Version: 1.00 (May 2008)
AI or PBEM: PBEM Only
Author: Ian Gelderman
In the winter of 1942-1943 the Red Army conclusively won the Battle of Stalingrad. One complete German army had been lost, along with about 800,000 German and Axis troops, seriously depleting Axis strength in the east. With an Allied invasion of Europe clearly looming, Hitler realized an outright defeat of the Soviets before the Western Allies arrived had become unlikely, and he decided to force the Soviets to a draw.
n February and March of 1943, German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein had completed an offensive during the Third Battle of Kharkov, leaving the front line running roughly from Leningrad in the north to Rostov in the south. In the middle lay a large 200km (120mi) wide and 150km (90mi) deep Soviet-held salient (bulge) in the lines between German forward positions near Orel in the north, and Von Manstein's recently captured Kharkov in the south.
Von Manstein pressed for a new offensive along the same lines he had just successfully pursued at Kharkov, when he cut off an overextended Red Army offensive. He suggested tricking the Red Army into attacking in the south against the desperately re-forming Sixth Army, leading them into the Donets Basin in the eastern Ukraine. He would then turn south from Kharkov on the eastern side of the Donets River towards Rostov and trap the entire southern wing of the Red Army against the Sea of Azov.
OKH did not approve von Manstein's plan, and instead turned their attention to the obvious bulge in the lines between Orel and Kharkov. Three Red Army armies occupied the ground in and around the salient, and pinching it off would trap almost a fifth of the Red Army's manpower. It would also result in a much straighter and shorter line, and capture the strategically useful railway town of Kursk located on the main north-south railway line running from Rostov to Moscow.
In March the plans crystallized. Walter Model's Ninth Army would attack southwards from Orel while Hermann Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army and Army Detachment "Kempf" under the overall command of Manstein would attack northwards from Kharkov. They planned to meet near Kursk, but if the offensive went well they would have permission to continue forward on their own initiative, with a general plan to create a new line at the Don River far to the east.
Contrary to his recent behavior, Hitler gave the General Staff considerable control over the planning of the operation. Over the next few weeks, they continued to increase the scope of the forces attached to the front, stripping the entire German line of practically anything remotely useful for deployment in the upcoming operation. They first set the attack for May 4, but then delayed it until June 12 and finally until July 4 in order to allow more time for new weapons to arrive from Germany, especially the new Panther tanks.
The basic concept behind the German offensive was the traditional (and, for the Germans, hitherto usually successful) double-envelopment, or Kesselschlacht (cauldron battle). The German Army had long favored such a Cannae-style method, and the tools of Blitzkrieg made these types of tactics even more effective. Blitzkrieg depended on mass, shock, and speed to surprise an enemy and defeat him through disruption of command and supply rather than by destroying all his forces in a major pitched battle.
However, such breakthroughs were easier to achieve if they hit an unexpected location. The OKH's plan for the attack on the Kursk salient, "Operation Citadel", violated the principle of surprise: anyone who could read a map could confidently predict the obvious point of attack. A number of German commanders questioned the idea.
The German force numbered 50 divisions, including 17 panzer and panzergrenadier, among them the elite Wehrmacht Großdeutschland Division, and the Waffen-SS divisions 1st SS Panzer Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, 2nd SS Panzer Das Reich, and 3rd SS Panzer Totenkopf grouped into the II SS Panzer Corps. The High Command concentrated all their armor, the Tiger and new Panther tanks, and the new Elefant tank destroyer, being used as assault guns. They also massed a high proportion of their available air units and artillery, and despite the problems of the German plan it was a formidable concentration of armor.
The Red Army had also begun planning for their own upcoming summer offensives, and had settled on a plan that mirrored that of the Germans. Attacks in front of Orel and Kharkov would flatten out the line, and potentially lead to a breakout near the Pripyat Marshes. However, Soviet commanders had considerable concerns over the German plans.
