57mm Anti-Tank Gun Model 1943, Soviet Union

57mm Anti-Tank Gun Model 1943, Soviet Union


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57mm Anti-Tank Gun Model 1943, Soviet Union

This picture shows the Soviet 57mm Anti-Tank Gun Model 1943. This gun is part of General Chernyakovsky's 3rd White Russian Front, and is seen at Tilset, East Prussia, captured by the Red Army on 19 January 1945


How the LTTB Was Born

Soviet light tanks made during the WWII were cheap and simple vehicles, capable of being put into mass production in the most difficult conditions. By 1943, Soviet industry was restored, but the need of a good light tank did not go anywhere. Design bureaus got to work, and by 1944 they had a tank that was difficult to call anything but «light tank with heavy armour»(«легкий танк тяжелого бронирования», ЛТТБ, LTTB).

Return to the T-50

In the spring of 1943, it was obvious to GABTU (Main Agency of Automobiles and Tanks of the Red Army) that the T-70 is running out of room for modernization. One last leap was the T-80, a tank with a two-man turret and turbocharged engine, but even it was obsolete by the time trials were finished. Even the installation of the VT-43 gun, which was never put in mass production, left much to be desired. The situation with armour was even worse. The T-70 was designed to withstand the German 3,7 mm PAK,and by 1943, the main anti-tank weapon of the Wehrmacht was the 75 mm Pak 40, which was replacing the 50 mm Pak 38, and even the Pak 38 was enough to penetrate Soviet light tanks.

The problem of up-armouring the T-80 proved unsolvable, but how much further could you really modernize what was effectively a long-running redesign of the T-40 amphibious tank? The T-60 was supposed to be a «budget» companion of the T-50, which weighed almost 3 times as much and had plenty of modernization resources. Unfortunately, a series of problems, mostly with the engine, did not allow the T-50 to enter production, resulting in the T-70's arrival in the winter of 1942. Astrov's design was inferior to the T-50 in almost every way, but it was also simpler, did not use any deficit materials, and starting production at factories which already produced the T-60 was a simple task.

Many think that the end of the T-80 was the end of light tanks in the Soviet Union. Some historians recall projects proposed by factories that produced the SU-76. In reality, work never stopped. However, nobody bet on GAZ and other factories that already made light tanks. The T-70 chassis had a limit of 10-12 tons, and could not fit an appropriate engine. The development would have to start from scratch.

The T-50 was the most advanced light tank at the time it was built. Fate was not kind to it, but it was in demand again 1.5 years after the end of production

The first signs of changing times came in April 1943. At this time, results of T-50 trials were extracted from the archives. The tank, built according to specifications from the start of 1940, still surpassed the T-80 in every way. In order to upgrade it for 1943, only three things were needed:

  • Replace the 45 mm gun with a more powerful weapon.
  • Resolve the engine issue.
  • Decide on a production base and a design bureau.

Item 1 was the easiest. The size of the turret allowed the installation of a 76 mm F-34 gun or 57 mm ZiS-4, at the cost of removing the commander. This problem could also be solved with a new turret design. The engine issue could also be resolved. YaAZ was preparing to begin production of licensed American GMC-4-71 diesels, and a pair of these engines could provide the necessary power.

Even the issue of a factory and a design bureau seemed solvable. In the summer-fall of 1941, factory #174, the producer of the T-50, was evacuated to Chkalov (today Orenburg), them to Omsk. In 1942, after the cancellation of the T-50, the factory began producing T-34s. Nevertheless, the staff with significant experience in light tank production remained, and so did their desire to not build someone else's tank. Omsk also housed designers from factory #185, the main incubator of new ideas in Soviet tank building before the war. In other words, the conditions for a modernized T-50 were there.

Clearer and clearer

The first mention of a reworked T-50 shows up in a report of BTU Chief Engineer-Colonel S.A. Afonin in July of 1943. The report was composed immediately after the battle of Kursk where the Germans used many new tanks and SPGs. According to the report, the T-80 should enter production, but it was also described as inadequate for the modern battlefield. Afonin called to assemble a team to develop a more modern light tank.

57 mm ZIS-4 gun model 1943. After a Tiger tank was shot up, this gun was chosen as one of the means of fighting the new German tank

The report contained requirements for this tank, miraculously similar to the T-50. The new tank would weigh 15 tons with 45 mm thick armour. The crew, same as the T-50, would consist of 4 tankers. The engine would be a pair of GMC diesels with a total power of 220 hp. According to calculations, this would allow the tank to reach a speed of 45 kph. The transmission, however, was moved from the rear to the front of the tank.

Significant changes were also made to the turret and armament. The gun would be a 57 mm ZiS-4, the production of which briefly resumed in 1943 at factory #92. An alternative was the F-34, with which the ZiS-4 shared many components. The tank was to have a three man turret with a 1600 mm turret ring, which could fit a more powerful gun without removing crew members. Instead of a DT machinegun, a GVG (SG-43) machinegun would be used, one coaxial and one in the hull next to the driver.

Work on this first variant of the tank did not move past the composition of requirements, but only the first, as this tank changed several times over the next two years. The first serious change was at the end of December of 1943. At this time, the ZiS-4 disappeared completely from future plans, and there was a problem with GMC engines. Bombings prevented production from taking off, and the amount of engines received through Lend-Lease was barely enough for Ya-12 tractors. The mass of the tank also grew to 20 tons, so two 110 hp engines were no longer enough.

According to new requirements, the light tank would be equipped with a 300 hp engine. An engine that matched these requirements existed, but the last attempt to produce the V-4 ended in 1941. The inability to mass produce the V-4 and the shortage of V-2 engines was the main reason for removing the T-50 from production. It was not known where the V-4 would be produced this time around. The engine did eventually enter production under the name V-6, for PT-76s and BTR-50s, but this happened after the war.

The 76 mm S-54 gun was also proposed as a potential weapon for the new light tank

The increase in mass was for a good reason. According to new requirements, the thickness of the front plate grew to 75 mm, and the turret to 60 mm. Just in case, let me remind you: we're talking about a light tank, and not the T-43. The armament was also upgraded to the 76 mm S-54 gun with 3-K ballistics. This gun was explored in 1943 as an alternative to the F-34, and it was being tested in the T-34 and SU-76BM. The S-54 eventually lost to the more promising D-5T 85 mm gun.

The project was taken over by the design bureau of factory #174, supervised by G.V. Gudkov, the chief designer of the T-50. I.S. Bushnev from factory #185, another notable contributor to the T-50, was also working on this tank. Correspondence was exchanged between the design bureau and GABTU. According to a letter from January 26th, 1944, the placement of the transmission was up to the design group (it was immediately returned to the rear). It was also clarified that the 60 mm thickness requirement only concerned rolled welded turrets. In case of a cast turret, the required thickness increased to 75 mm. The engine requirements changed once again. According to this letter, SKB-75 (Chelyabinsk) began work on an 8-cylinder V-shaped V-20 engine, which was essentially a shorter V-2. The factory #174 design bureau got to work.

On March 20th, 1944, the design bureau presented their work on a potential light tank. The hull and, in theory, the suspension were ready. The hull was 5450 mm long (half a meter longer than the T-50), the width was only 10 cm greater, and the height a mere 3 cm. In order to install a wide turret ring (1660 mm, bigger than on the T-34-85), the sides were made from two pieces. Despite significant differences from the T-50, its influence was easy to spot. As for the suspension, factory #185 showed its mark here. Instead of individual torsion bars, the tank would use bogeys of two road wheels each, mounted on a single torsion bar. A similar layout, except on springs, was initially planned for the heavy T-100 tank that was developed at factory #185.

A draft blueprint of the light tank hull designed at factory #174's design bureau. The T-50's influence is obvious, despite a number of differences

The tank would either use the V-4 or the prospective V-20 engine. According to the design, it would generate 300 hp of power at 1750 RPM. A turbocharged variant was also proposed, with a power of 400-450 hp. There was also a choice of transmissions: a regular mechanical one with six gears forward and two back, or an alternative six-speed planetary gearbox with electromagnetic controls. The gearbox was to be grouped with the turning mechanism, like on the IS. Two variants of a planetary turning mechanism were also planned. Two experimental prototypes would be built, one with each type of transmission.

Light tank, heavy armour

By the time the hull and suspension designs were finished, GABTU's appetite increased. The 75 mm front plate was no longer enough. According to corrections, the new light tank should have 90 mm of front armour, and 90 mm on its upper sides. The turret was initially also 90 mm thick, but further corrections reached a whopping 200 mm. The sides of the turret thickened from 60 mm to 90 mm. The mass of the tank increased to 22 tons.

The armament was also unsatisfactory, since the S-54 was to be replaced with the D-5T. The tank also received a GVG AA machinegun, later upgraded to a DShK. The result in March of 1944 was a project that could be called nothing else but a light tank with heavy armour. To compare, a 90 mm rolled plate was meant for the IS-2 heavy tank, and could not be penetrated by the 88 mm Pak 43 gun. This was the name that the vehicle was given for World of Tanks, as it never received an index.

Factory #174's new light tank could have looked like this after all the changes requested by the GABTU were implemented. The reconstruction was performed by Vsevolod Martynenko and later used as the basis for the model in World of Tanks

After the memo on March 20th, 1944, no news came from factory #174. This was partially caused by the fact that work on the light tank had the lowest priority, and there was no time for it in the spring of 1944: the design bureau was focused on the T-34-85. Additionally, SKB-75 nearly abandoned all work on the V-20 by April of 1945. GABTU attempted to find another developer, but fruitlessly. An attempt to produce the V-4 also failed. No engine, no tank.

One could stop here, but it's not so simple. In July of 1945, with GABTU's approval, work was performed to evaluate the potential to increase the armour on the T-50. Crude estimates showed that the tank could receive armour to rival the IS-2 at 24 tons. The turret, according to the description, would be similar to the IS-3 turret. This is where things get interesting. A light tank called T-64 appears in documents. There are no images of it, but the description boggles the mind. The 26 ton vehicle would have a 45 mm upper front plate at 8 degrees from horizontal, and the cast front section was a whopping 200 mm thick. The sides of the hull were 150 mm thick, the rear 75 mm. The turret would be 220 mm thick. Here we have a real super-heavy light tank.

One can assume that this was a crude estimate and no work was performed in this direction, but that is not so. It was proposed that SPGs be built on this chassis. These same SPGs appear in RKKA armament proposals in October of 1945. The first of these vehicles was a tank destroyer wit a 100 mm gun and armour that guaranteed immunity to the German 75 mm gun at any distance. The gun mentioned here is the 7.5 cm KwK 42 L/70 used on the Panther and Panzer IV/70 tank destroyer. One could assume that the tank described here was the SU-101 (Uralmash-1), but the combat mass was only 25 tons, or 10 tons lighter. The second SPG would have a 122 mm howitzer and weigh 20 tons. Factory #40 was designated responsible for these SPGs, and the first 50 were expected to be built in 1947.

Translated by Peter Samsonov. Read more interesting tank articles on his blog Tank Archives.


57mm Anti-Tank Gun Model 1943, Soviet Union - History

By Robert Cashner

Ever since the tank appeared on the battlefield during World War I, armies the world over have sought to field man-portable infantry antitank weapons to give the infantryman a viable defense against the metal monsters. Long before the PTRS 41 was the Germans’ first attempt, made during World War I with the 13.2mm Tank-Gewehr Model 1918: a monster Mauser anti-tank rifle five and one-half feet long and weighing 40 pounds. While it could indeed penetrate the armor of World War I tanks, recoil was so brutal that few infantrymen wished to fire it more than once.

Between the world wars, for lack of anything better, several armies fielded anti-tank rifles. Some, such as the Germans and the Poles, opted for small-caliber weapons firing extremely high velocity hardened-core projectiles. At the other end of the scale were the “rifles” chambered for cannon ammunition, such as the Finnish Lahti, Swiss Solothurn, and Japanese Type 97, all of which used 20mm ammunition. Somewhere in the middle fell the British Boys .55-caliber antitank rifle.

These weapons were actually effective enough in penetrating the armor of tanks from the 1920s and 1930s. In 1939, the antitank rifle was state of the art. By 1941, advances in tank armor and technology had rendered it all but useless. Yet it was not until 1941 that the Soviets had developed and put into production their own antitank rifle. (Read more about the weapons and armaments that shaped the war inside WWII History magazine.)

The Russian PTRS 41: “Destroy Fascist Tanks with the Anti-tank Rifle!”

Oddly, the Red Army had all but ignored this type of weapon until immediately prior to World War II. The first Soviet attempt was a rather feeble effort in “reverse engineering” so common to Soviet technology of the early Communist era. The Sowetskoe PTR Sholoklov 38 was an almost exact copy of the German Model 1918 Mauser. It was chambered for the Soviet 12.7mm heavy machine-gun cartridge, roughly equivalent to the American .50-caliber Browning machine-gun round. The only improvements to the World War I design were the addition of a somewhat effective one-chamber muzzle brake and a two-round magazine in lieu of being merely a single-shot weapon. The weapon was not produced in any real numbers, and it quickly disappeared.

Almost as soon as the sun set on the Shokolov, a new day was dawning for two weapons that were to prove a mainstay for the entirety of World War II.

Invented by Russian arms designer Vassily Degtyarev, who also created successful light 7.62mm machine guns and heavy 12.7mm DShK machine guns still in use today for the Red Army, the PTRD (protivotanko ruzhe systemy Degtyareva) Model 1941 (PTRD-41) antitank rifle appeared that same year.

The PTRD had an almost brutal simplicity that lent itself well to mass production and rugged dependability in the field. It was a single-shot weapon consisting of a four-foot barrel, bipod, pistol grip, and skeletal butt stock. Simple open sights were mounted on the left side of the weapon, as was a cheek pad for the shooter. This kept the shooter’s face away from the recoiling parts.

The two primary Soviet antitank rifles of the World War II era were the PTRD 41 (top) and the PTRS 41 (bottom). The PTRD-41 was a single-shot weapon, while the PTRS-41 was capable of semiautomatic fire.

