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Copyright 2001 David R. Higgins

TXu 1-030-657 Nov 15, 2001

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As the second winter of the German
invasion of the Soviet Union comes to
a close in 1943, the German army finds
itself occupying essentially the same
positions as the previous year. In
February, Field Marshal von Mansteins
bold counteroffensive to stop the
onrushing Soviets after the fall of

Stalingrad has both regained the

tactical initiative for his armies and
stabilized the southern front, ending
with the recapture of Kharkov and
Belgorod in mid-March. The advent of
rasputitsa, or spring thaw, eventually
turns the surrounding countryside into
a vast quagmire of mud and the
successful German backhand blow
against the overstretched, Soviet
spearheads is finally brought to a
halt. Falling short of completely
straightening the German lines, an
immense bulge measuring 150 by 200
kilometers juts from the Soviet
positions around the town of Kursk to
the north. Shortly, both begin to
marshal their forces and prepare for
the coming summers campaign season.

The sheer size of the salient

dominates situation maps and fixates
the attention of both the High Command
of the German Army, OKH, and Stavka,
the Headquarters of the Supreme High

Command, Soviet. Germany, now faced

for perhaps the first time with
thoughts of an eventual defeat looks
here to deliver a decisive blow
against the Soviets.
A German victory would regain the
strategic initiative for the Wehrmacht
and essentially stalemate the Soviets.
The German reversals at both Moscow
and Stalingrad, and more recently the
May surrender of 250,000 Axis troops
in Tunisia have left the Wehrmacht in
a depleted state. In combination with
the immense industrial capabilities of
the allied powers, the Germans are
left with few military options when
facing a drawn out war of attrition. A
strategic victory in the east during
the summer of 1943, even if much more
limited in scope than in previous
campaigns of Barbarossa and the
Caucasus, would buy them much needed
time to rebuild and re-establish their
fighting forces credibility.

With the eastern front temporarily in

stasis, the Germans consider a series
of smaller summer offensives intending
to wear the Soviets down by capturing
large numbers of prisoners, but
ultimately, the plan becomes one of
complete encirclement and elimination
of the enemy forces within the Kursk
salient. With an initial May start
date successively pushed through June
and into early July, Soviet strength
has grown considerably larger than
what it had been in April. The Soviets
further benefit from immense
quantities of Lend-Lease material from
the United States which adds much
needed motorized transport and eases
their badly stretched logistical
system. British intercepted Enigma
transmissions, the Lucy spy-ring,
detailed partisan reports and enemy
POW statements continue to keep Soviet
intelligence extremely well informed.
As a result substantial defensive
positions are created along known or
suspected attack routes with the

majority of the work coming from

thousands of conscripted civilian
A nearly limitless Soviet manpower
pool caps the massive buildup by
allowing most units to be brought up
to strength while concurrently
amassing a substantial strategic
reserve along the Kshen River far to
the rear. If the Germans were to ever
regain the momentum and continue to
offer a viable military force, it
would have to be in the summer of


JULY, 1943


(SUNDAY, JULY 4, 1943)

For the German army the last few
months of intense training and
preparation are ready to be put to the

test as the troops of XXXXVIII Panzer

Corps move into their advance
positions along the Sumy-Belgorod
railway and to the west of the
Vorskolets river. This powerful force
consisting of the 3rd and 11th Panzer
Divisions, the reinforced Panzer
Grenadier Division Grossdeutschland,
the 167th Infantry Division, and the
200 factory-fresh Panther tanks of the
10th Panzer Brigade wait expectantly
for the signal to move out. Their
objective for the coming day is
capturing the high ground running
through Butovo and Gertsovka and the
removal of Soviet forces occupying
these forward positions. Supporting
XXXXVIII Panzer Corpss right and left
flanks are II SS Panzer Corps and LII
Army Corps infantry divisions.
Capturing this ridge will permit the
Germans to see deep into the Soviet
defenses and allow for supporting
artillery fire during the next days
primary battle.

Weary from weeks of incessant drill

and now, under a sustained alert, the
Soviet 6th Guards Armys 22nd and 23rd
Guards Corps wait in their positions
blocking the main routes to Oboyan and
Prokhorovka respectively. Aligned with
two divisions to the front and one in
reserve and backed up by a wide
variety of supplemental units
including the 1st Tank Army to the
rear, the Soviets present a formidable
force designed to meet a variety of
contingencies posed by the German
Fourth Panzer Army.

