Panzer Grenadier Battles on December 13th:
Arctic Front Deluxe #4 - Gathering Darkness Little Saturn #5 - Back to the Don
Heroes of the Soviet Union #3 - The Bloodiest Fight Red Warriors #20 - The Bloodiest Fight
The Myths of Kursk
by Retiredgrunt17, 2017-11-17

Having played through about half of, and through the different areas of Kursk: Burning Tigers and studied the battle a bit, I have a few observations on some of the common myths of the battle and how I feel Panzer Grenadier correctly addresses them. My sources for statistical and operational data are credited to Glantz and Zamulin who have written the best and most accurate books to date. David Glantz himself is the recognized premier expert on the Eastern Front.

Myth 1) Kursk was the biggest tank battle in WW2, specifically Prokorovka.

The number of tanks utilized between the Germans and the Soviets exceeded 6,000 in the area of Kursk. However, this was all across the Kursk front from Orel to Belgorod. The largest single tank engagement was Prokorovka, but it encompassed less than 1,000 tanks (less than 300 German and approximately 650 Soviet).

At the Battle of Dubno/Brody on June 26, 1941, the Soviets attacked the Germans on a 70 kilometer front with 2,000 tanks. The Germans in Panzer Group 1 had 1,000.

Tactically, the Battle of Prokorovka ended in a draw as neither side achieved their objectives. Both sides had gone in to the attack, with both spearheads meeting and no ground gained or yielded. This was partially due to the Germans having seized the Soviet jump off positions on July 11, causing the Soviets to rework their plan on the fly. Their was no great victory, as German losses were minimal at best, with irrecoverable losses at 3. This was due to the Germans having control of the field of battle, and able to recover damaged/knocked machines. The Soviets lost nearly 400 tanks and assault guns, a higher percentage of them destroyed than the Germans, due to the effectiveness of better German guns and fire control. In fact, the Soviet commander, Rotmistrov, faced investigation by the Stavka for the horrendous losses his tank army sustained. He was saved by inflated reports of inflicted German losses, as well as the German offensive being halted.

Part of the myth can be attributed to the Soviet proclamation of Kursk being a giant tank battle that the Soviets won. Brody/Dubno would be a battle the Soviets would like to push back from memory. Their tanks in this battle were inferior, their crews untrained and their army soundly defeated by a greatly numerically inferior force. Uplifting Prokorovka as the biggest and the baddest, as well as a victory, would better perpetuate the grand tank battle myth.

Myth 2) Wave after wave of the superlative T-34 won the battle.

The T-34 was the most widely produced tank on the Eastern Front, that is a given. Was it the best medium tank? It was fast, could go over rough and muddy terrain, and had a gun that could defeat the Panzer III and IV at combat range. It also had well-sloped armor that early German anti-tank guns could not defeat. However, by comparison, the German Mk IV at Kursk was better armed, it had better targeting/fire control and its turret was easier for the crew to work in. The Soviets still had not been able to equip all tanks with radios, so unit control was less reliable under fire. This was evident during the battle around Oktjabrskij State Farm on July 12. When a company of Mk IVs was overrun, three of them merely turned around and followed the Soviet penetration, knocking out several Soviet tanks before the Soviets withdrew.

The Tiger I, head to head with the supposed fearsome T-34, ravaged the Soviet formations, which were in fact, not full of T-34s. Contrary to popular myth that the Soviet tanks, faster and more maneuravble, ran down the German Tigers and killed them, facts bore out the truth. On July 5-6, two companies of the 505th Heavy Panzer Detachment destroyed 111 Soviet tanks for the loss of 3 Tigers. Glantz noted that Rotmistrov’s tank army at Prokorovka fielded 270 T-70s, a light tank comparable with the American Stuart. When Rotmistrov spoke of Kursk and Prokorovka in particular, he mentioned the field full of burning and exploding tanks. What he didn't say was that most of them were Soviet.

Myth 3) The emboldened Soviets stood like a brick wall against a beaten and dispirited German attacker.

During the German summer offensives of 1941 and 1942, the Germans had ripped into the operational Soviet defenses and had achieved operational success. They had destroyed the entire Eastern Front in 41 and in 42 and torn large gaps in the southern wing prior to Stalingrad. The German soldiers themselves, though understandably tired, were confident. They had managed to breach the main Soviet lines, and were keen to do it again. At the command staff level, the Germans were less confident. German divisions were given more to do with less. The typical German infantry division had 9 infantry battalions in 1941. By the time of Kursk they were reduced to 6, yet given the same types of assignments. This was due to Hitler’s mingling in affairs of which he knew little. When he invaded the Soviet Union, compared to the invasion of France, he had nearly doubled the amount of panzer divisions, yet didn't have the production to fill them all. So he had more divisions, but they were less well-equipped.

The same went for the infantry at Kursk. What the Germans suffered from was a lack of infantry. Yes, they did receive about 50,000 casualties at Kursk, but they still nearly broke through in the south. They were stopped cold in the north, but the casualty figures are pretty astounding, even given the Soviet generals' lack of care towards casualties. During the defensive operation of Kursk, the Soviets lost 177,000 casualties. This figure would not equate with an attacker of low morale, already beaten, attacking a much higher morale defender. Instead of the Soviets shooting the hapless Germans to pieces, it was the other way around. Ultimately it was a logistical victory, much like Montgomery at El Alamein. When you have more to throw away, sooner or later the other side grinds down.

Other events also contributed to the Germans halting the attack at Kursk, and nothing should be taken away from the bravery of the Soviets also, but the Germans, at many points along the Kursk front, achieved tactical success and managed to get through several layers of the Soviet defense.

From Steel to Cardboard

So, given the wealth of information provided by Glantz and Zamulin that goes contrary to some of the Kursk myths, how does Kursk: Burning Tigers address them? It does so very well. In most of the scenarios, the Soviets have near parity with the Germans in infantry. The Germans can gain ground and make holes in the Soviet lines, but often at the expense of not having the numbers needed to secure their flanks, as was often the case in the actual battle. The Soviet infantry and supporting weapons often can greatly impede or stop forward movement.

The Soviet armor is well represented in the orders of battle. The Soviets do not have wave after wave of T-34s. In fact, many scenarios have the T-70 in numbers. Even when the Soviets do have higher numbers, the German armor efficiency affects combat in the same manner as the superior German training did. The Soviet armor performs adequately against the German Mk IIIs and often the Mk IVs. But against the Tiger and Panther (and Ferdinand) the Soviet armor is shredded at range. The Panther had little impact offensively at Kursk, but it can have an impact in KBT scenarios with its armor and firepower. That's of course, if it can avoid mechanical losses.

I have found that there is a near parity in some scenarios, though only if many "what ifs" happen and at the right time. In some scenarios "if" the Germans had more time, they would have achieved better results, or "if" the Soviets had reserves like they had at Kursk, outcomes would have been different. But that's where it becomes such a good, realistic game and experience. With almost any given scenario if one or two things are done differently, a combat result goes one way or the other, circumstances change.

I think KBT has grasped the heart of the Kursk battles well and I will continue to recommend it to war gamers interested in the battle.

~ Retiredgrunt17