4 June 2013

Wunderwaffen: Hitler's flying wing. Horten Ho 229: The first stealth fighter?

Wunderwaffen: Hitler's flying wing: The Horten Ho 229


The interesting history of the Horten Ho 229. 
Possibly the world's first stealth fighter and inspiration for the B2 Spirit Bomber ?




Check the full story on my Aeroplane blog: http://aircraftnut.blogspot.co.nz/

28 May 2013

Beyond D-Day: The Battle for France

Beyond D-Day: The Battle for France

On the 30th June the Kapiti Wargames Club will have an open day. We hope to showcase a range of demonstration games, from WWII and Napoleonics through Warhammer Fantasy Battles and 40K.

We are also looking forward to "Armourgeddon" in August to Remember the Battle of Kursk, the greatest Armoured Vehicle Battle ever.

The WWII contingent will (hopefully) feature Flames of War in both 15 mm and 20 mm. My son, Luc, and I will play a demo game using FoW rules, and Mid/Late war armies.



We chose 1944 in Western Europe, as I have a complete German Army from this period (albeit painted more for the East Front) and sufficient Allied Armour. I have been repainting some of the Italian Front Allied vehicles for Western Europe, and have re-based (sigh) all my 20mm Germans on scaled bases FoW style. I have stuck with the Autumn theme...kicking our way through a carpet of autumn leaves.






Alled troops may be a different kettle of fish though. I only have a fully painted company of British soldiers, based for Warhammer WW2; and American Paratroops that are painted.My other allied forces consist of Desret War ANZAC Aussies and Indian. I do have a veritable treasure trove of unpainted 20 mm figures. I will likly have to do a huge amount of batch-painting in the weeks to come.

So I got stuck into my pile of shame: First up Monty's Caravan, a Model I recently acquired as part of a bulk deal. The old 1/76 Matchbox kit, a Japanese edition. Luckily you can simply follow the diagrams... Comes with a city street diorama and a Dingo scout car. Just perfect for my "Monty's Meat-grinder" campaign.



13 May 2013

Panzerlust

Panzerlust


I stumbled across this great website on the Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset, UK.
the author/photographer is Bernard Zee:

Check out his great photos: Bovington Tank Museum



No copyright infringement intended.

12 May 2013

Halfaya Pass: 15 May1941 Operation Brevity

Halfaya Pass: 15 May 1941 Operation Brevity

Today sees the anniversary of Operation Brevity, a (very) limited offensive conducted in mid-May 1941, during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. Conceived by the commander-in-chief of the British Middle East Command, General Archibald Wavell, Brevity was intended to be a rapid blow against weak Axis front-line forces in the Sollum - Capuzzo - Bardia area of the border between Egypt and Libya.

 File:IWM-E-003660-4700-32.jpg


Halfaya Pass (English colloquial: Hellfire Pass) is located in Egypt, near the border with Libya. A 600-foot (180 m) high escarpment extends south eastwards from the Egyptian-Libyan border at the coast at as-Salum (or Saloum, Solum, Sollum), with the scarp slope facing into Egypt. Halfaya Pass is about two miles (3 km) inland from the Mediterranean and provides a natural route through.

The escarpment is known as Akabah el-Kebir  ( "great ascent") In World War II, the engineered route up the escarpment had been destroyed and the pass had great strategic importance. The only ways westwards into Libya were to assault the pass or to out-flank it to the south.

After the defeat of the Italian 10th Army on 7 February 1941 during Operation Compass, the Italians were reinforced by German units (Afrika Korps under Erwin Rommel) and the British forces were forced out of Libya, leaving a besieged garrison at Tobruk. On 14 April 1941. Rommel's main force reached Sollum on the Egyptian border and occupied the Halfaya Pass. There were several allied attempts to recapture the Halfaya Pass and relieve Tobruk.


The first attempt on 15 May, was Operation Brevity. Rommel counter-attacked: the British withdrew and by 27 May the Germans had recaptured Halfaya Pass, a passage of time in which Major Edward Thomas earned his Military Cross. Supply shortages obliged the Germans to curtail their advance, so they dug in and fortified their positions at Halfaya with 88 millimetre guns. This was the anchor for the Axis positions, which opposed the Allied forces during the next allied attack — Operation Battleaxe on 15 June. German armour was deployed to draw the British tanks (11th Hussars) onto the concealed 88 mm guns and the first wave was cut down in a few minutes (11 out of 12 tanks were destroyed), earning the pass the nickname "Hellfire Pass". The allied commander, Major Miles, was last heard on the radio reporting, "They are tearing my tanks apart."

The third attempt, Operation Crusader opened on 18 November, with a direct attack on Halfaya Pass and an attempt to outflank Rommel to the south and relieve Tobruk. This was done on 29 November. Rommel, now under pressure, withdrew to El Agheila.
Halfaya Pass was the location of the accidental death of Major-General 'Jock' Campbell (VC), then commander of the British 7th Armoured Division. On 26 February 1942, a month after assuming command, his staff car skidded on a newly laid clay road surface, killing him outright.