Other than the cheek pads, butt pads, and wooden pistol grip, the entire weapon was constructed of steel. Over six and one-half feet long the weapon, despite its streamlined design, still weighed 38 pounds. A muzzle brake was fitted. While it did help reduce recoil, it also produced a violent muzzle blast that could sometimes reveal the location of the weapon and crew. The Soviet field manual titled Destroy Fascist Tanks with the Anti-tank Rifle!, stated: “The modest dimensions, ease of carry and camouflage, and precision and accuracy of firing all impart high combat qualities to the rifle.” An atrocious 11-pound trigger pull, however, made accuracy a bit harder to achieve.

The PTRD was served by a two-man crew. Extra ammunition was carried in a canvas pouch with shoulder strap that contained 15 rounds. When fired, the barrel recoiled in its “stock” in a long recoil manner of operation. At the end of the recoil travel, the bolt locked to the rear and the barrel returned to its forward position, ejecting the spent casing and leaving the chamber open for the assistant gunner to insert a fresh round. When he had done so, he usually tapped the firer to let him know the weapon was ready again. A good crew could deliver eight to 10 aimed shots per minute. Tactically, the two-man antitank rifle teams usually worked together in squads of three weapons teams.

Sergei Simonov’s PTRS 41

The other main Soviet antitank rifle, this one designed by Sergei Simonov who also created the still popular SKS carbine, was the PTRS-41, or protivotanko ruzhe systemy Simonova. This weapon was more complicated than the simple and reliable PTRD. Gas piston-operated, the PTRS-41 ejected the spent case and stripped another round from the magazine semiautomatically when fired. A multiple setting gas regulator, which could be likened to the one on the FN FAL rifle, offered adjustments to ensure sufficient gas power and was vented from the barrel to the piston even when the weapon was dirty or extremely cold. Fitted with a muzzle brake, the gas-operated system also helped to soak up some of the massive recoil, making the PTRS more pleasant to fire than the PTRD.

The PTRS-41 was still a massive hunk of iron. Also having a four-foot barrel, the beast was a total of seven feet long and weighed around 46 pounds. However, the barrel could be removed to make the weapon easier to transport by two men. The weapon was fed by a five-round magazine that was remarkably similar to the stamped steel “enbloc” clip used by the American M1 Garand rifle. It loaded upward into the magazine well. Single rounds could also be loaded and fired manually from the top of the receiver.

A Million and a Half Russian Anti Tank Rifles

The clip feed and semiautomatic action should have been a considerable bonus, as even the big 14.5mm round usually required multiple hits to disable an armored vehicle. However, the PTRS 41 was not nearly as successful as the simpler PTRD. It was prone to jamming if the least bit dirty, and the powerful 14.5mm cartridges tended to rapidly foul the gas port needed to cycle the weapon. It was issued in smaller numbers and saw less use than the PTRD. The PTRS teams worked in the same way the PTRD teams did but could put out many more rounds per minute.

Two main factors kept the Soviet antitank rifles viable in an age when they were disappearing from the battlefield. The first was the unique caliber of the Soviet weapons, the 14.5mm, which made them probably the most effective of the antitank rifles. The second was the great number of the weapons produced.

The cartridge that was eventually settled upon was the flat-based BS-41 (API) Armor Piercing Incendiary, which fired a massive 1,011-grain projectile (the standard .30-caliber rifle bullet of the day was only around 150 grains) with a 597-grain hardened steel or tungsten penetrator and an internal charge of incendiary material. With a muzzle velocity of 3,300 feet per second, it could penetrate some 25mm of armor at 500 yards, 40mm at 100 yards, and the incendiary agent could set fire to flammable materials it contacted.

In this close-up view of a well-worn PTRD-41 carried by communist forces during the Korean War, the pad covering the stock has deteriorated noticeably.

The 14.5mm proved much more effective than the rounds used in most of the other antitank rifles of the day and is still in use in heavy tank machine guns and light antiaircraft guns today.

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin has been quoted as having said, “Quantity has a quality all its own.” Some 17,000 PTRDs were produced. By the end of the summer of 1943, a million and a half antitank rifles had been cranked out by Soviet state factories. The American Field Artillery Journal noted that by the end of 1942, provision of rifle regiments with antitank rifles had increased 416 percent since their adoption in 1941. The weapons stayed in production right up to the end of the war.

Each infantry regiment included an antitank rifle company, with 27 antitank teams. Each infantry battalion also had an antitank rifle platoon with nine antitank rifles. To reinforce hot spots, such as Kursk, the Soviets threw in independent antitank rifle battalions. Each battalion had three companies of 70 men and 18 to 20 antitank rifles each. Attaching an additional 60 or so antitank rifles to a unit gave it some real extra teeth against enemy armor.

German armored commander Maj. Gen. F. von Mellenthin complained after the war, “The Russian and his antitank weapon are inseparable sometimes it seemed as if every infantryman carried his own antitank rifle.”

Russian Antitank Rifles Against Germany’s Panzers

With such extensive numbers and so powerful a caliber, the PTR antitank rifles were feared by the Germans. It was primarily due to hits and penetrations from these powerful and numerous antitank rifles that the Wehrmacht increased the Mark IV’s armor in the Ausf. B and Ausf. E models of the original Mark IV medium tank. The Ausf. G model added even more armor and Schurzen armor skirting over the sides and tracks.

Despite the reputation of German leviathans such as the Tiger, Panther, and Elefant armored vehicles, the predominant tank in German service throughout the war remained the venerable, dependable Mark IV. In fact, Col. Gen. Heinz Guderian, a legendary German armored commander, even recommended a “quantity over quality” approach, concentrating on mass-producing upgraded Mark IVs rather than expending valuable time, resources and manufacturing capabilities developing new tanks.

The PTR series of weapons with the BS-41 tungsten-cored armor-piercing round was able to penetrate 35 to 40mm of armor at 300 meters the side armor of the German Mark III and Mark IV tanks was only 30mm at its thickest on the flanks. The addition of another 8mm of steel armor Schurzen, physically separate from the hull armor, in addition to providing extra thickness, caused the 14.5mm round to expend much of its energy and begin to tumble from a nose-first attitude while penetrating this first layer. It also helped to protect the more vulnerable wheels and suspension system.

Some Western historians have nicknamed these skirts “bazooka pants” and attribute their addition to the appearance of shaped-charge weapons such as the American bazooka and British PIAT. The use of Schurzen was undoubtedly quite effective against shaped-charge HEAT (high explosive antitank) rounds as well, but its adoption was due to Soviet antitank rifles. German accounts from both the field and manufacturers lay the adoption of Schurzen squarely at the feet of the endless supply of Soviet antitank rifles.

Guerdian stated, “The ‘aprons’ were sheets of armor plating which were hung loose about the flanks and rear end of the Panzer III and Panzer IV and the assault guns they were intended to deflect or nullify the effect of the Russian infantry’s antitank weapons, which could otherwise penetrate the relatively thin, vertical body armor of those types of vehicle.”

Facing Tigers and Panthers

When the new generation of German armored fighting vehicles appeared, they were more formidable and heavily armored than the ubiquitous Mark IV. The Mark V Panther and Mark VI Tiger had up to 110mm of armor, the Jagdpanther tank destroyer 120mm, and the massive Elefant as much as 200mm. Realistically, the 14.5mm round could do no more than put gouges in such thick steel hides.

Even so, the antitank riflemen engaged the new behemoths like a swarm of flies tormenting a maddened bull. To increase the odds of success, under ideal conditions as many as 10 Soviet antitank rifle teams would engage one platoon of three or four German tanks. Anti-tank riflemen were also trained to use the accuracy of the weapon to target known weak points of enemy tanks. Particular attention was paid to the vision slots a blinded tank becomes quite vulnerable.

Decorated Tiger tank commander Otto Carius had a close call with a Soviet antitank rifleman. He said a glancing blow from a Soviet antitank rifle on his cupola’s Kinon vision block blinded it and knocked off a chunk that ricocheted inside the turret. Carius believed that a direct hit at a flat angle would have penetrated completely.

Another Tiger tanker noted that when engaged by multiple Soviet antitank riflemen at close range, most of the tanks’ vision blocks had been shot out in a matter of minutes. The commander and gunner searched in vain to locate and engage the riflemen with their cannon and machine guns but, “[The antitank rifle teams] always went to other positions and then disappeared again as quick as lightning.”

A pair of Red Army soldiers fires a PTRD-41 antitank rifle at a German tank somewhere on the Eastern Front in 1943. The Soviets employed the antitank rifle long after other weapons had been developed.

In the wartime Soviet field manual, the riflemen were advised to execute the very tactics that frustrated the German tankers, such as:

In all cases have secondary firing positions.

Take 5 to 10 shots from one position, then move to another.

If the enemy tank is moving in a direction not favorable to you, quickly and discreetly occupy another position in order to shoot it in the flank or rear.

Maneuvering on the battlefield, guide the tank into the fire of another tank crew.

In July 1942, a Soviet sergeant shrugged and told a Western reporter with rural Russian stoicism and simple eloquence, “What is a tank? I can see it, but it can’t see me. My rifle is small and hard to hit, but a tank is big. All you have to do is aim at it.”

It was seldom as easy as that. Bearing in mind wartime propaganda, a German report claimed that, in February 1943, one of the vaunted new German Tiger tanks sustained an incredible 227 hits from Soviet antitank rifles and, while the suspension and road wheels had been heavily damaged, the Tiger was able to keep moving and fighting for the duration of the battle.

Tank Killing Aces of the Soviet Army

The Soviets even had tank killer aces. Two antitank riflemen, Yablonko and Serdyukov, were credited with 22 tank kills between them, and Sergeant Ilya Derevjanko knocked out 10 by himself. Another antitank rifleman named Manenkov of the 95th Rifle Division was made a Hero of the Soviet Union for destroying six German tanks in the vicious street fighting in Stalingrad.

Just as they had female pilots, artillery crews, and snipers, the Soviets also had female antitank teams. These teams consisted of three members instead of the usual two-man teams to better haul the heavy weapons. It was no wonder the extra crew member was needed. With the rifle alone weighing 38 or 46 pounds, the standard 200 rounds of 14.5mm ammunition added over 60 more pounds. To this was added the weight of personal weapons and ammunition, field gear, equipment, bedrolls, rations, and more

As with most other nations’ antitank rifles, the Soviet weapons also found use against light armored vehicles, trucks, and infantry positions. The Soviet Infantry Manual noted: “If no tanks and armored vehicles are present, on orders of the antitank rifle squad leader the antitank rifles can take under fire enemy machine guns, artillery and the firing slits of bunkers and forts at a range out to 800 meters and aircraft at a range of up to 500 meters.”

Private Vassily Kovtun of the 902nd Rifle Regiment was given credit for destroying four tanks, two armored personnel carriers, and two armored cars. The big antitank rifles were also handy for reaching enemy soldiers behind cover in house-to-house street fighting. Antitank rifle ace Ivan Knjazev of the 310th Guards Rifle Regiment was credited in a Soviet report with “67 AFVs, MGs, guns and mortars.” Kovtun was also credited with knocking out 20 German machine-gun nests.

“The Ideal Weapon For Partisans”

When the U.S. Department of the Army, using interviews with German veterans of the Eastern Front, published Russian Combat Methods in WWII at the beginning of the Cold War, the report said of the antitank rifle: “It was to be found even where no German tank attacks might be expected…. If the small gun, always excellently camouflaged, was not needed for antitank defense, its flat trajectory and great accuracy were put to good use in infantry combat.”

Antitank rifles were also extremely popular weapons to air-drop to Red partisans operating far behind enemy lines to give them a powerful yet portable weapon to use against German supply lines and support units. Rear-area German security forces usually had only light armored cars or tankettes, often captured enemy models, to utilize for patrols and reaction forces. These lightly armored vehicles and supply trucks could be easily defeated by the powerful 14.5mm weapons.

One partisan said of the PTR dropped to his troops, “It was the ideal weapon for partisans. Its accuracy was amazing, and a trained PTR crew could hit the boiler of a railway at 800 meters. This enabled us to ambush German trains in daylight, shooting them up from a safe distance.”

Following two infantrymen armed with conventional rifles, a two-man PTRD-41 antitank team rushes into combat as smoke from exploding shells billows nearby. By the summer of 1943, more than 1.5 million antitank rifles had been produced in the Soviet Union.

Although it was not a dedicated antiaircraft weapon, the PTR was often fired at German planes. The weapon was certainly powerful enough to knock down an aircraft. The 14.5mm round is still used in light antiaircraft cannon to this day. On July 15, 1943, Soviet propagandists credited an antitank rifleman named Denisov with using his PTR to shoot down two “Fascist bombers,” and Private Semen Antipkin with destroying eight tanks and one German aircraft.

It should be noted, however, that Soviet doctrine dictated firing every available weapon at attacking German aircraft. It proved to be effective enough to make ground support missions by the Luftwaffe very unpleasant.

One German pilot reported on Luftwaffe aircraft losses in February 1942: “Every Soviet ground unit attacked by our aviation opens fire on our planes with rifles and other infantry weapons. The probability of hits on a small target by widely distributed ground fire is very great…. Mortar fire is also used. I do not point this out as an example to be followed but to explain that the Soviets fire on aircraft with all weapons used by ground troops.”

The End of the Soviet Anti Tank Rifle

After World War II, the Soviets exported PTRS-41 antitank rifles as part of their effort to modernize and equip the North Korean Peoples Army. At the beginning of the Korean War, due to the limits of Japan’s road and bridge infrastructure, the U.S. Army had only M24 Chaffee light tanks available in theater. Thinner skinned than the German Mark IV, these light tanks proved quite vulnerable to PTRs. When heavier tanks such as the American M26 Pershing and British Centurion began to arrive, the PTR lost much of its utility as an antitank weapon.

Like the Soviets, the North Koreans continued to use PTRs in much the same way as modern antimaterial and special applications rifles. A 1951 U.S. Army intelligence summary ended, “Consequently, these rifles ostensibly find more employment at present against infantry concentrations, machine gun emplacements, and similar targets than as antitank weapons.”

The PTR also remained in service with other Soviet Bloc countries for after World War II. Albania kept them in its inventory until the early 1980s. Despite its utility as an antimaterial rifle in Soviet and Korean hands and the development of scoped PTR and other antitank rifles as long-range sniper rifles by military officers in the field, the U.S. Army brass showed absolutely no interest in the concept.

