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Zetterling, Niklas and Anders Frankson. Kursk 1943: A Statistical Analysis. London: Frank Cass, 2000
Foreword; Preface; List of Abbreviations; maps; tables; charts; Bibliography; Index
In the last three years a considerable number of serious books about the Battle of Kursk have been published, notably Walter Dunn's Kursk: Hitler's Gamble, 1943, George Nipe's Decision in the Ukraine, The Battle of Kursk by David Glantz and Jonathan House, and The Battle for Kursk, 1943 from the Soviet General Staff. Together, these have explored almost every facet of the battle and swept away many of the myths about Kurskand the engagement at Prokhorovka in particularthat have been passed along by earlier works from authors like Jukes, Cross, Dunnigan, and even distinguished historians like John Erickson.
Despite this welter of new books which take advantage of primary sources and years of scholarship unavailable to previous writers, there is still considerable debate and disagreement about many of the details of the battle, including such basic facts as how many tanks took part and how many were lost. The latest book on Kursk, this one from Niklas Zetterling and Anders Frankson, attempts to settle some of these questions with a careful investigation of original documentation such as the daily records and reports of German combat units. Unlike earlier books, however, the authors are less concerned about discussing the actual action, so this tome is mostly a study in numbers and statistics, heavily footnoted and packed with tables. (Even the numbers in the tables are footnoted.)
The book opens with a chapter on how the course of the war led to the position at the beginning of Kursk, and contains tables of comparative Soviet, German, and other Axis manpower, tanks, guns, and aircraft. The second chapter discusses the assembly of opposing forces and provides even more detail about exact numbers of exact kinds of weapons. By comparison with Dunn, for example, the numbers are far more precise but there is far less explanation of the overall manpower constraints and how the creation, manning, and massing of combat forces at Kursk resulted from explicit policies determined at the national level. The authors then review the opposing OBs and offer returns for each model of tank and assault gun for corps, divisions, and independent brigades and regiments. They also explain the varying organizational patterns of German divisions, count and compare battalions, and discuss the differences among the German manpower availability reporting categories such as Verpflegungsstarke, Iststarke, and Gefechtstarke.
Next comes a review of German and Soviet AFVs, and here the authors write in some detail about the strengths and weaknesses of each model in comparison to enemy vehicles, as well as offering the usual array of tabular data.
As long as the Soviet tank forces were mainly equipped with T-34/76, the armour configuration of the Panther was not as good as that of the Tiger. Since the Soviet 76mm gun had rather poor armour-piercing capabilities, the better frontal protection of the Panther gave it no real advantage over the Tiger. On the other hand, the side armour of the Panther could relatively easily be penetrated by the Soviet 76mm gun, while that gun had considerable difficulties in coping with the side armour of the Tiger. With the introduction of the T-34/85, the situation was altered. Now the Red Army had a tank whose armament had no difficulties with the side armour of even the German heavy tanks. However, the frontal armour of the Tiger could be penetrated except at ranges above 1,200 metres. In this situation the Panther clearly was the preferred tank.
Following a chapter about aircraft, air strength, and air support, the authors present a brief chronology of the course of the battle. This takes the form of fourteen pages of terse, fact-filled daily reports of unit movements, attacks, counter-attacks, and casualties. The next chapter explores the engagement at Prokhorovka in more detail. That chapter is followed by three more chapters of text and tables: The Cost of the Battle (including some criticism of Krivosheyev's work on Soviet casualties), An Analysis of the Battle, and The Consequences of the Battle.
In those final chapters, the authors jump into some ongoing controversies. Among the conclusions drawn in the book is that the Soviets gained more benefit from the delayed launching of Zitadelle than did the Germans. As to the likelihood of success had the German offensive continued, where Nipe contends that the ratio of AFV losses was so greatly in favor of the Germans that they had a considerable chance for success by pushing forward as Manstein preferred, and where Dunn claims the Stavka tank reserves were so great that Hitler was correct to halt the operation when he did, Zetterling and Frankson suggest that any advantages gained by further German assaults would have been purely local. "To argue that Germany might have swung the balance during the summer of 1943, more than a successful conclusion for them of Zitadelle is required."
