Western Allies Concede Berlin 1945

The US Office of Strategic Services (OSS, precursor of the CIA), while cautioning against excessive alarmism, took the threat seriously enough to urge a revision of operational planning. British Major General Kenneth W. D. Strong, Eisenhower’s chief of intelligence, summarised in a report: ‘The redoubt may not be there, but we have to take steps to pre vent it being there.’

Thus, on 28 March, with these concerns and pressures mounting, Eisenhower made a command decision which was to become one of the most closely “examined and controversial military decisions of the war. After first sending an unprecedented ‘Personal Message to Marshal Stalin’ in which he outlined his operational plans and requested information on the Soviet forces’ plans, the Supreme Commander draft ed a cable to his immediate superior, US Chief of Staff General of the Army George C. Marshall, and immediately after that, one in response to Field Marshal Montgomery. In them, Eisenhower made his new orders clear. Montgomery’s 21st Army Group was to link up with Bradley’s 12th east of the Ruhr, at ,which point the major role would become Bradley’s. Operational control of the US 9th Army under Lieutenant General William H. ‘Simpson would be taken over from Montgomery by Bradley, and the expanded 12th Army Group would be expected to mop up the Ruhr, ‘and with the minimum delay will deliver his main thrust on the axis Erfurt-Leipzig Dresden to join hands with the Russians’ near Dresden, roughly 160km (100 miles) south of Berlin, thus effectively dividing Germany in half, and preventing any further German military or political withdrawal to the south. Montgomery, in the meantime, was ordered to advance to the Elbe, at which point command of the 9th might revert back to him, and hold there. In a defence of his plan several days later, Eisenhower explained:

‘Berlin itself is no longer a particularly important objective. Its usefulness to the German has been largely destroyed and even his government is preparing to move to another area. What is now important is to gather up our forces for a single drive, and this will more quickly bring about the fall of Berlin, the relief of Norway and the acquisition of the shipping and the Swedish ports than will the scattering around of our effort.’

The decision set off a furious debate between Washington, London, and the modest former techni cal college in Rheims that was serving as the SCAF’s headquarters. Churchill, in particular, was incensed that Eisenhower had violated protocol and the chain of command by approaching Stalin directly, that his plan would relegate the British ‘to an almost static role in the North’, leaving the Americans to garner all the glory, and above all that he was underestimating the continued importance of Berlin which, in Churchill’s view, could both prolong the war and seriously complicate an Allied post-war settlement if the Soviets were allowed to take the city unassisted. In a personal cable to Eisenhower, the vexed Prime Minister put his point as strongly as he could:

‘If the enemy’s position should weaken, as you evidently expect … why should we not cross the Elbe and advance as far eastward as possible? This has an important political bearing, as the Russian army … seems certain to enter Vienna and overrun Austria. If we deliberately leave Berlin to them, even if it should be in our grasp, the double event may strengthen their conviction, already apparent, that they have done everything. Further, I do not consider that Berlin has lost its military and certainly not its political significance. The fall of Berlin would have a profound psychological effect on German resistance in every part of the Reich. While Berlin holds out, great masses of Germans will feel it their duty to go down fighting. The idea that the capture of Dresden and the juncture with the Russians there would be a superior gain does not commend itself to me … Whilst Berlin remains under the German flag, it cannot in my opin ion fail to be the most decisive point in Germany.’

Churchill was not alone; much of the British Chiefs of Staff agreed, and so did Field Marshal Montgomery, who sent a cable of protest. Eisenhower’s relationship with Montgomery had always been rather strained, but now the normally diplomatic Supreme Commander was rapidly becoming exasperated by the reaction to his decision. In an interview years later, Eisenhower described his irritation: ‘Montgomery was becoming so personal in his efforts to make sure that the Americans – and me, in particular – got no credit, that, in fact, we hardly had anything to do with the war, that I finally stopped talking to him.’ There was a general sense at SHAEF that ‘Monty’ was too concerned with personal glory. The British Deputy Chief of Staff at SHAEF, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Morgan, wrote: ‘At that moment, Monty was the last person Ike would have chosen for a drive on Berlin – Monty would have needed at least six months to prepare.’ His anger rising, Eisenhower responded to Montgomery’s protest with firmness:

‘1 must adhere to my decision about Ninth Army passing to Bradley’s command … As I have already told you, it appears from this distance that an American formation will again pass to you at a later stage for operations beyond the Elbe. You will note that in none of this do 1mention Berlin. That place has become, as far as I am concerned, nothing but a geo graphical location, and 1have never been interested in these. My purpose is to destroy the enemy’s forces.’ To Churchill, he had already bluntly stated, ‘Berlin is no longer a major military objective.’ Although the dispute continued for some days, the US Combined Chiefs of Staff gave Eisenhower their unqualified support on 31 March, discounting the British leader ship’s second-guessing of Eisenhower’s judgement: ‘The battle of Germany is now at the point where the Commander in the Field is the best judge of the measures which offer the earliest prospect of destroying the German armies or their power to resist … General Eisenhower should continue to be free to communicate with the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Army … The single objective should be quick and complete victory.’

The decision had been made, but the British remained unhappy. Churchill’s concerns increased when he saw Stalin’s reply to Eisenhower’s cable. On 1 April, the Soviet leader had conferred with his two top field commanders, Marshals Zhukov and Konev, and the seven-member State Defence Committee. Before discussing the concrete plans for the capture of Berlin, Stalin wanted to air his concern that the soyuznichki (little allies), despite their Yalta promises, intended to seize Berlin ahead of the Red Army. He showed them reports from unnamed sources which cited the divisions over the issue in the Anglo-American camp. They claimed further that two Allied airborne divisions were being prepared for an assault on Berlin, and that Montgomery was developing plans to enable his 21st Army Group to race across northern Germany to take Berlin. These reports were, of course, strictly speaking, true, and the Soviet leaders were justifiably wary of Allied, and particularly British, intentions. But the Soviets also had other reasons for wanting to get to Berlin. The Russians and other peoples of the Soviet Union had suffered grievously at the hands of the Germans, and the lust for revenge was understandably strong. The Soviet PoWs liberated by the Red Army frequently told horror stories about the way they had been treated. Units of the Fourth Guards Rifle Corps from Colonel General Vassily Chuikov’s Eighth Guards Army, among the first to reach the Oder south of Kustrin on 1 February, stumbled upon a Gestapo prison at Sonnenburg whose 700 inmates had been executed by the fleeing Germans.

