The Battle at Prokhorovka

UpdatedSeptember 05, 2004
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Situation on the End of July 9, 1943


    The 4th Panzer Army (2nd SS Pz. Corps, 48th Pz. Corps, 52nd Inf. Corps) had broken through the second defensive line of the 6th Gds. Army in the Yakovlevo-Teterevino sector on uly 09, after which it continued fighting in the Oboyan direction, trying to break the Soviet defenses along the highway Belgorod, Oboyan, and Kursk.

    The 48th Panzer Corps (11th Pz. Division, SS Panzer-grenadier Division " Gross Deutschland", 3rd Pz. Division) reached Kochetovka, Novoselovka, Verkhopenje, and Beryozovka.

    The delimiter line between it and the 2nd SS Pz. Corps passed along the Solotinka river until the Psel river and then along the Olshanka river.

    The 332nd Infantry Division/52nd Inf. Corps carried out attacks on the left flank covering the flank of the 48th Pz. Corps.

    The most success was achieved in the 2nd SS Pz. Corps' zone. Advanced detachments of the SS "AH" Pz. Div. reached the Soviet army's rear defensive positions in Krasny Oktiabr', Kozlovka, Vasiljevka, 2 km south-west to sovkhoz "Komsomolets", railroad's bend south-west to Ivanovakiye Vyselki area the main forces reached Teterevino, Yasnaya Poliana area. The main forces of SS Pz Divisions "Das Reich" and "Totenkopf" were deployed in Kalinin, Luchki, west to Vialoye, and the Shopino area. Its advanced detachments occupied Lipovy Donets's western riverside area having a 30 km frontline turned to the east.

    The 4th Pz. Army had no operative reserves. The 167th Inf. Division which had been set as a reserve earlier, from 18:00 of July 08 was changing the troops of the SS " Totenkopf" Pz. Division in the Shopino, Visloye area. Later it also changed SS "Das Reich" Pz. Division troops until Luchki (including it) settlement.

    Correspondingly, the SS "Totenkopf" Pz. Division was ordered to concentrate on the morning of July 10 in the Greznoe area, and the SS "Das Reich" Pz. Division was ordered to compact its battle order north of Lucki, while its frontline orientation remained to the east.

    At the end of July 09, the 4th Pz. Army, packing the battle order of the 2nd SS Pz. Corps, cut itís frontline almost in half and received a powerful group from three handpicked SS Panzer Divisions in Krasny Oktiabr, Teterevino, (ex.) and Luchki area.

    Simultaneously the operative group "Kempf" performed a regrouping. the 7th Pz. Division was concentrating in the Melekhovo vicinity behind the 6th and 19th Pz. Divisions, preparing the offensive against Prokhorovka from the south via. Provorot'*a. Armored equipment of the Army Group "south" is given in Table #1.*1

    As the offensive on the Oboyan direction had been forced to stop, on July 08, the 4th Pz. Army's Commander adopted a new decision and ordered his troops to continue the offensive by order No. 5 which was cited above.

    The main aim of this decision was to organize on July 10 a powerful blow toward the north-eastern direction and simultaneously to envelop the enemy's forces in "Pensky curve" (means encirclement in Novoselovka area on Oboyan direction) creating conditions for a further advance toward the north-east.*2

        The new combat missions for the troops were given as follows (a bit cut variant)*2:

        The 167th Inf. Division was ordered:

        "2. The 167th Infantry Division is to hold its current positions", that it had taken after had taken over from the troops of the "Totenkopf" Panzer Division which was covering the right flank of the 4th Pz. Army along the Lipovy Donets western riverside. Later after the beginning of the SS "Das Reich" offensive, it had to move to the east to cover its right flank. Such an objective totally excluded the 167th Inf. Division from taking part in the Prokhorovka battle and its meeting with the 5th Gds TA's units in the meeting engagement of 10-15 July 1943.

    Then the objectives for the Corps were set:

    "4. The 2nd SS Pz. Corps is to defeat the enemy south-west of Prokhorovka and force it back toward the east. The Corps is to captures the hills from both sides of Psel river north-west of Prokhorovka.

    5. The 48th Pz. Corps is to annihilate the 6th Gds. Tank Corps in front of Oboyan on the Pena's western riverside and continue the envelopment from the Novoselovka region toward the south-west.

    6. The 52nd Inf. Corps is to hold its current positions while being ready to cross the Pena river by the army commander's order in the Alekseevka-Zavidovka sector.