The final eighty-five pages of the book comprise sixteen mostly tabular appendices covering material such as day-by-day casualty figures for each division, records of deliveries of new tanks to the fronts, daily tank strengths, armor penetration statistics, and well-done organizational diagrams for every German division at Kursk down to battalion/company level. The first two appendices list complete ground and air OBs for each side. Appendix 14, "Information on German Tank Losses," explicates the difficulties in precisely defining which units lost which AFVs on which dates. In sum, these appendices are a treasure trove of useful data.
All of the recent books about Kursk pay particular heed to the armored clash at Prokhorovka, and Zetterling and Frankson are no exception. In comparison to some of the more extravagant claims found in earlier works about the number of tanks engaged and destroyed on 12 Julynumbers originating from Soviet sources and generally accepted and repeated by Western writers for many yearsthe latest research has steadily whittled away at the huge numbers traditionally counted at Prokhorovka. Zetterling and Frankson offer still more refinement in regard to German and Soviet tank/AFV availability, plus some remarkable figures on losses during the battle. Their figures are worth comparing to the other new books about Kursk (although it's probably best to leave older works out of the equation entirely). Note that even with these recent books it's tough to find exact apples-to-apples comparisons because of differences in methodology: what geographic boundaries are used to define the engagement at Prokhorovka; exactly what units, or parts of units, are included; are all AFVs being counted, or just tanks; and exactly what length of time is being measured. Nevertheless, comparing the data from these five books makes for interesting contrasts.
Zetterling and Frankson. Kursk 1943, p 102, 107-109:
First the extent of the battle of Prokhorovka must be defined. Our definition is that the clash started on 12 July and ended on 16 July. It involved II SS-Panzer Corps and III Panzer Corps on the German side, while the Red Army had three armies involved in the fighting (69th Army, 5th Guards Tank Army and 5th Guards Army).
If the strength for 12 July is used, it can be concluded that the [III Panzer Corps] probably had no more than 135 tanks and assault guns available for the Prokhorovka battle. ...[O]n the evening before 12 July the II SS-Panzer Corps had 294 tanks and assault guns operational of which 15 were Tigers (no Panthers or Ferdinands, not even in workshops).
It seems that against the German III Panzer Corps, at least 150 Soviet tanks were newly committed on 12 July, while at least 450 tanks were hurled against II SS-Panzer Corps. Also a further 100 joined in against the II SS-Panzer Corps on 13 July, on the northern side of the Psel. As we have written earlier the 2nd Tank Corps and 2nd Guards Tank Corps had 187 tanks together and, if we assume that at least 120 belonged to 2nd Guards Tank Corps (80 versus II SS and 40 versus III Panzer), these figures will be obtained.
Depending on how one prefers to define the battle at Prokhorovka, it involved from 294 German (II SS-Panzer Corps) and 616 Soviet AFV (those engaging II SS-Panzer Corps) up to a maximum of 429 German and 870 Soviet AFV.
Tank losses have often been described as equally severe for both sides but this does not match the reality. The German losses in destroyed tanks were very small compared to the losses suffered by the Red Army. The II SS-Panzer Corps lost 36 tanks and assault guns between 5 and 23 July of which at least 19 were destroyed before Prokhorovka. Accordingly, the II SS-Panzer Corps cannot have lost more than 17 during Prokhorovka.
The III Panzer Corps, which had less armour than II SS-Panzer Corps, seems to have had higher losses. During the period from 11 to 20 July, it lost 37 tanks and assault guns, but not all units of the corps took part in the Prokhorovka battle.
Rotmistrov's 5th Guards Tank Army reported that it had lost 222 T-34, 89 T-70, 12 Churchill and 11 assault guns up to 16 July. These were total write-offs. This gives a total of 334 destroyed Soviet tanks and assault guns, which can be compared to, at most, 54 German tanks and assault guns destroyed. This means the Soviet tank losses were at least six times higher. In fact, since more German units are included in this calculation than actually took part in the Prokhorovka battle, while not all Soviet units are included, the real ratio was even higher.
Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk, p 151-152, 275, 414:
Given the attrition of the penetration battle, by 10 July the II SS Panzer Corps' strength had fallen to fewer than 300 tanks and assault guns, and Army Detachment Kempf's III Panzer Corps numbered fewer than 200. On the Soviet side, General P.A. Rotmistrov's 5th Guards Tank Army eventually controlled five corps totaling 830 tanks and self-propelled guns. ...[A]bout 572 [German and Soviet AFVs] met on the field of Prokhorovka itself. (Note: Calculated as 172 tanks and assault guns of Leibstandarte and Das Reich and just over 400 tanks and self-propelled guns of Rotmistrov's 2d, 18th, and 29th Tank Corps.)
