Comments on the Photo Recon Article

The actual article by Ben Wheatley of his analysis of the photo recon from 14-16 July 1943 is here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/16161262.2019.1606545

Shorter article by him is here: https://defenceindepth.co/2019/06/07/in-pursuit-of-prokhorovka/

I believe all my previous posts on Prokhorovka discuss the issues of tank loss counts to exhaustion, so I will not take the time to address his article point by point. Let me just highlight a couple of items.

It is a useful effort in that he identifies the four Pz IVs close to Hill 252.2 that are destroyed. These were almost certainly from Ribbentrop’s 6th Panzer Company. In Ribbentrop’s account he also states that four of the seven tanks in his company were lost (and his was damaged). It is always useful to have confirming evidence to an interview. Post-war interviews are not always the most reliable source. I did interview a veteran of the Spanish-American War (1898) once. That was an interesting experience.

He then makes the statement that “To the author, it seems impossible that any worthwhile publication or exhibition relating to the battle of Prokhorovka could not include the remarkable Luftwaffe photographs contained within this article.”

Well, as I did include the 32 of aerial photographs in my book….I guess that would qualify my book as worthwhile. On the other hand, he list four works in the previous paragraph (including Zetterling and Zamulin) but does not list my book. Nor it is referenced in his footnotes. Curious.

The article discusses the fight between the LSSAH Division and the XVIII and XXIX Tank Corps. It is clear he has defined the fight on the tank fields of Prokhorovka as a fight between those three units. As he stated in second paragraph of his article: “The chief protagonists of the battle of Prokhorovka, the 5th Guards Tank Army and the German SS Panzergrenadier Division ‘Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler’, fought over a battlefront of no more than 3km between the river Psel and the Storozhevoye Woods.”

He leaves out the involvement of Totenkopf and Das Reich in that fight, and the fact that Totenkopf engaged the XVIII Tank Corps to some degree and Das Reich clearly was engaged with significant parts of the XXIX Tank Corps, especially in and around the Storozhevoye Woods. This does distort the picture.

In addition he focuses on destroyed tanks. Clearly the Germans lost more tanks that five that day, but if you only count totally destroyed tanks, it does give a distorted figure.

So, in the end, he ends up with 5 tanks lost versus 200+. I ended up with an estimated 19 versus 155 for the same fight. This is not a big difference. We are quibbling over the details. But it would be nice to get these figures as close to real as possible. It is difficult as the locations and actions of many of the battalions this day are not exactly known. It was a large dramatic fight that people were too busy to document at the time.

There are lots of other things I could quibble about in his article, but I will pass on that for now. One thing he does that annoys me is refer to the “II SS Panzer Korps” on multiple occasions. Why the German spelling of Corps? He does not use the Russian spelling for their corps.

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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.

Articles: 1516

9 Comments

  1. Why not annotate directly over the photo? Most of the photos are not so densely populated that you cant put a little yellow arrow in there to highlight the point being made.

  2. “One thing he does that annoys me is refer to the “II SS Panzer Korps” on multiple occasions. Why the German spelling of Corps? He does not use the Russian spelling for their corps.”
    Multiple authors do that, even Russian. Dr.Zetterling uses Korps. I do not see this as a big problem. I find it far more annoying when authors employ the “we” form or “us”.

    • Personally I prefer using different notation for different countries, in order to make it easier for the reader to follow the narrative. For example, the use of panzer (for German units), armoured (for British) amored (for US) and tank (for Soviet) give the reader an additional piece of information that can, at least occasionally, make it easier to swiftly grasp the content. Perhaps Soviet units would be written in Cyrillic, but I suspect many readers would be uncomfortable with that.
      However, writing Korps in an English text when it does not refer to a specific corps, with its number, would appear odd to me.
      When I have written in Swedish, I have tried to keep the the original language when it comes to names and designations. For example, the Allied operation Dragoon in August 1944, would be Dragon in Swedish. However, “Dragon” in English means something completely different. Hence, I prefer to keep the English spelling of that code name (and all other s as well), instead if using a Swedish translation.
      Unfortunately, as Russian anyway has at least to be

      • “However, writing Korps in an English text when it does not refer to a specific corps, with its number, would appear odd to me.”
        In the article, Mr. Wheatley uses the word “Korps” 48 times, 47 times in conjunction with a unit (the exception being a subordinated clause) and the word Corps 40 times in total (e.g. Tank Corps). It is quite comprehensible if people have no sympathies for the SS, or perhaps this is rather comparable to the “metric versus imperial” debate.
        I do not know if Wheatley is biliterate and understands cyrillic, nor if his (mainly) western, Anglo-American audience cares (the exception being the Russian intelligence).

