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Battle of Prokhorovka

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Battle of Prokhorovka
Part of the Battle of Kursk on the Eastern Front
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-022-2950-15A, Russland, Panzer im Einsatz.jpg
German panzers near Prokhorovka
12 July 1943
Location Prokhorovka, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
51°2′11″N 36°44′11″E / 51.03639°N 36.73639°E / 51.03639; 36.73639Coordinates: 51°2′11″N 36°44′11″E / 51.03639°N 36.73639°E / 51.03639; 36.73639

German local tactical victory[1][2][3][4]

Operational stalemate or Soviet operational victory[5][6][7][8]
 Germany  Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Units involved

II SS-Panzer Corps

Steppe Front[A]

Voronezh Front[G]


(See Opposing Forces section for details)

About 290 tanks and assault guns

(See Opposing Forces section for details)

About 850 tanks and self-propelled guns
Casualties and losses

(See Casualties and Losses section for details)

  • 842 casualties.[K]

  • At least 43 tanks and assault guns destroyed, damaged or temporarily removed from service.[20][K]

(See casualties and losses section for details)

  • 7607 casualties (from 12 to 16 July )[L]

The Battle of Prokhorovka was fought near Prokhorovka, 87 kilometres (54 mi) southeast of Kursk, on the Eastern Front during the Second World War as part of the Battle of Kursk in the Soviet Union. The 5th Guards Tank Army of the Soviet Red Army attacked the II SS-Panzer Corps of the German Wehrmacht in one of the largest tank battles in military history.[M]

On 5 July 1943 the German command launched Operation Citadel with the aim of enveloping and destroying the Soviet forces in the Kursk salient. The operation was conducted by three German armies, with the 4th Panzer Army attacking from the south. Army Detachment Kempf was intended to protect the eastern flank of the 4th Panzer Army. Stavka, the Soviet High Command, was forewarned of the German intentions and had prepared a defence in depth along the routes of the planned German attack. They also massed armies – the Steppe Front, which included 5th Guards Tank Army – deep behind the defences, which they intended to use to launch their own offensive as a counterattack once the German strength had dissipated.

A week into the German offensive the Soviets launched powerful counterattacks against the attackers. In the south at Prokhorovka, the 5th Guards Tank Army attacked the II SS-Panzer Corps, resulting in a large clash of armour just outside the settlement on 12 July 1943.[21][22] The battle was fought across a stretch of land ranging in an arc of 20 kilometres (12 mi) to the west and south of Prokhorovka.[23][24] The 5th Guards Tank Army was decimated in the attack, but succeeded in preventing the Germans from capturing Prokhorovka and breaking through the third defensive belt to achieve operational freedom. Subsequently, the German offensive was cancelled and their forces withdrawn. The Red Army went over onto a general offensive and seized the strategic initiative on the Eastern Front, which it was to hold for the remainder of the conflict.


See also: Battle of Kursk
The German advance to Prokhorovka

As the rasputitsa or rainy season came to an end in 1943, both the German and Soviet commands considered their next step to bring the war to a successful conclusion. Stalin strongly desired to seize the initiative and attack the German forces, but was convinced by his senior commanders to take a defensive posture and allow the Germans to weaken themselves in attacking prepared positions, after which the Soviet forces would go over onto the offensive.[25] A similar strategy discussion occurred on the German side, with Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, arguing for a mobile defense which would give up terrain and allow the Soviets to advance, followed by a series of sharp counterattacks against their flanks. For political reasons Hitler insisted upon going onto the offensive and chose the Kursk salient for the attack.[26]

The German offensive plan, called Unternehmen Zitadelle or Operation Citadel, envisioned an assault at the base of the Kursk salient from both the north and south. The double pincer attack was intended to cut off and envelop the Soviet forces the German command thought would be massing west of Kursk for the next Soviet offensive.[27][28] The two spearheads were to meet behind the rail center of Kursk. From the south the 4th Panzer Army commanded by Generaloberst Hermann Hoth would drive northward. The III Panzer Corps of Army Detachment Kempf was to protect Hoth's right flank from counterattack by the Soviet strategic reserves known to be located further east.[29] The 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf were a part of Army Group South, which was commanded by Manstein.[30][31][29]

Multiple delays by the Germans allowed the Soviets a great deal of time to prepare their defenses. They built a defence in depth designed to wear down the attacking panzer force. A series of defensive belts were created made up of extensive minefields, anti-tank ditches, and anti-tank gun emplacements.[32] The Voronezh Front, commanded by General Nikolai Vatutin, was tasked with defending the southern face of the salient. The Steppe Front was the strategic reserve force held behind the front to be brought up for the counteroffensive. It was under the command of General Ivan Konev.[33][34]

German advance leading up to Prokhorovka[edit]

Main article: Operation Citadel
A column of Panzer III tanks advance at Kursk

The Germans launched their attack on 5 July 1943 and met with heavy resistance.[29] The number and density of Soviet anti-tank guns, minefields, and anti-tank ditches, and repeated counterattacks by large numbers of Soviet tanks were all much greater than had been anticipated, making a breakthrough far more difficult to achieve. The II SS-Panzer Corps was the only unit to advance significantly on the first day. The corps benefited from close air support provided by Luftflotte 4, whose aircraft helped destroy Soviet strong points and artillery positions. The defenders had a sizable amount of armour on hand in local reserve and used these to launch counterattacks. To the southeast, III Panzer Corps had great difficulty crossing the Northern Donets River. They eventually formed a bridgehead across by the morning of 6 July,[35] but continued stubborn resistance meant they were unable to protect the east flank of the II SS-Panzer Corps.[36]

