Myth 14 – The Largest Tank Battle of the War Took Place near Prokhorovka in 1943


The Largest Tank Battle of the War Took Place near Prokhorovka in 1943

Sergii Riabenko

Military Encyclopedia Dictionary, 1984.

“Prokhorovka – an urban village, the regional center of the Belgorod province, near which on 12 July 1943 during the Battle of Kursk, the largest tank battle of the Second World War occurred.”

The Essence of the Myth

The largest tank battle of the Second World War took place in the summer of 1943 near Prokhorovka. It involved 1,200 tanks and self-propelled artillery. Losses by both sides amounted to 700 tanks. The German forces were defeated, and the remaining went on the defensive. This was the turning point of the Battle of Kursk.

Fast Facts

The largest tank battle of the German-Soviet war took place in the summer of 1941 on the territory of western Ukraine. It lasted a week near the towns of Dubno, Brody and Lutsk. It included more than 3,000 Soviet and more than 700 German tanks and self-propelled guns (SPGs). This battle ended in an ignominious defeat for the Soviet troops.

Detailed Facts

Traditionally, the largest tank battle of the Second World War was usually considered to be the Battle of Prokhorovka in the summer of 1943. According to the official Soviet version, both sides had up to 1,200 tanks and SPGs. German forces were destroyed and the remaining forces went on the defensive, and that was the turning point of the Battle of Kursk.

By focusing on the Battle of Prokhorovka, Soviet propaganda moved another tank battle to the sidelines. It took place in the summer of 1941 in western Ukraine near the towns of Dubno, Brody and Lutsk. But during Soviet times it was useless to seek out any details about this affair. If it was mentioned in the official historiography, it was only in passing.

In the Military Encyclopedia Dictionary edited by the Chief of the General Staff of the USSR, Nikolai Ogarkov, the tank battle of 1941 was only a “white spot”.

The official publication from the Institute of History of the USSR, The Soviet Union during the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945, devotes only one sentence to it:

“…counterstrokes by the troops of the 1st German Panzer Group resulted in a large tank battle in the areas around Lutsk, Brody, Rivne, Dubno, which lasted until early July and which led to the breakdown of Nazi command’s plan of capturing Kyiv.”

The same terse terms about this were also mentioned in the memoirs of Soviet military leaders.

Meanwhile, by comparing the number of engaged weaponry, Prokhorovka was clearly not the bigger event. One can judge for oneself.

Soviet T34 tanks of the 8th Mechanized Corps of the 26th Army of the Southwestern Front, destroyed by the German 111th Division and “Herman Gering” Regiment near Dubno

The Battle of Prokhorovka lasted only one day. The Battle for Dubno-Brody-Lutsk stretched for a whole week – from 23 to 30 June 1941.

The Soviet side had five mechanized corps and within this, more than 2,800 tanks.

The Germans countered this armada with four divisions with 585 tanks and SPGs.

Afterwards, in order to help their side, another Soviet (with 325 tanks) and one German (143 tanks) armoured division appeared.

Therefore, in general, the battle involved more than 3,000 Soviet and more than 700 German tanks and SPGs. During the Battle of Prokhorovka, the strength of both sides was almost three times smaller.

What is the reason that the tank battle in western Ukraine remained almost unnoticed by Soviet historiography?

Already on the evening of 22 June, the Soviet troops on the Southwestern Front were tasked to encircle and destroy the German troops in the Volodymyr-Volynskyi and Dubno, and on 24 June to take the Polish city of Lublin. The Chief of Staff, Georgy Zhukov, personally came to the frontlines to coordinate operations.

However, the Soviet tank units entered the battle separately and their counterattack stalled. The troops did not receive any reinforcement and were surrounded. On 29 June, Command gave the order to retreat to the almost lifeless mechanized corps. The next day, a general offensive began but looked more like a retreat.

The Soviet side lost over 2,500 tanks. The majority of losses included non-combat technology. In some parts, losses were between 40 and 80 percent. The German losses were more modest – only 260 combat vehicles. Moreover, most of these tanks and SPGs were renovated and returned into the array.

None of the Soviet objectives during this battle were attained. Despite their numerical advantage, they fell back to the old Soviet-Polish border line. After a few days, the German troops broke through the hastily organized defensive line there and on 10 July 1941 entered Zhytomyr.

Soviet propaganda claimed that at the beginning of the war, the Wehrmacht allegedly had better quantity and quality of tanks that dominated the Red Army (for more on this, see Myth 11). Because of this, many still believe that the poorly armed Soviet soldiers stopped the armada of German tanks with grenades or even simply by Molotov cocktails. Including a big tank battle into this narrative of June 1941 was rather difficult. It was also difficult to explain why this battle ended in such a shameful defeat if it was led by the future “Victory Marshal” Georgy Zhukov.

That is why there was no proper place in the official Soviet history of the war of this tank battle near Dubno, Lutsk and Brody.

Abandoned Soviet tanks of the 67th Tank Regiment, 34th Tank Division near Dubno (June 1941)