T-34s on 5 July 1943

The biggest problem with the kill claims related to the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) Division’s Tiger company on 5 July 1943 is that they claim dozens of T-34s killed on the 5th of July, when there were few in the area.

These specific claims are discussed here:

Panzer Aces Wittmann and Staudegger at Kursk – part 1

There were no units armed with T-34s that were attached to the Sixth Guards Army, and the armored units in the area with T-34s were not in action for most of the 5th (this would include the III Mechanized Corps and the II Guards Tank Corps).  So either the LSSAH Tigers shot up a lot of M-3 Lees and Stuarts and they have become T-34s in the retelling, or the claims are just grossly inflated or flat out wrong.

But….there may have been a few T-34s in the area. According to the March-April 1944 Soviet General Staff Study done on Kursk, 10 or 15 tanks were deployed in the fortified areas as part of the defense. See page 284 of my Kursk book. But, in the unit records we had, we never had a report on them (including in the Sixth Guards Army records). We have not seen any record of them other than the single report in the General Staff Study.

So there were 10 or 15 tanks deployed in the fortified areas. They do not say where and what types of tanks. It could have been T-34s in the Sixth Guards Army area….or it could not be. They could have been deployed together or scattered.

There are a few reports of dug-in T-34s on 4 and 5 July 1943.

Guenther Baer, II Battalion of the LSSAH Tank Regiment, reports for the 4th of July, the pre-battle evening clearing attack on the Soviet outpost line that:

We also came upon scattered dug-in T-34s, who were then quickly disabled by our own tanks. (page 282…interview was done in 1999 by MG Dieter Brand).

Lt. Franz-Joachim von Rodde, an adjutant with the 6th Panzer Regiment, 3rd Panzer Division reports that:

That evening [5 July]…penetrated all the way to a small village [Krasnyii Pochinok] along a narrow front line and staggered towards the rear. The village itself could not be taken in time, though. Here we encountered T-34s dug-in up to their turrets for the first time. (page 367…interview was done in 1999 by MG Dieter Brand).

As I note on page 368:

Lt. Rodde’s memory of T-34s dug-in around Krasnyii Pochinok cannot be confirmed. The Soviet 245th Tank Regiment did not have T-34s. The nearest forces with T-34s would be the 59th and 60th Tank Regiment attached to the Fortieth Army. While these forces may well have been in the area (as this is not the only report of tanks we have on the front line of the 71st Guard Rifle Division, 67th Guards Rifle Division, or the Fortieth Army units), we have not accounts of them being there in the Soviet records.

Just to continue Rodde’s quote:

This was another measure hitherto unknown. These dug-in tanks were very dangerous. They were camouflaged extremely well–as usual with the Russians–and could only be reconnoitered once they opened fire. They usually fired at short range so as to have a maximum chance of hitting something.

Then there also the reports of dug-in tanks from Alfred Rubbel, 503rd Heavy Panzer (Tiger) Battalion, in the area where the 6th Panzer Division was attacking on the 5th, but this is out of the area of our concern (see page 403). Still just to quote:

Our Tiger company suffered the first losses as well. For the first time we saw dug-in enemy tanks in this sector. In a way this was a surprise as that was a use of tanks not at all typical. There dug-in tanks were firing with great precision from their position and were thus very dangerous for us. On that day alone, we have four losses due to enemy fire, which could all be recovered but nevertheless represented the highest number of losses in one day of battle we had to absorb during the entire operation.

Those tanks were most likely from the Soviet 262nd Tank Regiment, which started the battle with 22 KV-1s.

So we have reports of dug-in T-34s in front of the LSSAH Division and in front of 3rd Panzer Division. These are two widely separated locations. So it is distinctly possible that the SS Panzer Corps could have encountered 6-9 dug-in T-34s. This is still considerably less than what they claim, but probably there is some basis to their claims. Still, it would appear that they, or subsequent authors, either over-claimed or credited every tanks as destroyed as being a T-34, even though most were not.

Hard to sort it out 75 years after the fact…..but it is clear that many of the published claims for 5 July 1943 are not correct.

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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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One comment

  1. Yes, whilst it is difficult because the soldiers and tank crews, had a tendency to use a single name to describe their opponents equipment, Normandy all German Tanks were Tigers, all guns were 88mm. Ralf Raths the Director of the Panzer museum explained the Wehrmacht had a similar issue with all Russian tanks tending to be being called T34.

    However, given the M3 is so different in so many ways, I am not so sure. I have noted reading Panzer Truppen The Complete Guide to the Creation &Combat Employment of Germany’s Tank Force • 1943-1945 that the M3 is quoted in the African campaign, and there are documented captured units which were converted into gun carriers plus the famous propaganda Panther video of the Panther being tested against the M3, not against a T34 I have noted.

    Also for consideration are the conclusions of the Lt Colonel John R Ulmer Annex 1 Appendix E of ORO-T-117, German Tank Causality Data. I think the most damaging against the German operational records is “The documents holdings in this field are so scattered and so fragmentary that any conclusions we might make are rather dubious. 1946”

    Given this is the analysis of records on the state of their own equipment, the expectations on their analysis on Allies equipment is likely to be minimal at best.

    Colonel Ulmer, conclusions, captured the difficulties of numerous historians trying to make sense of this information over the past 75 years

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