Stalin gave Zhukov and Konev 48 hours to develop plans for the conquest of Berlin, which he indicated he wanted to commence in mid-April, and then crafted his response to Eisenhower. He expressed his agreement with the SCAF’s proposal for cutting the German forces in two through a meeting of the eastern and western Allies around Dresden-Leipzig. Churchill’s suspicions were raised particularly by the portion of the cable which indicated that ‘the main blow of the Soviet Forces’ would be directed to the Dresden-Leipzig area, rather than towards Berlin. ‘Berlin has lost its former strategic importance,’ Stalin explained. ‘The Soviet High Command therefore plans to allot [only] secondary forces in the direction of Berlin.’ The timing for the Soviet offensive, he informed Eisenhower, would be ‘approximately the second half of May’. Churchill was given to doubt the intentions of the Soviets, but even if what Stalin had written were true, he explained in another telegram to Eisenhower, ‘I am all the more impressed with the importance of entering Berlin which may well be open to us by the reply from Moscow to you … [it is] highly important that we should shake hands with the Russians as far to the east as possible.’ A few days later Eisenhower sent a small sop to the British, conceding that if Germany were to suddenly collapse, then the western Allies would rush forward to Berlin. ‘Naturally if I can get a chance to take Berlin cheaply, I shall do so,’ he added.

So began an undeclared race to the German capital. As Marshals Konev and Zhukov were developing their plans for Berlin’s conquest, the Allied troops in the West, unaware of the decision at the top levels which reduced Berlin’s strategic importance, continued to battle their way forward. General Bradley’s 12th Army Group, now with the US Ninth Army numbering nearly one million men, completed the encirclement of the Ruhr on 2 April, trapping Field Marshal Walter Model’s Army Group B, with 325,000 men. Leaving a part of the Ninth and the First to clean up the Ruhr pocket, the rest of Bradley’s Group drove through central Germany, heading toward the Elbe and Leipzig-Dresden. Eisenhower’s instructions to Bradley ordered him to exploit any opportunity to The commander of just about every other unit in the Group had his own ideas. The Second Armored ‘Hell on Wheels’ Division, the ‘Rag-Tag Circus’ of the 83rd Infantry Division, the Fifth Armored ‘Victory’ Division, the British Seventh Armoured ‘Desert Rats’ Division: all wanted the kill for themselves. The competition was so fierce that it sometimes resulted in furious arguments between the various commanders and their subordinates. When units of the 83rd Infantry and the Second Armored Divisions reached the Weser river at the same time on 5 April, a bitter row erupted over which one would cross it first. The two commanders finally reached a compromise: they would cross simultaneously, their units sandwiched together. But the commander of the ‘Hell on Wheels’ division, Major General Isaac White, was still incensed. ‘No damned infantry division is going to beat my outfit to the Elbe!’

Their anticipation was heightened by the speed of the Allied troops’ advance, and by the relatively light resistance. Not that the advance was without risk; some of the engagements were as ferocious as any thing these soldiers had encountered since Normandy. But the resistance was very uneven. Some areas surrendered with hardly a fight. Civilian authorities in particular hoped to avoid the destruction of attempts to resist the inevitable capitulation. Other units, especially the SS, put up a tenacious struggle, exacting stiff Allied casualties. The city of Detmold in the Teutoburger Woods, for example, was the scene of some prolonged and very bloody combat before the American infantry units succeeded in pacifying it; to their chagrin they had discovered that Detmold was the home of a large SS training centre. But for much of the campaign, the Allied advance met only very sporadic, unorganised, and dispirited resistance. For most troops of the German 12th Army, which bore the brunt of this central Allied thrust, the war was next to over, and they were only too happy to have the opportunity to surrender to the British and Americans rather than to the Soviets. Captain Ben Rose of the US 113th Mechanized Cavalry Group recalled how during their drive to the east, he witnessed some German officers, in full dress uniform, jogging alongside the column, ‘trying to get someone to notice them long enough to surrender their side arms’. The GIs, however, anxious to keep their momentum, simply waved the Germans to the rear.

The airborne units, too, though increasingly fearful that they would miss the action and be relegated to police duty – or worse, ‘saved’ for a drop on Tokyo – had their own plans for Berlin. On 25 March, the commanders of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions and the British First Airborne Corps were briefed on a secret contingency operation for a drop on Berlin. The timing was uncertain, dependent on the speed of the ground forces’ advance, but the 101st’s Operations Chief, Colonel Harry Kinnard, thought that they could be in Berlin within five hours of receiving the green light. No one expected it to be easy; initial plans called for 1500 transport planes, 20,000 paratroopers, 3000 support fighters, and more than 1000 gliders. The plans for a hostile drop were never put into operation.

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Complete Victory In North Africa II

Suddenly it was the old glory days all over again – the quick surprise thrust, the reeling enemy, the Desert Fox leading from up front, the waves of consternation spreading through the opposing high command like ripples through a pond after the splash of a stone. Two panzer columns ripped through the thin American line, converged on a mountain gap called Kasserine Pass, brushed aside the force defending it, and poured through the pass into the American rear areas. Desperate counterattacks were methodically chewed up by German tanks and antitank guns.

Collecting every unit they could lay hands on, the Allied commanders labored to plug the gap. Early in the Kasserine battle the green U.S. troops and their inexperienced commanders had been badly knocked about by Rommel’s desert veterans; now they began to dig in their heels stubbornly, particularly hard-fighting units of the U.S. 1st Armored Division. “They recovered very quickly after the first shock,” Rommel wrote. On February 22, unable to achieve a breakthrough, he pulled back through Kasserine Pass.

Two weeks later, Rommel tried a second attack, this time against the 8th Army near Mareth. But the old magic was gone. He was exhausted mentally and sick physically, and he mishandled the attack. His armor charged blindly and was cut to pieces by Montgomery’s antitank guns; some fifty tanks were lost, while the British lost but half a dozen. On March 9, 1943, his health broken, the Desert Fox left North Africa, never to return.

By the end of March, the Torch army’s losses at Kasserine Pass had been made good. Units were consolidated and inept commanders weeded out, and General Alexander arrived from Cairo to command the Allied ground forces. It was now a battle against time, a battle to end the campaign in Tunisia in time to assault Sicily and Italy that summer. If von Arnim could hold out for three or four months, however, no further Allied campaigns would be possible in 1943. This would suit Hitler very well indeed, giving him the chance to concentrate all his forces for one last mighty thrust at Russia.

The terrain facing the 8th Army in southern Tunisia was on the familiar desert pattern, but the rugged, mountainous north was something else entirely. In desert fighting, the armies were spread out and concealed in dust clouds, and the progress of a battle was seldom easy to follow. In northern Tunisia, on the other hand, it was usually possible to see the enemy positions clearly and to plot the course of the battle without difficulty. In the sector manned by the British 1st Army, for example, there was a long and bitter struggle for a piece of high ground known as Longstop Hill. The climactic British assault on Longstop, made in late April, looked like this to an eyewitness:

“Everything appeared to happen in miniature. The tanks climbing on Jebel Ang looked like toys. The infantry that crept across the uplands toward [the village of] Heidous were tiny dark dots, and when the mortar shells fell among them it was like drops of rain on a muddy puddle. Toy donkeys toiled up the tracks toward the mountain crests, and the Germans, too, were like toys, little animated figures that occasionally got up and ran or bobbed up out of holes in the ground between the shell explosions.”

