German versus Soviet Artillery at Kursk

On pages 1375-1378 of my Kursk book is an extended discussion of the artillery ammunition usage at Kursk. As it is buried back in Appendix III, let me quote a little bit of the discussion here:

The Voronezh Front, according to the 1944 Soviet General Staff Study, had 8,356 guns and mortars as of 4 July of which 1,944 were 76mm and larger divisional artillery. In contrast, the German units involved in the offensive started with 4,630 guns and mortars, of which 1,336 were 105mm or larger artillery. This gives the Soviet force a “tube count” advantage of 1.8 to 1.

Still, what is significant is not the number of tubes, but the weight of firepower. In the cases of the Germans, it is estimated that they fired a total of 51,083 tons of ammunition during the course of the battle. It is estimated that 49% by weight of the ammunition consumed was from the gun artillery. In the case of the Soviet forces of the Voronezh Front and the two reinforcing Steppe Front armies, they consumed a total of 21,867 tons of ammunition during the course of the battle. It is estimated that 36% by weight was from the gun artillery….

Overall, this means that while the Soviet forces outnumbered the Germans forces 1.8 to 1 according to tube count, they in fact were out shot according to weight of fire calculations, 2.34 to 1. This is a significant difference and certainly so, with artillery usually responsible for 50 to 70% of the killing on the battlefield. This may be a major factor in the measurable performance differences (especially casualty effectiveness) between the two armies….

Therefore, one is forced to look at a second reason, which is that the Soviet Army just did not have that much ammunition available. One notes in The Economy of the USSR During World War II that they make this point in the 1947 publication (which certainly has a propaganda-inspired slant). They report that the Soviet Union made 29 times more artillery pieces in World War II than were produced in the Russian Empire during World War I but they only produced 8.2 times as many artillery shells than they delivered to the army in the Russian Empire during World War I. This is a very interesting comparison.

This is a classic shortfall of the command-driven top-down communist system, where they manufactured huge numbers of glamorous big-ticket items, like tanks and guns, but did not provide the support material in the form of ammunition or transport. As such, the Soviet units were well equipped, but not well-supported. This certainly affected the relative combat capabilities of the opposing forces and the differences in their attrition rates….

This shortfall really affected the usefulness of the Katyushas. The Voronezh Front ended up with 13 independent guards’ mortar regiments, which usually had 24 Katyushas. This is a total of around 312 such eight-tube launchers. The potential weight of fire for these weapons is very high. Instead, what we see from them are very low volumes of fire. The Soviets during Kursk fired an estimated 2,422 tons of ammo from all of its Katyushas (both those in the guards mortar regiments and those in the units). With a total of 331 Katyushas, this comes out to 7.32 tons of fire per rocket launcher; or 93.50 pounds per round, an average of 20 8-shot volleys per Kayusha. In contract, the Germans with their 324 nebelwerfers and 16 Wurfrahmen, consumed 5,916 tons of ammunition. This made the German nebelwerfer a considerably more fearsome weapons than the legendary Katyusha.

Anyhow, quoting this because I am in a private discussion on Soviet ammunition production and supply during 1944-45. I have never seen a properly researched discussion of the Soviet artillery supply situation in 1944-45.

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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  1. >I have never seen a properly researched discussion of the Soviet artillery supply situation in 1944-45.

    Isayev has a lengthy discussion on the topic

    The long story short is that the shortage of ammunition wasn’t due to any “classic shortfall of the command-driven top-down communist system” where the guns were “glamorous” but ammunition was not, it was due to a serious issue in gunpowder production that harkened back to the 1930s.

  2. You state “This is a classic shortfall of the command-driven top-down communist system, where they manufactured huge numbers of glamorous big-ticket items, like tanks and guns, but did not provide the support material in the form of ammunition or transport.”

    Wasn’t the US war production for WW2 also “command-driven” from Washington?

    • Yes, technically all governments operate the same way during times of war.
      Also, German combat reports state that Katyushas were not a concern in terms of casualty infliction and were utilized as a tool for morale shock, so they did what they were designed for. Ammo production is a question of resources and national wealth. The totals and per capita figures for all belligerents correlate with GDP.

      • What is the relevance of your comments on the effects of Katyushas to the fact that all warring states war economies are command driven? A slip of the non sequitur?

        • It is relevant for the article and the employment of Katyushas, as the author made that statement in regard to Rocket systems utilization and their respective ammo consumption, for the obvious confusion about “command driven insufficiencies” and the apparent grievance (and especially your complaint) about their “ineffective” programmes.

