75 years on, the operation, codenamed Operation Zvezda ('Star') continues to resonate with military historians and history buffs alike.
Kicking off on February 2, the official conclusion of the operation to encircle and destroy Axis forces at Stalingrad, Operation Zvezda was undertaken by the 60th Army of the Voronezh Front, commanded by Major General Ivan Chernyakhovsky.
On February 6, at 11:50 pm, Chernyakhovsky gave the order to destroy the Nazi garrison in the city. All through the night, four Red Army infantry divisions, a rifle cadet brigade and four tank brigades prepared for the attack on the city, which began on the morning of February 7.
"Kursk was soon turned into an impregnable fortress," the contributor wrote. "Its occupiers built up a powerful, two-layer defensive network, featuring dozens of mortar, artillery and machine-gun emplacements. Two Wehrmacht infantry divisions and a tank division were prepared for the fight for the city, with six more divisions dug in on its outskirts. The Germans expected to stop Soviet forces at the distant approaches to the city, and if this did not succeed, to pull them into grueling street battles. The Red Army, weakened by a long offensive, had to take the city as fast as possible; any delay would only multiply losses."
Two Day Blitzkrieg
In the early hours of February 7, units of the 60th Army began a methodical operation to crack enemy defenses. Lieutenant-Colonel Stephan Perekalskiy, commander of the 322nd infantry division, showed extraordinary vigor during the operation, attacking enemy positions from multiple points simultaneously along their flank, eventually breaking through to wreak havoc on enemy positions. The Wehrmacht's infantry retreated into the city, with the first layer of defenses, meant to stop the Soviet offensive in its tracks, lasting less than one day.
Perekalskiy personally led the attack into the city, a move which would cost him his life.
General Petr Lashchenko, the head of the operational department of the 60th Army's headquarters, recalled the commander's personal bravery after the war. "Perekalskiy, feeling at home in the turmoil of combat, rushed to areas where the balance was turning in the enemy's favor. He was wounded, but did not leave the battlefield, considering that he had no right to do so while he was on still on his own two feet. By the evening, the enemy, in turmoil, left Kursk. However, Perekalskiy did not live to see this, an enemy bullet having taken the commander's life."
The men under Perekalsky's command provided more details, recalling that as they approached the medical institute building, they were forced into cover about 100 meters from its entrance by an enemy machinegun. Realizing there was no chance of suppressing the gun at their current distance, Perekalskiy stood up and dashed toward the building, serving as an example to his men, which did the same. Suffering a bullet wound to the chest, he was killed, but his action brought his troops close enough to the building to take out the enemy gun with their grenades. Eyewitnesses said that the commander's last words were "friends, take the city." The officer was posthumously awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title for his bravery.
Elsewhere in the city, fierce fighting continued until the evening of February 8. By nightfall, the last of the resistance was suppressed, and soldiers climbed to the roof of the building of the Palace of Culture to hoist the red flag. Remaining enemy formations fled west and south.
According to Kotz, the operation to free Kursk "once again proved that the Red Army were unmatched in street fighting, and that they had mastered the tactic of the lightning offensive even than the Blitzkrieg's inventors. For the Germans, the liberation of Kursk was a heavy blow. The loss of an important city of nearly 200 square km in just two days of fighting was a great humiliation for Hitler's generals."
The Wehrmacht would attempt to regain control over the city in the summer of 1943 in what would become the largest tank battle in history. Its plan was to cut through the bulge formed by the Red Army from the north and south, and to regain its control over the area. However, Soviet forces, including the 60th Army commanded by Lieutenant General Chernyakhovsky, would not let them back in. For the Nazis, the crucible at Kursk became the final strategic offensive that they would ever carry out on the Eastern Front.