The First Battle of Hellfire Pass:

Operation Brevity: Following the Allied withdrawal from the eastern Libyan province of Cyrenaica in April 1941, 13th Corps was reconstituted under Beresford-Peirse and refitted. On 12 May a convoy arrived in the Egyptian city of Alexandria with reinforcements including 220 tanks. General Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief Middle East, was under continual pressure from Churchill to engage Rommel and make amends for the defeat earlier that year.





The operation got off to a promising start, throwing the Axis high command off balance. However  most of its early gains were lost to local counterattacks, and with German reinforcements being rushed to the front. The operation was called off after a day.
Egypt had been invaded by Libyan-based Italian forces in September 1940, but by February of the following year a British counter-offensive had advanced well into Libya, destroying the Italian Tenth Army in the process. 

British attention then shifted to Greece, which was under the threat of Axis invasion; while Allied divisions were being diverted from North Africa, the Italians were reinforced with the German Afrika Korps under General Erwin Rommel's command. Rapidly taking the offensive against his distracted and over-stretched opponent, Rommel drove the British and Commonwealth forces in Cyrenaica back across the Egyptian border by April 1941. 

Although the battlefront now lay in the border area, the port city of Tobruk—100 miles (160 km) inside Libya—had resisted the Axis advance, and its substantial Commonwealth and British garrison constituted a significant threat to Rommel’s lengthy supply chain. He therefore committed his main strength to besieging the city, leaving the front line only thinly held.

Wavell defined Operation Brevity’s main objective as the acquisition of territory from which to launch a further planned offensive towards Tobruk, depleting German and Italian forces in the region as he went. With limited battle-ready units to draw on in the wake of Rommel’s recent successes, on 15 May Brigadier William Gott attacked in three columns with a mixed infantry and armoured force. 

The strategically important Halfaya Pass was taken against stiff Italian opposition, and  Fort Capuzzo, lying deeper inside Libya, was captured. German counterattacks regained the fort during the afternoon causing heavy casualties amongst its defenders. Gott, concerned that his forces were in danger of being caught by German armour in open ground, conducted a staged withdrawal to the Halfaya Pass during 16 May. Brevity was scuttled. As the balance of forces became more unfavourable to the British, 13th Corps withdrew to Halfaya Pass. The strategically important pass was held for two weeks before it fell to a German counter-attack. 

The operation had gained no territory and the damage inflicted on German tanks and artillery was more than balanced by the loss of British equipment, much of which the Germans were able to recover.
Following the British withdrawal, Rommel fortified the frontier with minefields and 88mm anti-tank guns - a weapon superior to any then deployed by the British.
Operation Brevity was a bitter lesson for the Allies: to deal with an enemy like Rommel, equally skilled in deploying tanks to outgun infantry and artillery to stop tanks, new levels of preparation and planning would be required.

Allied force 
Operation Brevity was carried out by the 22nd Guards Brigade and elements of the 7th Armoured Division. Its armoured component consisted of 29 cruiser tanks of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment (2RTR) and 24 infantry tanks of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment (4RTR). The Royal Air Force (RAF) allocated all available fighters and a small force of bombers to the operation.]
Brigadier William Gott—in command of all Allied front-line forces since the retreat—was to lead the operation in the field, and his plan was to advance in three parallel columns.[
On the desert flank to the south, the 7th Armoured Brigade group was to move 30 mi (48 km) from Bir el Khireigat to Sidi Azeiz destroying any opposition encountered en route. This group included three small mobile forces ("Jock columns") of the 7th Support Group, the cruiser tanks of 2RTR, and the armoured cars of the 11th Hussars, whose task was to patrol the open desert on the left flank and monitor the Sidi Azeiz–Bardia road.
 In the centre, the 22nd Guards Brigade group was to clear the top of the Halfaya Pass, secure Bir Wair, Musaid, and Fort Capuzzo, and conduct a company-sized probe toward Bardia. The group included the infantry battalions of the 1st Durham Light Infantry and 2nd Scots Guards, and the infantry tanks of 4RTR.
In the north, the "coast group" was to advance along the coast road, capturing the lower Halfaya Pass, Sollum barracks, and the town of Sollum. The group included elements of the 2nd Battalion The Rifle Brigade, and the 8th Field Regiment Royal Artillery

Axis force 
The main Axis opposition was Kampfgruppe von Herff, positioned on the desert plateau. 
It included 30–50 tanks of the 2nd Battalion Panzer Regiment 5, an Italian motorised infantry battalion of the Trento Division, and supporting arms. The frontline area around Halfaya Pass was defended by two companies of Bersaglieri—well trained Italian motorised infantry—with artillery support.
On 9 May, the Germans intercepted a British weather report over the radio. The Afrika Korps war diary noted that "In the past, such reports had always been issued prior to the important enemy offensives to capture Sidi Barrani, Bardi, Tobruk, and the Gebel."
Rommel's response was to strengthen the eastern side of his cordon around Tobruk as a precaution against sorties from the garrison, and to order Kampfgruppe von Herff to adopt a more aggressive posture. On 13 May, Axis aircraft bombed British tank concentrations, and von Herff expected an imminent British attack. However, the following day aircraft were unable to locate the British, and it was reported that the "enemy intentions to attack were not known".

