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The Battle of Kursk

David M. Glantz

Jonathan M. House

Maps by Darin Grauberger






As Field Marshal von Manstein had predieted, the Kursk offensive had been delayed so long that it was now jeopardized by Allied action in the West. Half a continent away, on 10 July 1943, American and British forces landed on the southern coast of Sicily. Hitler had always been sensitive about the defense of the Mediterranean, and this new threat immediately forced him to consider redistributing his strategic reserves, in particular his vital II SS Panzer Corps. At first, Army Group South's progress on 10 July prompted Hitler to order, "Operation Citadel will be continued." Still, given Model's failure to penetrate the northern flank of the Kursk Bulge, the Sicilian invasion ultimately helped doom Operation Citadel.' Indeed, the battles of Kursk and Sicily posed a severe dilemma because Germany's strategic reserves were sufficient to meet only one of the two challenges.' While Hitler decided how to deal with the new threat in the West, however, the Battle of Kursk reached a erescendo. The struggle was most conspieuous in the vieinity of Prokhorovka.

The armored clashes around Prokhorovka have attained almost legendary status as the greatest armored combat of World War II, and perhaps the greatest of all time. While the nature and consequences of the Prokhorovka tank battles were no doubt momentous, hindsight has permitted myth to inform legend. After the titanie battle ended, the Soviet vietors had every reason to inflate and elevate the grandeur of their feat, and they did so with abandon. On the other hand, shock and embarrassment conditioned the Germans, in particular, and historians, in general, to accept the inflated scope and consequences of the Prokhorovka battles. Hence, history has recorded that between 1,200 and 1,500 tanks elashed on the fields of Proldiorovka.3

The true number, however, while still impressive, was considerably lower.Given the attrition of the penetration battle, by 10 July the 11 SS Panzer Corps' strength had fallen to fewer than 300 tanks and assault guns, and Army Detachment Kempfs III Panzer Corps numbered fewer than 200.4 On the Soviet side, General P. A. Rotmistrov's 5th Guards Tank Army eventually controlled five corps totahng 830 tanks and self-propelled guns. lf the definition of this battle is broadened to inelude the nearby Panzer Corps and 1st Tank Army, the total concentration of armor along the southern flank of the Kursk Bulge was probably fewer than 2,000 combat vehieles. Of these, around


1,250 (830 Soviet and 420 German) fought along the long eastern flank of the Kursk Bulge and about 572 met on the field of Prokhorovka itself.5

Moreover, Prokhorovka was not the single titanic struggie of legend. In reahty, it was a confused and confusing series of meeting engagements and hasty attacks, with each side committing its forces piecemeaL The terrain around Prokhorovka, while relatively open to mechanized operations, was divided into compartments by the Psel and Lipovyi Donets Rivers and adjacent ridge lines. The 11 SS Panzer Corps'axis of advance led northeastward along both banks of the Psel River, with one division (Totenkopf with 103 tanks and assault guns) advaneing north of the river and two divisions (Leibstandarte and Das Reich, with 77 and 95 tanks and assault guns, respectively) advancing south of the river directly against Prokhorovka. Rotmistrov's tank army defended both approaches, and his corps also stretched far to the south to cover the advance of the 111 Panzer Corps from the Belgorod region. As a result, the fighting in the narrow plain adjacent to the rail line and main road immediatelywest and south west of Prokhorovka involved elements of two German panzer grenadier divi sions and three equivalent Soviet tank and mechanized corps.6

Even more important to the overall outcome of the Battle of Kursk was the \,icious struggle that took place between 10 and 14 July along the 'QOOMII Panzer Corps' left flank. Overshadowed by the momentous events along the Prokhorovka axis and now almost wholly forgotten, the battle conducted along the flanks by Katukov's reinforced 1st Tank Army distracted the 'CQ(XVIII Panzer Corps and prevented it from supporting the northeastward lunge of the 11 SS Panzer Corps, with fatal consequences for the Germans.


(10-11 july)

On the night of 9-10 July, General Katukov's hard-pressed Ist Tank Army tried to reorganize its defenses from the Psel River to the Oboian' road and southward along the Pena River in accordance with Vatutin's instructions. General Getman's 6th Tank Corps, with Colonel Chernov's weakened 90th Guards Rifle Division and the remnants of the 3d Mechanized Corps' 1st and lOth Mechanized Brigades, defended along the Pena River on the 1st Tank Army's right flank, with Getman's forces facing east and south. Although German forces had already penetrated menaeingly westward into Katukovs defensive front just north of Verkhopen'e, Katukov took comfort from the fact that his defenses were now backed up by the fresh 184th and 204th Rifle Divisions, which were dug in to his rear. In addition, his corps, which had been reduced to a combined strength of roughly 100 tanks, was now backed

Prokhorovka 153

up by the reinforeing armor of the lOth Tank Corps, also positioned to his rear (with about 120 tanks and self-propelled guns) .7

In Katukov's center, General Krivoshein's shattered 3d Mechanized Corps now defended along the Oboian' road, backed up by elements of Colonel D. F. Dremin's fresh 309th Rifle Division, the newly redeployed armor of General Kravehenko's 5th Guards Tank Corps, survivors of the 67th Guards Rifle Division, and heavy antitank support provided by Vatutin. On the 1st Tank Armys left flank, General Chernienko's 31st Tank Corps clung grimly to defenses eastward to the banks of the Psel River, also backed up by riflemen of the 309th Division and remnants of the 51st Guards Rifle Division. Soviet armor in the sector from the Oboian' road to the banks of the Psel River numbered no more than 300 tanks and self-propelled guns.s By the evening of 9 July, Vatutin transferred control of the 5th Guards Tank Corps, lOth Tank Corps, and 204th Rifle Division from the Voronezh Front reserve to the 1st Tank Army. The stage was set for the bitter fighting that would follow.

General von Knobelsdorff of the XXXKVIII Panzer Corps had deteeted the weak junction between the Soviet 6th Tank and 3d Mechanized Corps, and during the night lie concentrated his forces to exploit this weakness. His aim was to destroy the menaeing Soviet force along his flank while continuing his northward drive along the Oboian' road. He assigned the flank task to the Grossdeutschland and 3d Panzer Divisions and the Oboian' thrust to the 1 Ith Panzer. What von Knobelsdorff did not know, however, was that his forces could not do both. The combined annor strength of his corps had eroded to 173 tanks and assault guns (including 30 Panthers) and the Grossdeutschland Division and its attached lOth Panzer Brigade had fallen to 87 "runners."9

Beginning at 0330 hours on 10 July, Grossdeutschland Division fought a bitter battle through the groves and ravines northwest of Verkhopen'e (see Map 17). The attack smashed the defenses of the Soviet 200th Tank Brigade and forced General Getman frantically to shift his forces to his threatened left flank. in rapid succession lie moved elements of his 112th Tank and 6th Motorized Rifle Brigades and 60th Heavy Tank Regiment into the threatened sector, and they were immediately sucked into the vortex of a confused meeting engagement with Grossdeutschland's advaneing armor. Every advantage acerued to the Germans for, unlike their foes, they knew where they were going.

Grossdeutschland's reconnaissance battalion, with supporting assault gun and half-track battalions, lunged on through the gloom of dawn and seized Hill 247 along the Kruglik-Berezovka road. This severed Getman's communications with the rear and the supporting lOth Tank Corps and threatened the viability of his entire force. Simultaneously, the armor spearhead of

Prokhorovka 155

Grossdeutschland, Panzer Group Strachwitz, supported by the division's Fusilier Regiment, captured Hill 243 after a vicious three-hour battle during which the Germans took heavy losses, including Colonel Graf von Strachwitz, who was wounded, from intense Soviet flanking fire.

Despite his frantie efforts to halt the German flank attack, Getman's tank corps was deeimated in the heavy and confused fighting. When they went into combat along the corps' flank, the 200th Tank Brigade and the 6th Motorized and 112th Tank Brigades went into battle in piecemeal fashion and were cut into even smaller units and almost destroyed before darkness permitted their remnants to withdraw. By the evening of 10 July, the 3d Panzer Division joined the fray, sending its seventy-tank armored nueleus through Verkhopen'e and southward toward Berezovka into the midst of the 6th Tank Corps' defenses. As a result, the 6th Tank Corps had become virtually combat ineffeetive, with no more than thirty-five tanks and ten antitank guns surviving.10

A Soviet classified account graphically portrayed the 6th Tank Corps'fate on 10 July:

Isolated and broken up tank groups of the 200th and 112th Tank Brigades were eneircled in the region north of Berezovka, where, during the course of the day, they fought with enemy tanks and infantry. Only at night were they able to link up with the main force of the 6th Tank Corps. As a result of the combat on 10 July, the 6th Tank Corps suffered heavy losses and counted in its ranks only thirty-five tanks and ten antitank guns. Having withdrawir to the line Novoselovka 2-Noven'koe, the corps halved its defensive front (from twenty to ten kilometers) and again restored its smashed defenses."

General Getman recounted in detail the heroie deeds of his defeated corps and summed up the action as follows:

Many of our soldiers and commanders fell heroically in the five days of ferocious battle. Hundreds of corps' soldiers were wounded and evacuated to the rear. We suffered especially heavy losses in equipment. By the end of 10 July, not more than fifty tanks, more than one half light, remained operational and three batteries of antitank guns, two in the 6th Motorized Rifle Brigade and one in the 22d Tank Brigade. Reinforeing units-the 60th Tank, and the 270th and 79th Guards Mortar Regiments, and two batteries of self-propelled guns, as well as the subunits of the 1st and lOth Mechanized Brigades, which were operating with us, were also considerably weakened.

Nevertheless, the corps continued to resist the enemy. Having littered the field of battle with hundreds of his burned and destroyed tanks and

Map 17. Voronezh Front, 10 July 1943


guns and thousands of bodies, the enemy succeeded in pushing our lines back several kilometers. His attempt to seize fülly the village of Noven'koe and advance further in a northem and western direction failed. Meeting organized fire resistance, lie ceased his attacks at nightfall. But, certainly, only so that lie could renew the attacks in the morning with new force. Understanding this, we prepared for the new battle."

General Katukov was more laconie about the day's events, writing in his memoirs:

Finally, the Hitlerites succeeded in penetrating to the northwest and reaching the population points of Noven'koe and Novoselovka 2. Clearly, they were attempting to eneirele the 6th Tank Corps and 90th Guards Division, which were defending southwest of Verkhopen'e. On Shalin's map [the army chief of staffl it was clear how the blue erayon line enveloped the positions of our forces from the northeast. 1 ordered the forces to withdraw to the west and, together with the lOth Tank Corps and the 184th Rifle Division, to ereate a dense defense. As a result of these measures, the enemy attack misfired on the army?s right flank.13

Unlike his corps commander, however, Katukov failed to mention his armys grievous losses.

German accounts graphically underscore the severity of the struggle. A history of the Grossdeutschland Division noted:

The dark of the night slowly passed over to the gray of the rising lOth of July. At about 03.30, the tanks of Panzer Group Strachwitz at Point 1.8 southwest of Novoselovka spotted the enemy tanks they had heard during the night in the water-filled valley before them. Soon afterward the first armour-piereing shells began falling: a battle between steel giants began this day of fighting on the southern front of the Kursk bulge. By 04.00 the first enemy tanks could be seen burning on the battlefield; but painful gaps had also been smashed in our own ranks. One of 11 Battahon's command tanks took a direct hit in the turret which killed Unteroffizier Konig. The rest of the erew, some of them wounded, were able to eseape from the tank. Oberst Graf von Strachwitz was also injured, by the recoil of the breech, while destroying an enemy tank and had to hand command of the Panzer Regiment GD to Hauptmann von Wietersheim.14

Major Franz, the commander of Grossdeutschland's assault gun battalion, related how, during the ferocious combat, in desperation the Soviets again employed their Katiusha multiple rocket launehers in direct fire:

Prokhorovka 157

Widely separated, the assault guns of the two batteries drove at full speed toward the village [Kruglik]. At first there was no defense at all. At 300 meters from the village-I already had the impression that the enemy had left the field-1 suddenly saw fiery arrows coming toward us from the outskirts of Kruglik. Before 1 could figure out what they were there were explosions directly in front of the mass of advaneing assault guns. The vehiele next to nie, 1 believe it was Wachtmeister Brauner of 1st Battery, began to stream smoke. Thank God it turned out to be orte of the smoke eandles that every assault gun carried. The vehiele had taken a direct hit in the bow plates but suffered no damage. The explosion and the effect of the projectile revealed that we were under direct fire from a Stalin Organ, the first time we experienced something like this in the campaign. Darkness slowly settled over the battlefield while the assault guns destroyed the Stalin Organ and the nests of resistance which repeatedly flared up at the outskirts of the village. The planned surprise attack misfired, nevertheless we-the armoured reconnaissance battalion and the assault gun battalion together-had onee again achieved more than was expected of us.1,1

The XXXXVIII Panzer Corps Chief of Staff von Mellenthin cryptieally summarized the action, later writing.