Forty years later, however, a similar anti-material rifle suddenly came back into vogue and is in great demand by armies around the globe, especially by military snipers and special forces. Today, more than a dozen countries manufacture such weapons, with four of those nations making antimaterial rifles chambered for the 14.5mm round. The current Hungarian-produced Gepard family of antimaterial rifles includes two different 14.5mm models, and the weapons bear a striking resemblance to the Soviet antitank rifles of 1941.


57mm Anti-Tank Gun Model 1943, Soviet Union - History

Do you know why the Soviets never adopted HESH rounds? I recall reading one of your articles where they tested HESH against various HE rounds so I doubt that they did not have access to the technology.

I've never seen any reasoning about why it was never implemented. From what I can tell, subcaliber fin stabilized AP was good enough and there was no reason to go with a risky new technology.

Interesting, I would have thought the Soviets would have loved the versatility of HESH against armoured and unarmoured targets but I can see why they would prefer APDSFS with the greater velocity. Thanks!

HI, very nice work with your site. Could be there a schance to cover the translation of the documents reporting the causes of tank losses? More here: https://www.reddit.com/r/WarCollege/comments/5t6c6n/causes_of_tank_losses_on_the_eastern_front_soviet/

Is there any article on made-up soviet tanks?

There aren't really any popular made up Soviet tanks aside from obvious photoshops.

its really propaganda how you pathetically attempt to de-legitimise german scores and victories ( which btw HAD to be verified by no fewer than 4 sources ( my great great uncles fought in the luftwaffe ( one was head of the luftwaffe and charged with crimes while committing or authorising no such crimes) for then to be recognised yet EVERY russian victory was tiger. lol all together the degenerate zionist russians claimed to have destroyed over 3000 tigers by 1943 A FIGURE THAT IS NO DOUBT OVER EXAGGERATION TO UNHEARD OF LEVELS.

and btw the all-lies were the true criminals what with the fire bombing of civilian targets by britian and america ( bombing civilians was brought to the war by the british in 1938 despite hitler attempting peace with them before and after, and the massive numbers of GANG RAPE committed by the "honorable" soviets.

when you die and go to hell for this web hatred you post youll see stalin, churchill, eisenhower an all other all-lies in hell yet not one single national socialist.

also the russians were the only nation to employ explosive ammo for snipers but whats new to a culture of oppressive savage uncivilised criminal warmongers. hell germany was fighting to rid the world of the degeneracy known as zionism and communism (not surprising that both invented by jews)

the situation in the world today is direct consequences to the world betraying germany in ww2

The germans used explosive ammo too. So I guess that the germans are "a culture of oppressive savage uncivilised criminal warmongers" too.


The T-34 Soviet Tank II

In spite of the suffering and problems they had to endure, the Germans somehow were able to regroup and recover to the extent of effecting a partial re-supply, repair, and re-organization. They had not recovered their initial momentum, but were now able to repel most of the Russian penetrations they were receiving, and to promptly hit back with short, rapid tank and infantry assaults which, though they failed to gain them much, enabled them to retain their positions. This reaction—action approach was to become their operating policy for most of the remaining campaign on the Russian Front.

As the offensive ground on, by early 1943 the German tank force in Russia was in very bad shape. Their deteriorating morale, operational inefficiencies, confusion, and indecision at the command, supply and manufacturing levels were rampant. For both the Russians and Germans, the efficient, effective use of tanks was key to success in the offensive. Tanks provided the ability to penetrate the enemy front line and bring vital support to one’s overextended infantry, and they could powerfully defend against penetrations by the enemy forces. The Germans were losing the battle to field, fight and maintain tanks in this unrelenting, unforgiving situation. They were forced to continue their reliance on the PzKpfw III and IV tanks, of which the III was utterly outclassed by the Soviet T-34, a fact not lost on the panzer commanders in the field. When the commanders then prevailed upon the German Ordnance Office to quickly design produce a copy of the T-34 for their use, the designers instead went to work on an entirely new general purpose tank, the forty-five ton Panther.

From its introduction in 1940, the T-34 was a tank with exceptionally well-balanced attributes: mobility, protection, firepower, and ruggedness. On the downside, it lacked good crew habitability characteristics, had a scarcity of radios in the early production runs, and was limited by a two-man turret capability, requiring the commander to aim and fire the gun (an arrangement inferior to that of most German panzer tanks of the day). Still, when the technicians at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland evaluated a T-34 that had been sent over by the Russians, they found it to have, among other very positive aspects, the best optics of any tank they had analysed there to date in 1942.

Over the course of its production, 84,070 T-34s were built between 1940 and 1958. Operated by a crew of four, the 26.5-ton tank mounted a 76mm main gun and two 7.62mm machine-guns. Its twelve-cylinder diesel 500hp engine powered it to a high speed of 33 mph and it had an operating range of 250 miles.

Through the war years, the T-34 was gradually and continously refined to improve its capability and effectiveness and lower its manufacturing cost, which enabled the Russians to build it in greater numbers and deploy ever more on the battlefield. Its versatility, capability, and cost-effectiveness meant that it could replace many light and heavy tanks then in service. The tank was initially produced by the KhPZ factory of Kharkov, Ukraine, and was the standard tank of the Soviet armoured forces throughout the war. It was, by any measure, the most-produced tank of the Second World War and the second most-produced tank ever, after its successor, the T-54.

When the T-34 first came out, it was considered by many to be one of the best tank designs ever achieved. It boasted a range of impressive characteristics, from the greatly increased protection of its sloping armour, to its new V-2 diesel engine (much safer than previous and highly flammable petrol engine), to the Walter Christie suspension allowing it to roll fast over rough ground, and its wide tracks and low ground pressure for excellent mobility in snow and mud. True, it did have some reliability and manufacturing issues that would take a long time to resolve. But, overall, it certainly proved to be the right tank at the right time for the Russians.

The design of the T-34 began in 1937 when an assistant engineer, Mikhail Koshkin, was assigned by the Red Army to head a design team working on a replacement tank for the old BT model. In the course of the project, Koshkin was able to convince Joseph Stalin to leapfrog to the development of a newer tank design he had in mind, which would become the T-34. He called it T-34 after the year in which he first started planning the revolutionary design.

In the beginning, T-34s were produced at the Stalingrad Tractor Factory and, immediately after the German invasion started, production began at the Krasnoye Sormovo Factory in Gorky where major problems soon plagued the assembly process. Defective armour plating was discovered and a shortage of the new V-2 diesel engine was slowing the assembly line there. A critical shortage of the costly radios for the T-34 required that the sets be allocated to the tanks built for the company commanders only, thus all other tank commanders were required to signal to one another using flags. Problems with the main gun led to a new 76mm gun originating from the Grabin design bureau at Gorky, but no official production order was actually issued until after Russian troops used the weapon on the battlefield and praised it, after which the Stalin State Defense Committee gave official permission for its manufacture.

With the German invasion in June 1941, the Soviets froze further development of the T-34 and dedicated its assembly lines to full production of the tank at its current stage of evolution. As the German armies rapidly advanced into Soviet territory, their presence forced the evacuation of the major Russian tank factories to relocation sites in the Ural Mountains, a huge undertaking that had to be achieved in great haste. Main manufacturing facilites were quickly set up at Dzherzhinski Ural Railcar Factory in Nizhny Tagil, which was renamed the Stalin Ural Tank Factory. The Kirovsky Tank Factory and the Kharkov Diesel Factory were relocated to Chelyabinsk which was soon nicknamed ‘Tankograd’ and the Voroshilov Tank Factory of Leningrad was incorporated into a new Ural factory at Omsk. A number of small ancillary supply factories were absorbed into the Ordzhonikidze Ural Heavy Machine Tool Works in Sverdlovsk. By the end of this whirlwind set of relocations, some forty percent of all the T-34 production was occurring at the Stalingrad Tractor Factory, and during the heavy fighting in the Battle of Stalingrad of 1942, material and spares shortages developed causing critical manufacturing problems and resulting in some quality-control difficulties and in some tanks being rolled out and delivered to the battlefields unpainted. Even through the turmoil of battle in and around Stalingrad, however, full production was maintained through September 1942.

Throughout the inevitable shortages, disruptions, and difficulties of the lengthy combat periods of the German offensive in the east, the Soviets maintained a policy of no significant product changes on the assembly lines apart from measures to reduce and simplify production and the associated costs. Certain innovations did figure in the manufacturing process, including a plate-hardening procedure and the introduction of automated welding. The design of the 76mm main gun for the tank was refined to produce the weapon from 614 parts instead of the 861 previously required. And over the course of two years’ manufacturing, the unit cost of the tank was reduced from 269,500 rubles to 135,000, and the actual production assembly time was reduced fifty percent by the end of 1942 this in spite of major changes to the workforce building the tanks. Roughly half the workers had been sent to fight on the battle front and they had been replaced by a mix of women, boys, older men, and invalids. The manufacturing fit-and-finish standard dropped some from what had previously been “beautifully crafted machines with excellent exterior finish, comparable or superior to those of Western Europe or America.” Now the T-34 was more roughly finished, but its quality and reliability was not compromised in the process.

In addition to building up the Red Army’s inventory of the tank and replacing battlefield losses, a prime goal was the improvement of tactical efficiency of the weapon. The main emphasis was put on quickly increasing the rate of production. A new, larger, more user-friendly turret was designed and added to the production line in 1942, along with the addition of a commander’s cupola for 360 degree visibility. At the same time, the desirable rubber rims for the road wheels had to be sacrificed in favour of steelrimmed road wheels due to rubber shortages in the Soviet Union. The engine and five-speed transmission were improved and a new clutch was added. By 1943, production of the T-34 had reached 1,300 a month and, like the Spitfire fighter to Britons, the T-34 had become iconic for the Russians, symbolizing the power and effectiveness of the Soviet counterattack against the Germans.

In its manufacture, particularly in the war years of 1942-1944, various innovations were gradually introduced to the design and the assembly process of the T-34. By 1944, the tank had evolved into the T-34-85 version, with a larger turret that mounted an 85mm gun. The new turret overcame the twoman limitation problem of the earlier T-34. Many of these tanks were also fitted with appliqué armour made from scrap steel of differing thicknesses and welded onto the hull and turret.

The soldiers of the German Army by this time had come full circle in their peception of the Russian tank. In the T-34-85 especially, they came to a collective recognition that they were dealing with technical superiority and a genuinely formidable weapon that they respected and feared. That respect was shared at a higher level in the person of Germany’s most renowned tank leader, Heinz Guderian. So impressed was he by the qualities he saw in the T-34 that he ordered a special commission with representatives of the army ordnance office, the armaments ministry, the tank designers and manufacturers, to visit the front lines in Russia to examine, evaluate and study captured T-34s. Part of his reason was to determine what would be required in the high-priority design and manufacture of a new anti-tank gun capable of destroying the state-of-the-art Soviet tanks.

The then-planned improvements to the design / manufacture of the existing Mark III Panzer tank would, Guderian knew, achieve little towards making it comparable to the T-34, and the German tank designers and builders were greatly concerned about the challenge. The only possible quick solution was the Mark IV, which was also not equal to the Russian tank, but would be improved with a better gun over the course of the war. The aim of the Germans was, clearly, not just equality with the T-34, but a tank which would be reliably capable of destroying the Russian tank. The pressure on the German tank industry was significant and it responded by rushing a new design into production, the Mark VI, which had been tested with promising results. The big Mark VI weighing fifty-six tons, was armed with an 88mm gun. Its turret had 100mm armour on the front, which made it virtually invulnerable to the gun of the T-34 except when at close range. Its manufacture was hurriedly begun in July 1942. They called it the Tiger.

Basically, the Tiger was mainly a defensive weapon, an assault tank to be employed in support of infantry. In performance it did not compare particularly well with the T-34, having an open-country speed of just over twelve mph and a range of less than sixty-five miles. Its great size and weight would make it a handicap when it broke down—as it frequently did—for it would normally require another Tiger to tow it off for repairs. To the German commanders on the Eastern Front, and their tankers, the Tiger was not the anwer to the T-34. To the irritation of the German tank designers, the field commanders wanted them to essentially copy the T-34 and give the result better armour protection and a better gun. When their proposal reached those in authority for German tank production it was soon rejected, primarily because their industry was not then equipped for the rapid mass production of an aluminium tank engine like that of the Russian tank. That rejection led immediately to the start of design work on a new tank, the Mark V Panther, a weapon more like the T-34. The Panther weighed forty-five tons, had a road speed of twenty-eight mph and was designed with sloped and angled armour, like the Russian tank. It was armed with a high-velocity version of the 75mm L70 gun and had turret armour extended to 120mm in thickness. The Panther may well have been the best German tank of the war, but by spring 1943, when it was being introduced in German armoured units, like nearly all new weapon systems, it arrived with problems.

As good as the T-34 had proven itself to date, the Soviets were well aware that it had serious problems of its own which needed resolution. The chaos of having to relocate factory production of the entire Soviet tank industry to the Urals early in the Barbarossa campaign had meant the deferral of the more important changes planned for the T-34. The changes had to wait as they could not be allowed to interrupt the vital tempo of massive production. With the appearance of German tanks armed with a superior long 75mm gun on the battlefield in 1942, the Soviet Morozov design bureau started a priority project to develop an advanced T-43 tank, a weapon with greatly improved armour protection, a three-man turret, and torsion-bar suspension. Their goal was a relatively universal design intended to replace both the T-34 medium and the KV-1 heavy. It would be developed in direct competition with the KV-13 project, a Chelyabinsk heavy tank design.

By 1943 Soviet tank crews had gone up against the new German Tiger 1 and Panther tanks and believed that the 76.2mm gun of the T-34 was now inadequate. The Soviets had an existing 85mm anti-aircraft gun that could be adapted for tank use against the new German tanks. The armour of the new Soviet T-43, however, was found to be less effective than anticipated against the 88mm gun of the Tiger and, even before installation of the 85mm gun, the T-43’s mobility was less than that of the T-34. These factors, together with the slowed production that would have resulted from a commitment to manufacturing the T-43, led to its cancellation. That decision then caused the Soviets to retool the production lines of the T-34 to upgrade the tank. The primary changes for the new model were an enlarged turret ring to accommodate a three-man turret with radio (prior to the upgrade the radio had been located within the hull) and the 85mm gun, a truly significant improvement. A quick adaptation of the T-43 turret design for the T-34 was made at the Krasnoye Sormovo Factory. This enabled the tank commander to command, with operation of the gun left to the gunner and the loader. A further addition to the T-34-85 was the Mark 4 observation periscope mounted on the turret roof (a copy of a British design), giving the tank commander a 360- degree viewing field.

