So did the Soviet 31st Tank Brigade attack on the morning of 12 July 1943?

In the thirty-fifth paragraph of Ben Wheatley’s article he states that “The 32nd and 31st Tank Brigades advanced with the railway embankment on their left flank and the Oktiabrskiy State Farm (and the surrounding area) on their right flank (See Figures 4-7).” See: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/16161262.2019.1606545

This is news to me. Perhaps because such an attack by the 31st Tank Brigade on the morning of 12 July 1943 is not clearly reported by the Fifth Guards Tank Army or XXIX Tank Corps in the Soviet unit records that I have. To quote from their records:

XXIX Tank Corps (Combat Report #74, 1900, July 12, 1943):

31st TBde is attacking behind 32nd TBde to the right of the highway in the direction of Kosomolets Sovkhoz-ht. 258.2-Luchki-Bolshie Mayachki. By 1400 the brigade had reached the area 1 km northwest of the Oktyabrkii Sovkhoz.

XXIX Tank Corps (Combat Report #75, 2400, July 12, 1943):

31st TBde, upon reaching the northeastern outskirts of the Oktyabrskii Sovkhoz, was delayed by the enemy’s artillery and mortar fire and by his ceaseless air activity. Four enemy tank and artillery counterattacks on the Okyabrskii Sovkhoz were repulsed. Losses: 20 T-34s and 18 T-70s knocked out and burned. Tanks in line: 3, with the location and condition of the remained being investigated. 

Fifth Guards Tank Army’s Combat Activities from July 7-24, 1943 (compiled September 30, 1943 by army commander Lt. General Rotmistrov and military council member Maj. General Grishin):

The corps was deeply echeloned: 32nd TBde was on the right flnak in the first echlon; 31st TBde was in the second echelon, attacking in the Krasnyi Oktyabr-Ht. 242.5-Komsomolets Sovkhoz direction….53rd MotRBde attacked behind 32nd and 25th Tank Brigade along the railroad in the direction of the Komsomolets Sovkhoz.

The next sentence of this report claims: “The enemy also launched his main blow along the railroad toward Prokhorovka, hoping to break the resistance of our units and take Prokhorovka from the march.” This is, of course, not correct. It then states:

At 1300 32nd and 31st Tank Brigades, following a fierce meeting engagement with enemy tanks along the approaches of the road south of the Okyabrskii Sovkhoz, were halted by strong enemy tank and AT fire, as well as by aerial bombardment; the brigades went over to the defensive along this line and repulsed four strong tank counterattacks, which results in heavy enemy losses.

Needless to say, this paragraph is not entirely correct either.

I also checked Zamulin and he has does have a little more detail on the 31st Tank Brigade’s operations. To quote:

Colonel S. F. Moiseev’s 31st Tank Brigade was supposed to follow it [32nd Tank Brigade], but Moiseev’s battalions were slow in moving into the jumping-off positions (page 310)…Immediately after 1000, at the moment when the second echelon of Kirichenko’s 29th Tank Corps (the 31st Tank Brigade) entered the battle, the Germans began an intensified bombardment of the assault wedges of both our tank corps east of the Oktiabr’skii State Farm (page 317)….The situation in the 31st Tank Brigade at the start of the attack received only a brief description in combat documents: ‘The pace of the offensive has slackened; the brigade has begun to mark time in place.’ (pages 317-318)….[quoting from a corps account] ‘b) The 31st Tank Brigade: At 0830 following the signal (the rocket artillery salvo), the attack of the tanks and infantry began without artillery preparation or air cover…The tanks suffered heavy losses from the enemy’s artillery fire and aviation…At 1030 the tanks reached the border of the Oktiabr’skii State Farm. Further advance was stopped by the ceaseless influence of the enemy’s aviation.’ (page 319)….[and quoted from the brigades political officer] The large losses, especially in equipment, and the insufficiently active advance of our brigade by the strong influence of the enemy’s aviation….and the enemy’s strong artillery and mortar fire….The long presence of the tanks and personnel in their starting positions (eight hours) allowed the enemy….’ (page 319)…The brigade commander [32nd Tank Brigade] moved up into the first echelon, bringing with him the 277th and 278th Battalions of the 31st Tank Brigade and directing the remnants of that brigade toward the State Farm at top speed. (page 321)…at 1300 the tanks of the 181st, 32nd and 31st Tank Brigades, together with the infantry of the 136th Guards Rifle Regiment finally broke into the Oktiabr’skii State Farm (page 327)….”

