In the past several years there have been many inaccuracies and outright lies about the following battle in Soviet/Russian literature and mass-media. One of the most moot points are the memoirs of the 5th Gds. Tank Army's Commander P.A. Rotmistrov. He affirms that in the battle of Prokhorovka only his army took part. The narrowness of his look of the battle has had an effect on exhibits of Belgorod's and Prokhorovka's museums.
Absence of detailed descriptions of this battle leads to the long life of numerous myths of the 1950s-60s.
P.A. Rotmistrov (and many others following in his foot steps) confirm that the TANK battle at Prokhorovka occurred on July 12, 1943*4.
At the end of July 8 1943 on the southern face of the Kursk salient the enemy managed to drive a deep wedge into the defensive positions of the Voronezh Front and to reach the army’s rear fortified line in the Prokhorovka direction. The mission of the Voronezh Front was to hinder the break-through of the 4th Panzer Army in strategic depth.
A large tank battle was imminent on the important Prokhorovka direction. In the case of success, the German panzer forces could reach the rear areas of both the Voronezh and Central Fronts. In estimation of the threat of such a scenario the Soviet Stavka transferred its strategic reserve - the 5th Gds. TA and 5th Gds. Army from the Steppe Front to the Voronezh Front. On July 9 the Voronezh Front was ordered at any price to stop the enemy's offensive on the line of the Psel river and to seize the initiative from the Germans.*10
At the same time the commander of the 4th Panzer Army Col.-General Hoth in his order No. 5 specified combat missions for the final break-through of the Voronezh Front's defense: "...The 4th Panzer Army on July 10 is to expand an attack wedge by a blow in the north-eastern direction... and create conditions for further movement to the north-east.... The 2nd SS Pz.Corps smashes the enemy south-west of Prokhorovka and forces it back to the east. It captures the hills on both the Psel riversides north-west of Prokhorovka".*11 At 22:00 July 9 the commander of the 2nd SS Pz. Corps Hausser specified the missions of his divisions: "...The 2nd SS Pz. Corps after the regrouping of its troops on July 10 is to break-through in the north-eastern direction until Prokhorovka - hill 5km east from Kartashevka line annihilating the enemy troops in this area. Starting time for the offensive - 06:00"*12.
Taking into account an exact definition of the "battle" term and the German documents cited above, we can say, that the battle at Prokhorovka started on July 10. And that the battle had not started from the blow of the 5th Gds. TA, but from the attacks of the SS "Adolf Hitler" Panzer Division and defensive combats of its opponents - 52nd, 6th Gds. Rfl. Divisions, 183rd Rfl. Division and 2nd Tank Corps of the 69th Army.
Only on July 14 had the 4th German Panzer Army stopped its attacks along the railroad and highway against Prokhorovka. Army Group "South" continued with its attacks until July 16. General Hoth changed the objectives, transferring direction of the blow performed by forces of the "Das Reich" SS& Panzer Division to the east and at the same time removing tank units of the "Totenkopf" SS Pz. Division from battle and creating a mobile reserve. *11 On July 16, the Army Group "South" had totally stopped its offensive on the entire front, fortifying the positions they had attained and then started retreating.
Starting on July 16 the Soviet troops received the order of the Voronezh Front Commander N.F. Vatutin for persistent defense of their current positions. At night the 18th TC/5th Gds. TA leaving a few tanks for ambushes, was moved out of combat.
To summarise all of this information we can say that the Prokhorovka battle started on July 10. It started without the 5th Gds. TA. It was almost finished on July 15 and its culmination was on July 12, when the 5th Gds. TA joined the battle.
Using correct military terms in the Prokhorovka vicinity what took place was a MEETING ENGAGEMENT between the 18th and 29th TCs/5th Gds. TA and SS "Adolf Hitler" Pz.. Div. in Prelestnoe, sovkhoz Oktiabrsky, Yamki area and between the 2nd Gds "Tatsinsky" TC and SS "Das Reich" Pz. Div. in Belenikhino area. Simultaneously the 95th and 52nd Gds. Rfl. Divisions of the 5th Gds. Army without the 5th Gds TA's support were parrying attacks of the SS "Totenkopf" Pz. Div. in Psel river's scroll. [* scheme 9 *]
Surely, the fighting didn't stop from July 15. It were the objectives of each side which had been changed. Accordingly the forms of fighting also changed.
Such a point of view seems to be more exact, as it gives more accurate definitions and bounds of the Battle at Prokhorovka without underestimating the role of all the units which took part in this battle
It involves the fact that the decisive role in the battle at Prokhorovka is assigned until now to the 5th Gds TA which allegedly smashed those panzer forces of Army Group "South". Most likely G.K. Zhukov was right to say that this is not correct *15. This statement is based on the publication of 1946 by a group of authors from the Military History Department of the Soviet General Staff where they wrote: "...Preparing the attack from the west against Prokhorovka, the German command completed their concentration of the large tank forces to the west of Prokhorovka. This consisted of the three panzer divisions of SS panzer corps ["Adolf Hitler", "Totenkopf", "Das Reich"] and partially 17th Pz. Div. [?] and the 167th Infantry Division."*16. Similar statements may be found in other official publications. Such a sources affirms that from July 11, the main forces of the 4th Panzer Army had been concentrated against Prokhorovka. The former statements about the decisive role of the 5th Gds. TA in the Army Group "South" panzer forces' "destruction" are based on such a "conclusions". But neither the "conclusion" nor the statement is confirmed by the real historical facts.