When the Soviets decided to add these improvements to the T-34 to create the T-34-85, rather than retooling from scratch to build an entirely new tank, the saving in time enabled them to manufacture the new T-34-85 in huge numbers, thereby negating the qualitative differences between it and the Panther (which still had the edge, but an edge that was not seen as greatly significant). By May 1944, the Germans had produced only about 300 Panthers, against the Soviet T-34-85 production which had risen to 1,200 a month.


NAVAL TRAWLER TUMAN

A model of the Tuman.

The Type 1934-class Z4.

It is the 10th of August, 1941. The Red Army’s front is collapsing and the Germans are closing on the most important cities of the USSR.

But we aren’t talking about that today. Our attention is drawn to the Barents Sea, 15 miles northwest of Kildin Island. There sails the hero of our story, the lone lightly armed naval trawler Tuman.

On the horizon, the little ship sights the worst thing she ever could have encountered: three German destroyers. The Z4 Richard Beitzen, the Z10 Hans Lody, and the Z16 Friedrich Eckoldt are rapidly closing in on her position. Each displaces twice as much as the little patrol boat and is armed with four 5-inch guns that seemed like weapons of mass destruction when compared to the Tuman’s two 45 mm cannons and light machine guns.

Running is out of the question, as her top speed of 9 knots is only a fourth of the destroyers’. She has no options left but to face her opponents and give them what she has. She lays down a smoke screen and begins evasive action.

The destroyers close to five nautical miles and open fire. She is prevented from returning fire due to her aft gun being knocked out almost immediately. She takes eleven 5-inch shells over the course of the battle. Her captain and commissar are both killed. Her flag is shot down from the mast. She is, by all intents and purposes, defenseless.

She is not dead yet, however. The flag is raised again and her crew continues to desperately work to keep her alive just a little longer. They all know by now that she is going to sink, but they are going to make sure that the Germans have to work all that much harder to kill her.

On Kildin Island, the shore batteries had been malfunctioning, but no longer. As the Tuman slowly slips beneath the waves, the shore batteries open fire. The destroyers, hoping to avoid damage, are forced to retreat from the now-operational cannons. The battle is over.

Of the 52 sailors on the trawler, only 15 died that day. Upon returning to shore, every one of the survivors is presented with tributes from the citizens of Murmansk. When the Alyosha Monument was erected there in 1974, a capsule of seawater from the spot of her final stand was placed inside of it.

Even today, as Russian warships pass over the spot where she sank, they dip their flags and blast their horns in salute to the brave patrol boat that faced down the Kriegsmarine.

While you can meet some abbreviation for ship classes in Russian-language literature (like LK for battleship, EM for Destroyer, etc.), they were never “officially” systemized. During WWII only “Official” abbreviation used were “SKR” (for picket ships), “TSch” (for sea-going minesweepers) and “BTSch” (for large sea-going minesweepers), and “MO” (for submarine chasers). Another note: “SKR” class was VERY different in its subclasses. One group was armed trawlers and steamers with a mix of 45-mm, 76-mm, and up to 102-mm guns, light AA, some sub chasing equipment, etc. – were used extensively for close-to-coast escort duties. Two (“Tuman” (“Fog”) and “Passat”) were sunk in surface engagements with German destroyers of Arctic group, where they had no chances at all. Another story were SKR’s of “Bad Weather” class. Specially built, excellently armed, and well-equipped, they were closer to frigate/corvette/torpedo boat classes, than to “picket ships”. Built in 1920’s-30’s, multiple units had “Bad Weather” names – “Storm”, “Snowstorm”, “Darkness”, “Strong Wind”, etc. They had 2 120-mm guns, 2 small guns, 1 3-tube 533-mm torpedo apparatus, AA’s, plenty of depth charges.

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[edit] Main operations — the southern face

[edit] Air battles

The offensive opened, as in the north, with a mass of air activity. German air attacks helped badly maul the Soviet 57th and 67th Guard Divisions. As the Luftwaffe shifted its attention against the 6th Tank Corps, it left the skies empty over the 4. Panzerarmee. As a result of Soviet superiority in the air, reinforced Soviet defences, and a lack of heavy air support, the Großdeutschland Division had around 80 of its 350 tanks operational. Later, the 2nd Soviet Guards Tank Corps attacked the flank of the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. In desperation, the Germans launched waves of Fw 190 Fs of 4.(Pz)/Schlachtgeschwader 1 and Hs 129s of I./Jagdgeschwader 51's Panzerjägerstaffel to halt the attack. Using SD-2 anti-personnel bombs, the Luftwaffe was able to inflict heavy losses to Soviet soldiers and "soft" vehicles. The Luftwaffe attacked the Soviet 2nd Tank Corps from dawn to dusk, and Hauptmann Bruno Meyer, Staffelkapitain of I./Sch.G 1 noted: "It was impossible for us to count how many tanks we knocked out". As a result of the losses sustained by the Soviet 2nd Tank Corp, the 5th Guards Tank Corps began their offensive against the II.SS Panzerkorps alone, and failed, with heavy losses. [ 59 ] By the end of the day, 2 VA lost 45 aircraft (including 22 Sturmoviks), 17 VA lost 37 Sturmoviks alone. The Soviets lost approximately 90 machines on this date, while the Luftwaffe suffered 11 losses, mostly Ju 87s. The Soviets began attacking German rear areas at night, with the 2 and 17 VA flying 269 sorties in 24 hours. [ 60 ]

[edit] Southern ground battle

In the south, the Voronezh Front fared less well against the 4th Panzer Army with its LII Corps, XLVIII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps. The II SS Panzer Corps attacked on a narrower frontage against two Red Army rifle regiments. The armored spearhead of Hoth's 4th Panzer Army forced its way forward, and by 6 July, had reached some 15 km past the lines. Again, Red Army planning played a big role. In the south, the Red Army had not been able to pinpoint the German attack sectors this forced them to spread out their defenses more evenly. For example, three of the four armies of the Voronezh Front had about 10 antitank guns per kilometer of front this contrasts sharply with the Central Front's distribution of guns, which was twice as heavy in the active sectors. Also, the Voronezh Front made the decision to hold the tactical zone much more thinly, leaving a much higher proportion of units in deeper positions compared to the Central Front. Finally, the Voronezh Front was weaker than the Central Front, yet it faced much stronger German forces.

The German forces made steady progress, but, as in the north, attack frontages (width) and penetration depth tended to drop as the attack proceeded. The trend was not as marked as in the north, however. Beginning with a 30-kilometer-wide attack frontage on 5 July, this dropped to 20-kilometers wide by 7 July and 15 km by 9 July. Likewise, the depth of the penetration dropped from 9 km on 5 July to 5 km on 8 July and 2–3 km each day thereafter until the attack was cancelled.

Red Army minefields and artillery were again successful in delaying the German attack and inflicting losses. The ability of dug-in Red Army units to delay the Germans was vital to allow their own reserves to be brought up into threatened sectors. Over 90,000 additional mines were laid during the operations by small mobile groups of engineers, generally working at night immediately in front of the expected German attack areas. There were no large-scale captures of prisoners nor any great loss of artillery, again indicating that Soviet units were giving ground in good order.

German losses can be seen in the example of the Großdeutschland Division, which began the operation with 118 tanks. On 10 July, after five days of fighting, the division reported it had 3 Tigers, 6 Panthers, and 11 Pzkw-III and Pzkw-IV tanks operational. XLVIII Panzer Corps reported, overall, 38 Panthers operational with 131 awaiting repair, out of the 200 it started with on 5 July.

Nevertheless, it was obvious that the threat of a German breakthrough in the south had to be reckoned with. The Steppe Front had been formed in the months prior to the operation as a central reserve for such an eventuality. Units of the Steppe Front began movement to the south as early as 9 July. This included the 5th Guards Tank Army and other combined-arms armies.

The German flank, however, stood unprotected as the Red Army 7th Guards Army stalled Kempf's divisions, aided by heavy rain, after the Germans had crossed the Donets River. The 5th Guards Tank Army, reinforced with two additional tank corps, moved into positions to the east of Prokhorovka and had started to prepare a counterattack of their own when II SS Panzer Corps arrived. An intense struggle ensued. The Red Army managed to halt the SS—but only just. Little now stood in the way of the 4th Panzer Army, and a German breakthrough looked like a very real possibility. The Soviets therefore decided to deploy the rest of 5th Guards Tank Army.

[edit] Prokhorovka

Accounts of this battle remain shrouded in controversy and dispute. The original Soviet account of brave but reckless if ultimately successful mass Red Army assault on heavily armed German armour is now generally discounted the most recent revisionist accounts suggest a complete Soviet debacle, with the Soviet charge on German armour being disrupted not by German tanks but fundamentally because so many T-34s fell down a Soviet anti-tank ditch. [ 61 ]

On the morning of 12 July, Hoth, determined to push for a breakthrough, scraped together the available reserves of the 4th Panzer Army and advanced on Prokhorovka at the same time that the 5th Guards Tank Army launched a series of attacks as part of multi-front counteroffensive scheduled for 12 July and in an attempt to catch the Germans off balance. The SS and Guards units collided west of Prokhorovka in open country punctuated by farms, rolling hills and gullies. What happened next is open to debate with the release of new information from archives.

In stifling heat, an eight-hour battle began. The German units had 494 tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces in the attack, with 90% operational. [ 62 ] The men of the 5th Guards Tank Army had not yet been committed to battle, so they were fresh. The German force found itself heavily outnumbered. After the battle was over, the Soviets held the area, and were able to recover their disabled tanks and wounded crews. [ 63 ] [ 64 ]

The battle can best be described as a very costly tactical loss, but an operational draw for the Red Army. Neither the 5th Guards Tank Army nor the II SS Panzer Corps accomplished their missions that day.

The air battle was also intense: von Manstein had intended it to be the decisive blow against the Red Army forces, preventing a breakthrough to Oboyan and Kursk. The 5th Guards Tank Army had moved mainly at night, bringing 593 tanks and 37 self-propelled artillery pieces into position at Staryy Oskol. [ 65 ] The Soviet had suffered bitter losses, and in this region the 2 Va could muster only 96 Strurmoviks, 266 fighters and 140 bombers. The 17 VA could muster just over 300 machines. 17 VA flew 893 sorties over this sector of the front, while Fliegerkorps VIII flew 654. Strurmoviks from 291 ShAD attacked the II. SS Panzer Division throughout the day, causing significant damage to German armoured formations. Simultaneously, waves of Hs 129s and Ju 87s caused losses to the 69th Army and 5th Guards Army. Although Soviet tank losses are unknown, a report from the 29th Tank Corps reported "heavy losses in tanks through enemy aircraft and artillery". It also mentioned losses were so heavy that the advance had to be halted, and a switch to the defensive ordered. [ 66 ] The Luftwaffe had complete air superiority over Prokhorovka, due to the VVS being concentrated over the flanks of the 4.Panzerarmee. However the Soviet 31 Guard Tank Corps, and the 33rd Guards Rifle Corps fought the II SS Totenkopf to a standstill, employing the tactic of getting in close to German armour and attacking the vulnerable sides of the Tigers. The II SS was soon forced onto the defensive. Although the German formation held, it lost 50 percent of its armour in a prolonged engagement. By the night of 11-12 July, the only success the Germans had to show for their losses was a captured bridgehead over the Donets river at Rzavets. The LSSAH had been stopped by the Soviet 18 Tank Corps III Panzerkorps and Das Reich were checked by the 2nd Guards Tank Corps and two more Soviet reserve corps. [ 67 ]

Tank losses have been a contentious subject ever since. Red Army losses have been stated to be as low as 200 or as high as 822 tanks, but the loss records now show about 300 complete losses, with a similar number damaged. Likewise, German losses have been reported to be as low as 80 or into the hundreds, including "dozens" of Tigers. This number is impossible to establish because of the German way of counting lost tanks. 60 to 70 German tanks are thought to have been total losses. [ 68 ] In addition to total losses, an unknown number of tanks were damaged, many of which would have been lost in repair depots during the subsequent retreat as a consequence of the Red Army post-Kursk counteroffensive, Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev. Nipe puts the number of operational tank reductions in the whole corps at 70-80, but it is unclear how many of these would have been in short-term or long-term repair. In any event, the losses for both the II SS Panzer Corps and the 5th Guards Tank Army in the “greatest tank battle of all time” fell short of the mythic proportions sometimes attributed to the Prokhorovka engagement.

[edit] The end in the south

Significantly, earlier in the operation, the attacking German units had been squeezed into ever-narrowing frontages by the defenders. Elite Red Army Guards Airborne units were holding firm on the flanks of the very narrow German penetration. The Germans could not squeeze many units into this narrow front, nor did they have the combat power to widen the penetration. Thus, as the attackers moved forward, they continually lost strength due to the need to hold their own flanks.

While the German offensive had been stopped in the north by 10 July, in the south the overall situation still hung in the balance, even after 12 July. German forces on the southern wing, exhausted and heavily depleted, had nevertheless breached the first two defensive belts and believed (wrongly) that they were about to break through the last belt. In fact at least five more defensive zones awaited them, although they were not as strong as the initial belts (and some of them did not have troops deployed). Red Army defenders had been weakened, and major parts of their reserve forces had been committed. Still, the available uncommitted Red Army reserves were far larger than the few available German reserves.

