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ROBERT C. STERN, illustrated by DON GREER and RON VOLSTAD
1. Kfz 11 [Mercedes-Benz 230] of SS-Div "Reich", October 1941, Central Russia.
2. SdKfz 222 SS-Kav-Brig, August 1941, North Russia.
3. SdKfz 261 of SS-Pz- Gren-Div "LSSAH", September 1942, Paris, France.
4. "Lousbub", Panzer-jäger 38 [t] Marder III [SdKfz 138] of SS-Pz-Gren-Div "LSSAH", February 1943, Kharkov, Russia.
The attack that began on 5 July 1943 against the Kursk salient was code named "Zitadelle". The salient that just ten weeks before had been only weakly held now was jammed with enemy troops. 40% of Russian forces, and a full 90% of their armor was concentrated at or behind Kursk. On both fronts of the salient, the Germans had arrayed a force of 19 armored divisions. The attack was to be the greatest, and most wasteful, armored offensive launched by Germany. Very nearly successful, in the longrun was to prove a disaster from which the German armed forces were never to recover.
In the center of Manstein's formations on the southern edge was the SS-Panzer-Korps attacking just west of the Donets toward Oboyan and Kursk. Facing it was the Russian Sixth Guards Army including two complete Guards Tank Corps. Stalin was taking no chances. Yet when the attack came, the SS had success. The Russians were being beaten.
Led by their own Tigers and the Panthers of the hastily assembled Panther Brigade attached to Das Reich, holes were being punched in the Russian lines. Help came from the sky as well, as tank-busting Stukas paved the way for the SS tanks. So rapid was the advance that by noon on 6 July, the Der Fuhrer regiment of Das Reich had taken Luchki I, 20 miles deep into the defenses. From there on resistance stiffened as SS-Panzer-Korps found itself taking on the crack Fifth Guards Tank Army pressing in from the east. 3. Panzer-Korps, East of the Donets, which was to have held this flank open for Das Reich, was disastrously slow in coming into action.
Nevertheless, by 11 July LAH and Das Reich had taken positions on either side of Prokhorovka, another 20 miles into Russian lines. At the same time Totenkopf had forced a crossing of the Psel on the flank of enemy defenses at Oboyan, poised to drive the remaining 40 miles to Kursk. There they sat for six days. Without their flank protected, LAH and Das Reich were forced to remain facing East rather than North, and without the support of the other two divisions, Totenkopf could not move. They were not to move forward from there. On 17 July, when 3. Panzer-Korps had finally recrossed the Donets to fall on the flank of the 6th Guards Tank Army, Hitler lost his nerve. In response to desperate Russian attacks North and South of the salient, and the Allied landings on Sicily, "Zitadelle" was called off and the SS units ordered to Italy.
In actual fact only Leibstandarte was sent to Italy. Before Das Reich and Totenkopf could entrain, a more immediate crisis loomed on the Mius. They were promptly sent South to counter Russian penetrations toward Stalino. Their attacks were successful and by 3 August the Mius line was re-established. No sooner had that problem been solved than their services were once again required to the North. For the third time in a year, Hausser led Das Reich and Totenkopf into Kharkov on 12 August 1943. This time, however, the stay was brief. Hard pressed on both sides of the city, the two divisions soon found their positions untenable and on 22 August they were pulled out of the city for the last time. They then joined the now general retreat on the Dnieper, heading towards Kiev. By early September, Das Reich and Totenkopf were in reserve behind Kiev awaiting developments.
Wiking, because its refit after the rigors of the previous Summer's campaigns had been only partial, had been held in reserve during the fighting at Kursk. When Russian spearheads broke through in the Orel region, Wiking was immediately dispatched in an attempt to seal the penetrations. The division, however, simply did not have the strength to stem the enemy advance. As with the rest of the German forces in Southern Russia, Wiking retreated toward the Dnieper, crossing the river at Gomel. It was then withdrawn to the Balkans for a complete refit.
1. PzBefWg III ausf K of SS-Pz-Gren-Div "Totenkopf", March 1943, Central Russia.
2. SdKfz 247 of SS-Pz-Gren-Div "LSSAH", April 1943, Central Russia.
3. SdKfz 138/1 "Bison" of SS-Pz-Gren-Div "Das Reich", July 1943, Kursk, Russia.
4. Tiger I ausf E of SS-Pz-Gren-Div "Das Reich", July 1943, Kursk, Russia.
Two more views of Leibstandarte vehicles during the Kursk Offensive.
The crew of one of 6th Company's Tigers mounts their vehicles prior to returning to the action. The Sand Yellow has been generally oversprayed with Red Brown, while on the superstructure side that second color has been brushed on directly. The flag, used for air recognition, is being flown from the radio antenna. [Scott Van Ness]