The growing Soviet menace

The Eastern Front in 1943 was a critical turning point in the war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The year began with the Soviet Union on the defensive, as German forces pushed towards the city of Stalingrad in an attempt to secure the oil fields of the Caucasus.

However, by the end of the year, the tide had turned in favor of the Soviets, as they launched a massive counteroffensive that ultimately led to the defeat of German forces on the Eastern Front.

Both sides had different strategies, with the Germans focusing on a two-pronged attack towards Stalingrad and the Caucasus, while the Soviets focused on defending key cities and launching counteroffensives to encircle and destroy German forces.


German forces

In 1943, German forces on the Eastern Front were led by a number of high-ranking generals, including Friedrich Paulus, and Hermann Hoth.

These leaders were responsible for coordinating the efforts of the various German units on the Eastern Front and for developing strategies to counter the Soviet offensive.

The German units on the Eastern Front in 1943 consisted primarily of regular troops and panzer units. The panzer units were equipped with tanks such as the menacing Panther and Tiger, which were some of the most advanced tanks of the time, well-armoured and powerful, they were capable of taking on virtually anything the Red army could field.

The Germans were also using the immense King Tiger – a beefed up version of the formidable Tiger – which proved a handful for the Soviets although – fortunately for the Red Army – only appeared in limited numbers.

Generaloberst Hermann Hoth, commander of the 4th Panzer Army (31st May 1942 - 10th November 1943).

A King Tiger on the Eastern Front, 1943. Also known as the Tiger II, it was a German heavy tank  armed with a powerful 88mm gun and had thick armor, making it one of the most formidable tanks of the war. The King Tiger saw action on both the Eastern and Western Fronts and was known for its heavy firepower and durability.

However, it was also slow and had mechanical reliability issues, limiting its effectiveness in battle.

The German Army also had a number of other vehicles at its disposal, including the reliable Sd.Kfz. 251 half-tracks, which was used to transport troops and equipment, and the 88mm anti-aircraft gun, which was also used in a secondary role as an anti-tank weapon – a role it excelled at.

One of the key challenges faced by German forces on the Eastern Front in 1943 was the vastness of the terrain and the harshness of the weather. The Eastern Front was a vast and inhospitable landscape, and the German Army was often stretched thin as it tried to defend its positions. The harsh winters also took a heavy toll on the German soldiers, many of whom were not equipped or prepared for the cold.

German soldiers on a BMW motorcycle ride past a Sd.Kfz. 251 half-track and a Panther tank from the 5th SS Panzer Division on the Eastern Front.

The Sd.Kfz. 251 was designed to transport infantry troops to the front line and provide armoured protection. The 251 was widely used by the Wehrmacht on all fronts and was one of the most recognizable vehicles of the German army. It was also adapted for various other roles, including reconnaissance, command, ambulance, and anti-aircraft duties.

Despite its versatility and usefulness, the 251 was vulnerable to enemy fire and suffered heavy losses during the war.


The Luftwaffe

In 1943, the German Luftwaffe (air force) had a variety of aircraft on the Eastern Front, including fighters and bombers. The main fighter aircraft used by the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front in 1943 was the Messerschmitt Bf 109G ‘Gustav’, which was a highly manoeuvrable single-engine fighter that was used for both air-to-air combat and ground attack. This newer version of the 109 performed well against Soviet aircraft.

The Luftwaffe also continued to use the Focke-Wolfe Fw 190 fighter in increasing numbers. This excellent fighter excelled the Bf 109 in performance but lacked the numbers to make an impact that reflected its capabilities.

1943, A German airfield in the Russian winter. A Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers is closest to the camera, a Junkers Ju-52 transport behind it. To the right, Heinkel He 111 bombers can be seen. 

The Luftwaffe also had a number of bombers at its disposal on the Eastern Front in 1943. The main bomber used by the Luftwaffe was the Dornier Do 17, which was a fast and manoeuvrable light bomber that was used for both reconnaissance and bombing missions. The Luftwaffe also used the Heinkel He 111, which was a medium bomber that was used for bombing and reconnaissance missions. The increasingly vulnerable Junkers Ju-87 'Stuka' was still in use, despite it being an increasingly easy target for enemy fighters.

In addition to fighters and bombers, the Luftwaffe also had a number of reconnaissance aircraft on the Eastern Front in 1943. These aircraft were used to gather intelligence on the enemy's movements and positions. The Junkers Ju-52 transport plane remained a mainstay of the German airforce, it's ability to function in all weathers and terrains proving invaluable in Russia. 

The German Airforce on the Eastern front had a total of around 1,500 aircrafts. However, due to the heavy losses suffered by the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Stalingrad and other engagements, by the end of 1943, the number of aircrafts available for operations had greatly reduced. Despite this, the Luftwaffe continued to play an important role in the war on the Eastern Front, providing air support to ground troops and carrying out reconnaissance missions.