By the end of 8 July, II SS-Panzer Corps had advanced about 29 kilometres (18 mi) and broken through the first and second defensive belts.[37][38][39][40] However, slow progress by the XLVIII Panzer Corps caused Hoth to shift elements of the II SS-Panzer Corps to the west to help the XLVIII Panzer Corps regain its momentum. On 10 July the full effort of the corps was shifted back to its own forward progress. The direction of their advance now shifted from Oboyan due north to the northeast toward the town of Prokhorovka. Hoth had discussed this move with Manstein since early May, and it was a part of the 4th Panzer Army's plan since the outset of the offensive.[41][42] By this time, however, the Soviets had shifted reserve formations into its path. The defensive positions were manned by the 2nd Tank Corps, reinforced by the 9th Guards Airborne Division and 301st Anti-tank Artillery Regiment, both from the 33rd Guards Rifle Corps.[43][44]

A Tiger I of a Waffen-SS unit fires at a target during Operation Citadel. The superior optics of the Tiger I and its high velocity 88 mm gun allowed it to destroy targets at long range.

In the ensuing attacks, the 1st SS Panzergrenadier Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler had met with the most success, penetrating into the third Soviet defensive belt. They had moved up the Psel corridor, cleared Soviet resistance at the "October" Soviet state farm (Russian: Совхоз Октябрьский), crossed a 15-foot (4.6 m)-deep antitank ditch at the base of Hill 252.2 and seized the hill itself after a brief but bloody battle.[45][46] By day's end on 11 July they were only 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) from Prokhorovka.[46][47] To its north the panzergrenadiers of 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Division Totenkopf achieved a bridgehead across the Psel and tanks had been brought across, but they had yet to take Hill 226.6 and there was a 5-kilometre (3.1 mi) gap between Totenkopf and Leibstandarte.[48][49][50] To the south 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Division Das Reich had also met stiff resistance and lagged behind, some 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) to the south.[50] Leibstandarte‍ '​s flanks were exposed to both the north and south, placing them under sporadic counterattacks from the 95th Guards Rifle Division and the remnants of 2nd Tank Corps.[46][51]

While the German attack was in progress, the 5th Guards Tank Army had been moving up from its reserve position since 6 July, traveling at night to avoid detection. They covered the 390 kilometres (240 mi) over three nights, reaching the area of Prokhorovka during the night of 9 July.[52]

Opposing forces[edit]

German forces in the southern Kursk salient during Operation Citadel

The battle was fought primarily between Leibstandarte and the 5th Guards Tank Army, whose 29th and 18th Tank Corps were fresh formations brought up from the Soviet strategic reserve. These two tank formations provided the greatest number of tanks in the attack. Infantry support to the attackers was provided by the 9th Guards Airborne Division, which had also been brought up from reserve.[53][54] The Leibstandarte had advanced the most deeply of the German divisions and was situated in the center of the German position in the Psel river corridor. A railway line ran through the Leibstandarte positions, heading northeast to Prokhorovka. The ground had been built up under the railbed to minimize the grade of the line. At this point the banks of the railbed were some 30 feet high, elevating the rail line and dividing the area of the Leibstandarte division north and south. The bulk of the division was positioned to the north of the rail line, including the division's panzer regiment, its 2nd Panzergrenadier regiment, and the division's reconnaissance, artillery and command units. To the south of the rail line was Leibstandarte‍ '​s 1st Panzergrenadier regiment, along with the division's Panzerjaeger battalion.[55] To the south of these units stood the Das Reich division, which secured the southern flank.[56]

To the north of Leibstandarte was the Totenkopf division. The division's panzer regiment had largely crossed over the river Psel in preparation for the assault. Between the Totenkopf and Leibstandarte divisions was a gap of approximately 5 kilometers. Leibstandarte placed its reconnaissance battalion in the gap to provide some flank protection, but the lightly armed unit could not possibly check a determined tank attack. The division's four remaining Tiger I heavy tanks were shifted here to help buttress their flank protection.[57] This proved to be an important move. The platoon was commanded by Michael Wittmann, who was already becoming well known.

To protect the southern flank of the 5th Guards Tank Army, Rotmistrov ordered the units that had been defending the area, the 5th Guards Army, the remnants of the 2nd Tank Corps, and the 2nd Guards Tank Corps, into the attack. Rotmistrov told the commanders of the two tank corps that every effort must be made to throw the Germans back. The attack of these units was directed against Das Reich.[42] The 23rd Guards Rifle Corps, and formations of the 1st Tank Army attacked Totenkopf.[58]


The German forces involved in the Battle of Prokhorovka were from the three Waffen-SS divisions of the II SS-Panzer Corps: Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, Das Reich, and Totenkopf.[22] For the evening of 11 July, the serviceable armour strength of the II SS-Panzer Corps was 294 tanks and assault guns – of which 15 were Tigers. The armoured strength of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd SS-Panzergrenadier Divisions were 77, 95, and 122 tanks and assault guns respectively.[59]


The main Soviet armoured formation involved in the battle was the 5th Guards Tank Army.[14] Prior to the engagement on 12 July, the 5th Guards Tank Army fielded 793 tanks and 37 to 57 self-propelled guns for a total of approximately 840 armoured fighting vehicles.[60][61][62] About two-thirds of these tanks were the T-34, with about a third being the T-70 light tank, with some 35 Churchill heavy tanks as well.[63]


German plans for 12 July[edit]

