| The Soviet command faced a dilemma: to attack or
to assume defence? All the options and every
scenario had been thoroughly examined. It was the
collective wisdom, the creative work of experienced,
seasoned during two years of the war military
commanders and staffs, from the front level to the
Supreme Command, that helped to adopt the only
proper solution. While analyzing intelligence data
on the enemy's preparations, fronts, General Staff
and the General Headquarters gradually came to the
idea of switching to a deliberate defense. That
issue had been discussed many times in late March
and early April at the State Defence Committee and
the General Headquarters. We discussed the issue
thoroughly and comprehensively by telephone with
Deputy Supreme Commander G. K. Zhukov, who was on
the Kursk Salient, at the headquarters of the
Voronezh Front. As a result, on April 8th, G. K.
Zhukov sent to the Supreme Commander a detailed
report assessing the situation, and outlining
considerations for the plan of action in the Kursk
Salient. There, in particular, he noted:
I do not believe it is necessary for our
forces to mount a preventive offensive in the next
few days. It will be better if we wear the enemy
out in defensive action, destroy his tanks, and
then, taking in fresh reserves, by going over to
an all-out offensive we will finish off the
enemy's main grouping. [50
I happened to be with J. V. Stalin when he received
that report. The Supreme Commander knew that the
General Staff shared the Zhukov's view. After
reading Zhukov's report, Stalin said: It is necessary to
consult with the commanders of the fronts,
and he ordered to seek the opinion of the fronts.
Stalin asked the General Staff to summon a special
meeting to discuss the plan for the summer campaign
of 1943. He called N. F. Vatutin and K. K.
Rokossovsky himself, asking them to present before
April 12th an assessment of the front-line situation
and a plan for upcoming activities of the fronts. In
their reports commanders communicated that with
regard of the enemy forces and their intentions of
their opinion coincided with the opinion of G. K.
Zhukov and the General Staff. As to the action plan
of the troops, the command and headquarters of the
Central Front called for combined efforts of the
Western, Bryansk, and Central fronts to destroy the
enemy's Orel, while it was still not prepared for
the attack, and thereby prevent the enemy from using
it to strike through Livny to Kastornoye
simultaneously with an attack from Belgorod.  The command of the
Voronezh Front evaluated only the intentions of the
On April 12th in the evening a meeting was held at
General Headquarters, which was attended by J. V.
Stalin, G. K. Zhukov who came from the Voronezh
Front, I and the Deputy Chief of General Staff A. I.
Antonov. There was made a provisional decision on
deliberate defence. Stalin worried, and he did not
conceal it, whether our troops would withstand the
strike of large masses of the fascist tanks.
However, it was not 1941 any more. The Red Army had
been hardened in battles, gained tremendous combat
experience, was well armed and had excellent
military equipment. Now the fascists were afraid of
us. And the waverings were brushed aside. Careful
analysis of the situation, and anticipation of
events led to the correct conclusion: the main
effort must be concentrated to the north and south
of Kursk in order to exhaust the enemy there in a
defensive battle, and then go on the offensive and
make the enemy routed. Later on the Red Army was
meant to unfold a general offensive, dealing main
blows in the direction of Kharkov, Poltava and Kiev.
Incidentally, the meeting foresaw also another
course of action: to move Soviet troops into action
in the event if the fascist command did not take any
offensive at Kursk in the near future and postponed
it till a later date.
Following the decision of deliberate defence with
the subsequent transition to the offensive, there
started a comprehensive and thorough preparation for
the upcoming action. Simultaneously continued
reconnaissance of the forces and intentions of the
enemy; in result the Soviet command knew pretty
accurately what was the time-frame of the enemy
attack, which Hitler postponed three times. Speaking
here on the plan of the battle of Kursk, I would
like to stress two points.