So, it does not appear from Zamulin that the 31st Tank Brigade participated in the initial attack either. It also does not appear that the 31st Tank Brigade advanced much beyond Oktyabrskii Sovkhoz, if at all. This does contradict some Soviet maps of XXIX Tank Corps operations (which the map in this blog post is drawn from…see page 321 of the Prokhorovka book).

Just to confuse the discussion Zamulin then states (page 327):

At 1300….broke into the Oktiabr’skii State Farm. Having finally overrun the first line of antitank defense on Hill 252.2, a group of 29th Tank Corps tanks poured down the hill’s southwestern slopes in pursuit of the retreating enemy in the direction of the Komsomolets State Farm. But after several hundred meters of the chase, something happened which shocked their crews. Several T-34s, moving in the lead at high speed, suddenly vanishing into the deep anti-tank ditch.

Note that most other accounts have Soviet T-34s driving into the ditch in the morning. There are no footnotes or sources indicated for this paragraph.

The 31st Tank Brigade was deployed in second echelon behind the 32nd Tank Brigade. In Soviet doctrine, they usually attacked with the first echelon and held the second echelon until they could see how the battle was developing. Advancing behind the first echelon force of the 32nd and 25th Tank Brigades was the 53rd Motorized Rifle Brigade. The tank ditch in question was one to one-half kilometers to the south, southwest and west of Oktyabrskii Sovkhoz (see pages 934 or 323 of my books for the map). So, where did this claim for an attack on the morning of the 12 July by both the 32nd and 31st Tank Brigades come from?

 

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P.S. One final note from the 30 September report by Rotmistrov and Grishin:

Losses suffered by Fifth Guards Tank Army in battle, July 12-24, 1943:

T-34s: 276

T-70s: 128

Mk-4 Churchill: 11….

122mm self-propelled gun: 14

76mm self-propelled gun: 10…

Killed, wound, missing: 14,393 men

.

Losses Inflicted on the Enemy by Fifth Guards Tank Army, July 12-24, 1943

1. Tanks: 454 (including Tigers: 53)

2. Self-propelled guns: 20….

16. Killed and wounded: 15,164

17. Captured: 146

 

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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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7 Comments

  1. From Toeppel, Roman. Kursk 1943: The Greatest Battle of the Second World War (Modern Military History) . Helion and Company.

    ‘According to Soviet combat reports, Rotmistrov radioed the signal to attack at 0830, whereupon the 18th and 29th Tank Corps at once began their advance. However, this is unlikely, as German combat messages reported that the first Soviet tanks reached Hill 252.2 only at 1015 Moscow time, which, in turn, is in agreement with a report from the Soviet 31st Tank Brigade advancing behind the 32nd Tank Brigade, which states: ‘At 1030 the tanks reached the area of the Oktyabrskiy Sovkhoz.’75 It seems absurd that it took the Soviet tanks almost two hours to drive the few kilometres from their assembly area at Prokhorovka to the forward German lines at said Sovkhoz (on Hill 252.2). It is more likely that the Soviet commanders wanted to allow their soldiers some rest before the operation and then launched the attack at 1000 Moscow time, as initially scheduled.’

    Footnote 75 reads: Otchët o boevykh deystviyakh 29 tankovogo korpusa za period s 7.7. po 24.7.1943 g. [Report on the operations of the 29th Tank Corps, 7 July to 24 July 1943], p. 4, copy from the document collection (‘Materialsammlung’) of the ZMSBw.