As Longstop was being overrun, another equally bitter battle was being fought for Hill 609 in the American sector a few miles to the north. This high ground – named for its height in meters on the maps the Allies were using – was blocking the advance of the American 2nd Corps, commanded by Major General Omar Bradley. For four days, the fight for Hill 609 raged. Von Arnim’s stubborn infantrymen were dug into cracks and crevices on the stony heights, and their mortars and artillery dominated all the approaches to the hill.

“Seldom has an enemy contested a position more bitterly than did the Germans high on Hill 609,” wrote General Bradley. They rolled hand grenades down on the Americans clawing for a foothold on the steep slopes, and their strong points were taken only after hand-to-hand combat with pistols, knives, and fists. Each American gain was met by a vicious counterattack. Finally, Bradley ordered Sherman tanks forward to provide fire support. They nosed up to the foot of the hill and chipped away at the enemy positions with their seventy-five millimeter guns, their armor proof against the bullets and grenades showered down on them.

At last, on May 1, Hill 609 was encircled and the defenders hunted down. The capture was sweet revenge for the U.S. 34th Infantry Division. The 34th had been badly mauled by the Afrika Korps at Kasserine Pass in February, losing both its reputation and its self-respect in the process. Now it regained both, with interest.

Already, Montgomery, in a masterful display of battlefield tactics, had forced the Mareth Line and linked up with the Torch army. The loss of Longstop and Hill 609, combined with heavy pressure from the 8th Army, drove von Arnim back to his final line of defense overlooking the approaches to Tunis and Bizerte. Last-minute attempts to fly in reinforcements from Sicily met with disaster. Scores of Junkers transports and mammoth six-engined Messerschmitt troop carriers were knocked into the sea by Allied fighters.

On May 6, behind a tremendous artillery barrage and a bombing attack, the last German line was blown open. Tanks burst through like water through a broken dam. “In scores, in hundreds, this vast procession of steel lizards went grumbling and lurching and swaying up the Tunis road,” wrote correspondent Moorehead. The next day, Tunis itself was in sight. It was especially fitting that the Desert Rats of the British 7th Armored Division, their famous red jerboa emblem still decorating their vehicles, were among the first to enter the city. The Desert Rats were bringing to an end the long campaign they had begun under O’Connor in those far-off days of 1940.

That same day, the Americans reached Bizerte. A force of Grant tanks swept into the city, exchanging fire with snipers and the German rear guard. A crewman of one of the tanks described the scene in a letter to his family.

“By this time it was getting very hot and stuffy in the tank,” he wrote, “so we climbed out and took a smoke. . . . Then a Frenchman comes up with a bottle of wine and we all had a smoke and drank the bottle of wine. A shell lands behind the tank and sort of makes us mad, so we get back in and start shooting away again – and the people just standing there on the sidewalk. Every time George would shoot the seventy-five, plaster would fall down from all the buildings around, but they didn’t seem to mind that, they were so glad to see us. . . .”

Axis troops were now surrendering in droves. Many tried to flee to Cape Bon, a finger of land jutting out into the Mediterranean, but when they saw that there were no ships or planes to carry them across to Sicily, they too gave themselves up. As the men of his Afrika Korps marched into captivity, Rommel was with Hitler in Berlin. “I should have listened to you before,” the dejected Führer told him, “but I suppose it’s too late now. It will soon be all over in Tunisia.”

It was all over on May 13, 1943. Close to 275,000 Axis troops were captured in the last week of battle. They stacked their weapons and came into Allied lines in endless, orderly columns of trucks. Almost none escaped. “It is my duty to report that the Tunisian campaign is over,” General Alexander cabled Prime Minister Churchill. “All enemy resistance has ceased. We are the masters of the North African shores.”

The crushing defeat in North Africa was the beginning of the end for the Axis partners. Before the year was out, Sicily and Italy were invaded, and massive Russian attacks rolled back the Germans on the eastern front. In June 1944, the Allies attacked across the English Channel to win a foothold on the Normandy shores; by fall, France was liberated and the battle for Germany had begun.

For some, North Africa was the first step on the road to military fame. Eisenhower became supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe, with Montgomery the head of his ground forces. Alexander commanded the forces in the Mediterranean theater. American generals such as Bradley, bloodied in Tunisia, went on to carve important niches for themselves in the European campaign. But for others the desert war was the climax of their military careers. Wavell and Auchinleck, for example, later served in relative obscurity in the Far East; General Ritchie ended up as a corps commander in Europe under Montgomery.

For Erwin Rommel, who put such a unique, personal stamp on the desert war, the future brought only disillusionment and doom. In July 1944, while commanding the German forces in Normandy, he was gravely wounded in an air attack. A few days later, a group of generals, convinced that Hitler was insane and dragging Germany down to destruction in a war already lost, tried to kill the Führer by planting a bomb in his headquarters. Rommel, who had long since come to despise Hitler, knew of the plot to overthrow him but took no part in it. Nor did he know that the conspirators planned to name him head of state to negotiate peace if they succeeded. But Hitler survived, and in the purge that followed, Rommel was implicated.

He was at his home recovering from his wounds when Hitler’s police came. They gave him the choice of suicide by poison or a public execution, with its disgrace to his family and his memory. He chose to kill himself. His son, Manfred, saw the body soon afterward. “My father lay on a camp bed in his brown Africa uniform,” he said, “a look of contempt on his face.” The German people were told that the Desert Fox had died of the wounds suffered in Normandy, and on October 18, 1944, he was given a hero’s funeral. Seven months later, Hitler also killed himself, and Germany lay defeated and in ruins.

WAS KURSK DECISIVE?

Germany clearly suffered a crushing defeat at Kursk. The Wehrmacht did not destroy sizeable enemy forces and didn’t eliminate STAVKA’s intention to conduct a major offensive in 1943. Neither did the German Army achieve freedom of action nor consolidate their line. Germany had also used up much of its reserves. But was Kursk a decisive defeat or just another step in a series of defeats suffered by the Wehrmacht? To adequately address this, we must look at a number of strategic issues. These include attrition and replacement rates of men and armor, intelligence, ability of each side to focus their effort and political issues.

There is some speculation about German losses at Kursk being a decisive factor to the final outcome of the war. Total German losses at Kursk “were 56,827 men, which amounted to roughly 3 percent of the total 1,601,454 men the Germans lost in Russia during 1943”. The ability to reform the units suffering these losses was the real problem: “The armored formations, reformed and re-equipped with so much effort, had lost heavily in both men and equipment and would now be unemployable for a long time to come”. Colonel General Heinz Guderian goes on to write: “It was problematic whether they could be rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern front”. It is difficult to argue with the fact that the attrition of German forces and consequently, the loss of an available strategic reserve allowed the Soviets to quickly capitalize and overwhelm the German at specific points following Kursk.

