Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

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Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by pintere » 18 Dec 2015 23:13

Much has been written about the battle of Kursk recently, in particular the battle of Prokhorovka. Book after book has come out, each one seemingly more detailed than the last. The culmination of this trend has been in Christopher A. Lawrence’s new book on the battle of Kursk, released in October 2015. It is a wealth of detailed information by a competent writer, and is well worth the price. Now, using this book and others, I am able to conduct a comprehensive analysis of tank kills and losses for the southern sector of the battle of Kursk. The data that Lawrence has gathered about Russian armour losses has made it possible to check German kill claims, not just at Prokhorovka, but all over the southern sector of the battlefield. To start with, I will examine armour losses and kill claims at the major level, moving down towards a discussion of armour losses at Prokhorovka. Throughout the emphasis will be on the accuracy of German kill claims. I’ll also have a section at the end that will covers similar concepts with the southern air war.

To start with, it is necessary to break down the armour losses of both sides during operation citadel. The most reliable source of Russian AFV (total) losses during Citadel are from Krivosheev, who gives the number as 1,614. Glantz & House, in their book on Kursk, give the German total AFV losses during Citadel as 323. According to Robert Forczyk, in his book on the northern sector of Kursk, the Germans suffered 71 total losses in the northern assault. Drawing from loss records, he estimates Russian total losses as approx. 218. For the southern sector (4-18 July), Lawrence records German total losses in AFVs as 226, with 1310 damaged throughout the battle (note that some tanks would be damaged multiple times). He lists Russian total losses as 1,379 (including 27 through non-combat reasons), with a further 1,092 tanks damaged. These various sources seem to line up well with each others’ numbers.

Several things stand out about this data. 1) For both sides the almost all their losses were in the south, German 75%, Russian 85%. 2) In the south at least, though both sides had lots of tanks knocked out, German total losses were much smaller. Of German knocked out tanks, only 15% were total losses. With Soviet knocked out tanks, 55% were total losses. 3) Total loss ratio was 5-1, specifically 3-1 in the north and 6-1 in the south.

Lawrence’s book contains several tables of tanks lost on both sides per day. It would be senseless to try to recreate all his data here, but I will make a couple of points. For the Germans the worst days for tank losses were by far the 5th and 6th of July, when they were breaching the strongest Soviet defensive works. For the Russians their heaviest losses by far were on the 8 and 12 of July, these two days alone resulting in 800 tanks destroyed/damaged. These were also the days when they attempted to launch large armoured counterattacks.

The Germans claimed a total of 2,000 tanks destroyed by all units, air & ground, in the southern part of Citadel. When taking into account damaged tanks, this number is very accurate. Most of the discrepancy can be explained by damaged Russian tanks being returned to battle, and it is clear that at least at the grand scale, there is little in the way of inflation. Ratio of kill claims-Russian total losses is about 1.5-1.

For Prokhorovka, I am going to start by talking about who fought who. Totenkopf mostly fought north of the Psel, with elements of its armour fighting a brigade of the Russian XVIII tank corps south of it. The LSSAH bore the brunt of the attack, and fought most of the XVIII and XXIX tank corps. Das Reich faced part of the XXIX tank corps as well as the II Guards and II tank corps. According to Lawrence, LSSAH lost 19 AFVs this day (6 total losses). DR lost 1 AFV damaged. Totenkopf lost 28 AFVs this day (3 total losses), of which most were lost on the north bank of the Psel. German AFV losses, 48 (9 total losses). Again according to Lawrence, the XVIII TC lost 81 AFVs, the XXIX TC 159, the II TC 10, and the II Guards TC 59, a total of 309.

Lawrence writes that the initial German kill total for this day was 249 (192 LSSAH, 61 Totenkopf, 3 DR), of which 25 were later added to LSSAH’s total and 75 to DR’s. With this amended number, the German total for the 12 July is 349. What I think we can be certain of is that LSSAH claimed about 200 tanks, with the two other SS divisions claiming just over 50. It is clear from this that if there is inflation on the German side, it is minimal.

