World War II, Eastern Front, Russian and German Battle for the Kursk Salient.
General Vatutin’s attacks began all along the front at 0900 hours as scheduled. General Rotmistrov’s 9th Airborne Division, with Second Guards Tank Corps on its left, struck south in the direction of Komsomolets State Farm against SS das Reich. Against SS Leibstandarte and SS Totenkopf, Rotmistrov threw the 18th and 29th Tank Corps. Rotmistrov believed II SS Panzer Corps possessed scores of Tiger tanks so he ordered his T-34s to attack at full speed, firing on the run, and ramming enemy tanks as necessary. In fact Leibstandarte had only four Tigers and das Reich had one. Totenkopf, on the north side of the Psel River, had ten.
The 18th and 29th Tank Corps raced down a five kilometer wide corridor between the Psel River and the ten meter high railroad embankment to the southeast. Armored vehicles from both sides intermingled firing at one another at point-blank range. Smoke, flames, dirt, and debris filled the air. Under heavy air attack the 29th Tank Corps withdrew briefly, then turned south to take Leibstandarte in the flank, threatening their rear. This threat caused Leibstandarte to withdraw in their turn toward Oktiabr’skii.
Simultaneously, the Soviet 181st Tank Brigade moved along the south bank of the Psel River against Totenkopf’s lines of communication driving Totenkopf’s panzer grenadiers before them.
By noon the German command realized they had failed to reach Prokhorovka. They directed Totenkopf to move along the north bank of the Psel River. A shock group of 100 tanks, supported by close air support, penetrated 52nd Guards Rifle Division’s defenses by 1300 hours.
Heavy rain showers moved into the area in mid-afternoon and the exhausted and emotionally drained units of both armies accepted a brief pause in the fighting.
To the south III Panzer Corps’ 19th Panzer Division, advancing along the south bank of the Northern Donets River, seized Krivitsevo in the late afternoon.
In the west, south of Oboyan, Soviet forces pushed the 3rd Panzer Division out of Werchopenje and Berezovka into the eastern suburbs by 1700 hours. By this time 3rd Panzer Division possessed fewer than 40 tanks.
Meanwhile, in the center, the 95th Guards Rifle Division halted Totenkopf’s shock group at 1800 hours. Two hours later, under massive air support, Polezhaev was taken.
Sunset at 51 degrees north latitude takes place at 2011 hours on 12 July. By this time II SS Panzer Corps’ SS Leibstandarte captured hill 252.2 less than three kilometers from Prokhorovka. III Panzer Corps, unable to take Alexandrovka, remained 15 kilometers from Prokhorovka, failing to close the gap.
Thunderstorms ended all fighting after dark.
Sources: David M. Glantz & Jonathan M. House, The Battle of Kursk, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 1999
Ludwig Heinrich Dyck, “Showdown at Prokhorovka and Oboian”, WW II History, September 2006
George M. Nipe, Jr., “Ribbintrop at Prokhorovka”, WW II History, July 2009