The latter half of 1943 had German forces in the east staggering under a series of hammer blows that saw the Soviet Red Army advance hundreds of kilometers westward on the central and southern sectors of the Eastern Front. After the massive battle in the Kursk salient, the Soviets launched their first great summer offensive late in July.
In a month and a half, Smolensk, Bryansk, and Kirov had been liberated in the central sector, with German forces retreating to the Sozh River and beyond. By September 30, Soviet troops had taken most of the northern shore of the Sea of Azov in the southern sector and had recaptured key cities that included Kharkov, Stalino, and Poltava while pushing the Germans back almost to the Dnieper River.
Luckily for the Germans, the Soviets outran their supply lines and had to call a halt to operations while men and material were brought forward. Both sides had suffered horrendous losses since July 1, and although the Russians could replace theirs with conscripts from newly liberated territory, it would take time to outfit them and give them the basics of command and combat.
While German forces battled the Soviets in a fighting retreat, thousands of forced laborers and German engineers were tasked with building a massive defensive line. On August 11, Hitler signed an order calling for the construction of the so-called “Eastern Wall.” Although it went against his propensity to fight for every foot of conquered land, Hitler had to face reality for once after the post-Kursk Soviet offensive.
The Wotan Line and the Panther Line