Through raw comparison, we can assign a rough kill ratio of 6-1. If we were to take into account that most of Totenkopf’s armour was lost north of the Psel, or measure with total losses rather than knocked out tanks, the kill ratio climbs upwards of 10-1. My only big suspicion is of Totenkopf’s claimed tank total, which seems a bit higher than what I would have expected.

Now for air combat. For the 4-18 July, the Germans lost 111 aircraft, the Russians 658 (the Russian total may be a bit high). A strikingly similar kill ratio of 6-1. The Germans claimed a total of 618 kills by aircraft, as well as hundreds of other kills by Flak. Total Russian aircraft destroyed is 658. Thus German claims are only slightly higher than actual Russian losses, in the chart I used the only big discrepancy being on the 5th.

An analysis of ground attack kill claims is impossible at this time, but there is one incident that is in serious doubt right now. Bruno Meyer claimed to have destroyed 40 Soviet tanks with his unit of Hs-129’s on the 8th of July. However the unit that was attacked by them, the 26th Tank Brigade, only had around 9 tanks destroyed/damaged for this day. This is the absolute maximum they could’ve lost, and if one takes into account losses from other causes (e.g. tanks), then the account of 40 tanks destroyed from the air is seriously inflated. It would be interesting to see if this phenomena is repeated with claims of German airpower destroying large numbers of Russian tanks in operation Kutuzov, but alas, that will have to wait until someone writes a decent book about that battle.

Armed with this information, I have three main conclusions.

1) In the battle of Kursk the Germans maintained their tactical supremacy, inflicting a 6-1 casualty ratio in tanks and aircraft as well as fighting many one-sided battles resulting in large Russian losses.
2) That German claims of tanks and aircraft destroyed, on the grand scale at least, were normally only slightly exaggerated. There are some instances where German claims were very accurate, others where they are highly inflated. But for the most part they are not far off the mark.
3) The battle of Prokhorovka, as has been traditionally understood, was little more than a Russian tank graveyard.

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by steverodgers801 » 19 Dec 2015 00:17

ITs how you defined destroyed, a tank that is hit may be knocked out of action for a time but able to be fixed up

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by Christian Ankerstjerne » 19 Dec 2015 16:10

It seems to me that it would make sense to look at the Soviet counter-offensive losses as well, rather than just the interrupted offensive: http://www.panzerworld.com/german-tank- ... e-of-kursk

Note, for example, the decline of combat ready tanks from 5 July to 20 July of 1245 tank and assault guns; a number that is lowered by the influx of reserves during that time period.

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by Michael Kenny » 19 Dec 2015 19:49

pintere wrote:


Armed with this information, I have three main conclusions.

1) In the battle of Kursk the Germans maintained their tactical supremacy, inflicting a 6-1 casualty ratio in tanks and aircraft as well as fighting many one-sided battles resulting in large Russian losses.
2) That German claims of tanks and aircraft destroyed, on the grand scale at least, were normally only slightly exaggerated. There are some instances where German claims were very accurate, others where they are highly inflated. But for the most part they are not far off the mark.
3) The battle of Prokhorovka, as has been traditionally understood, was little more than a Russian tank graveyard.
And

4) Tank losses that are higher than the enemy losses mean nothing if they enough spare tanks. If you 'win' then the losses are worth it.
Tanks, like bullets, are consumables.

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by MarkN » 19 Dec 2015 23:52

pintere wrote: Armed with this information, I have three main conclusions.

1) In the battle of Kursk the Germans maintained their tactical supremacy, inflicting a 6-1 casualty ratio in tanks and aircraft as well as fighting many one-sided battles resulting in large Russian losses.
2) That German claims of tanks and aircraft destroyed, on the grand scale at least, were normally only slightly exaggerated. There are some instances where German claims were very accurate, others where they are highly inflated. But for the most part they are not far off the mark.
3) The battle of Prokhorovka, as has been traditionally understood, was little more than a Russian tank graveyard.
There can be no 'tactical supremacy' if that tactical effort in itself leads to strategic failure.

There can be no 'tactical supremacy' if the tactical objective is not achieved.

I'm sure you could, if armed with the 'right' information, make an argument that the Wehrmacht were 'tactically supreme' all the way back to Berlin.