Another often discussed reason that Germany was unable to defeat the Red Army was the incredible Russian capacity to generate forces, albeit poorly trained, but in this case quantity made up for what it lacked in quality. The Red Army, although often clumsy and awkward, had one thing going for it: nearly inexhaustible manpower. It “took the form of successive waves of newly mobilized armies, each taking its toll of the invaders before shattering and being replaced by the next wave. Its mobilization capability saved the Soviet Union from destruction in 1941 and again in 1942”.

As efficient a killing machine the Wehrmacht was, even it had its limits to the men and machines it could destroy—one would be hard pressed to find a better example of attrition on a massive scale. It is important to point out, however, that even with the amazing capacity for the Soviets to generate man and machine in huge numbers, the assumption that the Wehrmacht would lose to a battle of attrition was not a foregone conclusion. The effectiveness of the Wehrmacht at destroying Soviet forces had not dropped off significantly in 1943. The German army continued to destroy Russian armor and men at an alarming rate. Even in 1943, this rate was disproportionate to Germany’s own losses by a wide margin. Zetterling and Frankson show total German losses for 1943 at 1,803,755 (1,442,654 in combat) versus Russian losses for the same period at 7,857,503. Additionally this source shows Wehrmacht tank and assault gun losses on all fronts to be 8,067 in 1943 while the Red Army lost 23,500. Meanwhile, replacement numbers for tanks and assault guns were 10,747 for the Germans and 24,006 for the Russians. Although these figures do not reflect Lend-Lease equipment delivered to the Red Army, they still offer a strong argument that attrition and replacement numbers alone did not give the Russians a decisive advantage in the war. In fact, according to Zetterling and Frankson, attrition rates favored Germany: “it was the Red Army which could be expected to run out of men first”. This attrition argument, however, is only valid if the Germans, like the Soviets, could focus all their resources on the Eastern Front.

The Wehrmacht had other demands on their military resources. The Wehrmacht’s would increasingly need to dilute their limited forces over a several fronts, while the Russians could continue to focus their entire effort against the Wehrmacht. This was because Stalin was able to ignore Japan as a threat. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and its ensuing war with the United States “eased Soviet concerns over her eastern borders and permitted wholesale shifting of reserves from the Far East, Trans-Baikal, and Siberia to help relieve the military crisis at Moscow”. Also “The Red Orchestra”, or Soviet Intelligence had ascertained through Richard Sorge (code named Ramzaia) that Japan had no intention of attacking Russia.

The factors working against Hitler’s Germany were multiple. To point to a battle such as Kursk as the decisive action in the war ignores many other factors, some of which are enumerated above. Yes, the German offensive at Kursk wore down the German ability to respond to the Soviet counteroffensive and consequently accelerated the Wehrmacht’s destruction on the Eastern Front, but this in itself is not decisive. Webster’s Dictionary defines “decisive” as “having the power or quality of determining”. In this light, we must look at two other fateful events on the Eastern Front: the Soviet counteroffensive around Moscow in December of 1941, and the fateful siege of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad in 1942. If any one of these clashes could be ruled as decisive, it would probably be Stalingrad, because after Stalingrad, German victory over the Soviets was highly improbable. It follows then that in the spring of 1943, Germany’s fate was already sealed. After Kursk, we see a cascade of crushing defeats of the Wehrmacht from which it never recovered. In this context, however, we can say that the Battle of Kursk was pivotal, defined as “of critical importance”, because it marked a clear turning point where the Germans lost the strategic initiative and the Soviets gained it.

Although in the summer of 1943, the German High Command had no real chance of turning the tide against the Soviets, it clearly had options that in large part could have altered the course and severity of their defeat. The prospect of a major “offensive on the scale of 1941 and 1942” was now a lost dream. There were three courses of action available to Hitler: (1) go on a localized offensive while the remainder of the front employed a static defense; (2) conduct a static defense along the entire front; or (3) employ a mobile, flexible defense with well-placed and timed counterattacks supported by a deeply echeloned strategic line of defense.

The first option, and the one chosen by Hitler and which we have discussed in some detail was to go on the offensive in powerful localized attacks while the remainder of the front maintained a static defense. Manstein put it this way: “in dealing the enemy powerful blows of a localized character which would sap his strength to a decisive degree”. As we have noted, this approach was very risky at best and thus had unrealistic expectations of success. The result has been recorded in the annals of history.

The second option would have been a static defense along the entire front. However, to defend a 2,000-kilometer front with limited forces would have been a monumental undertaking. The idea of a static defense along the entire front was not realistic. There were simply not enough German divisions to do this effectively.

The third option would be to employ a mobile, flexible defense with well-placed and timed counterattacks supported by a deeply echeloned strategic line of defense. If successful this could bleed the Russians to the point where they could be amenable to a negotiated stalemate or at the least severely frustrate and delay the attacking Red Army. This option will now be discussed in some detail.

General Gunther Blumentritt, Deputy Chief of Staff under Chief of Staff Franz Halder describes the concept of “delaying action battle” where: “There are strategic and tactical situations, in which it can be shown that the battle, in the total sense, should be conducted neither offensively nor defensively but primarily in a ‘delaying manner’ “. In a situation where opposing forces are pressing a weakened front “it is logical to order this front to conduct operations in a delaying manner and thereby to avoid exposing themselves to defeat or to heavy losses” and in order to preserve the army’s strength “they should be led to a secure and well consolidated position”. The concept of “delaying action battle” is not unlike the Soviet concept of elastic defense previously discussed where as defensive lines are overrun by attacking forces the defending forces merely withdrawal to prepared defensive lines behind the first. This action attrites the attacking forces while preserving the combat capability of the defending force. Blumentritt explains “two suppositions have to be made”. One, a compelling leader willing to accept responsibility and two, a high command that will permit such freedom of action. Blumentritt goes on to state that the German High Command from 1939-1945 did not permit such flexible actions.

The idea of a strategic line of defense was considered a way to secure the Eastern Front as the balance-of-forces were more and more in favor of Russia. General Olbricht, Chief of the General Army Office, submitted a proposal in January 1942 advocating “immediate construction of a strategic defense line in the East, utilizing extensively the manpower of the replacement army”. This 2,000 kilometer “deeply echeloned defense line” would consist of reinforced positions primarily along the Dniepr River. Olbricht’s proposal required 250,000 men and 100 days to complete. These men would not be front line troops but supplemental labor and soldiers that weren’t fit for frontline combat duty. Hitler forbade such preparations in a letter written around the end of March 1942: “our eyes are always fixed forward,” Hitler had said. Olbricht had also been told that Hitler believed the frontline troops would be tempted to withdraw to such a line. Olbricht later had said of the letter: “a historical document that may once be very important to us”. Arguably, such a line of defense would have delayed the Russian advance significantly and reduced the immense suffering incurred by the German people in the hands of a vengeful Red Army.