Paul Hausser, commanding officer of the II SS Panzer Corps

General Paul Hausser, the commander of the II SS-Panzer Corps, had expected to continue his advance on Prokhorovka, and late on the evening of 11 July issued orders for a classic maneuver battle for the following day's attack. The Soviets were known to have a great many anti-tank guns dug in on the west slopes before Prokhorovka, making a direct attack by Leibstandarte very difficult. The plan was for the attack to begin north of the Psel river with Totenkopf driving northeast to the Kartashёvka-Prokhorovka road, then striking southeast to assault the Soviet positions at Prokhorovka from the flank and rear. The 1st and 2nd SS-Panzer divisions were to wait until Totenkopf‍ '​s attack had disrupted the Soviet positions. Once the Soviets at Prokhorovka were under attack from Totenkopf, the Leibstandarte was to join in, advancing through the main Soviet defenses on the west slope before Prokhorovka. To Leibstandarte‍ '​s right, Das Reich was to advance as well, moving east to the high ground south of Prokhorovka, then turning south away from Prokhorovka to roll up the Soviet line and force a gap in the Soviet defenses.[64] The VIII Fliegerkorps was to make their main effort in support of the advance of the II SS-Panzer Corps, with the XLVIII Panzer Corps to the west assigned limited air resources.[65]

Unbeknownst to Hausser, on the night of 11/12 July Lieutenant General Pavel Rotmistrov had moved his 5th Guards Tank Army up to an assembly area just below Prokhorovka in preparation for a massive armoured attack the following day.[66][67] Throughout the night the German troopers could hear the ominous sounds of Soviet tank engines to the east as the 18th and 29th Tank Corps moved into their assembly areas.

Soviet plans for 12 July[edit]

On 11 July Vatutin ordered that the following day the armies of the Voronezh Front were to go over onto the offensive. This counterattack was to be the southern element of a general Soviet offensive. The forces of the Steppe Front, including the powerful 5th Guards Tank Army, had been brought up from reserve to smash the forces spearheading the German attack.[68][49] The 5th Guards Tank Army was supported by infantry of the 5th Guards Army and the 69th Army.[69][70][71][72] Five artillery regiments, one artillery brigade, and one artillery division were on hand to support the assault.[71] To the immediate south of the 5th Guards Tank Army, the 2nd Guards Tank Corps and the depleted 2nd Tank Corps were to attack the positions of the Das Reich division. The 5th Guards Mechanized Corps was held as reserve north of Prokhorovka.[71] Rotmistrov ordered his tanks to move forward at speed to engage the German armour [64] thus nullifying the advantages the Ferdinands and Tiger tanks had in the range and firepower of their 88 mm guns. He believed the more maneuverable T-34 would be able to quickly close and obtain effective flanking shots against the German heavy tanks.[73] In making the dispositions of his forces for the attack, he realized Leibstandarte was already in possession of his planned assembly areas which compelled him to hastily rewrite his orders for the 5th Guards Tank Army.[74][75]

Late on the night of 12 July, the Soviet command was informed that German forces had crossed the Northern Donets at Rzhawes (also known as Rzhavets). This jeopardised Rotmistrov's entire plan by threatening the flank of the 5th Guards Tank Army.[76][77] Early on 12 July, Vatutin ordered Rotmistrov to send reinforcements to the Soviet forces facing the III Panzer Corps.[76][42][77] He organised a task force under the command of his deputy, General K. G. Trufanov, which consisted of the 26th Tank Brigade from the 2nd Guards Tank Corps, the 11th and 12th Guards Mechanized Brigades from the 5th Guards Mechanized Corps, and the 53rd Guards Tank Regiment from the 5th Guards Tank Army.[76] Other units from the reserve also were attached to the group on its way south.[76] In doing so Rotmistrov had committed over half of his reserves to an essential ad-hoc advance before the Battle of Prokhorovka began.[77] As to air support, Vatutin focused the effort of the Red Air Force on the XLVIII Panzer Corps to the west.[78][79]

Soviet air support over the battle was provided by the 2nd Air Army and the 17th Air Army. Both had suffered significant losses over the previous week's fighting. On 12 July the 2nd Air Army still had some 472 aircraft operational, while the 17th Air Army had 300 remaining operational aircraft. However, the bulk of the air support was committed in support of units attacking XVIII Panzer Corps in the north and III Panzer Corps in the south and only limited numbers of aircraft were available to support 5th Guards Tank Army's attack.[80]


At around 04:50 on 12 July, elements of Leibstandarte‍ '​s 1st SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment nudged forward and drove the Soviet infantry out of Storozhevoe,[81][82][83] while the bulk of Leibstandarte waited to commence their main task for the day.[84] By 06:00 Leibstandarte‍ '​s headquarters was receiving reports of the sound of a great number of tank engines as the Soviet tanks prepared for their advance.[83] The Soviets began a preparatory artillery barrage between 06:00 and 06:15[73][85] and, as the last shells fell at 06:30, Rotmistrov radioed the code words "Stal! Stal! Stal!" ("Steel, Steel, Steel!") – the order to commence the attack.[84] With that the Soviet armour of the 5th Guards Tank Army began their advance.[73][86][81]

German Panzer IV and Sdkfz 251 halftrack

Down off the west slopes before Prokhorovka charged the massed Soviet armour of five tank brigades of the 18th and 29th Tank Corps, ineffectually firing as they came at Leibstandarte‍ '​s positions.[87] As the Soviet tanks rolled down the slopes, they carried the men of the 9th Guards Airborne Division on top of their tanks.[42] All told around 500 tanks and self-propelled guns from nine tank brigades of the 5th Guards Tank Army attacked the German positions in two massive waves, with 430 tanks in the first echelon and 70 more in the second.[88][89][65]