After a week of hard and almost uninterrupted fighting Grossdeutschland was showing signs of exhaustion and its ranks had been thinned out considerably. On 10 July this division was ordered to wheel to the southwest and elean up the enemy on the left flank. The panzer regiment, the reconnaissance detachment and the grenadier regiment were to advance towards Height 243.0 and to the north thereof; they were then to seize 247.0 to the south of Kruglik and move southward from there to the small forest north of Beresowka [Berezovkal where the Russians were holding up the 3d Panzer Division, strong formations of the Luftwaffe were to support this attack....

Supported by the splendid efforts of the Luftwaffe, Grossdeutschland made a highly successful advance; heights 243.0 and 247.0 were taken, and Russian infantry and armor fled before the panzers and sought refuge in the wood north of Beresowka. Trapped between Grossdeutschland and the 3d Panzer, it seemed as if the enemy on the left flank had at last been hquidated, and the advance to the north could now be resumed. On 11 July the 48th Panzer Corps issued orders for the units of Grossdeutschland to be reheved by the 3d Panzer Division during the night; Grossdeutschland was to assemble astride the road south of Height 260.8 [along the Oboian' road], and to stand by for an advance to the north. 16


Significantly, Mellenthin added, "In view of the breakdown of Model's attack, a successful advance in this quarter offered the only hope of vietory."17 Within twenty-four hours, von Mellenthin's hopes would be dashed, for, as Katukov had predieted, the battle on the flanks had not yet ended.

On 11 July the 3d Panzer Division and arriving infantry from the 33,2d Infantry Division eleared Soviet forces from the Berezovka region, forced the 71st Guards Rifle Division westward from Rakovo and Chapaev along the Pena River, and closed up to the Soviet 184th Rifle Division's defenses extending southward from Noven'koe to Melovoe on the Pena. The tattered remnants of the 6th Tank Corps filtered through the 184th's lines. Meanwhile Katukov, with Vatutin's approval, shifted his lOth Tank Corps into new assembly areas around Noven'koe to bolster the sagging defenses on the 1st Tank Army's right flank and to prepare for new counterattacks against the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps. The 219th Rifle Division, newly arrived from thefront reserve, joined the lOth Tank Corps to round out Katukov's new shock force. To facilitate command and control, Vatutin subordinated all rifle forces from the Psel River to the Pena River (the 184th, 219th, 204th, and 309th Rifle Divisions) to General Chistiakov's 6th Guards Army and placed many of these forces under the operational control of Katukov's Ist Tank Army.

Meanwhile, Grossdeutschland tested Soviet defense lines around Kalinovka and regrouped its armor in preparation for the renewed northern thrust. The remnants of the 6th Tank Corps and the 90th Guards Rifle Division, the latter now down to less than 40 pereent of its original strength, mithdrew westward through defense lines manned by the 184th Rifle Division, while the Soviet 204th Rifle Division and supporting armor fended off German probes toward Kalinovka and Kruglik.

Late on 11 July, von Knobelsdorff began implementing his plan for a northern thrust in conjunetion with the II SS Panzer Corps' drive on Prokhorovka. Grossdeutschland's history outhned von Knobelsdorffs intent:

The divisional orders issued during the night of 11/12 July 1943 were in keeping with this notion. Elements of the Panzer-Grenadier Division GD were relieved by units of 3d Panzer Division in their former positions and were transferred to the front of the attack lane in the area of Point 260.8 [along the Oboian' road] and to the north. The plan was for a continuation of the attack, primarily by the tanks and panzer-fusiliers, on 12 July in the direction of the Psel River, the last obstacle in front of Oboyan. It was learned from the division's neighbor on the right, 11 SS Panzer Corps, that its spearheads had already erossed the river. 111

Thus, von Mellenthin's last hope was about to materialize.

Prokhorovka 159

Along the Oboian'road, on 10 and 11 July, the Ilth Panzer Division, supported on its left by the Grossdeutschland Division's Fusilier Regiment, had inehed forward against stiffened Soviet resistance. Count Schimmelmann's panzer group of the 1 Ith Panzer Division seized Hill 260.8, and the Fusiliers took Hill 244.8 on the road itself While bending, however, Soviet defenses failed to break, and by the end on 11 July, the 1 Ith Panzer Division concentrated its efforts on consolidating its positions from the Oboian' road to Kochetovka and conducted reconnaissance forays forward to test Soviet defenses. All the while, the division extended its right flank and reheved elements of the Leibstandarte Division, which was regrouping its forces eastward for the decisive drive on Prokhorovka. By nightfall on 11 July, the 1 lth Panzer waited expeetantly for Grossdeutschland's panzer group to concentrate on its left flank along the Oboian' road and for the successful lunge at Oboian', which it believed would follow.

A German account later poignantly recorded the opportunity at hand:

The highest point on the approaches to Oboyan had thereby been reached and, at the same time, the deepest penetration made into the Russian front. From the high ground one could see far into the valley of the Psel River, the last natural barrier this side of Kursk. With field-glasses the towers of Oboyan could be made out in the fine haze. Oboyan was the objective.

It seemed mithin arm's reach. Barely twelve miles away. No distance at all under normal circumstances for a fast formation. Would XLVIII Panzer Corps make this last leap?

According to Hoth's carefully worked out timetable the following should now have happened: XLVIII Panzer Corps to strike towards Oboyan and seize the erossings over the Pssel. Its bulk to wheel eastward and-before thrusting on Kursk-to defeat, jointly with Hausser's SS Panzer Corps, the enemy strategic armoured forces approaching across the strip of land of Prokhorovka. That was Hoth's plan."

However, General Vatutin too was actively formulating new plans to thwart Hoth's and von Knobelsdorffs designs within the context of an even greater counterstroke ultimately designed to "eneirele and destroy the main German grouping penetrating to Oboian' and Prokhorovka."20 Specifieally:

The main concept of this operation consisted of delivering concentrie blows against the enemy grouping with the forces of the 5th Guards and lOth Tank Corps, together with, the 6th Guards Army's 22d Guards Rifle Corps, in the general direction of lakovlevo and with the 5th Guards Tank Army and the 5th Guards Army's 33d Guards Rifle Corps in the general


direction of Gresnoe, IakovIevo, and Bykovka. The left flank 23d Guards Rifle Corps of 6th Guards Army and the right flank 32d Guards Rifle Corps of 5th Guards Army were to deliver a secondary strike in the general direction of Pokrovka. With part of its forces, 7th Guards Army was to deliver a secondary blow on Razumnoe.21

Charaeteristieally, these offensive plans, scheduled to be implemented on the morning of 12 July, refleeted Vatutin's unremittingly offensive mindset. Despite the damage done in previous days to his onee-mighty 6th Tank Corps and the remainder of his tank army, on 11 July Vatutin issued new orders to Katukov that mirrored his unrequited audacity:

Having in your composition the 6th, lOth, and 31st Tank Corps, the 3d Mechanized Corps, the 5th Guards Stalingrad Tank Corps, the 204th and 309th Rifle Divisions, and reinforeing artillery units, using part of your forces prevent the enemy from penetrating northward of the Kruglik01'khovatka line, and with your main forces, attack from the line Aleksandrovka 1-Noven'koe in a general southeastern direction in cooperation with the 6th Guards Army with the mission of seizing Iakovlevo and Pokrovka and, jointly with the 6th Guards and 5th Guards Tank Armies, eneirele the penetrating [enemy] mobile group and subsequently exploit success to the south and southwest.22

This order prompted a massive regrouping of Voronezh Front forces to contain the German advance and to ereate the shock groups designated to launch Vatutin's two major counterstrokes. In the Ist Tank and 6th Guards Armies' sector, Kravchenko's 5th Guards Tank Corps relocated to assembly areas forward ofAleksandrovka 1 in the rear of the 184th Rifle Division. General Burkovs lOth Tank Corps shifted to its right into assembly areas near Noven'koe, where it formed up to attack with the 219th Rifle Division's infantry. The remnants of Getman's 6th Tank Corps remained in combat in support of the 184th Rifle Division and then reforrned to the rear to support the 5th Guards'and lOth Tank Corps'attack. The shock group mustered just over 200 tanks. Vatutin's remaining forces, including about 150 tanks, were defending from the Psel River to west of the Oboian' road. These elements of the 204th and 309th Rifle Divisions and the 3d Mechanized and 31st Tank Corps) were to defend in place and then join the counterstroke when and if German forces attempted to withdraw southward. At the same time, the two corps of General Zhadov's 5th Guards Army moved forward from positions along the Psel River, which they had occupied the day before, and prepared to support Vatutin's counterstrokes.23

Thus, the most important and, subsequently, most apparent aim of Vatutin's counteroffensive was to halt the German advance on Prokhorovka and, hence,

Prokhorovka 161

German seizure of Oboian' and Kursk. However, the counterstroke Vatutin planned and carried out against the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps' left flank, although subsequently masked by the "noise" and furor of the Prokhorovka battle, was equally important, for it denied the Germans the opportunity of adding Grossdeutschland Division to their main attack on Oboian'and Kursk. This, in no small measure, conditioned the Gen-nan setback at Prokhorovka and the overall failure of Operation Citadel.

No less critical to the success of the German offensive and the fate of Vatutin's counterattack plans was the situation east of the Northern Donets River, where General Breith's III Panzer Corps struggled to fulfill its offensive promise.



The first six days of the German offensive had been expensive and frustrating for General Werner Kempf and his Army Detachment. Try as it might, Kempf's force seemed unable to penetrate deeply and rapidly through the dense fortifieations of the Soviet 7th Guards Army. Its failure to do so deprived the 11 SS Panzer Corps of its flank support, disrupted its full concentration along the Prokhorovka axis, and threatened the viability of Hoth's offensive plans.

Kempfs problem was similar to, but more severe than, von Knobelsdorffs. While the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps'attention was constantly distracted by the endless battles along its left flank, Kempf's force had to contend with nearconstant threats to both its flanks. On its left flank, Soviet forces held the sAent anchored on the Northern Donets and Lipovyi Donets Rivers north and east of Belgorod, and the 19th Panzer Division had to divert significant forces to support the 168th Infantry Division, which was inehing its way northward from the eity along the banks of both rivers. Simultaneously, Kempf had to defend his inereasingly long right flank southward to Maslovo Pristan' against ever more aetive Soviet forces. These twin flank threats denied Kempf the opportunity to concentrate Breith's critical armor for a decisive thrust to the north and Prokhorovka. Moreover, Kempfs slow northward progress required the II SS Panzer Corps to use its 167th Infantry and Das Reich SS Panzer Grenadier Divisions to proteet its long and unproteeted light flank along the Lipovyi Donets River, where Soviet armored forces were still most aetive.

Vatutin eapitalized on this situation. He ordered Shumilov's 7th Guards Army to maintain pressure against Kempf s flank east of the Northern Donets and to prepare even stronger counterattacks for 12 July. General Kriuchenkin's 69th Army, now reinforced with the entire 35th Guards Rifle Corps,


took over responsibility for defense between Prokhorovka and Miasoedovo, east of Belgorod. Kriuchenkin employed successive defense lines to block the 111 Panzer Corps' forward progress, while lie orchestrated the tricky staged withdrawal of his forces from the Northern Donets salient north of Belgorod.

Accordingly, the 69th Army's 92d Guards, 94th Guards, and 305th Rifle Divisions, with modest armor and antitank support, contained the III Panzer Corps' spearhead 6th Panzer Division around Melikhovo. By the end of 10 July, Soviet defenders had used a mixture of antitank ditehes, antitank guns, mines, and artillery to reduce the 6th Panzer's armored strength to only 47 funetioning tanks, out of an original total of over 100.24 Try as it might, the 6th Panzer could not break out northward until it received support from either the 7th or 19th Panzer Divisions or both, yet these divisions were tied down in fighting along Kempfs flanks.

To the south the 7th Panzer Division covered Kempfs long western flank to Miasoedovo and lent support to Corps Rauss's infantry divisions, which were under renewed pressure. This pressure, already heavy in the Rzhavets region, where the 72d Guards and 213th Rifle Divisions were launching nearly constant attacks, also materialized near Batratskaia Dacha, where Shumilov's 15th Guards Rifle Division went into action. Rauss's 320th and 106th Infantry Divisions had already suffered losses totaling over 40 pereent of their original strength, and the newly arrived 198th Infantry had its hands full dealing with the threat posed by the Soviet 15th Guards' attacks. In combination, these actions kept the 7th Panzer tied down for days, helplessly out of supporting range of the 6th Panzer.

