Who all was facing the XVIII Tank Corps?

The discussion in the previous blog post was about the appearance in Dr. Ben Wheatley’s article that somehow four Tiger tanks appear to stop two attacking Soviet tank brigades. There clearly was more than that in the area defending:

So What Were the LSSAH Tigers Doing?

So, who all was there?

Well, we don’t really know. This is one of the mysteries of the battle. The XVIII Tank Corps ran into significant resistance, and it appears that some of that resistance was in place along the Psel River. Yet we actually do not know which units were resisting.

According to Ben Wheatley’s article, there was one regiment of the Totenkopf SS Division south of the Psel (6th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment). Hard to imagine that elements of it were not engaged this day. Also I am not sure where LSSAH’s 2nd SS PzGr Regiment left flank was. I assume it went to the Psel. Finally there were the recon battalions and engineer battalions of both divisions. The Totenkopf engineer battalion was probably in the area, as the bridges for the armor to cross the Psel were placed west of Bogoroditskoye on the afternoon of the 11th. So there may have been two or three battalions in the area of XVIII Tank Corps attack that morning, along with their antitank assets. There may have been other armor in the area.

The LSSAH had five groups of armor assets:

  1. II Panzer Bn of three companies (facing XXIX Tank Corps)
  2. An unidentified ersatz panzer battalion or the eighth medium panzer company.
  3. The Assault Gun Battalion of 10-20 StuG IIIs.
  4. The Self-propelled Anti-tank Battalion (the Marders).
  5. The heavy panzer company of 4 Tigers.

See:

Panzer Battalions in LSSAH in July 1943

Panzer Battalions in LSSAH in July 1943 – II

I do note that Dr. Wheatley does mention an eighth medium tank company in his account (“Therefore, Leibstandarte began Citadel with a panzer regiment containing a single panzer battalion consisting of four medium companies.”). He then disappears it later (“In reality, the regiment consisted of only one battalion of three companies of Pz IVs (it began the offensive with four companies and 79 operational Panzer IVs“). Not sure what the basis is for this disappearance of the medium panzer company.

So, we know where the II Panzer Bn with its three companies were and we know that the heavy panzer company moved to the left flank to ht. 241.6. We do not know where some of the other division assets are.

We have the same problem with Totenkopf. They have five groups of armor assets:

  1. I Panzer Bn of three companies (two medium and one light)
  2. II Panzer Bn of three companies (two medium and one light)
  3. The Tiger company of 11 Tigers
  4. The Assault Gun Battalion of 21 Stug IIIs
  5. The Self-propelled Anti-tank Battalion (the Marders)

We only know for certain where the Totenkopf Tigers were, which were near ht. 226.6 firing on the XVIII Tank Corps. We believe both tank battalions were also north of the Psel.

And then there is the infantry and their supporting guns and antitank guns. Both of these divisions had two infantry regiments for three battalions. One battalion of the LSSAH was forward on hill 252.2. The other two, I assume were back in a line going up the Psel. The division also had the reconnaissance battalion and an engineer battalion. I do not know where they were during the battle.

Totenkopf also had two infantry regiments, one recon battalion and an engineer battalion. According to Wheatley, one regiment (6th SS) was south of the Psel. It probably was helping cover the left flank of the division, but do not know where all its battalions were. It also probably had elements across the Psel. It is reported on the 11th that the Eicke (6th) SS Regiment penetrated into the section of Vasilyevka north of the Psel. The other regiment was probably north of the Psel. The division’s recon battalion may have been south of the Psel. It was reported at the 10th to be at 1.5 kilometers south of Klyuchi.