The troops of Leibstandarte were not slated to go into action until later in the day.[42] Exhausted from the previous week's fighting, many were just starting their day at the outset of the attack and were largely taken by surprise.[90] A battalion from Leibstandarte‍ '​s 2nd SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment situated on the reverse slope of Hill 252.2 had been listening to the engines of the Soviet tanks and were uneasy about the impending attack it implied. As the Soviet armour appeared German outposts began firing purple warning flares signaling a tank attack. Soon purple flares were being fired all across their front. Obersturmfuhrer Rudolf von Ribbentrop of the 1st SS-Panzer Regiment's 2nd Battalion stated later that he knew at once that a major attack was underway. He ordered his company of seven Panzer IVs to start up and follow him over a pioneer-built bridge across the tank ditch. Crossing the bridge they fanned out on the lower slope of Hill 252.2. Above them Joachim Peiper's 2nd SS-Panzergrenadiers and their armoured half-tracks on the crest of Hill 252.2 were being overrun. As Ribbentrop's tanks spread out he looked up the hillside and was suddenly confronted by the wave of Soviet tanks. "In front of me appeared fifteen, then twenty, then thirty, then forty tanks. Finally there were too many of them to count. The T-34s were rolling toward us at speed, and carrying mounted infantry."[91]

As the Soviet armor charged down the west slope of Hill 252.2 a hotly contested tank battle ensued. A Panzer IV to Ribbentrop's right was set ablaze.[91] Soon the company was swamped by the seemingly endless number of Soviet tanks coming down the hill. The Soviet tanks were firing on the move. Rotmistrov's tactic to close at speed disrupted the control and co-ordination of the Soviet tank formations and also greatly reduced their accuracy.[42] In fact Soviet intelligence had greatly overestimated the numbers of Ferdinands and Tigers possessed by the II SS-Panzer Corps.[N] In actuality there were no Ferdinands with the 4th Panzer Army, as they were all deployed to the north with the 9th Army. The three divisions of the II SS-Panzer corps had fifteen Tiger tanks between them, with ten of those to the north of the Psel river with Totenkopf. Leibstandarte had only four Tigers operational, while Das Reich had but one.[93]

The advance of Soviet armour was held up at the base of the Hill 252.2 when they reached the anti-tank ditch. Some vehicles crashed into the 15-foot ditch while others moved along the edge looking for a way to cross. Heavy firing occurred between the Soviet armour and the two other companies of the 1st SS-Panzer Battalion on the opposite side of the ditch, while the Soviet tanks searched for a route across.[94] Meanwhile, with the passage of the first waves of Soviet tanks Peiper's surviving panzergrenadiers emerged from trench lines to engage the Soviet paratroopers and attack the Soviet tanks with magnetic anti-tank grenades. Twenty of the battalion's half-tracks were lost in the fighting. Some were destroyed when they attempted to ram the much heavier Soviet tanks in an effort to stop them from destroying the company.[95]

A weary officer lights the cigarette of his NCO in the southern salient.

Above the battlefield, the 2nd and 17th Air Armies flew 893 sorties compared to the VIII Fliegerkorps's 654 sorties over the southern part of the salient. Low clouds in the morning and thunderstorms in the afternoon inhibited air operations by both sides.[96] Of note, most of the Soviet sorties flown that day were flown against the XLVIII Panzer Corps to the west and the III Panzer Corps to the south. Over the Prokhorovka battlefield the Luftwaffe gained control of the air. Formations of Stukas, including a small number of experimental 3.7-centimetre (1.5 in) BK 37 cannon-equipped G-2 variants, commanded by Staffelkapitan Hans-Ulrich Rudel, Fw 190 fighter-bombers and Hs 129 ground-attack aircraft equipped with 3-centimetre (1.2 in) anti-tank cannon attacked the Soviet formations.[79] The 31st Tank Brigade reported: "We suffered heavy losses in tanks through enemy artillery and aircraft. At 10:30 our tanks reached the Komsomolets State Farm, but due to continuous air attacks, they were unable to advance any further and shifted to the defence."[81] The tank brigade also reported: "our own air cover was fully absent until 13:00."[97] The 5th Guards Tank Army reported: "the enemy's aircraft literally hung above our combat formations throughout the entire battle, while our own aircraft, and particularly the fighter aviation, was totally insufficient."[97]

By the end of the day, Leibstandarte still held Hill 252.2 and had lost no ground,[98] but was exhausted by the struggle turning back the five brigades of the two tank corps.[42][99] To its left, Totenkopf had succeeded in capturing Hill 226.6 and its panzer group had advanced along the north bank of the Psel to reach the Karteschevka-Prokhorovka road, 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) northwest of Prokhorovka.[100] Of the three SS-Panzer divisions, it had been on the offensive the most and its panzer regiment had suffered the heaviest losses. Though its hold on the forward ground was tenuous, it was in position to outflank the Soviet forces at Prokhorovka.[101] Das Reich had been unable to push forward. Forced onto the defensive by the 2nd Guards Tank Corps and 2nd Tank Corps, it was unable to undertake its planned attack. Its panzer group counterattacked several times against advancing Soviet armour.[102]

On the Soviet side, all units involved suffered significant losses, with the heaviest suffered by the 5th Guards Tank Army.[103] Despite this German intelligence reported to the German command that the forces opposing the II SS-Panzer Corps still had over 300 tanks available. Though the Soviet assault had been turned back and Rotmistrov had been forced to shift his command over to defense, the Germans knew that the Soviet forces opposing them were still considerable and a clear decision had yet to be reached.[104]

