So What Were the Assault Guns Doing at Prokhorovka?

There were three assault gun battalions in the SS Panzer Corps at Prokhorovka, one in each of the three SS Panzer Grenadier Divisions (Leibstandarte, Das Reich, Totenkopf). They all started the offensive (on 4 July) with 34, 33 and 28 Sturmgeschuetz IIIs (in that order). These “tanks” were armed with the 75mm L48 guns (the same as the Panzer IVs) and has 80mm of frontal armor (which is more than the Panzer IVs, which had 80mm for the glacis but only 50mm for the turret).

As of the evening of 11 July I have them with 10 operational in the Leibstandarte (with one destroyed and 9 damaged that day), 27 operational in Das Reich (with one destroyed that day), and 21 operational in Totenkopf. So where were they and what did they do this day?

Well, according to multiple Russian accounts, there were some assault guns opposite the XVIIII Tank Corps. This is specifically stated as follows:

From: Combat Report #38, 0330, July 13, 1943

In attempting to reach the Belgorod highway, XVIII Tank Corps unexpectedly ran into the enemy’s well-organized resistance, which featured buried tanks and assault guns along the line ht. 217.9-ht. 241.6

From: Account of 18th TC’s Combat Activities, July 12-24 1943:

By the end of the day the enemy attempts a frontal tank attack from the Kozlovka-Greznoye area, with the simultaneous attempt bypass the corps; units from the Kozlovka-Polezheyva direction, using Tiger tanks and self-propelled guns and intensively bombarding our lines from the air.

XVIII Tank Corps encountered the enemy’s well-organized and powerful anti-tank defense, consisting of tanks and assault guns along the line of ht. 217.9-ht. 241.6.

From: Operational Report #1, 1900, July 12, 1943, 5th GTA

At 1400 the corps repulsed an enemy counterattack by 50 tanks from the Bororoditskiye area, and by 13 “Tigers” from the area of ht. 226.6

The Corps’ further advance was contained by the enemy’s powerful artillery and mortar fire from the Greznoye area, and by tank fire from the Bogoroditskoye area.

From: Operational Report #2, 0700, July 13, 1943, 5th GTA

18th TC, with 80th Gds Mortar Rgt, by the end of July 12 had taken the eastern outskirts of Vasilyevka, but its further advance was halted by the enemy’s artillery and tank from the area of the western outskirts of Vasilyevka. The corps is on the line Petrovka-Mikhalovka and has consolodated and is regrouping.

From: 5th Guards Tank Army’s Combat Activities from July 7-24, 1943 (compiled September 30, 1943)

In Andreyevka 181st TBde met a large column of enemy tanks. As a result of the battle that followed, the Germans suffered heavy casualties and were thrown back on Kozlovka.

The corps, on the line ht. 279.9-3 km southwest of Kozlovka-ht. 241.6, encountered heavy enemy fire resistance from assault guns, tanks buried in the ground, and fierce aerial bombardment, which made any further advance impossible.

This is all discussed in this post:

So What Were the LSSAH Tigers Doing?

According to Ben Wheatley, the Leibstandarte SS Assault Gun Battalion was in reserve south of the Stalinskii Sovkhoz and later supported the LSSAH Marders and 1st PzGrRgt around the farm area. This locale is a little over 3 kilometers from ht. 241.6 where the Tigers are. Waiting for the source on this, but if so, then the LSSAH assault gun battalion is accounted for.

The Das Riech SS Assault Gun Battalion was operating with Das Reich, so out of the area of our discussion right now (which is the XVIII and XXIX Tank Corps attack).

The location of the Totenkopf SS Assault Gun Battalion is not given in any of the material I have. It may have been on the north side of the Psel River. These panzer grenadier divisions often lumped the assault gun battalions with the reconnaissance battalion. The Totenkopf reconnaissance battalion was at one point on the division left (west) flank and south of the Psel, but not sure where it was on this day.

Also of note, the Leibstandarte reconnaissance battalion ended up defending (and being penetrated) by the attacking Soviet tanks of the XVIII Tank 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.

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6 Comments

  1. In addition tot he armor you noted, the Stug III are also ~ 1.25′ less height than the ~ 8’10” Pzkfw IV. So you have ~20% less area to hit if they are head on. There was a shell trap that would get covered over with concrete in some cases (not sure if it was all versions), but given the optics available to the Soviets, good luck taking advantage of that.

    As an anti-tank platform (or as direct artillery support for infantry) they were a pretty nasty platform to deal with.

  2. Hi Christopher,

    For the reference relating to the location of the LSSAH StuG Abt see Toeppel, Roman. ‘Kursk 1943’.

    ‘To the north of Storozhevoe, the remaining tanks of the 25th Tank Brigade come upon the assault gun battalion of the Leibstandarte, which was not expecting to see action that morning: ‘We were held in reserve (Eingreifreserve) and were only employed when our spearhead troops were retreating’, a gun commander later recalled.* But within just a short time, the assault guns were ready for combat. Repelling the Soviet tank attack, they mounted a counterattack to eliminate the threat to the Leibstandarteʼs flank and close the gap between their own division and its neighbouring division, Das Reich’.

    * Letter from Fritz Henke to the author, 3 November 1999. (Part 2 – footnote 79.)

