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WWII Articles
Operation Compass
Book Review: APc-48
Agent 110: An American Spymaster
Rudolf Hess/Tancred Borenius
Soviet Rifle Corps of WWII
The Morality of Okinawa
The First Class at RAF No. 31 Radio School
Operation Dragoon and Invasion of Southern France
Battle of Buna-Gona
The Silent Service and the Turkey Shoot
Published works on WWII OOB for land forces
Flying Tiger, Hidden Eagle
SAARF – Special Allied Airborne Recon Force
Force at la Difensa
Sabotaging Hitler’s Heavy Water
Soviet Offensive in the Arctic
The Failure of Strategic Bombing
Dutch Harbor: Unraveling of Japan’s Pacific Strategy
Ed Ramsey, 26th Cav Reg (Philippine Scouts)
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45: An Operational Overview
Strategic Culture of the IJN
Battles of Luneville: September 1944
Visual Guide to US Fleet Subs Pt 1
Lodge Act Soldier
The Fate of the Kido Butai
Air Recon in WWII
Turning East: Hitler's only option
Resupply Operations to Malta, 1942
WWII Veteran Interview
Why Arnhem?
Hell Ship - From the Philippines to Japan
The Battleship USS Oregon
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45 to '48
Jewish Resistance in WWII
Battle for Seaports
Banzai Attack on Attu
End of the Battle of the Java Sea
Texas National Guard in WWII
How Arnhem was Lost
Saga of Ormoc Bay
Silent Service of the Pacific
USS Wahoo
Polish Cavalry: A Military Myth Dispelled
Confucian Martial Culture
Operation Market Garden
Legacy of WWII Sub Veterans
Lausdell Crossroads
Kasserine Pass
Arnhem Startline
Bushido: Valor of Deceit
British Offensive Operations
Sir Winston Churchill
American Stubbornness at Rimling
The OSS in Greece
Strategy of Blitzkrieg
Breaking Seelow Heights
The Rape of Nanking
Small Battle: Big Implications
Harris Class APA's
Aerial Defense of East Indies
Why the Bulge Didn't Break
American Forces in WWII
Shadow Warriors
Battle of Surigao Strait
Panzer Brigades
Adolf Eichmann
Interview of a WWII Veteran
Failure and Destruction
Winter Warfare
Operation Rusty: The Gehlen-U.S. Army Connection
Was Hitler right to invade Russia?
Hitler, Germany's Worst General
Surface Actions of World War II
MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines
Japan's Monster Sub
Popski's Private Army
The Soviet Formula for Success
Japan's TA Operation
Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization
After Midway: The Fates of the Warships
Barbarossa: Strategic Miscalculation
The Story of a "Go Devil"
Long Range Desert Group
Island of Death
The Failure of Operation Barbarossa
The Liberation of Czechoslovakia 1945
Only the Admirals were Happy
Bicycle Blitzkrieg - Singapore
Good Grief Sir, We're in Trier!
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
How Hitler Could Have Won
The Battle of Midway
Waffen SS - Birth of the Elite
Nomonhan and Okinawa
Der Bund Deutscher Mädel
Rulers of the World: Hitler Youth
Breakout From the Hedgerows
Memories of D-Day
Motivation of the Einsatzgruppen
Pearl Harbor and Midway
Amphibious Assaults during WWII
The 9th SS Panzer Division
The Warsaw Uprising
Sea Lion vs. Overlord
Maginot Line
Battle of Bastogne
Battle of the Barents Sea
Anzio: The Allies' Greatest Blunder
US Army in WWII
Battle of Mers-el-Kebir
Hitler's Ultra-Secret Adlerhorst
The Wilhelm Gustloff Disaster
The 88th Infantry in Italy

Thomas Leckwold Articles
Ninety Five Theses and the Revolution
Strategic Alternatives to Citadel
Why Arnhem?
Operation Market Garden
Arnhem Startline
British Offensive Operations

Recommended Reading

The Devil's Birthday: The Bridges to Arnhem 1944

A Bridge Too Far: The Classic History of the Greatest Battle of World War II

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Strategic Alternatives to Citadel
Strategic Alternatives to Citadel
by Thomas Leckwold

The Battle of Kursk was launched on July 5, 1943 and was the last major Wehrmacht offensive in the East during World War II. The battle was also the first time that the Soviet Red Army was able to halt a major German offensive before it was able to achieve a breakout from the initial onslaught. The offensive led to the largest tank battle in history and ultimately resulted in a German strategic defeat. The operation, codenamed Citadel, was a source of contention among German generals and Hitler who never felt confident about launching the offensive in the first place. These misgivings were not unfounded and the Ostheer had other options other than launching Citadel, and these options would have taken better advantage of German operational strengths that still existed in 1943.

