Tuesday 25 October 2016

General Konstanin Rokossovsky at Kursk (1943)

We'd heard bad things about the city of Kursk but decided to stopover in the city on our way up to Orel anyway. We found Kursk to be a fascinating place with some beautiful churches and public buildings. It's also a handy jumping off point for the German Military Cemetery at Besedino and the site of General Rokossovsky's 1943 headquarters complex in the village of Svoboda.

Gas powered bus in the city of Kursk

Kursk, was of course slightly to the west of where the 9th and 4th Panzer Armies (attacking from the north and south respectively) would have met up had the German plan been executed successfully. The driver for the German plan was the prospect of encircling the vast quantities of men and material that the Soviet army had committed to the defence of the Kursk salient.
Wedding party on Victory Avenue, Kursk
A good place to orientate yourself in the city, is the stunning Sergiev-Kazan cathedral with it's impressive bell-tower and richly decorated interiors. The church was made into a provincial museum pre-war and in anticipation of Barbarossa rolling through the city, an attempt was made to hide artistic treasures in the walled up nave of the lower church. Sadly this attempt failed - the invading Axis forces broke open the false wall and removed the priceless contents to the Reich. Under German jurisdiction the church was returned to it's original religious use.

View of Kursk from the Sergiev-Kazan cathedral tower
Outer sanctuary of the Sergiev-Kazan cathedral
General Rokossovsky established his headquarters bunker complex at the village of Svoboda which lies about twenty miles north-west of Kursk city via a minor road. This hugely respected Soviet commander was mixed Russian-Polish by birth and his career very nearly ended in the pre-war Stalinist purges. He was rehabilitated into the Russian Army in 1940 and in the winter of 1941-2 defence of Moscow earned plaudits for his outstanding leadership. His all-arms defensive operation in the Kursk salient was an outstanding achievement which opened the door to Operation Kutusov (which will be the subject of a future blog entry).
Memorial at Svoboda
Konstantin Rokossovsky - Svoboda Bunker Complex

The military cemetery at Besedino - about fifteen miles to the east of Kursk city contains about twenty five thousand German (and their allies) military graves of which a minority are known. The names of the 'Battle of Kursk' fallen where there is no known grave are listed on a series of upright stones flanking the main path through the cemetery. The cemetery was opened in 2009 and there are new internments every year.

Besedino German Military Cemetery

During our drive through Kursk we noticed a neon sign announcing an 'English Pub' - quite a common sight in Russia nowadays. Given that there are very few English speaking visitors to Kursk we thought we'd give it a try. German beer, Scottish ornaments - including tartan curtains and bar staff who were completely indifferent to the fact that three of us shared our nationality with their brand. A great night but quite bizarre!
Ringing the bells

We received a more effusive welcome at the Sergiev-Kazan where one of the bell-ringers, who had a few too many vodkas, took a shine to our small party and took us up the ladders to the bell tower where I had an impromptu bell-ringing lesson.

City of Kursk Flickr pictures here.
Rokossovsky Svoboda pictures here.