    Looking again at the structure of the LSSAH & the II SS Panzer Korps panzer forces. See p.52 of Jentz, Thomas Panzer Truppen Vol.2:

    ‘On 1 May 1943, the panzer-regiments of LSSAH, Das Reich & Totenkopf were ordered to reorganize. Personnel from one Abteilung from both SS-Panzer-Regiment 1 & 2 were to be sent back to Germany to create two Panther-Abteilungen. The remaining elements of the Panzer-Regiments were to be reorganized and filled with 75 newly issued PzIV, so that: Totenkopf would have a Panzer-Regiment with two Abteilungen each with two mittlere and one leichte panzer-Kompanien, LSSAH would have a reinforced Panzer-Abteilung with four mittlere Panzer-Kompanien, and Das Reich would have one Panzer-Abteilung with two mittlere and two leichte Panzer-Kompanien and one Abteilung with two T34-Kompanien and one leichte Panzer-Kompanie’.

    The chief take-away from this being that the LSSAH was authorised to have a stronger panzer Abteilung than the other two SS Divs. While Das Reich’s T34 Abteilung was authorised as far back as May 1943 – meaning this was no ad-hoc formation- which in turns means no other SS panzer Abteilungen would have been formed during Citadel without authorisation.

    It is also interesting to note that on 14 June 1943, the OKH GenStdH/Org.Ab. ordered the reorganization of the Panzer-Regiments and Panzer-Abteilungen of the Ostheers as follows: ‘It is expected that it will be possible to fill every Panzer-Abteilung in all Panzer-Divisions in the Ost-Heers with 96 Panzers (mostly PzIV, several PzIII lang) by December 1943. In addition, it is intended that a Panther-Abteilung be created in Germany for the majority of the Panzer-Divisions. Therefore, it is necessary to reorganize the Panzer-Abteilung in the Ost-Heeres’.

    In terms of the LSSAH the SS had jump started this wide ranging reorganization of the Panzer units on the Eastern Front, as its sole operational Panzer-Abteilung would be authorised to possess a 96 strong Panzer-Abteilung prior to Citadel.

  3. Good stuff, thanks.

    A two part response. First:

    Is the location of the LSSAH Assault Gun Battalion is based upon a single veteran interview done in 1999? Is the letter quoted anywhere in depth, or only the one sentence: “‘We were held in reserve (Eingreifreserve) and were only employed when our spearhead troops were retreating”? Does Fritz Henke confirm that they were north of the Storozhevoye or the Storozhevoye woods? Not a lot of open area north of Storozhevoye (see 1:50000 scale map M-37-38-A, they are in my books).

    It does make sense that they were held in reserve, as they had suffered significant losses the previous day. I do have this engagement in Prokhorovka page 328-329 and it is covered by Zamulin pages 332-334. Zamulin’s account I gather only discusses Marders.

  4. Part Two: Nice clear explanation from Jentz. Are we sure it is correct? I have two secondary accounts claiming the existence of the 8th medium tank company. The other is Lehmann. He seems to indicate that the 8th company was created in May or June. He gives its commander officer as “Ost. Armberger.”

    Now, two secondary sources saying the same thing does not create a fact. Does Jentz indicate the source for his account?

    I still find it odd that they would create two temporary panzer battalions for Das Reich and Totenkopf but not for LSSAH even though LSSAH had more tanks.

  5. Part 1, This would have been north of the village of Storozhevoye. North of the woods would be an exposed frontline position – hardly a place to be placed in reserve. However, you would have to talk to Toeppel to be sure of the exact location.

    Part 2, Jentz is only editor of the book (as its based solely on the archives), as he mentions an order to reorganise the SS panzer units this ordered reorganisation will be from official German documents. I don’t dispute that there was a 8th LSSAH pz company at the start of the offensive (given the 83 Panzer IV’s on the LSSAH books at the start of Citadel) but this was almost certainly collapsed into the other three companies when operational levels fell (as you know there is no mention of a 8th company at Prokhorovka- this is not surprising however). Example in Normandy the 101st S.Pz.Abt collapsed its 3rd company into the other two in order to maintain company strengths – 3rd was then refitted. A regular SS/Heer practice for elite units. As mentioned LSSAH, Das Reich & Totenkopf had totally different official Pz bat structures which made the distribution of panzers described above entirely appropriate for the LSSAH (22 per company). In simple terms the LSSAH was already authorised to be operating to a fully equipped 1944 pz div formation structure (96 pz per pz bat). While Das Reich & Totenkopf were still operating to early 1943 ss pz gren norms. All were recently officially authorised to do so (May 1943). It is possible that the LSSAH pz reg was using the weakened 6th Pz company with its 7 operational pz as a localised recon company – in order to protect the strength of the two remaining nearly fully operational pz companies behind the tank ditch.

    Re a point you raised, I should think it made no difference to the command of LSSAH who the father of the 6th Pz company was when it assigned orders/unit strength.

    • I don’t dispute that there was a 8th LSSAH pz company at the start of the offensive (given the 83 Panzer IV’s on the LSSAH books at the start of Citadel) but this was almost certainly collapsed into the other three companies when operational levels fell (as you know there is no mention of a 8th company at Prokhorovka- this is not surprising however).

      Got another post going up on this subject on Tuesday.

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