The 4th Panzer Army consisted of*19:
a) Five panzer divisions, including three SS panzer divisions: "Adolf Hitler", "Das Reich", "Totenkopf", 3rd and 11th Panzer Divisions.
b) One "Gross Deutschland " Motorised-Panzer Division supplied with the latest models of armament and crack troops.
c) The 57th, 255th, 332nd, and the 167th Infantry Divisions.
Sum total, the army had 11 divisions from which only 3 panzer and one infantry divisions operated on the Prokhorovka direction. The others were operating on the Oboyan direction and hadn't been regrouped. From the four divisions on the right flank the 167th Inf. Division was set as a reserve until July 8. A small regrouping had been performed only in the 2nd SS Panzer Corps.
The 167th Inf. Division had replaced the SS "Totenkopf" Pz. Division on the right flank, which was transferred to the corps' left flank. Actually neither the first nor the second divisions took part in combats vs. the Soviet 5th Gds. Tank Army. [* scheme 1 *]
An opinion exists that on Prokhorovka's "Tank Field" on July 12 the 5th Gds. TA fought against the whole 2nd SS Pz. Corps supported by the 11th Pz. Division/48th Pz. Corps and the 167th Inf. Division. From the order cited above, the blow against Prokhorovka between the railroad and Psel river had been performed by the "Adolf Hitler" SS Pz. Division. Its right flank was covered by Tank-grenadier "Gross Deutschland" Regiment/SS "Das Reich" Pz. Division and left - operational detachment from SS "Totenkopf" Pz. Division. The SS "Totenkopf" Pz. Division had to make a forced crossing of Psel river and carry out an offensive along the scroll, and SS "Das Reich" Pz. Division was to be ready to expand the break-through of the SS "Adolf Hitler" Pz. Division in the eastern direction. The 167th Inf. Division also couldn't take part in the Prokhorovka operation as it had taken defensive positions at the western Lipovy Donets' riverside, covering the junction between the 4th Pz. Army and Operational Group "Kempf".
From the standpoint of the cited order, the battle at Prokhorovka, and in particular the tank combat on the famous field look a bit different from accepted point of view.
Comparing the deployment of the German panzer divisions on the operational map of the 5th Gds. TA on the Prokhorovka direction [* scheme 2 *] with the real deployment we can see that such an opinion is a MYTH!*20
The first blow of the SS "Adolf Hitler" Pz. Division had been taken by the 183rd Rifle Division and the 2nd Tank Corps of the 69th Army. Later we'll see the combat development. Now it should be mentioned that the SS "Adolf Hitler" Panzer Division had been pretty well battered by the 69th Army's units and starting from July 11 also by the troops of the 33rd Gds. Infantry Corps/5th Army supported by the 2nd Air Army.
This now tears down the fourth myth of the amount of armored vehicles that took part in this battle.
As it was a panzer division that was attacking in the field between the Psel river and railroad which had not more than 200 tanks and assault guns and the counter-attack having been performed by the 18th and 29th Tank Corps of the 5th Gds. TA, the number of vehicles operated at Prokhorovka's area may be estimated to be 500-550. Moreover they were echeloned in depth.
Having the width of the engagement region limited by the Psel river and railroad embankment (behind which the deep ravines of Storozhevoye were situated) to be 6 kilometers the first tank line could include only 60-70 tanks from each side. Even in the case of two line order, the number of tanks taking part in the fight simultaneously couldn't exceed 250-300.
These are myths and the realities!
*4 - Rotmistrov P.A. "Tankovoe Srazhenie pod Prokhorovkoy", Moscow, 1960, p. 66
*10 - TsAMO. F. 328, op. 4852, d. 100. L. 7
*11 - Stadler S. Die offensive gegen Kursk 1943; II Panzercorps als Stosskeil im Grosskampf. Osnabruck, 1980.
*12 - Manuscript translation of the Battle Journal of the 2nd Pz. Corps. Author unknown.
*15 - G.K. Zhukov. Vospominaniya i razmyshleniya. Moscow, 1990, vol. 3, p 54.
*16 - Bitva pod Kurskom, Moscow, 1946, book 1, p 204.
*19 - Chandler D.G. "Kursk 1943 // Serial kampaniy (voyennykh)", London, 1992, No. 16.
*20 - TsAMO. F. 332, op. 4948, d. 20, Otchetnaya karta shtaba 5 gv. TA.
ATAR-Anti-tank artillery regiment
Div. - Division
ex. - excluding.
Inf. - Infantry
Pz. - Panzer
Rfl. - Rifle
TsAMO - Central Archive of Ministry of Defense of Russia, F-Fond, op - list, d-folder, L- page