On 16 July, German forces withdrew to their start line. Severely depleted, the Germans then had to face Operation Rumyantsev, an offensive launched to smash the German forces in the Belgorod-Kharkov area on 3 August. Belogorod fell on the 5 August, and on 23 August, Kharkov fell, despite fierce resistance from German forces. With the capture of Kharkov, the Soviets considered the Battle of Kursk over. [ 69 ]


Contents

As the Battle of Stalingrad slowly ground to its conclusion the Red Army moved to a general offensive in the south, pressuring the exhausted German forces who had survived the winter. By January 1943, a 160 to 300 km (99 to 186 mi) wide gap had opened between Army Group B and Army Group Don, and the advancing Soviet armies threatened to cut off all German forces south of the Don River, including Army Group A operating in the Caucasus. [38] [39] Army Group Center came under significant pressure as well. Kursk fell to the Soviets on 8 February 1943, and Rostov on 14 February. [40] The Soviet Bryansk, Western, and newly created Central Fronts prepared for an offensive which envisioned the encirclement of Army Group Center between Bryansk and Smolensk. [38] [41] By February 1943 the southern sector of the German front was in strategic crisis. [42]

Since December 1942 Field Marshal Erich von Manstein had been strongly requesting "unrestricted operational freedom" to allow him to use his forces in a fluid manner. [43] On 6 February 1943, Manstein met with Hitler at the headquarters in Rasternburg to discuss the proposals he had previously sent. He received an approval from Hitler for a counteroffensive against the Soviet forces advancing in the Donbass region. [44] On 12 February 1943, the remaining German forces were reorganised. To the south, Army Group Don was renamed as Army Group South and placed under Manstein's command. Directly to the north, Army Group B was dissolved, with its forces and areas of responsibility divided between Army Group South and Army Group Center. Manstein inherited responsibility for the massive breach in the German lines. [45] On 18 February, Hitler arrived at Army Group South headquarters, at Zaporizhia, hours before the Soviets liberated Kharkov and had to be hastily evacuated on the 19th. [46]

Once given freedom of action, Manstein intended to utilise his forces to make a series of counterstrokes into the flanks of the Soviet armoured formations, with the goal of destroying them while retaking Kharkov and Kursk. [45] [47] The II SS Panzer Corps had arrived from France in January 1943, refitted and up to near full strength. [48] Armoured units from the 1st Panzer Army of Army Group A had pulled out of the Caucasus and further strengthened Manstein's forces. [49]

The operation was hastily prepared and did not receive a name. Later known as Third Battle of Kharkov, it commenced on 21 February, as 4th Panzer Army under General Hoth launched a counter-attack. The German forces cut off the Soviet mobile spearheads and continued the drive north, [50] retaking Kharkov on 15 March and Belgorod on 18 March. [47] A Soviet offensive launched on 25 February by the Central Front against Army Group Center had to be abandoned by 7 March to allow the attacking formations to disengage and redeploy to the south to counter the threat of the advancing German forces under Manstein. [51] [52] Exhaustion of both the Wehrmacht and the Red Army coupled with the loss of mobility due to the onset of the spring rasputitsa resulted in the cessation of operations for both sides by mid-March. [53] The counteroffensive left a salient extending into the German area of control, centered around the city of Kursk. [53]

German plans and preparation

The heavy losses sustained by the Heer (army) since the opening of Operation Barbarossa had resulted in a shortage in infantry and artillery. [54] Units were in total 470,000 men understrength. [55] For the Wehrmacht to undertake an offensive in 1943 the burden of the offensive, in both attacking the Soviet defenses and holding ground on the flanks of the advance, would have to be carried primarily by the panzer divisions. [56] In view of the exposed position of Army Group South, Manstein proposed that his forces should take the strategic defensive. He anticipated that a Soviet offensive would attempt to cut off and destroy Army Group South by a move across the Donets River toward the Dnieper. In February, he proposed waiting for this offensive to develop and then delivering a series of counterattacks into the exposed Soviet flanks. [57] Hitler, concerned about the political implications of taking a defensive stance, and preoccupied with holding the Donbass, rejected this plan. [58] On 10 March, Manstein presented an alternative plan whereby the German forces would pinch off the Kursk salient with a rapid offensive commencing as soon as the spring rasputitsa had subsided. [59] [60]

On 13 March, Hitler signed Operational Order No. 5, which authorised several offensives, including one against the Kursk salient. [61] [62] As the last Soviet resistance in Kharkov petered out, Manstein attempted to persuade Günther von Kluge, commander of Army Group Centre, to immediately attack the Central Front, which was defending the northern face of the salient. Kluge refused, believing that his forces were too weak to launch such an attack. [60] Further Axis advances were blocked by Soviet forces that had been shifted down from the Central Front to the area north of Belgorod. [60] [47] By mid-April, amid poor weather and with the German forces exhausted and in need of refitting, the offensives of Operational Order No. 5 were postponed. [49] [63]

On 15 April, Hitler issued Operational Order No. 6, which called for the Kursk offensive operation, codenamed Zitadelle ("Citadel"), to begin on 3 May or shortly thereafter. The directive was drafted by Kurt Zeitzler, the OKH Chief of Staff. [64] For the offensive to succeed it was deemed essential to attack before the Soviets had a chance to prepare extensive defences or to launch an offensive of their own. [65] [66] Some military historians have described the operation using the term blitzkrieg (lightning war) [lower-alpha 11] other military historians do not use the term in their works on the battle. [lower-alpha 12]

Operation Citadel called for a double envelopment, directed at Kursk, to surround the Soviet defenders of five armies and seal off the salient. [67] Army Group Centre would provide General Walter Model's 9th Army to form the northern pincer. It would cut through the northern face of the salient, driving south to the hills east of Kursk, securing the rail line from Soviet attack. [68] Army Group South would commit the 4th Panzer Army, under Hermann Hoth, and Army Detachment Kempf, under Werner Kempf, to pierce the southern face of the salient. This force would drive north to meet the 9th Army east of Kursk. [69] [70] Von Mainstein's main attack was to be delivered by Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, spearheaded by the II SS Panzer Corps under Paul Hausser. The XLVIII Panzer Corps, commanded by Otto von Knobelsdorff, would advance on the left while Army Detachment Kempf would advance on the right. [71] The 2nd Army, under the command of Walter Weiss, would contain the western portion of the salient. [72] [70]

On 27 April Model met with Hitler to review and express his concern for reconnaissance information which showed the Red Army constructing very strong positions at the shoulders of the salient and having withdrawn their mobile forces from the area west of Kursk. [73] He argued that the longer the preparation phase continued, the less the operation could be justified. He recommended completely abandoning Citadel, allowing the army to await and defeat the coming Soviet offensive, or radically revising the plan for Citadel. [74] [75] Though in mid-April Manstein had considered the Citadel offensive profitable, by May he shared Model's misgivings. [75] [65] He asserted that the best course of action would be for the German forces to take the strategic defensive, ceding ground to allow the anticipated Soviet forces to extend themselves and allow the German panzer forces to counterattack in the type of fluid mobile battle at which they excelled. [76] Convinced that the Red Army would deliver its main effort against Army Group South, he proposed to keep the left wing of the army group strong while moving the right wing back in stages to the Dnieper River, followed by a counterattack against the flank of the Red Army advance. The counteroffensive would continue until the Sea of Azov was reached and the Soviet forces were cut off. Hitler rejected this idea he did not want to give up so much terrain, even temporarily. [76]

Hitler called his senior officers and advisors to Munich for a meeting on May 4. Hitler spoke for about 45 minutes on the reasons to postpone the attack, essentially reiterating Model's arguments. [77] A number of options were put forth for comment: going on the offensive immediately with the forces at hand, delaying the offensive further to await the arrival of new and better tanks, radically revising the operation or canceling it altogether. Manstein advocated an early attack, but requested two additional infantry divisions, to which Hitler responded that none were available. [77] Kluge spoke out strongly against postponement and discounted Model's reconnaissance materials. [78] Albert Speer, the minister of Armaments and War Production, spoke about the difficulties of rebuilding the armoured formations and the limitations of German industry to replace losses. General Heinz Guderian argued strongly against the operation, stating "the attack was pointless". [79] The conference ended without Hitler coming to a decision, but Citadel was not aborted. [79] Three days later, OKW, Hitler's conduit for controlling the military, postponed the launch date for Citadel to 12 June. [80] [81]

Following this meeting, Guderian continued to voice his concerns over an operation that would likely degrade the panzer forces that he had been attempting to rebuild. He considered the offensive, as planned, to be a misuse of the panzer forces, as it violated two of the three tenets he had laid out as the essential elements for a successful panzer attack. [lower-alpha 13] In his opinion, the limited German resources in men and materiel should be conserved, as they would be needed for the pending defence of western Europe. In a meeting with Hitler on 10 May he asked,

Is it really necessary to attack Kursk, and indeed in the east this year at all? Do you think anyone even knows where Kursk is? The entire world doesn't care if we capture Kursk or not. What is the reason that is forcing us to attack this year on Kursk, or even more, on the Eastern Front?

Hitler replied, "I know. The thought of it turns my stomach." Guderian concluded, "In that case your reaction to the problem is the correct one. Leave it alone." [82] [lower-alpha 14]

Despite reservations, Hitler remained committed to the offensive. He and the OKW, early in the preparatory phase, were hopeful that the offensive would revitalise German strategic fortunes in the east. As the challenges offered by Citadel increased, he focused more and more on the expected new weapons that he believed were the key to victory: principally the Panther tank, but also the Elefant tank destroyer and greater numbers of the Tiger heavy tank. [29] He postponed the operation in order to await their arrival. [74] Receiving reports of powerful Soviet concentrations behind the Kursk area, Hitler further delayed the offensive to allow for more equipment to reach the front. [83]

With pessimism for Citadel increasing with each delay, in June, Alfred Jodl, the Chief of Staff at the OKW, instructed the armed forces propaganda office to portray the upcoming operation as a limited counteroffensive. [84] [80] [85] Due to concerns of an Allied landing in the south of France or in Italy and delays in deliveries of the new tanks, Hitler postponed again, this time to 20 June. [lower-alpha 15] Zeitzler was profoundly concerned with the delays, [86] but he still supported the offensive. [75] [61] On 17–18 June, following a discussion in which the OKW Operations Staff suggested abandoning the offensive, Hitler further postponed the operation until 3 July. [87] [84] [88] Finally, on 1 July, Hitler announced 5 July as the launch date of the offensive. [87] [88] [89]

A three-month quiet period descended upon the Eastern Front as the Soviets prepared their defences and the Germans attempted to build up their forces. The Germans used this period for specialised training of their assault troops. [90] All units underwent training and combat rehearsals. The Waffen-SS had built a full-scale duplicate Soviet strong point that was used to practice the techniques for neutralizing such positions. The panzer divisions received replacement men and equipment and attempted to get back up to strength. The German forces to be used in the offensive included 12 panzer divisions and 5 panzergrenadier divisions, four of which had tank strengths greater than their neighboring panzer divisions. However, the force was markedly deficient in infantry divisions, which were essential to hold ground and to secure the flanks. [91] By the time the Germans initiated the offensive, their force amounted to around 777,000 men, 2,451 tanks and assault guns (70 percent of the German armour on the Eastern Front) and 7,417 guns and mortars. [72] [92] [lower-alpha 16]

Soviet plans and preparation

In 1943 an offensive by the Soviet Central, Bryansk and Western Fronts against Army Group Centre was abandoned shortly after it began in early March, when the southern flank of the Central Front was threatened by Army Group South. [38] [52] Soviet intelligence received information about German troop concentrations spotted at Orel and Kharkov, as well as details of an intended German offensive in the Kursk sector through the Lucy spy ring in Switzerland. The Soviets verified the intelligence via their spy in Britain, John Cairncross, at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, who clandestinely forwarded raw decrypts directly to Moscow. [93] [94] [95] Cairncross also provided Soviet intelligence with identifications of the Luftwaffe airfields in the region. [96] Soviet politician Anastas Mikoyan wrote that on 27 March 1943, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin notified him of a possible German attack in the Kursk sector. [97] Stalin and some senior officers were eager to strike first once the rasputitsa ended, [98] [99] but a number of key officers, including Deputy Supreme Commander Georgiy Zhukov, recommended a strategic defensive before going on the offensive. In a letter to the Stavka and Stalin, on 8 April, Zhukov wrote:

In the first phase the enemy, collecting their best forces—including 13–15 tank divisions and with the support of a large number of aircraft—will strike Kursk with their Kromskom-Orel grouping from the north-east and their Belgorod-Kharkov grouping from the south-east. I consider it inadvisable for our forces to go over to an offensive in the near future in order to forestall the enemy. It would be better to make the enemy exhaust himself against our defences, and knock out his tanks and then, bringing up fresh reserves, to go over to the general offensive which would finally finish off his main force. [100] [101]

Stalin consulted with his frontline commanders and senior officers of the General Staff from 12 to 15 April 1943. In the end he and the Stavka agreed that the Germans would probably target Kursk. [102] Stalin believed the decision to defend would give the Germans the initiative, but Zhukov countered that the Germans would be drawn into a trap where their armoured power would be destroyed, thus creating the conditions for a major Soviet counteroffensive. [103] They decided to meet the enemy attack by preparing defensive positions to wear out the German groupings before launching their own offensive. [101] [104] Preparation of defences and fortifications began by the end of April, and continued until the German attack in early July. [105] [102] The two-month delay between the German decision to attack the Kursk salient and its implementation allowed the Red Army ample time to thoroughly prepare. [81] [106] The Voronezh Front, commanded by Nikolai Vatutin, was tasked with defending the southern face of the salient. The Central Front, commanded by Konstantin Rokossovsky, defended the northern face. Waiting in reserve was the Steppe Front, commanded by Ivan Konev. [107] [108] In February 1943, the Central Front had been reconstructed from the Don Front, which had been part of the northern pincer of Operation Uranus and had been responsible for the destruction of the 6th Army at Stalingrad. [109] [110]

The Central and Voronezh Fronts each constructed three main defensive belts in their sectors, with each subdivided into several zones of fortification. [111] [112] [113] The Soviets employed the labour of over 300,000 civilians. [lower-alpha 17] Fortifying each belt was an interconnected web of minefields, barbed-wire fences, anti-tank ditches, deep entrenchments for infantry, anti-tank obstacles, dug-in armoured vehicles, and machine-gun bunkers. [114] Behind the three main defensive belts were three more belts prepared as fallback positions the first was not fully occupied or heavily fortified, and the last two, though sufficiently fortified, were unoccupied with the exception of a small area in the immediate environs of Kursk. [113] [115] The combined depth of the three main defensive zones was about 40 kilometres (25 mi). The six defensive belts on either side of Kursk were 130–150 kilometres (81–93 mi) deep. [115] If the Germans managed to break through these defences they would still be confronted by additional defensive belts to the east, manned by the Steppe Front. These brought the total depth of the defences to nearly 300 kilometres (190 mi). [113]

