The Brute of the Battlefield
The German PzKfw VI "Tiger" tank
Project 60: A Day-by-Day Diary of WWII
Remembering the First Fight Against Fascism
Americans from the 1st Infantry Division "The Big Red One" come ashore on D-Day in Sicily
June 29, 1943
Operation CARTWHEEL, the first
major offensive in the Pacific, opens as US Marines land on New Guinea near Lae.
The goal of the offensive is the major military strongpoint at Rabul. Meanwhile,
US Navy cruisers and destroyers bombard Japanese positions at Shortland.
June 30, 1943
CARTWHEEL continues as American
forces land on Rendova, Vangunu, Sasavele,
Baraulu, and Torbriand in the New Georgia group. The vanguard of the attack came
from 6000 men of the 43rd Infantry Division. The attack on Rendova
went well as the garrison was surprised. Harassing fire from Japanese coastal
guns on nearby Munda Point and air raids were an annoyance, but didn?t hinder
the American buildup. Vangunu island proved to be a tougher fight.
July 1, 1943
Hitler addresses his major
commanders at his ?Wolf?s Lair? headquarters in Rastenburg, briefing them
on the upcoming offensive against the Kursk salient. He sets July 4 for the
offensive to begin.
American forces reinforce their
positions at Rendova as Japanese naval forces bombard the position during the
The US 15th Air Force
launches a series of heavy raids against airfield in southern Italy in
preparation for the invasion of Sicily.
July 3, 1943
In heavy fighting Australian
forces break through Japanese positions around Mudo, New Guinea, linking up with
the American forces at Nassau Bay.
American forces land at Munda on
New Georgia. No resistance is met.
Soviet air attacks on German
airfields cause heavy damage and disrupt preparations for the coming offensive
against the Kursk bulge. German leaders delay the opening of the attack by an
additional day to recover from the attacks.
July 4, 1943
US forces meet heavy Japanese
resistance between Zanana and Munda on New Georgia.
-OPERATION CITADEL, the German Summer Offensive at Kursk Opens
After much delay and preparation, the
Germans launch their summer offensive against the huge bulge in the front
centered around Kursk. OPERATION CITADEL called for attacks on the northern and
southern shoulders of the bulge by the bulk of the German?s panzer forces. The
9th Army (Gerneal Model) was to strike the northern shoulder while
the 4th Panzer Army (Generals Hoth) and Army Detachment Kempf struck
from the south. In all, 37 divisions (11 of them panzer divisions) totaling
nearly a million soldiers, 2500 tanks, 10,000 guns and rocket launchers, and
1800 aircraft were unleashed against the Soviets.
The location and timing of the German
attack were well known to the Soviets. Through various intercepts and
intelligence sources, the Russians knew what the Germans planned and acted
accordingly. They too massed huge reserves and built intricate and deep (in some
places up to 200 miles) defensive positions. Once the attack began, the Soviets
planned to wear the Germans down by forcing them to contend with successive
lines of strong defenses not only from guns and men, but mines, wire and
entrenchments. The northern flank was guarded by the Central Front (General
Rokossovsky) while the southern flank was guarded by the Voronezh Front (General
Vatutin). The Steppe Front (General Konev) was held in reserve while Marshal
Zhukov retained overall control as the STAVKA representative.
The Germans were well aware of these
preparations, but their arrogant belief in their imagined superiority over the
Russians had not diminished despite the set backs of the winter at Stalingrad.
One reason for the delay in the attack, and the confidence in success was the
deployment of new weapons. Many of the German Panzer formations had been
reinforced with the powerful new weapons. Four new armored fighting vehicles
would see action here. The ?Tiger? tank (actually introduced during the last
winter) was very heavily armored and carried the feared 88mm gun. A very fast
and heavily armored new main battle tank, the
?Panther?, mounting a long 75mm gun as powerful as the Tiger?s 88,
was also introduced. Finally, a massively armed and armored assault gun, the
?Elephant?, mounting a long 88mm gun (more powerful than the Tiger?s), was
also included in the new arsenal to bust through the Russian antitank positions.
