Thursday, April 7, 2016

Bell-Jeff 10th Grade History Lecture Notes 4/8/16

Clash of Armor
Kursk and the Battle of the Bulge

“War is the locomotive of History.”Leo Tolstoy

I. Introduction

     A. The tank was not a new concept.  Leonardo Da Vinci presented his design for an “armored car”  (tank) in 1487, however it was not until the First World War that a practical vehicle, code named ‘Tank’ would enter the battlefield as a viable weapon.
     B. After the war, many military theorists saw the potential for the tank to change the nature of the battlefield. (Liddell Hart, Anon Chaffe, George Patton)

     C. During the Battle of France, 1940, the French & British had bigger tanks, better tanks and more tanks than did the Germans, however…
     Unlike the Allies, the Germans knew how to use the tank to best effect.

That said, the Germans realized they too needed a heavy tank and began a design program that resulted in the Mark VI Tiger I.  The Tiger entered active service in late 1942.

     D.  German invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941) did not proceed as planned.  The Soviets had twice as many tanks as the Germans had estimated and, more importantly in the T34, a tank design far more advanced than anything the Germans possessed.

The nasty surprise presented by the T34 spurred the Germans to reevaluate their own design concepts.  The Army wanted an exact copy of the T34, but German engineers thought they could improve on the Soviet design.  The result was the Mark V Panther.

Soviet T34/76 – a nasty surprise for the Germans in 1941.

German Mark V ausf.G Panther, December 1944 – Arguably the best tank of WWII.

German Mark VI Tiger I, armed with the 88mm main gun, it was the most feared tank on the battlefield, inspiring ‘Tiger Terror’ on both the Eastern and Western Fronts.

II. Kursk -- July 1943

“Is it really necessary to attack Kursk, and indeed in the east this year at all? Do you think anyone even knows where Kursk is? The entire world doesn't care if we capture Kursk or not. What is the reason that is forcing us to attack this year on Kursk, or even more, on the Eastern Front?” -- General Heinz Guderian, Panzer Leader ©1950

A.   Objectives – Why Attack Kursk?
1. Destroy (kill or capture) large concentration of Soviet Forces in and around the town of Kursk.  (The Kursk Bulge)
2. Regain control of the war in the East.
         a. Shorter defensive lines thus freeing up troops for redeployment to Italy      
         b. Follow on attacks were planed to finally capture Leningrad and then Moscow
3. Restore the faith of Germany’s allies who were now considering the possibility that Germany would lose the war.
4. Persuade Turkey to join the war on the side of Germany.
One distinguished American Historian has called the Germans, “…the most professionally skillful army of modern times.”Max Hastings, Overlord ©1984

     B.   Forces Available
Men: 1.9 million
Tanks: 5000
Artillery: 31,000
Aircraft: 3000

Men: 780,000
Tanks: 3000
Artillery: 7400
Aircraft: 2100

NOTE: These numbers are for the German offensive, July 5-17.  If one adds in the Soviet counter-offensive, these total numbers increase significantly

     C.   Tiger Terror and the “Myth” of Prokhorovka

1. “Death Ride” of the Panzers?
2. Every Tank a Tiger? (only 15 available at height of the battle)
3. The 5-to-1 Rule
4. The “Biggest” Tank Battle in History?
5. The Michael Licari Essay

“When we was in the bocage we were assaulted by them Tigers.  You know what I mean by assaulted?  I mean assaulted!”Moriarty, Kelly’s Heroes

      D.  Personalities of Note

1. Lt. Michael Wittmann
     Tiger Tank Platoon Leader in the 1st SS Panzergrenadier Division  He is credited with destroying over 37 T34 Tanks and 47 anti-tank guns at Kursk. By the time of his death, in August of 1944, his “kills” will total 138 tanks.

2. Lt. Aleksandra Samuenko
T34 Tank Platoon Leader in the 1st Guards Tank Army  She is credited with destroying 3 Tiger tanks during the Kursk battles  and is awarded the Order of the Red Star.  She died on March 3, 1945 from wounds received in battle 70 Km east of Berlin.  She was 23 years old.


3. Cpt. Hans-Ulrich Rudel
Flying a Ju87 Stuka Dive Bomber equipped with twin 37mm  anti-tank guns, Rudel is credited with killing 12 T34 tanks on his first day.  By war’s end his total will include 519 Soviet tanks, 1 Battleship, 1 Cruiser, 1 Destroyer, and nearly 1000 other vehicles of various types.  Rudel died in 1982.       