Four weeks previously, the Red Army

pulled back several kilometers in an
effort to keep the Germans blind to
the ongoing Soviet defensive set-up.
Infantry and antitank units continue
to remain in the forward towns of
Butovo and Gertsevka while platoonsized pickets patrol night-time
security positions along the areas in



Soviet star shells rise into the dark, thundering night

sky as a squad of Grossdeutschland engineers clear lanes
in the Soviet mine field before the hills of Butovo. A
few Soviet machine guns sputter in the distance as the
rain-soaked engineers probe through the sunflower and
corn fields using wire rods and bare hands. With sweat
streaming down their faces, the men dig out the mines by
hand, remove the detonators, and place them in piles
along marked paths back to the German front line. In the
distance Soviet loudspeakers broadcast the fact that they
know where and when the coming attack will occur in
addition to other propaganda.

Silhouetted by the breaking dawn, a lieutenant marks off

the cleared sections on a map as the dead-tired engineers
make their way past hundreds of camouflaged German troops
and vehicles. A short distance away a prayer service
convenes and a colonel steps forward to read from a list,
but the passing engineers barely take notice.



Soldiers! Today you begin a great

offensive whose outcome can have
decisive significance for the war.
Your victory must even more than
before reinforce throughout the world
the fact that, in the final analysis,
it is useless to render any resistance
whatsoever against the German Army...



Barely visible in their well-camouflaged trenches and

blockhouses, Soviet antitank crews and infantry quietly
finish their lunches of bread, vegetables, and barley
soup. They remain on alert for an expected attack from
the now unusually quiet German lines when a thunderstorm
rumbles overhead to unleash a heavy downpour that makes
the black, treeless topsoil steam and turn to mud once
again. Resigning themselves to the downpour and their
fate, the shabby gathering of veterans, young boys, old
men, and Asiatics recheck their weapons and peer out
across the treeless terrain.

Tired, yet stern, two Soviet officers stand in the

forward trenches and look to the German positions
obscured a few kilometers away beyond the Sumy-Belgorod


...Morale remains good, Comrade Major.
The protivotankovye opornye punkty
(antitank resistance points) are as
well situated as possible. Machine
pistol ammunition is still low,
(to the German lines)
Strange. Its been unusually quiet all
morning...Last nights sweeps didnt
detect anything odd-

Our reconnaissance isnt always
as...inquisitive as it should be.
Razvedka Boem (reconnaissance in
force)...No matter. Soon, I suspect.

Very soon. My primary concern is with

these...replacements weve received in
the last few months. Civilians rounded
up and thrown into a uniform- units
stripped from the rear
echelon...Incessant drill and the
threat of a Straf will have to
suffice, I suppose. Not that being
heres too far removed...No matter.
Our purpose in this forward sector is
clear. Erode the Fascist onslaught and
die a heros death. Ni shagu nazad
(not one step backward) They will
fight and they will die!

Yes, Comrade Major.
(looking to his watch)
Im not sure if well see anything
coming this late in the day. Its been
like this since we went to full alert
three days ago. Tomorrow
perhaps...Fritz likes to launch his
offensives in the morning...The
battalion will need rest soon. The men
are becoming fatigued-

Absolutely not. General Baksovs
orders were clear. Full alert! Full
vigilance! We are gvardeytsy
(guardsmen) and I intend to see we
live up to that title! Maskirovka...
(implying the well-camouflaged troops
with a wry smirk)

As the rain subsides the senior lieutenants smartly

salutes before walking off to inspect the line of tense,
hollow-eyed troops; their loaded weapons at the ready.

Suddenly, the faint droning of approaching aircraft grows

louder and the Soviet troops scramble into action. Wave
after wave of German dive bombers swoop in to attack the
Soviet positions while German fighters give them an
umbrella of air cover. Emblazed guns, dummy and real, are
blown skyward along with trench works and scores of men.

