Dr Wheatley is on a mission. His mission is to disprove the long articulated Russian stance that the tank action at Prokhorovoka was an annihilation of the elite SS II Panzer Corps by the Soviet Army in the southeast corner of the Russian Front in July 1943. Whilst the tank action at Prokhorovka was a victory, the Soviet military narrative has historically placed the Battle of Prokhorovka as one of the most important battles in Russian military history, on a par to that of the defeat of Napoleon’s army outside the gates of Moscow at Borodino in 1812.
Dr Wheatley achieves his mission. He does this producing a very data intensive analysis of the losses of German tanks, using previously unpublished photographs of the battlefield, and access to German military archives, which show that the losses to the German armoured capability of II SS Panzer Corps were not as catastrophic as always claimed.
In that sense, this book is not a “book”. It is an extremely detailed analysis of the evidence to support his argument. Whilst convincing, and no doubt authoritative, it has the feel of a thesis, more than a book. It pays limited attention to the wider strategic issues affecting the battle, the history and context leading up to the battle and does not offer the reader much in the way of analysis in command structures, intent, tactics and logistics.
To give the prospective reader a feel for the structure of the book, the appendices full of tank loss data start at page 184 of 320. Many of the pages of text before the appendices contain tables of data. Whilst the photographs are good, with the “Then and Now” photos in colour particularly interesting, the maps are small and too detailed to provide useful support to a narrative on the background to the Battle.
In that context, this is not a title for an interested amateur, or casual observer of the titanic struggles between the German and Soviet armies on the Eastern Front. Rather, it’s a very detailed, data intensive analysis of losses suffered by the SS during a specific tank battle.
Consequently, the reviewer would recommend The Panzers of Prokhorovka for serious students of the Eastern Front, and those with a detailed understanding of armoured warfare, and in particular the German SS Panzer capability in World War II.
Rupert Hague-Holmes is a military historian, currently writing a biography about the life and career of Lieutenant General Sir George Lea KCB, DSO, MBE, one of the leading post WW2 British counterinsurgency warfare experts.