Finally, the Germans introduced a lightly armored, but powerfully armed (a long
88mm gun) assault gun, called the ?Nashorn? for dealing at long range with
the Soviet tanks.
Surprisingly, for the Germans anyway,
the opening attacks began with Soviet attacks. The Russians had known the place
and time of the attack. They launched a massive air assault against the German
rear areas to disrupt the coming attack. However, this was met by effective
fighter defenses which defeated the attacks
and left the Russians with little air support for the first few days of the
offensive. The Soviets had better luck with their artillery, hitting known
German artillery postions particularly hard. The attacks also badly disrupted
the German movements toward the front. The attack was delayed by 2-3 hours to
allow time to regroup.
the northern side of the bulge, 9th Army opened the attack with an 80
minute barrage starting at 0435. This was followed by an infantry assault by the
23 Corps into the positions of the 148th and 8th Rifle Divisions.
Meanwhile, the 41st and 47th Panzer Corps, heavily
supported from the air, struck the 15th and 81st Rifle
Divisions. None of these attacks gained more than 8 kilometers (5 miles) at a
cost of 200 tanks (20% of their total strength.
On the southern side of the bulge, the
offensive would be conducted by the 4th Panzer Army and Army
Detachment Kempf. The attacks by 4th Panzer were spearheaded by two
very powerful formations - the 48th (nearly 600 tanks) and 2nd
SS Panzer Corps (over 600 tanks). Both planned to attack along roads which
converged on the town of Oboian and then Kursk.
AD Kempf was to attack in the Belgorod area and secure the eastern flank of the
When the attacks finally got underway,
48th Panzer Corps (3rd, 11th and Grosse
Deutschland Panzer Divisions, supported by 100 new Panther tanks of the 10th
Brigade) the attacks quickly became bogged down in the extensive mine fields.
The 10th Brigade had further problems in that early morning rain had
turned their march route into a quagmire. The formation did manage to extract
itself and make limited advances, but failed to reach its first day objective of
the Psel River.
The attack of the 2nd SS
Panzer Corps faired better. The 52nd Guard Rifle Division fought
valiantly but was unable to withstand the onslaught of the SS troopers and was
force back to the second line 20 kilometers to the rear.
AD Kempf attacked across the Northern
Donets river east of Belograd. The Soviet 7th Guard Army defended the
line well and the fighting was very severe. At the end of the day, the Germans
carved a bridgehead 3-6 kilometers deep and 12km wide across the river.
Both Vatutuin (in the south) and
Rokossovsky (in the north) committed large groups of anti-tank gun units and
armor to thicken their already formidable defenses. Vatutin order a 1000 tanks
forward from the 2nd and 5th Guard Tank Corps.
In other war news?
- The Kursk Offensive Continues
- The Kursk Offensive Continues
Major attacks began again midday in the
south. A small salient containing the 67th and 52nd Guard
Rifle Division had developed the previous day between the 48th and 2nd
SS Panzer Corps. 48th Panzer Corps (the GD division in particular)
dealt with these units, forcing them to withdraw with serious losses. However,
when the advance hit the second echelon positions, GD was stopped cold.
Meanwhile, 3rd Panzer Division reached the Psel River only to
discover that rain and steep muddy banks made fording the river impossible. This
redirected the attacks to the east where elements of the 3rd
Mechanized Corp (1st Tank Army) were engaged in heavy fighting and
serious losses were sustained by both sides. By the end of the day, the Corps
had lost 30% of its armor strength.
2nd SS Panzer Corps ran into
the 5th Guard Tank Corps when its attacks resumed. The very
formidable formation forced the Russians to engage in a fighting withdrawal.
Meanwhile, the 2nd Guard Tank Corp struck the right (eastern) flank
of the Germans forcing the 3rd SS Panzer Division to redirect its
efforts on that axis.