The locations of all previous German attacks had caught the Red Army by surprise, but in this case Kursk seemed the obvious target. Moscow received warning of the German plans through the Lucy spy ring in Switzerland. This was almost unnecessary, since Marshal Zhukov had already correctly predicted the site of the German attack as early as April 8, when he wrote his initial report to Stavka, in which he also recommended the strategy eventually followed by the Red Army.
Stalin and a handful of Stavka officers wanted to strike first. The pattern of the war up until this point had been one of German offensive success. Blitzkrieg had worked against all opposing armies, including the Red Army. None had succeeded in stopping a German breakthrough. On the other hand, Soviet offensive actions during both winters showed their own offensives now worked well. However, the overwhelming majority of Stavka members, most notably Zhukov himself, advised waiting for the Germans to exhaust themselves, first. Zhukov's opinion swayed the argument.
The German delay in launching their offensive gave the Red Army four months in which to prepare, and with every passing day they turned the salient into one of the most heavily defended points on earth. Two Fronts, the Central and Voronezh, manned the defensive lines, and the Steppe Front was available to act as a reserve. The Red Army and thousands of civilians laid about one million land mines and dug about 5000km (3000mi) of trenches, to a depth of 175km (95mi). In addition, they massed a huge army of their own, including some 1,300,000 men, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces and 2,400 aircraft. The Red Army could build up forces faster than the Germans; each month they pulled further ahead in men and material.
Many of the troops assigned to the defense of the salient were recent veterans of the Stalingrad battle, but the Red Army also added over one million new men to its ranks in the first half of 1943. Thus, the Red Army was larger than in 1942, even after the losses at Stalingrad. The long delay between the identification of the likely site of the German attack and the beginning of the offensive gave the new units an unusually long time to train.
In the south, the Voronezh Front fared less well against the 4th Panzer Army with its LII Corps, XLVIII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps. The II SS Panzer Corps attacked on a narrower frontage against two Red Army rifle regiments. The armored spearhead of Hoth's 4th Panzer Army forced its way forward, and by the 6th had reached some 15 km past the lines. Again, Red Army planning played a big role. In the south the Red Army had not been able to pinpoint the German attack sectors; this forced them to spread out their defenses more evenly. For example, three of the four Armies of the Voronezh Front had about 10 antitank guns per kilometer of front; this contrasts sharply with the Central Front's distribution of guns, which was twice as heavy in the active sectors. Also, the Voronezh Front made the decision to hold the tactical zone much more thinly, leaving a much higher proportion of units in deeper positions compared to the Central Front. Finally, the Voronezh Front was weaker than the Central Front, yet it faced much stronger German forces.
The German forces made steady progress against the Red Army defenses, but, as in the north, attack frontages (width) and penetration depth tended to drop as the attack proceeded. The trend was not as marked as in the north, however. Beginning with a 30-kilometer-wide attack frontage on July 5, this dropped to 20-kilometers wide by July 7 and 15 km by July 9. Likewise, the depth of the penetration dropped from 9 km on July 5 to 5 km on July 8 and 2-3 km each day thereafter until the attack was cancelled.
Red Army minefields and artillery were again successful in delaying the German attack and inflicting losses. The ability of dug-in Red Army units to delay the Germans was vital to allow their own reserves to be brought up into threatened sectors. Over 90,000 additional mines were laid during the operations by small mobile groups of engineers, generally working at night immediately in front of the expected German attack areas. There were neither large-scale captures of prisoners nor any great loss of artillery, again indicating that Soviet units were giving ground in good order.
German losses can be seen in the example of the Großdeutschland Division, which began the operation with 118 tanks. On July 10, after five days of fighting, the division reported it had 3 Tigers, 6 Panthers, and 11 Pzkw-III and Pzkw-IV tanks operational. XLVIII Panzer Corps reported, overall, 38 Panthers operational with 131 awaiting repair, out of the 200 it started with on July 5.
Nevertheless, it was obvious that the threat of a German breakthrough in the south had to be reckoned with. The Steppe Front had been formed in the months prior to the operation as a central reserve for such an eventuality. Units of the Steppe Front began movement to the south as early as July 9. This included the 5th Guards Tank Army and other combined-arms armies.