Junkers Ju 52 3m being refueled in Russia Jan Feb 1943. The Ju 52 was a German transport aircraft manufactured from 1931 to 1952. It was used extensively during the Second World War and was known for being versatile - it could be used for transporting troops, supplies or even as a bomber.

Bund 101I 330 3017 15A

Asisbiz Ostfront Junkers Ju 52 3m being refueled in Russia Jan Feb 1943 Bund 101I 330 3017 15A


The Red Army

General Ivan Konev. On the Eastern Front, he commanded the Soviet Western Front until February 1943, the North-Western Front February–July 1943, and the 2nd Ukrainian Front from July 1943.

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The Red Army on the Eastern Front in 1943 had developed into a well-organized and well-equipped force comprised of a variety of different divisions and formations. It was one of the largest and most powerful military forces in the world by this point and was led by a number of high-ranking and very capable military leaders, including Marshal Georgi Zhukov, who served as the Chief of the General Staff, and General Ivan Konev, who commanded the Central Front. These leaders played a key role in planning and executing the offensives on the Eastern Front in 1943.

The Red Army on the Eastern Front in 1943 used a range of equipment to fight against Nazi Germany during World War II. They utilized small arms such as the Mosin-Nagant rifle and the Tokarev semi-automatic pistol, as well as machine guns such as the DP-28 and the Maxim. They also used a variety of artillery pieces, including the 76.2mm divisional gun and the 122mm howitzer.

Soviet artillery under cover of a smoke screen, 1943.

In addition, they utilized tanks such as the T-34, which was one of the most advanced tanks of the time, and armored vehicles such as the BA-64 and the T-70. The Red Army also used anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank guns to defend against enemy aircraft and tanks.

The Soviet Union had a strong industrial base and was able to produce large quantities of weapons and equipment for its military forces, which was a significant advantage in the war.

The organization of the Red Army on the Eastern Front in 1943 was characterized by a hierarchical structure, with various levels of command, including army groups, fronts, and armies. The Red Army was also well-coordinated and well-trained, which allowed it to effectively carry out large-scale military operations against the German forces.

Red Army female snipers gather before leaving to the front. 1943. Soviet female snipers played a significant role in the Eastern Front of World War II. Despite traditional gender roles, thousands of women volunteered to serve as snipers, using their skills to disrupt enemy advances and protect their fellow soldiers. Many became legends, such as Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who had 309 confirmed kills and was nicknamed "Lady Death."

These female snipers were not only highly skilled markswomen, but also fierce warriors who showed incredible bravery under fire. Their contributions to the war effort helped pave the way for greater equality and recognition of women's abilities in the Soviet military.

33 Color Photos That Bring The Nightmare Of WWII's Eastern Front To Life (allthatsinteresting.com)

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Soviet air power

The Soviet air force on the Eastern Front numbered 8,491 planes on the 1st July 1943. There were an additional 2,662 aircraft in second-line air formations. However, due to organisational flaws in the Soviet training system and heavy losses at the hands of the Luftwaffe's top pilots, there were only 5,732 aircrew — half the number of fliers as planes.

The Soviet Air Force used a variety of aircraft on the Eastern Front in 1943. The majority of their aircraft were fighter planes such as the Yakovlev Yak-1 and the Lavochkin La-5, which were used to provide air cover for ground troops and engage in dogfights with German aircraft.

The Soviets also used attack aircraft such as the robust Il-2 Sturmovik, which was used for ground attack missions, and bombers such as the Petlyakov Pe-2, which was used for bombing raids on enemy positions.

Yakovlev Yak 1B 562IAP 6IAK with Kremlin stars on the landing gear Moscow. January 1943. The Yak-1 was a Soviet fighter aircraft produced in the early 1940s. It was a highly manoeuvrable and durable aircraft that was widely used during the Second World War. Over 8700 were produced.

The Yak-1 was designed to be a multi-purpose fighter that could perform well in both air-to-air combat and ground attack missions. The aircraft was equipped with a powerful engine and armaments, which made it a formidable opponent in the skies.

Despite being outmatched by more advanced German fighters, the Yak-1 played a significant role in the Soviet air force's successes during the war, including the defence of Moscow and the Battle of Stalingrad. 

Asisbiz Yakovlev Yak 1B 562IAP 6IAK with Kremlin stars on the landing gear Moscow 1943 01

Additionally, they used transport aircraft such as the Lisunov Li-2 (a licence built version of the extremely successful U.S. Douglas DC-3) to transport troops and supplies.

Despite limited resources and outdated technology, the Soviet Air Force effectively utilized these aircraft to achieve air superiority over the Eastern Front and provide crucial support for ground troops.

Petlyakov Pe-2, 73BAP VVS, winter 1942/1943 on the Eastern Front. It was an outstanding tactical attack aircraft during the war, as well as a heavy fighter, a night fighter (Pe-3 variant), and a reconnaissance aircraft. The Pe-2 was the most important Soviet bomber of WWII, accounting for 75% of the Soviet twin-engine bomber force at its peak.

