Skip to comments.Prokhorovka: Loss of the Wehrmacht's hopes (70 years since the largest tank battle).
Posted on 07/12/2013 9:57:55 PM PDT by cunning_fish
70 years go on July 12, 1943 on the Prokhorovka Field 56 km from Belgorod the largest tank battle of World War II took place. It was the last attempt to break through made by the Hitler troops during the Battle of Kursk. The counter attack by the Soviet tanks stopped the steel army of the Wehrmacht. 1200 tanks and other armored vehicles took part in that battle.
In his order to advance in the direction of Kursk Hitler stated: «Our victory should firm up the overall conviction in the world that any resistance to the German troops is in vain». However, already in the first days of the Battle of Kursk the German commanders' plan called The Citadel started to crumble. The Wehrmacht's tank armada, in which special hopes were placed on the newest «Tigers», «Panthers» and the «Ferdinand» self-propelled guns, hit a carefully thought-out defense. The Soviet troops fought to death. In such a situation Field Marshal Manstein decided to risk a desperate breakthrough in the area adjacent to the Prokhorovka railway station. Here is the story told by Mikhail Myagkov, the scientific director of the Russian Military History Society.
«It was the last attempt made by the Hitler commanders to change the course of the war in their favor. The main participant of that battle was the 2d tank corps led by the German general Hauser, which included very serious tank units of the SS. That included such divisions as the Reich, the Dead Head and Adolf Hitler. In total there were about 500 tanks, of which about 50 were heavy Tiger tanks.
(Excerpt) Read more at english.ruvr.ru ...
«The Prokhorovka Battle took more than one day. The day after as well as half of July 14 the tank battle shattered the earth. The attack of the German group in the direction of Kursk was stopped. They could not move past that field. In that battle the Soviet troops lost a great number of the tanks 500 out of 800. It was about 60%. But the Germans lost 300 tanks out of 400, or 75%. For them it was a catastrophe».
Over the last few years articles have appeared in which historians using various methods of calculation present their own figures regarding the losses suffered in the Prokhorovka Battle. Sometimes those calculations appear absurd, because it is not clear, why after that battle the German troops completely lost the initiative and the Red Army's advancement began, points out Oleg Rzheshevsky, the scientific director of the Center for the History of Wars and Geopolitics.
«There has been a trend that some people started to completely deny the fact of that battle or called it a minor episode. But it is no longer that way, and the Prokhorovka Battle is viewed as one of the decisive events in the history of the Battle of Kursk. There is no doubt here, no more doubt than about the evaluation of the Battle of Kursk on the whole as being the completion of the major turning-point of World War II».
In 1943 a few months after the end of the Battle of Kursk the Teheran Conference took place, during which the leaders of the USSR, the USA and Great Britain met for the first time. The decision to open the Second Front in Europe was made in May 1944.
After the Prokhorovka Battle it was decided to re-equip the T-34 tank with an 85-mm gun, which would defeat the front armor of the heavy Tiger tank. Afterwards, the Western experts acknowledged the T-34 tank as the best medium weight tank of the XX century taking into account the combination of its armor, mobility and the firepower.
‘The Tigers Are Burning’ by Martin Caidin, Amazon
Described pretty well by the late Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler in the above novel.
Prokhorovka was a meeting engagement between two armored forces. SS Divisions Leibstandarte and Das Reich are attacking in the direction of the town, while Rotmistrovs 5th Guards Tank Army, and two additional tank corps, are planning a counterattack against the German spearheads. The SS Divisions beat Rotmistrov to the punch, and attack first. They overrun Rotmistrovs planned tank assembly areas, so Rotmistrovs attack has to go in without being as prepared as he wishes.
Prokhorovka is also the subject of a number of myths:
1. The Germans assembled most or all of their panzers on the southern face of the salient for this big showdown battle. Not so. Only the panzers of the two SS Divisions are involved. Totenkopf is busy fighting in their bridgehead over the Psel, and XXXXVIII Pz Corps has troubles of their own on the left flank of II SS Pz Corps. Breiths III Pz Corps never makes it to the battlefield. The total panzer strength of the two divisions is 135 operating tanks plus assault guns and various self-propelled anti-tank guns.
2. As part of the German panzer armada, they scraped together about 100 Tigers as I have seen quoted in several sources. Also not true. Leibstandarte and Das Reich by this point in the battle have only 5 operating Tigers between them. From the German standpoint, this is mostly a battle fought with the PzIV(H) and StuG III.
3. The German tank forces included Panthers. Not so. No Panthers took part in the fight. All of the Panthers on the southern face of the salient were with 10 Panzer Brigade attached to Grossdeutschland Panzergrenadier Division with XXXXVIII Pz Corps.
4. The Soviet tanks charged into the Germans and engaged in a close quarter melee the deprived the Germans of the benefit of their long-range guns and the armor of their Tigers. Well, that was Rotmistrovs plan, anyway. In reality, for the most part, his tanks never got there. When Rotmistrov attacked, the Germans went on the defensive and fought this battle much in the same way the Soviets had been defending against them; with dug in infantry and anti-tank guns. A number of Rotmistrovs tanks were picked off as they approached, and then were taken out in close combat with the German infantry. There was plenty of tank-on-tank fighting at Prokhorovka, but that wasnt the only part of this battle.