  3. Christopher,

    Firstly thank you for taking the time to read my article. I have enjoyed reading your views over the last week. I have followed your blog for a while now and I am greatly impressed with your work. As you had devoted some of your time to the subject I thought it would be nice to offer some of my thoughts on a few of the points you raised that either directly or indirectly relate to my article.

    Regarding the battlefield – or rather what constitutes the battlefield – it is rather subjective subject as you have alluded to. I focused on the 18th & 29th Tank Corps attacking sectors as that is the area commonly associated with the ‘tank field’ – as described by Rotmistrov. Just what constitutes the wider battle itself is harder to define. In determining which area to include a number of preconditions had to be met, these included: A largely static battlefield between 13-16 July – clearly defined points of reference (anti-tank ditch – Hill 252.2 & Hill 241.6), Testimony which could be matched in images and the battlefield/topography (Ribbentrop – Hill 252.2, Tigers vs 170th Tank Brigade, Panzer Jagers at Stalinsk farm, anti-tank ditch). Those conditions were not met in the other areas of the battlefield. So that meant the area covered was a straightforward choice – the main thrust of Rotmistov’s offensive. Obviously detailed statistical records for the units involved had to be available as well – of which they are for the areas covered. It must also be borne in mind that this was an article sized project and I had to operate within certain word limits (I had already been given more leeway in this regard), this limited the amount of the battlefield I could cover – in particular that of the flanks of the LSSAH.

    Regarding mentioning of your work- there are many worthwhile texts (of which yours is undoubtedly one) which I did not reference, I was following a few core texts. I contented myself in directing readers to an excellent historiography of the Kursk battle – which I knew included your work amongst others. The issue I had is that I noticed in your map of the Prokhorovka area that you did note correctly identify the location of the anti-tank ditch (p.934 in your larger Kursk book – you highlighted the nearby infantry trenches as the anti –tank ditch – which follow quite a different path), while your choice of image 060 (in wide shot) for 16 July which only includes part of the anti-tank ditch and excludes all of the 170th Tank Brigades fighting as well as part of the 25th Tank Brigade’s sector was also problematical. Unfortunately these factors meant I could not directly utilise your work.

    Having devoted two sections of my article (pp.154-57) to determining the operational level of the German tanks after the battle (i.e. write offs & damaged tanks), I do not follow your argument that I focused on German write-offs. If anything it was the additional Soviet damaged tanks which I rarely mentioned (purely due to accuracy concerns). Just to clarify none of the figures I arrived at came from counting tanks in images. They are from archival statistical documents – these can all be found in reliable secondary literature.

    Overall if you add up the German losses I included – they largely tally with your own figures – which is unsurprising as I think we all use the same small pool of sources. 16 Panzer IVs- (4 write offs) 1 Tiger (I think it is a write off- others disagree) 0 Stugs – while I was unsure re Marders so I mentioned that the II SS Panzer only lost 2 between 5 – 23 July and that these may have belonged to the LSSAH. Overall I came to the figure of 27 panzers damaged & written off combined (I added the highest number possible of repaired Pz IVs between days during Citadel – which was 10 -to cover any additional arrivals from the repair shops on the 12th). So if you wanted to ignore these latter 10 then my figures will pretty match yours.