Petlyakov Pe-2, 73BAP VVS, winter 1942/1943 (3) | Aircraft of World War II - WW2Aircraft.net Forums


Comparison

Statistics for the Eastern Front in 1943 show that the Soviets had the advantage in terms of manpower and equipment. They had a total of 12.3 million soldiers and 28,000 tanks, compared to the Germans' 3.5 million soldiers and 6,000 tanks.

Casualties were also high on both sides, with the Soviets losing an estimated 1.5 million soldiers and the Germans losing an estimated 800,000 soldiers.


A comparison chart for the German Panther tank and the Soviet T-34/85 tank. 


Production

In 1943, Germany was a highly industrialized country with a well-developed infrastructure, skilled workforce, and advanced technology. The country was known for its production of weapons, vehicles, and machinery. Germany's industry remained a key strength, providing the necessary resources to support the war effort on multiple fronts. However, the country faced increasing difficulties as the war progressed, including shortages of raw materials, bombing raids, and labouur shortages.

On the other hand, Russia was a vast country with significant resources and a large population, but its industrial capacity was limited by the destruction caused by the war and the limited investment in the sector. Russia's industry was mainly focused on heavy industries such as coal, iron, and steel production. Despite the challenges, the Soviet Union was making efforts to modernize its industries and increase production levels to support the war effort.

Young girls assembling machine guns in a Russian factory. 1943.

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Atrocities

In 1943, the scale of violence and brutality reached new heights, as the German army continued its brutal occupation of Soviet territory. Civilians were subject to mass executions, deportations, and forced labor, while prisoners of war faced systematic abuse and starvation in overcrowded camps.

On the other side, the Soviet forces, seeking to regain control of their territory, carried out brutal reprisals against perceived collaborators and enemy sympathizers, often executing them without trial.

In addition, the fighting on the Eastern Front was characterized by scorched earth tactics and widespread destruction, leaving a legacy of devastation and trauma for the people of the region.

 

German Gestapo officers execute Russian peasants. September 1943. Sadly, this was a regular occurrence on the Eastern Front.

This photo was taken by a German soldier captured by the Red Army.

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January

In January 1943, German forces were continuing their grim fight in Stalingrad,

The 6th Army, under the command of General Friedrich Paulus, was now increasingly trapped in the city, while the 4th Panzer Army, under the command of General Hermann Hoth, had been protecting its flanks but had now found itself being increasingly pushed back.

The Soviets, under the command of General Georgy Zhukov and General Aleksandr Vasilevsky, continued to fight fiercely and maintain constant pressure on the Germans – the close they were to the German soldiers, the harder it would be for the Luftwaffe to target them.  

 

The surrender of the German 6th army at Stalingrad: German prisoners of war heading east in early 1943. By 31st January 1943, the majority of the German forces in Stalingrad had surrendered.

Surviving Soviet Captivity: Cannibalism - World War II (lasegundaguerra.com)

The German 6th Army, was eventually forced to surrender with the central and southern pockets of German defenders throwing in the towel on 31st January 1943. The Soviet Union's victory at Stalingrad was a major turning point in the war on the Eastern Front, as it marked the first major defeat for the German Army. The German 6th Army suffered heavy casualties, with over 91,000 troops taken prisoner, along with large amounts of equipment and supplies.

In addition, the Battle of Velikiye Luki took place between November 1942 and January 1943, was fought between German and Soviet units, with the Soviet Red Army attempting to recapture the city of Velikiye Luki from the German Army. The battle was part of a larger Soviet operation aimed at cutting off the German Army Group Centre. The Soviet Union was able to capture the city on February 20, 1943.

A Wehrmacht forward observer on the Eastern Front, Winter, 1943.

Forward Observer | Stukas Over Stalingrad

The conflict is frequently referred to as "The Little Stalingrad of the North" because of its resemblance to the bigger and more well-known Battle of Stalingrad, which raged in the front's southern sector. By Eastern Front standards, this combat was a minor event (150,000 total casualties sustained by both sides as opposed to 2,000,000 total casualties at Stalingrad), yet it had significant strategic implications.

Operation Iskra was a Soviet military operation that aimed to break the Siege of Leningrad by the Wehrmacht. The operation's planning began shortly after the Sinyavino Offensive failed. The German front had been weakened by the German defeat at Stalingrad in late 1942.

By January 1943, Soviet forces were planning or conducting offensive operations across the entire German-Soviet Front, particularly in southern Russia; Iskra was part of the larger Soviet winter counteroffensive of 1942-1943.

Russian snipers fighting on the Leningrad front during a blizzard. 1943.

