Comparative Tank Exchange Ratios at Kursk

Now, I don’t know what percent of German or Soviet tanks at Kursk were killed by other tanks, as opposed to antitank guns, mines, air attacks, infantry attacks, broken down, etc. The only real data we have on this is a report from the Soviet First Tank Army which states that 73% of their tanks were lost to AP shot.

Artillery Effectiveness vs. Armor (Part 2-Kursk)

Do not know what percent of the AP shots was fired from tanks vice towed AT guns. I would be tempted to guess half. So maybe 36% of the Soviet tanks destroyed was done by other tanks? This is a very rough guess. Suspect it may have been a lower percent with the Germans.

Still, it is natural to want to compare tank losses with tank losses. The Germans during the southern offensive at Kursk had 226 tanks destroyed and 1,310 damaged. This includes their self-propelled AT guns (their Marders).

German Damaged versus Destroyed Tanks at Kursk

The Soviet units during the southern offensive at Kursk had 1,379 tanks destroyed and 1,092 damaged. This includes their self-propelled AT guns, the SU-152s, SU-122s and the more common SU-76s. If I count SU-76s in the Soviet tank losses, then I probably should count the Marders in the German losses.

Soviet Damaged versus Destroyed Tanks at Kursk

So….comparing total losses to total losses results in 1,536 German tanks damaged or destroyed versus 2,471 Soviet tanks damaged or destroyed. This is a 1-to-1.61 exchange ratio.

On the other hand, some people like to only compare total destroyed. This comes out to a rather lop-sided 1-to-6.10 exchange ratio.

A lot of sources out there compare only lost tanks to lost tanks. This provides, in my opinion, a very distorted figure of combat effectiveness or what is actually occurring out on the battlefield.

Added to this some sources have been known to remove German command tanks from their counts of strengths and losses, even though at this stage the majority of command tanks were armed. The Germans sometime don’t list them in their own daily reports. Of course, Soviet command tanks are always counted (which are armed). Some have been know to remove German Panzer IIs and other lighter tanks from their counts, even though at Kursk on 4 July, 23% of Soviet tanks were the lighter T-60s, T-70s and M-3 Stuarts (see page 1350 of my book). Many counts remove the German self-propelled AT guns from their counts, but not sure if they have also removed the Soviet SU-152, SU-122s and SU-76s from their counts. Finally, a number of counts remove German assault guns from their comparisons, even though at Kursk they were often used the same as their tank battalions and sometimes working with their tank battalions. They were also better armed and armored than some of their medium tanks. In the later part of 1943 and after, some German tank battalions were manned with assault guns, showing that the German army sometimes used them interchangeably. So there are a lot of counts out there on Kursk, but many of them concern me as they do not give the complete picture.

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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.
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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.
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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).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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4 Comments

  1. “A lot of sources out there compare only lost tanks to lost tanks. This provides, in my opinion, a very distorted figure of combat effectiveness or what is actually occurring out on the battlefield.”

    I agree, even if they are not taken out permanently, they have been engaged at one point in the battle, giving us insight into the struggle (and are much closer to claims).
    I think both variants are significant (from the tactical to the strategical level), killing power on the other hand translates into irrecoverables.

  2. Clearly similar types should be included in a comparison. However, similar can mean technically simliar or tactically similar. This is seldom a problem but there are a few cases. German StuG and Brummbär Sturmpanzer (and later Jagdpanzer models) were technically similar to for example SU-85, SU-122 and SU-152. The Soviet SU-76 was, from a technical standpoint, more similar to German Marders, but I am not sure if they were used in similar ways tactically.
    As the German documents are not entirely consistent in their reporting on command tanks (sometimes lumping them together with other tanks, sometimes reporting them separate and sometimes not reporting them at all) I am unsure whether they are deliberately removed from the calculations.

  3. Clearly one can make a case for either loss rate. I lean towards comparing permanent losses on both sides and not including damaged but repairable tanks. When analyzing operations lasting weeks, permanently lost tanks are far more relevant. I guess you tend to focus on actions lasting a day or a few and in such situations, I can see a point in also looking at damaged tanks. However, lumping together destroyed and damaged substitutes one fault with another.
    If the purpose is to analyze operational effects of the battle at Kursk, I would say that 1-6.10 ratio is more relevant that the 1-1.61 ratio. Neither is perfect, but the former is definitely less wrong.

    • Technically speaking (referencing Miles Krogfus from the AHF here), the best overall juxtaposition (for longer periods) that comes into my mind (which would reflect effectiveness and register all entities), would be a comparison of “Evacuated” vs “Totalausfälle”. Krivosheev for instance, listed rounded figures and most literature has incomplete data on the AFV situation of the early war years. I have seen criticism regarding these widely accepted figures. On the other hand, Hillebrands compilation (of course referencing the BA-MA file) was incomplete for certain periods in 1944.

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