Further to the east, Army Detachment
Kempf had three of its panzer divisions (6th, 7th and 19th)
attacking in a northeasterly direction. The attackers succeeded in pushing back
the left flank of the 81st Guard Rifle Divisions, but stopped dead in
its tracks upon reaching the backup positions occupied by the 73rd
and 78th Guard Rifle Divisions. Several Antitank Gun Brigades were
dispatched to the new line.
Fighting to the north in the 9th
Army secotor was stalemated. Soviet armored formations counterattacked forcing
the Germans to defend their meager gains of the previous day. The attacks came
in uncoordinated and the Germans were able to deal with the attacks. Analysis
after the fact indicated that Rokossovsky had committed his armor before the
Germans were sufficiently worn down.
Although gains against Vatutin?s
forces in the south were limited during the day, his formations were becoming
very thin on the ground. More infantry and antitank formations were ordered
forward. Additionally, the 2nd and 10th Tank Corps (5th
Guard Tank Army) were ordered to begin forming in the Prokorovka area northeast
of the German axis of attack.
In other war news ?
In an attempt to reinforce the Solomons,
a Japanese destroyer group brings 3000 troops to Vila. An American naval force
under Admiral Ainsworth (3 cruisers and 4 destroyers) engages the Japanese force
of 10 destroyers in the Kula Gulf. The action started at 0200 when the US
cruisers concentrated fire on the Niizuki
and quickly sunk
her, but the light cruiser Helena
took three hits and began to sink. Five other Japanese destroyers were heavily
damaged and the Nagatsuki ran
aground and was finished off the next day by US dive bombers.
Despite the losses, the Japanese landed 850 troops.
A US Navy task force (4 cruisers and 4 destroyers) under Admiral Giffen bombards Japanese positions on Kiska Island.
In the north, Model?s forces
concentrated their attacks in the area around Ponyri. 18th Panzer and
292nd Infantry Divisions hit the 307th Rifle division and
were initially repulsed. A full day of heavy fighting in the village saw
sections of the town change hands several times. By the end of the day, the town
was split between the two combatants. Meanwhile, the 41st Panzer
Corps struck toward Ol?Khovatka, an area surrounded by dominant high ground,
only to be met by elements of the 2nd Tank Army. Both sides suffered
serious losses and neither gained their objectives in the stallmate.
In the south, Army Detachment Kempf
continued to make modest headway against the 7th Guard Army. Four
additional infantry divisions were assigned to shore up the Soviet positions. On
the other (western) flank, 48th Panzer Corps was attempting to move
forward only to be confronted by large tank formations Vatutuin was hoping to
attack with. A large salient had developed between 2nd SS Panzer
Corps right (east) and AG Kempf?s left (west) flank. 3rd SS Panzer
was dispatched to guard that vulnerable position, leaving only the 1st
and 2nd SS Panzer Divisions for attacks. Because of the serious
resistance on the road to Oboian, these formations redirected to the northeast
and advanced, making modest progress, toward Prokorovka.
Over the battlefield, the air battle
became desperate. German forces were concentrating on their ground support
efforts and the Red Air Force had recovered from their initial trouncing at the
optining of the offensive to contest the Germans. The Soviet fighter sweeps took
a serious toll on the bomb laden German planes.
In other war news ?
The Battle of the South Atlantic
continues as German submarine U-185 sinks three merchant ships off the coast of
Australian forces capture Observation Hill near Mubo in New Guinea.
9th Army makes an all out effort to make an impression on the Russian
defenses in the north. The 4th panzer Division, the last fresh panzer
unit in the army is committed to the attack along with all available air
support. After a bitter day of fighting with heavy losses reported by both
sides, no appreciable movement is seen in the front line.