5. The Soviets inflicted catastrophic losses on the German panzer units; it was the death ride of the elite panzer formations, who never recovered. Also not true. Yes, the Germans did lose tanks at Prokhorovka, but not like the Soviets did. Rotmistrovs memoirs talks about a battlefield covered with burned out smoking hulks. As David Glantz points out in “The Battle of Kursk,” what Rotmistrov didnt mention was the vast majority of those hulks had been his tanks, not Haussers panzers. The after-action reports for the two SS Panzer Divsions for the following day, July 13, shows that the panzer strength of these divisions was almost the same as it had been on the day before.
In reality, Rotmistrovs 5th Guards Tank Army had been gutted. This was the tank equivalent of the Marianas Turkey Shoot where American naval aviation shot down hundreds of Japanese carrier planes with little loss of their own. As George Nipe, in Decision in the Ukraine points out, the Soviets have exhausted their supply of tank forces, but Manstein still has an uncommitted panzer reserve, XXIV Pz. Corps with three fresh panzer divisions. The situation is ripe for Army Group South to finally break through to open country.
So what then was the real result of Prokhorovka? If the Germans won, why did they not march onward?
Several reasons. First, after seven days of continuous combat, culminating with Prokhorovka, the German soldiers were simply physically exhausted. They didnt have another battle in them. They were the boxer who landed punch after punch on the guy who just would not go down, and they had punched themselves out. Second, the operational situation on the rest of the Eastern Front is going badly. Models attack in the north has failed, the Soviets have opened an attack on his rear flank northeast of Orel, and other Soviet forces are attacking along the 6th Army lines along the Mius River. The uncommitted panzers of XXIV Panzer Corps are needed elsewhere. Also, strategically, there is the invasion of Sicily.
Hitler and his eastern commanders will meet tomorrow to discuss all of this. At this conference, von Manstein will argue strenuously to continue the offensive. But with the invasion of Sicily, and fires breaking out elsewhere along the Eastern Front, Hitler has to call off the battle. The Battle of Kursk is over.
I agree, the T-34 was the best tank until the M-1 Abrams kissed the Iraqi battlefield. Things may be completely different now.
“The decision to open the Second Front in Europe was made in May 1944.”
The United States and Britain were fighting in Italy in 1943. Because Albert Kesselring was kicking their asses (and it would have taken years to get through northern Italy) we pretend Normandy was the first large-scale invasion of the continent during the war.
The German infantry were well trained in the use of
various anti-tank weaponry.
See the video Manner Gegen Panzer or Men against
tanks, every thing from satchel charges, cluster
grenates, shaped charges, magnetic explosives,
gasolene and jelly inflamitory agents,
and the early Panzerfaust and Panzershreck.
The scene of infantry vs tank from “Stalingrad”
ia an eye opener.
Several years ago I did a hypothetical analysis of what would have happened if the US had not entered WW II and if the Nazis had been able to use its air power at Kursk. By then the Germans were dedicating 1/3 of their entire military effort at stopping the western bombers. If the Germans had 30% more air power at Kursk, they likely would have won. They has the advantage on day one until they lost air superiority.
Mark Clark didn’t help by disobeying orders and taking Rome rather than cutting off escaping German troops from Monte Cassino, but the Allies eventually reached the Po River valeey shortly before the end of the war. And troops were also diverted to help with the Normandy invasions. However, the overall effect was further straining German forces that couldn’t afford to be strained. As far as “kicking their asses” total casualties for the Allies in Italy was around 300,000 while the Germans suffered about 400,000. Kesselring was an excellent commander, and the Germans made the Allies pay for their “success,” but the Germans could have better used those troops in other places.
That was also the headline in huge letters in the commie newspapers:
‘The Tigers Are Burning!’
Yep. Sloped armor. Same problem as the Sherman though, not enough firepower but like the Sherman there lots and lots of them.
The Porsche ‘Elephant’ was a disaster. No machineguns and vulnerable to infantry.
The Allies didn’t really have ‘tank fighting’ tanks until later in the war, thanks in part to Patton who saw tanks as auxiliary to infantry. We finally got a a good tank with sloped armor with the high-velocity, auto-level gun late in the war. So we saw debacles like the British at Bocers-Village (sp?).
The krauts understood armor, firepower and mobility, but they never had enough of them, and what they had was usually over-engineered and subject to breakdown, particularly their ‘answer’ to the T-34: the Panther.
After ‘Zitadel’ they were done.
not the best book on the battle. SCORCHED EARTH by carrell starts off with kursk.
biggest tank battle of ww2 yes. biggest tank battle in history? no. '73 golan heights and sinai had more armored fighting vehicles. and if one cares to nitpick about IFVs not being tanks, than neither are SU-76s, SU-85s and STG-IIIs.
And yet some of them were sent to blunt the invasion of Italy??
BTW, one of those "physically exhausted Germans" is 89 & lives in Fishers, IN.
At the end of the war the northeast was part of the small piece of real estate held by the Germans; it was a great defense with natural barriers to help. The Allies switched to France because the losses were unsustainable and progress was too slow.
At least they could rest en route. Totenkopf and Das Reich, along with 3rd Panzer, went straight to the Mius to support 6th Army. They got no rest.
I live in Fishers and would be interested in meeting the German vet.
And where could the Allies go even if they had cleared all of Italy? Truck equipment over the Alps?
No, just stop fighting. Britain had to kill Greek communists, and Germany had to kill their communists.
“And where could the Allies go even if they had cleared all of Italy? Truck equipment over the Alps?”
If we could do it in the Himalayas we could do it with the Alps.
It would be a lot easier to go around the Alps. Southern France would have been a better place than Italy. Eventually we did, but it was two months after the Normany invasion.