First, the fact that this plan was the central part
of an overall strategic plan, adopted by the General
Headquarters for the 1943 summer-autumn campaign;
and second, that the highest organs of the strategic
leadership - the Supreme Command and the General
Staff - played the decisive role in the development
of that plan. Until recently, the issue of planning
and preparing for the Battle of Kursk was not
covered entirely accurately in military and
historical literature, both scientific and
especially memoiristic - wittingly or unwittingly,
the big creative and organizational activity of the
General Headquarters, and its working body - the
General Staff, has been played down, while the role
of front-line instances, and especially the military
council of the Voronezh Front, was exaggerated.
These distortions, in my opinion, resulted from the
fact that authors who spoke on this issue, for a
long time had no access to the documents which fully
cover the planning of the Battle of Kursk. In
addition, a number of important details generally
has not been reflected in any documents, as they
were discussed at the highest offices in a narrow
circle of persons who controlled the preparation for
the Battle of Kursk. This applies, apart from J. V.
Stalin, to G. K. Zhukov, A. I. Antonov, the author
of these lines, and some other comrades during the
war years working at the State Defence Committee,
General Headquarters, and the General Staff.
It is difficult to describe the whole range of major
actions, undertaken by the State Defence Committee,
General Headquarters, and the General Staff, as well
as the offices of the People's Commissariat of
Defense, while preparing for the battle of Kursk. To
do this would require a special work. It was truly a
titanic work of our state. In particular, it
included such an activities as creating an echeloned
defence in the Kursk sector with a total depth of
250-300 km; deploying a powerful strategic reserve
of the General Headquarters - the Steppe Front - in
the area east of Kursk; carrying out the largest
wartime concentration of the troops and materiel in
the area of Kursk; organization of special air
operations to disrupt enemy communications and gain
command in the air; activating partisan operations
in order to carry out mass sabotage behind enemy
lines and to obtain critically important
intelligence information; and carrying out a large
set of measures to ensure political backing of the
upcoming Red Army operations.
In mid-April the General Headquarters verified on
the ground, through the General Staff and the
commanding personnel of the People's Commissariat of
Defence, preparations for the summer campaign in the
front of the Kursk sector. By then, according to our
data, the enemy concentrated against the troops of
the Central and Voronezh Fronts up to 16 tank
divisions, well-equipped with fighting vehicles. The
most powerful group was identified in front of the
Voronezh Front. There, according to intelligence
reports, were concentrated 11 tank and 20 infantry
fascist divisions. That particular worried the
Supreme Commander, and he decided to hear directly
from the commander of the Voronezh Front a report on
troops training the front's needs. I was ordered to
notify the members of the military council of the
front about that, and then call the commander it to
the Supreme Headquarters.
So, what was our line of the deliberate defense? On
the eve of the enemy offensive the picture was
as follows. Along the Don, from Lebedyan to Zadonsk,
to Khlevnoye, Semiluki, Liski and Pavlovsk to the
Verkhniy Mamon, there was so-called "state line of
fortifications" (GRO). In front of it were deployed
the strategic reserves of the Soviet troops. Farther
to the north, in the rear of the left wing of the
Western Front, as well as the Bryansk Front, they
included the 11th (at Kaluga), 4th Guards (at Tula)
and the 3rd Guards Tank (at Verkhoupye) Armies, and
in addition - a number of units in the area of
Mosalsk, Meschovsk, Plavsk and Yefremovo. West to
the GRO was deployed the Steppe Front (the 27th Army
from Krasnaya Zarya to Livny, 53rd Army at
Kastornoye, 5th Army of Guards from Srednyaya
Apochka to Gniloye, as well as a number of units
west to Voronezh and at Stary Oskol).
