The defensive phase of the Battle of Kursk was over. The Red Army triumphed in the fierce fight against the Germans and began their counterattack. Starting on July 12th, 1943, elements of three Soviet Fronts trampled over one division of Army Group Center after another, moving through to Orel.
The 11th Guards Army of the Western Front, reinfoced with tank corps, successfully penetrated enemy defenses and travelled 70 km in a week. German reserves and forces from other portions of the front were moved to stop them. Especially fierce battles raged in the region of Karachev-Khotynets, where a railroad that was vitally important for the Germans was located. One of the strongest German divisions, Grossdeutschland, arrived here in late July. It rushed into battle without waiting for full assembly and with no idea what was in store.
Alisovo in the Line of Fire
Advancing Soviet forces collided with Grossdeutschland on July 26th at the small village of Alisovo, north of Khotynets, namely elements of the 16th Guards Infantry Corps and tanks from the 1st Tank Corps. After a week of battle, by August 3rd, German command planned a powerful counterattack that would destroy the Soviet forces. The ace up their sleeve consisted of 96 new Panther tanks given to Grossdeutschland as reinforcements. The division had about 200 tanks and SPGs in total.
Predicting possible enemy action, Soviet forces prepared for tank attacks. Tanks from the 1st Corps occupied for forest behind Alisovo. Six SU-122 SPGs were placed in ambush close by. Infantry and vehicles entrenched inside the village itself. Minefields were set up.
Early in the morning on August 3rd, after bombing runs and an artillery barrage, Grossdeutschland began their offensive. A large amount of infantry was committed to battle, as well as two armoured groups numbering 80 tanks and StuG SPGs. The first group attacked Alisovo from the east, from Izmorozn village, the other, more numerous, attacked from the west, from Progress village.
From the very start, the Germans took losses from minefields. The attack paused, but continued. Using their numerical advantage, the Germans displaced our infantry and opened the way for tanks. However, their attempt at a quick breakthrough failed. The first group was fired upon by Soviet tanks from ambushes when it approached the forest. Having lost four tanks including a Tiger, the group retreated. The tanks coming from Izmorozn were held back by artillery.
Attacks came one after another. Enemy infantry with tank support fruitlessly attempted to tank control of Alisovo. It took until mid-day for the Germans to reach the northern outskirts. Soviet infantry in the village was surrounded, but kept fighting, and broke through to their lnes on the next day.
Certain that victory was close, Grossdeutschland commanders decided to bypass Alisovo and go further north to Zhundre. Panthers were to play a decisive role in this offensive.
Panthers in a Fire Trap
At 16:00, after a short artillery barrage, the Germans moved about 40 tanks around Alisovo. Vehicles moved in two groups, one consisting of about 20 Panthers, the other of medium PzIII and PzIV tanks.
At first, the German tanks moved with no resistance. It appeared that the path to Zhundre was clear, but Soviet tank crews had a warm welcome prepared. Tanks were placed in a forest clearing waiting for the Germans. The SU-122s were ordered to only fire at tanks that broke through in order to conceal themselves.
When frontline Panthers reached the ambush, Soviet tanks opened fire at their flanks. Several of them caught fire. SPGs and antitank guns fired as well. The Germans stopped, caught by surprise, and the remaining Panthers attempted to maneuver and return fire.
The battle escalated. After a few minutes, the enemy knocked out three Soviet SPGs. Sergeant Petr Detsura, a mechanic-driver from one of them, managed to put out the fire and drive away his vehicle to a safe place. He later received an Order of the Red Star for this heroic action.
The duel continued, but the Panthers lost. Out of eight tanks that reached the SPG positions, five were destroyed completely and three were knocked out.
The second group was stopped by SPGs without help from tanks. SU-122s fired on the PzIIIs and PzIVs from the left flank of the ambush. The Germans were caught in the open, and their commanders understood that they won't last long. The tanks that could still move started to pull back, taking cover behind the smoking and burning wrecks. Only three out of seven tanks that broke through from the second group made it back. After such a defeat, Grossdeutschland ceased its offensive.
With smaller numbers, Soviet tankers surpassed their enemy in skill. Acting from ambushes, they not only knocked out 20 German tanks, but forced the enemy to stop all attacks at Alisovo. Grossdeutschland's trump card was useless, and the elite division no longer participated in combat action at Karachev.
The hero of the battle at Alisovo, the 1st Tank Corps, received reinforcements and continued to fight in Operation Kutuzov. On August 15th, its tanks broke through to Karachev. On August 18th, the city was freed from the Germans.
Original article available here.