Kursk: Southern Pincer Pt. 1

On the evening of 6 July General Vatutin, commander of the Voronezh front, requested four fresh tank corps and two aviation corps. Stavka, the Soviet high command told Vatutin he needed to use his existing forces. However, they authorized two tank corps for his use, to be available on 8 July.

In the meantime, Stalin ordered Gerneral Konev, commander of the Steppe Front to move the 5th Guards Tank Army forward to the Staryi Oskol area to protect Kursk. They would also be in position by 8 July.

Using the existing second line of defense previously prepared, Vatutin positioned the First Tank Army’s 31st Tank Corps on II SS Panzer Corps right flank, while the 2nd and 5th Guards Tank Corps would be positioned on the left flank. He depended on the 6th Tank and the 3rd Mechanized Corps to stop 48th Panzer Corps’ drive on Oboyan. Voronezh Front’s air power would be used to protect Oboyan while the Southwest Front’s air power would be used against German forces east of Belgorod.

Early on 7 July Hoth’s II Panzer Corps resumed its attack on the Pena and Lukhanino Rivers. The German tanks forced Vatutin to make a second request that Stavka allow him to dig in his tanks into the defensive positions, rather than launch an armored attack. This time Stavka allowed him to do so.

Leibstandarte’s First SS Panzer Regiment, First Panzergrenadier Regiment, and SS Das Reich pushed up the Prokhorovka road, peeling off two panzer grenadier regiments to cover their extended flanks.

On 8 July 500 German tanks with supporting infantry and artillery struck toward Oboyan. With Luftwaffe support Grossdeutschland broke into Syrtzewo just after noon, then continued their attack toward Werchopenye.

A Soviet counter attack from the flank near Werchopenye allowed the Soviets to reach the Pena River at Syrtzewo and Werchopenye by evening. As a result, Vatutin ordered his forces to prepare new defenses north of Werchopenye and across the Oboyan road to the Psel River.

In the east II SS Panzer Corps reoriented its attack away from Prokhorovka and toward Kursk, unaware that Vatutin had already commanded his forces to fall back in that area, while setting up an attack down the Prokhorovka road against II SS Panzer Corps. Vatutin’s attack went in piecemeal against SS Totenkopf’s and Das Reich’s advances. As the day progressed, with assistance from Hs 129 anti-tank aircraft armed with 30 mm cannon, Vatutin’s attack was blunted.

Orders for Grossdeutschland  for 9 July were to take the high ground south of Oboyan and wheel to the west to drive the Soviet forces out of Werchopenye. In the east Hausser’s II SS Panzer Corps was to continue its drive north toward Kursk, spearheaded by 283 tanks and assault guns.

Source: The Battle of Kursk, David M. Glantz & Jonathan M. House, University Press of Kansas, 1999

Author: Jack Kruse writes military historical fiction set in World War II. He is currently completing a novel, tentatively titled Cauldron, about the aerial battle of the Kursk Salient, a key confrontation on the Russian front in which German and Soviet fighters and bombers engaged in an intensive series of engagements over the steppes of the Ukraine.

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