    7. The Army headquartersís are situated in Aleksandrovka railroad station.

            4th Panzer Army Commander General Hoth"


    At 22:00 9th July the 2nd Panzer Corps' Commander issued an order which started with the assertion that:

"1. The enemy in front of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps on July 8 is strongly defeated. Conducting defensive fights against tanks. Strong enemy tanks south-east of Oboyan, so we need to be ready for an approach of a new enemy tank and motorised [as in the German original] reserve in the Prokhorovka area and west from it"*4. This order testifies to the good knowledge of our enemy. Thus disproves the statements that the appearance of the 5th Gds. TA "occurred to be a bolt from the blue to the enemy"*5. The German Command not only had been informed about the appearance of a large Soviet tank group east of Oboyan, but as well predicted its further use. Lets mark this detail as we need it in the future of this discussion.

    The order of the 2nd Panzer Corps' commander is important for the determination of the real trend of the battle. That's why we'll dwell on this. Its brief text is cited in the appendix.

    First of all this order fixes the date of the beginning of the battle: "The 2nd SS Pz. Corps is breaking through after regrouping... to the north-east... on July 10..."

    Secondly, the corps' objective is specified: to break through "until Prokhorovka - hill 5km east from Kartashevka and annihilate the enemy in this area".

    And thirdly, clearly determines who and what missions are to be carried out from the beginning of the battle.

    SS "Adolf Hitler" had the main objective: it is to"breaks through from the Teterevino area" to the north-east along the road, "captures Prokhorovka", in the region: right - "a forest west to Ivanovskiye Vyselki, Storozhevoye, Leski"; left - "settlements on the Psel eastern riverside until Verkniaya Olshanka"

    The Panzer Division "Das Reich" stays by its right flank in the current region having its frontline to the east. Moving behind "Adolf Hitler" Pz. Div. in prebattle order, it must be covered by one regiment ("Gross Deutschland") the "right flank" of the latter. If the flank of "AH" "meet strong enemy resistance, the "DR" are to take strongpoint positions", or in other words - to take a defensive position. The main task - to support "Adolf Hitler" 's moving forward and carrying out its mission.

    During the night of July 10 the Pz. Division "Totenkopf", after finishing its regrouping from the right to left flanks in the Greznoye area must capture a bridgehead on the Psel right riverside, build a bridge for tanks and secretly concentrate them to the north of the river. And then "breaking through the Psel valley and north of it to north-east and capture Beregovoye and the hills north-west of it"

    The offensive's commencement was differentiated:

    "for "Adolf Hitler" Division - 06:00

    "Totenkopf" Division -  reports during night about formation of a shock group on the bridgehead."

    I hope that it can be seen now the groundlessness of the statement which says that there was to be a concentrating on July 11 of the main forces of the 4th Panzer Army on the Prokhorovka's direction.

    And second, it becomes clear - only the "Adolf Hitler" Panzer Division performed the offensive actions between the railroad and Plel river against Prokhorovka. This conclusion is necessary to know the opponents of the meeting engagement which occured on July 11 for the Soviet 33rd Infantry Corps and those of July 12 for the 18th and 29th Tank Corps of the 5th Gds. TA.


Soviet Troops

    The 6th Gds. Army and the 1st Tank Army were carrying out stubborn fighting in the Oboyan's direction repulsing an attack of enemy tanks and infantry under massive air strikes. The most violent fighting took place in Verkhopenje, Novoselovka, and Kochetovka. The German troops never managed to break through to get freedom of action in the Oboyan direction. By active measures the enemy was stopped. The 6th Army's command received an opportunity for regrouping and effectively fortifying the current positions.

    The 52nd Gds. Rifle Division had been removed from the battle on the Oboyan direction on July 07, got an order from the 23rd Gds. Corps' Commander to move from Dumnoye, Mal. Psinka, Svino-Pogorelovo, Petrovka area to Klyuchi, hill 226.6, Polezhaev region at which point they are to take a defensive position by the morning of July 08. Mission: staying in the second echelon to prevent the enemy's tank and infantry breakthrough in the north and north-east directions [* scheme 3 *]*7

    On July 08 the 10th Tank Corps which had been transferred from the 5th Gds. Army (Lt.-General A.S. Zhadov) to the Voronezh Front was concentrated to the west of Prokhorovka.

    The Army's rear defensive zone covering Prokhorovka from the south-west: Vasiljevka, hill 252.2, (ex.) Vinogradovka, Zhimolostje, Novoselovka, Verin, Lvov, Kireev, Shipy from the 19th of May 1943 was taken over by the 183rd Rifle Division (General-Major A.S. Kostitsin). Frontline - 30km. Fortifications were built by the divisional staff together with local inhabitants.

