This period on the eastern front is often almost skipped over, falling between the last large scale German offensive at Kursk and the even more massive Soviet victories of 1944. However the second half of 1943 was an important period. This was the first period in which the Soviets were able to mount a series of successful attacks, slowly pushing the Germans back from a series of key locations – taking Kharkov for the final time, preventing the Germans from forming a new line of the Dnepr and liberating Kiev. Previous periods of Soviet pressure – around Moscow at the end of 1941 or in the aftermath of Stalingrad – took advantage of German mistakes, and soon came to an end, but the series of victories that began after Kursk lasted to the end of the war, despite the odd relatively minor setback. One notable feature of this story is that on several occasions the sort of strong German attack that might have achieved great results in earlier years simply ran into unyielding Soviet resistance and failed to make any real progress. This was also the period that saw many of the experienced Panzer divisions began to suffer irreplaceable losses, with many ended the year much weaker than they had been at the end of Citadel.
This is also the period in which many memoirs of German generals start to become unreliable, with many claims made that don’t stand up to examination – including how strong their opponents were, how much progress their various attacks made, and of course the efforts to shift the entire blame for Germany’s defeat onto Hitler. Of course Hitler’s attitudes didn’t help, and here we see him intervening to prevent his commanders carrying out even the smallest of retreats, as well as an obsession with industrial areas that Germany no longer had the strength to keep – starting with the Donbas, then later the magnesium mines of Nikopol.
This period doesn’t include the dramatic set piece battles that dominate some parts of the war, but it was still of great significance despite that. At the start of 1943 the Germans could still hold out some hope for victory in the East, but by the end of the year that had clearly gone, and both sides knew it. This is a very detailed, well researched, but still readable, account of this key period on the Eastern Front.
1 – Summer 1943: The Decisive Shift
2 – The Mius
3 – Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev
4 – Akhtyrka and Bogodukhov
5 – Kharkov
6 – Attrition: From the Mius and Donets to Dnepr
7 – The Dnepr Bridgeheads
8 – Krivoy Rog
9 – Kiev and Zhitomir
10 – Year’s End
11 – A Year of Decision
Author: Prit Buttar