British advance 
On 13 May, Wavell's infantry battalions began to concentrate at their start lines, followed by the tank regiments during the early hours of 15 May. At 06:00, the three columns began their advance, supported overhead by a standing patrol of Hawker Hurricane fighters.
Centre column 
Reaching the top of the Halfaya Pass, the 22nd Guards Brigade group ran into heavy opposition from an Italian Bersaglieri infantry company with anti-tank gun support. At the cost of seven tanks, the position was quickly taken by C Squadron 4RTR and G Company 2nd Scots Guards, and the brigade group pushed on towards the Bir Wair-Musaid road. 
At around 08:00, it received the surrender of a large German-Italian camp, and by 10:15 Bir Wair and Musaid had been taken in the face of limited opposition.

A Squadron 4RTR and the 1st Durham Light Infantry (1DLI) continued the advance toward Fort Capuzzo. Concealed in hull down positions behind a ridge near the fort were 20–30 German tanks, supported by anti tank guns. These engaged A Squadron, disabling five tanks, but were forced to withdraw as the squadron pressed its attack. 
On the final approach to Fort Capuzzo, contact was lost between 4RTR's tanks and 1DLI's leading C Company, and the attack on the fort began without armoured support. The fort was vigorously defended, and it was not until just before midday that C Company, reunited with A Squadron 4RTR and reinforced by A and B Companies 1DLI, eventually took the position.
D Company 1DLI—which had been in reserve during the attack—then made a wide left hook to capture a small landing ground to the north of the fort.
In the afternoon, one company of the 2nd Scots Guards probed toward Bardia, the infantry coming under heavy machine gun fire from three positions as they neared Sollum barracks. A group of Universal Carriers—commanded by Sergeant F. Riley—charged the gun positions and quickly neutralised them, but one carrier was disabled when the group was subsequently engaged by anti-tank guns. Riley executed a second charge, silencing these too and taking their crews prisoner. His carrier was hit three times; for his actions Riley was awarded the Military Medal, the battalion's first decoration of the war.
Desert column 
On the desert flank, 2RTR advanced with the 7th Armoured Brigade group. During the morning, reports were received of up to 30 German armoured vehicles operating nearby, and A Squadron 2RTR moved to investigate. Most of the German force had pulled back, but three tanks were located and brought under fire. One Panzer IV was disabled and the other two driven off, for the loss of one British tank due to mechanical failure. A second force of 15 German tanks was engaged by two tanks of No 2 Troop, destroying a Panzer III and forcing the remainder to withdraw. By midday, the brigade group had reached a position west of Fort Capuzzo, and in the afternoon the nine remaining cruisers of A Squadron 2RTR began a reconnaissance patrol towards Sidi Azeiz.

Panzer IV
Coastal column 
The advance along the coastal road—which lacked tank support—was held up all morning by determined Italian resistance at the bottom of Halfaya Pass. This objective was finally achieved toward evening when S Company 2nd Rifle Brigade—supported by Australian anti-tank gunners fighting as infantry—overran the Italian positions taking around 130 prisoners.
Axis reactions 
Although the German and Italian commands in North Africa knew that a British offensive was imminent, Operation Brevity nevertheless caught them unprepared, and Rommel recorded in his diary that the initial attacks had caused him considerable losses. By midday on 15 May, Axis command was showing signs of confusion. It was erroneously believed that the offensive involved more than 100 tanks, and repeated requests were made to both the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica for a concerted effort to defeat it. Forces around Tobruk were redeployed east of the besieged city, to block any attempt at relief and to prevent the garrison from breaking out to meet the British advance.  Lieutenant-Colonel Hans Cramer was sent to reinforce Kampfgruppe von Herff with a tank battalion from Panzer Regiment 8 and a battery of 88 mm (3.46 in) FlaK guns, and additional reinforcements under General von Esebeck were despatched the following day.
The Germans concentrated their riposte against the central column. Von Herff—who had been prepared to fall back—instead launched a local counterattack toward Fort Capuzzo during the afternoon of 15 May with the 2nd Battalion Panzer Regiment. At around 13:30, D Company 1DLI at the landing ground was overrun, and with no anti-tank support more capable than the Boys anti-tank rifle, the remaining troops of 1DLI were forced to fall back toward Musaid. A fortuitous dust cloud aided their withdrawal, but by 14:45 Panzer Regiment 5 was reporting that it had recaptured Capuzzo, inflicting heavy casualties on the British and taking 70 prisoners.
On the desert flank, A Squadron 2RTR's patrol toward Sidi Azeiz was being monitored by Panzer Regiment 5, but the Germans misidentified the light cruiser tanks as heavily armoured Matilda infantry tanks, and reported that an attack was not possible. Col. von Herff—believing the British had two divisions operating in the area—had grown uneasy. A Squadron's patrol was interpreted as an attempt to concentrate south of Sidi Azeiz, in preparation for a thrust north the next day; such a move threatened to sweep aside von Herff's force and completely unhinge the German front in the Sollum–Bardia area. In response, von Herff broke contact with the British; his plan was to join up with Cramer's Panzer Regiment 8 to mount a concentrated counterattack the following morning.
Realising that the 22nd Guards Brigade group would be vulnerable to German armoured counterattacks in the open ground around Bir Wair and Mussaid, Brigadier Gott withdrew it during the early hours of the morning of 16 May. By 10:00, the infantry had taken up new positions back at Halfaya Pass, although the 7th Armoured Brigade group was ordered to remain west of Fort Capuzzo for the time being.