To the south, 4th Panzer
Army continues its attacks. On the left (west), 48th Panzer Corp,
with the GD Panzer Division in the lead, struck directly up the Oboian road. The
battered 3rd Mechanized Corp was unable to contain the German attacks
and grudgingly gave ground. 6th Tank Corp struck the left flank of GD
which distracted the Germans long enough for Vatutin to organize fresh troops in
front of the main attack, which prevented the Germans from obtaining a clean
To the east, 2nd SS Panzer
Corps started the days attacks by redirecting their attacks away from the Oboian
axis toward Prokorovka to the northeast. The attack started at the same time
Vatutin planned an attack by the 10th Tank Corps into what he though
would b e the german right flank. Instead, the two forces met in a meeting
engagement. Both sides took grevious losses in men and machines in the insuing
battle which raged for most of the day.
Army Detachment Kempf advanced 8
kilometers north, capturing Melikhovo, finally breaking cleanly through the
first defense lines of the 7th Guards Army. The Soviet Guardsmen
simply withdrew to the second line in good order and redoubled their efforts to
harass the German right (east).
This fourth day of battle brought German domination in the air to an end. The Luftwaffee was no longer able to automatically gain air superiority over a spot on the battlefield and roving swarms of Red fighters struck hard against the German planes. The Germans were able to execute a mere 650 sorties to the Soviet 1500.
1943 - German frustration at
Kursk begins to show
Fighting at Kursk had taken on a
significant and, for the Germans, a frustrating pattern. Unlike the previous two
summers, the Russians did not collapse when subjected to the German armored
onslaught. This summer the Germans were confronted by an enemy who contested
every inch of ground and when forced to withdraw did so in good order to freshly
prepared defenses. More worrisome, the Soviets had shown to be very aggressive
in hammering the flanks of the German attacks. The confident, swaggering, fa?ade
of invincibility was beginning to show cracks as the battle dragged on.
Vatutin was determined to stop the
Germans. He ordered both the 5th Guards Tank and 5th Guard
Armies to concentrate in the Prokorovka area and prepare for a coordinated
attack against the Germans. He also heavily reinforced his right (west) facing
the 48th Panzer Corps with fresh
anti-tank brigades and infantry division. He also committed the fresh 69th
Army in front of Kempf between the 7th and 6th Guards
The Germans continued to drive forward.
In the north, the attacks by 9th Army were on the wain. Despite
desperate attempts to crack the Russian, lines, no headway was made and losses
To the south, Army Detachment Kempf
made little progress being faced by fresh reinforcements. 2nd SS
Panzer Corps made some progress on the road to Prokorovka, pushing the depleted
formations of the 3rd Mechanized and 10th Tank Corps ahead
of them while the battered 2nd Tank Corps harassed their flank.
The main effort for the day came from
48th Panzer Corps up the Oboian road. With all of the air support
that could be mustered. The unit, spearheaded by the GD Panzer Division pushed
forward making good progress. That progress came to an abrupt end at Novoselovka
when they ran into heavily reinforced 309th Rifle Division.
Meanwhile, the 6th Tank Corp continued to attack the German flank
In other war news ?
A German air raid against England
succeeds in hitting the movie theater in East Grinstead, killing 12 civilians.
Heavy fighting is reported between US and Japanese forces on the approaches to Munda on New Georgia. Both sides begin the task of reinforcing as Americans send reinforcements to Rendova and the Japanese send reinforcements to Kolombangara.
1943 - OPERATION
HUSKY, the Invasion of Sicily Begins
after midnight, 147 C-47s with their gliders in tow bucked 30-35mph winds
heading toward Sicily. They would be the vanguard of the greatest sea borne
invasion the world had yet seen. Regrettably,
everything fell apart quickly. The slow transports were met by heavy
anti-aircraft fire as they came in. Sixty-nine of the gliders were released
early and could not reach land, drowning 252 soldiers. Two more transports were
shot out of the sky and 10 turned back without releasing their tows. Twelve of
the gliders did manage to land at the correct place.
this was taking place, a reinforced regiment (3045 men) from the US 82nd
Airborne Division were heading toward their landing zones behind Gela. The plan
for this force was to fly over Malta and then make a turn to the left and head
into Sicily. Most of the inexperience flight crews missed Malta (even though it
was lit up like a Christmas tree to assist navigation this night) and the
paratroops came in out of formation and widely scattered. This coupled with the
high winds resulted in many injuries as well as exacerbating the scatter.
