Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

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Pascal. Kullmann.
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Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Pascal. Kullmann. » 03 Mar 2021 14:14

In summer 1943 Großdeutschland was a huge division. Their performance during ZITADELLE, however, seemed to be lackluster.
I am trying to find reasons for that.

The only two sources, I have, that mention GD's rather poor perfromance are Kursk: The German View by Newton and Armor and Blood by Showalter. Newton, in the chapter Army Group South's Initial Assault: Analysis and Critique, argues that the composition of forces in the XLVIII Pzk was badly chosen: ,,Everything in General von Knobelsdorff's sector was subordinated to Grossdeutschland's effort to tear open the front of the 67th Guards Rifle Division...Appearances can be deceiving: XLVIII Panzer Corps's concentration of resources overshadowed several serious flaws (each potentially fatal)...Grossdeutschland's artillery preparation, planned and coordinated by Artillery Commander 122 and Artillery Regimental Staff (Special Employment) 70, represented a seat-of-the-pants improvisation from the very beginning."

He further notes: ,,One battalion from Panzer Regiment Grossdeutschland, as well as both battalions of Panthers, had been assigned to support the fusilier attack, and therein lay a most serious command problem...The unwieldy organization of the attack in the sector of III Battalion,
Fusiliers, must be ascribed to the division commander, Lieutenant General Walter Hoernlein, and operations officer Colonel Oldwig von
Natzmer.
Hoernlein was a beloved figure within the division, but his tactical skills more closely resembled those of Sepp Dietrich than those of
Hermann Balck. To cite only a single, telling example: On the morning of 5 July Hoernlein was not even aware of the extent of the division's ammunition shortage.
Colonel von Natzmer demonstrated outstanding tactical and operational qualifications throughout the war, yet during the preparations for Operation Citadel he appeared strangely detached from the entire planning process. During the successive June map exercises,
for instance, he is not recorded as ever having raised a single question regarding the wisdom of concentrating 250 tanks on such narrow frontage, restricted by minefields and marshy ground. And neither of these two officers challenged, before the battle opened, the unwise decision that effectively superceded their own veteran panzer commander with the unknown leader of a green unit.


The division command element simply could have done a much better job, even shackled as it was by certain constraints from higher headquarters. The fact that Hoth insisted on the entire Panther brigade being deployed in the Grossdeutschland sector did not mean that he dictated themanner in which it would be committed. As the commanders of the 3rd and llth Panzer Divisions managed, as did the commanders of all three SS panzergrenadier divisions, Hoernlein and von Natzmer could have limited the introduction of armor into the assault to tactically effective numbers, reserving the remainder to exploit breakthroughs. They also could have finessed the question of command to give von Strachwitz direct control over the first wave of panzers entering the battle."

Yet, Newton also states that ,,The attack by III Battalion, Grenadiers, by comparison, looked like a textbook example of a successful assault. Grossdeutschland's Assault Gun Battalion, Tiger company, and a company of the new eighty-ton Ferdinand(?) self-propelled antitank guns all arrived on time, allowing the infantry battalion to follow closely on the heels of the creeping barrage." and ,,What is critical to note in this prolonged consideration of the shortcomings of XLVIII Panzer Corps's Schwerpunkt attack is the fact that— even allowing for everything that went wrong—Grossdeutschland still penetrated the first line of Soviet defenses and in cooperation with llth Panzer Division seized Cherkasskoe. The 67th Guards Rifle Division was wrecked as a combat formation; Glantz and House speak of "pitiful remnants" and "depleted ranks" pulling back after dark "to the northeast and the temporary safety of the 90th Guards Rifle Division's lines along the Pena River."

Interestingly, Newton also calls the planning and coordination of the II. SS-Pzk superior to that of the XLVIII. and III. Pzk:
,,Ironically, only the Waffen SS units, often derided for a supposed lack of technical military expertise, planned meticulously enough to fight their way close to 5 July's assigned objectives. It is worth reiterating that had XLVIII and III Panzer Corps planned as carefully as Hausser and company, then the outcome of Operation Citadel might have been very different.(questionable)"(p.403)

Sadly, I don't have Nipes book Blood, Steel and Myth. But AFAIK he is very critical towards GD and especially Strachwitz.

Any thoughts on that?

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Cult Icon » 03 Mar 2021 14:33

Besides those sources there are:

-Jung, Panzerregiment G.D.
-Spaeter, Panzerkorps G.D. 1-3.

There is also a report regarding the commanders of the Panther unit, I forgot the details of. IIRC the Jung book is a minor source and advances the unfamiliarity argument. Spaeter's divisional history doesn't pass much in the way of judgement.

Many years ago I had a discussion with Lawrence who did the longest and most data intensive book on Kursk ever and his viewpoint was the opposite of the standard narrative. His argument was that the G.D. unit had a tougher sector and that G.D. inflicted more casualties than the SS. So I presume (not having read it myself) that this argument is included in his books. The full length one and the abridged:

The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Battle at Kursk, the Largest Clash of Armor in History

https://www.amazon.com/Battle-Prokhorov ... 121&sr=8-2

https://www.amazon.com/Kursk-Battle-Pro ... 182&sr=8-1

IMHO performance is a very subjective thing and not really worth tearing one's teeth over. With lawyer/rhetoric games one can prove a positive or a negative.