There are two German maps the battlefield. The situation map for 12 July (page 922/305) and the German intelligence map for 12 July (page 950/343). The German situation map show four arrows coming out of the XVIII Tank Corps attack area. One, with a tank figure attached, is moving along the Psel River through Mikhailovka in two “pulses.” They actually go through what appears to be a German defensive line along the Psel River on the west edge of Mikhailovka. This may have been LSSAH units. The second “pulse” of the arrow is passing beyond this position, through Andreyevka, and between two rectangles. These rectangles are blacked on their top half, perhaps to show facing. I am guessing they are German units. There is also a front line south of the Psel and west of Andreyevka. This line is stopping the Soviet advance arrow. There is another line to the south of it. Both of these positions appear to be inside the Totenkopf SS Division boundary as the division boundaries are marked on the map. Also marked on the map in the area is “1 Rgt”, which may mean the 1st regiment of Totenkopf (5th SS PzGr Rgt) or the 1st regiment of LSSAH (1st SS PzGr Rgt).

Another arrow shows armor turning off from Mikhailovka to the south. There is then a tank symbol and the second arrow then heads to the southeast. That arrow goes right next at “AA1” which I gather is the LSSAH Reconnaissance Battalion. At the Komsomolets Sovkhoz is the battalion headquarters of the antitank battalion. This last marking may not be that significant as the unit’s antitank companies were often distributed out to the infantry battalions. The artillery regiment headquarters is shown well to the rear at Teterivino.

The intelligence maps show a similar but slightly different picture. You can see on that map the line held by Totenkopf to the west of the Psel, the bridgehead to the north of the Psel River (the dashed line) and then a position just south of the Psel River that is both turning back an attack and launching an attack (this may be the attack reported in the Soviet records). You do see two arrows with tank symbols on them coming from the XVIII Tank Corps attack. One is running along the line to the southeast (which matches the situation map) and the other penetrating the German lines going almost all the way to the Sovkhoz (which is not on the situation map). It is turned back.

These two maps strongly suggest that there was an existing position along the Psel that was hit by the XVIII Tank Corps attack, and that attack then drove into Andreyevka, where it was halted by forces of Totenkopf SS Division. The other attack turned to the south, where it encountered the LSSAH recon battalion, among other forces. There is also a breakthrough (only noted on the intelligence map) that goes to the Sovkhoz where it is turned back. As there were two attacking Soviet tank brigades, and two pairs of arrows on the situation map for the 12th, then I am guessing one brigade drove into Andeyevka and the other turn to the south and southwest. This second brigade is probably part of the story recounted by George Loetzsch. It appears that the breakthrough to the Sovkhoz consisted at best of one tank brigade, and may be been only a tank battalion (otherwise it is hard to explain the three arrows on the intelligence map).

The end result was that there was probably a number of units facing the three attacking brigades (two tank brigades and the 32nd Motorized Rifle Brigade) of the XVIII Tank Corps. And we still don’t know where both division’s Sturmgeshuetz IIIs and Marders were.

This entry was posted in Eastern Front, Kursk, World War II by Christopher A. Lawrence. Bookmark the permalink.

About 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.

5 thoughts on “Who all was facing the XVIII Tank Corps?

  1. Off.
    Christopher, did you study the fighting in the Butovo area on July 4-5?
    P.S. Thanks for the article about Prokhorovka in American. The Germans did not forgive tactical mistakes.

    • Yes. My big book on Kursk (the 1,662-page one) covers all of the fighting at division-level that was part of the offense in the south from 4 to 18 July 1943. My new Prokhorovka book covers only the fighting by the SS Panzer Corps and III Panzer Corps from 9-17 July 1943.

  2. Hi Christopher,

    I noted you once asked for information on the structure of the LSSAH in July 1943 – this link will be of help to you, see Leo W.G. Niehorster 5/III p.31 for LSSAH: http://niehorster.org/011_germany/books_gwwii/index_vols.htm

    The II Panzer battalion was not over strength, rather it was a rare thing – it was on strength (following new guidelines) at the start of Citadel – it was authorised to have 4 companies (each with 22 tanks) per Pz battalion. As the Germans most favoured division this is perhaps to be expected.