Fort Cappuzzo
Cappuzzo from the Air
Cramer's reinforcements arrived in the Sidi Azeiz area at 03:00 and reached Fort Capuzzo at 06:30. At around 08:00, he made contact with Kampfgruppe von Herff, but by mid-morning both groups had run out of fuel. The German advance resumed at 16:00 before being stopped by around 17 tanks of 2RTR. The British reported one German tank set alight and another disabled, and that an advance of up to 50 tanks had been halted, while the Germans believed that they had repulsed a strong British tank attack. As nightfall approached, von Herff broke off the action and went on to the defensive. He intended to repair his damaged machines, reorganise, and resume offensive operations on 18 May. However, 2RTR pulled back to Bir el Khireigat, initially followed by two German tanks, one of which withdrew after the other was destroyed. The regiment arrived at Bir el Khireigat, from where it had set out two days previously, at around 02:30 on 17 May.
Operation Brevity failed to achieve most of its objectives, ultimately succeeding only in retaking the Halfaya Pass. The British lost five tanks and at least 206 men killed, wounded, or captured. German casualties numbered three tanks and 258 men killed, wounded, or captured. Losses among the Italian forces are unknown, but Allied accounts record the capture of 347 men.
On 5 August, Col. von Herff praised the Bersaglieri, who had defended Halfaya Pass. 
The British received plaudits from Winston Churchill, who sent a telegram to Wavell betraying his ignorance of events by stating: "Without using the Tiger cubs you have taken the offensive, advanced 30 miles (48 km), captured Halfaya and Sollum, taken 500 German prisoners and inflicted heavy losses in men and tanks. For this twenty  tanks and 1000 or 1500 casualties do not seem too heavy a cost." 
Churchill ended the message by asking Wavell "What are your dates for bringing Tiger cubs into action?", in reference to the reinforcements that had arrived at Alexandria on 12 May as part of a convoy code-named Operation Tiger.

The 11th Hussar's regimental history notes that "it was clear that no further offensive action would be possible before 7[th] Arm[oured Division] was fully prepared". The Tiger convoy brought 238 tanks and made it possible to refit the 7th Armoured Division, which had been out of action since February as a result of the losses it sustained during Operation Compass. Preparations could now be made for Operation Battleaxe and the relief of Tobruk. In the system of British and Commonwealth battle honours, units that served in the Halfaya Pass area between 15 and 27 May were awarded the honour Halfaya 1941 in 1957.
Historian Thomas Jentz suggests that Brevity could have ended in victory for the British. While their tank forces were fighting ineffectively, the "gutsy" actions by 2RTR and their patrol toward Sidi Azeiz had convinced the Germans that the battle was lost by the evening of 15 May.
 Because of their failure to engage 2RTR late that day, several German commanders from Panzer Regiment 5, including its commanding officer, were removed from their posts after the battle. Jentz notes that a feint by the 1st and 7th RTR out of Tobruk might have caused a realignment of the Axis forces, weakening their overall position and perhaps even forcing them to give up the Sollum area.
Operation Brevity highlighted to Rommel the importance of the Halfaya Pass; whichever side held it would have a "comparatively safe route for his supplies" during subsequent offensives in the area. On 27 May, he launched Operation Skorpion, during which von Herff recaptured the pass and reversed the last British territorial gain from Brevity.

19 April 2013

Anzac Day: NZ and Australia remembers their fallen


Southampton Dock (Roger Waters) 



They disembarked in 45 
And no-one spoke and no-one smiled 
There were to many spaces in the line. 

Gathered at the cenotaph 
All agreed with the hand on heart 
To sheath the Sacrificial Knives. 


But now 
She stands upon Southampton dock 
With her handkerchief 
And her summer frock
Clings to her wet body in the rain. 

In quiet desperation knuckles 
White upon the slippery reins
She bravely waves the boys
Goodbye again.






14 April 2013

Kursk: Could it have been a German Victory ?

SS Totenkopf Grenadiers at Kursk

Following the defeat at Stalingrad (1942-43), the Germans  launched a massive offensive known as Operation Citadel, in the East on July 4,1943. The climax of Operation Citadel, the Battle of Kursk, involved as many as 6,000 tanks, 4,000 aircraft and 2 million fighting men and is remembered as the greatest tank battle in history.