While the 6th and 7th Panzer Divisions were stalled at and south of Melikhovo, the 19th Panzer Division and the 168th Infantry eleared Soviet troops from the eastern bank of the Northern Donets River. They were assisted in this effort by Kriuchenkin's 10 July order to his 375th and 81st Guards Rifle Divisions. Kriuchenkin had instructed these two divisions to disengage, withdraw from the region south of the Lipovyi and Northern Donets Rivers, and turn over their defensive sector south of Gostishehevo to the 89th Guards Rifle Division. This shortening of lines permitted Kriuchenkin to ereate reserves to contend with a German advance northward from Mefikhovo, which Kriuchenkin knew was inevitable.

Late on 10 July, at von Manstein's urging, Kempf finally orchestrated a rather desperate effort to break the stalemate east of the Northern Donets River. Slipping elements of the 7th Panzer Division northward to occupy 6th Panzer positions around Mefikhovo, lie concentrated the latter for a northward dn*ve in coneert with an advance along the eastern banks of the Northern Donets by 19th Panzer Division. At dawn on 11 July, the 6th Panzer struck, with the Tigers of the 503d Panzer Detachment in the vanguard. While the 19th Panzer lunged northward along the left bank of the Northern Donets through

Prokhorovka 163

Khokhlovo and Kiselevo to Sabynino, the 6th Panzer advanced twelve kdometers northward and seized Kazach'e. This headlong advance by massed Tiger tanks tore through the Soviet 305th Rifle Division's defenses and wedged into the prepared defense line of the 107th Rifle Division, ten kflometers to the rear.

In addition to unhinging Kriuchenkin's defenses, Kempfs audacious thrust rendered untenable the 89th Guards Rifle Division's defenses south of Gostishchevo. In desperation equal to that which propelled the Germans forward, Kriuchenkin threw his already battle-searred 81st Guards Rifle Division into combat to block the German northward advance and ordered the 89th Guards to withdraw to new defenses just south of Gostishehevo. Kriuchenkin knew his situation was precarious. While lie had held Kempfs force at bay for several days, and Kempfs armored spearheads were still twenty-five to thirty kilometers from Prokhorovka, lie doubted that his remaining reserves (the threadbare 375th Rifle Division) could halt further German advances. Soviet records describe Kriuchenkin's subsequent decision:

To hquidate the existing penetration, the 69th Army commander made the decision to regroup his forces on the night of 12 July and to withdraw some formations to new defensive positions. After regrouping in accordance with this plan, by dawn on 12 July, the army formations occupied the following positions: the 93d Guards Rifle Division continued to defend its positions along the Rozhdestvenka-Druzhnyi line [southwest of Gostishchevol; the 89th Guards Rifle Division, having left no more than two battalions with antitank guns on the front from Kalinin to Petropavlovka, occupied defenses along the front Kiselevo-Krivtsevo; the 81st Guards Rifle Division occupied defenses along the western bank of the Northern Donets from Krivtsevo to Rudinka; the 92d Guards Rifle Division with the 96th Tank Brigade occupied a prepared defense line along the front Vypolzovka-NovoAlekseevskü Vyselok; the 107th and 305th Rifle Divisions occupied defenses along the line Razumnoe ravine-Gremiach'e; the 94th Guards Division with the 31st Antitank Brigade occupied defenses along the fine Shhakhovtsevo Mazildno-Sheina-Ushakovo, with one rifle regiment and a regiment of the 31st Antitank Brigade in second echelon along the line Ploskoe-Novoselovka, along the eastern bank of the Koren' River. To the left, 7th Guards Army's 15th Guards Rifle Division continued to defend along the line Sheina (excl.) SoloVev State Farm.25

Despite these elaborate defensive preparations, Kriuchenkin knew lie could not successfully contain a renewed German assault. Therefore, late on 11 July, lie appealed to Vatutin for help. The eall for help came none too soon, for early on 12 July, the Ill Panzer Corps continued its desperate drive northward toward Prokhorovka.



While the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps on Fourth Panzer Army's right flank struggled to destroy Soviet armor that thwarted its thrust on Oboian' and Kempf's III Panzer Corps finally broke out of the stifling grip of Soviet defenses east of Belgorod, Hausser's 11 SS Panzer Corps remained the star of von Manstein's drive. Ominously, however, Hausser too was facing inereasing resistance and his forward progress was agonizingly slow.

After receiving Hausser~s orders late on 9 July, 11 SS Panzer Corps' three divisions struggled through the humid darkness of night to fulfill their commander's wishes and reach new concentration areas from which they could launch a vigorous coneerted assault on Prokhorovka. Night movement is always difficult, and this case was no exception. By dawn on the loth, elements of Leibstandarte were still en route to the Teterevino region and it was clear the corps could not meet Hausser's ambitious timetable. Therefore, it launched the assault on Prokhorovka only with the forces it had at hand (Map 17, p. 154). The piecemeal attack immediately encountered difficulties and, once again, was forced off schedule. Just before dawn, Totenkopfs SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment Eicke attacked across the Psel River and attempted to seize Hill 226.6, the key high ground just east of the small fortified village of Kliuchi. However, this attack failed in the face of stout resistance by defending elements of the Soviet 52d Guards Rifle Division and 1 lth Motorized Rifle Brigade. Failure to capture Hill 226.6 meant that Totenkopfwas unable to continue its critical drive northeast along the Psel and forced Hausser to delay his companion attack south of the river. Deelaring, "T bridgehead not established, Postpone start of the attack," Hausser ordered his corps to attack at 1000 hours .26 However, appallingly bad road conditions further complicated necessary artillery regrouping and ultimately delayed the attack another forty- five minutes.

Finally, at 1045 hours, the corps went into action. SS Totenkopf made up for its early morning failure when, by noon, its lead elements thrust across the Psel River and secured a foothold on the river's north bank (see Map 18). Heavy fighting raged all afternoon for possession of Hill 226.6, but when the fighting subsided at nightfall, Totenkopfs Regiment Eicke was in possession of the hill's southern slopes and a small bridgehead east of Kliuchi.

SS Leibstandarte made even more significant progress against equally heavy resistance. While its 1st SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment was regrouping from its previous day's action to the west near Sukho-Solotino, the 2d SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment's battalions, with supporting armor from the division's panzer regiment, advanced straight up the main road toward Prokhorovka. Repelfing nearly constant Soviet tank attacks and under heavy fire from Soviet artillery north of the Psel, by 1300 hours the grenadiers had cleared Soviet forces from Komsomolets State Farm and began a bitter struggle for Hill 241.6, the

Map 18. Prokhorovka, 10-11 July


next dominant terrain feature along the road just east of the farm. Fierce Soviet resistance, in particular by dug-in Russian tanks, and scattered heavy midafternoon thunderstorms hindered Leibstandarte's advance until Shortly after nightfall, when Hill 241.6 fell into Gennan hands. The 2d SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment dug into new positions extending from the rail line to Hill 241.6, while the divisional reconnaissance battahon protected the panzer grenadiers' lengthening left flank and maintained contact with Totenkopf forces south of Mikhailovka. At a cost of 26 killed, 168 wounded, and 3 missing, Leibstandarte had taken 60 Russian prisoners and 130 deserters and had destroyed 53 Soviet tanks and 23 antitank guns.21 Despite this impressive score, the division had failed to secure its day's objective.

SS Das Reich also made only limited gains on 10 July. Attacking at midmoming with its Panzer Grenadier Regiment Deutschland and elements of the division's panzer regiment, Gruppenfuehrer Kruger's division thrust forward south of the Prokhorovka road from east of Teterevino across the rail line toward Storozhevoe 1. It too met heavy resistance, and after a grinding all-day advance, it seized a portion of Ivanovskii Vyselok, a small village lodged in a long ravine south of the Prokhorovka road and Storozhevoe 1. Deprived of support from its Der Fuehrer Regiment, which had to defend Das Reich's long right flank from Iasnaia Poliana to near Nechaevka, the best the division could do was to keep abreast of Leibstandarte's forward units.

Hausser was undeterred by his corps' slow progress, and late on 10 July lie ordered the attack on Prokhorovka to continue the following day. He had every reason to remain optimistie, for by daybreak Leibstandarte's remaining regiment would be available to join the advance. Meanwhile, lie urged both Totenkopf and Das Reich to shift more forces into the Prokhorovka seetor. To faeilitate that process, the remaining regiment of the 167th Infantry Division regrouped from the Pokrovka region to the Lipovyi Donets, where it relieved elements of Das Reich for use farther north.

Hausser's advance had caught Soviet defenders along the Prokhorovka axis at an awkward moment. During the hours of darkness before the German thrust began, Soviet forces frantically carried out Vatutin's regrouping orders, and their defenses suffered accordingly. On the morning of 9 July, General Burkov's lOth Tank Corps withdrew from its sector north of the Prokhorovka road and began the long march to join Katukov's 1st Tank Army defenses along the Oboian' road. It left behind its Ilth Motorized Rifle Brigade, which defended along the Psel River from Krasnyi Oktiabr' to Mikhailovka, with the 52d Guards Rifle Division and its 178th Tank Brigade, which defended on the 2d Tank Corps' left flank north of the Prokhorovka road. It was the 1 lth Motorized that stoutly resisted Totenkopfs drive to gain a bridgehead over the Psel and continued to defend Hill 241.6 after the Germans finally achieved their foothold north of the river.

Prokhorovka 167

When the lOth Tank Corps withdrew, General Popov's 2d Tank Corps took over responsibility for defense of the Prokhorovka road. Popov deployed his brigades astride the road forward of Komsomolets State Farrn and the rail line running south past Iasnaia Poliana. His 26th, 169th, and 99th Tank Brigades formed from left to right across the Prokhorovka road, and the 178th Tank Brigade concentrated along his right flank to the Psel valley. At dawn on 10 July, protected by infantry from the 183d Rifle Division, his brigades attacked down the road into the teeth of German antitank defenses and were soon enmeshed in a running battle with the two advancing regiments of Leibstandarte and Das Reich. Confused and costly fighting raged all day for possession of Komsomolets State Farm and Hill 241.6. Despite able support from the 1502d and 48th Antitank Regiments, by day's end Popov's forces had been driven from both points. Yet despite heavy losses Popov was still optimistie, for Shortly after nightfall lead elements of General Zhadov's 5th Guards Army reached Prokhorovka to back up the flagging armor defense.

On Vatutin's orders, Colonel A. M. Sazonov's erack 9th Guards Airbome Division marched through the dusty streets of Prokhorovka and, by daybreak on 11 July, had dug into defensive positions anchored on the eity's eastern suburbs to the rear of Popov's tired tankers. The sudden appearance of Sazonov's division marked the forward deployment of all of Zhadov's 33d Guards Rifle Corps into the 11 SS Panzer Corps' path. The rifle corps' 95th and 97th Guards Rifle Divisions occupied defenses along the Psel River to back up the depleted 51st and 52d Guards Rifle Divisions. All four divisions prepared to meet the II SS Panzer Corps'renewed advance north of the river. The 42d Guards Rifle Division remained in reserve, prepared to reinforce the 97th Guards or 9th Guards Airbome should the need arise. Once these forces were in place, late on 10 July, the 183d Rifle Division disengaged from combat and shifted its regiments southward by forced march to relieve 5th Guards Tank Corps forces, which, on Vatutin's orders, were also redeploying to join the Ist Tank Army.

The redeployment of the 5th Guards Tank Corps was also part of Vatutin's significant and tricky armored regroupment aimed at bolstering 1st Tank Army's defenses farther west. After days of intense combat against the 11 SS Panzer Corps' flank along the Lipovyi Donets south of Prokhorovka, late on 10 July, Kravehenko's corps began its long march to join the battle of Katukov's Ist Tank Army against the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps. At the same time, General Burdeiny's 2d Guards Tank Corps, which during previous days had repeatedly attacked the Il SS Panzer Corps'right flank along the Lipovyi Donets South of Teterevino, itself regrouped. Replaced by the 93d Guards Rifle Division and now under 69th Army control, the corps withdrew late on 10 July into assembly areas around Maloe Iablonovo to rest and refit. Once it was rested, Vatutin planned to use the corps to support the future counter

168 Stopping the Bützkrieg

stroke of the 5th Guards Tank Army, which was then also closing into the Prokhorovka region.

The most significant aspect of Vatutin's extensive regrouping effort and his plans for a future decisive counterstroke was the movement of General P. A. Rotmistrov's powerful tank army into the Prokhorovka region. After receiving its alert order on 9 July, during the next twenty-four hours Rotmistrov's anny moved by road 100 kilometers into designated assembly areas in the rear of Zhadov's 5th Guards Arrny.18 Assigned to 69th Army control on 10 July, that day Rotmistrov met with Vatutin and Stavka representative Vasilevsky atfront headquarters in Oboian' to review the situation. Rotmistrov recounted the conversation that ensued:

Thefront commander invited nie closer to the map and, pointing with a peneil at the Prokhorovka region, said:

"Having failed to penetrate to Kursk through Oboian', clearly the Hitlerites have decided to shift the axis of their main blow farther east along the rail line to Prokhorovka. There, the forces of 11 SS Panzer Corps have assembled, which must attack along the Prokhorovka axis in cooperation with XXXXVIII Panzer Corps and tank formations of Group Kempf. N. F. Vatutin glanced at A. M. Vasilevsky and then, turning to nie, lie continued: "Thus, Pavel Alekseevich, we have decided to oppose the SS tank divisions with your tank guardsmen-to deliver a counterstroke against the enemy with 5th Guards Tank Army, reinforced by a further two tank corps."

