The winter offensive by the RKKA and counterattack of the German operational group Kempf led to a spearhead pointed towards the West, in the region of Belgorod, Kursk, and Orel. Near Orel, the situation was reversed. The front line, if only slightly, bent towards the east, to the settlements of Efremov and Berezovka. This strange positioning gave the German high command the idea of a summer offensive which would encircle Soviet forces in the Kursk region.
The "Kursk arc" was very well positioned for this sort of strategy. The Wehrmacht no longer had the forces for a large scale offensive. They could only depend on localized strikes. The combined attack of the Kursk forces from the north and the south would cut off the Central and Voronezh Front forces and destroy them. The Germans called this "Operation Citadel".
After a failed attempt to take the village of Oboyanskoye, the German attack was redirected towards the village of Prokhorovka, across the river Psel, towards Kursk. Knowing that they were in danger of a counterattack by Soviet tanks, the objective of the Germans was to keep the Soviet forces between the railroad and the river.
From the West, the 2nd SS division sent 294 tanks (15 of them Tigers) to Prokhorovka. From the South, the 3rd tank corps (119 tanks, 23 Tigers). SS division "Adolf Hitler" was already active between the railroad and the river. Despite what popular history suggests, Panthers did not fight at Prokhorovka, keeping to the Oboyan sector instead. Instead of Panthers, the Germans had captured T-34s.
The Soviet opposition at Prokhorovka consisted of the 5th Guards Tank Army, commanded by P. A. Rotmistrov, with 826 tanks and self propelled guns. Rotmistrov's forces were reinforced by two independent tank corps. A. Zhadov's 5th Guards Army was also taking part in the battle.
At 8:30 am, on July 12th, after an artillery barrage, Soviet forces moved into Prokhorovka. The first wave of the attack consisted of 4 tank corps. The German side moved out 500 tanks and self propelled guns, including 42 Tigers. The morning sun was shining in the eyes of the Germans, giving the Soviet forces an advantage in the early stages of the battle. Despite a somewhat sudden attack, Soviet forces were met with thick fire from anti-tank artillery and assault guns. Taking heavy losses, the 18th tank corps broke though to the Oktyabrskiy farm and captured it. Here, they met with a large amount of German forces, including 15 Tigers. In a brutal encounter, the Soviets pushed the Germans back to the village Vasilievskiy, but took too many casualties to continue the attack, and fortified for a defense.
Around 9 in the morning, battles around Prokhorovka started: next to Oktyabrskiy, village of Prelestniy, east of the settlement of Ivanovskie Vyselki, on both sides of the railroad. Neither side was pushing forward; the German assault stalled.
At the same time, south-west of Prokhorovka, between the river Psel and the railroad, a furious tank battle broke out. The Germans tried to break through this sector to get to an operationally advantageous position, and continue their push to Kursk. The Soviets, as stated before, launched their counterattack through here. 518 tanks were gathered in total, with a numerical advantage on the side of the RKKA. Due to the density of the attacking forces, the tanks mixed with each other. Soviet tanks, with their superior agility, could get close in the cloud of dust that was kicked up by the collective tracks, depriving the Germans of the advantage of their superior armour and guns.
A smaller, but equally furious fight erupted next to the village of Kalinin, around 13:00. The 2nd Guards Tatsin Tank Corps had around 100 tanks. Opposing them were around the same number of tanks and self propelled guns from the Das Reich SS division. The Soviet forces retreated to the villages of Vinogradovo and Belenihino, and fortified for a defense.
During July 12th, the 30km stretch of front at Prokhorovka saw numerous large scale tank battles. The main battle, between the railroad and the village, continued on until sunset. At the end of the day, neither side had a clear advantage. Both sides took heavy casualties. The German side lost 80 tanks (sources vary) and the Red Army lost about 260 (again, there are major contradictions between different sources).
The Battle of Prokhorovka can be compared to the battle of Borodino in 1812. The major difference was that the Russians in 1812 were forced to retreat, while the Red Army successfully stopped the German advance, at the cost of a quarter of the available tanks.
Due to the heroism of Soviet soldiers, the Germans did not move further than Prokhorovka, and the Red Army began a massive offensive several days later, completely overtaking the strategic initiative. After the Battle of Kursk it was irrefutably clear that the fall of Germany would only be a matter of time.
Original article available here.