Wednesday 6 March 2013

World of Tanks History Section: Battle of Prokhorovka

1. Introduction

The winter offensive by the RKKA and counterattack of the German operational group Kempf led to a spearhead pointed towards the West, in the region of Belgorod, Kursk, and Orel. Near Orel, the situation was reversed. The front line, if only slightly, bent towards the east, to the settlements of Efremov and Berezovka. This strange positioning gave the German high command the idea of a summer offensive which would encircle Soviet forces in the Kursk region.

The "Kursk arc" was very well positioned for this sort of strategy. The Wehrmacht no longer had the forces for a large scale offensive. They could only depend on localized strikes. The combined attack of the Kursk forces from the north and the south would cut off the Central and Voronezh Front forces and destroy them. The Germans called this "Operation Citadel".

2. Positioning

After a failed attempt to take the village of Oboyanskoye, the German attack was redirected towards the village of Prokhorovka, across the river Psel, towards Kursk. Knowing that they were in danger of a counterattack by Soviet tanks, the objective of the Germans was to keep the Soviet forces between the railroad and the river.

From the West, the 2nd SS division sent 294 tanks (15 of them Tigers) to Prokhorovka. From the South, the 3rd tank corps (119 tanks, 23 Tigers). SS division "Adolf Hitler" was already active between the railroad and the river. Despite what popular history suggests, Panthers did not fight at Prokhorovka, keeping to the Oboyan sector instead. Instead of Panthers, the Germans had captured T-34s.

The Soviet opposition at Prokhorovka consisted of the 5th Guards Tank Army, commanded by P. A. Rotmistrov, with 826 tanks and self propelled guns. Rotmistrov's forces were reinforced by two independent tank corps. A. Zhadov's 5th Guards Army was also taking part in the battle.

3. Battle

At 8:30 am, on July 12th, after an artillery barrage, Soviet forces moved into Prokhorovka. The first wave of the attack consisted of 4 tank corps. The German side moved out 500 tanks and self propelled guns, including 42 Tigers. The morning sun was shining in the eyes of the Germans, giving the Soviet forces an advantage in the early stages of the battle. Despite a somewhat sudden attack, Soviet forces were met with thick fire from anti-tank artillery and assault guns. Taking heavy losses, the 18th tank corps broke though to the Oktyabrskiy farm and captured it. Here, they met with a large amount of German forces, including 15 Tigers. In a brutal encounter, the Soviets pushed the Germans back to the village Vasilievskiy, but took too many casualties to continue the attack, and fortified for a defense.

Around 9 in the morning, battles around Prokhorovka started: next to Oktyabrskiy, village of Prelestniy, east of the settlement of Ivanovskie Vyselki, on both sides of the railroad. Neither side was pushing forward; the German assault stalled.

At the same time, south-west of Prokhorovka, between the river Psel and the railroad, a furious tank battle broke out. The Germans tried to break through this sector to get to an operationally advantageous position, and continue their push to Kursk. The Soviets, as stated before, launched their counterattack through here. 518 tanks were gathered in total, with a numerical advantage on the side of the RKKA. Due to the density of the attacking forces, the tanks mixed with each other. Soviet tanks, with their superior agility, could get close in the cloud of dust that was kicked up by the collective tracks, depriving the Germans of the advantage of their superior armour and guns.

A smaller, but equally furious fight erupted next to the village of Kalinin, around 13:00. The 2nd Guards Tatsin Tank Corps had around 100 tanks. Opposing them were around the same number of tanks and self propelled guns from the Das Reich SS division. The Soviet forces retreated to the villages of Vinogradovo and Belenihino, and fortified for a defense.

During July 12th, the 30km stretch of front at Prokhorovka saw numerous large scale tank battles. The main battle, between the railroad and the village, continued on until sunset. At the end of the day, neither side had a clear advantage. Both sides took heavy casualties. The German side lost 80 tanks (sources vary) and the Red Army lost about 260 (again, there are major contradictions between different sources).

4. Conclusions

The Battle of Prokhorovka can be compared to the battle of Borodino in 1812. The major difference was that the Russians in 1812 were forced to retreat, while the Red Army successfully stopped the German advance, at the cost of a quarter of the available tanks.

