By spring time 1943 das Dritten Reiches was in a hexen kessel of scary dimensions. In the last year Great Satan and Great Britain had driven the vaunted Afrika Korps into extinction, sortee’d several “Thousand Bomber Raids” that carpetly xformed ancient Deutsch cities into flaming craters, Battle for the Atlantic was looking kinda iffy and worst of all – the encirclement, destruction and ultimate surrender of wehrmacht’s nearly 1 million (550K to 900K – depending on the source) combat truppen of vPaulus’ 6th army at Stalingrad.
Despite the ferociously fearful mauling wehrmacht took on the Volga, Deutschland recovered and thanks to savage fighting hooked up with vManstein’s famous back hand b slap, the ultimate Aryans retook Kharkov and inflicted amazingly horrific losses on the best Red Army could juggernaut.
As spring’s thawing muddy rasputitsa sunk in – both sides frantically roused themselves out of exhaustion and prepped for the coming summer campaign.
Thanks to the forced reinstatement of the forced retired “Klotzen, nicht kleckern” cat - the newly minted Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen tripped out on a ruthlessly relentless reinvigoration of the panzer franchise by blitzing factories, design firms, unit creation/rebuilding ubungsplatzes and shooting ranges in a new blitz of genius born of desperation.
Even Luftwaffe got all panzer happy – sexing up something something sturzkampfflugzeug Stuka
with dual 37mm rapid fire cannons and deploying Henschelicious Hs-129
STAVKA knew their bulging bulge in the lines around Kursk would prob be the spot the hated NSDAPers would schwerpunkt in the coming months and conscripted anyone they could get their hands on to erect a formidable deep defensive belt – 500 miles of barb wire, over a million anti ppl and anti panzer mines remixed in a web of of ditches, scarps, counter-scarps, hedgehogs, roadblocks, minefields, fixed artillery impact areas, bunkers and a myriad of panzer obstructions, traps and general purpose nastiness on a colossal scale. Plus Comrade Stalin had spy sources at the highest levels of enemy command.
Sev months of infighting at OKH/OKW bout doing another Kharkov backhand – allowing Red Army to attack first, roll with flow and launch a crushing counter attack – or doing the fourplay forehand pre emptive attack – conterminously coalesced with quality control/production probs with the Panther (her 1st production engines enjoyed bursting into flames at the most inopportune moments), stubborn refusal of the sturmgeschutz to die on the vine and manpower in general held up Operation Zitadelle for months.
Purveyors of pre emption won out and on 5 July Germany attacked. The southern front of Zitadelle featured a combat rock star line up of 3rd Reich’s finest panzerteers - all rebuilt, rearmed and reconstituted to Generalinspekteur specs - Großdeutschland, 3rd, 6th, 7th, 9th and 11th Panzer divisions and the newly created II Waffen Ss Panzer Korps
Featuring the lavishly equipped and fully crunk Ss Panzer Grenadier divisions of Liebstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf – vManstein formed ‘Panzerkeil” – an uparmored wedge with Tigers at the tip, Panthers and Mk IV’s fanning out behind with a creamy centre of inf armed with automatic weapons, mortar mounted or SP gunned SdKfz looking thingies with the base built of heavily armed panzergrenadiers in tracked vehics.
In contrast Zitadelle’s northern commander Model used Montgomery’s El Alamein idea of using inf to poke holes for the panzers to exploit – with disastrous results for his 9th Army.
These panzerkeil wedges were designed to crack open tender, sensitive portions of the southern defensive perimeters, break free and fan out for a fun fast trek like France 1940.
And they did. Chopping through an immense junkyard of trashed Soviet material, General Hausser’s Feldpolizei Po Po hauled off columns of dazed and defeated Russian POWs, the final breakthrough was at hand on the morning of 12 July when II Ss breached Psel river – the last obstacle to Kursk – and collided with the Russian armored reserves at a place called Prokhorovka.
For over 8 hours this enormous armored brawl raged unabated, slashing the orchards and churning the lush, green cornfields of a few square miles of upper Donetz river valley into a blackened inferno of exploding armor, wrecked burning vehicles and charred corpses – drenched intermittantly by downpours from violent thunderstorms.
The controversial climax of Zitadelle involving over 2K panzers – as the largest panzer battle in history – has acquired mythic stats – heroic Russian stories of Russians ramming Deutsch Tigers, the 3 premier Waffen Ss fighting shoulder to shoulder, death ride of the panzers and a glorious Soviet victory suffer from hard facts as Prokhorovka gets re examined.
“…Closer study of the losses of each type of tank reveals that the corps lost about 70 tanks on July 12. In contrast, Soviet tank losses, long assumed to be moderate, were actually catastrophic.
“…In 1984, a history of the Fifth Guards Tank Army written by Rotmistrov himself revealed that on July 13 the army lost 400 tanks to repairable damage. He gave no figure for tanks that were destroyed or not available for salvage.
“…Evidence suggests that there were hundreds of additional Soviet tanks lost. Several German accounts mention that Hausser had to use chalk to mark and count the huge jumble of 93 knocked-out Soviet tanks in the Leibstandarte sector alone. Soviet sources say the tank strength of the army on July 13 was 150 to 200, a loss of about 650 tanks.
Germany’s Lost Victories indeed, nicht wahr?
Regardless of appearance – Deutschland lost the initiative and despite desperate counters like Zhitomer, Totenkopf’s amazingly tenacious blunting blow outside Warzawa or Unternehmen Frühlingserwachen, never again held the initiative. Red Army did. And they never let it go until 3rd Reich died kicking and screaming.
And it happened today – at Prokhorovka.
Pic – “Backhand or the forehand?”courtesy of Uncle Theo