"Ineidentally," said A. M. Vasilevsky, "the German tank divisions possess new heavy Tiger tanks and Ferdinand self-propelled guns. Katukov's tank army has suffered considerably from them. Do you know anything about this equipment and how do you feel about fighting with them?-

"We know, Comrade Marshal. We received tactical-technical information about them from the Steppe Front staff. We have also thought about means for combating them."

-Interesting!- added Vatutin, and nodding to nie, said, "Continue."

"The fact is that the Tigers and Ferdinands not only have strong frontal armor, but also a powerful 88mm gun with direct fire range. In that regard they are superior to our tanks, which are armed with 76mm guns. Successful struggle with them is possible only in circumstances of closein combat, with exploitation of the T-34's greater maneuverability and by flanking fire against the side armor of the heavy German machines."

"In other words, engage in hand-to-hand fight and board them," said thefront commander, and again lie turned to conversation about the forthcoming counterstroke, in which 1st Tank Army, 6th, 7th, and 5th Guards Armies were to take part.29

Prokhorovka 169

Vatutin reinforced RotmistroVs army with the 2d Tank and 2d Guards Tank Corps, the 1529th Self-propelled, 522d and 148th Howitzer, and 148th and 93d Gun Artillery Regiments, and the 16th and 80th Guards Mortar (Katiusha) Regiments. After retuming to his headquarters, later in the day Rotmistrov passed on to his forces Vatutin's order, which read, "On the moming of 12 July, together with the 1st Tank and 5th Guards Army, launch a decisive offensive to destroy the enemy southwest of Prokhorovka and, by the end of the day, reach the line Krasnaia Dubrova [northeast of Syrtsevo], lakovlevo."30

With eighteen hours remaining before his attack, Rotmistrov made final adjustments in his force deployments, confident they could be completed before the appointed time. He chose for his jumping-off positions a fifteenkilorneter-wide swath through the broad rolling fields west and southwest of Prokhorovka from north of the Psel River south across the road and rail line to Storozhevoe. This offered more than ample space for deploying Major General B. S. Bakharovs 18th and Major General 1. F. Kirichenko's 29th Tank Corps in first echelon, adjacent to the 2d Tank and 2d Guards Tank Corps, which were to attack abreast along his left flank in the Vinogradovka and Belenikhino sectors. Rotmistrov held Major General B. M. Skvortsov's 5th Guards Mechanized Corps in second echelon and a small task force commanded by his deputy army commander, Major General K. G. Trufanov, in army reserve. 31 During the final stages of the complex redeployment, on late 11 July, the 2d Tank Corps' 99th and 169th Tank Brigades, which were defending west of Prokhorovka along the road and rail line, were to withdraw and shift southward into their new attack sectors.

Hence, Rotmistrov planned to commit about 500 tanks and self-propelled guns in his initial assault. What lie did not know was that the precipitous German advance the next day would severely disrupt his careful attack planning and the smooth regroupment of the 2d Tank Corps. His well-planned counteroffensive would quickly turn into a desperate and confused armored meeting engagement.

Early on 11 July, after the Soviets had completed their initial force regrouping but before Vatutin , s counteroffensive preparations were complete, the 11 1 SS Panzer Corps resumed its headlong thrust on Prokhorovka, now supported by the bulk of Army Group South's aviation, which, as before, was able to achieve tenuous air superiority along the Prokhorovka axis, at least on 11 July (see Map 19). While Totenkopf struggled to expand its narrow bridgehead north of the Psel, anchored on the southern slopes of Hill 226.6, the now fülly assembled Leibstandarte drove forward from Hill 241.6 along both sides of the road to Prokhorovka with Das Reich's Deutschland Regiment protecting its right flank.

At 0500 hours the Ist and 2d Battalions of Leibstandarte's 2d SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment advanced eastward astride the road, destroying or brush


Map 19. Voronezh Front, 11 July 1943

Prokhorovka 171

ing by dug-in tanks and antitank guns of the Soviet 2d Tank Corps' 169th Tank Brigade. Although subjeeted to heavy flanking fire from Soviet forces on the northern bank of the Psel and from artillery firing from Prelestnoe and Petrovka, in less than two hours the panzer grenadier battalions traversed over two kilometers before being halted by heavy fire from Soviet troops dug in around Hill 252.4, just southeast of Oktiabr'skii State Farm. All the while, the two battalions fended off attacks by small groups of tanks against both of their flanks, launched by the Soviet 99th Tank Brigade from Andreevka in the Psel valley and the 169th Tank Brigade from Storozhevoe. These harassing attacks, the intense artillery and antitank fire, and an immense antitank ditch, which the Germans discovered covering the approaches to Oktiabr'sldi State Farm, prompted the regiment to call for assistance.

Division headquarters responded promptly. At 0630 hours it ordered its 1st SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment, supported by the four Tiger tanks of its 13th Company, to join the attack and clear Soviet forces out of Storozhevoe on the 2d Regiment's light flank. Fifteen minutes later, it ordered the division , s reconnaissance battalion into action to proteet the division's left flank against Soviet attacks from Andreevka in the Psel valley. Meanwhile, the divisional artillery and Werfer regiments opened intense fire on Soviet artillery positions north of the Psel, and Stuka dive-bombers began hourly strikes against Soviet defenses to the front.

Up to now Leibstandarte had been contending only with elements of the already-depleted 2d Tank Corps and small infantry elements from the 183d Rifle Division. The initial German attack penetrated the 169th Tank Brigade's defense rather easily and forced the Soviet tankers to withdraw slowly up the Prokhorovka road and toward Storozhevoe. Ort the 169th's left, the 99th Tank Brigade wheeled back toward the Psel valley from which it began launching periodic forays against Leibstandarte's flank, supported by 52d Guards Rifle Division infantry. When the Germans resumed their assault, however, they ran straight into the dug-in troopers of the 9th Guards Airborne Division, which was now supported by the remaining tanks of the 169th Tank Brigade and the 57th Tank Regiment and 301st Antitank Artillery Regiment, provided by the 5th Guards Army. As the relative coolness of dawn gave way to the stifling heat and humidity of the full summer day, the fighting took on new ferocity.

The airborne troopers of Colonel A. M. Sazonov's division had occupied defenses forward of Prokhorovka only the night before to back up the 183d Rifle Division, which was supposed to be regrouping to the south, and to cover the forward deployment of Rotmistrov's tank army. Although they did not expect to go into combat until the next day, within hours they found themselves at the focal point of the II SS Panzer Corps' assault. Colonel Sazonov deployed his 26th and 28th Guards Airborne Regiments abreast, covering


haze to the south.

At 0905 hours, after the artillery, Stukas, and Werfers had done their lethal work, Leibstandarte resumed its advance. Its 2d Battalion, 2d SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment, supported by Tiger tanks and assault guns, quickly pushed on toward Hill 252.2, where at 0950 hours it ran into intense fire from the 26th Guards Airborne Regiment's 2d Battahon and from Soviet positions covering Oktiabr'sldi State Farm. joined by the 1st Battalion, the two regiments fought an intense three-hour fight for the key hill but failed to dislodge the airbome defenders. At 10 15 hours, the division's panzer group joined the attack, and finally, at 1310 hours, it captured the precious and now bloodsoaked erest of the hill .32

Leibstandarte's panzer group quickly exploited the opportunity and lunged down the hill's western slopes toward Oktiabr'sldi State Fann, only to be struck by withering antitank fire and direct fire from artillery batteries. After an intense fight, the panzer group eleared Soviet defenders from the state farm. Throughout the remainder of the afternoon and into the early evening Soviet forces launched repeated counterattacks against the Panzer Regiment

the southern approaches to Prokhorovka and RotmistroVs projeeted tank assembly area. Guards Lieutenant Colonel G. M. KashpersWs 26th Guards Airbome Regiment occupied the "place of honor" astride the Prokhorovka road. His 3d Battalion, commanded by Guards Major D. 1. Boriskin, dug in around and south of Oktiabr'skii State Farm, protected, in part, by the imposing antitank diteh; his 2d Battalion defended from Hill 252.2 southward to Iamki; and his Ist Battalion was in second echelon, positioned north of Ok-tiabr'skii State Farm with a 76mm gun battalion of the regimental artillery regiment.

Sazonov's 28th Guards Airborne Regiment, commanded by Guards Major V. A. Ponomarov, occupied a strong defense due south of Prokhorovka, with two battalions forward and one in reserve in the eity's suburbs. His third regiment, the 23d Guards, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel V. S. Savinov, together with the lOth Guards Separate Antitank Artillery Battalion, backed up the forward regiments from positions just northwest of Prokhorovka. The airbome division also had at its disposal the 57th Anny Heavy Tank Regiment's twenty-one KV heavy tanks and twenty-four antitank guns of the 301st Army Antitank Artillery Regiment.

Sazonov and his expeetant riflemen heard and even felt the early morning fighting to the south, which inehed ever closer to their forward positions south of Oktiabr'sldi and Hill 252.2. His artillery launched volley after volley in support of their Soviet comrades, but within a matter of hours the sounds of fighting had died out to be replaced only by the near-constant rumble of artillery fire. Within hours, Sazonov expected to see and hear the comforting rumbling steel monsters of Rotmistrov's tank army. Instead, the more menaeing speeter of massed German tanks soon emerged from the dust and the

Prokhorovka 173

and its neighboring panzer grenadier regiments. At 1330 hours the 26th Guards Airborne Regiment and 169th Tank Brigade tanks struck the 1st Battalion, 2d SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment, on the southern slopes of Hill 252.4, and at 1440 hours the 99th Tank Brigade, then being forced out of the village ofVasil'evka by Totenkopfs troopers, again attacked the reconnaissance battahon protecting Leibstandarte's left flank. This threat became more serious when the Soviet 95th Guards Rifle Division, which by evening of 10 July had occupied positions along and south of the Psel on the 9th Guards Airborne's right flank, lent its weight to the 99th Tank Brigade's counterattacks. A Soviet account captured the ferocity of the day's fighting in the 9th Guards Airborne Division's sector:

On the morning of 11 July, when the formations of 5th Guards Army had still not firmly occupied their positions, having completed their regrouping, the enemy renewed their offensive.

It was an overeast day. A fresh breeze disturbed the boundless sea of ripened grain between Prokhorovka, Prelestnoe, and Pravorot'.

Up to a battalion of infantry, supported by forty tanks and self-propelled guns, among them heavy Tigers and Panthers, and by hundreds of ju-87 and ju-88 aireraft, attacked the junction of the 9th Guards Airborne and 95th Guards Rifle Divisions. The main attack was against the 3d Battalion, 26th Guards Airborne Regiment, which was defending Oktiabr'sldi State Farm. A short but powerful artillery preparation and strong bomber strikes preceded the enemy infantry and tank attack. Armored transporters carrying motorized infantry followed the tanks and self-propelled guns.

The commander of the 3d Battalion, Guards Major D. 1. Boriskin, reported on the situation to his regimental commander, Guards Lieutenant Colonel G. M. Kashpersky, and ordered the commanders of his rifle companies and batteries to open massive fire as the tanks and infantry neared their positions.

oktiabr'sldi State Farm, Hill 252.2, and Lutovo [village] shuddered from exploding bombs, shells, and mines. The soldiers attentively observed the approaching enemy from the foxholes they had dug the night before.

When only several hundred meters remained to the edge of the state farm, infantry poured out of the armored transporters. Submachine gunners opened fire on the run, and concealing themselves behind the tanks, they began the assault. The distorted faces of the Faseists bore witness to the fact that their warlike ardor was roused by a fairly large dose of schnapps.

"Fire!" ordered the battery commander. A squall of 3d Battalion fire met the Fascists. The long bursts of 1. V. Khoroshikh's and P. N. Lyznikov's heavy machine guns struck the infantry in the flanks and were echoed by the guardsmen's light machine guns and submachine guns. Divisional


artillery and supporting artillery battalions of the RGK [Reserve of the High Command] 3d Artillery Penetration Division laid down an immovable defensive fire in front of oktiabr'sldi State Farrn. The battalion and regimental artillery of Guards Lieutenants 1. G. Samykin and A. F. Shestakov delivered fire over open sights.