Major offensives along the scale of 1941 & 1942 were no longer tenable due to the loss of major German formations. However, the idea of limited offensive actions at critical times and places to hinder and frustrate the efforts of the Russians were not only possible but probably the most efficient use of limited forces to confound Russian offensive efforts and the best way to slow the Russian advance or even to force a stalemate. The best way to time these offensive actions was to strike where the Red Army was most vulnerable: at the culmination of an offensive attack and then “to hit them hard on the backhand at the first opportunity”.

A stalemate was certainly entertained by some Generals such as Manstein. The attrition rates of the Russians even in 1943 were incredible. It’s not unreasonable to assume after two long years of horrible losses that the Russians would have considered such a prospect if the German attack at Kursk was successful. However, the feasibility of a negotiated ceasefire or peace is difficult to ascertain. It is doubtful that this was a real possibility, especially after the Allies decision, in 1942, to force the Third Reich into unconditional surrender. Additionally, after all the suffering the Wehrmacht inflicted on Russia and her people, wasn’t Stalin bent on pounding the Germans back into Berlin?

Such ideas were all for naught in 1943 or any other time during the Russian campaign. Hitler’s “refusal to accept that elasticity of operations which, in the conditions obtaining from 1943 onwards, could be achieved only by a voluntary, if temporary surrender of conquered territory”, showed his lack of appreciation for such operations. “A ‘Fanal’ or beacon to the world of German resolve” maybe a sound strategic goal, but no longer consistent with military reality. Trying to reconcile the reality of the battlefield with this lofty strategic goal was not sound reasoning. Finally, Hitler’s repeated rejection of a mobile defense and a strategic line of defense simply because he didn’t want to give up any ground had no relevance to sound military strategy.

After Stalingrad, it became apparent that the Wehrmacht would probably not achieve decisive victory over the Red Army. In light of this, the Wehrmacht should not have dedicated so many of its precious and limited forces to an attack that had only a limited chance of success. The war was taking its toll on the Wehrmacht; from 22 June 1941 – 1 July 1943 the German Army had lost 3,950,000 men on all fronts. Germany was running out of options. They had succeeded in angering the most powerful nations in the world into a total war footing aimed at smashing the Third Reich into unconditional surrender. The United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain and all the resources these nations could muster proved to be too overwhelming; even for the Wehrmacht, arguably one of the most well trained, equipped and disciplined armies that the world has ever seen. Hitler’s attempt to make the Kursk offensive a “shining beacon” of German resolve, a lofty strategic goal, was unattainable on the battlefields of the Eastern Front in 1943. The best the Wehrmacht could have hoped for in the summer of 1943 was to delay the advance of the massive Red Army and reduce the impact of Germany’s defeat. This would have been best achieved by a mobile, flexible defense with well-placed and timed counterattacks supported by a deeply echeloned strategic line of defense. It is apparent that Hitler would have none of this sound strategic reasoning.

HG-Hochgeschwindigkeits-Jager

The ultimate aerodynamic development of the Messerschmitt Me 262 – the HG III. It was to be powered by a pair of HeS 011 engines buried in its wing roots, its wings had a 45 degree sweep-back and its pilot sat beneath a low profile Rennkabine or ‘racing cabin’ canopy. Art by Chris Sandham-Bailey

Adolf Busemann had proposed swept wings as early as 1935. Messerschmitt researched the topic from 1940. In April 1941, Busemann proposed fitting a 35° swept wing (Pfeilflügel II, literally “arrow wing II”) to the Me 262, the same wing sweep angle later used on both the American F-86 Sabre and Soviet MiG-15 Fagot fighter jets. Though this was not implemented, he continued with the projected HG II and HG III (Hochgeschwindigkeit, “high-speed”) derivatives in 1944, which were designed with a 35° and 45° wing sweep, respectively.

Interest in high-speed flight, which led him to initiate work on swept wings starting in 1940, is evident from the advanced developments Messerschmitt had on his drawing board in 1944. While the Me 262 HG I actually flight tested in 1944 had only small changes compared to combat aircraft, most notably a low-profile canopy (tried as the Rennkabine (literally “racing cabin”) on the Me 262 V9 prototype for a short time) to reduce drag, the HG II and HG III designs were far more radical. The projected HG II combined the low-drag canopy with a 35° wing sweep and a butterfly tail. The HG III had a conventional tail, but a 45° wing sweep and turbines embedded in the wing roots.

Messerschmitt also conducted a series of flight tests with the series production Me 262. In dive tests, they determined that the Me 262 went out of control in a dive at Mach 0.86, and that higher Mach numbers would cause a nose-down trim that the pilot could not counter. The resulting steepening of the dive would lead to even higher speeds and the airframe would disintegrate from excessive negative g loads.

The HG series of Me 262 derivatives was believed capable of reaching transonic Mach numbers in level flight, with the top speed of the HG III being projected as Mach 0.96 at 6,000 m (20,000 ft) altitude. Despite the necessity to gain experience in high-speed flight for the HG II and III designs, Messerschmitt made no attempt to exceed the Mach 0.86 limit for the Me 262. After the war, the Royal Aircraft Establishment, at that time one of the leading institutions in high-speed research, re-tested the Me 262 to help with British attempts at exceeding Mach 1. The RAE achieved speeds of up to Mach 0.84 and confirmed the results from the Messerschmitt dive tests. The Soviets ran similar tests. No one tried to exceed the Mach limit established by Messerschmitt.

It was not only aircraft armament which was important for the further development of the Me 262. From February 16, 1944, three steps were taken to introduce a high-speed version of Germany’s standard jet fighter. The Me 262 high speed program encompassed three solutions including the Me 262 HG I, Me 262 HG II and Me HG III ( HG-Hochgeschwindigkeits-Jager (high-speed fighters),. of which the first flyable aircraft were under construction early in 1944. At the end of March 1944, the Projektburo at Oberammergau pushed ahead with plans to rapidly complete the Me 262 HG I, by using the Me 262 V9 (9th Me 262 prototype) for flight evaluation. It was modified with a low-drag cabin hood referred to as the Rennkabine (racing cabin) a new triangular addition to the inboard leading edge of the wing and a new horizontal tailplane with a 40-degree sweptback and a slight modification to the leading edge of the fin which slightly increased its area. By March 31, 1945, a total of 201 flights had been made by the Me 262 V9 some in conjunction with the HG I program. At this period, after sufficient information had been acquired with the Rennkabine, the aircraft once again reverted to a conventional tailplane.

The Me 262 HG II proposal was compiled between April and December 1944. In addition to new triangular fillets at the wing leading edges, a tailplane with a sweepback of 40-degrees and a modified streamlined canopy Rennkabine II were proposed. Additionally, tests with unmanned gliders were carried out to investigate and improve the design of the 35-degrees sweptback wing. Concurrently, a wind tunnel model and a full-scale mock-up were built. The first HG II (Werk-Nr. 111538) was still under construction at Lechfeld in April, 1945.