Statistics

Total tanks : 3,253 German, 7,360 Russian
Soviet air sorties accounted for 5.7% of German tank losses.
Losses at Kursk: 55,000 German causalites, 177,000 Russian causalties
Tank Losses: 300 destroyed German tanks 1614 destroyed Russian tanks
Damaged tanks: 1,612 damaged German tanks, 2,700 damaged Russian tanks.

A lot of German tank damage was from minefields, and recovery of damaged (but not destroyed) vehicles and clearing minefields slowed the advance.

(These figures are from the new Kursk book by Glantz and House, stats are from recently released Soviet/German archives.; this book is considered to be one of the most accurate on Kursk.)

Kursk was a German tactical victory, but strategic failure.


General Erich von Manstein was convinced he could have triumphed had Hitler not interfered 
Whether it would have changed the course of history is another question.




Opposing Forces:

 The high-water mark of the battle was the massive armor engagement at Prochorovka (also spelled Prokhorovka), which began on July 12. But while historians have categorized Prochorovka as a victory of improved Soviet tactics over German firepower and heavy tanks, new evidence casts the struggle at the 'gully of death' in a very different light.



The Germans' goal during Citadel was to pinch off a large salient in the Eastern Front that extended 70 miles toward the west. Field Marshal Von Kluge's Army Group Center would attack from the north flank of the bulge, with Colonel General Model's Ninth Army leading the effort, General Zorn's XLVI Panzer Corps on the right flank and Maj. Gen. Harpe's XLI Panzer Corps on the left.

General Lemelsen's XLVII Panzer Corps planned to drive toward Kursk and meet up with Field Marshal Erich von Manstein's Army Group South, Col. Gen. Hermann Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army and the Kempf Army, commanded by General Werner Kempf.



 Opposing the German forces were the Soviet Central Front, led by General Konstantin Rokossovsky, and the Voronezh Front, led by General Nikolai Vatutin. The Central Front, with the right wing strengthened by Lt. Gen. Nikolai Pukhov's Thirteenth Army and Lt. Gen. Galinin's Seventeenth Army, was to defend the northern sector. To the south, the Voronezh Front faced the German Army Group South with three armies and two in reserve. The Sixth Guards Army, led by Lt. Gen. Mikhail Chistyakov, and the Seventh Guards Army, led by Lt. Gen. Shumilov, held the center and left wing. East of Kursk, Col. Gen. Ivan Konev's Steppe Military District (renamed Steppe Front on July 10, 1943) was to hold German breakthroughs, then mount the counteroffensive.

If their plan succeeded, the Germans would encircle and destroy more than five Soviet armies.

Attack from the North


Advancing over the steppe

Such a victory would have forced the Soviets to delay their operations and might have allowed the Wehrmacht desperately needed breathing room on the Eastern Front. 

Model's Ninth Army never came close to breaking the Soviet defenses in the north, however, and soon became deadlocked in a war of attrition that it could not win. 

Zis Anti-tank Guns being readied

                               
Katyusha having her say.

On the southern flank, Kempf's III Panzer Corps, commanded by General Breith, also encountered tough Soviet resistance.


                                                                 Action in the South

By July 11, however, Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army was in position to capture the town of Prochorovka, secure a bridgehead over the Psel River and advance on Oboyan.
The Psel river was the last natural barrier between Manstein's panzers and Kursk.

The Fourth Panzer Army's attack on the town was led by SS General Hausser's II SS Panzer Corps, General Von Knobelsdorff's XLVIII Panzer Corps and General Ott's LII Army Corps.

Hausser's corps was made up of three panzer divisions–the 1st Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (Adolf Hitler's bodyguard), 2nd SS Das Reich (The Empire) and 3rd SS Totenkopf (Death's Head). Although all three were technically Panzergrenadier divisions, each had more than 100 tanks when Citadel began.

                                    



Stug III and Tigers advancing


Contrary to popular belief, the Elefant/Ferdinand  was a success in its role: as an over-watch panzer. 
It remained at a long distance from the enemy. 
Figures indicate that the elephant had 10 to 1 kill ratio against Soviet armor.


SS Totenkopf Grenadiers in Pea-dot Camo and Tiger I commander confer early in the battle


Work-horses of the Army PzKfw III or IV  in July 1943



To Victory: T-34s lined up



Tiger I with Schurtzen at Kursk 




Das Reich Insignia                                                                 Grossdeutschland Div Insignia     


Knobelsdorff's corps was composed of the 167th and 332nd infantry divisions, the 3rd and 11th panzer divisions, Panzergrenadier Division Grossdeutschland and Panther Brigade Decker, and Ott's corps contained the 25th and 57th infantry divisions.





Opposing Hausser at Prochorovka was the newly arrived and reinforced Fifth Guards Tank Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Pavel Rotmistrov. The Fifth Guards was the Soviet strategic armored reserve in the south, the last significant uncommitted armored formation in the sector, with more than 650 tanks.


                        

                         

The Soviet operational armored reserve, General Mikhail Katukov's First Tank Army, was already in action against Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army south of the Psel.

Katukov's army had been unable to prevent the Germans from reaching the river, however. His VI Tank Corps, originally equipped with more than 200 tanks, had only 50 left by July 10 and 11, and the other two corps of Katukov's army also had sustained serious losses.