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Pascal. Kullmann. » 03 Mar 2021 15:14

I have read Spaeter but not Jung. It seems that GD has encountered (like the XLVII Pzk in the north) more dug in tanks. In contrast, the SS divisions seemed to be more confronted with counterattacks.

AFAIK the 67. GRD suffered 3.000+ (If I remember correctly 3.700) casualties against GD/11Pz while the 52. GRD suffered around 2.000 against LAH/DR.

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Cult Icon » 03 Mar 2021 15:39

There is also the issue of "personality" conflicts (eg. graf strachwitz, decker) being raised too.

There was also a biography about graf strachwitz that came out a few years ago:
https://www.amazon.com/Devils-General-H ... 923&sr=8-1

Decker had complained about Strachwitz's command particularly with the Panther tanks. In simplest terms they stormed the defenses with masses of mechanically unreliable Panthers with weak infantry support, which presented a target rich environment for Soviet anti-tank gunners. The mine-removing work of the engineers was also slow and gave the Soviets a breather. Graf Strachwitz never really got on with G.D. despite the unit's great success at Kharkov. He left the unit soon after.

On a side note Wunsche- who was detached from LAH with the mission of organizing SS-PzR 12 prior to Citadel- of the LAH was to do something similar in the early attacks June 6-10 1944 prior to the reversion to the defense by Rommel. His tank attacks with I./SS Panzerregiment 12 (Panther)) were allocated very weak infantry support and were unsuccessful. (a single company in one instance, and a platoon in another)

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Pascal. Kullmann. » 03 Mar 2021 15:45

,,The Graf’s stationary panzers were subjected to continuous artillery fire while the long-suffering pioneers cleared the minefields. These men performed heroic feats, clearing dangerous, sometimes booby-trapped, mines in the open under artillery and small-arms fire with little in the way of recognition or reward. On this occasion their task took ten long agonizing hours. In the meantime the neighbouring 11th Panzer Division, where von Strachwitz’s son was fighting, was making better progress. It would have frustrated von Strachwitz that the elite Grossdeutschland, reinforced as it was with the long-awaited Panthers, was going nowhere, being surpassed by an average panzer division which had started Operation Citadel with only 74 tanks. He unfairly blamed both Hörnlein and Lauchert for the failure."(Devils General, p.347)
That sums it up quite well.

To be fair, it seems that neither Decker or von Lauchert were able to to get Pz.Rgt.39 going.

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Pascal. Kullmann. » 03 Mar 2021 15:50

Cult Icon wrote:
03 Mar 2021 15:39

Graf Strachwitz never really got on with G.D. despite the unit's great success at Kharkov. He left the unit soon after.
After reading Spaeter it looks like Langkeit was much more capable.

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Cult Icon » 03 Mar 2021 16:08

I'll pass judgment as I have not read Lawrence's research however there is the issue of the Panther being a new weapon back in 43' that may have given the tank commanders too much faith in its ability to deflect fire and its ability to snipe anti-tank weapons. The impression that these tactical decisions give is that the G.D. armor commanders believed that the Panther masses, with its air and artillery support, would quickly wipe out the enemy anti-tank weapons. Maybe Decker was making excuses "I told you so" after the fact?

In retrospect, the Panther wasn't a very durable tank due to its large broadsides being easily penetrable. To use them as though they were Tiger tanks was inappropriate. Heavy Panzer Regiment Bake on the Eastern Front much later on used its Tiger battalion to "Fix" the enemy defense and the Panther battalion to "Flank".

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Pascal. Kullmann. » 03 Mar 2021 16:15

Furthermore, Strachwitz performed quite well in the baltics in 1944 and not all sources blame Strachwitz for the Panther debacle:

,,Needless to say Decker was singularly unimpressed by this turn of events and justifiably livid over the Panzer Graf’s actions. He wrote a letter of complaint to Guderian on 17 July after the offensive was over. In it he said that working with the “Panzer Lion”—another commonly used nickname for von Strachwitz—was unpleasant. He went on to say that von Strachwitz refused to answer radio calls and had acted “independently,” which was probably true. Because of von Strachwitz he had been called before von Knobelsdorff to defend his actions while von Strachwitz after taking command had employed “the Panthers outright crazily,” which was certainly not true, resulting in “mine damage.” Not mincing his words he went on, saying that his 200 Panthers had shrunk to a mere 12 due to “idiotic tactical employment.” He continued by saying that “Grossdeutschland was very reasonable” but not its commanding general, which suggests that Hörnlein, unknown to Hyazinth, must have been favouring von Strachwitz over Decker, and very probably did try to have von Strachwitz take command of the Brigade. What Decker didn’t say in his letter, however, was that two Panther battalion commanders had been replaced within two days of each other for incompetence, one of whom froze in action due to his inexperience, having to be replaced on the spot by a Captain Gabriel.
Needless to say von Strachwitz’s actions did not go over well with General Hörnlein who, despite the soundness of the decision, was justifiably angry that von Strachwitz had ignored the chain of command. It was an inexcusable breach of protocol and discipline, but it was in keeping with Graf von Strachwitz’s character, who could not tolerate fools or foolish decisions no matter from whom they came. This grated with Hörnlein, who disliked hot-headed officers." (The Devils General, p. 349)