the predawn hours, the largest invasion fleet ever assembled to date (1200 ships
in all) headed toward the island. Unlike every other sea borne invasion, this
one had no preliminary bombardment. It was hoped that the allies would be able
to achieve tactical surprise upon hitting the beach. To a large extent, this was
British 8th Army (under General Montgomery) landed just south of Syracuse,
spearheaded by commandos and Special Air Service (SAS) units as well as elements
of the XXX Corps and XIII Corps. Heavy surf made navigation for the small
landing craft difficult and many missed their designated target beaches (some by
as much as 6000 yards). However, there was little resistance and the landings
The US 7th Army (under General
Patton) made their landings west of (on the left flank) of the British in the
Gulf of Gela. The initial landings included rangers and elements of the 3rd,
1st and 45th Infantry Divisions. The only mishap of this
landing was the destruction of the destroyer Maddox which was sunk by a
Stuka dive bomber.
The response of the Axis was poor. Italian
coastal units surrendered en masse. Mobile reserve groups were slow to react to
the invasion. Italian Mobile Group ?E? was the first to attack and hit the
town of Gela around 0900. The 16th Infantry Regiment, supported by
fire from the cruiser Boise stopped
the attack and forced the Italians to retreat.
The Germans had two divisions on the island, the
15th Panzer Grenadier and the ?Herman Goering? (HG) Panzer
Division. The former was a well-trained and experienced unit but except for a
kampfgruupe facing the British, they were not in a position to have an impact on
D-Day. The HG Division however, was in an excellent position to crush the
American beachhead. Although they were extremely well equipped (including 14
Tiger tanks), they were ineptly led. Their counterattack did not get organized
until the afternoon. They too were met by naval gunfire and the men of the
?Big Red One? and retreated in considerable disorder.
By the end of the first day, the Allies were
well established on shore, although somewhat disorganized and scattered.
The battle at Kursk grinds on.
In the north, Model?s 9th Army
attack grinds on, but the attacks are half hearted and it becomes obvious to all
that they have failed. The offensive on this sector is terminated. The Germans
lost over 400 tanks and took 50,000 casualties for no apparent gain.
The badly depleted 48th Panzer Corp
made attacks to clear their flanks on this day. 3rd Panzer Division
attack the remnants of the 6th Tank Corp, while GD Panzer Division
attacked the 10th Tank Corps. Meanwhile, the 11th Panzer
Division struck up the Oboian road and began relieving 1st SS Panzer
Division of some of its line so that it could be concentrated further east.
On the other flank, Army Detachment Kempf still
attempted to move north but had to contend with attacks on its right and left
flanks as well and made limited gains.
In the center, it had been decided that the 2nd
SS Panzer Corps would be concentrated for an all out attack on the Porokorvka
axis. As 1st and 2nd SS Panzer Divisions regrouped, 3rd
SS Panzer was to establish a bridgehead over the Psel River. The initial attack
failed, but in the afternoon, all three divisions lunged forward and the corps
was able to establish jump off positions for the attack tomorrow.
Vatutin was not inactive on this day. He had
begun to replace his armored formations with fresh infantry/antitank units. This
was done to allow time to rest and refit his worn formations while preparing for
the counter blow at Prokorovka.
And in other news ?
Japanese and American forces link up in New Guinea cutting off the Japanese defenders at Mubo.
The fight at Kursk approaches its
climax as the Germans redouble their efforts to break Vatutin?s lines south of
Kursk. 48th Panzer Corp on the left (west) probes the Russian
infantry and antitank formations making limited progress. On the right (east),
Army Detachment Kempf was able to concentrate its armor and make a 12-kilometer
drive north toward Prokorovka and forcing the Russians to abandon several
previously formidable positions. In the center, 2nd SS Panzer Corps
advances toward Prokoravka. The 1st SS Panzer Division advances up
the road with 2nd SS on its right and 3rd SS on its left
across the Psel River. The advance comes to a sudden stop as the 1st
SS troopers run into the elite and fresh 9th Airborne Division
outside the town.
