Did the LSSAH have 3 panzer panzer companies, 4 panzer companies or two panzer battalions in July 1943?

This subject has been discussed here before, but I am now preparing a little write-up for Advancing Fire for their game Prokhorovka! (PROKHOROVKA! (advancingfire.com) So, as this is a controversial argument, I wanted to present it here again.

———-the write-up———————-

I am of the opinion that the LSSAH Division had more than three medium panzer (tank) companies in action that day. The location of the 5th and 7th panzer companies is known through Ribbentrop’s post-battle account where he states that the other two panzer companies in his battalion were behind the tank ditch. He later reports in his account that the other two panzer companies fired upon the advancing Soviet tanks from behind that ditch.

The LSSAH Panzer Regiment sent its I Panzer Battalion back to German before July 1943 to refit with Panther tanks. This, and other evidence, has led many to conclude the LSSAH Division on 12 July 1943 had only one operational panzer battalion consisted of three medium companies and one heavy (Tiger) company. The issue is that the LSSAH Division on 4 July had 90 Panzer III and IV tanks and 9 Panzer III Command tanks. One cannot fit all these tanks into three companies of 22 tanks each. Twenty-two tanks is the authorized strength of the panzer company and Ribbentrop states that is what his company had on 5 July 1943.

Therefore, as a minimum the LSSAH Division had an 8th company. This company is reported as being in existence on the 20th of July. It may have been in existence before 20 July 1943. It is stated in a book written in 1990 by Rudolf Lehmann, the former chief of staff of the division, that ““The 8 Kompanie did not take part in Operation Zitadelle because of an insufficient number of Panzers.” With operational 90 Panzer III and IV tanks, this statement makes no sense. The statement also indicates that the company was in existence before 20 July. If they used the 8th company, then with a panzer battalion of four medium tank companies, then this comes out to exactly 22 tanks a company, if one assigns 6 tanks to the battalion and regiment commands, ignore five spare Panzer IIIs (the Tiger companies no longer had five Panzer IIIs with them), and places the four Panzer IIs and the three Panzer Is under regimental command. There is no mention made of an 8th company on 12 July 1943.

On the other hand, there is a report (twice) in the division and corps records on the 8th of July 1943 of a I Panzer Battalion of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment. This could be a typo, except, the Das Reich SS Division also sent its I Panzer Battalion back to Germany for refit. They substituted an antitank battalion to serve in its place, so that the Das Reich SS Panzer Regiment has two battalions of seven medium panzer companies and one heavy panzer company for its 111 light and medium tanks and 12 Tigers. The Totenkopf SS Panzer Regiment has two battalions of six medium panzer companies and one heavy panzer company for its 114 light and medium tanks and 12 Tigers. The LSSAH Panzer Division records does not state how its armor was organized for June and July of 1943. It would be logical, as they were all under the same command (General Paul Hausser), that the LSSAH was also organized with two battalions of 6 to 8 medium panzer companies for its 106 light and medium tanks. This organization seems more logical than one battalion of three or four panzer companies. This would give the average tank strength of each panzer companies between 12 and 16. For the Das Reich it was an average of around 16 tanks per medium tank company and for the Totenkopf it was an average of around 19 tanks per medium tank company. Did the LSSAH do something radically different (around 30 tanks in a medium tank company) or did they match their two neighboring sister divisions?

There is the added confusion that Ribbentrop reported only 7 tanks on the 12th of July. If he started with 22, then he is looking at 68% losses over the previous week of fighting. Yet the division had 65 operational light and medium tanks (6 light and 7 Panzer III command) on the evening of 11 July. The panzer regiment’s light and medium tanks had been attrited 39%. If the 6th Panzer Company had 7 tanks, then the average of the 5th and 7th Panzer Companies would be at least 22 tanks or the average of a 5th, 7th and 8th Panzer Companies would be at least 15 tanks. Did one tank company take horrendous losses and the rest of the companies were left relatively unscathed? And if so, then why would that much weaker company be the panzer company that was left forward the night before the attack on the 12th? This argues for there being two battalions in the LSSAH Panzer Regiment and that the starting the strength of the 6th Panzer Company and all the other medium panzer companies, were really more like 16 tanks (assuming six medium panzer companies).

It is reported by the division chief of staff, Rudolf Lehmann, in his book that II Battalion commander has only 33 panzers. Other sources claim that they had around 33 panzers at hill 252.2 on the afternoon or evening of the 11th. Losses during the 12th are reported by Lehmann to be four panzers from the 6th company and one from the 7th.  So, depending on whether that figure is a count of 33 panzers from before the start of the engagement or after, it would appear that II Panzer Battalion had 33 to 37 tanks. Yet on the evening of the 11th July the division had 65 operational light and medium tanks.

It has been reported that the entire II Panzer Battalion moved up there on the 11th, and then pulled back their 5th and 7th companies, leaving the 6th company in the area of hill 252.2. The 6th Panzer Company was reported to have only 7 tanks operational on the morning of the 12th. So, II Panzer Battalion may have had three companies of 7-12 tanks each, and the battalion staff with three Panzer III Command tanks. This leaves 32 tanks unaccounted (including regimental command tanks and six light tanks). That could well be the complement of a temporary I Panzer Battalion.

So, it is not known of the LSSAH Panzer Regiment consisted of 1) one panzer battalion of three overstrength medium panzer companies and a heavy tank company, 2) one panzer battalion of four full-strength medium panzer companies and a heavy tank company, or 3) two panzer battalions of six to eight medium panzer companies and a heavy tank company. It is known that the heavy tank company, renamed recently as the 13th panzer company consisted of only four operational Tiger tanks on 12 July 1943 and started the battle in a reserve position.

——end of write-up—————————–

Just for reference:

Advancing Fire

PROKHOROVKA! (advancingfire.com)

Panzer Battalions in LSSAH in July 1943 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Panzer Battalions in LSSAH in July 1943 – II | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Summation of Open Questions on Prokhorovka | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

 

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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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