The infantry were separated from the tanks, and facing a hurricane of fire from the state farm, they witlidrew to the reverse slopes of Hill 215.4. The Faseists attacked the 3d Battahon two more times before 1400 hours. However, these were only reconnaissances in foree.31

This account also captured the turn in

fortunes in mid-afternoon:

At 1400 hours up to 100 enemy tanks and up to a regiment of infantry riding in armored transporters attacked Oktiabr'skii State Farm and Hill 252.2. Around forty tanks and up to a regiment of motorized infantry attacked the neighboring 287th Guards Rifle Regiment of 95th Guards Rifle Division. Discovering the junction between the 95th Guards and 9th Airbome Divisions, the Faseists tried to drive a wedge between them. One hundred and forty tanks were attacking along a front of three Idlometers in the sector from Iamki Farm to Andreevka. A powerful fire raid and bombing strikes by fifty dive-bombers preceded the assault. Once again fierce battle raged, but the effort was unequal. The enemy possessed absolute numerical superiority and displayed special obstinacy at the junction of the 26th and 287th regiments....

Having pressed back the 26th and 287th Regiments, up to forty enemy tanks concentrated against Prelestnoe and the southern edge of Petrovka and up to sixty tanks-aeross Hill 252.2 and along the rail linetoward Prokhorovka. The 26th Regiment withdrew to the positions of the 23d Guards Airborne Regiment, on the southwestern slopes of Hill 252.4 [one kilometer west of Prokhorovka].34

The day's bitter fighting ended in early evening. Although Leibstandarte had made considerable progress and taken Oktiabr'sldi State Farm and Hill 252.2, its panzer group was unable to advance beyond the state farm and found itself in a precarious position with both of its flanks exposed and subject to heavy fire. The 2d S S Panzer Grenadier Regiment's Ist Battalion was able to secure the rail embankment southeast of Hill 252.2, and, jointly with the division's Ist Regiment's 2d Battalion, it eleared the small forest adjacent to the embankment. The remainder of the Ist Panzer Grenadier Regiment penetrated into the village of Storozhevoe, where by nightfall it was engaged in the nasty process of elearing the village house by house. However, the regi-

Prokhoroyka 175

ment was not able to seize Storozhevoe 1, and, since Das Reich's advance also lagged, this left the division's right flank still vulnerable.

Leibstandarte's day-long thrust had irreparably smashed the 2d Tank Corps' defenses, isolated the corps' 99th Tank Brigade in the Psel valley, driven a wedge between the 95th Guards and 9th Guards Airborne Divisions, and earved a deep salient in the 9th Guards Airborne Division's defenses forward of Prokhorovka. Most significantly, the German thrust had wholly preempted the 5th Guards Army's careful counterattack plans.

General Rotmistrov later provided his view of the day's surprising developments and vividly described the dilemma lie faced:

At around 1900 hours on 11 July, Marshal A. M. Vasilevsky arrived at my CP [command postl. I reported to him about the army?s combat formation and the missions assigned to the corps and the attached artillery. He approved my decisions and reported that lie had had a conversation with 1. V. Stalin, who ordered him to locate himself permanently with 5th Guards Tank and 5th Guards Armies, to coordinate their operations during the course of battle, and to render necessary assistance. 1. V. Stalin ordered thefront commander, N. F. Vatutin, to remain at his CP in Oboian'. Thefront chief of staff, Lieutenant General S. P. Ivanov, went to the Korocha axis.

Sufficient daylight still remained, and the marshal proposed an inspee-

tion of the jumping-off positions which 1 had selected for 29th and 18th Tank Corps. Our route passed through Prokhorovka to Belenikhino, and the quick-moving Willies, bobbing up and down over the potholes, skirted round vehieles with ammunition and fuel, which were heading to the front. Transports with wounded slowly went past us. Here and there destroyed trucks and smashed transports stood by the roadside.

The road passed through wide fields of yellowing wheat. Beyond them

began a forest which adjoined the village of Storozhevoe.

"There, along the northern edge of the forest, were the jumping-off

positions of the 29th Tank Corps. The 18th Tank Corps would attack to the right,- 1 explained to A. M. Vasilevsky.

He intently peered into the distance and listened to the ever-growing

rumble of battle. One could divine the front lines of our combined arms armies from the clouds of smoke and the explosions of aerial bombs and shells. The agricultural installations of Komsomolets State Farm could be seen two Idlometers distant to the right.

Suddenly, Vasilevsky ordered the driver to stop. The vehiele turned

off the road and abruptly halted amid the dust-covered roadside brush.

We opened the doors and went several steps to the side. The rumble of


tank engines could be clearly heard. Then the very same tanks came into sight.

Quickly turning to nie, and with a touch of annoyance in his voice, Aleksandr Mikhailovich asked nie, "General! What's going on? Were you not forewarned that the enemy must not know about the arrival of our tanks? And they stroll about in the light of day under the Germans' eyes. . . ."

Instantly, 1 raised my binoculars. Indeed, tens of tanks in combat formation, firing from the march from their short-barreled guns, were crossing the field and stirring up the ripened grain.

"However, Comrade General, they are not our tanks. They are German. . . ."

"So, the enemy has penetrated somewhere. He wants to preempt us and seize Prokhorovka."

'We eannot permit that," 1 said to A. M. Vasilevsky, and by radio 1 gave the command to General Kirichenko to move without delay two tank brigades to meet the German tanks and halt their advance.

Returning to my CP, we knew that the Germans had launched aetive operations against almost all of our armies.

Thus the situation suddenly became complicated. The jumping-off positions that we had earlier selected for the counterstroke were in the hands of the Hitlerites.-'5

What Rotmistrov did not know was that the advaneing German tanks were from Leibstandarte's 1st SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment. He did, however, understand the grirn and harrowing consequences: '<In this regard, we had to prepare for the offensive anew, in particular, seleet artillery firing positions and deployment and attack lines. In the compressed time, we had to refine missions, organize cooperation between corps and units, revise the schedule for artillery support, and do all to faeilitate the precise command and control of forces in combat."36

In short, mithin a matter of hours, the violent German assault had tumed Rotmistrov's well-planned offensive into a hasty meeting engagement.

The day's developments along the flanks of Leibstandarte's drive on Prokhorovka did not help matters for Rotmistrov and Vasilevsky. SS Division Totenkopfs regiments fought to expand their bridgehead north of the Psel River, seize all of Hill 226.6, and clear Soviet forces from the southern bank of the Psel along Leibstandarte's left flank. Panzer Grenadier Regiment Thule managed to seize the village of Kliuchi but was halted by fresh troops from the 95th Guards Rifle Division's 284th Guards Rifle Regiment, backed up by 100th Tank Brigade tanks. The Soviet 290th Guards Rifle Regiment thwarted all German attempts to capture all of Hill 226.6. Meanwhile, Regi-

Prokhorovka 177

ment Eicke drove into Vasil'evka on the south bank of the Psel, and although it forced the Soviet 99th Tank Brigade back through the village, it too was stopped by intervening 95th Guards Rifle Division troopers. Try as it might, it could not remove the threat to Leibstandarte's left flank.

On Leibstandatte's right flank, Das Reich's Deutschland Panzer Grenadier Regiment cleared Ivanovskii Vyselok of Soviet defenders but could not penetrate to Vinogradovka in the valley beyond. This failure, caused by stiff resistance of the 2d Tank Corps'26th Tank Brigade and 183d Division riflemen, left a major portion of Leibstandarte's right flank uncovered and forced the latter to tie down the bulk of its 1st Panzer Grenadier Regiment in the role of flank security. The history of Leibstandarte captured the resulting difficult situation:

The line captured by this point [1700 11 July] ran Storozhevoe-western and eastern edges of the forest north of there (held by the 1st Regiment) along the road as far as a point 500 meters northwest of Hill 252.2 (held by the 2d Regiment)-the hill just west of Sweh. Oktjabrsldj (held by the Panzergruppe) eastern edge of Hill 252.2 (held by the reconnaissance battalion). That line's position was reported to the Korps, and it was not erossed again that day. The reason for stopping was the positions of the adjacent units on both sides. They were so far behind the Division's advance that we were outflanked on two sides. A frontal attack on Prochorowka would have resulted in heavy losses because of the strong enemy anti-tank and defensive artillery on the southeastern edge of Prochorowka and at the commanding position on Hill 252.4 northwest of the Pssel [should read: Prochorowka]. This situation was reported to the commanding general at about 17.00 hours at the Divisional headquarters in North Lutschki. A suggestion was made to him to concentrate all the Artillerie available to Korps and to focus on the T-Division's attack on Hill 226.2 on 12.7.1943. Only after the capture of this hill should the attack by Panzergrenadierdivision DR and Panzergrenadierdivision LAH on Prochorowka be continued. After conferring on the telephone with the Chief of the Generalstab, Standartenfhehrer Ostendorf, Obergruppen fuehrer Hausser declared himself in agreement with that plan .37

Although Rotmistrov lost his army's jumping-off positions to the Germans, lie did not have to commit any of his army to combat prematurely, thanks to Leibstandarte's decision to halt its attack.

Despite the problems the Germans faced, they had inflicted severe damage on Soviet forces on 11 July. Particularly vexing to Rotmistrov were the losses in the 2d Tank Corps, which was to have played a major role in the forthcoming Soviet counteroffensive, whose 99th Tank Brigade was now vir


tually isolated in the Psel valley and whose 169th and 26th Brigades had been mauled and numbered considerably fewer than 100 tanks. Ort 11 July the 11 S S Panzer Corps recorded 99 Soviet tanks and 26 assault guns destroyed (most by Das Reich), 245 POWs, and 114 deserters.38 In a separate report, Leibstandarte claimed 21 enemy tanks, 36 antitank guns, and 9 artillery pieces destroyed, and 320 enemy prisoners and deserters, at a cost to themselves of 21 dead and 203 wounded .311 More tellingly, Leibstandarte's panzer strength fell to 60 tanks, 10 assault guns, and 20 self-propelled tank destroyers.40

That evening Hausser issued orders for the next day's advance. Totenkopf was to complete the seizure of Hill 226.6 and then push northward along the ridge line north of the Psel to sever the Prokhorovka-Oboian' road and to proteet Leibstandarte's left flank. Leibstandarte received the most critical mission. Its orders read:

The reinforced 1. Panzergrenadier-Regirnent with the Panzerabteilung subordinated to it is to set out at 04.50 hours and capture Sweh. Stalinsk [Storozhevoe] and Jamki. It is to establish a position adjacent to the 1./2. [Ist Battalion, 2d SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment] at the road beside Hill 252.2.

The reinforced 2. Panzergrenadier-Regiment, the Panzergruppe, and the reinforced AuAlarungsabteilung [reconnaissance battalion] are to stand ready to move in conjunetion with elements of the T-Division as soon as that Division has neutralized the enemy attacks on our flank along the Pssel and to capture Prochorowka and Hill 252.4.

The Artillerie-Regintent LAH is to send an Artillerie liaison Kommando [command] to the T-Division in order to support the attack by that Division on Hill 226.6.41

On Leibstandarte's right flank, Division Das Reich was to advance eastward with its Panzer Grenadier Regiment Deutschland, seize Storozhevoe 1 and Vinogradovka, clear Soviet forces from the southern approaches to Prokhorovka, and proteet Leibstandarte's right flank. Its Der Fuehrer Regiment and elements of its Panzer Regiment were to support Deutschland's thrust (as they became available) and drive Soviet forces from Belenikhino. Kempf's III Panzer Corps was to provide whatever support it could as the II SS Panzer advanced the final few kilometers to Prokhorovka. Ideally, von Manstein and Hoth wanted Kempf to link up quickly with Hausser's corps, but clearly, given the distances involved and previously demonstrated Soviet resistance, this would be a daunting task. At the least, von Manstein urged Kempf and his panzer corps commander, Breith, to drive northward, do as much damage as possible to the Soviets, and divert as many Soviet forces as possible from the decisive clash around Prokhorovka. The seizure of Pro-

Prokhorovka 179

khorovka by Hausser's armored armada was also timed to coineide with the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps' capture of the key Psel River erossings south of Oboian'. Once these critical river erossings and Prokhorovka were in German hands, the two panzer corps, with the III Panzer Corps not far behind, would complete their victorious drive on Oboian' and Kursk.

On the evening of 11-12 July, under the watehful eye of Vasilevsky, Vatutin and Rotmistrov did all in their power to deny the Germans their prize. Vatutin ordered Rotmistrov: "On 1000 hours 12 July, deliver a counterstroke in the direction of Komsomolets State Farm and Pokrovka and, in cooperation with 5th Guards Army and 1st Tank Army, destroy the enemy in the Kochetovka, Pokrovkal and Gresnoe regions and do not permit him to withdraw in a southern direction. "42 Colonel Sazonov's 9th Guards Airbome Division, which was to provide Rotmistrov with most of his infantry support, received an analogous order: -In cooperation with the 42d Guards Rifle Division on the right, which is being committed at the junction of 9th and 95th Divisions, and also with 5th Guards Tank Army's 29th Tank Corps, which is attacking in the division sector, destroy the opposing enemy and secure the line Komsomolets State Farm-Ivanovskii Vyselok. 2d Guards Tank Corps must attack on the division left."4,3

Although Vatutin dispatehed orders to all of his attacking forces, the most critical seemed to be those that governed the operations and fate of Rotmistrov's five mobile corps and the two rifle corps of Zhadov's 5th Guards Army. Less apparent, but no less significant, were the orders that launched his counterstroke against the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps far to the west, for the seizure of Prokhorovka would mean little without near simultaneous seizure of the Psel River erossings on the road to Oboian'.