The HG III was the most radical design and differed from the HG II by its 45-degrees sweptback wings and two HeS 011As buried in the streamlined wing roots. The design underwent some modification as the program progressed, which resulted in a changed wing plan with larger and more direct engine intake cut-outs. Wind tunnel tests proved that drag was reduced, thanks to the clean aerodynamic layout. The Oberbayerische Forschungsanstalt stated that the performance of the Me 262 HG III fighter would match that of the single-engine Me P 1106 project.

Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf L (Sd Kfz 123)

The first trial vehicle was completed in April 1942.

The Luchs (Lynx) was developed as a fully-tracked armoured reconnaissance vehicle. The development order was issued on 15 April 1939, with production to begin in August 1942. MAN developed the chassis and Daimler-Benz, the superstructure and turret. The first trial vehicle was completed in April 1942. The initial order was for 800 Luchs, the first 100 with the 2cm KwK38 and the remainder with the 5cm KwK 39/1 L/60 (designated Leopard). However, the Scm KwK 39/1 version was never produced, because an order issued in January 1943 decreed that production cease after the first 100 Luchs had been completed.

The VK1303 retained the same suspension and hull design as its predecessor, the VK901. The superstructure was widened, extending over the tracks to allow a larger turret to be mounted. The turret lacked a cupola and vision ports. In their place, two revolving periscopes were fitted to the turret roof to provide vision for the gunner and commander.

9. Panzer Divison Service

In April 1943 a company of Armoured Reconnaissance Vehicles “b” (Panzer-Spähwagen-Kompanie “b” (Pz.Spah.Kp. “b”)) to the 9thArmoured Reconnaissance Battalion. The company was equipped with the reconnaissance tanks designated as Panzerspähwagen II Ausf. L (Sd.Kfz. 123) “Luchs“ (“Lynx”).

According to the original plan, the company was to become the 5th Company of the 9th Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion, but later this designation was changed to the 2nd Company. The Armoured Reconnaissance Vehicles Company “b” was established according to the order issued on February 23 1943. It was the first Wehrmacht unit to be equipped with the “Luchs” tanks. The company had 18 tanks of this type. Formation of the unit took place in France; its combat readiness was attained on March 25 1943. 57 At first, it was intended to join the 10th Panzer Division,58 or according to other sources the 9th SS Panzer Grenadiers Division (9. SS-Pz. Gren.Div.).59 At the beginning of April 1943, it was decided that the “Luchs” company would be assigned to the 9th Panzer Division. The official identifier of this sub-unit from April 30 was the 2nd Panzer Reconnaissance Company of the 9th Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion (2. Panzer-Späh-Kompanie/Pz.Aufkl.Abt. 9).60 On April 26, the company was dispatched from France to Germany so it could join the rest of the recently formed reconnaissance battalion. An order dated May 4 requested the transfer of the 9th Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion, including the newly formed Pz.Spah.Kp. “b”, from Bruck an der Leitha to Army Group “South” to commence on May 11. As the battalion reached Orel, it was most likely reinforced with the remainder of the 59th Motorcycle Rifle Battalion.

Apart from the “Luchs” company, the 9th Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion had two reconnaissance companies equipped with half-tracked armoured transporters Sd.Kfz. 250, a reconnaissance platoon with Schwimmwagen amphibious all-terrain cars, and some heavy self-propelled anti-tank guns, most likely of sPak. (Sfl) “Marder” type. As of June 1943, the 2nd Company of the 9th Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion had at its disposal 29 “Luchs” tanks and four armoured transporters Sd.Kfz. 251/1.

The Panzerspähwagen II Ausf. L “Luchs” earned a favourable rating. In a report from August 1943 Feldwebel Weber, one of the “Luchs” drivers, wrote about his experiences while serving with the 2nd Reconnaissance Tank Company of the 9th Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion: “During my exposure to the Luchs, I did not notice any sign of technical difficulties, with the exception of minor issues with the steering mechanism. The tank has superb manoeuvrability and mobility. High speed and small dimensions make this vehicle a very hard target for the enemy.”

By August 17, the company had only five operational “Luchs” tanks.

Manufacturer: MAN

Chassis Nos.: 200101-200200

100 produced from September 1943 to January 1944 plus 4 converted from VK1301

 

After Citadel Part I

Despite limited success in the south, Citadel had clearly failed to achieve its objectives. With the Red Army launching its own attack in the north, and the Allies landing in Sicily, Hitler had to decide the offensive’s fate. As 12 July drew to a close, a tense situation existed throughout the front lines of the Kursk salient. It had been a day of thrusts and counter-attacks, a day of air and tank battles, a day of heavy casualties. It had been a day in which the 4th German Panzer Army had tried to break through the enemy’s defences and reach Kursk, but it had also been a day in which the Soviet forces had fiercely fought to prevent this happening. The Soviets launched major counter-attacks beginning on 12 July, and continued for the next few days. The tide had begun to turn. Despite heavy losses, Soviet forces would hit the Germans again and again and again. When 13 July dawned, it would bring a new day of fighting; more importantly, however, it would bring decisions that would have major consequences for the Germans and the Soviets.

Soviet and Germans troops clashed in both the northern and southern parts of the bulge. The fighting occurred in two different areas in the Voronezh Front’s sector. The XXXXVIII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps of the 4th Panzer Army struggled against the 5th Guards and 5th Guards Tank Armies in an effort to reach Prokhorovka from the south-west, -while Army Detachment Kempf s III Panzer Corps took on the 7th Guards and 69th Armies. On 11 July, the three divisions of the III Panzer Corps continued their march north. Because the Soviets were retreating, the 19th Panzer Division made good progress, advanced 15km (9 1/4 miles) along the Northern Donetz River. Further to the east, the 6th Panzer Division broke through the Soviet line and forced the 305th Guards Rifle and the 92nd Guards Rifle Divisions to withdraw 15km (9 1/4 miles) to Rzhavets. The 7th Panzer Division burst through the Soviet defences at Schliachovo, as it struggled to proceed northwards while protecting the 6th Panzer Division’s right flank. The III Panzer Corps’ advance stopped for the day with the 6th Panzer Division establishing the point position and the other two divisions providing flank protection. General Werner Kempf ordered the corps to prepare for a renewal of the advance towards Prokhorovka on 12 July.

