One of the key battles on the Eastern Front between Germany and the Soviet Union was the Battle for the Kursk Salient.
Dawn comes early on the Ukrainian Steppes in July. On 10 July, 1943, at 0330 hours the 11th Panzer Division resumed its attack up the Oboyan Road with Gross Deutschland fighting on the left flank west of Werchopenje. Supported by heavy Luftwaffe effort Gross Deutschland took two hills west of the village despite Soviet counter attacks along the Pena River.
Leibstandarte, on II SS Panzer Corps’ left flank, during the night hours of 9/10 July, crossed behind Totenkopf heading for their new concentration points near Teterevino for their attack up the Prokhorovka Road south of the Psel River. Totenkopf, scheduled to kick off at dawn by crossing the Psel River to the north shore to provide flank support for Leibstandarte, found their attack stalled by Soviet opposition, causing General Hauser to delay Leibstandarte’s attack until 1000 hours. Leibstandarte received the go-ahead finally at 1045 hours and Totenkopf finally crossed the Psel River at noon.
By 1300 Leibstandarte cleared the Komsomolets State Farm and, amid scattered thunderstorms, continued east of the farm against dug-in Soviet tanks .
Das Reich, on II Panzer Corps’ right flank, made limited advances, crossing the rail line to Prokhorovka and taking a small village to the south of the city.
Late on 10 July General Hauser ordered the continuation of the attack on Prokhorovka for 11 July.
Shortly after nightfall Vatutin’s 9th Guards Airborne Division entered defensive positions east of Prokhorovka. 33rd Rifle Corps was positioned along the Psel River. General Rotmistrov’s 5th Guards Tank Army reinforced by the 2nd Tank and 2nd Guards Tank Corps backed up this defensive line. These forces included 500 tanks and self-propelled guns.
Vatutin’s rearrangement of his forces was not completed by the morning of 11 July, when Leibstandarte began their advance up the Prokhorovka Road, backed up by the Luftwaffe, which gained a tenuous air superiority over the front. On the left flank Totenkopf expanded its bridgehead over the Psel river, but Das Reich failed to penetrate Vinogradovka, leaving Leibstandarte’s right flank uncovered.
The Soviet 9th Guards Airborne Division brought the German attack to a halt before an immense anti-tank ditch southeast of the Oktiabr’skii State Farm. Leibstandarte captured a hill in the midst of the Soviet defensive lines at 1310 hours, but their efforts reduced their forces to 60 tanks, 10 assault guns, and 20 tank destroyers.
Soviet attacks continued into the evening, but Leibstandarte smashed 2 Tank Corps’ defenses and drove a deep salient into the 9th Guards Airborne Division’s defenses by taking the Oktiabr’skii State Farm.
As evening fell both sides issued their orders for 12 July. 48th Panzer Corps was to take the Psel River crossing south of Oboyan. Army Group Kempf was to continue moving north along the Donets River while II SS Panzer Corps was to move the last few kilometers to Prokhorovka.
General Vatutin ordered General Rotmistrov to attack at 0300 hours on 12 July. 100 tanks were to attack southeast between the Psel River and the Oktiabr’skii State Farm toward the Komsomolets State Farm. An additional 191 tanks mustered in the southern suburbs of Prokhorovka were to attack between the Oktiabr’skii State Farm and Storzhevoe and 120 tanks were to attack Das Reich east of Belenikhino along the rail line.
The scene was set for the climax of the largest tank and air battle of the Second World War.
Sources: Geoffrey Jukes, Kursk: The Clash of Armour, Ballantine Books, Inc., New York, 1969;
David M. Glantz & Jonathan M. House, The Battle of Kursk, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 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.