The alleged long-range supremacy of German weapons is a common trope in popular history. The dreaded "Flak 88" sets up on a hill and fires at hordes of incoming T-34s or Shermans, racking up a large amount of kills despite being hard to hide and having limited range in practice. I already picked apart claims of these guns excelling at 3500 meters, but Forczyk brings even more impressive claims by the SS-men for us.
"...the rest of Koptsov's 15th Tank Corps reached Pechenegi on 4 February and was shocked to find that elements of the SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) were already defending the heights on the far side of the Northern Donets.
The Germans emplaced a few 8.8cm Flak guns on the heights and they were able to engage Koptsov's tanks at distances up to 6,000 meters and succeeded in setting nine tanks on fire."
Nine tanks knocked out at ten times the recommended engagement range? Sounds fishy. Let's take a closer look at what was happening at the banks of the Donets on that day.
Thankfully, Forczyk makes my job easy and calls out the unit in question. For non-believers, here's a map of the 3rd Tank Army's positions.
The 15th Tank Corps is right where it should be, at the banks of the Northern Donets at Bogorodichnoye, across the river from Pechenegi. The name is not shown on the map, but the big blue semicircle clearly indicates the German stronghold.
Let's see what the elements of the corps were up to.
"195th Tank Brigade goes first. Short term task: capture Olkhovatka, later advance towards Podsrdnee, Seriy Yar farm, Gnilusha, Zeleniy Gai, Artemovka, Pechenegi, and by the end of February 3rd, 1943, reach the western bank of the North Donets river near Pechenegi."
The brigade was a little bit behind schedule. Having arrived at a major water hazard, they decided to play it safe.
"It was the fierce February of 1943. As usual, the enemy was shelling us with mortars and artillery from Pechenegi. The Corps command decided to send our motorized infantry battalion to the rear of the enemy, occupy a hill, hold the Pechenegi-Chuguyev road under fire. In addition, the raid would create the illusion of encirclement. The battalion could not carry out its task completely, as the enemy threw overwhelming force against it. After a three day presence of the motorized infantry battalion in the enemy rear, the command ordered the battalion to be returned to the Corps positions.
On the next day, the brigade had a new objective: take Pechenegi by storm. It was not possible to use tanks in the assault, and the motorized infantry battalion had to carry out the task."
Documents of the 3rd Tank Army contain a much more concise record of events:
"15th TC - 53nd Motorized Rifle Brigade is performing reconnaissance of Pechenegi"
As you can see, the tanks were forced to camp out in the village while their infantry did all the work.
The losses and claims of the 15th Tank Corps also don't suggest that the tanks faced any action at all:
121 enemy soldiers killed, 14 taken prisoner, 1 tank, 4 guns, and 2 planes destroyed. On the Soviet side, 37 were killed or wounded, 2 cannons and 17 cars were lost. Seems like the Red Army units were aware of the guns in an overwatch position and didn't send any tanks into battle, posing the question: whose tanks did the SS allegedly destroy?