Within a few minutes the inferno ceases and the Stukas

peel off and fly out of sight.
As the startled Soviets emerge from their mangled
trenches, a mass of artillery shells begin to rain down
on their positions and the Germans commence their attack

at the foot of the hills.

Led by their battalion commanders, wedge formations of

German infantry rush through the cleared mine field
lanes. They are closely followed by mounted infantry in
half-tracks and assault guns which rapidly zigzag their
way forward in support. Interspersed within the advancing
groups are assault engineers who quickly work to remove
obstacles and sweep for undiscovered mine fields. While
Soviet fighters swoop down on the advancing Germans,
several intact Soviet groups return murderous small arms
fire and call in their own artillery.


Slogging forward through erupting earth and flying

debris, German units begin to consolidate their gains to
the treeless, high ground west of Butovo; Very lights
arcing along the hilltops. Now possessing an unobstructed
view of the enemy defenses to the north, German observers
quickly begin setting up observation posts from which to
direct artillery fire and air support.

Around Gertsovka severe thunderstorms and heavy mortar

and antitank fire slow the German advance, but by

nightfall they succeed in overrunning the ridge. Soviet
units around Butovo are surrounded and resist in hand-tohand combat for several more hours before being wipedout. With the fighting tapering off, additional German
military and support units begin moving forward to
support the new positions and to prepare for the main




Amid the subdued activity of the post, a stern

Rokossovsky steps to an officer to receive a field phone,
a serious Zhukov sitting nearby.


(on phone)
Yes...Yes. I understand.

Rokossovsky cradles the phone and turns to Zhukov.

That was General Pukhov. Another yazyk
(tongue) was just picked up from a
mine-clearing patrol south of Tagino
with more hard information. Storys
the same as the others weve been
picking up tonight...The enemy looks
to be preparing to go over to the
offensive at 0330 -after a short
artillery barrage...What shall we do?
Inform Stavka or issue orders for the
preliminary bombardment ourselves?

(understanding the situation)
We cant waste time. Give the order
according to plan, and I will call
Stalin and report the information.

Ill get General Boikov...

As Zhukov places the call, those present move into

efficient action and the headquarters comes to life.



While scores of German infantry settle into their jumpoff positions, a few tankers smoke and chat quietly
before mounting their waiting vehicles. Spaced throughout
the attack zone, German artillery batteries and crews
idle along side piles of ammunition and supplies brought
forward with horse-drawn supplies.

Suddenly, hundreds of Soviet guns fire indirectly into

the German assembly positions and create pandemonium from
what was a well choreographed deployment.

Expending roughly half of 13th Armys
initial complement of artillery
shells, the Soviet bombardment
essentially delays the German
offensive by two hours but does little

significant damage. However, the

combination of a night attack and a
lack of preliminary air and ground
reconnaissance force guns into
employing an area bombardment with the
hopes of hitting specific targets
within predesignated zones. Their
antitank guns remain silent so as to
not disclose their hidden, clustered


As the grayish dawn begins to break, dozens of fully

loaded He-111s clutter the temporary runway as they
prepare to take off.



The radar screen is alive with signals as anxious

operators frantically make telephone calls to explain the

situation. Orders of scramble and disregard schedule

are passed on while antiaircraft guns suddenly open fire
in the distance.

A moment later, hundreds of droning planes crescendos as

the Red Air Force fans out across the German rear areas.



The orderly air base suddenly comes alive as the alarming

news spreads. Scrambling pilots race to their waiting Bf109Gs, taxi along the sloppy, dirt tarmac and quickly
take off. Scores of German fighters head off to the north
and rapidly gain altitude as the first waves of Soviet
planes are spotted.


As the antiaircraft fire tapers off, the young Soviet

pilot looks to his altimeter reading 10,000, to his
watch and then out the canopy.


(to himself)
Perfect. Complete surprise...

A grin spreads across his face as he gazes out at

hundreds of Soviet bombers, fighters and ground-attack
aircraft streaming south in rigid formations. Suddenly,
the pilots elation changes to shock as scores of German
fighters race skyward and begin intercepting the first
Soviet planes they encounter with alarming success.


In the ensuing melee, over a hundred Soviet planes are

downed in the first few minutes, while German losses are
negligible. Small clusters of bombers peel away to make
runs at the closest airfields but do little damage. Not
long after, the remaining Soviet planes turn back but
continue to be harried by the pursuing German Me-109s
and Fw-190s.

