Thursday, 10 July 2014

World of Tanks History Section: Ponyri Defense

Germany had high hopes for the Ferdinand heavy self propelled guns. One of their trials was the attack on the Ponyri railroad station during the battle of Kursk. If captured, the enemy could continue advancing along the railroad.

"First of May" Debut

The Soviet side concentrated 15 artillery regiments, a heavy howitzer brigade, and two anti-tank artillery brigades. The ordinary railroad station turned into a mighty fortification. General Josef Harpe's 41st tank corps was tasked with breaking through it at any cost.

On July 7th, the Germans tried to break the defenses of the 307th infantry division commanded by General M.A. Yenshin near the Ponyri railroad station and the First of May farm. By noon, the Germans captured the farm and reach the northern outskirts of Ponyri.

The commander of the 307th transferred all his AT guns to the station. The Germans tried to drive a wedge between them and the forces at Olhovatka. The battle did not stop with nightfall, and continued in the light of burning buildings. Under enemy pressure, Soviet forces retreated from the first line of defense and fell back to reserve positions in the south of Ponyri. Throughout the next day, the railroad station changed hands several times, but Yenshin's men retook it before nightfall with a successful counterattack.

Only six Ferdinands participated in the battles on July 8th. After a series of fruitless attacks, the SPGs spent the night in the lowlands by the railroad embankment two kilometers north of First of May.

The "Bell" did not help

July 9th was supposed to bring long awaited success to the Germans. Elements of the 78th assault division, reinforced with assault guns, were redirected from the north-east. West of the Orel-Kursk railroad, the 292nd infantry and 18th tank division with another assault gun battalion waited. They were to head out from the Perviye Ponyri settlement south, along the Snov river, around the Ponyri station towards Karpun'kovka.

Considering the experience gained on July 5th and 6th, the German command permitted a massed attack from the north-east, through the First of May farm. Two infantry divisions were allotted for this task, reinforced with a strike group of 166 combat vehicles, including 44 Ferdinands and 45 Brummbar assault tanks, led by Bruno Kahl.

Unlike previous battles, Kahl built his units in a "bell", with Feridinands in the front. His vehicles came in two rows. The first contained two companies, with 100 meters between vehicles. In the middle was the division commander, in a PzIII tank. The second line consisted of the third company, spaced out to 120-150 meters. The commander Ferdinands were positioned in the middle of their companies, and carried signal flags on their antennas in case of the radio breaking down. The SPGs were tasked with destroying dug in Soviet tanks, anti-tank guns, and individual groups. The second echelon of the "bell" consisted of 7.5 cm assault guns, covering groups of infantry and engineers.

During this assault, both First of May and Ponyri changed hands many times. The 307th infantry division was allotted some tanks from the 3rd tank corps. Eventually, the attack of the Ferdinands failed. German forward units were hit by a powerful artillery barrage in the forests and near the crossing of roads to Ponyri and Maloarkhangelsk. Artillery did well against enemy vehicles, a Ferdinand was even destroyed with a direct hit from a 203 mm B-4 howitzer.

German attempts to circle around Ponyri from the east also failed, thanks to the soldiers of the 4th Guards Airborne Division. Soviet paratroopers continued holding the station after the exhausted 307th division retreated.

Many days and many nights remained until Citadel would collapse. However, it was already clear that the Germans' bet on new vehicles did not pay off and did not regain strategic initiative.

Article author: Yuri Bakhurin. Yuri Bakhurin is a military historian, an author of many publications in regional and central scientific press: "Questions of History" magazine, "Military-Historical Magazine", "Military-Historical Archive", "Motherland", "Anthology of War", the "Reitar" almanac, and many more. He is also the author of the "Panzerjager Tiger (P) Ferdinand: Use in Combat" book (manuscript completed, preparing for print).

Original article and references available here.

1 comment:

  1. Typical, writing about Russian infantry standing up to tanks when it was about the reserve 27th Separate Tank Regiment and the new SU-152s of the 1442 Self-propelled artillery entering the battle.