Blood, Steel, & Myth: The II. SS Panzer Corps and the Road to Prochorowka – Book Review
Blood, Steel, & Myth: The II. SS Panzer Corps and the Road to Prochorowka by George Nipe, Jr. RZM Imports, 2011. 496 pages, hardcover.
I just finished reading George Nipe’s Blood, Steel, & Myth: The II. SS Panzer Corps and the Road to Prochorowka (RZM Imports, 2011). The book deals primarily with how the 1943 Eastern Front Battle of Kursk was fought by elements of German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s Army Group South, in particular General Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf (note: it only mentions in passing the Kursk battle’s fighting to the north in Army Group Center’s sector by Model’s Ninth Army). The book, Nipe’s third, contains maps galore and hundreds of fantastic photos for which RZM Imports has become well-known. It is a good read and very well researched. It also will prove to be extremely controversial — Nipe’s “bottom line” will shock and surprise readers who are familiar with the, to date, standard accounts of the battle. He reveals that the gigantic tank battle of Prochorowka (also spelled Prokhorovka), the mythical climactic event of the Battle of Kursk, never happened.
Admittedly, there was a lot of fighting taking place south and west of the town on July 12, 1943, but nothing that even remotely resembles the stories of legend, especially the official Soviet version. The so-called “death ride” of the II SS Panzer Corps into the Psel River "Gap," which supposedly involved hundreds of SS Tiger & Panther tanks locked in mortal combat with hundreds of charging Soviet T-34 tanks from Red Army General Pavel Rotmistrov’s Fifth Guards Tank Army, was a flagrant Soviet post-battle fabrication in every sense of the word (one example: the Waffen-SS did not even have any operational Panther tank units at that time). As the reader will discover, most of the Soviet tanks destroyed July 10 – 13 in the II SS Panzer Corps’ area of operations were destroyed by antitank guns and determined German infantrymen (although a “stand” by a platoon of Tiger tanks by legendary “panzer ace” Michael Wittmann does hold center stage). Nipe found that German tank losses actually were moderate, but did verify that the numbers of Soviet tanks destroyed closely matched the numbers that both sides gave out. Forced to call off the ambitious offensive after ten days, the Germans did suffer a strategic defeat at Kursk, true enough; but their tank losses were nowhere near what the Soviet Union trumpeted then and that have become legend in the years since.
Nipe backs up every claim in the book with solid evidence. He has done what most others have not — including more better-known Eastern Front historians who have written extensively about the battle. What Nipe did was to take the time to comb painstakingly through the German war diaries of all the units concerned – from Army Group, to Army, to Panzer Corps, and down to division, regimental & battalion level. Sifting through and translating daily status reports, evening conference notes between commanders and reports about available tank strengths, he went through them all with a fine-tooth comb and the results will surprise you. Aided by guides such as David Glantz & Jonathan House’s account, The Battle of Kursk (albeit theirs from the Soviet perspective), Nipe also pored through available Soviet primary source documents and developed the ability to read between the lines to get closer to what really happened. A large number of sacred cows will be gored and shibboleths laid to rest in Nipe’s account, but the end result is a new, fresh and surprising account of a battle that has been widely misunderstood and misinterpreted.
As you can tell, I was excited to get my hands on this book – George Nipe has confirmed what I had long suspected but did not have the time and resources to research myself. Those who believe the Soviet account will be shocked at how poorly the Red Army’s tank units stood up in tank-on-tank engagements, though Nipe properly gives the Soviet defensive preparations and maturing operational abilities their just due. Those who view the battle from the German perspective will also be unpleasantly surprised, especially in regards to how poorly some of the more vaunted German formations, such as the famous Grossdeutschland Division, actually performed in the battle. Even Field Marshal von Manstein doesn’t make it through this account completely unscathed, coming across more like a “Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg”- – watching his subordinate army commanders make repeated mistakes while he fails to exercise much command influence.
This book definitely deserves special notice and a wide readership, principally because it forces us to reexamine our assumptions about the Battle of Kursk and to reflect upon how politics and the mass media affect the official histories of controversial battles.
Reviewer: Douglas E. Nash, Colonel, U. S. Army, ret. is the Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp: The 272d Volks-Grenadier Division From the Huertgen Forest to the Heart of the Reich (Aberjona Press, 2008) and Hell’s Gate: The Battle of the Cherkassy Pocket, January to February 1944 (RZM Publishing, 2002). An Armchair General magazine contributing author, Nash’s ACG articles include Battle Studies “Costly Diversion at Simmerath” (March 2010) and “The Forgotten Soldier: Identified!” (November 2010).