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by Pips » 20 Dec 2015 08:53

It's a wonder that the Russians managed to win the battle at all. If the Germans so comprehensively defeated Russian armour, what arm in the end caused the defeat of the German offensive?

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by Jan-Hendrik » 20 Dec 2015 08:56

The lack of infantry on german side. Look at Model's comments for 'his' northern part.

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by Sheldrake » 20 Dec 2015 09:37

This begs the question: If the Germans were so superior; why did they end Op Cideral, their main effort for 1943?

To what extent did the invasion of Sicily,m a second front distract Hitler?

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by Art » 20 Dec 2015 15:28

Pips wrote: If the Germans so comprehensively defeated Russian armour, what arm in the end caused the defeat of the German offensive?
The answer would be that German didn't comprehensively eliminate Soviet armor. For example, the Central Front reported 1483 operational tanks on 5 July, 1257 on 10 July and 1174 on 15 July. The difference is about 20%. Voronezh Front's tank losses were a way larger but compensated by commitment of a good part of strategic reserves that included a tank army and 2 tank corps. Some more units were to arrive soon when "Citadel" ended.

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by pintere » 20 Dec 2015 19:45

I will try not to belabour this point, but it is an important one. None of my conclusions require that the German army had to win the battle of Kursk, neither do they purport to show that "the Germans would have won Citadel if only X". It is perfectly possibly for an army to be tactically superior to the other, and yet still lose. The German advantage at the tactical level was offset by Soviet advantages at the strategic, and increasingly the operational level. And in the end, it was this use of their advantages that led the Russians to victory.

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by MarkN » 20 Dec 2015 21:46

pintere wrote:I will try not to belabour this point, but it is an important one. None of my conclusions require that the German army had to win the battle of Kursk, neither do they purport to show that "the Germans would have won Citadel if only X". It is perfectly possibly for an army to be tactically superior to the other, and yet still lose. The German advantage at the tactical level was offset by Soviet advantages at the strategic, and increasingly the operational level. And in the end, it was this use of their advantages that led the Russians to victory.
I too do not wish to belabour the blatantly obvious point that the Germans failed to achieve their tactical objective. That would seem to point to the Germans not being tactically superior.

Citadel was the battle that confirmed the Russians had learned how to counter German 'blitzkrieg' tactics and had the resources to implement their plan.

You do not win battles by destroying some of the enemies combat power, even if you destroy more than you yourself lose. The Germans lost the tactical battle.

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by Cult Icon » 21 Dec 2015 00:04

The german tactical units (eg. Panzer divisions) were better quality than the soviet ones. They were inferior operationally and strategically at this point in the war.

Kursk was really a lot more breakthrough rather than maneuver warfare.

In 1942 the german forces were tactically superior, operationally superior part of the time but inferior strategically.

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by MarkN » 21 Dec 2015 01:02

Now l understand.

Some are making the assumption that tactics = small, strategic = big and relative losses is the metric of success and superiority. That's not how it works. Citadel was a tactical battle, a big one, but still tactical. Nevertheless, its failure had strategic consequences.

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by Cult Icon » 21 Dec 2015 01:51

Possibly an issue of definition.

Tactical, could mean small (like a corps sized counterattack) but also can refer to the fighting qualities of formations.

Do you believe in the term "operational"? Soviet military literature makes distinctions (based on size) on tactical, operational, and strategic.

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Re: Tank Battle Analysis (Kursk) - Kill Claims, Armour Losses, and Tactical Supremacy

Post by MarkN » 21 Dec 2015 12:00

Cult Icon wrote:Do you believe in the term "operational"? Soviet military literature makes distinctions (based on size) on tactical, operational, and strategic.
I acknowledge the term 'operational level of war' exists.

However, it is a woolly term that means different things to different people. The vast majority of people seems to equate it with 'large scale tactics'. Others have a more refined understanding. Some people introduce even more words such as theatre and campaign.

I follow an approach similar to Clausewitz. Citadel was an 'engagement' where tactics defined the tactical level of effect.

Citadel was a military plan with a single military objective that, even had it been successful, would not have had significant - if any - strategic effect beyond those effects that failure served up upon the Wehrmacht.

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