As reinforcements come slowly ashore,
the Axis forces in the American sector attempt to make a coordinated attack
against the beaches. The Italian Livorno Division and the HG Panzer Division
manage to make a reasonably coordinated attack in the Gela area. This attack was
initially met by the small bands of General Gavin?s paratroops along the
Biazza Ridge. Vastly outgunned and outnumbered, the American paratroops beat
back the HG tankers. In the center, the HG Panzer Division column was making for
Gela. This attack was met by naval gunfire. The destroyer Beatty alone fired 800
rounds of 5? high explosive into the advancing Germans. However, they
continued on and were only stopped by the direct fire from the 1st
Division?s own artillery which was set up on the beaches south of Gela. On the
left, Darby?s Rangers were confronted with the Italian attack. This attack was
broken up by fire from the cruiser Savannah (ordered up by Patton
himself). Upon leaving the rangers, Patton said, ?kill every one of those
IN the British sector, the only organized fighting force was a group of 15th Panzer Grenadiers (KG Schmalz). These few Germans had all they could handle in making a fighting withdraw in front of the British army. The British on the other hand were having a difficult time in dealing with all of the Italians surrendering to them and in securing Syracuse.
July 12, 1943
- The largest tank battle in history is fought at Prokorovka
As Army Detachment Kempf continues to
make progress in their drive toward Prokorovka and 48th Panzer Corps
struggles toward Odoain all eyes turn to the developments southwest of
Germans started their attack at dawn. Simultaneously, the Soviets had launched
their massed armor forward. Nearly 2500 tanks would clash in this titanic
battle. The terrain in this area is gently rolling which reduced visibility to a
few hundred yards. This resulted in extremely short engagement ranges, typically
around 200 meters. This coupled with Vatutin?s orders that his tankers should
race their tanks to point blank range so they had a chance to penetrate the
Tiger and Panther tanks armor guaranteed massive carnage.
The only formation to make headway for
the Germans was the 3rd SS Panzer on their left. They were able to
break through the screening force and advance several kilometers on one side
west side of the Psel River. Vatutin through fresh formations in front of the
onrushing enemy, but they were stopped only when attacks on their left flank
forced them to react in that direction.
On the other side of the river, 1st
SS Panzer was fighting for its life. Trapped between the Psel River and a
railroad embankment to the east, the division could not maneuver and became
entangled in a deadly short range duel with the Soviet armor. The carnage was
catastrophic as the two behemoths ground themselves to dust.
On the left, 2nd SS Panzer
became entangled with 2nd Guard Tank Corps. Like their comrades to
the west, these two formations also devoured one another in the fires of battle.
The fighting came to an end as
tremendous thunderstorms moved into the area. The bloody ground was further
soaked by the rain turning the battlefield into a massive quagmire. Both sides
had huge losses. Half of the tanks which started the day?s fight were no
As devastating as the losses suffered
were, the death kneel for the German offensive came from a different direction.
Further to the north opposite Orel, the Bryansk and West Fronts began a massive
offensive. This coupled with the invasion at Sicily forced the Germans to call
an end to the slaughter at Kursk. For the first time in the war, a deliberate
and thoroughly planned German offensive had failed to achieve even an
operational, let alone a strategic breakthrough. The invincibility of the German
army was shattered on the Russian steppes at Kursk.
other news ?
The bulk of the 15th Panzer
Division arrived on the left (west) flank of the American sector and began
applying pressure against the 3rd Infantry Division. By this time
Combat Command A of the 2nd Armored Division (CCA/2 Armored) had
arrived to support the 3rd. The HG Panzer Division was withdrawing
but still in contact with the US 1st and 45th Divisions.
In the British sector, the 8th Army continued to advance nearly
unopposed as the regimental kampfgruppe (KG Schmalz) from the 15th
Panzer Grenidiers remained the only organized resistance. The Italian army in
Sicily continued to disintegrate.
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