Following the main engagement[edit]

On the night of 12 July, Vatutin ordered the Soviet forces facing the II SS-Panzer Corps to take a defensive stance.[105] Orders issued by the Germans for 13 July instructed Totenkopf to consolidate its gains of the previous day and then attack into the flank and rear of the Soviet forces around Prokhorovka.[106] Leibstandarte was to strengthen its front line and co-ordinate its attack on Prokhorovka from the south with Totenkopf‍ '​s attack from the northwest.[106] Das Reich was to consolidate and strengthen its front line and prepare for an offensive operation to link up with the III Panzer Corps.[107]

On the morning of 13 July, the 5th Guards Mechanized Corps and the 33rd Guards Rifle Corps launched attacks against Totenkopf‍ '​s left flank.[108] By afternoon these Soviet attacks had been beaten off, but they did prevent Totenkopf from attacking to the south toward Prokhorovka.[108] Around noon, Leibstandarte was ordered to attack northward toward the Psel River to consolidate its front line with Totenkopf‍ '​s position.[108] This attack confronted the defensive positions held by the 33rd Guards Rifle Corps, which had been supplemented by the remaining armour of the 18th and 29th Tank Corps. Leibstandarte‍ '​s attack was unsuccessful.[108] That afternoon, Totenkopf was ordered to abandon their positions northwest of Prokhorovka and return to a more defendable positions along the north bank of the Psel River.[109] Soviet attempts to sever the salient were unsuccessful, and the unit completed its withdrawal by nightfall.[109]


On 13 July Adolf Hitler summoned Manstein and Field Marshal Günther von Kluge to his headquarters, the Wolfsschanze in East Prussia.[110][111] The Allied invasion of Sicily on the night of 9–10 July combined with the Soviet counteroffensive of Operation Kutuzov against the flank and rear of Model's 9th Army on 12 July and the violent attacks by strong Soviet forces at Prokhorovka the same day had caused him to stop the offensive and shift forces to the west.[111][112] He ordered his generals to terminate Operation Citadel.[112][113][114][115]

Kluge welcomed the decision, as he was already in the process of withdrawing units of the 9th Army from the Kursk salient to deal with Soviet attacks on his flank.[114] Manstein was greatly disappointed. He argued that his forces were now on the verge of achieving a major breakthrough. As he saw it, with his III Panzer Corps about to link up with the II SS-Panzer Corps at Prokhorovka, and with the XXIV Panzer Corps available as his operational reserve, they would be halting the offensive just at the moment when victory was in hand. With an eye toward the west, Hitler was unwilling to continue the offensive.[112][116][117] Manstein persisted, proposing that his forces should at least destroy the Soviet reserves in the southern Kursk salient before Citadel was finally terminated, so the Soviet fighting capacity in the sector would be depleted for the rest of the summer.[116][117] Hitler agreed to continue offensive operations in the southern salient until Manstein's goal was achieved.[116][117]

Operation Roland[edit]

Manstein hastily put together the plans for Operation Roland, realizing that he only had a few days to conduct the operation before he lost the SS-Panzer Corps.[118] The plan called for Das Reich to attack east and south and link up with III Panzer Corps, which would attack to the northwest. Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and Totenkopf were to anchor the left and northern flanks of Das Reich. Once the link was achieved and the Soviet forces encircled, the Soviet defense would be crippled and Prokhorovka would likely fall shortly thereafter.[118] The goal of the operation was to destroy the Soviet armoured reserve massed in the southern sector of the Kursk salient, and thereby check Soviet offensives for the remainder of the summer.[117][119]

The orders for Operation Roland were issued in the closing hours of 14 July 1943. However, following Hitler's meeting with Manstein, Hitler countermanded the XXIV Panzer Corps' deployment to the Kursk salient, sending them on 14 July to support the 1st Panzer Army to the south.[120] The assault began at 0400 on 15 July.[121] Following a brief artillery barrage, the Der Fuhrer Panzergrenadier Regiment of Das Reich struck out for the high ground south-west of Pravorot, evicting the remnants of the 2nd Guards Tank Corps from the village of Belenikhino following violent house-to-house and hand-to-hand fighting. The panzer regiment of the division fought off a series of counterattacks, destroying a number of T-34s in the process, and forced the Soviets to withdraw to the east. A new line was taken, and Zhukov ordered elements of the 10th Guards Mechanized Brigade out of reserve to reinforce the position. To the south, the 7th Panzer Division made contact with Das Reich, but Trufanov, commanding the Soviet forces in the gap, was aware of the threat and was conducting a fighting withdrawal. Though the Soviets had to abandon a substantial number of anti-tank guns, the link-up failed to entrap very many Soviet forces.[121] Operation Roland failed to produce a decisive result and[122] Totenkopf began withdrawing from its positions north of the Psel, following orders issued late on 15 July, as the II SS-Panzer Corps assumed a defensive stance.[123][124]

On 17 July the Soviet Southwestern and Southern Fronts launched a major offensive across the Mius and Donets Rivers against the southern wing of Army Group South, pressing upon the 6th Army and 1st Panzer Army.[125][126] In the early afternoon of 17 July, Operation Roland was terminated with an order for the II SS-Panzer Corps to begin withdrawing from the Prokhorovka sector back to Belgorod.[127][123] The 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf anticipated the order and began executing it as early as the evening of 16 July.[128][129] Leibstandarte‍ '​s tanks were distributed between Das Reich and Totenkopf and the division was hastily redeployed to Italy[130][131] while Das Reich and Totenkopf were dispatched south to meet the new Soviet offensives.[132][133]

