Defeat in Detail: The Battle of Ponyri

Defeat in Detail: The Battle of Ponyri 
with G. Jökull Gíslason

This was a battle I played against Søren Petersen as a practice match for the Polar Bear Tournament. The tournament had an 81-point limitation and was Eastern Front themed. I have heard some players complain that they don’t like playing smaller battles, but for a tournament 81 points has advantages, especially concerning the speed of battles. I for one enjoy mixing the points up and selecting armies to points constrains. For this number of points, it is obvious that you cannot have everything you want so I start by selecting what I really want. The tournament was Eastern Front themed and I wanted to build a German force and include one or two Ferdinands.

Ponyri German Army

With such restrictive points I had a look at what I wanted in my force and started from there. My initial selection was 1x Ferdinand, 6x Nebelwerfers and 4x Marders. My core formation would be Grenadiers. Phil has already stated you can take the support from either Iron Cross or Ghost Panzers when selecting forces from those books. This is excellent as technically the 653rd Heavy panzerjäger battalion at Kursk was supported by the 292. Infanterie Division or Grenadiers and I wanted to base my force on this. So, I added a core of Grenadiers, HQ and two full platoons of nine teams each. This was actually my weakness; I only had the HQ and these two platoons as my formation units. I was not to concerned as anyone who has ever come against a Grenadier platoons knows; they are pretty hard to crack. With this I had 4 points left and here I decided to go with two platoons of armoured cars. Oddly each platoon is the same points as a single HMG upgrade to the Grenadiers, but with armour, mobility and spearhead.

Part of preparing for a tournament is to playtest your forces. This was my first try of this Mid War German force and luckily Søren was looking to test his Soviet Hero Infantry force. I invited him to my home. I am also a stickler for historical gaming and decided to set up the battle for during Operation Citadel or the Battle of Kursk. The Battle of Ponyri was the deciding engagement of the Northern Pincer and Ponyri train station changed hands several times during the fighting. We selected our Battle plans, I going for Manoeuvre and Søren for Attack ending in the mission Counterattack with me defending. This meant that I would only start with 48 points, selecting my HQ, Grenadier platoon, Nebelwerfers and Marders in ambush. My concern was that I had little to advance to and contest the objective in no man’s land and I’d have to find something to do this before turn six.

Russian Army

The Soviet force:

2x Formations
Hero Motor Rifle Battalion
2x full platoons - one full with Molotov cocktails, the other reduced
6x 81mm mortars
6x 120 mm mortars
4x 76mm artillery
BA-10 Armoured car company
3x BA-10 armoured car platoons
OT-34 Flame-Tank Coy (5x tanks)
IL-2 Shturmovik Assault Company

Ponyri 3

As defender I chose my corner and Søren picked the one adjacent on the long table edge. Then after placing objective markers and I had deployed, Søren used his armoured cars to his advantage and split his infantry in two, one supported by armoured cars against my defence and the other supported by OT-34 to capture the objective in No Man’s Land.

Soviet Turn 1 
The Soviets attacked in their frontal assault style, preparing to overwhelm the Germans while the other infantry company advanced hurriedly against the uncontested objective. Fire was mostly ineffective.

Ponyri 4

German Turn 1 
Against this assault every gun had to be brought to bear and I sprung my Marders from ambush and claimed a few armoured cars. Meanwhile the Nebelwerfers did some damage against the charging hoard, helped by the large template, re-roll to hits and re-rolled saves (since they were Ranged in) but not enough to cause serious damage.

Ponyri 5

Soviet Turn 2
The onslaught continued and this time Russian Shturmoviks entered the fray. The Soviet Mortars attempted to range in on new positions but they were hampered in their efforts by poor skill. Fire was ineffective and the aircraft only bailed a Marder, who with protected ammo did not cause major concern.
Ponyri 6

German Turn 2
Things did not look too good at the start of turn 2. But this turn the Ferdinand arrived from reserve (but pretty far away to have an immediate effect) and German fire proved to be quite deadly. The Soviets lost their second Armoured Car Platoon and the fire of the Grenadiers cut into the advancing Soviet infantry turning the scales a little to the German side.

Ponyri 7

Soviet Turn 3
This turn saw a change in the Soviet tactics. The stronger infantry that had been heading against the objective in No Man’s Land now turned left to add their weight to the attack against the German defenders. At the same time Søren withdrew his four remaining Armoured cars away from the attack and to his rear.  Again, the Soviet fire was not very effective, hampered by their movement penalties and low skill. Even so, they had the numbers to pull this through.

Ponyri 8

German Turn 3
The Germans were about to be flanked and braced for impact. More reserves arrived but still too far away to have much effect. The Marders poured their fire against the OT-34 but only managed to bail two. 
Ponyri 9

Soviet Turn 4
The Soviets hit with a vengeance. Fire flowed over the German flank, but was fairly ineffective. The Shturmos destroyed one Marder and bailed another which was then destroyed by advancing 76mm guns and then the Soviets closed in for an assault!

After hard fighting the Grenadiers managed to beat of the assault but not before suffering casualties themselves.

Ponyri 10
German Turn 4
The Germans had weathered the first assault wave but could they face another. More reserves arrived but again their progress was slow and the defenders would have to hold on a good deal longer. Their fire managed to destroy the remaining Soviet infantry from the assault and the Marders managed to destroy an OT-34 but this was hardly enough. Thankfully the Nebelwerfers managed to unpin and cause some casualties against the advancing Red Army Company, but not enough to cause worry.
Ponyri 11

Soviet Turn 5
While the main assault moved ahead a minor skirmish had developed as the Soviet Armoured Cars moved in to prevent the German Scout cars from hitting the exposed mortars. Then the killing started anew. The 76mm guns took out the third Marder and the Flame tanks poured over the Germans followed by a hard-hitting infantry assault. The Germans gave as good as they got but had to retreat in the end and both sides were badly mauled this time.

Ponyri 12

German Turn 5
The Germans now concentrated their efforts against their nemesis the Soviet infantry. Thankfully the last Marder passed its morale and stayed. The Ferdinand was finally in a position to help and took out an OT-34 while the Armoured cars battled it out against each other around him. Most of the Soviet infantry in the open was destroyed softening them up.

Ponyri 13

Soviet Turn 6
So close, yet so far, the Soviet commander moved in for the final assault. Fire was mostly ineffective and German defensive fire pinned the attack.

Ponyri 14

German Turn 6
Pinning the assault left the Soviets in a precarious position. The Marder still bravely fought on. The German armoured cars came out on top when the infantry assaulted the remaining BA-10, the OT-34 Tanks were destroyed as was the Soviet infantry. The Germans had come out on top, but only by the skin of their teeth, all that remained was 1x HQ team, 3x Grenadier teams, 2 Nebelwerfers and a single Marder of the defenders.

Ponyri 15

What a Battle, What Good Fun
Any game with Søren is a good game, but it is games like this that are the best. It was tense all the way through and only decided in the final turns. In fact, I can also thank Søren for the win. Splitting his force and going for two objectives at the start allowed me to defeat him in detail, one part at a time. Had he hit me from the start with his full force I am sure he would have wiped me out. He could also have secured the objective in No Man’s Land and forced me into attack but here my Nebelwerfers would have had better reign and possibly my reinforcements would have had more impact, it is hard to tell. In the end I did lose one scout car platoon, but it still gave me an 8-1 win.

This battle was very much in the spirit of the actual fighting and was a good test run for the Polar Bear Tournament. Flames Of War at its best!

Ponyri 16

Last Updated On Thursday, February 20, 2020