The Siege of Leningrad was a prolonged military blockade of the city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) during the Second World War. The German and Finnish armies surrounded the city for 872 days, from 1941 to 1944, causing widespread famine and loss of life. Despite the intense hardships, the citizens of Leningrad refused to surrender and held out and the city was finally freed from German and Finnish encirclement in January 1944, ending the prolonged suffering and loss of life.

The siege is remembered as one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history, with an estimated 1 million civilian casualties and widespread damage to the city.

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From the 12th to 30th January, 1943, the Red Army's Leningrad Front, Volkhov Front, and Baltic Fleet worked together to establish a land connection to Leningrad. On the 18th of January, Soviet forces joined forces, and by the 22nd, the front line had stabilised. The operation successfully opened a land corridor to the city that was 8-10 km (5.0-6.2 mi) wide.

A railroad was quickly built through the corridor, allowing more supplies to reach the city than the Road of Life, which crossed the frozen surface of Lake Ladoga, significantly reducing the chances of the city's capture and any German-Finnish linkup.


February

February 1943 saw the last German defenders in the northern pocket in Stalingrad surrender on the 2nd of February. The Eastern Front saw a continuation of the Soviet counteroffensive that began in January, with several major battles taking place.

The Third Battle of Kharkov was a series of battles on the Eastern Front of World War II fought between 19 February and 15 March 1943 by Nazi Germany's Army Group South against the Soviet Red Army in and around the city of Kharkov. The German counterstrike, known on the German side as the Donets Campaign and in the Soviet Union as the Donbas and Kharkov operations, resulted in the recovery of the cities of Kharkov and Belgorod.

The ruins of Stalingrad — nearly completely destroyed after some six months of brutal warfare — seen from an aircraft after the end of hostilities, in late 1943.

33 Color Photos That Bring The Nightmare Of WWII's Eastern Front To Life (allthatsinteresting.com)

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In addition to these major battles, there were also several smaller engagements on the Eastern Front in February 1943. These included the Battle of Krasny Bor, in which Soviet forces attempted to break through the German defences in the Krasny Bor area, and the Battle of Rzhev, in which Soviet forces attempted to capture the city of Rzhev from the German Army.

The Soviet offensive began on Wednesday, 10th February 1943, with noticeable gains on the first day but quickly devolved into a stalemate. The German forces were able to reinforce their positions due to the strong defence of the Spanish Blue Division and the German SS Polizei Division. The Soviet forces had halted their offensive in this sector by 13th February.

Members of the Spanish Blue division fighting at Krasy Bor. The Spanish Blue Division was a military unit consisting of Spanish volunteers who fought on the Eastern Front during World War II as part of the German army.

In 1943, Spain's Axis Volunteers Stopped a Russian Advance at Horrendous Cost | The National Interest

Further North, on 10th February 1943, the Soviet Leningrad, Volkhov, and Northwestern Fronts conducted Operation Polar Star. Georgy Zhukov planned the operation after the successful Operation Iskra and envisioned two separate encirclements. One was planned to be carried out in the north by the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts near Mga, and one in the south by the Northwestern Front near Demyansk.

The operation reclaimed the Demyansk salient but failed to encircle the German forces. The northern part of the operation failed, with little progress made. With reinforcements used for both sides in the battles in the south near Kharkov and, later, Kursk, the frontline near Leningrad remained stable until July 1943. 


March

During the period 1-22 March 1943, the German Army Group Centre staged a series of small withdrawals on the Eastern Front known as Operation Büffel ("Buffalo"). The Rzhev Salient was removed, and the front was shortened by 230 miles (370 kilometres), releasing twenty-one divisions. The withdrawals were accompanied by a harsh security effort, which resulted in widespread destruction, the deportation of the able-bodied populace for slave labour, and civilian deaths.

Rodion Malinovsky is promoted to Army General by Joseph Stalin, and given command of the Southwestern Front in March 1943, with the mission of driving German troops away from the industrially rich Donbas. Malinovsky manages to surprise and capture a large German force in the region's key city of Zaporizhia in mid-October. The campaign separated German forces in the south from the rest of the German Eastern Front.

Phased withdrawal of the German 4th and 9th Armies from the Rzhev salient, 1–22 March 1943.

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User:Graf zu Pappenheim - Wikimedia Commons

A German Tiger tank on the Eastern Front march 1943. Approximately 500 Tiger Tanks were deployed on the Eastern Front during the Second World War.


April

The liquidation of the Jews in the Zborow ghetto in German-occupied Ukraine in April 1943 was a brutal event in the Holocaust. As part of the Nazi regime's systematic extermination of Jews, the residents of the Zborow ghetto were rounded up and transported to extermination camps, where they were murdered en masse.

The killings were carried out with ruthless efficiency, and many innocent people lost their lives. The Nazis did not spare women, children, or the elderly, and the streets of the ghetto were left littered with the bodies of those who had been brutally murdered.