Farther to the south were deployed strategic
reserves in the rear of the South-Western Front: the
47th Army from Limarevo and Krivonosovka, 5th Tank
Army of Guards from Ostrogozhsk to Rossosh, and a
number of units at Pavlovsk, Novaya Kalitva,
Markovka and Valuiki. From Livny, along the River
Kshen, and on to the headwaters of the Seym
stretched defences of the Steppe Front. Along the
line Verkhovye - Livny - Evlanova - Dolgaya - Tim -
Skorodnoye - Chernyanka - Budyonnoye ran the third
echelon of defence, which almost traversed the Kursk
Salient. The second echelon was made farther to the
west, from Yevlanovo, turning to Pervaya Vorobyovka,
then skirting Kursk from the the west, through
Solntsevo to Manturovo, and from there to Gniloye,
Volokonovka and Valuiki. The first line of the front
ran through Olkhovatka, Fatezh, Lyubimovka, Maryino,
Korocha, Shebekino and Kupyansk. Closer to the
frontline, almost repeating its shape, stretched the
third, the second, and the main line of defence. In
the second echelon of the fronts were deployed the
1st and the 2nd Tank, and the 69th Armies. Front
reserves included the 2nd and the 5th Armies of
Guards, 9th and 19th Tank Armies, 35th Rifle Corps
of Guards, artillery units, and units deployed at
Ponyri, Olkhovatka, Kursk, Beloye, Ivni, Oboyan,
Rzhava, Prokhorovka, Alexandrovskoye, Skorodnoye and
The sole list above shows how seriously the
country's leadership took the problem of planning
and supporting the deliberate defence. Even if the
enemy had broken through (which he had not), he
would have met on its way not an operational space,
but insurmountable obstacles, and large military
Given the continuous and active participation of the
fronts of the Kursk sector in preparations to repel
the enemy attack and to switch them to the
counter-attack, the General Staff continued to deal
simultaneously with the development of another
operation that was closely associated with the plan
of operations in the Kursk sector, which was
Its objective was to strike at the enemy's Orel
grouping at the time most advantageous to us, and
take the city of Orel through the efforts of the
left wing of the Western Front and the bulk of the
forces of the Bryansk Front (50th, 11th Guards,
61st, 3rd, and 63rd Armies), in close collaboration
with the actions of the Central Front.
The Supreme Commander attached big importance to the
In mid-May he instructed me to leave for the Bryansk
Front and the left wing of the Western Front, to
verify on-site whether the troops understand their
tasks, and how preparations to implement them were
going on. I started with the left wing of the
Western Front, and here is what I reported to the
Supreme Commander in the report dated May 21st, from
the headquarters of the 61th Army
(Lieutenant-General P. A. Belov) of the Bryansk
Front, where I had just arrived from the 11th Guards
Army (Lieutenant-General I. Kh. Bagramyan) of the
Next, I reported that, according to the air, army
and partisan intelligence data, the enemy continued
to bring in infantry and tanks to the former two
sectors. In the vicinity of Spas-Demyansk partisans
have identified one armoured division transferred
from the west. While the existence of assault
groupings allowed for more or less reliable
protection of the sectors of Kaluga and Tula, I
still thought it appropriate to move the 19th Rifle
Corps from the area in Gzhatsk to Yukhnov, leaving
it in the 10th Army of Guards. With the same
purpose, I proposed to transfer the 4th Infantry
Division of the Moscow Military District from
Zagorsk to Maloyaroslavets. 
- Over May 19th and 20th with comrades
Sokolovsky and Bulganin we inspected the
preparation for operations of the 11th Army of
Guards of comrade Bagramyan. In comparison to
the Bryansk Front there was a lot of work done
to prepare commanding staffs, as well as the
troops in general, and we only needed to work
out specific details and move, upon receiving
orders, to the initial positions. Shortages in
tanks and aircraft. The Front command allocated
for Bagramyan two available tank assault
regiments and four independent tank brigades.
For rebuilding their strengths the 1st and 5th
Tank Corps received only 100 tanks. It would be
highly desirable to reinforce them with another
two tank assault regiments. With regard to
aviation, comrade Novikov reported that by
decision of the General Headquarters it has been
reinforced, but, regretfully, till June 15th,
that is after the expected commencement of the
- In the evening of May 20th back to Belov.
Here, as well as at Kolpakchi's  works are under way
to master co-operation with regiment and
battalion commanders in the field. Front's
readiness is hampered by slow delivery of the
munitions and delay in arrival of the 7th
- I think that the troops as a whole will be
ready to assume initial positions on May 28th.
Assuming initial positions and deployment of
artillery will take up to five days.