During the first several days of the campaign. Army Detachment Kempf had inflicted heavy damages on the 69th Soviet Army as it moved north towards Prokhorovka. By 11 July, General V. D. Kriuchenkin, the 69th Army commander, was fighting a delaying action. Whenever possible, he withdrew weakened formations from the front line and deployed them in rear positions, where they constructed new defences. The Soviets’ elaborate system of defences had slowed the III Panzer Corps’ advance, but it had not stopped it. Because of his army’s distressing losses, Kriuchenkin feared that the 69th Army -would be unable to stop the German panzer corps when it resumed the fight on 12 July. During the evening, Kriuchenkin requested reinforcements from Nikolai Vatutin. The Voronezh Front commander contemplated his options and reported the situation to Stalin. At 0400 hours, Vatutin called General Pavel Rotmistrov, the commander of the 5th Guards Tank Army, with distressing news about the situation to the south. The Army Detachment Kempf’s forward thrust had pierced the defences. The Germans’ advance units, which had already reached Rzhavets on the Northern Donetz River, were approximately 20km (12 1/2 miles) from Prokhorovka. Vatutin ordered Rotmistrov to transfer his reserve to the south immediately. The tank commander contacted General K. G. Trufanov and ordered him to proceed south with the reserve quickly. Once there, Trufanov had instructions to place the reserve in the path of the advancing German divisions.

Concerned about the III German Panzer Corps, Vatutin decided to plan an assault that would distract the enemy corps and prevent the continuation of its march on Prokhorovka. On the night 11/12 July, Vatutin issued new orders to General M. S. Shumilov, the commander of the 7th Guards Army. The next day, the 49th Rifle Corps would attack the right flank of Army Detachment Kempf in the region east of Razumnoe. If the assault went as planned, the III Panzer Corps would have to turn away from Prokhorovka and protect itself from being cut off from the rest of Army Detachment Kempf. On the morning of 12 July, as the III Panzer Corps resumed its movement, Kempf and the corps commander, General Hermann Breith, had one goal in mind: Prokhorovka. The III Panzer Corps commander issued instructions to his subordinates the night before. Breith ordered the forward 6th Panzer Division formations, with support from the 503rd Panzer Detachment Tiger tanks, to advance to the north quickly. He also identified their objectives: Rzhavets and key Northern Donetz River crossings. Breith ordered the 19th Panzer Division to advance along the river’s southern bank, to capture Krivtsevo and to connect with the 6th Panzer Division at Rzhavets during the night. Early the next morning, the 19th Panzers would help the 6th Panzer Division cross the river. Under cover of darkness, as the Soviet forces regrouped, Breith personally led the German column to Rzhavets. The Germans caught the 92nd Guards Rifle Division and the 96th Tank Brigade as they were regrouping. After a brief scuffle, the Soviet formations continued their move to the east. Elements of the reserve 375th Rifle Division remained behind to stop the enemy column. First Kriuchenkin, then Vatutin, received a desperate call for help.

Despite the daring rush to Rzhavets during the night, Prokhorovka was still 15km (9 1/4 miles) beyond the III Panzer Corps’ grasp by the end of the clay. Rzhavets was only one of the 6th Panzer Division’s goals for 12 July. The bulk of the division moved farther east to assault the high ground near Aleksandrovka, an area that the Soviets fiercely defended. The Soviet resistance at Aleksandrovka forced the 6th Panzer Division to abandon its drive towards Prokhorovka and go instead to the town. The 19th Panzer Division remained in the bridgehead, but did not continue the move north. By late afternoon, Rotmistrov’s reserves arrived and joined the battle against the 6th Panzer Division. The quick action taken by Vatutin and Rotmistrov prevented the III Panzer Corps from proceeding towards Prokhorovka on 12 July. Although Army Detachment Kempf could not resume the march to Prokhorovka that day, General Kempf took action during the evening to regain his forces’ lost momentum. Kempf assigned the 6th Panzer Division the task of eliminating the Soviet presence from the Aleksandrovka area on 13 July. He ordered the 7th Panzer Division to join the 19th Panzer Division in the bridgehead. The Army Detachment Kempf commander’s consolidation of his forces would reap certain benefits, but not enough to bring a successful conclusion to Operation Citadel.

Even as the 69th Army struggled to contain the III Panzer Corps, Vatutin had other problems in the Voronezh Front sector. Of particular concern was the 4th Panzer Army’s left flank, where Lieutenant General Otto von Knobelsdorff’s XXXXVIII Panzer Corps was preparing to cross the Psel River and support the II SS Panzer Corps’ drive to Oboian. Recognising the danger, Vatutin planned to pre-empt Knobelsdorff s thrust.

On 11 July, the 11th Panzer Division had slowly driven north, pushing through strong Soviet resistance; by the end of the day, it had consolidated its position south of Oboian and begun preparations for the next day. The 3rd Panzer Division had knocked the VI Soviet Tank Corps out of the battle as it moved against Berezovka. The XXXXVIII Panzer Corps had made slow but steady progress against the Soviet defenders and threatened both Oboian and Prokhorovka. The night 11/12 July was a busy one for both Vatutin and Knobelsdorff as they completed plans for the next clay.

Knobelsdorff finalised plans for the push north by the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, which would coincide with the thrust towards Prokhorovka by II SS Panzer Corps. The Grossdeutschland Panzergrenadier Division amassed its forces along the Oboian road, as well as west of it. The 3rd Panzer Division assumed control over the defence of the area between Berezovka and Verkhopen’e. While the 332nd Infantry Division established a position north of the Pena River near Rakovo, the 255th Division moved north towards Mikhailovka. As Knobelsdorff consolidated his forces for the attack, he weakened the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps’ flank protection. Vatutin planned a counter-blow designed to surround and eliminate the enemy forces threatening Oboian and Prokhorovka. To implement his plan for 12 July, the Voronezh Front commander ordered reinforcements to the 1st Tank and 6th Guards Armies’ sectors. He instructed the commanders, General M. E. Katukov and General I. M. Chistiakov, to regroup their forces and prepare to attack.

Early on 12 July, Katukov completed the assembly of the 1st Tank Army forces for the scheduled attack. The X Tank Corps, supported by the 219th Rifle Division, waited near Noven’koe for daybreak, at which time it could begin its move towards the 3rd Panzer Division at Berezovka and Syrtsevo. General Kravchenko had orders for the V Guards Tank Corps to advance with the 184th Rifle Division to the 3rd Panzer Division’s position near Shepelovka. Positioned behind the V Guards Tank Corps, Getman deployed the XV Tank Corps, which had fewer than 50 tanks, behind the V Guards Tank Corps. Vatutin ordered the 6th Guards Army – the XXIII Rifle Corps, the III Mechanised Corps and the XXXI Tank Corps – to defend the eastern area along the Oboian road. Chistiakov’s army would only participate in the counter-attack if the Germans began to retreat. Zhadov received the same attack instructions for the 5th Guards Army.