    Actually one position was built consisting of the company's strong points having the depth of up to 1 km. As this division was the first to take the blow of the 2nd SS Pz. Corps in the battle of Prokhorovka and later it will also play a significant role in this battle it is worth mentioning the positions this division had on 8th July.

    i) 285th Rifle Regiment - Vasiljevka, hill 258.2, (ex.) Vinogradovka, Storozhevoye. Command post - sovkhoz Stalinskoye otdeleniye. Frontline ~12km.

    ii) 295th Rifle Regiment - (ex.) Storozhevoye, (ex.) Vinogradovka, (ex.) ravine 2km north-west to Dalniy Dolzhik, center of Zhimolostje. Command post - Provorot'. Frontline - 12km.

    iii) Verin, Lvov, Kireev area (~6km) was full of ravines and actually was inaccessible for tanks. Positions there were held by training and penal companies.

    iv) 227th Rifle Regiment was set as a reserve in Sazhin area. Divisional Command post - Krasnoye *8


    At 22:00 of July 08 the Voronezh Front Commander Army General N.F.Vatutin ordered the 69th Army's Commander to move a part of his forces of the left flank of the 183rd Rifle Division from Vinogradovka, Novoselovka, Shipy towards the railroad to: sovkhoz Komsomolets, Yasnaya Poliana, Teterevino region

    At 00:35 July 09 Vatutin personally ordered the 10th Tank Corps commander "to transmit Vasiljevka, sovkhoz Komsomolets defensive positions to the 2nd Tank Corps and to pass into a subordinate position to the 1st Tank Army's commander."*9.

    Later in the end of this paper we'll return to the topic of how this order "was carried out" by the 2nd Tank Corps.

    Now it's not the time to discuss the expediency of these manoeuvres of July 8-10 when the enemy was ready to complete its breakthrough of the rear defensive positions of the 6th Gds. and 69th Armies, but this fact can't be missed. Front and Army's command were fully aware about a serious threat on the Prokhorovka direction.

    The 183rd Rifle Division's current report on 15:00 July 07:

    "At 17:00 July 06 the enemy's forces of up to 120 tanks and up to two rifle companies have reached the Teterevino, Yasnaya Poliana line.

    The 10 tanks from the northern Teterevino outskirts' direction broke through the main defensive position of the 285th Rifle Regiment toward sovkhoz Komsomolets. Two tanks had been knocked out, the others returned to their initial positions.

    At 02:00 the enemy was carrying out an intensive reconnaissance trying to get a captive.

    At 04:00 7th July there were heard a sound of engines. According to the reconnaissance on 20:00 July 06'43 it has marked a large concentration of infantry in Luchki, Nechayevo and up to 150 tanks together with a motorised rifle regiment 3km south west from Luchki.

    The Enemy's aviation Ju-87, Ju-88 showed high activity from 19.00 6th July and during the night and the first half of July 07. They intensely bombed the positions of the 51st and 52nd Gds. Rfl. Division, as well as other units and also the locations of Prokhorovka, Teterevino, Belenikhino, Yasnaya Poliana, Ivanovskiye Vyselki, sovkhoz Stalinskoye otdeleniye. Division positioning was not changed." *10

    It should be understood that the efforts of the 183rd Rfl. Division's recon, or to be more exact to that one, working in its zone. This data were close to reality. The situation was "very complex", by the estimation of the Stavka's representative - marshal A.M. Vasilevsky. He told the 5th Gds. Army Commander - A.S. Zhadov: "The enemy is moving toward Oboyan. Although our troops have stopped its movement, we can't exclude a possibility that they will attempt to strike towards Prokhorovka with a further turn into the north to enveloping Oboyan from the east".*11 As a result the Voronezh Front's commander on July 07 asked I. Stalin for reinforcement of his front with two armies from the strategic reserve. For "solid covering of oboyan's direction and, above all, for supplying an opportune switching of the troops to the counter-offensive in the most favourable moment when it is necessary to start the movement of the troops of General Zhadov to the region: Oboyan, Prokhorovka, Mar'ino and the troops of General Rotmistrov to Prizrachnoye area, immediately".*12

    Both armies re-subordinated to the Voronezh Front had to strengthen defenses on the first stage. First of all this referred to the 5th Gds. Army. The commander of Steppe Front - I.S. Konev ordered Lt.-General Zhadov on July 08:

    "On the morning of July 11 reach the Psel river line, take a defensive position and prevent the enemy's movements to the north and north-east". He also let him know that "by the end of July 09 the corps of the 5th Gds. Tank Army of Lt. Gen. Rotmistrov are concentrating to the east from Prokhorovka". *13

    On 01:00 July 09 the 5th Gds. TA got the next order and mission details: "By the end of July 09 reach Bobryshevo, Bol. Psinka, Prelestnoye, Aleksandrovskiy [as at that time the settlement was called. And the railway station was called Prokhorovka] having mission: to be ready to meet fast moving enemy, who have already captured Kochetovka on July 08"*14.

