In the early summer of 1943, following the German defeat at Stalingrad and the inconclusive battle at Kharkov, Hitler sought a decisive battle that would turn the struggle on the Eastern Front in the Germans' favour. Large numbers of new Panther and Tiger tanks were rolling off the production lines, and Hitler was convinced that German armour could turn the tide against the advancing Soviets on the Eastern Front. Despite the reservations of his generals, Hitler was determined this offensive take place. On the 5th July 1943, the German army launched Operation Citadel. Attacking with a force of 3000 tanks and assault guns, the Germans faced a well-dug-in force of more than 3900 Soviet tanks, with another 1500 tanks in reserve. The tanks advanced with as many as 50 packed together per kilometre of line. What followed was the largest tank battle the world has ever seen, with heavy casualties on both sides in this titanic clash of arms. On the 11th July, three SS divisions - Totenkopf, Das Reich and Leibstandarte - attempted to break through the Soviet lines at the village of Prokhorovka and so unhinge the Soviet defensive position. Facing them was the newly-deployed Fifth Guards Tanks Army. It was the Germans' last chance to seize the initiative on the Eastern Front. The battle raged throughout the 12th July. By nightfall the Germans had lost more than 300 tanks, and the Fifth Guards Tanks Army 50 percent of their strength. Despite the heavy losses, the Soviet defenders had achieved their aim: the German attack had been halted. Although the fighting continued into August, the Germans had lost the battle and the initiative. With first hand accounts from both sides, vivid photographs, and specially commissioned maps of the combat zones, Kursk: The Vital 24 Hours is a comprehensive examination of the decisive failure of the German's last large-scale offensive on the Eastern Front.
AUTHOR: Will Fowler has worked in journalism and publishing since 1972, specialising in military history. He is the author of several books on the subject.