German and Soviet forces engage in one of the largest armored battle (July 12, 1943) - History Key

German and Soviet forces engage in one of the largest armored battle (July 12, 1943)

The Battle of Kursk was the last German attempt to keep the strategic initiative on the Eastern Front after the Stalingrad disaster. The battle also marks one of the greatest armoured confrontations between German and Soviet troops: the Battle of Prokhorovka, where over 1,000 tanks took part of it. The Wehrmacht’s plan was to surround the Kursk region (Operation Citadel), but it was no secret for the Soviets thanks to their spies.

Panzer
Panzer © CC BY-SA 3.0 de/Image Source: Wikipedia

The lack of the surprise element in the Battle of Kursk compromised the German concept of the “lightning war”. Threatened by the opening of a second front in Sicily and overwhelmed by the counter-attacks of the Soviet strategic reserve armies, Hitler has to put an end to the Operation Citadel.

Whatever it is true, still remains the largest “tank battle”

Pavel Rotmistrov
Pavel Rotmistrov © Image Source: Wikipedia

The weak spot of the Soviets was the old anti-tank weapons which often reached suicide attacks to destroy the German tanks. Soviet commanders were encouraged to develop new tactics in the Tank War. One of the commanders who succeeded was Lieutenant General Pavel Rotmistrov, who played an important role in the Battle of Prokhorovka among with the 5th Guard Tank Army.

He created tank units specialized in surprise attacks and unconventional methods to attract the German tanks into ambush while the 5th Guard Tank Army had 650 tanks ready to fight.

Panzer IIIs and IVs on the southern side of the Kursk salient at the start of Operation Citadel
Panzer IIIs and IVs on the southern side of the Kursk salient at the start of Operation Citadel © Bundesarchiv, Bild 101III-Merz-014-12A CC BY-SA 3.0 de/Image Source: Wikipedia

However, because the Soviets suffered significant losses, they wanted to make sure not to lose another battle. So they increased the total number of the tanks to 850. Therefore, the Soviet and the German tanks fought against each other between the Psel River and the Prokhorovka railroad. Some sources say that the Germans had a total of 700 tanks, but the number is still not clear. For instance, the Soviets sources say that the T-34 tanks destroyed nearly 400 tanks of which about 100 were Tiger I heavy tanks.

Vehicles of II SS-Panzer Corps advancing toward Prokhorovka on 11 July
Vehicles of II SS-Panzer Corps advancing toward Prokhorovka on 11 July © Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-022-2924-14/CC BY-SA 3.0 de/Image Source: Wikipedia

According to the German reports it is believed that the II SS-Panzer Corps had suffered moderate losses: only 48 tanks were destroyed. Finally, in the history of the 5th Guard Tank Army, published in 1984, Rotmistrov reports that 400 tanks were lost, but they have had damages that could be repaired.

German Panzer IV and Sdkfz 251 halftrack in the Eastern Front, July 1943
German Panzer IV and Sdkfz 251 halftrack in the Eastern Front, July 1943 © Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-219-0596-12/CC BY-SA 3.0 de/Image Source: Wikipedia

The battle that had weakened the German forces from the Eastern Front

The Battle of Prokhorovka is the largest armor battle in history and was characterized by a massive loss of Soviet tanks. The Germans managed to occupy strategic positions on the hills in the northern part of Prokhorovka. The interesting fact is that neither the Soviets nor the Germans had achieved their goals on July 12, 1943.

The Red Army launched on the same day another counterattack on the north flank and they managed to “scare” the Germans in order to withdraw. Finding out that the Allies landed in Sicily on July 10, Hitler decided to cancel the Operation Citadel.

 Destroyed Soviet T-34, 1943
Destroyed Soviet T-34, 1943 © Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-220-0630-02A/CC BY-SA 3.0 de/Image Source: Wikipedia

The victory of the Soviet Army from the Battle of Kursk will unleash a rapid counterattack on all directions of the Eastern Front.

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