View Full Version : Prokhorovka Tank Battle - What really happened?

19 Jul 06,, 14:07
I actually read recently so many conflicting descriptions about the battle and all provided by quite respectable authors.

Nothing matches:
- the number of tanks from both sides....
- who actually won the battle.
- did German troops have Panthers there or not
- was it one battle in one field or a group of battles which happened in different places simultaneously
- which German troops participated there.

What is clear - something large happened there.

Do you have anything interesting to comment about this LARGEST tank battle?

19 Jul 06,, 16:30
There were no Panthers, of that much I'm sure. Most of them had broken down or had been knocked out by that time. Also, contrary to popular belief, there were no Panthers in SS service at Kursk, all of them being issued to the Grossdeutschland Panzergrenadier Division.

Units involved:

-2nd SS Panzer Corps (1. SS Panzergrenadierdivision Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and 2. SS Panzergrenadierdivision Das Reich) under overall control of Erich von Manstein, with LSSAH having about 97 tanks (Panzer II, Panzer III, Panzer IV, Sturmgeschütze and Marders) including 4 Tigers and Das Reich having a similar number with only 1 Tiger.
-5th Guards Tank Army under Pavel Rotmistrov, with a combined strength of about 800 tanks. About 500 were T34's, about 300 obsolete T70 and Churchill tanks, and about 40 SP guns of the SU-76 and SU-122 type.

Supposedly, T34's charged the heavily armored German Tigers and Panthers, losing many in the process but in the end blasted them at close range, including "dozens" of Tigers and "hundreds" of other tanks.

However, this charge's truthfulness has come under scrutiny in recent years. Only the 18th and 29th Tank Corps are known to have really charged at full speed ahead into the German fire, and the famous incident where Michael Wittmann was rammed by a burning T34 occured here. Otherwise, most of the other Soviet tank formations were decimated at long range.

German losses were not nearly as high as Soviet estimates (which are known for their inaccuracies), as their losses were greatest during the opening days of Citadel. Also, there were not dozens of Tigers operating in the area at all, with LSSAH having 4 and Das Reich having only 1. Like the Western Allies, the Soviets sometimes mistook Panzer IV's for Tigers. About 80 German tanks were put out of action, mostly the elderly Panzer III's, and most later being repaired in the rear. 2nd SS Panzer Corps as a whole only reported 3 complete losses.

Soviet losses have ranged from 200-800 or so tanks destroyed, but a likely number is about 300 complete losses and a similar number damaged.

Overall outcome:

Very costly tactical defeat for the Soviets, but in all a strategic victory. This was a symbol to Soviet soldiers that Hitler's finest SS divisions could be stopped in their tracks and that they were capable of repelling the Fascist invaders (the cost of the battle in Russian tanks and lives was tacitly left out). So it was a victory of strategic importance, with great effect on morale as well.

Hitler threw away the ability to turn Citadel into a draw when he decided to call off the operation and withdraw several precious divisions, including LSSAH, and send them to Sicily to bolster the waivering Italians, as usual. The southern pincer was actually making relatively good progress and could've forced a better outcome for the Germans. But it was too late, and from that point on the initiative would rest solely with the Soviets.

It's interesting to note that Rotmistrov never held a frontline command after Prokhorovka, as Konev was not pleased with the massive loss of materiel and men for little tactical gain.

20 Jul 06,, 10:10
So you read that German's lost less than 100 tanks there? with number of tanks participating from German side less than 200?

There are many questions today to the description of battle given by Rotmistrov. However there are questions about

About 80 German tanks were put out of action, mostly the elderly Panzer III's, and most later being repaired in the rear. 2nd SS Panzer Corps as a whole only reported 3 complete losses.

There are conflicting documents on evacuation of lightly damaged 17 german tanks from Prokhorovka requesting light repair. These were P-III types, which then were used for self propelled guns Su-76I. This conflicts with german documents on losses.

pictore of some Su-76I

20 Jul 06,, 16:44
German records, when they survived, have been found to be remarkably accurate, given the confusion that often reigned at the front in times of crisis.

Rotmistrov almost certainly glossed over certain details of the operation, as he was looking to save his ass with Konev after he lost a substantial part of Konev's strategic reserves. In this way he could at least soften the blow that was dealt from STAVKA, the Soviet High Command. In the end, he never held a frontline command in WWII again, although he rose to Deputy to the Supreme Soviet and a minister of defense after the war.

Often the more accurate descriptions come from the actual participants of the battle, German and Soviet. Even these are hard to find today because of fading memories/putting those memories out of one's mind on purpose, and the dwindling numbers of the veterans themselves.

25 Jul 06,, 03:50
I agree with an earlier summation, tactical German victory, strategic German defeat. The fact that it was fought at all was a defeat for the Germans. Citadel might have made sense earlier in the Spring, when the Russian 'spearhead' units could have been cut off from the flanks. But by the time it was launched, the Russians had a defense in depth and plenty of reserves to meet it. Even if the Germans had managed to 'breakthrough', they would not have been cutting off the mobile Russian spearheads that had formed the salient in the first place, and the Russians would have had plenty left to counterattack with and re-establish contact. Doubtful that the Germans had the strength to mop up very easily, and the Russians were no longer surrendering en masse when surrounded, the way they had in '41.