Operation Kutuzov was a military operation by the Red Army in its fight against the German Wehrmacht during World War II. It was named after Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov, the Tsarist General credited with saving Russia from defeat during the invasion by Napoleon in 1812. The Operation began on 12 July and ended on 18 August 1943 with the destruction of the Orel bulge, in which the Western and Bryansk fronts defeated the 2. Panzerarmee in its fortified positions around Orel.
The operation was conducted by Western Front, Bryansk Front, and Central Front against German 2nd Panzer and 9th Army in the Orel sector. It began on July 12, 1943 and lasted to 18 August 1943. The aim to put pressure on German Army Group Centre which at the time was partially engaged in the Battle for Kursk, to reduce the Orel salient, and to destroy large German forces. It was almost immediately successful in achieving the first aim, leading to a move of German reserves earmarked for the Battle for Kursk to resist Operation Kutuzov.
The initial attack was made simultaneously on the northern and eastern faces of the Orel salient. Later, the southern face joined in, after German panzer forces withdrew from the Kursk offensive to meet Operation Kutuzov.
The Soviet air arm, the VVS undertook intense attacks on German positions in conjunction with a huge preliminary artillery bombardment. The 1 Va, 15 VA were in action performing 360 missions against German rear areas. Altogether some 210 tons of bombs were dropped. The Luftwaffe's 1 Fliegerdivision had dealt the Soviets some crushing defeats during the 16 - 13 July, and maintained superiority over the southern sector of the buldge, above the German Ninth Army. However after six days of heavy fighting the Luftwaffe was exhausted. As a result just 74 intercept missions were logged by the entire 1 Fliegerdivision, against which 16 VA flew 868 sorties alone. The Soviet dominated the air, only losing in tactical battles, due to the inexperience of the Soviet pilots, and the nature of their low-level attacks, which put them at a tactical disadvantage. Despite this the VVS provided the Red Army's 11th Guards Army well, and helped General Hovhannes Bagramyan's forces achieve a critical breakthrough. In the Southern sector of the bulge, the Germans managed to log over 1,000 missions on this first day and was countered by 737 missions by 15 VA. The Luftwaffe managed to make difficult for the Bryansk Front, destroying some 35 tanks 14 guns and 50 motor vehicles. As a result, the Bryansk Front had only breached the first line of German defences on the first day of the operation. While the 2. Panzerarmee was gradually forced back, the Luftwaffe dealt the VVS a major defeat. 94 Soviet aircraft were lost on 13 July, including 50 Sturmoviks. Despite the Luftwaffe giving the German Army excellent air support, the 11th Guards Army, reinforced by the 1st and 5th Tank Corps, defeated the German 55. ArmeeKorps.
The Ground Struggle
The northern drive by Western Front was initially led by the 11th Guards Army under Gen. Bagramian, initially supported by the 1st and 5th tank Corps. The prong of the offensive began near Ulianovo, against initially weak German infantry opposition. 6 rifle divisions concentrated against 2 German infantry regiments along a 16 kilometer attack sector, and broke through by the afternoon of the first day, advancing some 23 miles. The German 5th Panzer Division attempted to delay the breakthrough as the Soviets committed the supporting armour, but was forced back. On 13 July a strong counterattack by the German 53 Army Corps forced the Bryansk Fronts to halt their offensive for a time. The initial attacks on the eastern face by Bryansk Front were less successful. The terrain was more open and the German defenders alert and prepared. The Soviets were matched by timely arrivals of Panzer Divisions from the southern (Kursk) face, using the salient's interior lines to redeploy rapidly.
The Soviets broadened the offensive later in its first week, with supporting attacks west of 11th Guards by 50th Army, and between it and the initial Briansk front attempts by 20th Tank Corps aimed at Bolkov, and by Central Front on the south face by day 4 of the operation. Partisans supported the operation by cutting German rail lines in thousands of places over several nights. The Soviets also committed 2 major tank formations, the 3rd Guards Tank and 4th Tank Armies. The 3rd Guards tried to develop the eastern attack, driving straight at Orel. The 4th Tank exploited the wider breech made by 11th Guards Army in the north, initially southward, then southeast. This was an attempt to cut off the German forces still waging a successful defense along the east face.
These battles developed into a series of brawls between arriving German reserves, often facing several directions, and the major Soviet tank formations. The Soviets gained ground gradually. As late as 20 July, Hitler forbade retreat to more rational positions with shorter lines. The Russian's best sector continued to be the 11th Guards corridor, which reached the outskirts of Karachev, midway between Orel and Briansk, by late July. This was the proximate cause of the German decision to evacuate the salient, which had clearly become untenable with the threat to the main rail line over which virtually all supplies had to come.
Operation Kutuzov represents the final Soviet seizure of the strategic initiative in the east. The Germans were on the defensive continually thereafter. The USSR succeeded in reducing the Orel salient while the Germans failed to reduce the parallel bulge at Kursk. German losses were substantial and they were forced from the field.
The Soviet forces pressed back the German defenders and liberated Orel. Operation Kutuzov set the stage for the liberation of Smolensk in September 1943. The Germans were greatly weakened by this thrust, and thus were unable to stop further Soviet advances westwards.