4. Lt. Antonina Lebedeva
Credited with over 1500 flying hours, 3 air battles and 12 combat missions, Lebedeva was shot down twice and destroyed one German Me-109 fighter.  On July 17, during an evening combat mission her plane went missing and she was listed as KIA.  Her body was discovered in 1982 by school children.

5. Lt. Eric Hartmann
On July 7, during the fierce areal battles above Kursk, Hartman destroyed seven Soviet fighters.  By the war’s end Hartmann would be the most successful fighter pilot in history with over 352 Allied aircraft shot down while having never been shot down himself.


E.   The Results – By the Numbers

1. Losses - Manpower
KIA: 70,330
WIA: 107,517
MIA: 34,000

KIA: 9,036
WIA: 43,159
MIA: 1,960

2. Losses – Material
Aircraft: 459

Tanks: 323
Aircraft: 159

     F.   Outcome – Political & Military
        1. Could the Germans have won at Kursk?
    2. Who lost the battle – Hitler or his Generals?
    3. Was Kursk the “Turning Point” of the War?


“I have done my utmost to let the events speak for themselves, and if any conclusion was reached, it was that there are no simple lessons in history, that it is human nature that repeats itself, not history.  We often learn more about the past from the present, in fact, than the reverse.”
-- John Toland from the introduction to his book The Rising Sun-The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-45

III. Wacht am Rhein – The Battle of the Bulge

         A. Objectives – Why Attack Here & Now?
                  1. The element of Surprise
                  2. The “Quiet Sector”
                  3. Split the Allies
                  4. Take the port of Antwerp
                  5. Force a Truce in the West
                  6. Free up units for the Eastern Front

         B. Forces Available
                  1. Germans
                  Manpower: 450,000
                  Tanks & Assault Guns: 1224
                  AFV: 1500

                  2. United States
                  Manpower: 700,000
                  Tanks & Assault Guns: 4,380
                  AFV: 7,800

Note: Time was the real enemy of the Germans and as each day passed Allied strength increased while German strength decreased.  These numbers represent totals at the height of unit commitment to the battlefield.  For example, at the time of the initial German assault on December 16th:

German forces available:
Men: 406,000
Tanks & Assault Guns: 1,224

Allied forces available:
Men: 228,741
Tanks & Assault Guns: 3,329


         C. Caught by Surprise

1.    Initial German Success
2.    Operation Greif
3.    Those Damned Engineers
4.    “Nuts!” -- Bastogne and the 101st Airborne
5.    Kampfgruppe Peiper and the Crossroads of Death

          D. Personalities of Note

1. LTC. Otto Skorzeny
Known as “Hitler’s Commando” Skorzeny carried out several special operations, most notably the rescue of Mussolini in July 1943.  For the Ardennes Offensive he was in charge of Operation Greif. After the war he lived in Spain and actually worked as a Mossad agent.

 2. LTC Joachim Peiper
 Fluent in several languages (including French and English) he served as Himmler’s aide before becoming a panzer commander of some renowned.  At the Bulge his unit, Kampfgruppe Peiper, committed some of the worst battlefield atrocities of the war.  Sentenced to death, Peiper was released in 1956.  After the war Peiper lived in France, translating books on military history.  He was murdered, on July 14, 1976.

3. PFC Kurt Vonnegut
Serving as an Infantry Scout with the 106th Infantry Division,  Vonnegut was captured on December 22 and sent to a POW camp in Dresden, Germany.  He survived the firebombing of the city (February 13--15, 1945).  His experiences formed the basis for his book, Slaughter House Five, considered by many to be one of the great American novels.

4. Cpl. Mel Brooks
Served as a Combat Engineer with the 78th Infantry Division. The Combat Engineers were vital in slowing the German advance in the first week of the battle.  After the war Brooks became a successful comedian and film director. 

“This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever famous American victory.”
-- Winston Churchill, House of Commons, January 22, 1945

              E.   The Results – By the Numbers

         1. Losses -- Manpower  
         KIA: 15,652
         WIA: 41,600
         MIA: 29.183

         KIA: 20,876
         WIA: 42,893
         MIA: 23,662
         2. Losses – Material
         Tanks & Assault Guns: 600
         Aircraft: 800

         Tanks & Assault Guns: 800     
         Aircraft: 647

              F.   Outcome – Political & Military
         1. Could the Germans have won?
         2. Who lost the battle – Hitler or his Generals?
         3. What if…
                  a. The Germans had launched this attack on the Eastern Front?
                  b. The Germans had used these forces for defense only?

IV. Sources / Further Reading


The Battle Of Kursk by David M Glantz & Jonathon M House, ©1999
Exhaustively researched and well written, this is the very best book on the battle.

