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Cheating at Statistics: Staudegger's Secrets

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In a video, British historian Mark Fenton describes a truly fantastical battle. According to Felton, a Tiger tank commander from the 1st SS Tank Division Franz Staudegger pulled off a truly incredible feat, destroying two T-34 tanks with hand grenades on foot. Unfortunately, no specifics are given for this Hollywood-worthy action story, so it is difficult to ascertain whether or not it actually happened. What is easier to evaluate is Staudegger's next engagement. According to Fenton, three days later Staudegger personally held off an attack by 50 T-34 tanks. The description of the battle is right out of an 80s martial arts movie, with an overwhelming number of opponents coming at the main character one at a time, easily dispatched by his superior skill. Felton credits Staudegger with destroying 22 T-34 tanks, which earned him the Knight's Cross.

Throughout the video and in its description, Felton draws attention to the fact that this story is not only incredible, but absolutely true. However, he doesn't give any sources or really that much to go on in order to verify what actually happened. We do have a few clues: a unit (10th Tank Corps) and a date (July 8th).

Let us reconstruct the events from the point of view of the 10th Tank Corps. This unit was kept in reserve east of the front line and only activated on July 7th, two days after the start of the Battle of Kursk. 

Transit instructions issued to the 10th Tank Corps. Elements of the corps would undertake a 110-130 km long march to reposition at Prokhorovka.

Even though it was technically possible to cover this long distance in just two days, it does not appear that the 10th Tank Corps engaged in any offensives on July 7th, July 8th, or even later.

"Over the course of July 7th-9th 1943 the corps held at the assigned line of defense, offering staunch resistance to advancing enemy tank units who attacked in groups of 40-50 tanks from multiple directions simultaneously."

While the 10th TC was far from idle, it does not appear that they attacked at all or faced lone enemy tanks like Staudegger's. It is certainly not out of the question that his action could have been a local counterattack, but losses suffered by the 10th TC show that this is unlikely. 

The 10th Tank Corps accounts for only 2 tanks lost between July 7th and July 11th.

Judging by the loss reports of the 10th TC, the defense was carried out largely by infantry and artillery of its motorized brigades. 25 cannons of all calibers and 16 anti-tank rifles were lost in the defense with 515 men killed and 1124 wounded. Tank losses were negligible, just two tanks burned up, suggesting that tanks were hardly used at all in this fighting. This is corroborated by Aleksey Isayev in his book Kurskaya Bitva. Page 179 reads:
"Despite everything, the attacks of the brigades of the 2nd Tank Corps were strong enough to worry the 2nd SS Tanks Corps commanders. Only V.G. Burkov's 10th Tank Corps did not begin the offensive. The brigades reached their assigned locations in time, but remained in place. Burkov simply ignored the orders of the Front command and did not attack." 

The question then stands: who, if anyone, did Staudegger fight on July 8th? Isayev describes the plans for a counterattack on that day in great detail. Four Tank Corps were prepared to attack at the enemy's right flank: the aforementioned 10th, 2nd, 2nd Guards, and 5th Guards.

The 26th and 99th Tank Brigades of the 2nd Tank Corps attacked on that day as ordered. The brigades each had 34 T-34s and 19 T-70s, meaning that they could have achieved Staudegger's claim of 50 T-34s if they attacked together. However, that was not the case.

The 26th Tank Brigade moved from one flank, though the Komsomolets farm, Ozerovskiy, and Kosmodemyanovka, with the goal of striking the enemy at Teterevino. The 99th was to move out to Yasnaya Poyana. Both targets were on the eastern side of the German penetration, whereas the 1st SS Liebstandard Adolf Hitler was on the west.

The 5th Guards Tank Corps planned a similarly shallow counterattack at the east flank. Its 21st Guards Tank Brigade aimed at Kalinin and Sobachevskiy with the other two tank brigades and motorized rifle brigade staying behind on the defense. The 2nd Guards Tank Corps aimed again at Teterevino with its 4th Guards Tank Brigade, Nechayevka with the 25th, and Visloye with the 26th. That was the extent of offensive action against the eastern flank of the 2nd SS Tank Corps.

Position of the 2nd SS Tank Corps on July 8th. No element of the Soviet counterattack that day was in a position to engage Staudegger. 

Meanwhile, Staudegger's 1st SS Tank Division successfully attacked northwest, towards the 31st Tank Corps and 3rd Mechanized Corps that were holding defensive positions. This flow of the battle means that it would have been impossible for Staudegger to find himself in the way of a Soviet counterattack, especially one allegedly carried out by 50 T-34s, a force requiring the commitment of at least two tank brigades.

The combination of circumstances in Staudegger's story was already suspicious. The story of a lone Tiger tank perfectly set up to engage T-34 after T-34 is a common one in German propaganda. Despite the small amount of precise details provided by Felton, it is nevertheless possible for us to establish that the engagement as described by Staudegger could never have taken place.

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