The Voronezh and Central Fronts dug 4,200 kilometres (2,600 mi) and 5,000 kilometres (3,100 mi) of trenches respectively, [116] laid out in criss-cross pattern for ease of movement. [114] The Soviets built more than 686 bridges and about 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) of roads in the salient. [116] Red Army combat engineers laid 503,663 anti-tank mines and 439,348 anti-personnel mines, with the highest concentration in the first main defensive belt. [112] [114] The minefields at Kursk achieved densities of 1,700 anti-personnel and 1,500 anti-tank mines per kilometre, about four times the density used in the defence of Moscow. [117] [118] For example, the 6th Guards Army of the Voronezh Front, was spread out over nearly 64 kilometres (40 mi) of front and was protected by 69,688 anti-tank and 64,430 anti-personnel mines in its first defensive belt with a further 20,200 anti-tank and 9,097 anti-personnel mines in its second defensive belt. [111] [119] [120] Furthermore, mobile obstacle detachments were tasked with laying more mines directly in the path of advancing enemy armoured formations. [121] These units, consisting of two platoons of combat engineers with mines at division level and one company of combat engineers normally equipped with 500–700 mines at corps level, functioned as anti-tank reserves at every level of command. [122]

In a letter dated 8 April, Zhukov warned that the Germans would attack the salient with a strong armoured force:

We can expect the enemy to put [the] greatest reliance in this year's offensive operations on his tank divisions and air force, since his infantry appears to be far less prepared for offensive operations than last year . In view of this threat, we should strengthen the anti-tank defences of the Central and Voronezh fronts, and assemble as soon as possible. [101]

Nearly all artillery, including howitzers, guns, anti-aircraft and rockets, were tasked with anti-tank defence. [122] Dug-in tanks and self-propelled guns further strengthened the anti-tank defences. [114] [122] Anti-tank forces were incorporated into every level of command, mostly as anti-tank strong points with the majority concentrated on likely attack routes and the remainder amply spread out elsewhere. [122] Each anti-tank strong-point typically consisted of four to six anti-tank guns, six to nine anti-tank rifles, and five to seven heavy and light machine guns. They were supported by mobile obstacle detachments as well as by infantry with automatic firearms. [123] Independent tank and self-propelled gun brigades and regiments were tasked with cooperating with the infantry during counterattacks. [123]

Soviet preparations also included increased activity of Soviet partisans, who attacked German communications and supply lines. [124] The attacks were mostly behind Army Group North and Army Group Centre. [29] In June 1943, partisans operating in the occupied area behind Army Group Centre destroyed 298 locomotives, 1,222 railway wagons and 44 bridges, and in the Kursk sector there were 1,092 partisan attacks on railways. [112] [125] [126] These attacks delayed the build-up of German supplies and equipment, and required the diversion of German troops to suppress the partisans, delaying their training for the offensive. [29] Central Partisan Headquarters coordinated many of these attacks. In June Soviet Air Forces (VVS) flew over 800 sorties at night to resupply the partisan groups operating behind Army Group Centre. [127] The VVS also provided communication and sometimes even daylight air-support for major partisan operations. [124]

Special training was provided to the Soviet infantry manning the defences to help them overcome the tank phobia that had been evident since the start of the German invasion. [128] [129] Soldiers were packed into trenches and tanks were driven overhead until all signs of fear were gone. [lower-alpha 18] [129] This training exercise was referred to by the soldiers as "ironing". [116] In combat, the soldiers would spring up in the midst of the attacking infantry to separate them from the spearheading armoured vehicles. The separated armoured vehicles – now vulnerable to infantry armed with anti-tank rifles, demolition charges and Molotov cocktails – could then be disabled or destroyed at point-blank range. [130] These types of attacks were mostly effective against the massive Ferdinand tank destroyers, which lacked machine guns as secondary armament. [130] The soldiers were also promised financial rewards for each tank destroyed, with the People's Commisariat of Defence providing 1,000 rubles for destroyed tanks. [131]

The Soviets employed maskirovka (military deception) to mask defensive positions and troop dispositions and to conceal the movement of men and materiel. [132] [133] These included camouflaging gun emplacements, constructing dummy airfields and depots, generating false radio-traffic, and spreading rumours among the Soviet frontline troops and the civilian population in the German-held areas. [134] Movement of forces and supplies to and from the salient took place at night only. Ammunition caches were carefully concealed to blend in with the landscape. Radio transmission was restricted and fires were forbidden. Command posts were hidden and motor transport in and around them forbidden. [135] [136]

According to a Soviet General Staff report, 29 of the 35 major Luftwaffe raids on Soviet airfields in the Kursk sector in June 1943 were against dummy airfields. [134] According to historian Antony Beevor, in contrast, Soviet aviation apparently succeeded in destroying more than 500 Luftwaffe aircraft on the ground. [137] The Soviet deception efforts were so successful that German estimates issued in mid-June placed the total Soviet armoured strength at 1,500 tanks. [138] The result was not only a vast underestimation of Soviet strength, but a misperception of Soviet strategic intentions. [135]

The main tank of the Soviet tank arm was the T-34, on which the Red Army attempted to concentrate production. The tank arm also contained large numbers of the T-70 light tank. For example, the 5th Guards Tank Army roughly contained 270 T-70s and 500 T-34s. In the salient itself the Soviets assembled a large number of lend-lease tanks. These included U.S.-manufactured M3 Lees and British-built Churchills, Matildas and Valentines. However, the T-34 made up the bulk of the Soviet armour. [139] Without including the deeper reserves organised under the Steppe Front, the Soviets massed about 1,300,000 men, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces and 2,792 aircraft to defend the salient. [100] [140] This amounted to 26 percent of the total manpower of the Red Army, 26 percent of its mortars and artillery, 35 percent of its aircraft and 46 percent of its tanks. [100]

Contest for air superiority

By 1943 the Luftwaffe's strength on the Eastern Front had started to weaken after Stalingrad, and the syphoning of resources to North Africa. [141] The Luftwaffe forces in the east were further depleted with fighter units being shifted back to Germany to defend against the escalating Allied bombing campaign. [142] By the end of June, only 38.7 percent of the Luftwaffe's total aircraft remained in the east. [143] In 1943 the Luftwaffe could still achieve local air superiority by concentrating its forces. The majority of German aircraft left available on the Eastern Front were slated for Citadel. [137] The goal of the Luftwaffe remained unchanged. The priority of the German air fleet(s) was to gain air superiority, then to isolate the battlefield from enemy reinforcements, and finally, once the critical point had been reached in the land battle, to render close air support. [144]

The changing strengths between the two opponents prompted the Luftwaffe to make operational changes for the battle. Previous offensive campaigns had been initiated with Luftwaffe raids against opposing airfields to achieve air superiority. By this point in the war Red Army equipment reserves were extensive and the Luftwaffe commanders realised that aircraft could be easily replaced, making such raids futile. Therefore, this mission was abandoned. In addition, previous campaigns had made use of medium bombers flying well behind the frontline to block the arrival of reinforcements. This mission, however, was rarely attempted during Citadel. [145]

The Luftwaffe command understood that their support would be crucial for the success of Operation Citadel, but problems with supply shortfalls hampered their preparations. Partisan activity, particularly behind Army Group Center, slowed the rate of re-supply and cut short the Luftwaffe's ability to build up essential stockpiles of petrol, oil, lubricants, engines, munitions, and, unlike Red Army units there were no reserves of aircraft that could be used to replace damaged aircraft over the course of the operation. [146] Fuel was the most significant limiting factor. [147] To help build up supplies for the support of Citadel, the Luftwaffe greatly curtailed its operations during the last week of June. [148] Despite this conservation of resources, the Luftwaffe did not have the resources to sustain an intensive air effort for more than a few days after the operation began. [149]

For Citadel, the Luftwaffe confined its operations to the direct support of the forces on the ground. [150] In this mission the Luftwaffe continued to make use of the Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" dive-bombers. A new development to this aircraft was the "Bordkanone" 3,7 cm calibre cannon, one of which could be slung under each wing of the Stuka in a gun pod. Half of the Stuka groups assigned to support Citadel were equipped with these Kanonenvogel (literally "cannon-bird") tankbuster aircraft. [151] The air groups were also strengthened by the recent arrival of the Henschel Hs 129, with its 30 mm MK 103 cannon, and the F-subtype ground attack ("jabo") version of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. [148]

In the months preceding the battle, Luftflotte 6 supporting Army Group Center noted a marked increase in the strength of the opposing VVS formations. The VVS formations encountered displayed better training, and were flying improved equipment with greater aggressiveness and skill than the Luftwaffe had seen earlier. [152] The introduction of the Yakovlev Yak-9 and Lavochkin La-5 fighters gave the Soviet pilots near parity with the Luftwaffe in terms of equipment. Furthermore, large numbers of ground-attack aircraft, such as the Ilyushin Il-2 "Shturmovik" and the Pe-2, had become available as well. The Soviet Air Force also fielded large numbers of aircraft supplied via lend-lease. Huge stockpiles of supplies and ample reserves of replacement aircraft meant the Red Army and VVS formations would be able to conduct an extended campaign without slackening in the intensity of their effort. [145]


57mm Anti-Tank Gun Model 1943, Soviet Union - History

German plans and preparation

Soviet plans and preparation

In 1943 an offensive by the Soviet Central, Bryansk and Western Fronts against Army Group Centre was abandoned shortly after it began in early March, when the southern flank of the Central Front was threatened by Army Group South. Soviet intelligence received information about German troop concentrations spotted at Orel and Kharkov, as well as details of an intended German offensive in the Kursk sector through the Lucy spy ring in Switzerland. The Soviets verified the intelligence via their spy in Britain, John Cairncross, at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, who clandestinely forwarded raw decrypts directly to Moscow. Cairncross also provided Soviet intelligence with identifications of the Luftwaffe airfields in the region. Soviet politician Anastas Mikoyan wrote that on 27 March 1943, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin notified him of a possible German attack in the Kursk sector. Stalin and some senior officers were eager to strike first once the rasputitsa ended, but a number of key officers, including Deputy Supreme Commander Georgiy Zhukov, recommended a strategic defensive before going on the offensive. In a letter to the ''Stavka'' and Stalin, on 8 April, Zhukov wrote: Stalin consulted with his frontline commanders and senior officers of the General Staff from 12 to 15 April 1943. In the end he and the ''Stavka'' agreed that the Germans would probably target Kursk. Рокоссовский Константин Константинович, Солдатский долг. — М.: Воениздат, 1988
(in Russian). Militera.lib.ru. Retrieved 17 June 2013. Stalin believed the decision to defend would give the Germans the initiative, but Zhukov countered that the Germans would be drawn into a trap where their armoured power would be destroyed, thus creating the conditions for a major Soviet counteroffensive. They decided to meet the enemy attack by preparing defensive positions to wear out the German groupings before launching their own offensive. Preparation of defences and fortifications began by the end of April, and continued until the German attack in early July. The two-month delay between the German decision to attack the Kursk salient and its implementation allowed the Red Army ample time to thoroughly prepare. The Voronezh Front, commanded by Nikolai Vatutin, was tasked with defending the southern face of the salient. The Central Front, commanded by Konstantin Rokossovsky, defended the northern face. Waiting in reserve was the Steppe Front, commanded by Ivan Konev. In February 1943, the Central Front had been reconstructed from the Don Front, which had been part of the northern pincer of Operation Uranus and had been responsible for the destruction of the 6th Army at Stalingrad. The Central and Voronezh Fronts each constructed three main defensive belts in their sectors, with each subdivided into several zones of fortification. The Soviets employed the labour of over 300,000 civilians. Fortifying each belt was an interconnected web of minefields, barbed-wire fences, anti-tank ditches, deep entrenchments for infantry, anti-tank obstacles, dug-in armoured vehicles, and machine-gun bunkers. Behind the three main defensive belts were three more belts prepared as fallback positions the first was not fully occupied or heavily fortified, and the last two, though sufficiently fortified, were unoccupied with the exception of a small area in the immediate environs of Kursk. The combined depth of the three main defensive zones was about . The six defensive belts on either side of Kursk were deep. If the Germans managed to break through these defences they would still be confronted by additional defensive belts to the east, manned by the Steppe Front. These brought the total depth of the defences to nearly . The Voronezh and Central Fronts dug and of trenches respectively, laid out in criss-cross pattern for ease of movement. The Soviets built more than 686 bridges and about of roads in the salient. Red Army combat engineers laid 503,663 anti-tank mines and 439,348 anti-personnel mines, with the highest concentration in the first main defensive belt. The minefields at Kursk achieved densities of 1,700 anti-personnel and 1,500 anti-tank mines per kilometre, about four times the density used in the defence of Moscow. For example, the 6th Guards Army of the Voronezh Front, was spread out over nearly of front and was protected by 69,688 anti-tank and 64,430 anti-personnel mines in its first defensive belt with a further 20,200 anti-tank and 9,097 anti-personnel mines in its second defensive belt. Furthermore, mobile obstacle detachments were tasked with laying more mines directly in the path of advancing enemy armoured formations. These units, consisting of two platoons of combat engineers with mines at division level and one company of combat engineers normally equipped with 500–700 mines at corps level, functioned as anti-tank reserves at every level of command. In a letter dated 8 April, Zhukov warned that the Germans would attack the salient with a strong armoured force: Nearly all artillery, including howitzers, guns, anti-aircraft and rockets, were tasked with anti-tank defence. Dug-in tanks and self-propelled guns further strengthened the anti-tank defences. Anti-tank forces were incorporated into every level of command, mostly as anti-tank strong points with the majority concentrated on likely attack routes and the remainder amply spread out elsewhere. Each anti-tank strong-point typically consisted of four to six anti-tank guns, six to nine anti-tank rifles, and five to seven heavy and light machine guns. They were supported by mobile obstacle detachments as well as by infantry with automatic firearms. Independent tank and self-propelled gun brigades and regiments were tasked with cooperating with the infantry during counterattacks. Soviet preparations also included increased activity of Soviet partisans, who attacked German communications and supply lines. The attacks were mostly behind Army Group North and Army Group Centre. In June 1943, partisans operating in the occupied area behind Army Group Centre destroyed 298 locomotives, 1,222 railway wagons and 44 bridges, and in the Kursk sector there were 1,092 partisan attacks on railways. These attacks delayed the build-up of German supplies and equipment, and required the diversion of German troops to suppress the partisans, delaying their training for the offensive. Central Partisan Headquarters coordinated many of these attacks. In June Soviet Air Forces (VVS) flew over 800 sorties at night to resupply the partisan groups operating behind Army Group Centre. The VVS also provided communication and sometimes even daylight air-support for major partisan operations. Special training was provided to the Soviet infantry manning the defences to help them overcome the tank phobia that had been evident since the start of the German invasion. Soldiers were packed into trenches and tanks were driven overhead until all signs of fear were gone. This training exercise was referred to by the soldiers as "ironing". In combat, the soldiers would spring up in the midst of the attacking infantry to separate them from the spearheading armoured vehicles. The separated armoured vehicles – now vulnerable to infantry armed with anti-tank rifles, demolition charges and Molotov cocktails – could then be disabled or destroyed at point-blank range. These types of attacks were mostly effective against the Elefant tank destroyers, which lacked machine guns as secondary armament. The soldiers were also promised financial rewards for each tank destroyed, with the People's Commisariat of Defence providing 1,000 rubles for destroyed tanks. The Soviets employed ''maskirovka'' (military deception) to mask defensive positions and troop dispositions and to conceal the movement of men and materiel. These included camouflaging gun emplacements, constructing dummy airfields and depots, generating false radio-traffic, and spreading rumours among the Soviet frontline troops and the civilian population in the German-held areas. Movement of forces and supplies to and from the salient took place at night only. Ammunition caches were carefully concealed to blend in with the landscape. Radio transmission was restricted and fires were forbidden. Command posts were hidden and motor transport in and around them forbidden. According to a Soviet General Staff report, 29 of the 35 major Luftwaffe raids on Soviet airfields in the Kursk sector in June 1943 were against dummy airfields. According to historian Antony Beevor, in contrast, Soviet aviation apparently succeeded in destroying more than 500 Luftwaffe aircraft on the ground. The Soviet deception efforts were so successful that German estimates issued in mid-June placed the total Soviet armoured strength at 1,500 tanks. The result was not only a vast underestimation of Soviet strength, but a misperception of Soviet strategic intentions. The main tank of the Soviet tank arm was the T-34 medium tank, on which the Red Army attempted to concentrate production. The tank arm also contained large numbers of the T-70 light tank. For example, the 5th Guards Tank Army roughly contained 270 T-70s and 500 T-34s. In the salient itself the Soviets assembled a large number of lend-lease tanks. These included U.S.-manufactured M3 Lees and British-built Churchills, Matildas and Valentines. However, the T-34 made up the bulk of the Soviet armour. Without including the deeper reserves organised under the Steppe Front, the Soviets massed about 1,300,000 men, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces and 2,792 aircraft to defend the salient. This amounted to 26 percent of the total manpower of the Red Army, 26 percent of its mortars and artillery, 35 percent of its aircraft and 46 percent of its tanks.