Due to the heroism of Soviet soldiers, the Germans did not move further than Prokhorovka, and the Red Army began a massive offensive several days later, completely overtaking the strategic initiative. After the Battle of Kursk it was irrefutably clear that the fall of Germany would only be a matter of time.

Original article available here.


  1. That is utterly wrong. Prochorovka wasn´t a "tankbattle" it was a stupid assault in near Panic and a waste of russian soldiers.

    the Germans had 4 tigers at P. and only some SPT. the russians throwed in tank battalion after tb... loosing abnormal numbers of tanks, achiving nothing. if one look at the battle field one could clearly see that there is no place for 850 russian or 500 german tanks. the losses had been 7 (yes) total losses for the Germans and 264 russian losses. partly destroyed by german infantry (they claimed around 140 destroyed tanks), partly destroyed by air force.

    it was one of the most singlesided slaughter in modern history...

    in the whole german Operation the russians lost around 7-8 tanks for each german loss. Most german losses had been damaged tanks that could not repaired or withdrawn. It was Turkey Shooting. Not because russians had been stupid but they had been used misearbly.

    Oh, if the Germans hadn´t been braindead about the new panthers, the losses had been even more singlesided in the whole Operation.

    1. I refer you to Stephen Rothwell's account of the battle. Rather than the one-sided slaughter, he details a battle where 5GTKA broke through the German lines several times during the battle. The fact that the Germans had only 4 of 16 Tigers still working at day's end speaks of the ferocity of the fighting and their losses.

      Rothwell estimates German losses for July 12th at 90-110 tanks destroyed and damaged. If you accept German claims of 323 Soviet tanks knocked out, that would mean that on the start of the next day, even allowing for the Germans being able to get replacements or repair tanks, that on the start of July 13th the Germans are outnumbered 3:1 by 5GTKA---just like they were at the start of July 12th. The battle on the 12th did not change the operational situation, and not even the tactical situation, much.

    2. I agree. Weeks lost waiting for the Panthers and Ferdinands when the germans should have attacked at least a couple of months earlier than july. And in the end the russians won only because they had the numbers (of men and tanks and plane) to sacrifice on their thousands

    3. 2nd SS Panzer Corp started their advance toward Prochorovka on the morning of July 12th. After the entire day of butchering, almost all of the Tigers from the three SS Panzer Grenadier Divisons needed maintenance, but only a few Tigers were lost to 5th GT Army. Pavel Rotmistriov later said something like this in his later life,
      "We lost 400 tanks to repairable damage."
      It's true that the Red Army lost between 230-300 tanks, but take 230+400 tanks........ That seems like the reason why Stalin had a rebuke after July 12th.
      By the end of July 16th, 2nd SS Panzer Corp reported they had 290 operational tanks, and the tanks that were in repair are not listed on there. 290 tanks...... That was 2nd SS PC's full strength before the Prokhorovka

  2. Interesting comment

  3. No historical sources or spell check for your troll response. A couple of tiger dont even have enoght ammo to do that

  4. This is almost completely wrong. Look for proper sources. These can be found e.g. (not the Caidin crap of course)

  5. The article makes for a romantic story but it is wrong in several aspects:

    1.) objectives of forces
    Red Army: To encircle and destroy the whole 2nd SS PzCorps southwest of Prohorovka with superior forces of the 5th Guards Army and the reinforced 5th Guards Tank Army. To not let escape enemy tanks to the south.

    German: To wear down the russian tank reserves of the Steppe Front believed to come from west in aid of the Voron. front. To capture Prohorovka and prepare the conditions for exploitation of operational freedom.

    Initial plans called for the Army Group Kempf to cooperate with 2nd SS Pz Korps but delays of the latters advance meant that 2nd SS Korps had to deal with the 5th GTA alone on it´s own ressources.

    outcome: Neither force achieved operational breakthrough. Arguably, the 2nd Corps obtained some success in wearing down the soviet tank reserves while the 5th GTA failed in encircling or destroying the 2nd SS PzCorps and only managed to inflict comparably few casualties, both on equipment (60-70 tanks knocked out, 7 total write offs) and personal while suffering major losses on it´s own (357 tanks and SPG knocked out, 203 tanks and SPG burned out).