Summary: 60 Years Ago: Prochorovka - Aspects of Operation Citadel
July 1943 in the sector of the Army Group Süd
Hardly any other battle of World War II is surrounded by more myths and legends than the "Tank Battle at Prochorowka”, a small village located 80 km away from Kursk and 50 km from Belgorod. It was there that on 12 July 1943, with Operation Zitadelle reaching its acme, 1,500 Soviet and German tanks and assault guns engaged in direct combat. This battle, generally considered as the turning point in the war against the Soviet Union and as the "biggest tank battle” in history, has inspired some authors to describe it with unrestrained fantasy.
For about a decade or so researchers have had access to sources that lead to a significantly more differentiated picture. Prochorowka was not just a battle, but a puzzle piece within the events that took place at the Eastern Front in July/August 1943. The overall efforts may be termed "Battle for the Kursk Salient” and comprised much more than Operation Zitadelle. They included Soviet defense and counter attack operations in an area of 500 km in width and 400 km in depth.
The German attack aimed at closing in on the enemy and neutralizing him in the area of Kursk, at bringing in reinforcements to cover the flanks of the strike forces as well as preparing for the counter attack at the flanks of the assault operation. The latter was doomed to fail for lack of forces. The Soviets wanted to counter the assault by means of deep defense operations in order to wear down the enemy and subsequently launch a counter attack. For that purpose the Central and Woronesh Fronts were brought up to full strength within a very short period of time and reinforced by additional antitank and engineer assets.
After initial German successes at the Woronesh Front the Soviet command concentrated its strategic reserves against the assumed thrust of the enemy in the area of Prochorowka, where the II Armored SS-Corps and the 5 Guard Army engaged in battle on 12 July 1943. In order to relieve the Central and Woronesh Fronts the Soviets launched a counter attack at Orel, where they met with a more vulnerable defense section, which ultimately caused the entire German operational plan to fail.
When at the same time allied troops landed in Sicily the Germans broke off Operation Zitadelle, as it required back-up forces that were no longer available. Thus the worn down German forces were facing the Soviet counter attack as of 5 August.
In detail the author describes structure, organization, equipment, and armament of the employed units. The main battle tanks Panther and Tiger e.g., which were employed for the first time, were superior to Soviet tanks but not available in the number needed, since the Germans had only just started to re-equip their tank regiments. Their strength was the upgraded armored combat vehicle P IV and their command and control structure marked by mobility and fire control, which helped to keep losses low, i.e. at about one fifth of those of the Soviets.
The fact that after penetrating the second defense line the German advance was directed toward Prochorowka is merely due to the mobile conduct of battle and was by no means a "right turn” as many publications would make it out to be, which would have led to a war of attrition.
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