    The figure of 235 Soviet tanks written off was for the entire 5GTA losses on 12th (which I stated on p.115 i.e. the first page of the article and elsewhere)– I didn’t reach the figures you mentioned : 235 vs 5. If you look at the Soviet losses section (pp.158-59) it clearly states the losses (given by Zamulin) for just the 18th & 29th Tank Corps’ per tank type lost (together that is 157) – as I did with the Germans tanks further up. The media has linked the 235 and 5 figures it seems. The article is clearly a study of 18th Tank Corps & 29th Tank Corps vs almost solely the LSSAH. So those are the figures to look out for – so for total losses it is 5 vs 157.

    I accept Das Reich did engage some elements of 29th Tank Corps on the 12th July. However, they were not a significant proportion of the 29th Tank Corps – or for that matter even the 25th Tank Brigade. At most it faced the remnants of 25th Tank Brigade’s 25th Tank Battalion (which almost solely operated T-70s on the 12th), this tank battalion joined the already weakened 169th Tank Brigade for a noon attack on the LSSAH/Das Reich sector. By this stage almost all the 25th Tank Brigade’s T34’s (they had been grouped together in the 25th Tank Brigade’s 362nd Tank battalion) had been lost (26 of 32) in combat with the LSSAH with almost all the supporting assault guns with them. Therefore only the remnants of 25th Tank Brigade’s 25th Tank Battalion T-70s (which in Zamulin’s words had already suffered ‘serious losses’ fighting the LSSAH in the same morning attack that decimated the 362nd Tank Battalion) remained for the noon attack on LSSAH/Das Reich positions. Sadly the 25th Tank Brigade was largely decimated before midday. Between the 25th Tank Brigade and Das Reich were the 1st SS Infantry Rgt, the Panzer Jager units (Marders) & the 1st SS StuG Battalion. In any event given that the entire 29th Tank Corps lost ‘only’ 31 T-70s between 12-16 July the number of T-70 lost in this later attack must have been small.

    The breakthrough component the 1st tank battalion of 32nd Tank brigade were reduced in the Komsomolets area by the LSSAH.

    Regarding Totenkopf – I agree the 18th Tank Corps did face fire across the river – But it is highly speculative to suggest to what degree this had an impact. There is also the question over the available fields of fire from that side of the river (for a start the area was more urbanised in 1943). But I am happy to admit this was a possibility for some tanks.

    I am sure there are some errors in my work – but I took the upmost care to ensure they were minor. The use of corps/Korps was an aid to the reader to help clearly identify which country’s units where being discussed. I also used roman numerals for the German units & numbers for the Soviets as much as possible for the same purpose.

    I think since the article’s publication it has become abundantly clear that a detailed visual study of the battlefield (matched to known statistical losses and the correct battle narrative) had been necessary.

    Best wishes,

    Ben.

  4. Dr. Wheatley,

    Thank you for the response. It will be a while before I get back to addressing all your points in your message. As it is, I have not finished addressing all the points in your original article. I do have a post coming up this Wednesday on the 31st Tank Brigade. I hope to have a post up Wednesday (the 14th) on the LSSAH Tigers. I have not completed that post yet. There may be some additional posts on your original article. This all takes time, and my objective for today was to start work on my next book.

    In the end, it is difficult to sort out the details of this battle because of the poor documentation. Your photo recon analysis is a nice addition to this narrative. I will attempt to respond in detail to your message over the next few weeks. Forgive the delayed response.

    • Thanks Christopher. As I said, I am sure I would have made some mistakes along the way, but the overall goal of my article was to provide further clarity to the largely recognised post Cold-war narrative. I think that at least was achieved.

      • Well, the recon photo analysis is a very nice addition. But…we do want to make sure we do not confuse the narrative or over-emphasis certain aspects (i.e. the battle was won because of a tank ditch). In the end, if there are differences in the accounts, I kind of either need to roll-up my sleeves and go through each and every difference; or ignore the account entirely. Yours was obviously significant enough that I felt I needed to go through it. Hopefully the process is not too bruising for either of us.

  5. Dr. Wheatley!
    Unfortunately, I can’t see the aerial photographs and maps attached to your article about the battle of Prokhorovka. I purchased your article approx. years ago, as far as I remember, for $ 44, but photos and pictures (maps) do not open. What can be done? Thank you in advance.
    Lev Niv, Israel

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