  2. I am not to sure how; ‘b) The 31st Tank Brigade: At 0830 following the signal (the rocket artillery salvo), the attack of the tanks and infantry began without artillery preparation or air cover’, leads to the conclusion that ‘it does not appear from Zamulin that the 31st Tank Brigade participated in the initial attack either’? The timing of the 31st Tank Brigade’s attack and the lack of artillery preparation leads me to the opposite conclusion.

    You seemed to have overlooked the most important part of the 31st Tank Brigade’s political officer quote. He also stated the 31st Tank Brigade like the 32nd Tank Brigade began the offensive without artillery preparation.

    ‘The insufficiently active advance of our brigade are explained by the strong influence of the enemy’s aviation given our aviation’s lack of support for the offensive, and the enemy’s strong artillery and mortar fire, in contrast to our very weak artillery preparation at the moment of attack’.

    As we know this matches German testimony that stated the start of the offensive caught some of the Germans off-guard asleep on Hill 252.2 – i.e. they were not woken by a barrage. So both full quotes from Zamulin in fact indicate the 31st Tank Brigade was part of the initial offensive alongside (or just behind) the 32nd Tank Brigade’s.

    Quote for the 32nd Tank Brigade reads ‘… a) The 32nd Tank Brigade: At 0830 12.07.43 without working over the enemy’s forward edge of defence with artillery and aviation… attacked the enemy in the direction along the railroad line in a sector up to 900 meters wide’.

  3. Ben, check page 318 of Zamulin. He does state for the 31st Tank Brigade that:

    The movement of the 32nd Tank Brigade from its line of deployment (in the area of the brick factory) began at approximately 0840-0845; approximately an hour later, the battalions of the 31st Tank Brigade moved out, and tanks from both brigades neared the borders of the Oktyabrskii State Farm at approximately 1030. I repeat: they didn’t break into the State Farm at that time — this didn’t occur until 1300 — but they closed to within firing range of the State Farm, approximately 500 metres from its outskirts, where antitank guns of Leibstandartes 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment were dug-in….Thus, the first echelon of the 18th and 29th Tank Corps ran into a wall of fire. For the next two hours of the attack, the 31st and 32nd Tank Brigades advanced approximately 1.2 to 1.5 kilometers. How can one speak of any “pace of the offensive” here!

    Note that this account does contradict Ribbentrop (which he earlier quotes) and he later has the Soviet tanks hitting the tank ditch after 1300 (on page 327). There is no footnoting or sourcing of this paragraph. As it is, I am guessing that if he gives a time, then he got the times from some primary source. Not sure about the accuracy of the rest of the account.

    • Hi Christopher, I am not to sure how Zamulin came to his conclusions regarding the attack timing – mainly how long it took to reach the Oct state farm. This backs up Toeppel’s view regarding a 10:00-ish start as the Germans said they first came into contact with the Soviet’s around then. The Oct state farm & Hill 252.2 were the first point of contact with the Germans for the Soviets on the 12th July this was the German front-line. As Toeppel said it seems impossible that the Soviets took so long to reach the Germans at the farm & Hill 252.2 from a 08:30 start (launched nearby) against no opposition to that point.

      As we have discussed I am understandably not sure when the attack began – but I am certain whenever it did start the attack relatively swiftly bypassed the Germans in the Oct state farm (this was temporarily taken by the Soviets later) & at the same time ran through them on Hill 252.2 to reach the anti-tank ditch (numbers of tanks doing so being much greater with the 32nd Tank Brigade nearer the railway line as it had a clear run to the ditch). This fits with Ribbentrop’s & others testimony & the Soviet reports of the launching of the attack by 32nd & 31st Tank Brigades (in my first reply – at the same time with no artillery support at the time of the start of the offensive at 08:30).