Later on the evening of 11 July, Rotmistrov finalized his attack planning and issued new orders to his corps. By this time the German advance on the previous day and the increased likehhood that the Germans would attack even earlier than predieted on the morning of the 12th prompted Rotmistrov to advance his H-hour to 0830 hours.

Rotmistrov also adjusted his plan to Vatutin's new order and to accommodate harsh and unpleasant combat realities. It was now clear that General PopoVs 2d Tank Corps was in no condition to partieipate in the counterstroke. In fact, his few remaining tanks were still locked in desperate combat for Storozhevoe and Storozhevoe 1 or in the Psel valley, out of contact with their parent headquarters. In addition Rotmistrov had to designate new jumpingoff positions, which, because of the German advance, were now in the very suburbs of Prokhorovka. His decision was as follows:

To strike a blow with the forces of 18th, 29th, and 2d Guards Tatsinskaia Tank Corps in the sector: to the right-Beregovoe, Andreevka, and lasnaia


Pohana; to the left-Pravorot', Belenikhino, Marker 232.0 and, by the end of the day, reach the line Krasnaia Dubrova-Iakovlevo. The 5th Guards Zimovnikovskii Mechanized Corps, located in army second echelon, received the mission of being prepared to exploit the success of 29th Tank Corps and 2d Guards Tatsinskaia Tank Corps in the general direction of Luchki and Pogorelovka. The tank corps had to occupyjumping-off positions from Prelestnoe through Storozhevoe to Mal. Iablonovo by 2400 hours on 11 July and be ready to attack by 0300 on 12 July.44

To accomplish this daunting mission, Rotmistrov placed his two füllstrength tank corps and the still strong 2d Guards Tank Corps in first echelon to maximize the force of his initial blow. General Bakharov's 18th Tank Corps formed up on the anny right flank in a two-kilometer sector east of Petrovka in the Psel valley just to the rear of the 9th Guards Airborne Division's dug-in 23d and 26th Regiments. Bakharov placed his 181st and 170th Tank Brigades in first echelon, supported by the 1000th Antitank Regiment, with orders to attack southeast along the narrow plain between the Psel River and German defenses at Oktriabr'sldi State Farm to reach Andreevka and Komsomolets State Farm. This force of over 100 tanks would be followed by the 32d Motorized Rifle Brigade, 36th Guards Tank Regiment, and the 1 lOth Tank Brigade in second and third echelon. Bakharov's full force of about 190 tanks would strike Leibstandarte's 2d Panzer Grenadier Regiment and the right flank of Totenkopf's Regiment Eicke and, he hoped, link tip with the remnants of the 99th Tank Brigade en route. Overnight, Rotmistrov reinforced Bakharov's corps with a regiment of 57mm antitank guns from the lOth Antitank Artillery Brigade.

General Kirichenko's 29th Tank Corps occupied a dubious place of honor in the center of Rotmistrov's formation astride the Prokhorovka road. Deprived of its intended jumping-off positions in the open fields south of Prokhorovka, instead his corps formed for the attack in the eity's southern suburbs. Kirichenko's 31st, 32d, and 25th Tank Brigades and the 1446th Selfpropelled Artillery Regiment, with 191 tanks and self-propelled guns, supported by 21 additional self-propelled guns of the 1529th Self-propelled Artillery Regiment, were to lead the assault against German forces dug in between Oktiabr'skii State Fann and Storozhevoe. They would be accompanied by the 9th Guards Airborne Division's 28th Regiment, and the corps' 53d Motorized Rifle Brigade would follow in second echelon.

During the night of 11-12 July, General A. S. Burdeiny's 2d Guards Tank Corps regrouped its 120 surviving tanks into new assembly areas east of Belenikhino. This corps would attack with its 4th, 25th, and 26th Tank Brigades arrayed in single echelon against German forces of Das Reich occu-

Prokhorovka 181

pying positions from west of Vinogradovka along the rail line to Belenikhino. in the gap between the 29th and 2d Guards Tank Corps, Popov's two weakened brigades of the 2d Tank Corps would attempt to join the effort. By attaching the remaining regiments of lOth Antitank Artillery Brigade (fortyeight 57mm guns), Rotmistrov hoped Popov could at least proteet the flanks of his main shock groups between Storozhevoe and Ivanovskii Vyselok. For insurance lie deployed the army's reserve 53d Guards Tank Regiment (with 21 KV heavy tanks) near lamki in Popov's rear area and kept the 228 tanks and self-propelled guns of General Skvortsov's 5th Guards Mechanized Corps in reserve east of Prokhorovka, ready to respond to any eventuality. General Trufanov's small reserve group assembled near Pravorot'to await further orders.

In addition, Vatutin provided Rotmistrov with five artillery or mortar regiments, the 17th Artillery Brigade, and the 26th Antiaireraft Artillery Division. All told, Rotmistrov was to commit about 430 tanks and self-propelled guns in his initial assault, followed by another 70 from second echelon. Except for the 261 fightly armored T-70 tanks in his army, most of his tanks were reasonably effective weapons. However, the superior an-nor and armament of the newest German tanks and assault guns made it imperative that Rotmistrov's tankers fight at ranges of 500 meters or less, where the German technical advantage would be almost neutralized. Engaging at such close ranges would also make it more difficult for the Germans to use artillery or air support against the Soviet tanks. Accordingly, Rotmistrov ordered all of his commanders to close with German armored formations at high speed and "gang up" on each German target, in particular, the heavy Tigers.

By 0200 hours on 12 July, Rotmistrov's forces had completed most of their combat preparations, and the army commander was relatively satisfied with his day's labors. By pure dint of will and superb Stavka support, his tank force had maintained its imposing strength despite the many long days of near constant movement. Rotmistrov also knew that his troops were already dead tired, and lie hoped that the inevitable and obligatory last-minute political meetings in the combat battalions would inspire the troops. lf not, perhaps the vodka ration would.

Rotmistrov himself and his staff had little sleep that fateful night. No sooner had attack preparations been completed than at 0400 hours Vatutin called and ordered him to dispatch his reserve southward. Disturbing word had arrived that Kempfs armored spearhead had broken through in the south and was already on the outskirts of the Northern Donets River town of Rzhavets, less than twenty kilometers from Prokhorovka. Without reflection, Rotmistrov radioed his deputy General Trufanov and ordered him to march south with all haste and throw his group in the advancing Germans' path.45 This incident


prompted Rotmistrov, and probably Vatutin and Vasilevsky as well, to reflect that, while the upeoming engagement around Prokhorovka was critical, it was not the only critical battle the next day.


The morning of 12 July dawned warm, humid, and cloudy. Light rain showers would develop in the afternoon, but these were not intense enough to hinder operations during most of the day. Toward evening, however, heavier showers tumed many of the roads into muddy quagmires, particularly in the valleys in Das Reich's sector, where the rain erippled the Soviet 2d Guards Tank Corps' operations.

Just after dawn Hausser's three divisions began their assault according to plan, but within hours, all across the front, his panzers and panzer grenadiers ran into the teeth of the Soviet counterstroke (see Maps 20 and 21). Leibstandarte initiated the attack at 0650 hours when its Ist SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment inehed eastward south of the rail line, completed clearing Russian infantry from Storozhevoe, and prepared to continue its advance to Iamki two Mometers southwest of Prokhorovka. Less than an hour later, the 2d SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment began its advance along a line from Hill 252.2 on the rail line to Oldiabr'sldi State Farm. Shortly before 0815 hours, after the panzer grenadiers had reached the ridge line north of Oktiabr'sldi and headed down into the valley beyond, Leibstandarte's Panzer Regiment, with sixty- seven tanks, prepared to roll forward to spearhead the advance .46 The panzer grenadiers had already reported enemy infantry in regimental strength defending the ridge, but as they mounted the undulating heights and headed into the valley, they deteeted enemy tanks massed on the next ridge line. Before these reports could reach them, however, the Ist SS Panzer Regiment had formed to support and exploit their advance. As a Tiger tank company commander from the panzer regiment, Rudolf von Ribbentrop, later wrote:

A purple wall of smoke rose into the air, produced by smoke shells. lt

meant: "T I ank waming.111

The same signals were to be seen all along the erest of the slope. The

threatening violet danger signals also appeared farther to the right at the railroad embänkment.

Everything immediately became clear: beyond the hill, still out of sight

of those in the valley, a major Soviet armoured attack was under way.... On reaching the rest of the slope we saw another low rise about 200

meters away on the other side of a small valley, on which our infantry

positions were obviously located....

Map 20. Voronezh Front, 12 July 1943

Prokhorovka 185

The small valley extended to our left, and as we drove down the forward slope we spotted the first T-34s, which were apparently attempting to outflank us from the left.

We halted on the slope and opened fire, hitting several of the enemy. A number of Russian tanks were left burning. For a good gunner 800 meters was the ideal range.

As we waited to see if further enemy tanks were going to appear, 1 looked around, as was my habit. What 1 saw left nie speechless. From beyond the shallow rise about 150-200 metres in front of nie appeared fifteen, then thirty, then forty tanks. Finally there were too many to count. The T-34s were rolling toward us at high speed, carrying mounted infantry.47

Unbeknownst to von Ribbentrop, his Tiger company had run directly into the Soviet 29th Tank Corps'31st and 32d Tank Brigades.

Simultaneously, on the Ist SS Panzer Regiment's left flank north of Oktiabr'sldi, its 13th Company ran into a force of sixty Soviet tanks, which it engaged at a range of 600 to 1,000 meters. As the ranges rapidly closed, another Russian force of like strength deseended on the 13th Company of the panzer regiment's 2d Battalion. A swirling, deadly, three-hour battle ensued, during which the Soviet tanks suffered appalling losses as they closed within killing range of the German armor to even the odds. Leibstandarte's division history captured the feroeity of the fighting:

At 06.00 hours [0800 Moscow time], there was an attack by a force of regimental size across the line Prochorowka-Petrovka. About fifty enemy tanks ran into Panzergruppe LAH, which was just beginning its advance. The fighting lasted two hours. Untersturmfuehrer Guehrs., the Zugfuehrer of a Kraftwagenkanonenzug [armoured gun platoonl in the III.(armoured)/2. [2d Panzer Grenadier Regiment], reported as follows: -They attacked us in the moming. They were around us, on top of us, and between us. We fought man-to-man, jumping out of our foxholes to lob our magnetie hollowcharge grenades at the enemy tanks, leaping on our Schuetzenpanzenvagens to take on any enemy vehiele or man we spotted. It was hell! At 09.00 hours [1100 Moscow time], the battlefield was once again firmly in our hands. Our Panzers had helped us mightily. My Kompanie alone had destroyed fifteen Russian tanks."4'

similar seenes of vicious fighting engulfed the 11 SS Panzer Corps' entire front, but particularly in Leibstandarte's sector. Everywhere, the attackers became desperate defenders, and the battlefield carnage mounted. The division's Ist SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment had no sooner seized Storozhevoe than it too was struck repeatedly by waves of Soviet tanks and mounted infan

Map 21. Prokhorovka, 11-12 July 1943


try. A erew member of the regiment's 3d Tank Destroyer Battalion later recorded his vivid impressions of the heated action:

It was about 04.00 hours in the early morning when a motorcycle messenger brought us a new order. We were to provide defense at the collective farm in Stalinsk [Storozhevoe]. We should pay particular attention to the right in the direction of the forest and toward the railroad einbankment. It was not much longer before we saw about twenty-five or thirty T-34s moving along to our right six or seven kilometers away, heading straight for Division DR's battle line. They were too far away for us, but the Artillerie trained its sights on them and made sure that they did not pass our right flank unseathed. Then there was a silence. But at 08.00 hours, the magie began with a bang. Salvo after salvo from "Stalin organs" rained down on our positions, with artillery and mortar shells in between. All in all, it looked like a preparation for a real attack, and it lasted almost one and a half hours. A German reconnaissance plane fairly deep over Russian territory signaled to us with his wings, dropped a message eanister, and released two violet smoke flares. That meant tanks. Left of the railroad embankment, there were also violet smoke signals going off, so there must be tanks there, too. The enemy fire stopped at the same moment, and over the hill to the left of the embankment came three ... five ... ten ... But what was the use of counting? Raeing at full speed and firing from all barrels, T-34 after T-34 rolled over the hill, right into the middle of our Infantrie positions. We opened fire with our five guns as soon as we saw the first tank, and it was only seconds before the first T-34s stood shrouded in black smoke. Sometimes we had to take eare of the Russian infantry riding on top of the tank in hand-to-hand fighting.