On July 10, the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf, commanded by SS Maj. Gen.Hermann Priess, had established a bridgehead over the Psel, west of Prochorovka. By July 11, the division's panzer group had crossed the river on pontoon bridges and reached the bridgehead. What was left of Katukov's armor regrouped to oppose the XLVIII Panzer Corps below Oboyan or counterattack the Psel bridgehead. Reinforced with the XXXIII Rifle Corps and X Tank Corps, Katukov launched continuous attacks on the Totenkopf units on the north bank of the river.

                             
During the evening of July 11, Hausser readied his divisions for an assault on Prochorovka.
Totenkopf anchored the left flank of the corps, while Leibstandarte, commanded by SS Maj. Gen. Theodore Wisch, was in the center, assembled west of the town between a rail line and the Psel.
Das Reich, commanded by SS Lt. Gen. Walter Kr├╝ger, moved into its attack zone on the corps' right flank, which was several kilometers south of Tetrevino and southwest of Prochorovka.


While Hausser's SS divisions prepared for battle, there was feverish activity in the Soviet camp as well. On July 11, the Fifth Guards Tank Army arrived in the Prochorovka area, having begun its march on July 7 from assembly areas nearly 200 miles to the east. The army consisted of the XVIII and XXIX Tank Corps and the V Guards Mechanized Corps. Rotmistrov's 650 tanks were reinforced by the II Tank Corps and II Guards Tank Corps, increasing its strength to about 850 tanks, 500 of which were T-34s.

T-34-76 mm

The Fifth Guards' primary mission was to lead the main post-Kursk counteroffensive, known as Operation Rumyantsev, and its secondary mission was as defensive insurance in the south. The commitment of Rotmistrov's army at such an early date is stark evidence of Soviet concern about the situation on the Psel. The Fifth Guards' arrival at the Psel set the stage for the Battle of Prochorovka.

Prochotovka
Prochorovka is one of the best-known of the many battles on the Eastern Front during World War II. It has been covered in articles, books and televised historical documentaries, but these accounts vary in accuracy; some are merely incomplete, while others border on fiction.


                                

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
                 kursk

In the generally accepted version of the battle, the three SS divisions attacked Prochorovka shoulder to shoulder, jammed into the terrain between the Psel and the railroad. A total of 500 to 700 German tanks, including dozens of Panzerkampfwagen Mark V Panther medium tanks with 75 mm guns and Panzerkampfwagen Mark VI Tiger heavy tanks with deadly 88 mm cannons, lumbered forward.


                               kursk

                             

Hundreds of nimble Soviet T-34 medium tanks raced into the midst of the SS armor and threw the Germans into confusion. The Soviets closed with the Panzers, negating the Tigers' 88mm guns, outmaneuvered the German armor and knocked out hundreds of German tanks.


                               

The Soviet tank force's audacious tactics resulted in a disastrous defeat for the Germans, and the disorganized SS divisions withdrew, leaving 400 destroyed tanks behind, including between 70 and 100 Tigers and many Panthers.

                                   kursk

Those losses smashed the SS divisions' fighting power, and as a result Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army had no chance to achieve even a partial victory in the south.

                                 

While it makes a dramatic story, nearly all of this battle scenario is essentially myth.

Careful study of the daily tank strength reports and combat records of II SS Panzer Corps (Available on microfilm at the National Archives in Washington, D.C) provides information that forces a historical reappraisal of the battle.

These records show, first of all, that Hausser's corps began with far fewer tanks than previously believed and, more important, that they suffered only moderate losses on July 12, 1943.

As those reports were intended to allow the corps commander to assess the combat strength of his divisions, they can be considered reasonably accurate. Considering that information, it seems that the Germans may have been near a limited success on the southern flank of the salient.

The number of SS tanks actually involved in the battle has been variously reported as high as 700 by some authorities, while others have estimated between 300 to 600. Even before the Battle of Kursk began, however, the II SS Panzer Corps never had 500 tanks, much less 700.

kursk

On July 4, the day before Operation Citadel was launched, Hausser's three divisions possessed a total of 327 tanks between them, plus a number of command tanks.

  

By July 11, the II SS Panzer Corps had a total of 211 operational tanks
Totenkopf had 94 tanks, Leibstandarte had only 56 and Das Reich possessed just 61.
Damaged tanks or tanks undergoing repairs are not listed.

kursk

2 Famo Heavy Half-tracks recovering a broken down but servicable Tiger I. Potze staff car in the foreground

Only 15 Tiger tanks were still in action at Prochorovka, and there were no SS Panthers available.
The battalions that were equipped with Panthers were still training in Germany in July 1943.

On July 13, the day after the Battle of Prochorovka, Fourth Panzer Army reports declared that the II SS Panzer Corps had 163 operational tanks, a net loss of only 48 tanks.
Actual losses were somewhat heavier, the discrepancy due to the gain of repaired tanks returned to action.

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.


                          kursk

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.

