weapons the new Panther tank but larger numbers of the Tiger heavy tank. This gave the Red Army time to construct a series of deep defensive belts; the defensive preparations included minefields, artillery fire zones and anti-tank strong points, which extended 300 km in depth. Soviet mobile formations were moved out of the salient and a large reserve force was formed for strategic counter-offensives; the Battle of Kursk was the first time in the Second World War that a German strategic offensive was halted before it could break through enemy defences and penetrate to its strategic depths.
The maximum depth of the German advance was 8–12 kilometres in the north and 35 kilometres in the south. Though the Red Army had succeeded in winter offensives their counter-offensives following the German attack at Kursk were their first successful strategic summer offensives of the war; as the Battle of Stalingrad ground to its conclusion, the Red Army moved to a general offensive in the south, in Operation Little Saturn. By January 1943, a 160 to 300 km wide gap had opened between Army Group B and Army Group Don, the advancing Soviet armies threatened to cut off all German forces south of the Don River, including Army Group A operating in the Caucasus. Army Group Center came under significant pressure as well. Kursk fell to the Soviets on 8 February 1943, Rostov fell on 14 February; the Soviet Bryansk and newly created Central Fronts prepared for an offensive which envisioned the encirclement of Army Group Center between Bryansk and Smolensk. By February 1943 the southern sector of the German front was in strategic crisis.
Since December 1942 Field Marshal Erich von Manstein had been requesting "unrestricted operational freedom" to allow him to use his forces in a fluid manner. On 6 February 1943, Manstein met with Hitler at the headquarters in Rastenburg to discuss the proposals he had sent, he received an approval from Hitler for a counteroffensive against the Soviet forces advancing in the Donbass region. On 12 February 1943, the remaining German forces were reorganised. To the south, Army Group Don was placed under Manstein's command. Directly to the north, Army Group B was dissolved, with its forces and areas of responsibility divided between Army Group South and Army Group Center. Manstein inherited responsibility for the massive breach in the German lines. On 18 February, Hitler arrived at Army Group South headquarters at Zaporizhia just hours before the Soviets liberated Kharkov, had to be hastily evacuated on the 19th. Once given freedom of action, Manstein intended to utilise his forces to make a series of counterstrokes into the flanks of the Soviet armoured formations, with the goal of destroying them while retaking Kharkov and Kursk.
The II SS Panzer Corps had arrived from France in January 1943, refitted and up to near full strength. Armoured units from the 1st Panzer Army of Army Group A had pulled out of the Caucasus and further strengthen