- While preparing the operation, special
attention has been paid to the readiness of our
defence and especially in the sectors of
Spas-Demyansk, Zhizdra and Belev.
The same night the Supreme Commander summoned me to
Moscow. Hard work continued at the General Staff and
General Headquarters. In early June to the post of
the commander of the Bryansk Front, instead M. A.
Reyter was appointed Colonel-General M. M. Popov.
Markian Mikhailovich Popov was a man of great
military talent; he was an expert in operational and
strategic issues. I used to meet him frequently on
the front during major strategic operations. The war
found him on the position of the commander of the
Northern, and then Leningrad Front, then his
professional career happened to be volatile, as
nobody else's. As he took the command of the Bryansk
Front, he proved an apt commander, and soon was
appointed the commander of the 2nd Baltic Front. It
is also known that M. M. Popov was the commander of
two armies and the deputy commander of the
Stalingrad and South-Western Fronts.
So, during the war M. M. Popov used to move up and
down the career hierarchy. After he entered the war
as the commander of the Leningrad Front, he ended it
as the chief of staff of the same Front. The same
happened with his military rank. He met the war in
the rank of Lieutenant-General, in 1944 was promoted
to Army General, and ended the war as a
Colonel-General. And all that with his exceptional
abilities, and the fact that he was versatile,
educated militaryman, an interesting
conversationalist and also a very kind person. But
propensity to drinks became his misfortune and
grief. It was just painful to see him, a willed
commander he was, losing control of his behaviour.
The Supreme Command valued M. M. Popov; the
Politburo of the Central Committee used to have
serious talks with him. Yet, strong misdemeanors and
promises to change helped only for some time.
I do not think I will make a mistake if I say that
only this problem prevented M. M. Popov from showing
his military talent in full.
I left for the Bryansk Front, to elaborate on-site
the tasks of the troops of his front with M. M.
Popov. Within four days I have been in the 61st,
63rd and 3rd Armies. Together with the new
commander, we once again checked the state of
defences and preparations for the upcoming action.
The enemy still remained idle.
At night to June 10th I came back to Moscow again,
so that after a short pause at the General
Headquarter's advise leave for the Voronezh Front. I
was given the task to co-ordinate operations of the
troops of the Voronezh and South-Western Fronts,
while G. K. Zhukov - Central, Bryansk and Western
Fronts. That proved once again how Supreme Command
ensured precision of the operational command.
Through its representatives the General Headquarters
controlled the chain of command in main sectors.
At this critical moment, the Soviet command put
strict requirements to the intelligence cells. And I
must say it was excellent and rendered a lot of help
to us. During the first two years of the war, we,
the officers of the General Staff, often heard
justified reproaches from the Supreme Commander
addressed to the Intelligence Executive. In 1943
there were hardly any such comments. No matter how
the enemy strove to keep offensive plans secret, no
matter how he tried to divert the attention of the
Soviet intelligence from the areas of concentration
of their assault groupings, our intelligence
succeeded in identification not only of the enemy's
general design for the summer 1943, direction of the
strikes, composition of the assault units and
reserves, but also in establishing of the time of
the beginning of the fascist offensive. As a matter
of fact, in May, by initiative of the General Staff,
fronts of the Kursk direction were twice warned of
the possibility of the enemy offensive during the
coming days. Yet, in neither case an enemy attack
followed. But it happened, as it turned out later,
due to no fault of our intelligence, but to the fact
that Hitler was seeking to strengthen further the
grouping concentrated at Kromy and Borisovka, and
postponed the commencement of the offensive.
On May 8th the General Headquarters sent to the
commanders of the Bryansk, Central, Voronezh and
South-Western Fronts the following directive:
According to information received,
the enemy may take offensive May 10-12 on
Orel-Kursk Sector or Belgorod-Oboyan Sector, or on
both sectors at once. Supreme Command GHQ orders:
by morning of May 10 all troops of the first line
of defence and of the reserves shall be fully
prepared to meet an enemy attack. Special
attention shall be given to our air force to
ensure that in the event of an enemy offensive not
only will their air attacks be repelled but air
supremacy will be achieved from the first moment
of active operations.