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Pascal. Kullmann. » 05 Mar 2021 11:43

Cult Icon wrote:
03 Mar 2021 14:33


Many years ago I had a discussion with Lawrence who did the longest and most data intensive book on Kursk ever and his viewpoint was the opposite of the standard narrative.  His argument was that the G.D. unit had a tougher sector and that G.D. inflicted more casualties than the SS.  So I presume (not having read it myself) that this argument is included in his books. The full length one and the abridged:

The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Battle at Kursk, the Largest Clash of Armor in History



I looked through parts of Lawrence book (on Google books) and found similiar statements. He stated that, in the first two days, the SS Pzk advanced faster due to less resistance in front of them and the failure of the soviet command to bring any armored forces into the second defensive line (p. 75).

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Cult Icon » 06 Mar 2021 04:43

Strachwitz was a crack early/mid war armor commander, which lead to him to be in charge of setting up the Pz regiment G.D. after Stalingrad. This unit was probably the most heavily armed tank unit in the German army- it had Pz III (flamethrower), Pz IV (long barrelled), Tiger tanks, etc. It was used to spearhead Manstein's backhand blow along with the SS Pz Corps. Predictably it was credited with destroying the most enemy equipment and contributing greatly to the victory. This gave him the swords and lead up to the Panther units being allocated to him.

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Pascal. Kullmann. » 06 Mar 2021 19:47

I think he learned pretty quickly how to use the panthers. During the Strachwitz operations and Doppelkopf he used them successfully.

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Cult Icon » 11 Mar 2021 19:20

Pascal. Kullmann. wrote:
06 Mar 2021 19:47
I think he learned pretty quickly how to use the panthers. During the Strachwitz operations and Doppelkopf he used them successfully.
On a side note this might interest you: There is a JFF photobook about Panzergruppe Strachwitz. I have it, interesting but not much content. It primarily has photos of the attacks there. The tanks were restricted to the roads and narrow lanes through the forest.


Hayao Miyzaki met with Otto Carius, who fought in these operations, wrote about it in his memoir "Tigers in the Mud". Miyzaki produced a detailed manga piece about Carius' actions:

https://static.diary.ru/userdir/1/1/6/0 ... 340779.jpg

https://imgur.com/gallery/SeAtJ

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Pascal. Kullmann. » 11 Mar 2021 19:33

Cult Icon wrote:
11 Mar 2021 19:20

On a side note this might interest you: There is a JFF photobook about Panzergruppe Strachwitz. I have it, interesting but not much content. It primarily has photos of the attacks there. The tanks were restricted to the roads and narrow lanes through the forest.


That book looks interesting but since I already have the Strachwitz book and Between Giants, which both cover these operations, I don't need this one.

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Pascal. Kullmann. » 26 Mar 2021 15:46

I found something in the 11. PzDiv history (Ghost Division by A. Harding Ganz):
,,The Panthers’ technical problems, their hasty organization and deployment, the lack of time to reconnoiter mission objectives and approaches—or even to test radio communications and zero their weapons—and the impromptu attachment to Hörnlein’s Grossdeutschland and then to Graf Strachwitz’s Panzer-Regiment, with little coordination with infantry, artillery, and engineers, all combined to ensure the commitment of the new Panthers would be a failure. Nor were the Panther battalions a “brigade.” In his report to Generaloberst Kurt Zeitzler at OKH on 17 July, Guderian said, “Because of friction between personnel this Brigade headquarters did not function at the start.”5With the chain of command and their roles unclear, it is not surprising that von Strachwitz, von Lauchert, and Decker were at odds on many issues. On 6 July the Panther “regiment” had been officially put under Strachwitz’s command, and Decker, with no staff yet, was simply assigned to XXXXVIII. Pz.Korps. Ironically, when Strachwitz was wounded on 10 July, Knobelsdorff assigned Decker to command what was now Grossdeutschland’s panzer brigade after Hptm. von Wietersheim had temporarily assumed command." (p. 396)


Edit:
And another addition: ,,Grossdeutschland recorded, “Earth bunkers, deep positions with built-in flame-throwers, and especially well dug-in T-34s, excellently camouflaged, made the advance extremely difficult.”(p.400)

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Re: Poor performance by "GD" during ZITADELLE

Post by Cult Icon » 26 Mar 2021 20:28

maybe you should pull the kindle trigger and get the abridged Lawrence book?

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