Citadel – The Battle Of Kursk by Robin Cross, ©1993

Operation Citadel by Janusz Piekalkiewics, ©1987

Kursk-- The Greatest Tank Battle by M.K. Barbier, ©2002

Kursk 1943 – The Tide Turns In The East by Mark Healy, ©1993

Waffen-SS Kursk 1943 Volumes 1-6 by Remy Spezzano, ©2002
Incredible collection of photographs covering Waffen-SS operations at Kursk. 

Tiger I On The Eastern Front by Jean Restayn, ©1999

Tigers At The Front – A Photo Study by Thomas L Jentz, ©2001

Tiger Tanks by Michael Green, ©1995

Tiger Ace – The Story of Michael Wittmann by Gary L Simpson, ©1994

Battle of the Bulge

A Time For Trumpets – The Untold Story of The Bulge by Charles MacDonald, ©1985

Ardennes 1944 – The Battle Of The Bulge by Antony Beevor, ©2015

Snow & Steel – The Battle Of The Bulge by Peter Caddwick-Adams, ©2015

Battle Of The Bulge - Hitler’s Ardennes Offensive 1944-1945 by Danny S Parker, ©1991

Hitler’s Last Gamble – The Battle Of The Bulge by Trevor N Dupuy, David L Bongard and Richard C Anderson, ©1994

Engineering The Victory – The Battle Of The Bulge by Colonel David Pergrin, ©1996

The Bitter Woods by John S.D. Eisenhower, ©1969

Battle Of The Bulge – The First 24 Hours by David Jordon, ©2003

Nuts! – The Battle Of The Bulge by Donald M Goldstein, Katherine V Dillon and J Michael Wenger, ©1994

Ardennes – The Secret War by Charles Whiting, ©1984

Armageddon – The Battle For Germany 1944 –1945 by Max Hastings, ©2004

The Battle Of The Bulge – Hitler’s Last Hope by Robin Cross, ©2002

Ardennes 1944: Peiper & Skorzeny by Jean-Paul Pallud, ©1987

Ardennes 1944 - Hitler’s Last Gamble In The West by James R Arnold, ©1990

The Malmedy Massacre by John M Bauserman, ©1995

Massacre At Malmedy by Charles Whiting, ©1973

A Peculiar Crusade – Willis M Everett and the Malmedy Massacre by James J Weingartner, ©2000

On-Line Resources / Videos of Interest

Book review of Armor & Blood by Dennis E Showwalter,  The Daily Beast

Tank Encyclopedia On-Line resource about Tanks and AFV’s

Web site for the Tank Museum at Bovington, UK.  They have a working Tiger tank, among other AFV’s.

War History On-Line web site

Essays on the Ardennes Offensive and on the Malmaedy Massacre Trial

Survey & Review of books about the Battle of Kursk

Videos of Interest on YouTube

Tiger Vs. Sherman

Tiger Day at Bovington Tank Museum

US Army 1943 Training Film, “Crack That Tank”

Documentary on the Tiger Tank

Documentary on the Panther Tank

US Army Signal Corps 1945 Newsreel on The Battle of the Bulge using captured German film footage.

The Tiger II (King Tiger)

 M4E8 Sherman

Final Thoughts

 “The military makes demands which few if any other callings do, and of course emotionally disturbed people talk about being trained to kill… The whole essence of being a soldier is not to slay but to be slain.  You offer yourself up to be slain, rather than setting yourself up as a slayer.  Now one can get into very deep water here, but there’s food for thought in it.”
-- General Sir John Hackett, War The Lethal Custom, ©1985 & 2004, p129.


“Politicians may … pretend that the soldier is ethically in no different position than any other professional.  He is.  He serves under an unlimited liability, and it is the unlimited liability which lends dignity to the military profession … There’s also the fact that military action is group action, particularly in armies … The success of armies depends to a very high degree on the coherence of the group, and the coherence of the group depends on the degree of trust and confidence of its members in each other.

Now what Arnold Toynbee used to call the military virtues – fortitude, endurance, loyalty, courage, and so on – these are good qualities in any collection of men and enrich the society in which they are prominent.  But in the military society, they are functional necessities, which is something quite, quite different.  I mean a man can be false, fleeting, perjured, in every way corrupt, and be a brilliant mathematician, or one of the world’s greatest painters.  But there’s one thing he can’t be, and that is a good soldier, sailor, or airman.  Now it’s this group coherence and the unlimited liability which, between them, set the military professional apart, and I think will continue to do so.”
--General Sir John Hackett, War ©1985, p140.