    To complete the battle picture it is necessary to briefly describe the "characters in the play" - armies of A.S. Zhadov and P.A. Rotmistrov.

    The 5th Gds. Army in the Stalingrad Battle was called the 66th Army. It proved itself in eliminating the Germany's forces in the Stalingrad Tractor Plant area. For this it was reorganised into the 5th Guards Army. It retained four divisions which had passed through the Stalingrad crucible and received one rifle and two airborne divisions (all of them guards), which had recieved good battle training on the north-western direction, instead of dropped out ones.

    Two corps headquarters were formed according to instructions of the General Staff:

    - 32nd Gds. Rfl. Corps - 13th, 66th Gds. Rifle Divisions, 6th Gds. Airborne Division plus corps' units. The hero of Stalingrad - Gen. Major A.I. Rodimtsev had been appointed the Corps Commander.

    - 33nd Gds Rfl. Corps - 95th, 97th Gds. Rfl. Divisions, 9th Gds. Airborne Division plus corps' units. Corps Commander - Gen. Major I.I. Popov.

    The 42nd Gds Rfl. Division was set as a reserve of the Army Commander.

    On the 16th of May it was a part of the Steppe Military District and took a strategic defensive line: Zaoskol'ie, Aleksandrovka, Rusanovka, Kalinkin, Skorodnoye, Belyi Kolodets. There it was brought up to strength by staff and equipment and training. It received a new units: 29th Anti-aircraft Division, 308th Gds. Mortar Regiment BM-13 ("Katyusha"), 1073rd, 301st Anti-tank Artillery Regiments, 14th Assault Engineer-Sapper Brigade, signal and other standard army units. The 10th Tank Corps which had left its positions on July 07 for Prokhorovka was also subordinated to it*15.

    To run a few steps forward, it should be mentioned that two rifle divisions of the 33rd Gds. Rfl. Corps and the 42nd (reserve) division took part in the battle. They had:


  95th Gds. Rfl. Div. 9th Gds. Rfl. Div,. 42nd Gds. Rfl. Div,
Total manpower 8771 9018 8046
- officers 862 856 889
- corporals 2433 2586 2167
- soldiers 5476 5576 4990
Transport
Horses 923 808 824
Automobiles (including prime movers) 216 169 125
Armament
Rifles and carabines 4720 4985 4622
Submachineguns("PPSh") 2644 2625 2676
Heavy machine-guns 165 166 157
Light machine-guns 489 489 473
Anti-tank rifles 218 258 216
Guns of all types 96 76 94
Mortars 170 170 137

    Total manpower of the 33rd Gds. Corps - 26,646 soldiers and officers*16.

    The 5th Gds. TA was formed during February-April 1943 according to the decision of the State Defense Committee No. 2761 from  February 21. Initially it consisted of:

    After having completed its formation, in the end of March the army was redeployed from Millerovo to Ostrogozhsk. There it entered into the Steppe Military District. On July 06'43 it was transferred to the Voronezh Front. At this point in time it included:

 


Brigades
Tank Motorised Rifle Corps
Total manpower 1058 3491 3162 -
Tanks:
  • Medium (T-34)
  • Light (T-70)


32

21


23

16


-

-


98/101*

70/69*

Self-propelled guns:
  • SU-76
  • SU-122
    or heavy regiments of SU-152

-

-

-

-

-

-


-

-

-

17

8

12

* - Upper figure in tank corps, lower - mechanised corps

 

    According to the report of the operations of the 5th Gds. TA in July 7-24, 1943 one can find its strength on July 12 to be the next*18:

T-34 medium tanks 501
T-70 light tanks 261
Mk IV "Churchill" heavy tanks 31
Guns 76mm 79
SU-122 SP guns 45
45mm anti-tank guns 330
Anti-tank rifles 1007
Mortars 82-120mm 495
BM-13 rocket launchers 39

Landscape and weather conditions

    The battlefield may be bounded:

    The landscape is undulating ground with absolute elevation - 200-250 meters and relative - up to 30-35 meters. On the Melekhovo direction - a cross-country indented by deep ravines with steep slopes, that limits operations of a large tank groups in a meridional direction.