Then, suddenly, there were forty or fifty T-Us coming at us from the right. We had to turn and open fire on them. All of a sudden, three bold giants among them raced off across the basin toward the collective farm. They captured the road leading to it. 1 did not have a chance to fire. The gun on the right wing had a jammed loading mechanism, and we could not seem to get it fixed. So we had to shift positions through the farm buildings. 1 had barely taken aim when 1 had to fire at my first T-34. My shell went past it, and the shell case got stuck in the gun. I ducked between the houses onee again, and 1 was in front of one when 1 got the mechanism unjammed. A T-34 appeared right in front of nie when my assistant gunner yelled so loud that I could hear him without the headphones. -Last shell in the barrel." On top of everything else! I s'Aiveled around to face the T-34 racing toward us a distance of about 150 meters when the next tragedy struck. The rear support for the gun collapsed, and

Prokhorovka 187

the barrel swung up to point at the sky. 1 used the force of swiveling the turret to bring the barrel of my 7.5em gun down, managed to get the T-34's turret in my sights, and fired. A hit! The hatch opened and two men jumped out. One stayed put while the other hopped across the road between the houses. About thirty meters in front of nie, 1 hit the T-34 again.

After the shooting match with the Russian infantrymen and the tank

erews who had jumped out of their damaged vehieles, in which our Infantrie provided magnifieent help, we took off at full speed to get our gun out of the hole we were in. We raced to the forest between buming T-34s. With that the Russian tank attack, supported by three or four waves of infantry, was broken and pushed back.

Everywhere, there were the shells of burning tanks, standing in a see-

tor about 1,500 meters wide; about ten or twelve artillery pieces were

smoldeiing there, too. One hundred twenty were supposed to have been

in the attack, but there could well have been more. Who counted!41

These frantie assaults were by the Soviet 29th Tank Corps'25th Tank Bligade, supported by tanks from the 2d Tank Corps' 169th Tank Brigade and, soon, from the 53d Guards Tank Regiment. The fighting along the entire front intensified throughout late morning and into early afternoon, as wave after wave of Soviet armor washed around the 11 SS Panzer Corps' lead elements.

Quite obviously, Rotmistrov's counterattack had begun on schedule. At 0600 hours Rotmistrov himself, with a small operational group of staff officers, joined his 29th Tank Corps commander, General Kirichenko, at the corps'forward command post. He used the CP, which was located on a small hillock southwest of Prokhorovka and afforded an excellent view of the battlefield, as his army observation post during the assault. German Messerschmitt aircraft appeared at 0630 to sweep the skies clear of Soviet aircraft, and waves of German bombers followed a half hour later. As Rotmistrov gazed skyward, swarms of Soviet fighters and then bombers began an air battle that swirled overhead as the two ground arrnadas embraced each other in mortal combat, undeterred by the falling bombs and earnage overhead.

At 0815 hours Soviet artillery roared and for fifteen minutes pounded German positions until giving way to flery sheets of Katiusha multiple rocket fire, which announced the end of the artillery preparation. Soviet gunners then shifted their thousands of tubes from fire on preplanned concentrations to ereeping barrage fire, which inehed forward toward German advanced positions. From his OP (observation post) Rotmistrov could already see German forces on the march, forward into the teeth of his anxious host. -Indeed," lie later recorded, lt turned out that both we and the Germans went over to the offensive simultaneously."50 At precisely 0830 hours, Rotmistrov's radio


man shouted the signal, "Stal', Stal', Stal- (Steel, Steel, Steel), into his radio transmitter, and the ether resounded with Rotmistrov's command to attack as it passed to his assembled corps, brigades, regiments, and battalions. Shortly thereafter, his 500 tanks and self-propelled guns carrying mounted riflemen from the 9th Guards Airborne Division lurched forward into action. Rotmistrov later described the imposing scene and the ferocious combat that ensued:

The tanks were moving across the steppe in small packs, under cover of patches of woodland and hedges. The bursts of gunfire merged into one continuous mighty roar. The Soviet tanks thrust into the German advanced formation at full speed and penetrated the German tank screen. The T-34s were knocking out Tigers at extremely close range, since their powerful guns and massive armor no longer gave them an advantage in close combat. The tanks of both sides were in the closest possible contact. There was neither time nor room to disengage from the enemy and reform in battle order or operate in formation. The shells fired at close range piereed not only the side armor but also the frontal armor of the fighting vehicles. At such range there was no protection in armor, and the length of the gun barrels was no longer decisive. Frequently, when a tank was hit, its ammunition and fuel blew up, and torn-off turrets were flung through the air over dozens of yards. At the same time, fürious aerial combats developed over the battlefield. Soviet as well as German airmen tried to help their ground forces to win the battle. The bombers, ground support aircraft, and fighters seemed to be permanently suspended in the sky over Prokhorovka. One aerial combat followed another. Soon the whole sky was shrouded by the thick smoke of the burning wrecks. On the black, scorched earth the gutted tanks burnt like torches. It was difficult to establish which side was attacking and which defending:"

As evocative and accurate as Rotmistrov's dramatic description of the battlefield was, he failed to mention that the bulk of the burning tank hulks were Soviet.

On Rotmistrov's right flank, the 181st and 170th Tank Brigades of General BakharoVs 18th Tank Corps advanced abreast across a small valley south of Petrovka, with riflemen from the 23d Guards Airborne Regiment riding on the decks of the tanks. North of Oktiabr'sldi, Lieutenant Colonel V. D. Tarasov's 170th Tank Brigade smashed through the left flank of Leibstandarte's advaneing panzer grenadiers but soon encountered its deploying panzer regiment. An intense and costly struggle followed until at 1000 hours the supporting 1000th Antitank Artillery Regiment ereeted blocking positions in front of the German armor, which permitted the 170th to wheel to the right and to catch the German armor in the flank. By this time the German panzer regi-

Prokhorovka 189

ment was under assault by the 29th Tank Corps'31st and 32d Tank Brigades, and although it took a terrible toll on Soviet armor, the panzers were forced to give way and slowly withdraw, with guns blazing, back toward the relative safety of Oktiabr'skii.

Although the 170th Tank Brigade lost its commander and as many as thirty of its sixty tanks in the fighting near Oktiabr'skü, by early afternoon it pushed southward, grapphng with Leibstandarte's armored reconnaissance battalion, which struggled to defend the SS division's left flank and rear. This battle intensified in the afternoon, when BakharoVs second echelon 36th Guards Tank Regiment arrived to support the 170th. By this time the 170th Tank Brigade, now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A. 1. Kazakov, had joined its neighboring 181st Brigade in an assault on Totenkopf positions east of Andreevka.

Lieutenant Colonel V. A. Puzyrev's 181st Tank Brigade, attacking along the southern banks of the Psel, drove Totenkopfs panzer grenadiers, which had themselves just begun an attack eastward, back toward the west. By 1800 hours, assisted by the 170th Brigade, Puzyrev's tankers penetrated into the village of Vasil'evka, thereby threatening to sever Totenkopfs communications with Leibstandarte. However, within an hour Totenkopf dispatehed a relief column consisting of a Tiger tank company from Hill 226.2, and, with deadly artillery support from Gresnoe, these tanks forced both the 181st and 170th Brigades to withdraw to Andreevka. Although Bakharov's tank corps had made speetacular progress, it could advance no further until the 29th Tank Corps closed up on its left flank. In the meantime, Bakharov brought his second echelon 110th Tank Brigade and 36th Guards Tank Regiment forward and placed them in defensive positions to the rear, where they could either defend or exploit on 13 July. During the day's fighting, Bakharov's 32d Motorized Rifle Brigade was drawn into heavy combat north of the Psel, where the planned assault by Totenkopfs Panzer Regiment had made striking gains.

Bakharov's success elashed vividly with General Kirichenko's frustration. The latter's 29th Tank Corps also attacked at 0830 hours, but since it struck Leibstandarte's main strength deployed between Oktiabr'skii State Farm and Storozhevoe, its gains were more limited and the price it paid was far higher. Attacking on the corps' right flank toward Oktiabr'skii, Colonel S. F. Moiseev's 31st Tank Brigade struck Leibstandarte's panzer regiment directly on the nose, while the neighboring 170th Tank Brigade hit the German left flank. Although Colonel A. A. Linev's 32d Tank Brigade attempted to support the 31st, Linev's tanks were also attacking the spearhead of the German penetration along the rail line. Moiseev's brigade fought a prolonged and costly battle, losing fülly half of its tanks while driving Leibstandarte's panzer regiment back to Oktiabr'skii.

With Lieutenant Colonel N. P. Lipichev's second echelon 53d Motorized Rifle Brigade in support, Moiseev's remaining tanks raced southward and tore


through Leibstandartels reconnaissance screen south of Oktiabr'sldi and north of Komsomolets State Farm. Soviet classified accounts stated: "Exploiting the success of 18th Tank Corps, the 53d Motorized Rifle Brigade advanced forward in a decisive bound and at 1730 hours penetrated into Komsomolets State Farm. Having smashed the enemy defending that point, the brigade, seeking to reestabfish contact with remaining corps units and also under pressure from superior enemy forces, witlidrew to the region of Hill 252, where it went over the defense with 25th Tank Brigade.',52

In aetuality, the 31st Tank and 53d Motorized Rifle Brigades penetrated Leibstandarte's reconnaissance battahon in two places as they lunged for their immediate objective of Komsomolets. In so doing they threatened the SS division's command post and key lines of communications with the rear. The exploiting Soviet tanks were repulsed only by rapid action by Leibstandarte's Panzer Regiment and, farther south, only by Leibstandarte's Artillery Regiment after the Soviet tanks had penetrated into the very heart of its firing positions. Leibstandarte's history recorded this action, and the events that preceded it-

At 09.20 hours [1120 Moscowtime], there was a renewed tank attack from Prochorowka. Thirty-five tanks attacked Panzergruppe LAH, while forty tanks moved out of Petrovka against the fork in the road one kilometer south-southeast of Sweh. Oktjabrsldj. These enemy tanks received very strong artillery support and were engaged at high speed.

In this attack, four of the seven Panzers used by the 6./Panzerregiment LAH ... were put out of commission at a distance of only about 220 meters. The remaining three Panzers joined the ranks of the advaneing Russian tanks and moved with the pack of them into the fire range of the 11./Panzerregiment LAH .... located about 800 yards to the rear. These three could fire at the Russians from a distance of 10 to 30 meters and make every shell a direct hit because the Russians could not see through the dust and smoke that there were German tanks rolling along with them in the same direction. There were already nineteen Russian tanks standing buming on the battlefield when the Abteilung opened fire for the first time ... [IL/ Panzerregimentl destroyed about sixty-two T-70s and T-34s in a three-hourlong battle that could almost be termed hand-to-hand tank combat....

After this heavy attack had been repuised, which the divisional commander and the la [operations officer] had observed from their advanced command post on Hill 241.6, a small enemy tank force managed to penetrate the Aufklarungsabteilung's [reconnaissance battalion's] thin flank defense and make it through into the Artillerie's positions. There, the enemy force was destroyed, either in the direct fire from the Artillerie or in close-range fighting with the infantry.53

Prokhorovka 191

The sharp stru£!ele for Hill 241.6 and Komsomolets State Farm gave way to desultory fighting as the 31st Tank Brigade tried in vain to find a weak point in Leibstandarte's left flank.

The most intense fighting on 12 July took place along the 29th Tank Corps' front. While joining the 3 Ist Tank Brigade's assault on Oktiabr'sldi, Lieutenant Colonel Linev's 32d Tank Brigade also repeatedly attacked German positions on the northern slopes of Hill 252.2. By noon Major P. S. Ivanov's Ist Battalion was eneireled and nearly destroyed in a counterattack by LeibStandartels Panzer Regiment, while Captain A. E. Vakuletsko's 2d Battalion struggled with the 2d SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment along both sides of the rail line. At 1300 hours Vakuletsko's tankers, with infantry from the 9th Guards Airborne Division's 23d Airborne Regiment and assisted by a battalion from the neighboring 25th Tank Brigade and 9th Guards Airborne's 28th Regiment, recaptured Hill 252.2. However, ineessant German counterattacks and heavy air strikes halted the drive and forced the Soviets to dig in. German reports laconically recorded, "At 11.30 hours [1330 Moscow time], there was a localized breakthrough near Hill 252.2, but it was eleared away by 13.15 [1515]."54 In the meantime, after heavy resistance and with their left flank threatened, Leibstandarte's Panzer Regiment and 2d Battalion, 1st SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment abandoned their positions around Oktiabrsidi and withdrew one kilometer to the rear to regroup and reestablish firmer defense lines.

