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The Stalingrad at Kursk: The Battle of Ponyri, July 7-10, 1943
Slaughter and Carnage
The battle for Ponyri Station, like many battles, happened for no particular reason as to occur where it did. The rail station and the small town that surrounds it have no military value. Ponyri consisted of a school, water tower, rail station, and tractor factory. But it was there that two powerful and determined foes met, clashing in their attempts to destroy one another like some long-past Gods in Greek mythology. The Germans tried five times to bust through the well defended Russian line, each time, failing. The German XLI Panzer Corps penetrating the Soviet defensive positions and driving rapidly between the road and the railroad line through the high ground where Ponyri was located and then on towards Kursk. This Corps comprised four divisions: 18th Panzer Division, 10th Panzer Grenadier Division, and the 86th and 292nd Infantry Divisions. The 78th Sturm (Assault) Division of XXIII Corps protected the left flank of XLI Panzer Corps and was also involved in the fighting around Ponyri. From west to east the 292nd and 86th Infantry and 78th Sturm Divisions led the assault. The main armored support was provided by the 90 Ferdinands of Heavy Panzerjäger Regiment 656, containing the entire inventory of these armored monsters. In addition, the 292nd and 86th Infantry Divisions had the 216th Sturmpanzer Battalion (45 Brümmbärs) and the 177th and 244 Sturmgeschütz Brigades. The 18th Panzer Division contained 72 more conventional vehicles including 5 Pz II, 10 Pz III kz, 20 Pz III 75, 5 Pz IV kz, and 3 Pz Bef Cmd, and also the 101st Panzer Grenadier Regiment. The 10th Panzer Grenadier Division had an exceptionally powerful artillery complement: seven artillery battalions, a Nebelwerfer regiment, a heavy mortar battalion and an assault gun battalion.
The battle became a whirlpool, sucking in more and more troops on both sides. Records indicate over 10,000 men died for this meaningless terrain. The only value here was the fact that Ponyri station sat astride the second Russian defensive belt in this area of the Kursk offensive from the north. Even if the Germans broke through, there was yet a third defensive line waiting miles away, and events elsewhere during this offensive would dictate the final outcome. However, like a mysterious magnetic field, the Germans sent four divisions to seize the town and were opposed by a dug-in, well armed Russian regiment who were ordered to stand and fight at all costs. Russian reserves were close by, including a full artillery division assigned to support the defenders; something totally unheard of before. Major Sankovsky, commander of the new SU-152 battery of 1442nd SP Art Regiment, assigned to the 13th Army was in support of the 307th Rifle Division around Ponyri Station when the 41st Panzer Corps' attacked with 200 panzers. Leading the way were Tiger I's of Schwere Panzer Abteilung 505, and the Borgward BIV remote control mine clearance tanks. On this day it is believed the major himself knocked out 10 enemy tanks, and in the ensuing three weeks of combat at Kursk the battery accounted for some 12 Tigers and 7 Ferdinands. It was this units results which the SU152 the nickname of "Animal Hunter".
The battle for Ponyri station was a go-for-broke, see-saw slugfest over a town that the rest of the world never heard of before. It would be called, “Kursk’s Stalingrad.”
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