Contest for air superiority

By 1943 the Luftwaffe's strength on the Eastern Front had started to weaken after Stalingrad, and the siphoning of resources to North Africa. The Luftwaffe forces in the east were further depleted with fighter units being shifted back to Germany to defend against the escalating Allied bombing campaign. By the end of June, only 38.7 percent of the Luftwaffe's total aircraft remained in the east. In 1943 the Luftwaffe could still achieve local air superiority by concentrating its forces. The majority of German aircraft left available on the Eastern Front were slated for Citadel. The goal of the Luftwaffe remained unchanged. The priority of the German air fleet(s) was to gain air superiority, then to isolate the battlefield from enemy reinforcements, and finally, once the critical point had been reached in the land battle, to render close air support. The changing strengths between the two opponents prompted the Luftwaffe to make operational changes for the battle. Previous offensive campaigns had been initiated with Luftwaffe raids against opposing airfields to achieve air superiority. By this point in the war Red Army equipment reserves were extensive and the Luftwaffe commanders realised that aircraft could be easily replaced, making such raids futile. Therefore, this mission was abandoned. In addition, previous campaigns had made use of medium bombers flying well behind the frontline to block the arrival of reinforcements. This mission, however, was rarely attempted during Citadel. The Luftwaffe command understood that their support would be crucial for the success of Operation Citadel, but problems with supply shortfalls hampered their preparations. Partisan activity, particularly behind Army Group Center, slowed the rate of re-supply and cut short the Luftwaffe's ability to build up essential stockpiles of petrol, oil, lubricants, engines, munitions, and, unlike Red Army units there were no reserves of aircraft that could be used to replace damaged aircraft over the course of the operation. Fuel was the most significant limiting factor. To help build up supplies for the support of Citadel, the Luftwaffe greatly curtailed its operations during the last week of June. Despite this conservation of resources, the Luftwaffe did not have the resources to sustain an intensive air effort for more than a few days after the operation began. For Citadel, the Luftwaffe confined its operations to the direct support of the forces on the ground. In this mission the Luftwaffe continued to make use of the Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" dive-bombers. A new development to this aircraft was the "Bordkanone" 3,7 cm calibre cannon, one of which could be slung under each wing of the Stuka in a gun pod. Half of the Stuka groups assigned to support Citadel were equipped with these ''Kanonenvogel'' (literally "cannon-bird") tankbuster aircraft. The air groups were also strengthened by the recent arrival of the Henschel Hs 129, with its 30 mm MK 103 cannon, and the F-subtype ground attack ("jabo") version of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. In the months preceding the battle, Luftflotte 6 supporting Army Group Center noted a marked increase in the strength of the opposing VVS formations. The VVS formations encountered displayed better training, and were flying improved equipment with greater aggressiveness and skill than the Luftwaffe had seen earlier. The introduction of the Yakovlev Yak-9 and Lavochkin La-5 fighters gave the Soviet pilots near parity with the Luftwaffe in terms of equipment. Furthermore, large numbers of ground-attack aircraft, such as the Ilyushin Il-2 "Shturmovik" and the Pe-2, had become available as well. The Soviet Air Force also fielded large numbers of aircraft supplied via lend-lease. Huge stockpiles of supplies and ample reserves of replacement aircraft meant the Red Army and VVS formations would be able to conduct an extended campaign without slackening in the intensity of their effort.

Red Army offensive phase

Operation along the northern face

Model's main attack was delivered by XLVII Panzer Corps, supported by 45 Tigers of the attached 505th Heavy Tank Battalion. Covering their left flank was XLI Panzer Corps, with an attached regiment of 83 ''Ferdinand'' tank destroyers. On the right flank, XLVI Panzer Corps consisted at this time of four infantry divisions with just 9 tanks and 31 assault guns. To the left of XLI Panzer Corps was XXIII Army Corps, which consisted of the reinforced 78th Assault Infantry Division and two regular infantry divisions. While the corps contained no tanks, it did have 62 assault guns. Opposing the 9th Army was the Central Front, deployed in three heavily fortified defensive belts.

Model chose to make his initial attacks using infantry divisions reinforced with assault guns and heavy tanks, and supported by artillery and the Luftwaffe. In doing so he sought to maintain the armoured strength of his panzer divisions to be used for exploitation once the Red Army defences were breached. Once a breakthrough had been achieved the panzer forces would move through and advance towards Kursk. Jan Möschen, a major in Model's staff, later commented that Model expected a breakthrough on the second day. If a breakthrough did occur the briefest delay in bringing up the panzer divisions would give the Red Army time to react. His corps commanders thought a breakthrough extremely unlikely. Following a preliminary bombardment and Red Army counter bombardments, the 9th Army opened its attack at 05:30 on 5 July. Nine infantry divisions and one panzer division, with attached assault guns, heavy tanks and tank destroyers, pushed forward. Two companies of Tiger tanks were attached to the 6th Infantry Division and were the largest single grouping of Tigers employed that day. Opposing them were the 13th and 70th Armies of the Central Front. The 20th Panzer and 6th Infantry Divisions of the XLVII Panzer Corps, spearheaded the advance of the XLVII Panzer Corps. Behind them the remaining two panzer divisions followed, ready to exploit any breakthrough. The heavily mined terrain and fortified positions of the 15th Rifle Division slowed the advance. By 08:00 safe lanes had been cleared through the minefield. That morning information obtained from prisoner interrogation identified a weakness at the boundary of the 15th and 81st Rifle Divisions caused by the German preliminary bombardment. The Tigers were redeployed and struck towards this area. Red Army formations countered with a force of around 90 T-34s. In the resulting three-hour battle, Red Army armoured units lost 42 tanks while the Germans lost two Tigers and a further five more immobilized with track damage. While the Red Army counter-attack was defeated and the first defensive belt breached, the fighting had delayed the Germans long enough for the rest of 29th Rifle Corps of the 13th Army – initially deployed behind the first belt – to move forward and seal the breach. Red Army minefields were covered by artillery fire, making efforts to clear paths through the fields difficult and costly. Goliath and Borgward IV remote-controlled engineer mine-clearing vehicles met with limited success. Of the 653rd Heavy Panzerjäger Battalion's 45 Ferdinands sent into battle, all but 12 of them were immobilized by mine damage before 17:00. Most of these were later repaired and returned to service, but the recovery of these very large vehicles was difficult. On the first day, the XLVII Panzer Corps penetrated into the Red Army defences before stalling, and the XLI Panzer Corps reached the heavily fortified small town of Ponyri, in the second defensive belt, which controlled the roads and railways leading south to Kursk. In the first day, the Germans penetrated into the Red Army lines for the loss of 1,287 men killed and missing and a further 5,921 wounded.

Rokossovsky ordered the 17th Guards and 18th Guards Rifle Corps with the 2nd Tank Army and 19th Tank Corps, backed up by close air support, to counterattack the German 9th Army the following day on 6 July. However, due to poor coordination, only the 16th Tank Corps of the 2nd Tank Army commenced the counterattack on the dawn of 6 July after the preparatory artillery barrage. The 16th Tank Corps, fielding about 200 tanks, attacked the XLVII Panzer Corps and ran into the Tiger tanks of the 505th Heavy Tank Battalion, which knocked out 69 tanks and forced the rest to withdraw to the 17th Guards Rifle Corps of the 13th Army. Later that morning, the XLVII Panzer Corps responded with its own attack against the 17th Guards Rifle Corps entrenched around the village Olkhovatka in the second defensive belt. The attack commenced with an artillery barrage and was spearheaded by the 24 serviceable Tigers of the 505th Heavy Tank Battalion, but it failed to break the Red Army defence at Olkhovatka, and the Germans suffered heavy casualties. Olkhovatka was on a high ground that provided a clear view of much of the frontline. At 18:30, the 19th Tank Corps joined the 17th Guards Rifle Corps further bolstering resistance. Rokossovsky also decided to dig in most of his remaining tanks to minimize their exposure. Ponyri, defended by the 307th Rifle Division of the 29th Rifle Corps, was also concertedly attacked on 6 July by the German 292nd and 86th Infantry, 78th Assault Infantry and 9th Panzer Divisions, but the Germans were unable to dislodge the defenders from the heavily fortified village.

Over the next three days from 7 to 10 July, Model concentrated the effort of the 9th Army at Ponyri and Olkhovatka, which both sides considered as vital positions. In response, Rokossovsky pulled forces from other parts of the front to these sectors. The Germans attacked Ponyri on 7 July, and captured half of the town after intense house-to-house fighting. A Soviet counterattack the following morning forced the Germans to withdraw, and a series of counterattacks ensued by both sides with control of the town being exchanged several times over the next few days. By 10 July, the Germans had secured most of the town, but Soviet counterattacks continued. The back and forth battles for Ponyri and the nearby Hill 253.5 were battles of attrition, with heavy casualties on both sides. It became referred to by the troops as "mini-Stalingrad". The war diary of the 9th Army described the heavy fighting as a "new type of mobile attrition battle". German attacks on Olkhovatka and the nearby village of Teploe failed to penetrate the Soviet defences including a powerful concerted attack on 10 July by about 300 German tanks and assault guns from the 2nd, 4th, and 20th Panzer Divisions, supported by every available Luftwaffe air power in the northern face. On 9 July a meeting between Kluge, Model, Joachim Lemelsen and Josef Harpe was held at the headquarters of the XLVII Panzer Corps. It had become clear to the German commanders that the 9th Army lacked the strength to obtain a breakthrough, and their Soviet counterparts had also realized this, but Kluge wished to maintain the pressure on the Soviets in order to aid the southern offensive. While the operation on the northern side of the salient began with a attack front, by 6 July it had been reduced to . The following day the attack frontage dropped to , and on both the 8 and 9 July penetrations of only occurred. By 10 July, the Soviets had completely halted the German advance. On 12 July the Soviets launched Operation Kutuzov, their counter-offensive upon the Orel salient, which threatened the flank and rear of Model's 9th Army. The 12th Panzer Division, thus far held in reserve and slated to be committed to the northern side of the Kursk salient, along with the 36th Motorized Infantry, 18th Panzer and 20th Panzer Divisions were redeployed to face the Soviet spearheads.

Operation along the southern face

At around 04:00 on 5 July, the German attack commenced with a preliminary bombardment. Manstein's main attack was delivered by Hoth's 4th Panzer Army, which was organized into densely concentrated spearheads. Opposing the 4th Panzer Army was the Soviet 6th Guards Army, which was composed of the 22nd Guards Rifle Corps and 23rd Guards Rifle Corps. The Soviets had constructed three fortified defensive belts to slow and weaken the attacking armoured forces. Though they had been provided superb intelligence, the Voronezh Front headquarters had still not been able to pinpoint the location where the Germans would place their offensive weight.

