Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Battle of the Tanks

Kursk, 1943

by Lloyd Clark

From celebrated military historian Lloyd Clark comes the riveting and richly detailed account of the greatest land battle of all time and a crucial turning point in World War II–the massive tank battle at Kursk in July 1943.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 496
  • Publication Date November 13, 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4596-3
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $22.00

About The Book

On July 5, 1943, the greatest land battle in history began when Nazi and Red Army forces clashed near the town of Kursk, on the western border of the Soviet Union, a region that had acquired vital strategic importance for Hitler’s war in the east. Code named “Operation Citadel,” the German offensive would unite Nazi forces from the north and south, cutting through the bulge in the eastern front that had been created following Germany’s retreat at the battle of Stalingrad. Well-informed about Germany’s plans through their network of spies, the Soviets spent months preparing. Two million men supported by 6,000 tanks, 35,000 guns, and 5,000 aircraft convened in Kursk in the days leading up to battle.

The explosive clash on the first day devolved into a quagmire of localized fighting. Several days later the engagement reached its pinnacle at the small southern village of Prokhorovka, where a fleet of state-of-the-art German Panzer tanks collided with the Soviet Fifth Guards Tank Army Reserve in the biggest tank battle in history. By the end nearly half of the 850 tanks involved had been destroyed and tens of thousands of men had died. The death count for the eighteen-day battle was staggering: over 360,000 men lost their lives, an average of 20,000 a day. Despite suffering seven times more casualties, the Soviets won a decisive victory that became a turning point not only on the eastern front but in the Second World War as a whole.

The Battle of the Tanks is storytelling and military history at its finest, dropping the reader into the cockpits and tanks as the battle unfolds and into the war rooms where Hitler, Stalin, and their generals maneuver for strategic dominance. With unprecedented access to the journals and testimonials of the officers, soldiers, political leaders, and citizens who lived through it, The Battle of the Tanks is the definitive account of an epic showdown that changed the course of history.


“A comprehensive analysis of WWII’s greatest land battle and one of history’s greatest armor engagements. [Clark] blends archival research, participant interviews, and professional insight in presenting the genesis, conduct, and consequences of the Battle of Kursk. Particularly effective is his integration of foxhole and tank-crew perspectives with broader discussion of the course of a headdown slugging match that decisively tipped the Eastern Front’s balance in favor of a resurgent Red Army. . . . With this account, Clark confirms his reputation as one of Britain’s outstanding scholars of operational military history.” —Publishers Weekly

“A leading British military historian reconsiders the events of World War II—this time, on the decisive yet less-trammeled Eastern Front. In this deeply informed overview, Clark offers an authoritative appraisal of the ‘total war’ engulfing both Germany and the Soviet Union. . . . Vigorous depictions of German and Soviet military leaders alternate with the words of ordinary soldiers and richly described specifications of military hardware.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Lloyd Clark belongs to a new generation of British military historians who appeal to both scholars and general readers; he has written successful works on Anzio and the British Rhine campaign of 1944-45. This offering is no less solid: well researched and well written, it integrates frontline narratives and operational analysis. . . . What sets this work firmly apart, however, is Clark’s recognition that while Kursk was a ‘battle of the tanks,’ it was above all a soldiers’ battle. . . . Men, not machines, were the deciding factor.” —Dennis Showalter, WWII Magazine

“Mr. Clark has a reputation for both his deep knowledge of military history and his ability to make it accessible to a substantial reading audience. That reputation is well deserved. While the tank battle at Kursk is the centerpiece of his work, Clark realizes, as would any good historian, that it did not take place in a vacuum. He places the great battle in its context, relating it to the events that preceded, and those which followed. . . . It is in the telling of this dramatic tale that author Clark excels. . . . In The Battle of the Tanks, it is the men who fought there who tell the story of the great and fateful encounter.” —Thomas E. Nutter, The New York Journal of Books

“An experienced and literate military historian gives us a stellar account of the Battle of Kursk in 1943, one of the more obscure of WWII’s decisive battles. . . . The German Panzer forces on the Eastern Front never recovered their offensive capabilities, and the author has shown why in vivid, sometimes harrowing, detail, making extensive use of Russian sources only recently made available. A major addition to the literature of the Eastern Front, the decisive land theater of WWII.” —Roland Green, Booklist

“The Battle of Kursk was the last great German offensive on the Second World War’s eastern front . . . This was an epic encounter . . . This extraordinary clash is done full justice in Lloyd Clark’s fine book on the battle. Clark, a lecturer at Sandhurst, takes a long view, putting Kursk properly in the context of the origins of the war in the east and the first two years of that bloody and terrible conflict. . . . An excellent account—lucid and poignant.” —Michael Jones, BBC History Magazine


When a tank was hit, the crew tried to evacuate immediately. What was feared most was being trapped inside a tank when it burst into flames—a small fire could spread very quickly. Captain Itlin Skripkin of XVIII Tank Corps had trained the four-man crews in his T-34 tank battalion not only how to evacuate in just eight seconds but, in the likely event of casualties, how to get them out as well. It was a drill that would save his life. Skripkin entered the battle at the head of his battalion and, over the course of the next three hours, managed to destroy four enemy tanks including a Tiger. He had his fifth tank in the sights—a Mark IV Tiger—and pulled the trigger. At that very moment his tank was hit and a searing blast ripped through its body, which immediately caught fire. Chernov, the loader, was dead, his head blown clean from his body, while Skripkin lay slumped over the gun sights, blood pouring from a deep gash on his forehead.

The driver, Master Sergeant Nikolayev, and the wireless operator, Zyryanov, pulled their gravely wounded commander out of the tank through the flames engulfing the turret. After lowering Skripkin to the ground, Zyryanov dragged the captain to the cover of a shell crater but Nikolayev, having noticed an oncoming Tiger, jumped back into the burning tank. The turret slowly turned, stopped, and fired a shell at the Tiger. Seconds later the Tiger erupted, its turret blown off in a massive explosion. Skripkin survived the experience and went on to become a marshal of the Soviet Union and President Kruschev’s right-hand man.