The German flank, however, stood unprotected as the Red Army 7th Guards Army stalled Kempf's divisions, aided by heavy rain, after the Germans had crossed the Donets River. The 5th Guards Tank Army, reinforced with two additional Tank Corps, moved into positions to the east of Prokhorovka and had started to prepare a counterattack of their own when II SS Panzer Corps arrived and an intense struggle ensued. The Red Army managed to halt the SS-but only just. Little now stood in the way of the 4th Panzer Army, and a German breakthrough looked like a very real possibility. The Soviets therefore decided to deploy the rest of 5th Guards Tank Army.
On the morning of July 12, II SS Panzer Corps advanced on Prokhorovka at the same time that 5th Guards Tank Army launched a series of attacks as part of multi-front counteroffensive scheduled for July 12 and in an attempt to catch the Germans off balance. The SS and Guards units collided west of Prokhorovka in open country punctuated by farms, rolling hills and gullies. What happened next is open to debate with the release of new information from archives.
The battle can best be described as a very costly tactical loss but an operational draw for the Red Army. Neither the 5th Guards Tank Army nor the II SS Panzer Corps accomplished their missions that day. Tank losses have been a contentious subject ever since. Red Army losses have been claimed as low as 200 or as high as 822 tanks, but the loss records now show that they were probably from 150 to 300 complete losses, with a similar number damaged. Likewise, German loss claims have reached as low as 80 or into the hundreds, including "dozens" of Tigers. This number is impossible to establish because of the German philosophy in counting lost tanks. The number of complete losses for the period 10 July-13 July for the LSSAH and Das Reich divisions was three. Additional to that are an unknown number of damaged tanks, many of which would have been lost in repair depots during the subsequent retreat as a consequence of the Red Army post-Kursk counteroffensive Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev. Nipe puts the number of operational tank reductions in the whole Corps at 70-80, but it is unclear how many of these would have been in short-term or long-term repair. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
1. Weather: The Weather has been set to that of the historical conditions at the time the battle. Mud conditions will restrict movement and supply, so it’s advised to check the weather forecast when planning major operations.
2. Major Rivers: Movement and battle are not possible across major rivers unless there is a bridge present. The Russian player should blow bridges between himself and the frontline to prevent the Germans from gaining easy access over rivers. Keep bridges in the rear intact for possible retreat or reinforcements. The German player has ample bridging units equipped with pontoons. They will prove very valuable in order to keep the momentum of your advance.
3. Night Turns: During the night supply levels will drop to 75%. It’s always a good to know what turn (day or night) you are currently playing. The advantage of night turns is no air activity. (no air interdiction, dive bombers or medium bombers)
4. Special Attacks: Both sides have special attacks, “Kamfgruppe” for Germany and “Shock Attack” for the Russians. This special attack will give you a shift bonus when conducting assaults on your enemy. If you don’t use then that turn they will be lost.
5. Strong Points: Strong points that become available during play are all two step units, but they start with one step KIA. All strong points need four turns to repair, so be careful not to place them to close to attacking enemy units unless you have to.
I would like to thank SSG for making Battlefront so much fun, and also for their continued support in not only this fine product but other products in the series.
Thanks also to all of the Run5 community who helped out, it would not be the same without your constant feedback and suggestions.
Some images were sourced from the web. I have not sought permission to use these so if anyone has any objection to any image being used please contact me via Run5 and they will be altered/removed.
Ian Gelderman May 2008.
This scenario/battleset may be circulated freely in its current form as long as it is not changed or amended. Additional scenarios or variations based upon this battleset are encouraged, so long as Ian Gelderman and Run5 are credited with the initial work.
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Good luck, I value any feedback - especially in relation to discrepancies, design flaws, or play balance.
Download and run the setup installation file and follow the prompts. Start Battlefront up and you should see Prokhorovka under scenarios.