Kursk: The Battle of Ponyri on 7 July 1943
The battle for the town and rail station of Ponyri between 5 and 12 July 1943 was a decisive encounter on the north face of the Battle of Kursk. The Ponyri imagery comes from two Luftwaffe sorties flown on the morning of 7 July, when the Germans sought to retake positions in the town lost to a Soviet counterattack the day before.
The scene at Ponyri on 7 July generally conformed to published accounts: the 18th Panzer Division and elements of the 292nd Infantry Division attacked from the north and northwest as 86th Infantry Division approached from the northeast. The first coverage on 7 July, taken just before 0600, revealed the attack was already in progress. Although neither area of approach was imaged, German artillery was bombarding in the town. A fighter aircraft (possibly a German Fw190), approaching from the south, was flying over the station (Graphic 1).
The next sortie, at 0655, showed the German ground attack continuing (Graphic 2). Ten StuG III assault guns (177th or 244th Sturmgeschutz Brigades) in three groups were approaching Soviet lines from the northwest (Graphics 3). The armor was accompanied by two small infantry groups probably offloaded from SdKfz halftracks; one of the vehicles was in the vicinity of the armor and four more were parked in the rear (Graphic 5). The approach of the armor appeared to have been preceded by three Borgward B-IV remote-controlled armored vehicles parked behind each group (Graphic 5). Several vehicles, including some in revetments, were deployed in the German rear (Graphic 6).
Except for some artillery impacts in the vicinity of the attackers and possible smoke in the vicinity of the defenders there was little evidence of defensive activity. However, a single armored vehicle was moved into position along a tree line between 0600 and 0655 indicated a Soviet response (Graphic 2).
The attack by the 86th Infantry Division was also probably underway. This attack was supported by the Heavy Panzerjager Battalion 653 (Panzerjager Regiment 656), equipped with Ferdinand (Elefant) tank-destroyers. Eighteen of the Ferdinand’s were parked in a staging area along the railroad track, but two more, headed to the southeast were probably participating in the attack (Graphic 7). A column of 10 Sturmpanzer IV’s (Brummbär; 216th Sturmpanzer battalion) was arriving at the staging area.
Artillery played a major part in the German attack (Graphic 8 ). At least 10 batteries were deployed in two groups along the rail line. The closest of these were only 3500 meters from the train station.