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04 April 2016

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William Fitzgerald

I think this discussion should have particular interest for Americans because of a clear analogy to the Battle of Gettysburg. The strategic problems faced by Germany and the Confederacy were a multi front war, the opposing forces increasing in strength, resources dwindling, and time running out. For the Confederacy, the course of action was to raise the Army of Northern Virginia to its peak strength and move north for a decisive engagement. The Germans made a terrific effort to muster resources in equipment and personnel for a decisive battle at Kursk. The results were similar.

From reading the various comments, I suppose that the "death ride of the 4th Panzer Army" was not as dramatic as described in Alan Clark's book.

By the way, I have been accused of seeing analogies and metaphors where none may exist.

WPFIII

John Hisler

I read that the Russians had 3 months to prepare their defensive positions since Hitler was waiting for more Tigers .The allies were passing on the intelligence and the Russians knew what the Germans were up to since the British had broken the German codes previously .The Russians had built 5 defensive circles in front of their position .The SS led the advance and in the north they broke through all 5 lines while making less progress in the south .I understood that Hitler lost his nerve and ordered a withdrawal after the allies had landed in Sicily but Mantsein wanted to continue since he believed they could still win the battle . .

Alexey

Actually many argue that largest tank battle happened in the very beginning days of war in West Ukraine.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Brody_(1941)

SmoothieX12

Red Capella also played a very large role, albeit it is speculated that LUCY was used by British to pass info through them. Having said that, knowing OKW's MO it was not such a big stretch to assume that Hitler would try to use pincers at Kursk bulge. In fact, it was almost inviting for Wehrmacht to try do so in generally good tank terrain. As I also stated before not for once--one can not discount the influence of huge egos in Nazi military machine and their frustration with the outcome of Stalingrad which many considered still to be a victory which was attained without "proper", almost set-piece, setup. Many loved to point out that Winter was a decisive factor at Stalingrad, while Zitadelle was originally planned for May. Well, in the end Kursk was fought in Wehrmacht's favorite season and terrain. One thing, however, many forget here--Battle of Kursk also saw one of the largest air battles in history.

Ulenspiegel

The first 15 minutes of "Save Private Ryan" were extremly impressive and quite accurate, this according to people who fought in France 1944.

rjj

very few of the Russian films before 200? (!!) were boychik flics or codpiece rippers.

Ulenspiegel

Here one could come to the opposite conclusion: :-)

While the Panther was 1944 very likely the best tank, at Kurk the 200 Panther made too much problems and destroyed only around 250 Soviet tanks.

While the Ferdinand design was clearly inferior in comparison with the Panther, the two heavy tank destroyer bats with 45 Ferdinands each counted for more than 400 kills. :-)

Ulenspiegel

Again, the German side of Kursk is discussed in depth in the Volume 8 of "Germany and the Second World War" (Bundeswehr Military Historical Department), the hard cover versions come usually with a seperate map folder and are IMHO worth each Euro. However, I do not know if there is already an English version of volume 8 available.

Chris Lawrence from Dupuy Institute has written a book on Kursk, it was publishes October 2015. Title is "Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka" around 1600 pages, the author is good IMHO.

SmoothieX12

"of Baltic police battalions"

Actually, Ukrainian.

Trey N

Rommel received a double blow to his intelligence section around the start of El Alamein. Strategically, his source Fellers that you mention was recalled at the end of June 1942. Tactically, his signals unit was captured near the coast when an Allied raid broke through the Italian lines and bagged them. The British had been very careless with their wireless communications on the battlefield, and the German sigint unit was able to intercept their orders and relay the information to Rommel in a timely manner. When Rommel thus went "blind", his remarkable string of victories in North Africa came to an end (yes, the tactical situation and material inferiority were decidedly against him, but he had repeatedly overcome long odds before in his desert campaign).

Here's a good summary of the Fellers fiasco:

http://www.historynet.com/intercepted-communications-for-field-marshal-erwin-rommel.htm

I've believed for years that the British fed the Soviets ULTRA intelligence through "Lucy", an agent based in Switzerland who told the Soviets that his source was a disaffected officer of the OKW in Berlin. I find it more than curious that Lucy went silent soon after Kursk. I think it's because the British realized at that point that Germany's defeat was inevitable and 1. the Soviets no longer needed assistance to stay in the war (memories of 1917 still haunted the British) 2. Churchill was in a race to beat Stalin to the Balkans and Central Europe (a race the Americans weren't the least interested in running).