Facing Army Detachment ''Kempf'', consisting of III Panzer Corps and Corps ''Raus'' (commanded by Erhard Raus), was the 7th Guards Army, dug in on the high ground on the eastern bank of the Northern Donets. The two German corps were tasked with crossing the river, breaking through the 7th Guards Army and covering the right flank of the 4th Panzer Army. The 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion, equipped with 45 Tigers, was also attached to the III Panzer Corps, with one company of 15 Tigers attached to each of the corps' three panzer divisions. At the Milkhailovka bridgehead, just south of Belgorod, eight infantry battalions of the 6th Panzer Division crossed the river under heavy Soviet bombardment. Part of a company of Tigers from the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion was able to cross before the bridge was destroyed. The rest of the 6th Panzer Division was unable to cross further south due to a traffic jam at the crossing, and remained on the western bank of the river throughout the day. Those units of the division that had crossed the river attacked Stary Gorod, but were unable to break through due to poorly cleared minefields and strong resistance. To the south of the 6th Panzer Division, the 19th Panzer Division crossed the river but was delayed by mines, moving forward by the end of the day. Luftwaffe bombed the bridgehead in a friendly fire incident, wounding 6th Panzer Division commander Walther von Hünersdorff and Hermann von Oppeln-Bronikowski of the 19th Panzer Division. Further south, infantry and tanks of 7th Panzer Division crossed the river. A new bridge had to be built specifically for the Tigers, causing further delays. Despite a poor start, the 7th Panzer Division eventually broke into the first belt of the Soviet defence and pushed on between Razumnoe and Krutoi Log, advancing , the furthest ''Kempf'' got during the day. Operating to the south of 7th Panzer Division, were the 106th Infantry Division and the 320th Infantry Division of Corps ''Raus''. The two formations attacked across a front without armour support. The advance began well, with the crossing of the river and a swift advance against the 72nd Guards Rifle Division. Corps ''Raus'' took the village of Maslovo Pristani, penetrating the first Red Army defence line. A Soviet counter-attack supported by about 40 tanks was beaten off, with the assistance from artillery and flak batteries. After having suffered 2,000 casualties since the morning and still facing considerable resistance from the Soviet forces, the corps dug in for the night. Delaying the progress of ''Kempf'' allowed Red Army forces time to prepare their second belt of defence to meet the German attack on 6 July. The 7th Guards Army, which had absorbed the attack of III Panzer Corps and Corps "Raus", was reinforced with two rifle divisions from the reserve. The 15th Guards Rifle Division was moved up to the second belt of defence, in the path of the III Panzer Corps.

Development of the battle

Termination of Operation Citadel

Soviet Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation

In the north: Operation Kutuzov

Soviet offensive operations for the summer of 1943 were planned to begin after the strength of the German forces had been dissipated by their Kursk offensive. As the German momentum in the north slowed, the Soviets launched Operation Kutusov on 12 July against Army Group Centre in the Orel salient, directly north of the Kursk salient. The Bryansk Front, under the command of Markian Popov, attacked the eastern face of the Orel salient while the Western Front, commanded by Vasily Sokolovsky, attacked from the north. The Western Front's assault was led by the 11th Guards Army, under Lieutenant General Hovhannes Bagramyan, and was supported by the 1st and 5th Tank Corps. The Soviet spearheads sustained heavy casualties, but pushed through and in some areas achieved significant penetrations. These thrusts endangered German supply routes and threatened the 9th Army with encirclement. With this threat, 9th Army was compelled to go over fully to the defensive. The thinly stretched 2nd Panzer Army stood in the way of this Soviet force. The German commanders had been wary of such an attack and forces were quickly withdrawn from the Kursk offensive to meet the Soviet offensive. Operation Kutuzov reduced the Orel salient and inflicted substantial losses on the German military, paving the way for the liberation of Smolensk. Soviet losses were heavy, but were replaced. The offensive allowed the Soviets to seize the strategic initiative, which they retained for the remainder of the war.

In the south: Operation Rumyantsev

The campaign was a strategic Soviet success. For the first time, a major German offensive had been stopped before achieving a breakthrough the maximum depth of the German advance was in the north and in the south. The Germans, despite using more technologically advanced armour than in previous years, were unable to break through the in-depth Soviet defences and were caught off guard by the significant operational reserves of the Red Army. This result changed the pattern of operations on the Eastern Front, with the Soviet Union gaining the operational initiative. The Soviet victory was costly, with the Red Army losing considerably more men and materiel than the German Army. However, the Soviet Union's larger industrial potential and pool of manpower allowed them to absorb and replenish these losses. Guderian wrote: With victory, the initiative firmly passed to the Red Army. For the remainder of the war the Germans were limited to reacting to Soviet advances, and were never able to regain the initiative or launch a major offensive on the Eastern Front. The Western Allied landings in Italy opened up a new front, further diverting German resources and attention. Though the location, plan of attack, and timing were determined by Hitler, he blamed the defeat on his General Staff. Unlike Stalin, who gave his commanding generals the liberty to make important command decisions, Hitler's interference in German military matters progressively increased while his attention to the political aspects of the war decreased. The opposite was true for Stalin throughout the Kursk campaign, he trusted the judgment of his commanders, and as their decisions led to battlefield success it increased his trust in their military judgment. Stalin stepped back from operational planning, only rarely overruling military decisions, resulting in the Red Army gaining more freedom of action during the course of the war. All told, 239 Red Army personnel were bestowed the USSR's highest degree of distinction, the title Hero of the Soviet Union (HSU), for their valor in the Battle of Kursk. Two women, Guards Senior Sergeants Mariya Borovichenko and Zinaida Mareseva, were awarded the HSU title posthumously for their valor under fire while serving as combat medics. Borovichenko was assigned to the 32nd Guards Artillery Regiment, 13th Guards Rifle Division, 5th Guards Army and Mareseva served in a medical platoon in the 214th Guards Rifle Regiment, 73rd Guards Rifle Division, 7th Guards Army.

* * * * * * * * — A study of the southern sector of the Battle of Kursk conducted by the US Army Concepts Analysis Agency and directed by Walter J. Bauman, using data collected from military archives in Germany and Russia by The Dupuy Institute (TDI). * * * * * * * * * * * * * * — This report, commissioned by the Soviet General Staff in 1944, was designed to educate the Red Army on how to conduct war operations. It was classified secret until its declassification in 1964, and was subsequently translated to English and edited by Orenstein and Glantz. Its original title was ''Collection of materials for the study of war experience, no. 11'' (russian: link=no|Сборник материалов по изучению опыта Великой Отечественной войны № 11|italic=yes|translit=Sbornik materialov po izucheniiu opyta Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny № 11) * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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World War II Database


ww2dbase After a two year stalemate, both the Soviets and Germans awaited major confrontations that would define the momentum for either side. This decisive battle would occur near the town of Kursk, a town on the Moscow-Rostov railway, in Southern Russia.

ww2dbase In Mar 1943, German general Erich von Manstein captured Kharkov, a city south of Kursk, and formed a long perimeter along the eastern side of the city. He allowed an opening through his line, allowing Soviet forces to advance, forming a bulge, before sending in his Panzers in two pincer movements to encircle the bulge. The German forces in this battle fielded some new weapons, including the Ferdinand self-propelled artillery and the tank Pather that was designed specifically to counter the Soviet T-34 tanks. The offensive to eliminate the surrounded Soviet forces were devised by Colonel General Kurt Zeitzler, at the insistence Adolf Hitler even though Heinz Guderian opposed risking so much for what he believed to be a small gain. By the time the Germans were finally ready to launch the actual offensive, Soviet spy network "the Lucy Ring" and the British intelligence both had already learned of the attack plans, and even without the spy network the massive tank build up would had alarmed the Soviet field commanders there. Marshall Georgi Zhukov was in command of the Soviet defensive forces, who convinced Josef Stalin to hold off on a summer offensive until he could defeat the impending German attack at Kursk first. To prepare for the defense, Zhukov summoned 300,000 civilians and built a series of defenses including tank traps, mine fields, and various defensive positions. Militarily, Zhukov wielded a strength consisted of 1,300,000 men, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 pieces of artillery, and 2,400 aircraft. On the other side, the Germans were about to attack with over 800,000 men (including three Waffen SS divisions), 2,700 tanks, and 1,800 aircraft.

ww2dbase The battle started on 4 Jul 1943 as a series of delays, including the desperate situation in Jun 1943 that took away attention from this offensive. Nevertheless, after sappers of the Großdeutschland Division bravely and efficiently cleared a path through the mine fields the previous night, German Stuka fighters led the attack targeting the lightly armored tops of Soviet tanks, followed by an artillery barrage then by the infantry and armor. The 2nd SS Panzer Corps, 3rd Panzer Corps, and the 11th Panzer Division stormed Soviet positions, making advances through the rest of the day, but the Soviets resisted fiercely and slowed the German advances. Main reasons for the slow German advance were often attributed to the defensive structures, especially mine fields, that the Soviets painstakingly set up. Also, Walther Model of the German Ninth Army was employing a rather conservative tactic with his tanks, withholding some in reserve instead of following the usual German tactic that poured all armor strength into battle immediately. Around midnight Zhukov, armed with good intelligence on German movement, ordered a bombardment by artillery pieces, mortars, and Katyusha rocket launchers accurately on German forces.

ww2dbase On the next day, Paul Hausser's 2nd SS Panzer Corp advanced under a newly devised tactic Panzerkiel, where Tiger tanks opened the way for other tanks, prying through enemy defensive lines. By the second day of the Kursk offensive, German troops had penetrated 20 miles into Soviet territory, at a high cost on both sides. At Prokhorovka Hausser's flanks were supposed to be protected by the 3rd Panzer Corps, which was unexpectedly stalled by the 7th Guards Army. To take advantage of the situation, the entire 5th Guards Tank Army was deployed to strike at the 2nd SS Panzer Corps on 12 Jul, which was to become the largest tank battle in history. Armor on both sides engaged in close-range combat, while air forces took their shots at the tanks on the ground amidst the fierce dogfights in the air. Armor-piercing anti-tank guns also made their share of damage during the battle. As tanks on both sides burned and sent thick smoke into the sky, aircraft could no longer tell friend from foe, and slowly disengaged themselves from ground targets in fear of striking friendly units. At the end of the day when the battle subsided, the Germans had lost 60 tanks and Soviets 822.

ww2dbase As casualties mounted high for both sides, Hitler made a surprising announcement to withdraw part of the German forces to reinforce Italy, a response to the successful western Allies' landing in Sicily. After the German strength weakened after the withdrawl, Soviet forces continued on to liberate Oryol, Belgorod, and Kharkov after the Battle of Kursk.

ww2dbase Although the Soviet forces suffered heavier casualties at Kursk than the Germans, the engagement was a success for the Soviets in that they stopped a planned German offensive. Historians attributed a tactical victory to the Soviets at Kursk for that the German forces were depleted and demoralized at the end of the battle without support of reserve forces. Manstein made the recommendation to Hitler that a final reinforcement at Kursk could have turned the tides of the battle and destroyed the Soviet troops present in the area mending their recently received wounds, but Hitler had already made up his mind to shift his focus to Italy. At the end of the fighting in Kursk, the German forces had suffered 200,000 casualties and lost 500 tanks, while Soviet losses amounted to 860,000 casualties and 1,500 tanks. Although the Soviet losses in tanks were greater than that of the Germans, at this time the Kirov tank factory along with other factories on the east side of the Ural mountains were just reaching their peak production capability while the German factories were becoming stressed. In fact, German armor would never regain its numerical superiority over their Soviet counterparts again.

ww2dbase Sources: the Fall of Berlin, Wikipedia.

Last Major Update: Jan 2006

Battle of Kursk Timeline

11 Apr 1943 Adolf Hitler issued orders that the best armies, the best leaders and the best weapons were to be made available for employment in the "Encirclement of the enemy forces deployed in the Kursk area".
4 May 1943 Hitler postponed Operation Citadel, which ultimately would give the Soviets more time to prepare their defenses.
10 May 1943 Heinz Guderian told Adolf Hitler of his misgivings about the Zitadelle plan. Uncharacteristically Hitler responded that, he too, had concerns about an offensive at Kursk, Russia.
1 Jul 1943 Hitler addressed the generals slated to command Operation Citadel.
3 Jul 1943 Germans launched Operation Citadel, aimed at encircling and destroying Soviet forces in the Orel-Belgorod salient in Russia. Soviet air activity had delayed the launch by one day.
4 Jul 1943 The Battle of Kursk, what would become the largest tank battle in history, began.
6 Jul 1943 In Russia, in the north of the Kursk salient, on Central Front, Konstantin Rokossovsky launched a counter-attack, throwing in three tank corps. But it foundered on former Soviet minefields which the Germans had reinforced, and the Soviets instead took up fixed positions to act as a breakwater against a renewed German assault.
7 Jul 1943 Soviet Il-2M aircraft, attacking in huge numbers, destroyed some seventy tanks of the German 9th Panzer Division in just twenty minutes during the Battle of Kursk. German aircraft also saw much action, with He 111 tactical bombers alone flew 178 sorties.
8 Jul 1943 In the Kursk salient Walter Model's armour made three thrusts into the centre of the Soviet defences along the Central Front, the villages of Teploye, Olkhovatka and Ponyri in Russia. At Teploye, the main objective was Hill 272. Time and again the Germans assaulted it, after attacks by swarms of Stuka dive bombers which dropped 550-pound bombs on the anti-tank positions. But the Soviets were well dug in and camouflaged. They preferred to fight the Germans at close range, where their anti-tank rifles and dug in T-34 tanks took a devastating toll. The Germans took the hill three times, but the Soviets continued to recapture it.
11 Jul 1943 German forces in Operation Citadel ran out of momentum, even though there had been some objectives reached. Hitler refused to call off the operation, which could have saved many of the units.
12 Jul 1943 Soviet forces launched a massive offensive along their Bryansk, Central, and West Fronts in Russia, toward Bryansk, Kursk, and Orel. Prokhorovka, Russia became the site of what would be hailed as the largest armor battle in history.
13 Jul 1943 Hitler called off the Kursk offensive but the decision had already been taken from him by the Soviets who pounded the retreating German forces both north and south of the salient with tanks, artillery, and tank-busting aircraft. Apart from the Soviet Army, the victory at Kursk was as much a triumph for the Soviet workforce which has endured long shifts in appalling conditions to arm, clothe, and feed their fighting men.
14 Jul 1943 The Soviet Voronezh Front joined in the offensive against German 4.Panzer Armee and Armeeabteilung Kempf south of Kursk, Russia.
19 Jul 1943 Soviet troops began to threaten German positions at Bolkhov, Russia.
20 Jul 1943 German troops evacuated Mtensk, Russia.

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