Kursk and Beyond - Summer 1943

T-34 used by DR, during Opertation CitadelOn July 4th, Das Reich had 48 Pz. III's, 30 Pz. IV's (1/4 with short barrels), 12 Tigers, 8 Pz. III command tanks, 18 T-34's, 33 StuG's, and 10 Marders combat ready. On the fifth, the first day of Citadel for the division, its Tigers knocked out 23 tanks in some 6 hours of heavy figting near Beresoff and Hill 233.3 to the north. On the 6th, south of Lutschki, I Bn. Tigers destroyed 10 tanks of the 2nd Guards Tank Corps, but anti-tank fire killed the 6th Pz. company commander, Ustuf. Worthmann. After being awarded the Iron Cross First Class as a company c/o in I/"Langemark" Hstuf. Dieter Kesten took over the 6th Pz. company. By July 13th, Ustuf. Hans Mennel in Pz. IV #621had knocked out 24 tanks during the campaign.

Although from July 5th through the 16th, Das Reich accounted for 448 Russian tanks and SU's, losing a total of 46 panzers and assault guns destroyed, Army Group South failed to completely break through to the final Russian defense line south of Kursk. On the 28th, before it departed for Italy, the Leibstandarte handed over to Das Reich 9 Tigers, 39 Pz. IV's, and 4 Pz. III's, which already had 33 Pz. III's, 17 Pz. IV's, 2 T-34's, and 2 Tigers combat ready.

DR Tiger engaging targets at KurskAfter being transferred south to oppose the Russian counterattack across the Mius River, and destroying 391 tanks and SU's from July 30th to August 21st, Das Reich moved to the outskirts of Kharkov, where it was involved in even heavier fighting. Its Panther battalion first saw combat on the 22nd, around Starja-Ljubotin and Kommuna, knocking out 53 Soviet tanks. The next day, 12 Km west of Kharkov, the platoon of Ustuf. Karl Meileck (Panther 211) broke up a Russian tank assault. He alone destroyed 7 tanks. On the 24th, Hstuf. Kesten's 6th Pz. Company, newly supplied with side-skirted Pz. IV's, battled 60 T-34's between Udy-Bogens and Orkan, just SW of Charkow, which had fallen to the Soviets on the previous day. Kesten's panzers knocked out 29 tanks of the 60. Mueleck and Kesten later received K.C.'s for these actions.

In battles around Kharkov from Aug. 22 through Sept. 2, Das Reich scored 463 armor kills. On Aug. 27 it had 4 Pz. III's, 31 Pz. IV's, 6 Tigers, and 6 command tanks combat fit, plus one Panther company. The other Panther companies were briefly attached to other divisions. Das Reich panzers moved to the Walki area early in Sept. On the 13th, some 60 km SW of Charkow and 20 km west of Walki, over 70 T-34's attacked Das Reich's recon battalion. From their reserve position, Hstuf. Friedrich Holzer in Panther #101 led 7 tanks of his company to the rescue. In a 40 minute battle the Panthers destroyed 28 T-34's. In 2 days, 78 Soviet tanks were left burning on the long grass of the steppes.

DR anti-tank unit along the Mius River, late autumn 1943Throughout September Das Reich Tigers scored heavily against Russian armor. On the 23rd, Ustuf. Alois Kalls (Tiger S31) received the G.C. in Gold for his adept leadership of his platoon during the late summer. His assistant platoon leader, Hsch. Johann Reinhardt was posthumously awarded the G.C. in Gold on the 25th. At the end of the month Das Reich moved to the Dnjepr front, having destroyed 268 tanks around Walki.

On October 29th, just outside of Khodorov on the western bank of the Dnjepr River, some 75 km SE of Kiev, 20 T-34's pierced Das Reich's defense line after 5 a.m.. Quickly advancing to this dangerous breakthrough, Hscha. Willy Simke in Pz. IV #531 and his third platoon, 5th Pz. Co., fired upon the T-34's from 20 to 30 meters, and knocked out 17 of them. In the same area on Nov. 1 the Russians tried to secure their bridgehead over the Dnjepr. Stubaf. Tychsen's IInd Pz. Abt. was on the right flank of Das Reich's position. When enemy tanks and infantry attempted to outflank his unit, Tychsen led his panzer HQ stab and an engineer platoon to the attack around Hill 188. Three T-34's appeared over a rise: Tychsen's BeflPz.III knocked out two, then his swiftly advancing force destroyed 6 more and drove off the rest. That same day in Tiger S11, Hsha. Hans Soretz, I Zug leader 8/Pz.Rgt. DR, scored the 2000th armor kill for the division in 1943. Its panzer regiment had accounted for some 1100 of these, to its own losses of over 250 tanks. On the 11th in Slavia, Tigers shot up more than a dozen Russian tanks.

Tiger I - Notice the DR temporary symbol being usedPrevious to becoming an Ostuf. (on the 18th), Alois Kalls was wounded after taking over as acting commander of the Tiger Company. On the morning of the 13th near Bolschaja Grab, Soviet infantry assaulted the IInd Pz.Abt. headquarters. Ostuf. Karl-Heinz Boska, its adjutant, led 5 panzers in a counterattack that destroyed 12 anti-tank guns, 2 infantry guns, and killed over 300 troops. That same day, the Pz.Rgt's commander Obersturmbannfuehrer (Ostubaf.) vom Reitzenstein received the K.C. for the efforts of his unit during the summer and fall. Soon afterward, charged with off-duty misconduct, he committed suicide on the 30th. Tychsen assumed command of the regiment.

On Nov. 26, Das Reich had 9 Pz.IV's, 2 Tigers, 7 Panthers and 2 command tanks combat fit. In mid-December, most of the division was ordered to France to re-supply and retrain. A kampfgruppe remained behind, its depleted panzer force formed a battalion of only 2 companies, one led by Ostuf. Schomka, the second led by Ostuf. Kloskowski. The acting battalion c/o was Hstuf. Willi Endemann. Six Pz.IV's, 4 Panthers, and 5 Tigers were combat fit. From Dec. 25 through Jan. 18, 1944, the battalion destroyed only 12 tanks, 14 SU's, and 12 anti-tank guns. Three of its Tigers were knocked out on March 4th east of Semjalintzy. Ustuf. Tegthoff and Sta.Ju. von Einboeck were mortally wounded. A handful of Das Reich tanks fought on until April.

The Tiger Company was disbanded that spring, its surviving personnel distributed among the 3 companies of the forming 102 sSS Pz.Abt. (most D.R. veterans went to its first company). In all, Das Reich's Pz.Rgt. scored 1200 armor kills by April, and lost c. 300 tanks in combat against the Russians.

All images courtesy of Mr. Mark Yerger and Mr. Thorleif Olson

Updated January 28, 2022

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