Casualties and losses[edit]

Losses are difficult to establish for either combatant. Tank losses attributed to the Germans vary,[134] in part due to the Wehrmacht's methodology for counting and reporting equipment losses. Equipment that could be recovered and repaired were listed as such. Equipment that could not be repaired or that had to be abandoned was counted as losses.[135][136] Likewise, reliable figures for tank and personnel casualties for the Soviets in the battle of Prokhorovka are difficult to establish.[137]


The II SS-Panzer Corps reported 842 casualties, killed, wounded, or missing for 12 July.[138] Since the Germans controlled the battlefield of Prokhorovka right up till 17 July, they were able to recover most of their disabled armoured vehicles.[135] German historian Karl Frieser attributed 3–5 permanent tank losses to the II SS Panzer Corps.[139][140]

Divisional returns show that SS-Panzer Corps had 294 operable tanks and assault guns on 12 July and 251 on 13 July. Allowing for the possibility that some repaired tanks were returned to service on 13 July, these numbers indicate that at least 43 SS-Panzer Corps vehicles became inoperable during the battle of Prokharovka. That number includes all 10 Tigers belonging to Totenkopf and one belonging to Leibstandarte. All of the inoperable Tiger tanks were repairable however, and none were write-offs.[141] An estimated total of between 60 and 80 of SS-Panzer Corps' armored vehicles became inoperable in combat on 12 July.[142][143] By the end of 16 July, the II SS Panzer corps had 292 serviceable tanks and assault guns, almost the same number it had at the beginning of the battle on 12 July.[144] On 12 July, Schlachtgeschwader 1 of the VIII Fliegerkorps and its attached squadron of Stukas reported eleven aircraft damaged, of which six were total write-offs, all by Soviet flak.[97]


Destroyed Soviet T-34 in the southern salient

Exact Soviet losses for 12 July are not known, but have been estimated by military historians. Personnel losses at Prokhorovka were estimated by Bergström to have been as high as 5,500 men.[97] For equipment damaged or destroyed, Glantz and House estimate the 5th Guards Tank Army lost at least 400 of their 800-plus tanks in its attacks on 12 July.[145] George Nipe puts the losses in armour as between 600 and 650 tanks.[146] 5th Guards Tank Army losses were estimated by Soviet historians Koltunov and Soloviev to have been about 300 tanks and self-propelled guns.[97][147] A document prepared on 17 July 1943 by the 5th Guards Tank Army Headquarters summarised the combat losses incurred by the formation from 12 to 16 July inclusive for all of its five corps, as well smaller units directly subordinated to the army headquarters.[148] The document reported the following irrecoverable losses: 222 T-34s, 89 T-70s, 12 Churchill tanks, 8 SU-122s, 3 SU-76s, and 240 support vehicles.[148] The document reported damaged vehicles still under repair as 143 T-34s, 56 T-70s, 7 Churchill tanks, 3 SU-122s, 3 SU-76s, and no figures for support vehicles.[148] The document reported personnel casualties as 2,940 killed in action, 3,510 wounded in action, and 1,157 missing in action.[148] This adds up to a total of 334 irrevocable losses in tanks and self-propelled guns, with 212 tanks and self-propelled guns under repair, and 7,607 casualties.


Prokhorovka battlefield memorial

Debate exists over the significance and outcome of the battle. The Battle of Prokhorovka may have been a tactical victory for the Wehrmacht, but was not an operational victory. A great number of Soviet tanks were destroyed and the striking power of the 5th Guards Tank Army was temporarily degraded, but the Germans were unable to take Prokhorovka or break through into open ground.[42] For the Soviets, the massive armoured attack of 12 July failed to destroy the II SS-Panzer Corps or throw the Germans onto the defensive, but the attacking German units were exhausted by the effort and their advance was checked.[149][150] Neither the 5th Guards Tank Army nor the II SS-Panzer Corps accomplished their objectives for the day.[150][151] The battle is generally considered a tactical success for the Germans due to the high loss of Soviet armour.[152][153] Ultimately there was no German breakthrough at Prokhorovka, and with the end of Operation Citadel the strategic initiative permanently swung over to the Red Army.[154]



