Battle of Prokhorovka
The Battle of Prokhorovka was fought on 12 July 1943[a] near
In April 1943, the German leadership began preparing for
On 5 July 1943 the Wehrmacht launched its offensive. On the northern side of the salient, the German forces bogged down within four days. On the southern side, the German
After a week of fighting, the Soviets launched their counteroffensives –
The Red Army went on a general offensive, conducting
After the conclusion of the
Strategic discussions also occurred on the German side, with
The German offensive plan envisioned an assault at the base of the Kursk salient from both the north and south, with the intent of enveloping and destroying the Soviet forces in the salient. The two spearheads were to meet near Kursk. From the south, the
The Soviet leadership, through their intelligence agencies and foreign sources, learned about the German intentions, and therefore the multiple delays by the German high command,
The Wehrmacht launched its attack on the morning of 5 July 1943 and met heavy resistance. There were far more Soviet anti-tank guns, minefields, anti-tank ditches and overall Soviet resistance than had been anticipated, making a breakthrough more difficult to achieve. Furthermore, from the outset they were subjected to frequent counterattacks from Soviet tank units. Despite this, by the end of 5 July the II SS-Panzer Corps had advanced through the first defensive belt on the southern side of the salient and reached the second, although the plan was to breach the first two belts and reach the third on the first day. Nonetheless, the panzer corps' penetration caused great concern among Soviet commanders, compelling Vatutin to commit almost all of Voronezh Front's operational reserves by the end of the first day.
The III Panzer Corps met with stiff resistance as well and had great difficulty creating and maintaining a bridgehead across the Northern
Late on 6 July, the 5th Guards Tank and the 5th Guards Armies of the Steppe Front began moving up from their reserve position. The 5th Guards Tank Army covered the 320–390 kilometres (200–240 mi) over three days, and arrived at the Prokhorovka area on the night of 9 July, and the 5th Guards Army's
33rd Guards Rifle Corps arrived at the settlement on the night of 10 July. Both armies completed their journey and deployment intact without any substantial interference from the
Slow progress by the XLVIII Panzer Corps caused Hoth to shift elements of the II SS-Panzer Corps on 8 July to aid the XLVIII Corps' drive toward
On the following day, 9 July, a meeting of the commanders of the German forces on the northern side of the Kursk salient concluded that a breakthrough on the northern side of the salient was unlikely. Nevertheless, they decided to continue their offensive to maintain pressure and inflict casualties, thereby tying down the Soviet forces there. Any level of success for Operation Citadel now depended on a breakthrough being achieved by 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf on the southern side of the Kursk salient.
On the evening of 9 July, the II SS-Panzer Corps was ordered to shift its own forward progress, from due north to the northeast, toward the settlement of Prokhorovka. Hoth had formulated this move, and had discussed it with Manstein since early May, as he expected large Soviet armoured reserve forces to arrive from the east, and he did not want his corps to be caught crossing the Psel River when they arrived.[k] The plan originally envisioned elements of XLVIII Panzer Corps and III Panzer Corps joining in the attack toward Prokhorovka, but this could not be realised. The Soviet command, however, interpreted the change in direction to be a response to the heavy resistance the German forces had faced driving toward Oboyan, and incorrectly believed the change indicated the German panzer forces had been severely weakened.
Soviet intelligence reports issued from 8 to 9 July reported that defensive works were being constructed by German infantry on the flanks of the 4th Panzer Army, and that German armoured formations were not present in these locations, despite the fact that Soviet armoured formations were situated opposite these flanks. Voronezh Front headquarters supposed the Germans must be reaching their limit, and on 10 July decided to set its counterattack to coincide with the planned Soviet counteroffensive on the northern side of the Kursk salient,
Starting on the morning of 10 July, the II SS-Panzer Corps began its attack toward Prokhorovka. Its
The II SS-Panzer Corps continued its attack toward Prokhorovka on 11 July. The advance of Leibstandarte was checked by the
By day's end on 11 July Leibstandarte had advanced deep into the Soviet third defensive belt. They had moved up the Psel corridor, cleared Soviet resistance at the Oktyabrsky ("October") State Farm (Russian: Совхоз Октябрьский), crossed a 15-foot (4.6 m)-deep anti-tank ditch at the base of Hill 252.2 and seized the hill itself after a brief but bloody battle, leaving them only 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) south of Prokhorovka. To its northwest, the panzergrenadiers of Totenkopf had 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. To the south of Leibstandarte, Das Reich had also met stiff resistance and lagged behind some 4 kilometres (2.5 mi). With its advance, Leibstandarte was exposed on both of its flanks.
Late on 11 July the 5th Guards Tank Army prepared for its forthcoming counterattack. Leibstandarte's advance had disrupted Rotmistrov's preparations, as the assembly areas he intended to use for the tank army's 18th and 29th Tank Corps were in German hands by the end of the day, forcing him to hastily revise his plans and select new positions. The arrival of the 5th Guards Tank Army just days earlier was detrimental to it in two major ways: the tank unit commanders did not have an opportunity to reconnoitre the terrain they would be travelling across, and the supporting artillery was unable to site and spot their fire.