On Tuesday 13th April 1943, Radio Berlin reported that the Wehrmacht had discovered mass graves of 10,000 Poles killed by the Soviets in the Katyń Massacre - a mass execution of over 22,000 Polish military officers and intellectuals by the NKVD (Soviet secret police) which took place in 1940.

The discover sparked outrage and international condemnation. The Soviet government initially blamed the massacre on the Nazis, but it was later revealed that the Soviets were responsible.

Though the killings also took place in the prisons of Kalinin and Kharkiv, the massacre is named after the Katyn Forest, where some of the mass graves were discovered by German forces.

 

Photo from 1943 exhumation of mass grave of Polish officers killed by NKVD in Katyń Forest in 1940. Inside of one of largest grave.

A clash occurred in the Black Sea when on the 20th of April, the Soviet submarine S-33 torpedoed and sunk the Romanian merchant ship "Suceava”.


May

On the 5th of May On the Eastern Front. In the Caucasus, the Red Army advance further into the Kuban Peninsula where the German 17th Army continues to maintain a foothold. They capture Krymsk and Neberjaisk.

The 10th of May saw Hitler approve the plans for the forthcoming Operation Citadel, the attack on the Kursk salient, despite expressing misgivings regarding the ongoing Soviet defensive preparations in the area.

This would prove to be a costly decision.

German MG-34 position, Eastern Front 1943. The MG34 had a high rate of fire and was capable of both automatic and semi-automatic fire, making it versatile in combat situations. It was used in various roles including infantry support, anti-aircraft defence, and as a mounted weapon on tanks and other vehicles.

German MG-34 position, Eastern Front 1943. - a photo on Flickriver

On Sunday 16th May, the German 17th Army launches another counterattack in the Caucasus region, from its positions in the Kuban Peninsula. However, despite determined German efforts , the Red Army forces resist strongly and manage to hold on for several days before launching their own counterattack on the 27th May aiming to smash the German positions in the Kuban peninsula and eliminate or push back the German 17th Army. Now it was the turn of the Germans to defend fiercely.

On the 23rd of May in the Black Sea, the Soviet submarine L-4 damaged the German landing craft F-329 off Yalta with gunfire, although the craft was later repaired.


June

By the standards of the Eastern front, June 1943 was a quiet month – both sides taking the opportunity to regroup, rearm and prepare themselves for the next big onslaught. However, there were several smaller engagements on the Eastern Front in June 1943.

The German army launched several counterattacks in an attempt to regain the initiative, but these were largely unsuccessful and the failure of these added to the horrific attrition the German army was suffering. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, continued to push the German army back, and by the end of the month, had regained much of the ground that had been lost earlier in the year.

German infantry in Russia, June 1943.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-219-0595-05 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

On Wednesday, June 2, 1943, bombers from the Soviet air force conduct several raids on Kiev and Roslavl while in return, the German Luftwaffe hit back with raids on Kursk

Soviet forces launched a localised attack along the Mius River on the 9th of June, which resulted in the German defenders being pushed back an the Red Army gaining a foothold. The Germans attempt to retaliate with a strike towards Lisichansk but the well-prepared Soviet defenders manage to repel them.

Soviet soldiers, on their backs, launch a volley of bullets at enemy aircraft in June of 1943.

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July

Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein suggested launching Operation Citadel in July 1943 against Soviet forces in the Kursk salient, which triggered the Battle of Kursk. The Kursk Strategic Defensive Operation was the Soviet Union's intentional defensive operation to repel the German offensive.

Two Soviet counter-offensives, Belgorod–Kharkov offensive operation and Operation Kutuzov, would be launched to counter the German offensive. The battle was the final strategic offensive that the Germans were able to launch on the Eastern Front.

German armoured units advance during Operation Citadel in July, 1943.

For Operation Kutuzov, the assault was led by the 11th Guards Army under Lieutenant General Hovhannes Bagramyan, supported by the 1st and 5th Tank Corps.

The Soviets committed 1,286,049 men supported by 2,409 tanks and 26,379 guns ended and it ended with the capture of Orel and the destruction of the Orel salient which might trigger the collapse of the German forces in this region.

The battle was the bloodiest of the Battle of Kursk's three major operations. The total number of German casualties during the battle was 86,454 men. WIA, KIA, or MIA? The Red Army suffered 112,529 casualties, with another 317,361 wounded.

 

Wehrmacht and Waffen SS soldiers in Ukraine, 1943.

The Red Army suffered particularly heavy losses in tank and assault gun battles, with 2,586 vehicles destroyed or damaged during Kutuzov. Although German tank losses for this battle are unknown, Army Group Center is known to have lost 343 armoured fighting vehicles during both Citadel and Kutuzov.

Soviet Summer and Fall Offensives, 17 July — 1 December 1943

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The main focus of Operation Citadel was the Battle of Kursk, which was the largest tank battle in history. After many delays as Hitler prevaricated, the battle eventually began on 5th July, 1943 and lasted until 23rd August  1943. The German army, under the command of Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, launched a massive armoured attack on the Soviet Union, but was met with fierce resistance from the well-prepared Soviet defenders who had constructed defences in depth. The German offensive was ultimately repulsed, and the Soviet Union emerged victorious.