    The watershed between Don and Dnieper rivers goes along the line: khutor Luchki, sovkhoz Komsomolets and Oktiabrsky. There are no natural barriers preventing or limiting tank and cross-country vehicle operations. The width of this line at its narrowest part Andreevka-Storozhevoye tract (a deep ravine overgrown with forest) is about 6km. In the Prelestnoye-Yamki area a bit more - 7-8km.

    Vorskla, Solotinka, Psel from the west and Seversky Donets and Lipovy Donets rivers from the east form a natural passage. In the interested period there were two frontal transparent routes: Butovo, Yakovlevo, Prokhorovka and railway - Belgorod, Belenikhino, Prokhorovka. they permitted the enemy to supply its units and perform maneuvers of its troops.

    There are extremely low numbers of masking resources. The most suitable are ravines, usually overgrown by bushes and small forests and settlements which are placed in the lowlands along rivers, small rivers and artificial reservoirs.

    Psel river is the single water barrier which limits the enemy's operations, forces the enemy to cross it and constricts the attacking frontline. It isn't a serious barrier itself in a dry period. Its width does not exceed 10-15m excluding artificial tanks. However, its waterlogged flood-lands have a width of up to 100-200 m and have lots of former river-beds, that need a construction of a bridges for all kinds of vehicles including tanks. The right riverside is high with abrupt sleep-slopes. Its excess over the left plain river side is from 10-15 to 20-25 meters.

    Lipovy Donets and Seversky Donets rivers may be a barrier only for an offensive from the west to the east and vice versa. Their riversides are full of ravines, rather high that are favourable for creating a defensive position.


Meteorology on June-July 1943*19:

Atmospheric precipitates: in June-July the maximum of atmospheric precipitates occurred in a year - 60-85mm per month.

Usual number of days with precipitates - 13-14. Downpours: most often in June-July. 1-2 cases per month.

Thunderstorms: 5-10 cases followed by squally wind. In some years up to 20 cases.

    During downpours and especially lingering rains unpaved roads becomes difficult to traverse for wheeled traffic. Unpaved airfields that time are almost inoperative.


*a - As in the text. On maps this settlement may be found as Pravorot' - AMVAS


*1 - Muller H.B. Das Deutche Heer 1933 - 1945. Frankfurt a. M., 1969. B.3 (Russian ed.: Sukhoputnaya armiya Germmanii 1933-1945. Moscow, 1976)

*2 - Stadler S. Die offensive gegen Kursk 1943; II Panzercorps als Stosskeil im Grosskampf. Osnabruck, 1980. p. 79

*4 - Stadler S. Die offensive gegen Kursk 1943; II Panzercorps als Stosskeil im Grosskampf. Osnabruck, 1980. p. 81,82

*5 - Istoriya velikoy Otechestvennoy Voiny. Vol. 3 p. 272

*7 - TsAMO F. 52 Gds. Rfl. Div. 1943, op. 1, d. 41, L. 43-45

*8 - TsAMO F. 1433, op. 1, d. 10, L. 63

*9 - Bitva pod Kurskom. Book 1. p 175.

*10 - TsAMO F. 1433, op. 1, d. 10, L. 77

*11 - Zhadov A.S. "Tchetyre goda voiny", Moscow, 1978, p. 89

*12 - TsAMO. F. 203, op. 51360, d. 16, L. 368

*13 - Zhadov A.S. "Tchetyre goda voiny", Moscow, 1978, p. 88

*14 - TsAMO F. 4948, d. 18, L. 5

*15 - Zhadov A.S. "Tchetyre goda voiny", Moscow, 1978, pp. 81-86

*16 - TsAMO F. 4948, d. 18, L. 7-9

*17 - Ananiev I.M. "Tankovye armii v nastuplenii", Moscow, 1988, pp 66-67

*18 - TsAMO, F. 5 gv. TA, op. 4948, d. 18, L. 7-8

*19 - TsAMO, F. 203, op. 51360, d. 2, L. 434-436


Abbreviations

A-Army

ATAR-Anti-tank artillery regiment

Div. - Division

ex. - excluding.

Gds.-Guards

Inf. - Infantry

Pz. - Panzer

Rfl. - Rifle

TA-Tank Army

TBr-Tank Brigade

TC-Tank Corps

TsAMO - Central Archive of Ministry of Defense of Russia, F-Fond, op - list, d-folder, L- page


Literature

 


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