Trey N

Interesting comparison.

So, to further the idea, would you equate Prokhorovka with Pickett's Charge??

Trey N

Hitler was waiting for the Panther tank to be produced and delivered to the front, not the Tiger (rather odd that the Mark VI Tiger was in action in 1942, months before the Mark V Panther).

And it was just the opposite: the northern pincer, commanded by General Walter Model, was virtually stopped in its tracks by the Soviet defenses and the attack called off after only a week when the Soviets launched their own counteroffensive. Von Manstein's southern attack was much more successful, though it still fell short of a breakthrough.

Trey N

I completely agree. I was just curious as to how far WF was willing to take his idea of comparing the two.

I don't which was more tragic, Franklin or Malvern Hill. Two attacks that should never have been ordered, each resulting in 5,000-6,000 Confederate casualties for no good purpose whatsoever. Two sad, sad days for many Southern families.

LeaNder

"Anyone on SST would appreciate and enjoy that book."

http://www.amazon.com/The-Myth-Eastern-Front-Nazi-Soviet/dp/0521712319

I won't even bother to amend his Wikipedia entry in English:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Carius

turcopolier

Trey N

Franklin - When a division commander (Cleburne) is found dead inside enemy lines with a rifle and bayonet in his hands and half a dozen dead blue grunts around him you know this was one hell of a fight. his men attacked six times. One of them said later that when the order did not come to stop they knew he was dead. pl

Trey N

My bad -- "when the Panthers finally got into the war" was a little too vague....

I was trying to refer to the longer-term success of these two AFVs. The Panther had myriad design flaws that badly affected initial performance at Kursk, as you noted, but most of these (by no means all!) were eventually worked out, and it became one of the best tanks of WW II.

The Ferdinand's debut at Kursk was so problematic that all surviving vehicles were recalled to Germany and modified so extensively that they were given a new name, the Elefant. Only 91 of the Ferdinands were built; 48 of the 50 Kursk survivors were converted to Elefants. And that was it. Less than 100 of *anything* built during the entire war doesn't exactly scream "rousing success!"

Kursk was definitely the high point of the war for this machine. The Elefants were sent to Italy after their refit, and never came close to achieving anything like the results they claimed at Kursk.

(And yes, only 91 Ferdinands were built because these were the chassis that Porsche was stuck with after losing out on the Tiger design bidding, and he had to use them for something. Still, if the Ferdinand had proven to be worth a damn, it would have been put into large-scale production. It was merely an attempt to salvage something from a flop, that itself turned into another flop...).

Trey N

I consider Cleburne to be the best Confederate commander at any level west of the Appalachians (Forrest excepted), and one of the best division commanders in the war.

He was one of five Confederate generals killed in the assault at Franklin. For years a story circulated that all five had been laid out together on the porch of a house by the battlefield, but that has been disproven:

http://www.historynet.com/the-myth-of-the-5-dead-rebel-generals-february-1998-civil-war-times-feature.htm

Still, a charge as grand as that of Lee's men that 3rd day at Gettysburg -- and with the same bitter result....

Kunuri

Thank you all, what a great subject, I have been fascinated with this particular part of the WWII since I was a little boy, and still am in all of its aspects, Battle of the Kursk being on top of the list only followed by the Battle of the Bulge. My enthusiasm for the subject as an adolescent landed me a scholarship that changed my life. No, not in history, or scholarship per se, but the sheer enthusiasm I put into it impressed the committee and moved me above my peers. I was 14.

Information and little clues here on this site helped me expand my base of knowledge from sources and opinions I trust here.

I never came close to an actual military career, art and design actually, but reading and immersing one's self in this stuff from afar actually gives an insight to human condition maybe more than Shakespeare or Fromm.

And specifically Mr. Chris Chuba, thank you for taking time to compose and post your article here.

Kunuri

Shocking movie, from Production Design point of view, more accurate than SPR. To me, it is like Tarkovsky meets John Carpenter meets Eisenstein. Very disturbing to watch, like morbid curiosity rolled into porn.

Kunuri

I and my war nerd friends watched the first show on opening day together, as we did all Star Wars episodes. We were aghast, stupefied and shaken. We all had fathers or grandfathers who were in war, we were disquieted afterwards and our romantic notions of war went down a notch.

Chris Chuba

Ulenspiegel, at Kursk, I do believe that the Pz IV was already up gunned by then, Zetterling makes that claim. Its front armor thickness was comparable to a Tiger's side armor, so a T34 would have to get within 500m to crack it. It's side armor was relatively thin, so a T34 could light it up like a Christmas Tree. Also, the Germans had good SPG's, like the Stug with a gun that could handle the T34. The T34 was better than an SPG in general, all I said was that the German armor had guns that could handle the T34. In 1944, the T34-85 was a very good upgrade but at Kursk the Germans had about as good a matchup as they were ever going to get during the war.

Regarding the anti-tank ditch, Valeriy Zamulin dissects the Russian attack at Prokhorovka and it was a symptom of a larger problem. The attack was rushed by the Strategic Command and it violated every standing Red Army tank doctrine developed up to that point. The 6th Guards TA wasn't told about the anti-tank ditch. Also, the Germans knew about the presence of the reserve force and were prepared to meet the Russian attack with a well prepared system of anti-tank guns. And yes, Rotmistrov's account is largely fictional. According to Zamulin by 7/16 the whole of the 6th Guards TA had lost about 300 out of 400 tanks/SPG's but had another 240 en route.

Chris Chuba

Thanks to everyone for adding references and your comments. I'm here to learn.

Regarding the comparison to Brody 41, Kursk was clearly the largest concentration of GERMAN armor in any one engagement of the war and it was certainly more artfully conducted by both sides. It is interesting to note that at Brody the Red Army did suffer a large attrition moving their armored forces due to logistic, mechanical problems as well as air attacks; at Kursk they got this right.

Zhukov commented in his auto-biography about Russian preparations at Kursk and to paraphrase he basically says, 'we're not idiots, Manstein just attacked us in that same location in March, there is an obvious salient that would shorten their lines and threaten Moscow again and German losses of manpower would imply a smaller scale operation than the previous two summers.' I read in other places that British intelligence had told the Russians about the preparations but I'm inclined to believe Zhukov's reasoning on this one. Yeah, the attack was delayed but April and early May is Rasputitsa (raining season) which would have made an attack then difficult. Certainly, the Germans could have attacked in June or late May. This is another one of the what-if's.

Many argue the delay helped the Red Army because they were able to accumulate artillery and anti-tank guns from other sectors and prepare their defenses. This is all true. But the delay also allowed the Germans to get a few more Tigers and to rest, train and refit their infantry.

I'm going to promote this Russian episode one more time ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ichrcupEbvA
It raises many of these issues and at Kursk you can cut the tension with a knife. It's only 45 minutes and the production quality is superb. It's actually fun to watch, especially by history channel standards.

Chris Chuba

Mark Pyruz, good point about the air force. There is just so much information.

The Germans started out with air superiority and it was crucial in the breaching of the first two defensive belts. However, their sortie rate steadily declined. It was here that the Red Army's top scoring ace, Ivan Kozhedub, got his first two victories flying an La-5 which was comparable in performance to the German aircraft. This was symbolic. Now the Red Army had time to train their pilots on modern aircraft and would gradually gain air superiority. However, Luftwaffe did get their pound of flesh.

This was also the first battle where the Sturmovik (IL-2) was armed with mini-PTAB's which dropped hundreds of bomblets designed to penetrate the thin top armor of German tanks as opposed to dropping one or two large bombs that were hard to target. The IL-2 did continue to use rockets as well as the PTAB's.

Thirdeye

Rudolf Roessler (Lucy) was eventually silenced by the Swiss in order to fulfill their obligations under neutrality. The Germans conveyed to the Swiss that they were homing in on Zurich as a node of intelligence leaks to the Soviets. Swiss authorities had no choice but to comply if they didn't want to risk war.

Ulenspiegel

No dispute that the Elefant was a conceptional failure. However, in the Kursk context these tanks performed better than the Panthers, which showed there quality the next year, when the mechanical issues were ironed out and the crews had a good idea how to use their tanks.

Gedankenexperiment: If the front units had one or two of the Panzer IV with long 75 mm gun for each Panther/Elefant, the impact would have been higher IMHO, the German production philosophy was strange.

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