The Eastern Front in July 1943 was a turning point in the war. The Soviet Union's victory in the Battle of Kursk marked the end of the German offensive on the Eastern Front, and the tide of the war began to turn in favour of the Soviet Union. The German army was forced to retreat, and the Soviet Union began to launch a series of successful counteroffensives that ultimately led to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

 

Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, Commander of the German force involved in Operation Citadel which began on the 5th July 1943.

Panzer III and Borgward IV destroyed by Soviet artillery, 1943.

Feldgrau.info

The Third Battle of Lake Ladoga was a failed offensive operation by Soviet troops to break the siege of Leningrad between 22 July and 25 September 1943. The Soviet 8th Army captured the strong enemy bridgehead east of the Nasija River near Porechye but was unable to advance towards Mga.

The German command was able to rapidly reinforce the defences. For several days, Soviet troops attempted to advance further but were unsuccessful. The fighting gradually subsided by the end of August. Despite fierce fighting, Soviet troops failed to reach the objectives set before the operation began.


August

General Andrei Yeremenko, commander of the Kalinin Front during the Smolensk Operation which began on the 7th August.

Creative Commons — Attribution 4.0 International — CC BY 4.0

The Eastern Front in August 1943 saw a number of significant events and battles between the German and Soviet armies.

One of the key battles that took place during this time was the Battle of Kursk, which was one of the largest tank battles in history and had commenced the previous month on the 5th July and would result in a German defeat.

The Red Army’s Smolensk Operation began on the 7th August. General Andrei Yeremenko, leading the Kalinin Front, and Vasily Sokolovsky, commanding the Western Front, conducted the two-month onslaught.

Its purpose was to remove the German presence from Smolensk and Bryansk. Smolensk had been occupied by the Germans since the first Battle of Smolensk in 1941

The operation encapsulated several smaller – yet no less fiercely fought – operations:

  • Spas-Demensk Offensive Operation (7–20 August 1943)
  • Dukhovshchina-Demidov Offensive Operation (1st Stage) (13–18 August 1943)
  • Yelnia-Dorogobuzh Offensive Operation (28 August-6 September 1943)
  • Dukhovshchina-Demidov Offensive Operation (2nd Stage) (14 September-2 October 1943)
  • Smolensk-Roslavl Offensive Operation (15 September-2 October 1943)
  • Bryansk Offensive Operation (17 August-3 October 1943)

Eastern Front. 1943. German troops hitch a ride on a StuG III Ausf. G assault gun. The StuG III Ausf. G was a German assault gun produced during World War II. It was based on the Panzer III tank chassis and armed with a short-barreled 75mm gun, making it highly effective in the support role for infantry units. The Ausf. G model was the most produced and widely used variant, featuring improvements such as increased armor and better engine performance.

Despite its success on the Eastern and Western Fronts, the StuG III was not originally intended as a battle tank, but rather as a mobile artillery platform. Nevertheless, its versatility and firepower made it a formidable weapon and one of the most recognizable symbols of the German armoured force.

Another significant event that took place on the Eastern Front in August 1943 was the Soviet counteroffensive at Orel - Operation Kutuzov - which had started in July and would come to an end on 18th August. This was a successful attempt by Soviet forces to retake the city of Orel, which had been captured by the Germans earlier in the year, as well as pinch out the Orel salient.

The Belgorod-Bogodukhov offensive operation (3 August 1943 – 23 August 1943) was a combat operation carried out by the Red Army as part of Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev against Wehrmacht forces. It was one of the operations launched in response to the German offensive Operation Citadel and resulted in a conclusive Soviet victory.

Soviet advances on the Eastern Front from 1st August 1943 through to 1944.

Creative Commons — Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported — CC BY-SA 3.0

The Belgorod-Kharkov strategic offensive operation, also known as the Belgorod-Kharkov offensive operation, was a Soviet strategic summer offensive that attempted to recover Belgorod and Kharkov while also destroying German soldiers from the 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf. The operation was dubbed Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev, after the 18th-century Field Marshal Peter Rumyantsev, and was carried out by the Voronezh and Steppe Fronts (army units) in the Kursk Bulge's southern sector. The battle was also known as the Fourth Battle of Kharkov.

The Battle of the Dnieper was a World War II military campaign that commenced on 26th August 1943 in Ukraine on the Eastern Front. It was one of the war's greatest operations, involving about 4,000,000 troops over a 1,400-kilometer (870-mile) front. Over the course of four months, five Red Army fronts reclaimed the eastern bank of the Dnieper from German forces, conducting many assault river crossings to construct several lodgements on the western bank. 

Wehrmacht Infantryman in winter clothes with a Soviet machine gun PPSh. 1943 Eastern Front.

