Little Bits of History

July 12

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 12, 2017

1943: The Battle of Prokhorovka is fought. The location is about 55 miles southeast of Kursk in the Soviet Union. During World War II, Kursk was part of what the Germans called the Eastern Front. The Axis powers and Finland stood against the Soviets, Poland, and other Allies as battles raged through the Northern, Southern, Central, and Eastern Europe. The Russians called it the Great Patriotic War. On this day, one of the largest tank battles in military history took place as a battle inside the greater Battle of Kursk. Prokhorovka was a tactical victory for Germany and an operational victory for the Soviets. Beginning in April 1943, the Germans began to amass for Operation Citadel with the prime objective of surrounding and destroying Soviet troops in Kursk.

A week earlier, the Wehrmacht launched its offensive. The tanks of the 4th Panzer Army with the Army Detachment Kempf attacked the Soviet defenses of the Voronezh Front. The Germans were slowing advancing and then the Soviets launched their own counteroffensive, Operation Kutuzov. Coming from divergent directions, tanks rumbled across the open spaces. Germans were led by Hermann Hoth while the Soviets were led by Nikoklai Vatutin. The Germans had three Panzer divisions in the battle while the Soviets had seven tank corps and three rifle corps. That meant the Germans had 290 tanks and assault guns while the Soviets had about 610 tanks and self-propelled guns.

At 5.45 AM, reports came into the German headquarters notifying them of the sound of many tank engines as the Soviets got ready for an attack. Around 6.50 AM, the Germans were able to move forward and move Soviet infantry out of the way. Moving slowly forward, the Soviets began an artillery barrage at 8 AM and as the last shell fell around 8.30 the call came out for the 5th Guards Tank Army to begin their advance. The 500 behemoths moved forward with about 430 tanks in the first wave and 70 in the second and encountered two waves of Panzers. The Soviet tanks were moving downhill and carried the 9th Guards Airborne Division on their hulls. The Germans, exhausted from a week of fighting, were not ready for the engagement.

Both sides had air support with the Soviets flying 893 sorties to the German’s 654. At the end of the day, the Germans still held Hill 252.2 but were exhausted by the effort. While they were in a position to outflank the Soviets, they were unable to actually do so because of the efforts already expended. The Germans had 68-80 tanks and assault guns destroyed or damaged while the Soviets lost 300-400 tanks and self propelled guns, either totally destroyed or damaged. The Germans reported 842 soldiers killed, wounded or missing while Soviet records were not as precise. They may have lost as many as 5,500 men for the day. The larger Battle of Kursk, fought between July 5 and August 23, 1943 ended in a decisive Soviet victory.

If the tanks succeed, then victory follows. – Heinz Guderian

Tanks being deployed far forward is an indication of offensive action; tanks in depth is an indication of defensive action. – Norman Schwarzkopf

Tanks come in two forms: the dangerous, deadly kind and the ‘liberating’ kind. – Robert Fisk

The children of the world, what they want and what they need are health clinics and schools, not tanks or armed helicopters or fighter jets. – Óscar Arias