Battle of Brody (June 23, 1941 to June 30, 1941)
Following World War II, numerous military historians argued that 1943’s Battle of Prokhorovka was the largest tank battle in history. Over the past decade, however, most scholars revised this opinion, and point to the concentrated armor clashes during the opening phases of Operation Barbarossa; Nazi Germany’s 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. The largest estimates of armor at the Battle of Prokhorovka range between 978 (the most likely number) and 1,500. The Battle of Brody, however, included 4,100 tanks at a minimum. Scholars suspect the number of armored units may have been closer to 5,000, but the insane chaos of the invasion wreaked havoc on the logistics of both sides, and the true number may never be known.
The Battle of Brody pitted the German 1st Panzer Group, commanded by Generaloberst Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist, against six concentrated Soviet Mechanized Corps drawn from the 5th Army to the north and the 6th Army to the south… and no clear commander. Orders to counter-attack came on the heels of orders to defend. Movement, difficult as it already was, was compounded by conflicting instructions. The Soviet Union was straining every sinew to repulse the German Army before it reached Kiev, and the result was complete pandemonium.
When the two armies crashed into each other, hundreds of Panzers fought thousands of Soviet armored units in a bitter, brutal, struggle near the triangle of three towns (Dubno, Lutsk, and Brody) over the course of four days. Experienced and confident in their officers and equipment, the German 1st Panzer Group expected to triumph over the Soviets. The evidence seemed to support their optimism as the Panzers raced forward, but the Soviets had a nasty surprise for the German Army: the T-34. Following the Battles of Khalkhin Gol two years prior, the Soviet’s analyzed the weakness of their BT tank line and used their experience to build a medium tank with dense, sloped armor, a more powerful main gun, and a vastly improved track design. The result was the T-34, and the Germans had absolutely no idea it existed.
Kliest later referred to the T-34 as “the finest tank in the world,” and Guderian would grudgingly admit it was superior to German Panzers. Combined with the operational and tactical prowess of the veteran Panzer crews, the T-34 fought against a stacked deck in 1941. With one notable exception, the German Panzers devastated the Soviet’s armor over the next four days. The Soviet’s gave ground slowly, but the Panzer’s consistently outflanked their opponents, encircled their armor, and destroyed them like a wolfpack pumped on steroids and backed up with air support.
This was not the case for the Soviet’s 8th Mechanized Corps who successfully attacked the 11th Panzer Division on the 26th, but a single victory does not win a battle. When the smoke cleared on June 29, 1941, only shattered remnants of the first Soviet counter-attack remained, and the final tally ended thusly: Germany lost roughly 200 tanks out of 750 whereas the Soviets lost between 2,600 and 3,000 armored units.