Red Army soldiers in formation, Kalinin Front, 1943.  The soldier on the left is wearing an Ssh40 helmet made in 1942, indicated by the sewn cloth tarpaulin-type material in the chinstrap. Starting in 1943 the helmets would have an undyed white cotton chinstrap instead.

Boris Ignatovich

The Mius-Front was a heavily fortified German Nazi defensive line along the Mius River in the Soviet Union and Ukraine's Donbas region. The Germans established it in October 1941, under the direction of General Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist. By the summer of 1943, the Mius-Front had three defence lines totaling 40-50 kilometres in depth (25–31 mi). The Soviets finally broke through the line during the Donbas Strategic Offensive in August 1943, when troops from the Soviet Southern Front broke through near the village of Kuybyshevo in Rostov Oblast.

As for the casualties, the German army suffered very heavy casualties during the Battle of Kursk, with estimates suggesting that they lost as many as 200,000 men. The Soviets also suffered heavy casualties during the battle, with estimates suggesting that they lost as many as 300,000 men. The casualties were heavy on both sides during the battle of Orel as well as other engagements.

The Germans spent the most ammunition on the Eastern Front in July and August 1943, with 236,915 tonnes consumed in July and 254,648 tonnes consumed in August. The previous high point was 160,645 tonnes in September 1942.

Soviet Anti-Tank soldiers at Battle of Kursk, 1943.

Operation Rails War, 3rd August – 15th September 15, 1943. A major partisan operation against railroad transportation and communications aimed at disrupting German reinforcements and supplies for the Battle of Kursk and, later, the Battle of Smolensk. 

More than 100,000 partisan fighters from Belarus, the Leningrad Oblast, the Kalinin Oblast, the Smolensk Oblast, the Oryol Oblast, and Ukraine took part in concentrated operations over a 1000-kilometer-long and 750-kilometer-wide area. More than 230,000 rails were reportedly destroyed, as well as numerous bridges, trains, and other railroad infrastructure. The operation severely disrupted German logistics and contributed to the Soviet victory at Kursk.


September

The Eastern Front in September 1943 saw a continuation of the battles and engagements that had taken place in August, as well as some new developments. One of the key events that took place during this month was the continuation of the Soviet counteroffensive in the Battle of the Dnieper. This was a major operation by the Soviet Red Army to push back the German army and retake territory that had been lost earlier in the war.

Divisions of the Red Army began to move along a 1,400-kilometer front stretching from Smolensk to the Sea of Azov. The operation would be carried out by 36 Combined Arms, four Tank Armies, and five Air Armies. This vast effort required the recruitment of 2,650,000 workers. 51,000 guns and mortars, 2,400 tanks, and 2,850 planes would be used in the operation.

A Sturmgeschütz III Ausf G in Ukraine on the Eastern Front. September 1943. 
The Abteilung (unit) is unconfirmed, but Thiemann - the photographer - was attached to the 3 Panzer Division and they were engaged around the Kharkov area in September '43. 

Alternatively it could belong to Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 184, running with the Das Reich 2nd SS-Panzer Division who were also operating in that area, around that time.

Three weeks after the offensive began, and despite terrible losses on the Soviet side, it became evident that the Germans could not hope to contain the Soviet onslaught in the steppes' flat, open terrain, where the Red Army's numerical strength would prevail. Manstein requested up to 12 more divisions in the aim of stemming the Soviet advance, but German reserves were dangerously low.

Hitler ordered Army Group South to retreat to the Dnieper defence line on September 15, 1943. Marshal Konev chose to bypass the city of Poltava and rush towards the Dnieper after a few inconclusive days that slowed the Soviet offensive significantly. The Poltava garrison was defeated after two days of bloody urban fighting. By the end of September 1943, Soviet forces had reached the lower Dnieper.

Map of the Smolensk Operation and connected operations in 1943, map base from 1941.

Public Domain

User:Grafikm fr - Wikipedia

The Smolensk Operation continued in September with the second stage (21th August – 6th September) and third stage (7th September – 2nd October) commencing after heavy and well-prepared German defences managed to slow the Red Armies advance. Despite this, the Red Army made significant breakthroughs, liberating several key cities such as Smolensk and Roslavl. As a result of this operation, the Red Army was able to begin preparations for Belarus' liberation.

German soldiers take cover against a destroyed Soviet KV-1 tank in Lake Ladoga, Leningrad, September 15, 1943. The fighting in this region had been going on since July and the strain of battle can be seen on the solders face.

Operation Concerto took place from September 19 to 1st November 1943. "Concerto" was a major partisan operation against railroad communications aimed at disrupting German reinforcements and supplies for the Battle of the Dnieper as well as the Soviet offensive in the Smolensk and Homel directions.

The operations were carried out by partisans from Belarus, Karelia, the Kalinin Oblast, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the Crimea. The operation spanned 900 kilometres along the front (excluding Karelia and Crimea) and was 400 kilometres wide.