German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein made two significant proposals for the German strategy in the East after the catastrophic German losses at Stalingrad. Manstein was the commanding general of German Army Group South and had restored a defensive front after the retreat from Stalingrad and the Caucuses. His proposals were sobering alternatives of the reality that the Wehrmacht could no longer force a decisive victory in the East. These proposals had significant risk, but if successful they could force a stalemate in the East even with Germany's limited resources.

Manstein's first proposal, in the frame work of a strategic defensive, was to allow a Soviet offensive to be launched and then deliver a sharp blow to the Red Army at the first opportune moment. Manstein referred to this option as the "on the back hand" stroke. This proposal would require the Wehrmacht to conduct an elastic defense and give ground to create that opportunity to strike and inflict the most damage upon the Red Army .[1]

The second proposal, referred to as "on the forehand" stroke, was to strike a limited blow with the limited objectives at the earliest possible moment after the rasputitsa ended and the armies could regain their mobility .[2] The target of this offensive would have to be directed at an objective that could result in a heavy blow to the Red Army and disrupt any offensive they were planning.

Manstein's intent for both of these options was for the Wehrmacht to take advantage of the superior quality of their combat troops and command staff. The goal of both proposals would be to sap the strength of the Red Army through localized actions and inflicting decisive losses in prisoners and equipment .[3] Manstein preferred the 'back hand' stroke but this required the surrendering of territory, which even temporarily, was not favored by Hitler .[4]

This left the option of the 'forehand' stroke that needed to be launched at the soonest possible moment and before the Red Army was able to recover its losses of the winter. The obvious choice was the Soviet salient at Kursk between German Army Group Center and Army Group South. An early attack at Kursk would catch the Red Army unprepared and it would be forced to commit its armored reserves which would give the Wehrmacht an opportunity to batter them and prevent their use in a Soviet offensive .[5]

This proposal was presented to the OKW the high command and received favor and was outlined in March and April under Operational Plan No. 5 and 6 .[6] Manstein's plan was to launch the operation at Kursk in April as the effects of the rasputitsa ended and the Soviet's were still recovering .[7] The offensive, if successful, would give the Wehrmacht the initiative in the East, though not a strategic victory, give Germany options of how to continue the war, and overcome defects in the German defensive line by shortening the line thus preventing a Red Army offensive that would take advantage of those defects .[8]

An early operation would catch the exhausted Red Army in an unfavorable position, but it was not guaranteed that the Wehrmacht would succeed either. The Ostheer was also exhausted from its defeat from Stalingrad and was still rebuilding its reserves. However, the risk of an early offensive would take advantage of the Wehrmacht's ability to conduct operations on their initiative, maintain the element of surprise, and take full advantage of its combat formations to execute at a superior tempo than the Red Army was capable of in 1943.

In the end, the risk of an early offensive was too much for Hitler, Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge, the commander of German Army Group Center, and the new Chief of the General Staff General Kurt Zeitzler to accept and the offensive was delayed until June, and later July. This was despite the misgivings of General Walter Model, commander of the German Ninth Army, and Field Marshal Manstein .[9] The decision to delay meant that Germany would surrender the element of strategic surprise, and risk maintaining the initiative both of which were contrary to the strengths of German operational doctrine.

The likelihood of failure of Citadel was increased by the decision to delay thus giving up the advantages of the 'backhand' stroke this was despite the misgivings of some of the primary field commanders. The Wehrmacht by 1943 was no longer in the position to win the war in the East outright and needed to take risks for a victory. Strategic gambles of the 'forehand' and 'backhand' strokes took advantage of the principles of German operational doctrine but these were ignored. Despite their risk, they offered the best hope in 1943 of checking the Red Army. The German high command appeared risk adverse and followed a conservative line of thinking that virtually guaranteed that Citadel would fail before it ever started in July 1943.

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography
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Copyright © 2012 Thomas Leckwold

Written by Thomas Leckwold. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Thomas Leckwold at:

About the author:
Thomas Leckwold currently lives in northwest Georgia and served in the U.S. Army from 1985-1992. He received his B.B.A. in Economics from Kennesaw State University and his M.A. in Military History from Norwich University. He works at the corporate headquarters of a nationwide retailer in Atlanta as a Senior Inventory Analyst. His interests include reading both military history, political commentary, and the occasional science fiction. He also enjoys riding his motorcycle around in the scenic mountains that are in his area.

Published online: 01/01/2012.
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