The directive the General Headquarters sent the same
night to the Steppe Military District read: Troops of District to
be brought up to strength with all possible speed
and by morning of 10.5 have all its available
troops in battle readiness both for defence and
for active operations on orders of GHQ. Special
attention to be paid to the readiness of the
aviation to meet possible attacks of the enemy
aviation against our airfields and troops. 
On 20 May the General Staff, based on newly
acquired information about the enemy, having
consent of the Supreme Commander, sent to the
front commanders the warning that the fascist
offensive was expected no later than on 26 May.
After the first warning, which did not prove
right, the military council of the Voronezh Front
perceived that as hesitation, or may be a complete
renunciation of the offensive on the part of the
enemy, and sought from the Supreme Commander a
decision regarding feasibility of a preventive
strike. J. V. Stalin seriously considered that
proposal and to us - Zhukov, I and Antonov - it
took some effort to convince him not to do it.
In the mid-June Zhukov, as the first deputy
people's commissar for defence,  was again
among the troops on the Kursk Salient. In result
of incessant and the most thorough reconnaissance
of the enemy on the Voronezh as well as Central
Fronts, and also according to all sorts of the
intelligence data, we knew exactly that the
fascists were fully prepared for an offensive. Yet
still, for some reasons, they did not commence it.
And those very "some reasons" troubled us a lot,
and even upset some comrades. The commander of the
Voronezh Front, N. V. Vatutin, started showing
particular irritation. In our discussions Nikolay
Fyodorovich not once used to put forward the
question of necessity to start our own offensive,
so not to miss the summer season. My arguments
that the beginning of the enemy's offensive
against us were just a matter of coming days, and
that our offensive would only do service to the
enemy, did not convince him.
"Alexander Mikhailovich! We'll oversleep, we'll
miss the moment," he used to persuade me with
agitation. "The enemy isn't attacking, it's autumn
soon, and all our plans will go awry. Let's stop
digging the soil and strike first. We have enough
From everyday conversations with the Supreme
Commander it transpired to me that he worried too.
Once he told me that Vatutin had called him and
insisted that we begin our offensive no later than
in the beginning of July; furthermore Stalin said
that he considered that idea worth most serious
attention; that he had ordered Vatutin to prepare
and report his considerations concerning the
Voronezh Front to the General Headquarters. As to
me, I was instructed to 1) help Vatutin, and 2)
call in the commander of the South-Western Front
R. Ya. Malinovsky so he in his turn would work out
and present to the General Headquarters proposals
of his front. Stalin added that he was looking
forward to discuss that question with Zhukov the
same question regarding the Central Front of K. K.
Rokossovsky. I answered that instructions would be
carried out, and added that for us it would have
been more advantageous if the enemy had gone with
his advance, expected, by all data, in the nearest
time, ahead of us. At the end of the conversation
Stalin told me to arrive in Moscow no later than
on 22 June.
Next day i communicated the instructions of
the Supreme Commander to R. Ya. Malinovsky and the
member of the military council of the South-Western
Front A. S. Zheltov, who came to me. From the
conversation with G. K. Zhukov I had afterwards I
learned that with him J. V. Stalin did not discuss
the matter yet. We both were convinced that within
the next week the enemy would strike first. With
such thoughts I left the Voronezh Front on 22 June.
By then, in result of all the measures and efforts a
strong grouping of the troops of the Voronezh and
Central Fronts was deployed on well-prepared
positions. It numbered more than 1,336 thousand
troops, 19.1 thousand guns and mortars, 3,444 tanks
and self-propelled guns, and 2,172 aircraft (and
even 2,900 aircraft, including long-range planes of
the 17th Air Army, South-Western Front, and night
Behind it assumed its positions the Steppe Military
District, which numbered 573 thousand troops, 7,401
guns and mortars, and 1,551 tanks and self-propelled
guns. Both warring parties were in place awaiting
the great events to come.