  1. ^ All the formations listed below under the Steppe Front had all been transferred to the control of Voronezh Front by 12 July. The list below shows only formations of the Steppe Front relevant to the battle.
  2. ^ This formation was transferred from the order of battle of the Steppe Front to that of the Voronezh Front on 11 July.[9] All of its subordinate corps as of 12 July are listed below;[10] the divisions, regiments and battalions directly subordinate to the Army's Headquarters are not listed below.[9]
  3. ^ This formation was transferred from the order of battle of the 1st Tank Army to that of the 69th Army on 10 July, and then to that of the 5th Guards Tank Army on 11 July.[11]
  4. ^ This formation was transferred to the order of battle of 5th Guards Tank Army on 11 July.[12]
  5. ^ Two of the formation's four brigades – the 10th, 11th and 12th Guards Mechanized, and the 24th Guards Tank Brigades – were sent south to block the III Panzer Corps, leaving its 10th Guards Mechanized and 24th Guards Tank Brigades at Prokhorovka; hence, the formation did not have a full presence in the battlefield of Prokhorovka.[13][14][12]
  6. ^ This formation was transferred from the order of battle of the Steppe Front to that of the Voronezh Front on 8 July.[15] Only one of its two corps were present in the battlefield of Prokhorovka – the 33rd Guards Rifle Corps.[16] The other corps – the 32nd Guards Rifle Corps – was deployed further west, a few miles southeast of Oboyan.[17] The divisions, regiments and other smaller units directly subordinate to the Army's Headquarters are not listed below.[15]
  7. ^ The list below includes only the Front's formations relevant to the battle.
  8. ^ This formation was transferred from the order of battle of the 5th Guards Army to that of the 1st Tank Army on 8 July.[18] Not all of its sub-units were present in the battlefield of Prokhorovka.[19] It is not uncommon for this formation to be portrayed as part of the 5th Guards Army during the Battle of Prokhorovka, but that is a metachronistic error.
  9. ^ The 6th Guards Army bore the brunt of the German offensive from the very opening hours of it; therefore, its subordinate corps present at the Battle of Prokhorovka were already depleted.[16]
  10. ^ This formation had three corps – the 35th Guards, 48th and 49th Rifle Corps – by 6 July. But on 7 July the 49th Rifle Corps was transferred to the control of the 7th Guards Army; moreover, there are divisions, regiments and battalions directly subordinate to the 69th Army that are not listed below.[12]
  11. ^ a b These losses are for the II SS-Panzer Corps
  12. ^ a b These losses are for the whole 5th Guards Tank Army.
  13. ^ See also: Battle of Brody (1941), Battle of Raseiniai, Operation Goodwood, Battle for Golan Heights (1973), and others.
  14. ^ A Soviet General Staff report estimated that the II SS-Panzer Corps and III Panzer Corps had 100 Tigers and Ferdinands on 12 July.[92]


