The clash of armour across the Russian plain outside Kursk went on relentlessly as the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS Panzer Divisions hurled themselves into battle against the Soviet positions. They now faced an army that was well prepared, whose men and women were united in a hatred of the invaders and who were prepared to fight fanatically. The battlefield was so huge that many units had not yet been brought into the engagement.
On the 8th July it was the turn of Panzer Regiment 35. Lieutenant Reinhard Peters was a platoon leader who describes a day of hard fighting that began long before dawn:
0230 Hours, 8 July 1943.
We received orders to move out.Teploje. Wing after wing of the Luftwaffe thundered above us in that direction – bombers, Stukas, bombers, Stukas. It went on for hours. All of them dropped their cargoes on the hill. The Stukas also attacked individual targets, the dug-in T-34′s and KV-1’s on the forward slope ofthe hill. We felt confident that nothing could go wrong after that.
Geoghi’s company took the lead initially. When our tanks appeared from out of the defiles around Ssamodurowka, they were greeted by bitter tank and anti-tank gun fire. We had not expected that after the gigantic employment of bombers. The first attack wave started to waiver. After the next tank company also bogged down in its attack, we were up next.
Oberleutnant Prast gave the order to attack, but he was knocked out after a couple of hundred meters. Leutnant Beck, the senior platoon leader, assumed command. But that was only of short duration as well. After a few minutes, his tank was also hit.Then it was my turn. I ordered: Panzer marsch!
But there weren’t a whole lot of us; only a few vehicles were rolling next to me.
Oberfeldwebel Allgaier identified a dug-in KV-1, one of many. With typical Swabian composure and calmness, he took up a sight picture. But the distance was still too great; the 7.5-centimeter rounds ricocheted. He then fired with high-explosive rounds in front of them, so that the churned-up dust and dirt would rob the enemy of his visibility. He then used the time to get closer. He repeated the same game several times. Then he was at the spot he needed to be. With an anti-tank round in the breech, he waited in ambush. The dust blew away and revealed the target. Round on the way! Direct hit! lt was masterful.
As a result of the hours-long bomber sorties, there was a dome of haze above us composed of dust and gunpowder and other smoke. It was as if the skies had a veil over them. My gut feeling said it must be the afternoon, but the hands on my watch barely registered 0900 hours.
By then, Petrelli’s company had reached the houses in the village of Teploje at the base of the hill. Our attack had started to waver again.
For the first time, we experienced the employment of the Goliaths, small, remotely controlled tracked vehicles with a mine charge. But it didn’t work out so well. They became disabled due to mechanical problems, or they were knocked out. In any event, they did not bring success with them. We breathed easier, when schwere Panzer-Abteilung 505 pulled up. We needed some relief and reinforcement.
Just as I started observing over the commander’s cupola with my binoculars, a monstrous concussion along with an ear-deafening crash knocked me off the commander`s seat. They got us, I thought to myself. But all of us were in one piece, as was our tank. An explanation was quickly found. A Tiger had sought cover behind my Panzer IV.When it fired, its muzzle was barely a meter away from my open hatch. That wasn’t what we had had in mind, when we knew the Tigers were going to be employed.
The afternoon saw an immediate counterattack by the Russians.We pulled back to the edge of the defile and waited for them. A Russian tank unit rolled about 1,000 meters away from us and off to the left. We could take it under effective Flanking fire; the rest of them were taken care of by the Tigers.
But Russian infantry also attacked at the same time. It was swarming with them in front of us. The earth-brown figures approached us through the cornfields with a stoic calm. We let them approach to within 300 meters before we gave permission to fire with machine guns and high-explosive rounds. The attack was turned back with heavy casualties.