Prokhorovka: Part 1

World War II, Eastern Front, Russian and German Battle for the Kursk Salient.

The climax of the battle for the Kursk Salient took place near the city of Prohorovka on 12 July 1943. After the Allied landing on Sicily on 10 July Hitler gave tentative approval for the continuation of the drive on Kursk, but everyone involved in the decision knew that the resources needed to meet both threats exceeded Germany’s capabilities.

By now II SS Panzer Corps possessed fewer than 300 armored vehicles and III Panzer Corps had fewer than 200. General Rotmistrov’s 5 Guards Tank Army had five corps with a total of 830 tanks and self-propelled guns. The long eastern flank held by II SS Panzer Corps absorbed much of the armored vehicles of both armies, so the number of tanks, tank destroyers, and self-propelled guns involved in the action at Prokhorovka probably did not exceed 570.

General von Manstein’s orders for 12 July directed 48 Panzer Corps to capture the Psel River crossings south of Oboyan.  III Panzer Corp and Army Group Kempf were to move north to divert Soviet forces from Prokhorovka and, if possible, to join with II SS Panzer Corps to surround the Soviet forces in the pocket between them. II SS Panzer Corps was ordered to move northeast the last few kilometers to take Prokhorovka.

General Vatutin ordered attacks all along the front. Tenth Tank Corps was ordered to move down both sides of the Oboyan road with 100 tanks. Additional forces, including 70 tanks, were directed to strike Grossdeutschland from the west attacking toward Syrtzewo and Lukhanino. On the east General Vatutin ordered General Rotmistrov, commanding the 5th Guards Tank Army, to attack II SS Panzer Corps and III Panzer Corps while holding 212 tanks in reserve.

The heat and humidity of the previous days continued. Increasing clouds and light showers did not initially interfere with movement. German operations began at dawn. In the southeast 6th Panzer Division drove north to take Rzhavets, immediately sending forces across to the northern bank of the Donets by 0500 hours.  The 19th Panzer Division advanced along the south bank of the Donets to take Krivisovo. Vatutin, recognizing the danger to the Prokhorovka position, directed Rotmistrov to send his reserves to the northern Donets to block that threat. Luftwaffe fighters cleared the skies at 0630 and bombers began close support all along the front beginning at 0700. This air activity attracted Soviet fighter response.

The Soviet creeping artillery barrage began at 0810 hours in preparation for Vatutin’s assaults scheduled for 0900.

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

Ludwig Heinrich Dyck, “Showdown a Krokhorovka and Oboian”, WW II History, September 2006

George M. Nipe, Jr., “Ribbentrop at Prokhorovka”, WW II History, July 2009

Kursk: The Russian Preparations

The Russians knew the German intentions for the Kursk salient. A Russian spy ring, ‘Lucy’, revealed the plan to Stalin as early as 8 April, 1943. General Rokossovsky commanding Central Front issued orders for preparation of defenses south of Orel on 10 April. General Vatutin, commander of Voronezh Front, issued his orders on 12 April. The commanders expected the German assault in the second half of May, after the spring thaw. Marshal Zhukov presented the defensive plans to Stalin on the evening of 12 April, within 24 hours of arriving in Moscow.

Immediately civilians began preparations. Roads and railways in the expected combat area were built, or repaired. Anti-tank trenches eventually totaling 3,100 miles in length were dug. Three to six defensive belts, each with two to three layers were constructed in the areas most likely to be attacked. Defensive works included block houses and anti-tank strongpoints. Evacuated towns were incorporated into the defensive works which were intended to funnel and concentrate enemy armored vehicles into kill zones.

To the east of Kursk a solid line of defense was established to protect the rear areas in case of a German breakthrough. This Reserve Front, soon renamed Steppe Front was commanded by General Koniev. If the German attack was blunted, wearing itself out on the Russian defenses, the Reserve Front had orders for a counter offensive.

By June more than 300,000 civilians were employed to complete the defensive works. In the meantime, partisans and the air force conducted attacks all along the German supply lines. Eventually, these defensive works along the Central and Voronezh Fronts contained 1.3 million men, 19,794 artillery pieces and mortars, and 3,489 tanks and self-propelled guns. They were supported by 2,650 aircraft.

By early July the Russians awaited the German attack with anxious anticipation.