After Citadel Part II

On 12 July at 0900 hours, Katukov began the assault on the German forces. The V Guards Tank Corps, commanded by Kravchenko, crashed through the defences of the 332nd Infantry Division, starting a fierce struggle that lasted until late afternoon. The tank corps hit the German infantrymen again and again. Although Kravchenko’s force reached Rakhovo by 1700 hours, it did not have the tank strength to drive the 332nd Infantry Division into the Pena River. Small Soviet formations began clearing away enemy defenders as the 1st Tank Army slowly drove the 3rd Panzer Division back. A rifle brigade pushed the Germans from their outposts near Noven’koe and proceeded towards Verkhopen’e. By 1700 hours, advance forces had travelled 12-15km (7 1/2 to 9 1/4 miles) and reached the western approaches to Verkhopen’e. The arrival of two tank brigades allowed the riflemen to propel the 3rd Panzer Division further back to the outskirts of Verkhopen’e and Berezovka. Despite launching counter-assaults in the late afternoon, the 3rd Panzer Division failed to regain its lost territory. When the fighting ended, the panzer division had fewer than 40 tanks at its disposal and the flank defences of the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps were in danger of collapse.

While the 3rd Panzer Division unsuccessfully struggled against the Soviet advance, the 204th Rifle Division and the 86th Tank Brigade attacked Grossdeutschland Division forces west of Kalinovka. Unable to proceed towards Oboian, the division turned to meet the new threat. Although it probed its front lines, the 11th Panzer Division did not receive orders to advance. The sounds of the battle, which came from the east and the west, grew increasingly louder, but the division remained in place. In the late afternoon, however, the battle came to the 11th Panzer Division, as tank-supported Soviet forces attacked. A heated struggle ensued, but the Soviets failed to pierce the defences of the panzer division. Casualties mounted as the fighting continued. Darkness fell, a thunderstorm hit and the fighting ended for the day. The Soviets had effectively stopped the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps’ advance.

On the night 12/13 July, Vatutin, Alexander Vasilevsky and Rotmistrov pondered their next step. By this time, they were aware that US and British forces had landed on Sicily, but it was too soon to ascertain whether or not Hitler would transfer forces from the Eastern Front to the Mediterranean theatre. In addition, the Soviet operation near the Orel salient had begun. The three Soviet commanders admitted, however, that the threat to the Voronezh Front region still existed. Vatutin and Vasilevsky concluded that they had to maintain the pressure on the Germans throughout the front. Vatutin ordered his forces to contain the Germans and to prevent a resumption of the enemy’s drive for Prokhorovka. Because he feared the Germans would renew the attack in the morning, Rotmistrov ordered his forces to strengthen their defences and to replenish their dwindling supplies, including fuel and ammunition.

Manstein, the Army Group South (AGS) commander, wanted to continue the offensive on 13 July. Several factors, including Sicily and Orel, complicated the situation. Although Army Detachment Kempf had made some remarkable gains, in spite of the Soviets’ efforts, Soviet attacks had surprised the 4th Panzer Army and hindered its movement. While the enemy appeared to have limitless reserves, each day the Germans suffered irreplaceable losses in machines and manpower. As General Walter Model had done in the north, Colonel General Hermann Hoth set more moderate objectives for the next day. The orders issued by Manstein and Hoth to Army Detachment Kempf and the 4th Panzer Army -were still not necessarily realistic. The commanders expected the II SS Panzer Corps and III Panzer Corps to surround and eliminate nearby enemy forces.

Heavy rains ushered in 13 July, a new day for fighting. On the II SS Panzer Corps front, the Totenkopf Division’s thrust had created a narrow salient that cut deep into the enemy’s defences. General Paul Hausser ordered the Leibstandarte and Das Reich Divisions to advance to Prokhorovka. According to Hausser’s reasoning, the arrival of the two panzergrenadier divisions in the city’s outskirts would intensify the threat to the Soviet’s flank by the Totenkopf Division. The II SS Panzer Corps commander hoped that would be enough to persuade the Soviets to abandon Prokhorovka. Following the capture of the city, the II SS Panzer Corps could connect with the III Panzer Corps and, as a result, the German advance would regain its lost momentum. Repairs gave the II SS Panzer Corps access to almost 250 tanks and assault guns for the 13 July operation. As Hausser’s force completed its preparations, Manstein received a summons to meet Hitler at the Wolfsscbanze (Wolfs Lair).

Although Vatutin and Rotmistrov decided not to resume the attack on the 1st Tank Army’s front, small units carried out reconnaissance missions beginning at 0730 hours on 13 July. Two concerns drew their attention away from the blood-soaked fields south of the Psel River: the Totenkopf salient north of the river and the resumption of the III Panzer Corps attacks from the south. During the night, the Soviets began harassing actions against the Totenkopf Division. In the morning, Rotmistrov launched a full-scale attack against the II SS Panzer Corps division with the 10th Guards Mechanised and 24th Guards Tank brigades, forcing Hausser to revise his plans.

Hausser ordered the Leibstandarte Division to carry out two attacks: one against the enemies north of the Oktiabr’skii State Farm, the other from Andreevka and Mikhailovka along the Psel River. At 1200 hours, the division commenced both assaults. Vatutin and Rotmistrov had made provisions to counter such actions by the Germans. Withering fire slowed the division’s forward elements. A ridge ran north-west of the state farm. After a short skirmish, a panzer group captured one hill. A solid wall of antitank defences, supported by entrenched tanks, stopped the panzer group in its tracks. A German reconnaissance battalion entered Miknaiiovka, but horrific anti-tank and artillery fire and Soviet counter-blows forced it to retreat. By mid-afternoon, powerful Soviet armoured attacks had now got underway in both areas.

The Leibstandarte Division’s attacks did not breach the Soviet defences and the Totenkopf advance failed. By the afternoon of 13 July, the constant Soviet counter-attacks against the II SS Panzer Corps’ flanks and front forced the Germans units to retreat to the positions they had occupied at the start of the day. The Das Reich Division did not participate in the II SS Panzer Corps struggle. Instead, it reinforced its defences and regrouped its formations. The division prepared its move to link up with the III Panzer Corps for an assault planned for 14 July.

As the battle played out in the Voronezh Front area in the south, Konstantin Rokossovsky’s Central Front forces in the north continued to thwart the 9th German Army’s attempts to break through its defences. After the first days of the campaign, the Central Front forces had engaged the enemy in an attritional battle, which Model’s 9th Army was losing. Each day of battle further weakened the 9th Army and limited its options. By the night 10/11 July, Rokossovsky and Vasilevsky made plans to attack German forces occupying the Orel salient, which was north of the Kursk bulge. The two Soviet commanders chose that day for the counter-attack by the Briansk and Western Front forces because they believed that Model’s army could not resume the offensive on 12 July. The Stavka members – who had previously devised the Orel offensive (named Operation Kutuzov) – revised it as the 2nd Tank and 13th Armies fought to stop the German advance from the north. According to the plan, General Vasily Sokolovsky’s Western Front forces would attack the northern part of the salient, while Briansk Front formations, commanded by General Markian Popov, hit the northern shoulder to the tip of the salient. When the situation in the Central Front sector was right, Rokossovsky’s armies would move against the southern part of the salient.