Despite the fact that bad weather limited the airlift to less than half of the planned supplies, the operation resulted in a 35-40% decrease in railroad capacity in the area of operations. This was critical for Soviet military operations in the autumn of 1943. Partisans claimed to have destroyed over 90,000 rails, 1,061 trains, 72 railroad bridges, and 58 Axis garrisons in Belarus alone. According to Soviet historiography, the Axis lost over 53,000 soldiers.

A german supply train destroyed by partisans during Operation Concerto which began in September 1943.

Military Analysis: Rail War & Concerto.


October

The Eastern Front in October 1943 saw a continuation of the Soviet counteroffensive that had begun in September, as well as some new developments.

The Battle of Lenino took place on 12th and 13th October, and was part of a broader Soviet Spas-Demensk offensive operation aimed at clearing German forces from the eastern bank of the Dnieper River and breaching the Panther-Wotan line of defences. The conflict is significant in Polish military history since it was one of the first significant battles of the Polish Armed Forces in the East.

While the Polish and Soviet forces were able to breach German defences and inflict heavy casualties on the Germans, they were unable to maintain the advance. Other Red Army units failed to cooperate, and there was no artillery support or close air cover.

After two days, the Polish 1st Tadeusz Kociuszko Infantry Division had suffered 25% casualties and was forced to withdraw, while the remaining Soviet forces were too weak to expand the achieved breakthrough.

Panzerkampfwagen VI ‘Tiger’, Ausf. E, Sd.Kfz. 181, number 332 of 3./Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503 (3./s.Pz.Abt.503), stuck in the mud on the banks of a river near the town of Znamenka, Tambovskaya oblast, Soviet Union, October 4th, 1943. The battalion was in a rest area near Znamenka, where it had time to maintain and repair vehicles and conduct training.

 @colourbyrjm


November

The Eastern Front in November 1943 saw the continuation of the Soviet counteroffensive that had begun in October, with several major battles taking place. One of the key events that took place during this month was the Second Battle of Kiev.

This was a Soviet operation to retake the city of Kiev, which had been occupied by the Germans since 1941. The battle began on 3rd November and continued until 22nd December, and was a major victory for the Soviet Union, as they were able to retake the city.

Despite failing to break the rail link with Army Group Center or envelop Army Group South, the Soviets had broken the Dnieper line, taken Kiev, the Soviet Union's third largest city, and inflicted significant casualties on the 4th Panzer Army. The Germans, for their part, had bloodied several sizable Soviet formations while maintaining the vital rail link, but had failed in their attempt to encircle and destroy the Soviet spearheads.

As for the casualties, the German army suffered over 10,000 casualties during the Second Battle of Kiev, with estimates suggesting that the Soviets suffered greatly with over 100,000 men dead, wounded or missing.

The Kerch–Eltigen operation was an amphibious offensive made in November 1943 by the Red Army as a precursor to the Crimean offensive (8 April-12 May 1944), with the object of defeating and forcing the withdrawal of the German forces from the Crimea. Landing at two locations on the Crimea's eastern coast, the Red Army successfully reinforced the northern beachhead of Yenikale but was unable to prevent an Axis counterattack that collapsed the southern beachhead at Eltigen. Subsequently, the Red Army used the beachhead at Yenikale to launch further offensive operations into the Crimea in May 1944.


December

The Eastern Front in December 1943 saw the continuation of the Second Battle of Kiev which would lead to a Soviet victory. The Dnieper–Carpathian offensive was also launched on the 24th of this month with the aim of further damaging and splitting Germany’s forces. After several months of fighting, it would result in the elimination of Germany’s tactical reserves.

The first operation of this early phase of the offensive was the Zhytomyr-Berdychiv offensive operation which took place in the right-bank (western) Ukrainian SSR. From December 24 to January 14, 1944, the forces of the 1st Ukrainian Front, led by General of Army Nikolai Vatutin, conducted a successful offensive operation.

Following an initial attack across a 300-kilometer front, Soviet troops advanced from 80 to 200 kilometres and nearly liberated the entire Kiev and Zhytomyr Oblast regions, as well as the Vinnytsa and Rivne Oblast regions. The 1st Ukrainian Front took a position north of Army Group South's main German forces. The German forces held the Dnieper's western bank in the Kaniv region.

The Eastern Front in December 1943 was a continuation of the Soviet counteroffensive that had begun in October and November, with the Soviet army making significant gains, pushing back the German army and retaking key cities and territory.


Conclusion

The aftermath of the Eastern Front in 1943 was that the Soviets had gained the upper hand in the war against Nazi Germany.

They had dealt a major blow to the German Army, and they had regained control of key cities and territories.

The Eastern Front would continue to be an important theater of war for the remainder of the war, but the Soviets were now in a position of strength and were able to push the Germans back towards Germany.


Further reading


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