      • >>>Also, German combat reports state that Katyushas were not a concern in terms of casualty infliction and were utilized as a tool for morale shock
        The personnel of the Guards Mortar units were sure of the other and constantly reported on the enormous losses of the Nazis :).
        Due to this super-efficiency, Major General Aborenkov became the Deputy Minister of Defense, and the Guards Mortar Units were removed from the subordination of the Chief of Artillery of the Red Army and the Main Artillery Directorate.
        By the summer of 1943, however, clouds began to gather over the gang of Kostikov and Aborenkov…

  3. To expand on Isaev’s data, I did some rough calculations a while back multiplying ammunition consumption by ammunition weight, in order to get a rough idea of how it all broke down. While I have unfortunately lost the PDF, what I ended up finding was that the Soviet Union consumed a ratio of small arms ammunition to artillery ammunition of 1/8 in 1942, which climbed to 1/12 in 43, and finally to 1/15 by 1945. By contrast, the Germans were at 1/15 in 42, ending at 1/18 by 1945. To put this into context, the US was at 1/48 in 1944-5.

    Basically, a large reason for the Soviet Union’s heavy casualties was that much more of its killing potential had to come from direct fires, including in the artillery, as 76mm’s were often used in the 1914 fashion of firing over open sights.

  4. This is an interesting post. Given that at Kursk the Soviets were dug in and waiting for a German attack, one would think they would have more, not less tonnage of shells available. The German logistical supply chain being notoriously stretched only furthers this point.

  5. Compare weight of shells of Katyushas and Nebelwerfer. The latter is firing much more heavier shells. Average shell of Katyushas in 1944 was just 6.6 kilos.

    M-8 – 82-mm rocket………………640 gr.
    M-13 / M-20 – 132-mm………….4,9 kilos
    M-30 /M-31 – 300-mm………….28.9 kilos

    Nebelwerfer 40 100 mm…………..8.6 kilos
    Nebelwerfer 41 150 mm…………31.8 /35.9 kilos
    Nebelwerfer 42 210 mm…………109.5 kilos

    • AoE versus concentrated volley. Salvo of shots that potentially ripped the soldiers out of the defensive installation/trench, while the Katyusha rain aimed at suppressing the HKL, to reduce the exposure of the advancing troops to enemy fire.

  6. It’s pretty interesting to compare Red Army field artillery during Finnish-Soviet Winter War 1939-40 to that of 1944. In Winter War 7th and 13th Army used 3​,171,​021 rounds of which 42.4% were light 76 mm. Consumption figures of field artillery ammo in 1944:

    76 mm: 31, 939,000
    85-107 mm: 552,740
    122 mm: 8, 378,500
    152 mm: 3, 543,100
    203-280 mm: 168,476
    Total: 44​,581,​816

    76 mm took 71.6% share. The other side of coin was of course mortar shells. In 1944 Red Army used 45.8 million light (50-82 mm) shells and 15.5 million heavy (mostly 120 mm) shells. And then there was
    12 ,923,000 shells of mostly 45-57 mm AT-guns.

    The average weight of shells was just about 8.15 kilos and about 12.5 kilos for field artillery in 1944.

  7. The notion of overstretched German supplies is a myth, which distorts common assumptions of the 41-45 RGW. In fact, it was the Red Army which suffered from chronic logistical problems, which is rarely mentioned in Russian historiography. But the clues can be found in several memoirs/books written by Red Army logisticians, especially Kovlev’s 1982 book on Soviet RR ops in WW2. He specifically mentions that the RR network was in a constant state of congestion, with slow turnaround and a lack of marshalling yards able to handle the traffic. This was definitely the result of the Kremlin’s RR policy which believed that every track and station had to full of trains at all times to be considered efficiently working at capacity. Stalin refused to expand the network properly before the war with addl trackage and yards in the W USSR. The result during wartime was gridlock, slow trains, empty trains sitting in stations unable to return, etc. It gets more complicated but this is the short explanation of why the Red Army’s logistics were so poor. It didn’t improve until summer 44.

    • PS This was not exactly the result of the ‘command economy’, but because of the one-man dictatorship of Stalinist Russia. His whims and assumptions concerning everything from RR to genetics to poetry were taken as irrefutable commandments of ‘Truth’, regardless of their wisdom or factual basis. Same goes with Hitler, at least among his loyal entourage and NSDAP followers.

    • Yes, I did prepare a paper (which was never published) on the medical system. At the time of the Battle of Kursk, there was a shortage of trucks for transporting the wounded and their main hospitals had not been moved forward in 1943. They were still back on Voronezh.

      I did specifically discuss in that paper the wounding of Col. Sverdlov in 1944 when he was crossing the Pripat River. He had a fragmentation wound on his back. He went to back to the field hospital, where the doctor sewed him up without anesthetics, while Sverdlov was bent over but still standing up. He then had Sverdlov lay out in an open field on some straw. After a little while of that, Sverdlov figured he would be better off back at his unit, and he went back there to heal.

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