With this single largest air battle of
the war, the Soviets limp away after
losing more than 120 aircraft out of a
total of 417 while the German losses
were unusually minor; around 26. This
unexpected victory allows the German
Fourth Air Fleets VIII Air Corps the
opportunity to provide tactical air
superiority for the entire southern



With months of extensive training and
preparation behind it, XXXXVIII Panzer
Corps moves into final positions
around the Sumy-Belgorod railway and
the Vorskolets river.

Designated to strike due north to take

Oboyan Fourth Panzer Army is then to
break into the open steppes beyond and
link up with the German Ninth Army
coming down from the north. The
Soviets, aware of this contingency via
the spy ring Lucy and other
intelligence sources, have placed
Katukovs reinforced 1st Tank Army in
a blocking position to block this

Searching for an alternative

breakthrough, Fourth Panzer Armys
commander, Colonel General Hermann
Hoth, decides on thrusting northeast
to counter Voronezh Fronts reserves
first. With help from Army Detachment
Kempf on the right, and in particular
its III Panzer Corps, the combined
German armored units plan to defeat
the Soviet forces here before swinging
northwest to deal with 1st Tank Army
at Oboyan. As this major change of

plan occurs without OKH involvement,

Hoth inadvertently thwarts Soviet
intelligence from Lucy and puts
Vatutin at a severe tactical
disadvantage; a fact compounded by the
Soviets recent lack of air cover.

Spaced among piles of ammunition and shell crates, German

artillery crews wait intently by their weapons as a
silent count is measured. In unison the command fire!
immediately precedes a tremendous roar of hundreds of
German artillery guns opening up.



In the distance, artillery shells burst over and beyond

the main Soviet line as packets of German infantry dart
forward in an attempt to take the town of Cherkasskoye.
With limited tank support, these troops are quickly
pinned down in the swampy, mine-infested terrain.

Looking sleek and menacing, scores of closely-packed,

factory-fresh Panthers make their way along the valley

toward the fighting beyond. A kilometer ahead, a pack of

curious Mark III Lee tanks attempt a confrontation but
are quickly dispatched.

With little armored flank protection, several Panthers

are disabled or destroyed by flanking Soviet antitank
fire while several more vehicles are jolted to a fiery
stop when land mines detonate under their tracks. As more
Panthers suffer the same and attempt to extricate
themselves from the swampy terrain, they become instant
targets for concentrated antitank and artillery fire.
This ultimately halts the regiments progress and
disrupts the formation to the point that German 88mm
antitank guns open up in support, but much of the damage
has already been done and the dust and smoke make
visibility difficult.

Amid the confusion a Befehls-Panther comes to a halt as

units continue past to help support the disabled


(half emerging from the
cupola on radio)

...Whats going on!

More land mines! Weve apparently run
through another unswept field.
(ricochetting explosion)
Damn!...Radio communication continues
to be a problem as does command and
control. Along the ridge the infantry
has been forced to move up without us.
Second battalions run up against
determined antitank fire- Battalion

(into radio)
Point 210.7 must be taken as rapidly
as possible! First and second
battalions will need to link up!
No! No! The vehicles are too bunched
up. The attack front must be
broadened; no less than fifty meters
between each vehicle! The flanks are
becoming too exposed...Get what
vehicles can be moved out of the

enemys field of fire. Until further

notice the attack is halted. Get some
pioneers in there to clear-

A suddenly static radio elicits an agitated shake from

Major von Lauchert as he scans the distance with
binoculars and addresses another radio voice.

I need a battery of Nebelwerfer
brought up immediately! Well need to
lay smoke to the front and-

Panther II-01 hit. Battalion commander
seriously wounded.


Gottberg to all- battalion will take
orders from me.

Snarling, Laucherts attention shifts to a fresh cloud of

smoke in the near distance. Further beyond, German
infantry, still deprived of armored support, continue to
advance under heavy enemy fire up the flame-engulfed
slopes west of Butovo.