Other Soviet sources say the tank strength of the army on July 13 was 150 to 200, a loss of about 650 tanks. Those losses brought a caustic rebuke from Josef Stalin. Subsequently, the depleted Fifth Guards Tank Army did not resume offensive action, and Rotmistrov ordered his remaining tanks to dig in among the infantry positions west of the town.

             

                                                          Rotmistrov later in the war

Another misconception about the battle is the image of all three SS divisions attacking shoulder to shoulder through the narrow lane between the Psel and the rail line west of Prochorovka.

Only Leibstandarte was aligned directly west of the town, and it was the only division to attack the town itself. The II SS Panzer Corps zone of battle, contrary to the impression given in many accounts, was approximately nine miles wide, with Totenkopf on the left flank, Leibstandarte in the center and Das Reich on the right flank.

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Totenkopf's armor was committed primarily to the Psel bridgehead and in defensive action against Soviet attacks on the Psel bridges. In fact, only Leibstandarte actually advanced into the corridor west of Prochorovka, and then only after it had thrown back initial Soviet attacks.

Early on July 12, Leibstandarte units reported a great deal of loud motor noise, which indicated massing Soviet armor. Soon after 5 am., hundreds of Soviet tanks, carrying infantry, rolled out of Prochorovka and its environs in groups of 40 to 50.
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                                                  KV-1s and Soviet Infantry Advance

Waves of T-34 and T-70 tanks advanced at high speed in a charge straight at the startled Germans. When machine-gun fire, armor-piercing shells and artillery fire struck the T-34s, the Soviet infantry jumped off and sought cover. Leaving their infantry behind, the T-34's rolled on. Those Soviet tanks that survived the initial clash with SS armor continued a linear advance and were destroyed by the Germans.

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                                      Dismounted Soviet Infantry surging forwards

When the initial Soviet attack paused, Leibstandarte pushed its armor toward the town and collided with elements of Rotmistrov's reserve armor. A Soviet attack by the 181st Tank Regiment was defeated by several SS Tigers, one of which, the 13th (heavy) Company of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment, was commanded by 2nd Lt. Michael Wittmann, the most successful tank commander of the war.

                                                
                                                        Michael Wittmann

Wittmann's group was advancing in flank support of the German main attack when it was engaged by the Soviet tank regiment at long range.

The Soviet charge, straight at the Tigers over open ground, was suicidal. The frontal armor of the Tiger was impervious to the 76 mm guns of the T-34s at any great distance. The field was soon littered with burning T-34s and T-70s.

               
                         

None of the Tigers were lost, but the 181st Tank Regiment was annihilated. Late in the day, Rotmistrov committed his last reserves, elements of the V Mechanized Corps, which finally halted Leibstandarte.


kursk

Das Reich began its attack from several kilometers southwest of Prochorovka and was quickly engaged by aggressive battle groups of the II Tank Corps and II Guards Tank Corps. Fierce, somewhat confused fighting broke out all along the German division's axis of advance. Battle groups of 20 to 40 Soviet tanks, supported by infantry and ground-attack planes, collided with Das Reich regimental spearheads. Rotmistrov continued to throw armor against the division, and combat raged throughout the day, with heavy losses of Soviet armor. Das Reich continued to push slowly eastward, advancing into the night while suffering relatively light tank losses.

Meanwhile, on the left flank, Soviet First Tank Army elements unsuccessfully tried to crush Totenkopf's bridgehead. The SS division fought off the XXXI and X Tank Corps, supported by elements of the XXXIII Rifle Corps. In spite of the Soviet attacks, Totenkopf's panzer group drove toward a road that ran from the village of Kartaschevka, southeast across the river and into Prochorovka.


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                                                           Totenkopf Panzergrenadiers

The fighting, characterized by massive losses of Soviet armor, continued throughout July 12 without a decisive success by either side–contrary to the accounts given in many well-known studies of the Eastern Front, which state that the fighting ended on July 12 with a decisive German defeat.

These authors describe the battlefield as littered with hundreds of destroyed German tanks and report that the Soviets overran the SS tank repair units. In fact, the fighting continued around Prochorovka for several more days. Das Reich continued to push slowly eastward in the area south of the town until July 16.

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                                      Das Reich Sturm pioniere (Sappers) on board a Stug III

That advance enabled the III Panzer Corps to link up with the SS division on July 14 and encircle several Soviet rifle divisions south of Prochorovka. Totenkopf eventually reached the Kartaschevka-­Prochorovka road, and the division took several tactically important hills on the north edge of its perimeter as well.

Those successes were not exploited, however, due to decisions made by Adolf Hitler.

Lost opportunity:
After receiving the news of the Allied invasion of Sicily, as well as reports of impending Soviet attacks on the Mius River and at Izyum, Hitler decided to cancel Operation Citadel.

Manstein argued that he should be allowed to finish off the two Soviet tank armies. He had unused reserves, consisting of three experienced panzer divisions of XXIV Panzer Corps, in position for quick commitment.

That corps could have been used to attack the Fifth Guards Tank Army in its flank, to break out from the Psel bridgehead or to cross the Psel east of Prochorovka.