On Kirichenko's left flank, Colonel N. K. Volodin's 25th Tank Brigade, supported by Captain M. S. Lunev's 1446th Self-propelled Artillery Regiment and cooperating with Major V. A. Ponomarov's 28th Guards Airborne Regiment, struck hard at German positions from south of the rail line to Storozhevoe, supported on the left by the 55th Guards Tank Regiment and remnants from the 2d Tank Corps' 169th Tank Brigade.55 Major G. A. Miasnikov's tank battalion of the 25th penetrated into and through German defenses at Storozhevoe, and his lead tanks reached the Prokhorovka road before the Ist Battalion, 2d SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment, counterattacked and drove them back into the village. Ferocious fighting raged in Storozhevoe, along the southern slopes of Hill 252.2, and in the fields west of Iamki as Soviet and German troops and tanks attacked and counterattacked through falling shells and devastating antitank fire. At day's end the best Kirichenko could clairn was a stalemate, although his corps had certainly halted the German attack on Prokhorovka.

Fighting in the 18th and 29th Tank Corps' sectors died down by midafternoon. The troops on both sides were exhausted and emotionally drained. While both sides had suffered heavy losses, the two Soviet tank corps paid a dear price for their headlong attack. At a cost of 48 killed, 321 wounded, and 5 missing, Leibstandarte claimed to have destroyed 192 Soviet tanks and 19 antitank guns and captured 253 prisoners. In the process, the Germans re


ported losing fewer than half of their own tanks. These figures were not far from the truth.-' '6 Even allowing for some German inflation of Soviet easual ties and double counting of Soviet tank kills, the two Soviet tank corps had lost nearly half of their initial strength. The 29th Tank Corps was particularly hard hit because it had already committed virtually its entire combat strength to battle and lost over half of its tanks in the process. In the 18th Tank Corps the 170th and 181st Tank Brigades were relatively intaet, and Bakharov still retained the fresh 110th Tank Brigade and 36th Guards Tank Regiment in second echelon defensive positions. The position of both corps was made even more precarious by the failure of the 2d Guards Tank Corps' attack on their right flank and by the progress made by Totenkopf Division north of the Psel River.

The three tank brigades of General Burdeinys 2d Guards Tank Corps, along with riflemen from the 183d Rifle Division, went into action at 0830 hours. Although the corps could field just over 120 tanks, Burdeiny's small force attacked with offensive abandon. The ferocity of this effort disrupted 11 S S Panzer Corps' careful plans by preventing Das Reich with its approximately 95 tanks and assault guns from joining the eastward thrust of Leibstandarte. 57 Even worse, when the Soviet counterstroke began, Das Reich was in no position to defend Leibstandarte's right flank.

Das Reich's Deutschland Regiment had no söoner begun its advance from the eastern end of Ivanovskii Vyselok than it was struck in its front by the Soviet 26th Tank Brigade, with heavy antitank support. While Deutschland's 3d Panzer Grenadier Battalion recofled from the shock, its Ist Battahon confronted a strong armored thrust against its right flank. This force, spearheaded by Colonel A. K. Brazhnikov's 4th Guards Tank Brigade, swept past the SS battalion, through the forward defenses of neighboring Der Fuehrer Regiment's 1st Battalion, across the rail line north of Belenikhino, and into the eastern edge of the village of lasnaia Pohana. Simultaneously, Der Fuehrer's Ist and 4th Battahons, under attack by beutenant Colonel S. M. Bulygin's 25th Guards and Colonel S. K. Nesterov's 26th Guards Tank Brigades at and south of Belenikhino, were themselves forced back to the outskirts of lasnaia Poliana and Kahnin. A history of Das Reich described the action as follows:

Deutschland Regiment continued to proteet the flank of the advaneing Leibstandarte, while the rest of Das Reich, still on the defensive, flung back a succession of infantry and tank attacks. One interesting incident was the employment against the Russians of T-34s, which Das Reich had seized from a factory in Khar'kov. During the day a column of fifty Russian vehieles was seen driving along one of the balkas or valleys.... The direction of the column's advance showed that it was moving to attack Der Fuehrer. On the high ground above the Russian column stood the

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division's group of T-34s, which opened a destructive fire upon the Russian tanks. The panzermen's tactic was one which they had learned early in the war with Russia; kill the enemy's command tank first. It was the only machine fitted with both a radio receiver and transmitter. The other vehieles had only reeeivers and could not communicate by wireless with one another. This was yet another weakness in Red Army taeties. Russian tanks carried on their rear decks a metal drum containing reserve fuel supplies. A hit on the drum ignited the fuel and caused the tank to "brew up."58

Another account captured the frustration in German ranks and, at the same time, underscored the source of that frustration: "Heavy fighting developed on the right flank of Das Reich Division. There the Soviet 11 Guards Tank Corps attacked repeatedly from the gap between Hausser's corps and Breith's divisions, which had not yet arrived. That accursed gap! 'The Russian attacks on our flanks are tying down half of our effectives and taking the steam out of our operation against the enemy at Prokhorovka,' growled the regimental commander, Sylvester Stadler."59

The assault by Burdeinys tank brigades ended by 1430 hours, when Das Reich dispatched forces from other sectors to reinforee its beleaguered right flank. Ostensibly, stiffened German resistance and heavy tank losses had brought Burdeinys force to a halt. In fact, other circumstances had intervened to stop Burdeiny. First, heavy thunderstorms rolled through the region, turning the roads to glue and ruling out further attacks.60 Even more critical, the deteriorating situation to the south, where Kempfs 111 Panzer Corps was accelerating its northward attack along the Northern Donets, forced Vatutin to appeal to Burdeiny for help. Late in the day, Burdeiny responded by dispatehing his 26th Guards Tank Brigade southward to help counter the new German threat. With his corps' main force reduced to a strength of about fifty tanks, Burdeiny had no choice but to give up his hardearned gains and withdraw to his jumping-off positions, where lie went over to the defense.

While RotmistroVs army halted the direct German thrust on Prokhorovka and kept a weary eye on Gen-nan armor to the south, it confronted a dangerous deteriorating situation north of the Psel River. There, Totenkopfassembled 121 tanks and assault guns from its 3d SS Panzer Regiment and grenadiers from its 6th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment Eicke and attacked to break through Soviet defenses on Hill 226.6 and drive northward along the ridge line north of the Psel.61 As described in formerly classified Soviet accounts:

By 1200 hours, when it had became clear to the German command that its attempt to penetrate to Prokhorovka had failed, it decided to assist its


main grouping, which was advancing in the direction of Oboian'; and, to achieve this, part of the force was to penetrate along the northern bank of the Psel to envelop the flanks of 6th Guards Army and Ist Tank Army and then to reach the region north of Prokhorovka in the rear of 5th Guards Tank Army.

With this aim, the Germans concentrated a shock group consisting of 100 tanks, 1 motorized infantry regiment, up to 200 motorcycles, and several self-propelled guns in the Krasnyi Oktiabr', Kozlovka region. At 1200 hours the shock group, supported by aviation, shifted to the offensive, penetrated 52d Guards Rifle Division's defense, and by 1300 captured Hill 226. On the northern slopes of this hill, the attacking enemy encountered strong resistance from 95th Guards Rifle Division units, which had prepared defenses in this region. All attempts by German tanks, infantry, and motoreyelists to penetrate the defense were repelled successfully by fire and counterattacks from this division's units. At 1800 hours the enemy ceased his attacks and began to regroup.

After a massive air raid, at 2000 hours the Germans onee again attacked 95th Guards Rifle Division's combat formation, and by the time darkness fell they had pushed our units back and captured Polezhaev but were unable to advance further along this axis.62

The German thrust rendered the depleted 52d Guards Rifle Division hors

de combat and severely shook the stability of the 95th's defenses. Even Rotmistrov's early evening commitment of his second echelon 42d Guards Rifle Division did not seem to mitigate the situation. In his memoirs, Rotmistrov recalled the seriousness of the situation and the remedies he adopted to stem the tide of Totenkopfs advance:

By 1300 hours enemy tanks succeeded in penetrating the combat formation of the 95th and 42d Guards Rifle Divisions in the Krasnyi oktiabr', Kochetovka [should read: Kozlovka] sector and advanced in a northeastein and eastern direction to the line Veselyi-Polezhaev. lt was necessary to eliminate quickly the threat to the army's right flank and rear and also assist our neighbor, Lieutenant General A. S. Zhadov's 5th Guards Army. This army completely lacked tanks and did not dispose of sufficient artillery support. Furthermore, it had entered battle essentially from the march, deploying its main force in the face of the attacking enemy.

Inasmuch as my reserve was already committed to combat and moving to the south, 1 had to assign forces from my main grouping to help Zhadov. 1 ordered that the 24th Guards Tank Brigade [from 5th Guards Mechanized Corps] of Guards Colonel V. P. Karpov be sent to the region of K. E. Voroshilov State Farm, where, in cooperation with the right flank

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units of 18th Tank Corps and the infantry of 5th Guards Army, it was to destroy the enemy at Polezhaev. Simultaneously, Colonel 1. B. MikhailoVs lOth Guards Mechanized Brigade successfully moved to Ostren'kov (nine kilometers northwest of Prokhorovka) with the mission of preventing enemy movement in a northeastern direction. The decisive movement of these brigades into these regions and the deeisiveness of their meeting blow against penetrating Hitlerite tanks stabilized the situation at the adjacent flanks of 5th Guards Tank and 5th Guards Army. The enemy here was forced to withdraw and then shift to the defense.63

Although basically correct, Rotmistrov's recollections were a bit premature. It took most of the evening for his two fresh brigades to reach their appointed jumping-off positions. Only at dawn of 13 July did they go into action along with the supporting riflemen of the 95th and 42d Guards Rifle Divisions. In the meantime, Totenkopf dug in to its advanced positions and forced the 18th Tank Corps to divert part of its force to the Psel River's northern bank to assist the worn and beleaguered 1 lth Motorized Rifle Brigade.64 Overall, Rotmistrov had diverted but not halted the German advance on 12 July. After-action reports cryptically recorded: "Thus, during the course of 12 July, the mission assigned to 5th Guards Tank Army had not been fulfilled. As a result of the frontal blow, the army's corps conducted heavy combat with large enemy tank forces, during the course of which they were forced to shift to the defense. During the night of 13 July, the army's corps were ordered to fortify themselves along existing lines and to regroup their units


in order to be ready to continue the offensive on the morning of 13 July."

Rotmistrov well understood the effect the day's fighting had had on his army?s combat capabilities. Popov's 2d Tank Corps was a shell of its former self and virtually combat ineffeetive. Burdeiny's 2d Guards was likewise finished, and the bulk of its remaining combat strength had marched south with its 26th Tank Brigade. Rotmistrov's army reserve had also marched south, and the bulk of Skvortsov's 5th Guards Mechanized Corps had also marched or was marching in opposite directions to meet the threat on the flanks. This left Rotmistrov with but two shaken corps, the 18th and 29th, with perhaps 200 tanks between them, with which to resume the attack in the morning. During the evening, according to Rotmistrov's instructions, Bakharov and Kirichenko ereeted strong defenses, withdrew units shattered in the day's fighting into second echelon, and resupplied existing vehieles with fuel and ammunition. Vatutin atfront did all in his power to speed tank replacements forward. In the meantime Bakharov formed his 170th and 181st Tank Brigades into a shock group, with orders to once again attack Vasil'evka in the moming. His 1 lOth Brigade prepared to support. Kirichenko pulled back his shattered 31st and 32d Tank Brigades, replaced them with infantry from the


53d Motorized Rifle Brigade and 9th Guards Airborne Division, and placed them in second echelon defenses around Oktiabr'sldi. All the while he worried about how his depleted forces could resume the attack in the moming, particularly since the 5th Guards Mechanized Corps was no longer able to support him.

What Kirichenko did not know was that Rotmistrov was inereasingly preoccupied by developments along his flanks, speeifieally the threat posed by Totenkopf north of the Psel and the Ill Panzer Corps to the south. By nightfall Rotmistrov was satisfied he had met the first threat. -In the morning,- he thought, Ihe two fresh mobile brigades and combined infantry of the 42d and 95th Guards Divisions will be able to eradieate Totenkopfs threat:, To make sure, he issued orders for the 6th Guards Airborne Division to march at night to join the counterattack. Rotmistrov, however, was less certain he could deal with the second threat. He had already dispatehed the army reserve to deal with it, and now bad news forced him to send other precious forces southward. Preoccupied with these problems, Rotmistrov had neither the time nor the inelination to think about yet another threat, the planned northward thrust of the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps. Fortunately, Vatutin had both the time and inelination, and on 12 July he removed that threat, onee and for all.


Prokhorovka | German Order | Red Army Order  | Strengths and Losses | WW2