  1. ^ Healy 2008, p. 347, Excerpt reads: "... a local, tactical German victory.".
  2. ^ Clark 2012, p. 408, Excerpt reads: "Even though II SS-Panzer Corps could claim to have won a tactical victory in the monumental armoured clash at Prokhorovka ... Hausser's men did not do enough to change the course of the operation.".
  3. ^ Showalter 2013, p. 269, Excerpt reads: "The Waffen-SS won a tactical victory on July 12.".
  4. ^ Nipe 2012, p. 86, Excerpt reads: "The small expansion of the Psel bridgehead by Totenkopf and the advances of Das Reich around the southern edges of Prochorovka were tactical victories at best and not decisive by any definition.".
  5. ^ Showalter 2013, p. 269, Excerpt reads: "Operationally, however, the palm rests with the Red Army.".
  6. ^ Zamulin 2011, p. 561, "The counterattack did not achieve its basic goal. The enemy [II SS-Panzer Corps] was not routed, but the further advance of the II SS-Panzer Corps beyond Prokhorovka was finally halted.".
  7. ^ Healy 2008, p. 347, Excerpt reads: "... the clash was, when set against the much wider strategic backdrop of the offensive, no more than a local, tactical German victory. It was of no consequence or significance in helping to realise any of the wider offensive objectives of Operation Zitadelle, which was in any case by this date already a failure.".
  8. ^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 108, "If we take a look at how the front lines changed during these five days one could interpret it as some sort of success for the Germans ... However, if we compare the outcome with the German orders for the battle, which stated that Prokhorovka was the target, it is clear that the Germans fell short of their goals. The Red Army had hoped to push the II SS-Panzer Corps back and crush it. This failed completely, but at least the 5th Guards Tank Army prevented the Germans from taking Prokhorovka.".
  9. ^ a b Glantz & House 2004, p. 327.
  10. ^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 48.
  11. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 318.
  12. ^ a b c Glantz & House 2004, p. 321.
  13. ^ Clark 2012, p. 379.
  14. ^ a b Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 101.
  15. ^ a b Glantz & House 2004, p. 323.
  16. ^ a b Glantz & House 2004, p. 167.
  17. ^ Clark 2012, p. 230.
  18. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 324.
  19. ^ Clark 2012, p. 349.
  20. ^ Healy 2008, p. 346.
  21. ^ Healy 1992, p. 77.
  22. ^ a b Dunn 1997, p. 154.
  23. ^ Dunn 1997, p. 154, gives 20 km.
  24. ^ Zamulin 2011, p. 560, give 18 km.
  25. ^ Glantz & Orenstein 1999, p. 28.
  26. ^ Healy 2008, p. 43.
  27. ^ Clark 2012, p. 187.
  28. ^ Glantz 1986, p. 24.
  29. ^ a b c Glantz 2013, p. 184.
  30. ^ Clark 2012, pp. 194,196.
  31. ^ Glantz & House 2004, pp. 51–53.
  32. ^ Glantz & House 1999, pp. 63–67.
  33. ^ Glantz 2013, p. 195.
  34. ^ Glantz & House 2004, pp. 3–4.
  35. ^ Clark 2012, pp. 256–260.
  36. ^ Clark 2012, p. 407.
  37. ^ Clark 2012, pp. 68, 279, map on page 68 shows 18–20 miles.
  38. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 130, the map shows 18–20 miles.
  39. ^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 90, this places it at 28 km at the end of 7 July.
  40. ^ Bauman 1998, pp. 8–5 to 8–6, this places it at 23 km.
  41. ^ Newton 2002, p. 6.
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h Brand 2003.
  43. ^ Clark 2012, pp. 350–353.
  44. ^ Glantz & House 2004, pp. 169, 171.
  45. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 172.
  46. ^ a b c Clark 2012, pp. 352–353.
  47. ^ Dunn 1997, p. 153.
  48. ^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 95.
  49. ^ a b Clark 2012, p. 352.
  50. ^ a b Nipe 2012, p. 315.
  51. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 173.
  52. ^ Healy 2008, p. 296.
  53. ^ Licari 2004.
  54. ^ Clark 2012, pp. 350–351, 362, 377.
  55. ^ Nipe 2012, p. 326.
  56. ^ Healy 2008, p. 320.
  57. ^ Healy 2008, p. 333.
  58. ^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, pp. 101–102.
  59. ^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 103.
  60. ^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, pp. 105–106.
  61. ^ Glantz & House 2004, pp. 151, 328.
  62. ^ Nipe 2012, p. 39.
  63. ^ Healy 2008, pp. 171–172.
  64. ^ a b Nipe 2010, p. 310.
  65. ^ a b Bergström 2007, p. 79.
  66. ^ Nipe 2010, p. 276.
  67. ^ Bergström 2007, p. 77.
  68. ^ Glantz & House 2004, pp. 179–181, 198.
  69. ^ Clark 2012, pp. 377–378.
  70. ^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 96.
  71. ^ a b c Glantz & House 2004, pp. 180–181.
  72. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 192, the 183rd Division of the 48th Rifle Corps.
  73. ^ a b c Clark 2012, p. 364.
  74. ^ Glantz & House 1999, pp. 176, 178.
  75. ^ Clark 2012, p. 356.
  76. ^ a b c d Glantz & House 2004, p. 202.
  77. ^ a b c Nipe 2010, p. 315.
  78. ^ Clark 2012, pp. 374–375.
  79. ^ a b Bergström 2007, pp. 79–80.
  80. ^ Bergström 2007, pp. 78, 81.
  81. ^ a b c Bergström 2007, p. 80.
  82. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 182, in Moscow time.
  83. ^ a b Clark 2012, p. 363.
  84. ^ a b Brand 2003, p. 8.
  85. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 187.
  86. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 188, in Moscow time.
  87. ^ Nipe 2010, p. 317.
  88. ^ Brand 2003, Soviets attacked wave after wave.
  89. ^ Glantz & House 2004, pp. 180–181, 190.
  90. ^ Nipe 2010, p. 316-317.
  91. ^ a b Nipe 2010, p. 320.
  92. ^ Glantz & Orenstein 1999, p. 222.
  93. ^ Nipe 2010, p. 309.
  94. ^ Nipe 2010, p. 321.
  95. ^ Nipe 2010, p. 322.
  96. ^ Bergström 2007, pp. 79–81.
  97. ^ a b c d e Bergström 2007, p. 81.
  98. ^ Showalter 2013, p. 212.
  99. ^ Nipe 2010, p. 335.
  100. ^ Showalter 2013, p. 216.
  101. ^ Clark 2012, pp. 388–389.
  102. ^ Clark 2012, pp. 381, 389.
  103. ^ Nipe 2012, pp. 48, 52.
  104. ^ Clark 2012, pp. 390–391.
  105. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 208.
  106. ^ a b Glantz & House 2004, pp. 209–210.
  107. ^ Glantz & House 2004, pp. 209, 216.
  108. ^ a b c d Glantz & House 2004, pp. 212–215.
  109. ^ a b Clark 2012, p. 394.
  110. ^ Molony et al. 2004, pp. 55–65.
  111. ^ a b Clark 2012, p. 397.
  112. ^ a b c Nipe 2012, p. 71.
  113. ^ Barbier 2002, p. 153.
  114. ^ a b Clark 2012, pp. 395–397.
  115. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 208, Kutuzov and allied landings had an effect on the German High Command.
  116. ^ a b c Glantz & House 2004, pp. 217–218.
  117. ^ a b c d Clark 2012, pp. 397–398.
  118. ^ a b Healy 2010, p. 358.
  119. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 218.
  120. ^ Healy 2010, p. 356.
  121. ^ a b Healy 2010, p. 359.
  122. ^ Clark 2012, pp. 401–402.
  123. ^ a b Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 98.
  124. ^ Nipe 2012, p. 70.
  125. ^ Glantz & House 2004, pp. 204, 223.
  126. ^ Newton 2002, p. 24.
  127. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 223.
  128. ^ Zamulin 2011, pp. 514–515.
  129. ^ Barbier 2002, p. 164.
  130. ^ Nipe 2012, p. 72.
  131. ^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, pp. 139, 218.
  132. ^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 245.
  133. ^ Nipe 2012, p. 87.
  134. ^ Zamulin 2011, pp. 531–532, outlines various figures proposed by various historians over the last three decades.
  135. ^ a b Zamulin 2011, pp. 531–532.
  136. ^ Bauman 1998, pp. 5–14.
  137. ^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 108.
  138. ^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, pp. 105, 110, 247.
  139. ^ Frieser 2007, p. 130, gives 3 losses.
  140. ^ Zamulin 2011, pp. 513, 598, attributes five losses to a claim by Frieser made in 1993.
  141. ^ Healy 2010, pp. 346.
  142. ^ Glantz & House 1999, pp. 212.
  143. ^ Nipe 2012, pp. 60–61.
  144. ^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 103, 105.
  145. ^ Glantz & House 1995, p. 167.
  146. ^ Nipe 2012, pp. 85–86.
  147. ^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 102.
  148. ^ a b c d Zamulin 2011, pp. 536–538.
  149. ^ Overy 1997, p. 208.
  150. ^ a b Zetterling & Frankson 2000, pp. 108–109.
  151. ^ Zamulin 2011, p. 553.
  152. ^ Clark 2012, p. 408.
  153. ^ Nipe 2012, p. 86.
  154. ^ Glantz & House 1995, p. 166.


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]