All of the available Soviet armor in the south was committed and could not be withdrawn without causing a collapse of the Soviet defenses.

Manstein correctly realized that he had the opportunity to destroy the Soviet operational and strategic armor in the Prochorovka area.

Hitler could not be persuaded to continue the attack. Instead, he dispersed the divisions of the II SS Panzer Corps to deal with the anticipated Soviet diversionary attacks south of the Belgorod­-Kharkov sector.

On the night of July 17-18, the corps withdrew from its positions around Prochorovka.

Thus, the battle for Prochorovka ended, not because of German tank losses (Hausser still had over 200 operational tanks on July 17) but because Hitler lacked the will to continue the offensive.

The SS panzer divisions were still full of fight; in fact, two of them continued to fight effectively in southern Russia for the rest of the summer.

Leibstandarte was ordered to Italy, but Das Reich and Totenkopf remained in the East.

              

Those two divisions and the 3rd Panzer Division, which replaced Leibstandarte, were transferred to the Sixth Army area, where they conducted a counterattack from July 31 to August 2 that eliminated a strong Soviet bridgehead at the Mius River.

Without pause, the three divisions were then transferred to the Bogodukhov sector in early August 1943. Under the command of the III Panzer Corps, they were joined by another unit, the Fifth SS Panzergrenadier Division Wiking.

During three weeks of constant combat, the four divisions played a major role in stopping the main Soviet post-Kursk counteroffensive, Operation Rumyantsev. They fought Rotmistrov's Fifth Guards Tank Army, rebuilt to 503 tanks strong, and major portions of the First Tank Army, now at 542 tanks.


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                                                   6th Guards' Soviet Lend-lease M3 Lee/Grants

By the end of the month, Rotmistrov had less than 100 tanks still running. Katukov had only 120 tanks still in action by the last week of August. While at no time did any of the German divisions have more than 55 tanks in operation, they repeatedly blunted the thrusts of the two Soviet tank armies, which were also reinforced by several rifle corps.

Totenkopf repeatedly cut off and defeated all of the First Tank Army's thrusts toward the Kharkov­-Poltava rail line. Das Reich threw back two Soviet tank corps south of Bogodukhov and blunted Rotmistrov's last major attack west of Kharkov, and the III Panzer Corps halted Operation Rumyantsev.

After Kharkov itself fell, however, the German front gradually collapsed.

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The Soviets regrouped, committed additional strong reserves and renewed their attack toward the strategically important Dnepr River. Army Group South was subsequently forced to abandon much of southern Ukraine in a race for the safety of the Dnepr.

Despite the remarkable efforts of the German army and Waffen SS panzer divisions during July and August, the Germans were too weak to hold the Kharkov­-Belgorod­-Poltava sector after their summer losses.

It is apparent from their operations during the late summer that the SS panzer divisions were not destroyed at Prochorovka.

                                  

This reassessment of the battle provides food for thought regarding possible German successes if Manstein's Panzer reserves had been utilized as he had intended.

To what extent the course of events in Russia would have been changed is, of course, unknown, but it is interesting to speculate.

If Army Group South's Panzer reserve had been used to encircle and destroy the Fifth Guards Tank Army and the First Tank Army, the outcome of the war in Russia might have been significantly different.

Although it was beyond the German army's capabilities to force a military end to the war by the summer of 1943, a limited victory in the south could have resulted in a delay of Soviet strategic operations for months or perhaps longer. It is doubtful, however, that this pause would have lasted long enough for the Germans to transfer enough forces to the West to defeat the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion.

                                 

But one fact is beyond any question, regardless of the number of tanks possessed by the Germans or Soviets or what might have been possible. Due to Hausser's Panzer corps' failure to take Prochorovka on July 12 and the subsequent misuse of German panzer reserves, the momentum of the Fourth Panzer Army was slowed dramatically.

When Hitler abandoned Operation Citadel on July 13, the Germans' last opportunity to influence events on a strategic level in the East was lost.

                          

It is interesting that the information regarding German tank losses at Prochorovka has not been made available before now. Due to the lack of crucial primary-source information–especially the records of the II SS Panzer Corps on the Eastern Front–there had been no evidence to correct the erroneous accounts and impressions given in previous studies of the Eastern Front.

Waffen SS formations' records of their Eastern Front operations were not declassified until 1978­-1981. By that time, many of the major works about the Eastern Front had already been published.

Later authors accepted the accounts of the battle as given in the earlier books and failed to conduct additional research.

As a result, one of the best known of all Eastern Front battles has never been understood properly.

Prochorovka was believed to have been a significant German defeat but was actually a stunning reversal for the Soviets because they suffered enormous tank losses.

As Manstein suggested, Prochorovka may truly have been a lost German victory, thanks to decisions made by Hitler.

                          

It was fortunate for the Allied cause that the German dictator, a foremost proponent of the value of will, lost his own will to fight in southern Ukraine in July 1943. Had he allowed Mannstein to continue the attack on the two Soviet tank armies in the Prochorovka area, Manstein might have achieved a victory even more damaging to the Soviets than the counterattack that had recaptured Kharkov in March 1943.