      As we know the pictures in my article validate Ribbentrop’s narrative at Hill 252.2 & the ditch. The tanks he first fires at beyond the crest of Hill 252.2 are probably from the 31st Tank Brigade as it nears the Oct state farm’s approaches.

      • Well, there are parts of Zamulin’s narrative that give me heartburn. My suspicion is that he accepted the narrative that they did not take Oktyabrskii Sovkhoz until 1300 and from there had to distort timing and move events to fit that narrative. This is why he has the tank ditch not being hit until after 1300 and has the LSSAH reconnaissance battalion and artillery overrun from 1430-1600 (I have a post going up tomorrow on this). I suspect he got the account garbled.

        ” – but I am certain whenever it did start the attack relatively swiftly bypassed the Germans in the Oct state farm (this was temporarily taken by the Soviets later) & at the same time ran through them on Hill 252.2 to reach the anti-tank ditch”

        This is also what it appears to be to me. Elements of the attack may have never gotten past Oktyabrskii Sovkhoz and it was also an issue for the XVIII Tank Corps. I am guessing that the surviving attack then fell back on Octyabrskii Sovkhoz and then they gathered around it to take it by 1300 (Moscow time). I suspect that ended most operations for the day.

        “(numbers of tanks doing so being much greater with the 32nd Tank Brigade nearer the railway line as it had a clear run to the ditch).”

        We do need to get a count on those tanks, if possible. We know what the 32nd and 31st Tank Brigade lost. It would be Interesting to see what was lost where (how many at the tank ditch vice how many around Oktyabrskii Sovkhoz). This would go a long ways towards clearing up the narrative.

        “This fits with Ribbentrop’s & others testimony &….”

        Well, Ribbentrop never gave a tank count. His story would be the same whether he was overrun by one or two brigades.

        “….the Soviet reports of the launching of the attack by 32nd & 31st Tank Brigades (in my first reply – at the same time with no artillery support at the time of the start of the offensive at 08:30).”

        Except there was. They just claimed it was weak (which is what they say). Do I need to find the quoted passages on this? But there was a Soviet artillery barrage on or about 0830. I do suspect that the German artillery was quite significant and effective, which is why they are complaining about it and complaining about their poor artillery support. I do have some statistics on the weight of fire during the Belgorod offensive. It is on pages 1375-1378 of my original book.

        “The tanks he first fires at beyond the crest of Hill 252.2 are probably from the 31st Tank Brigade as it nears the Oct state farm’s approaches.”

        Not sure how you determined it was the 31st Tank Brigade.

        • The last point is a supposition based on the fact that the 32nd Tank Brigade attacked by the railway line and the 31st Tank Brigade attacked with the Oct state farm in its path. (Ribbentrop first aimed at tanks in front of the farm to his left).

          ‘Weak’ re 31st Tank Brigade may be diplomatic language for non existent or negligible. The 32nd Tank Brigade quoted above said there was no artillery preparation of the German positions.

          Tank numbers relate to those near to tank ditch’s bridge area nearer the road (this was directly in the 32nd Tank Brigade’s path with no obstacles). 31st Tank Brigade path was hampered by the state farm. So even if both tank brigade’s began the offensive at the same time the 32nd tank Brigade would have reached the tank ditch first – with all that entailed in terms of unexpected losses.

          I agree with you regarding the development of the attack after the first tanks reached the ditch. That they than did what they could after the initial disaster and took the state farm – I am not sure of the timing of when the took the ditch.

          May I ask what numbers you have for the tank losses per Tank Brigade – the 31st & 32nd? I only have accurate figures for the 29th Tank Corps as a whole.

          • May I ask what numbers you have for the tank losses per Tank Brigade – the 31st & 32nd? I only have accurate figures for the 29th Tank Corps as a whole.

            I’ll have to get back to with a blog post on this, probably next Tuesday. The strength and losses are reported and updated in multiple reports. The Kursk Data Base only tracks losses at division-level (and tank and mechanized corps level).

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