German armor losses in Citadel are more difficult to pin down.... Considering repaired armored vehicles, these figures indicate that [II SS Panzer Corps] lost between 60 and 70 tanks on 12 July (at Prokhorovka).... (Note: Finally, during the battle for Prokhorovka, the 5th Guards Tank Army lost over 400 of its 840 tanks and self-propelled guns....)
Dunn. Kursk: Hitler's Gamble, 1943, p 154, 158:
Given the attrition of the previous seven days, the combined strength of the 2nd SS Corps was probably much less than 400 operational tanks and assault guns including 70 Tigers.
The first echelon of the [Soviet] attack was formed by the 18th, 29th, and 2nd Guards Tank Corps, a total of at least 450 tanks.... The second echelon included the 5th Guards Mechanized Corps and 2nd Tank Corps with about 300 tanks.
Both sides had suffered heavy losses. The SS Panzer Corps claimed 249 Soviet tanks destroyed or captured on July 12.... A total of 200 tanks were lost by the 5th Guards Tank Army. General Pavel A. Rotmistrov estimated that each side lost 300 tanks, probably accurate for the Russians and high for the Germans.
Nipe. Decision in the Ukraine, p 32, 60-61:
The 5th Guards Tank Army was made up of the 18th and 29th Tank Corps and 5th Guards Mechanized Corps.... In addition, the 2nd Tank Corps and 2nd Guards Tank Corps were attached to Rotmistrov's army by 11 July. Most authorities agree that the 5th Guards Tank Army, including the two attached tank corps, probably had 850 tanks, of which 500 were T-34s. The rest were lighter T-70s and a few Lend-Lease Churchill tanks.
II. SS Panzerkorps...reported that the three divisions had a total of 211 running vehicles [but not counting assault guns] on the eve of the battle for Prochorovka. "Totenkopf" had 94 operational tanks, "Leibstandarte" 56 and "Das Reich" 61, including 7 captured T-34's. There were only 15 SS Tigers still combat ready and available for action on that date, ten of which belonged to "Totenkopf."
The net loss from the number of operational tanks [of II. SS Panzerkorps]...was thus a total of 48 tanks [on 12 July]. The SS tank losses at Prochorovka were however, somewhat heavier than 48, the discrepancy almost surely resulting from the continual return of tanks to operational status after having been repaired from earlier damage. ...[A] rough estimate can be made that about 70-80 tanks were lost for the day by II. SS Panzerkorps.
However, Rotmistrov's army lost approximately 600-650 tanks on 12 July in actions against II. SS Panzerkorps as well as Breith's divisions [of III Panzerkorps]....
The Soviet General Staff. The Battle for Kursk, 1943 (originally published in 1944), p 222, 228:
[German units attacking toward Prokhorovka] consisted of three SS Panzer Corps divisions (Adolf Hitler, Death's Head, and Das Reich), 17th Panzer Division units, and also the 168th Infantry Division. This grouping numbered more than 600 tanks, including more than 100 heavy tanks ('Tigers') and self-propelled 'Ferdinand' guns.
By the beginning of combat operations the 2d Guards Tatsinskaia Tank Corps and the 2d Tank Corps, which had a total of no more than 200 tanks...were subordinated to the 5th Guards Tank Army.... Thus the 5th Guards Tank Army had 793 tanks, including 501 T-34 tanks, 261 T-70s, and 31 'Churchills', and therefore, with respect to the number of tanks, the correlation of forces was approximately equal, although the enemy had qualitative superiority, especially in heavy tanks and self-propelled 'Ferdinand' guns.
As a result of five days of combat, the Germans lost around 300 tanks [and] 20 self-propelled guns....
Historians might never cease debating the exact numbers of tanks engaged and destroyed at Prokhorovka, but overall Zetterling and Frankson serve up a wealth of statistical data and numeric nuance not previously available for the Battle of Kursk. While it might be overkill for anyone else, those with an interest in the Russian Front or panzer operations in general will certainly want to see what Kursk 1943 has to offer. Those fascinated by numbers, statistics, and quantitative analysis will be intrigued. Anyone with a notion to design a wargame on Kursk will definitely find this to be a must-have. Recommended.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Frank Cass.
Thanks to Cass for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 2 October 2000
Copyright © 2000 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone