Teploye, 8 July 1943. by
By the fourth day of the battle for the Kursk salient, Model hoped to capture the heights around the village of Teploye and put a major dent in the Soviet second line of defence.
After initial skirmishing, 4th Panzer-Division mounted an all-out attack with Kampfgruppe Burmeister, supported by the last three operational Tigers from schwere Panzer-Abteilung 505, panzergrenadiers, artillery and Stukas.
The Soviet defenders were well prepared and heavily entrenched behind deep minefields and supported by dug in tanks from 79th Tank Brigade.
Here, a platoon of PzKpfw IVs from Panzer-Regiment 35 and a single Tiger I attack a Soviet held hill, defended by dug in tanks and anti-tank guns. Despite heavy German bombardment and Stuka attacks, the Soviet defence remains unbroken. Three Pz IVs were destroyed during the attack and many others damaged. The Soviets lost at least four T-34s and one KV-1 in this action, plus a number of anti-tank guns.
Unable to break through, the battle at Teploye was to symbolise the high-water mark for Model’s forces.
When the Red Army moved to the offensive, more sophisticated guns and howitzers were required. Light and medium mortar production declined by the end of 1942. The heavier mortars were special-purpose artillery pieces, and their numbers grew in the final years. During the war new types were introduced, the M1941 82 mm, the M1943 120 mm, and a heavier model, the M1943 160 mm. Production of 82 mm and 120 mm mortars increased in 1942. In the first half of the year, 45,485 82 mm mortars and 10,183 120 mm mortars were made; in the second half, 55,378 82 mm and 15,164 120 mm mortars. In 1943 the production of all types of mortars declined to 69,500, and in 1944 only 7,100 were made. Losses on the battlefield were apparently minor. The new mortar regiments used heavy mortars. Later mortar production also provided rifle divisions with heavier mortars and replaced losses. Total production from 1941 to 1945 was 351,800, compared to 79,000 produced by the Germans.
The number of artillery divisions increased from 25 on January 1, 1943, to 28 on April 1 and then declined to 25 on July 1. The guards mortar divisions with rocket launchers remained at 7. Some 17 new independent artillery brigades were formed, but the number of independent artillery regiments declined from 271 on January 1, 1943, to 234 on July 1, the result of converting many artillery regiments to the role of tank destroyers or combining them into the new brigades.
One artillery role that was completely overhauled was the tank destroyer function. In 1942, the antitank guns were formed into destroyer brigades with two or three mixed regiments of 76 mm, 45 mm, and 37 mm guns plus a rifle battalion armed with antitank rifles. Three of these brigades were at times joined to form a destroyer division. The division was too large to control, and the mixture of guns in the regiments was a challenge to the regimental commander. In April 1943, the destroyer division was eliminated, and some destroyer brigades were reorganized as tank destroyer brigades containing two 76 mm gun regiments and one 57 mm or 45 mm gun regiment.
The most crucial factor in the defense at Kursk was the distribution of the antitank guns. In Zhukov’s proposal to Stalin on April 8, 1943, he stressed the need to strengthen the antitank defense of the Central and Voronezh fronts by moving units from other sectors. To control the increased number of antitank guns, new tank destroyer brigades were activated, providing central control of 60 to 72 guns. By July 1, 1943, 27 of the brigades (including 81 regiments) had been formed and 24 were at the front. A few of the old-type destroyer brigades continued in action at Kursk. The tank destroyer brigades played an incredibly significant role. The brigade commander controlled the antitank defense of a sector, creating antitank strong points with four or more guns and with interlocking fire with other strong points. The brigade commander held a reserve that could move swiftly (the guns were drawn by trucks, not horses) to any threatened point. The front commander could also hold a brigade or more in reserve to counter any tank penetration of the first line of defense. A brigade with 60 guns was sufficient to stop a panzer division, though the brigade might lose most of its guns in the process if the Germans used Tiger tanks to combat the antitank guns.
Beginning in April 1943, the Soviets formed 30 antitank battalions to be assigned to the tank and mechanized corps. The battalions were armed with 85 mm towed antiaircraft guns on special mounts with crews trained as antitank gunners. The 85 mm gun was a match for the 88 mm gun on the Tiger. Many, although not all, of the tank and mechanized corps at Kursk had been reinforced with 85 mm antitank battalions. Other battalions were still in training in the Moscow Military District.
The Russians continued to have faith in the antitank rifle, a long high-velocity weapon firing a 14.5 mm projectile. The Degtyarev antitank rifle had a muzzle velocity of 1,010 meters per second and could inflict damage on the Panzer III or on the tracks of the heavier German tanks. An example of the antitank rifle organizations was the 121st Independent Antitank Battalion established in March 1943 near Moscow. The men had been inducted in the winter of 1942–43 from the classes of 1923, 1924, and 1925 and were 18 to 20 years old. The enlisted men came through the 131st Replacement Regiment and the officers from a school at Pokrov near Moscow. The battalion had three companies, each with 70 men and 18 to 20 antitank rifles. On April 5, 1943, less than a month after being formed, the battalion was sent by rail to Staryi Oskol and from there marched to Korotscha. Later the battalion was assigned to the 69th Army.
The increase in artillery, tank destroyer, and antiaircraft units in the first six months of 1943 radically altered the firepower of the Red Army, especially the creation of the 27 tank destroyer brigades and 36 antiaircraft divisions. Both of these units were essentially defensive formations to protect the troops from German tank and air attack. The lessons of 1942 had been well learned. The troops could not be left defenseless in the face of German tanks and aircraft, as happened in Ukraine in the summer of 1942. The Soviet high command saw the problem and applied solutions.