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Home Historical eventsThe Tank Battle at Prokhorovka.

15.05.1943


The event, which was included in all the history books of the Second World War, called the Battle of Prokhorovka, was held on the southern flank of the Kursk bulge July 10- 16, 1943, at Prokhorovka. It was July, after failing to advance on Oboyan, that the Germans turned towards Prokhorovka railway station.

 

The offensive was carried out by the 2-nd tank corps of the SS (Commander Hausser) comprising the crack "Dead Head", “ Adolf Hitler "and" Reich " divisions. In a few days they broke through two lines of fortifications of the Soviet army and came to the third within 10 km south- west of Prokhorovka station. After fierce fighting, the Germans occupied Komsomolsk State Farm and the northern bank of the river Psel. 11 July, the enemy advanced to the outskirts of Prokhorovka, breaking through the defence of the 2 1st tank corps and the 183-rd infantry division. Soviet reinforcements managed to stop the Germans. The 2-nd SS tank corps failed to reach its objective the Prokhorovka-Kartashovka line.

 

The Soviet command decided to strike on the morning of 12 July in a powerful counterattack and destroy the enemy units, which had broken through. This operation was to involve the 5th, 6th, 7th guards armies and the 1st guards and 5 1st tank armies. However, due to unforeseen complications, only the 52nd guards tank army (Commander P.A. Rotmistrov) and the 5th guards army (Commander A. S. Zhadov) could take part in the operation. The 5-th guards tank army comprised the 18th tank corps, the 29th tank corps, the 5th guards mechanized corps. The army was reinforced by the 2nd guard tank corps and the 2nd Tasinsk tank corps.

 

Early on the morning of July 12, several dozen German tanks made an attempt to break through in the direction of Melekhovo. The Germans captured the villages of Ryndinki, Vypolzovka and Rzhavets. Soviet ground-attack aircraft attacked the tanks of the Adolph Hitler division. German storm troops waged their offensive in several sections of the front line.

At 8:30 July 12, units of the 5th army and the 5th guards tank army, after a 15-minute artillery barrage, counter-attacked. The tanks of the Adolph Hitler division came under heavy Soviet artillery fire. The armoured formations moved towards each other. Approximately 1200 tanks and self-propelled guns on both sides simultaneously took part in the battle. History's largest tank battle unfolded on the field between Prokhorovka railway station and the bend in the river Psel. The 170th,181st tank brigades of the 18th tank corps, the 25th, 31st, 32nd tank brigades of the 29th armoured corps supported by units of the 9th guards airborne division and 42nd guards division started to advance.

 

 

In the bend of the River Psel, units of the 95th guards rifle division fought a heavy battle against the SS division "Dead Head". On the left flank of the 5th guards tank army, the 2nd Tatsin armoured corps, as well as the 183rd rifle division of the 69th army, launched an offensive. From the air, the enemy was attacked by aircraft of the 2nd and 17th air armies along with the long-range aviation. This is how the events were described by the Commander of the 2nd air army Air Marshal S.A. Krasovsky: "On the morning of July 12, our bombers and ground - attack aircraft dropped thousands of anti-tank bombs on enemy tanks. They came squadron after squadron thus supporting the efforts of the ground troops by bombing formations of enemy tanks in the area of Gryaznoe, Oktyabrsky, Mal. Mayachki, Pokrovka and Yakovlevo ... ".

 

On the field at Prokhorovka a tank duel began. It was a contest in tactics, of tank crew skills and of the tanks, as well.

In German units there were tanks of T-IV modifications (G) and (H) (the thickness of the armour was 80 mm and 50 mm respestively) and heavy T-VIE "Tigers" (thickness of body armour-100mm and turret-110 mm). Both were equipped with a powerful long barreled gun (75 mm and 88mm caliber ), which could pierce practically any armour on Soviet tanks (except the heavy IS-2 tank at a distance of more than 500 meters). The Soviet T-34 tanks, which were taking part in the battle, had an advantage over all German tanks in speed and manoeuvrability, but the armour was thinner compared to the "Tiger", and the guns were less powerful than the German medium and heavy tanks.

 

Using their advantage in speed and manoeuvrability,our tanks broke through the enemy lines and shot their tanks at a close range in the side. Very soon everything became a turmoil. Skirmishes at close quarters deprived the Germans of the advantage they had with their powerful guns. The mass of armoured vehicles was stuck and could neither turn, nor manoeuvre. They crashed into each other, their ammunition exploded, ripping off the turrets and flinging them dozens of meters away. Smoke and soot screened the battlefield. Dozens of bombers, ground- attack aircraft and fighters were flying overhead. The Soviet air force ruled the skies.

 

Commander of the 5-th guards tank army, Pavel Rotmistrov, recollected the events at Prokhorovka: "There was a ceaseless roar of engines until late in the evening on the battlefield, caterpillars clanked, shells burst. Hundreds of tanks and self-propelled guns were burning. Clouds of dust and smoke clouded the sky ... ".

 

In the middle of the day the most intense and fierce battles were fought on the northern slopes of height 226.6 and along the railway. Here the troops of the 95th guards rifle division were to prevent SS division "Dead Head" from breaking through the defence lines from the north. The 2nd guards armoured corps ousted the Germans west of the railway and began a rapid advance on Kalinin and Teterevino farms. In the afternoon, the advancing units SS division "Reich" managed to move forward, capturing Belenikhino and the village of Storozhevoe. At the end of the day, the "Dead Head" division, having received reinforcements and powerful air and artillery support, broke through the defence of the 95th and 52nd rifle divisions and approached Vesyoloe and Polezhaev farms. The enemy tanks made an attempt to break through to the Prokhorovka-Kartashovka road , but the heroic efforts of the soldiers of the 95th guards rifle division stopped the enemy advance. The platoon commanded by Lieutenant P. Shpetnoy destroyed 7 enemy tanks.Wounded, the platoon commander, armed with grenades, flung himself under a tank. P. Shpetnoy was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. "The breakthrough of German tanks in the area created a dangerous situation on the flanks of the 5th guards tank army and the 33rd guards rifle corp, wrote A. S. Zhadov in his memoirs.

 

The fighting on July 12 had led to huge losses in the "Adolf Hitler" and "Dead Head" divisions that severely weakened their fighting capabilities.

In his book "Memories and Reflections" Marshal G.K. Zhukov writes: On July 12 the Voronezh front was witness to the greatest battle of tank crews, gunners, fusiliers and pilots. The battle was at its fiercest at Prokhorovka, where the 5th guards tank army of General Rotmistrov was on top of the enemy.

 

In the following three days, heavy fighting took place south of Prokhorovka. Units of Kempf’s 3rd tank corps tried to break through the defence of the 69th army beween the Seversky Donets and False Donets rivers. But the Soviet troops held on to their positions.

 

July 16 the Germans stopped their offensive attack and began to withdraw towards Belgorod.

The troops of the Voronezh and Steppe fronts began to pursue and harass the retreating German units.
The German plan "Citadel" failed. The armoured divisions of the Wehrmacht were severely beaten and never recovered. The German army started to retreat. The Battle of Kursk became a turning point in the war, an indicator of the increased might of the Soviet army, the dramatically improved military skills of its generals, the courage and heroism of its soldiers.