    By 12th July the 8th company’s Pz IVs would have been used to bolster the ranks of the other companies – this was a common practice to maintain company strength when operational numbers dropped. The LSSAH did not have an extra battalion of tanks. Das Reich didn’t either its T-34s were in lieu of the armoured anti-tank battalion. On 12th July given the clear importance of the anti-tank ditch and the expectation of a soviet armoured counter-attack at some stage it seems entirely logical that the bulk of the operational Pz IVs were with the 5th & 7th Pz companies of the LSSAH II Pz battalion behind the ditch.

    The LSSAH left flank was not a continuous front line (which helped the 18th Tank Corps break through) there was a large gap between the LSSAH’s 2nd Pz.Gren Rgt (1st Battalion was furthest from the Prokhorovka main road in the anti-tank ditch) and Totenkopf’s 6th Pz Gren Rgt, this gap was only monitored by the LSSAH recon battalion. There were no LSSAH units reaching down to the Psel on the 12th July.

    The Tiger company (and possibly a few Pz III’s of its lingering light company) were definitely the only LSSAH armoured unit facing the 18th Tank Corps.

    The LSSAH StuG battalion was in reserve cited south of the Stalinsk farm, it later supported the LSSAH’s Marders and 1st Pz Gren Rgt around the farm area.

    • Ben,

      Thanks for the response.

      “By 12th July the 8th company’s Pz IVs would have been used to bolster the ranks of the other companies – this was a common practice to maintain company strength when operational numbers dropped.”

      Do we actually know that this is what was done and if so, how do we know that?

      “On 12th July given the clear importance of the anti-tank ditch and the expectation of a soviet armoured counter-attack at some stage it seems entirely logical that the bulk of the operational Pz IVs were with the 5th & 7th Pz companies of the LSSAH II Pz battalion behind the ditch.”

      But….on 11 July LSSAH had, by my count, operational 47 Pz IV (+7 Pz Command, 4 Pz III long, 1 Pz III short, 4 Pz IIs and 2 Pz Is). If Ribbentrop (6th company) had 7 Pz IVs as he claims, then the other two companies each still had 20 or more tanks? This seems odd. Why would you have two companies so strong, and one so weak? And then…why would you put your weakest company forward (which just happened to be commanded by the son of the German foreign minister).

      There were no LSSAH units reaching down to the Psel on the 12th July.

      Do we actually know that, and if so, how do we know that?

      If this was the case, then who makes up the line of troops in Andreyevka that is show on the German map on 12 July (see page 922/305) as being penetrated by the XVIII Tank Corps attack? Who makes up the two units shown facing each other in Andreyevka, and who makes of the line of troops shown on the western outskirts of Andreyevka that is halting the Soviet attack (see pages 922/305 and pages 950/343)? Is the reference to the 1st Rgt on the 12 July map to Totenkopf?

      The LSSAH StuG battalion was in reserve cited south of the Stalinsk farm, it later supported the LSSAH’s Marders and 1st Pz Gren Rgt around the farm area.

      I do not have that. The last mention I have of the Stalinskii Sovkhoz is it being taken on 2230 on the 11th. What is your source for that?

  3. “The Tiger company (and possibly a few Pz III’s of its lingering light company) were definitely the only LSSAH armoured unit facing the 18th Tank Corps.”

    During attack of 170th TB toward 241.6, that was before 12:00, there were 40 Pz IV lang of the 5th and 7th SS PzR LSSAH southwest of the ATditch. We dont know if they were all near to the ditch or, possibly, supporting forces fighting vs. I/32 on KSF. A part of this armour mass should have been almost at the same distance than the Tigers from lead elements of 170th. They were busy with 32nd TB coming from 252.2/OSF and/or in KSF, its true, but with support of LSSAH Artillery and of PAK40 Guns of the SS PGR 2, so i doubt that all those tanks were absorbed and static.

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