On the night of 2 July the information received at
the General Staff from our intelligence section told
us that in the next few days, at any rate no later
than on 6 July, the enemy's offensive on the Kursk
Front was bound to begin. I instantly reported that
to Stalin, and asked permission to alert the fronts
immediately. Then I read to him the project of the
following directive of the General Headquarters I
had prepared beforehand:
According to information received, the
Germans may take the offensive on our Front
between July 3 and 6. Supreme Command GHQ orders:
Stalin approved the text of the directive during the
night of the 2 July and it was dispatched to the
commanders of the Western, Bryansk, Central,
Voronezh, South-Western and Southern Fronts. On the
same day I left for the Voronezh front. In the
evening I was at the commanding post of "Nikolayev"
(Vatutin's nom de
guerre. For the purpose of deception from
15 May 1943 till 1 June 1944 the noms de guerre
of commanding staff of the Red Army were changed
again. Stalin became Ivanov, Zhukov - Yuriev, I -
Alexandrov; front commanders: V. A. Frolov -
Valeryanov, L. A. Govorov - Leonov, K. A. Meretskov
- Kirillov, P. A. Kurochkin - Ptitsyn, S. K.
Timoshenko - Timofeyev in the north and Fyodorov i
the south, A. I. Yeremenko - Ivanenko, V. D.
Sokolovsky - Vasilenko, M. A. Reyter - Maximov, M.
M. Popov - Markov, K. K. Rokossovsky - Kostin, R.
Ya. Malinovsky - Rodionov, I. Ye. Petrov - Yefimov,
I. S. Konev - Stepin, F. I. Tolbukhin - first
Fyodorov, and later Obukhov).
- Intensify reconnaissance and observation of
the enemy to make sure of detecting their
intentions in good time.
- Troops and aircraft must be ready to repel a
possible enemy attack.
- Report any issued instructions. 
The day of 3 July on the Voronezh and Central Fronts
past, just like all other last days, uneventfully.
And beginning of 1600hr on 4 July the enemy had been
conducting reconnaissance by battle with
approximately four battalions and 20 tanks,
artillery and air force (about 150 sorties). All
enemy attempts to wedge into our first line were
repelled. A German captured in fights, a soldier of
the 168th Infantry Division, testified that the
troops were given food rations and vodka, and that
on 5 July they are supposed to attack. From a
telephone conversation with Zhukov I learned that
the same was confirmed by the German defectors, who
came over to us on 4 July on the Central Front.
After consulting Vatutin, we decided to carry out on
5 July the planned air and artillery bombardment,
which, as it occurred later, brought an exceptional
effect. Enemy troops, deployed on the initial
positions for advance, suffered heavy losses in
manpower and equipment. Our barrage had disorganized
their system of artillery fire and communications.
Enemy air forces lost a lot of planes on the
airfields, and their communications with the army
command were disrupted. Many fascist commanders took
our barrage for the beginning of our offensive. But
even without knowing all those details of the
effects of our barrage, we experienced the feeling
of deep satisfaction of its general results. Instead
of beginning their offensive on 5 July at 3 a.m.,
the Nazis were merely able to do it three hours
Thus unfolded the great battle on the Kursk Salient.
- Zhukov G. K. Memoirs of Marshal G. Zhukov.
- Archives of the Soviet Ministry of Defence,
vol. 233, file 2307, doc. 3, page 29-33.
- Archives of the Soviet
Ministry of Defence, vol. 48-А, file.
1147, doc. 2, page 4-7.
- Commander of the 63rd Army,
Lieutenant-General V. Ya. Kolpakchi.
- Archives of the Soviet
Ministry of Defence, vol. 48-A, file.
1691, doc. 233, page 288-290.
- Archives of the Soviet
Ministry of Defence, vol. 132-A, file.
2642, doc. 13, page 184, 183.
- In May 1943 by decision of the State Defence
Committee the people's commissar for defence
was left only two deputies - G. K. Zhukov and
me; G. K. Zhukov on top of that also remained
the deputy Supreme Commander.
- Archives of the Soviet
Ministry of Defence, vol. 132-A, file.
2642, doc. 34, page 164.