While the southern German attack is
organized around armor attacking head
of infantry, the attack in the north
is essentially the opposite.
Ninth Armys commander, ColonelGeneral Model, reasons that the
infantry will initially force openings
through which the panzers will race
before driving deep into the Soviet
rear. As a result, his opening moves
see the committal of 9 divisions along
a 50 kilometer front; 8 of which are
infantry. In an attempt to confuse the
Soviets as to the main point of
attack, Model orders General Johannes
Freissners XXIII Corps to make the
opening attack into the enemys first
defensive belt. Striking into the
boundary between the Soviet 13th and
48th Armies, Freissner makes for the
important road junction of

Maloarkhangelsk, but his forces are

driven back with limited success.

When the main attack comes from the

XXXXVII and XXXXI Panzer Corps, 13th
Armys front eventually gives way up
to five kilometers. By 0900 the 20th
Panzer Division overruns Bobrik and
unhinges the 29th Rifle Corps 15th
and 81st Rifle Divisions. Soon after,
the attack stalls in the face of
withering Soviet fire.



Amid erupting earth and burning vehicles, Soviet infantry

attempt a dogged stand against a variety of attacks.
Engineer units quickly lay mines along the likely paths
of the German attacks while hand grenades and molotov
cocktails arc through the air and explode. German
artillery and Nebelwerfer rocket fire intermingle with
ground-attack aircraft bombing a path for the oncoming

infantry. Tigers advance through the dense fields of rye

and clover without infantry support while Brummbars
pulverize fortified earthworks with point-blank fire.
Individual Goliaths slowly move into enemy trenches to
detonate with a great explosion. Several more follow
behind, but are quickly put out of action by Soviet small
arms fire and stop.

Lines of hull-down, T-34s engage the oncoming Germans,

but increasing numbers are hit from long-range to become
burning, exploding hulks of white flames and oily smoke.
Camouflaged clusters of 57mm Soviet antitank guns attempt
to knock out the Tigers, but the range is too great.

Suddenly, a low rumbling precedes several monstrous

Ferdinand self-propelled guns emerging from the German
lines to shouts of Hurra...hurra!.

Concealed in the tall grass a Soviet tank-hunter teams

attention diverts from a chaotic dogfight overhead to a
line of enemy armor. From their deep and zigzagging
trenches, the lead enemy vehicles steadily drive a wedge
toward the Soviets rye-covered positions; clusters of
infantry clinging to their rear platforms and more
walking close behind.


Gavno! Theyre enormous.

The moment of shock quickly subsides as the group readies

their camouflaged foxholes, PTRS rifles, molotov
cocktails and cluster grenades at arms reach.

Quiet! Just remember the last few
months of training and youll be
alright. Settle down! Vision slits,
tracks- anything that can immobilize
it. Bigger guns will destroy it later.
Should some tanks end up behind us,
you will continue focusing on the ones
to the front. Keep your Ball Charges
at the ready...On my order. Theyre
through the trenches we vacated this
(looking to a target sketch
500 meters...The surrounding
peteerovtsy (antitank rifleman) will

give support-

The corporals words are abruptly drowned out as a pair

of Shturmoviks scream in low to attack the oncoming
enemy formations.


The ground near the approaching German units erupts in

sprays of dirt and flame, but the attack misses its mark
and the Germans quickly reorganize and continue on.

The tension builds as the Germans approach to within a

hundred yards. On either side, Soviet small arms and
mortar fire open up and the accompanying troops drop from
the vehicles rear platform and fan out. The fire-fight
intensifies and the German infantry and engineers are
pinned down, but the Elefants continue on in isolation.
To add support, a few Stukas strafe directly in front of
the lumbering giants and then disappear beyond a quick
series of explosions.

Within a few moments, the lead vehicles cautiously rumble

past the well camouflaged Soviets as they crouch in their

Now! Za Rodinu!

The tank-hunting unit opens up with its PTRS rifles and

lobs several molotov cocktails around and on the giant
vehicles. The Elefants let off a few point-blank rounds
and huge chunks of earth are blown skyward. As they try
to back off Soviet antitank rounds continue pelting their
thick sides and front with little effect although several
Elefants are disabled after running across uncleared
mines. As the armored force continues inexhaustibly on
the Germans eventually force the enemy from its positions
but always under heavy enemy fire.