“Within the first moments of the battle two powerful avalanches of tanks moved toward each other making clouds of dust and smoke. The total of 1,500 tanks met in a battle on a small front sector in the vicinity of Prokhorovka. That tank battle was a major one in the whole history of wars, unprecedented in scale and the fiercest.”
That was the tank Battle of Prokhorovka, July 12, 1943, between the German Wehrmacht’s Panzer Army and the Soviet Fifth Guards Tank Army in the heat of the Second World War. Today, it is considered the largest tank battle in the world military history.
In the course of the Prokhorovka Battle, the German High Command planned to destroy the significant Soviet forces in the Kursk salient and recover its strategic initiative on the Eastern Front.
The major clash occurred near the small village of Prokhorovka. The place wasn’t even on maps before it had become one of the most crucial points in the battle.
At 8:30 A.M., the Nazi troops, with up to 500 tanks and assault guns, launched the offensive.
After a brief preparatory break, the Russian Fifth Guards Tank Army with over 800 tanks, under General Rotmistrov, attacked the Nazi grouping.
Marshal Pavel Rotmistrov recalls:
“A spacious field near Prokhorovka seemed to be too narrow for such a great number of belligerents. The battle lasted till late at night. Upon entering the battle, tanks had formed a close-knit gigantic knot, which they were unable to disentangle. On the battlefield, hundreds of tanks and self-propelled guns were burning, noise from the caterpillar tracks was terrible, shells hit the armor, and many of them flew aside, squealing.”
The Soviet soldiers demonstrated their outstanding courage at the Prokhorovka battlefield. Armed with nothing but anti-tank grenades, they rushed toward the avalanche of German tanks. Unprotected under the shower of bullets and grenades, they crawled to the enemy tanks and threw grenades at them.
Many Russians and Germans perished in the explosions. The numbers of losses are still debated. The estimated losses are the following:
Soviet: 2,000-10,000 people; 300+ tanks.
German: 800-10,000 people; 70-200 tanks.
In total, neither side has achieved their objectives. However, for the Red Army, the Battle of Prokhorovka was a good propaganda. Instead of a handful of anti-tank grenades, the Germans were confronted by modern tanks. This made the German army reconsider its further tactics.
The Prokhorovka battle marked the start of the Hitler’s major defeat. The crippled Panzer Corps wasn’t able to fully recover from the huge losses during the battle. From that point on, the strategic initiative was taken over by the Red Army until the end of the war.