The '2nd Kiev Strategic Offensive Operation' was a Soviet undertaking which resulted in the liberation of Kiev and Zhitomir (3/13 November 1943).
At a time late in September 1943, forces of General Nikolai F. Vatutin’s Voronezh Front, which was to be redesignated as the 1st Ukrainian Front on 20 October, seized bridgeheads on the right bank of the Dniepr river in areas to the north and south of Kiev, and twice tried to liberate this city, the capital of Ukraine: the primary assault was delivered from the Bukrinsky bridgehead and the secondary assault from the Lyutezhsky bridgehead.
On 24 October, the Soviet high command ordered the transfer of the front’s main effort to the Lyutezhsky bridgehead, to which General Leytenant Pavel S. Rybalko’s 3rd Guards Tank Army, the XXIII Corps, the VII Artillery Corps and other formations and units were transferred, in conditions of the utmost secrecy, from the Bukrinsky bridgehead. The security measures implemented by the Soviets were so effective that the Germans had no inkling of the movements.
In the area in which the Soviets planned to make their latest attempt to liberate Kiev, the main German formation was Generaloberst Hermann Hoth’s 4th Panzerarmee, which controlled some 11 heavily battered infantry divisions and in reserve two Panzer divisions. Kiev itself was held by General Anton Dostler’s VII Corps comprising three infantry divisions and one security division, and was covered against Soviet attack from the north by three zones of defensive fortifications within the overall of an overall engineering defence. Against this the Soviet planned to field a first-echelon strength of between 12 and 20 infantry divisions, three or four corps and one cavalry corps.
The Soviet offensive began on 1 November from the Bukrin bridgehead. The primary task of this initial assault was to draw the German focus to this area and then to pin the German forces which were then committed against it. It was during the morning of 3 November that the main Soviet force attacked: following a 40-minute artillery preparation, Soviet troops advanced up to 1.25 miles (2 km) without meeting any form of effective opposition, and by the end of the day, the troops of General Polkovnik Kyrill S. Moskalenko’s 38th Army, together with the V Guards Tank Corps and elements of General Leytenant Ivan D. Chernyakovsky’s 60th Army, advanced between 3.1 and 9.33 miles (5 and 12 km). The advance of the 60th Army began from a pair of adjacent bridgeheads, one of them near the villages of Kazarovichi and Glebovka and the other near the village of Yasnogorodka, and covered the right flank of the 38th Army, which was otherwise exposed, from the north and north-west.
By the end of the first day, the 240th Division, which had attacked Kiev directly and was supported by units of the VII Artillery Corps, had reached the Pushcha-Voditsa suburb of Kiev. At the same time, the Soviets defeated several German counterattacks by elements of Generalmajor Georg Jauer’s 20th Panzergrenadierdivision. By the end of 4 November, units of the 38th Army’s LI Corps were able to advance toward Kiev from the north only some 3.1 to 3.7 miles (5 to 6 km), despite the support of the V Guards Tank Corps and the 3rd Guards Tank Army, and thus reached the suburb of Priorka and the northern outskirts of the city. The I Guards Cavalry Corps entered the battle on 4/5 November, as did the 3rd Guards Tank Army, which cut the road linking Kiev and Zhitomir on the city’s western outskirts. The continuing liberation of Ukraine’s capital was also helped by the crossing of the Dniepr rover on 4 November by parts of the 237th Division in the area of Kazachy island, which lies opposite the villages of Vita-Litovskaya and Pirogovo about 9.33 miles (15 km) to the south of Kiev. At Vita-Litovsk, Soviet units were able to straddle the highway to Kiev along the banks of the Dniepr river, and this rendered it impossible for the Germans to redeploy forces to Kiev from the area of the Bukrin bridgehead. On the morning of 5 November, the Germans began to withdraw from Kiev along the road to Vasilkov. By the morning of 6 November, Kiev had been liberated. On 7 November, Soviet forces liberated Fastov, and on 13 November took Zhitomir.
Parts of the VII Corps halted their withdrawal only some 30 miles (50 km) to the south of Kiev. By the end of the month, Chernyakovsky’s 60th Army and General Leytenant Nikolai P. Pukhov’s 13th Army, which continued their offensive, reached the line to the north of Narovlya, Yelsk, Ovruch and the area to the east of Korosten. At the beginning of November, von Manstein could not use his limited mobile reserves in the form of Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions in the Kiev area as he was already scheming a counter-offensive in the region of the Dniepr river’s lower reaches near Krivoi Rog, Apostolovo and Nikopol. This became one of the major factors turning the fighting for the liberation of Kiev into a German general withdrawal characterised by a series of spoiling attacks designed to slow if not halt the Soviet drove to the west. But with the arrival of Panzer divisions on 10/11 November the Germans were able to launch their first serious counterattack near Fastov and Fastovets, which paved the way to the '2nd Kiev Strategic Defensive Operation'.
The '2nd Kiev Strategic Offensive Operation' was characterised by important strategic and political results (the liberation of Kiev) and carefully selected axes of advance bypassing Kiev (cutting two main roads extending from the city to the south and west), as well as the matching of the Soviet ambition with the strength which was actually required. Even so, at the tactical level the Soviets were still no full match for the Germans. The loss ratio clearly indicates that the Germans fell back in an orderly fashion that in no way equated to a rout, and fought spoiling battles with great competence.
Mention should be made that, among the Soviet sources, the combat diary of the VII Guards Tank Corps records that in the course of the fighting for Svyatoshino on the night of 4/5 November, the corps claimed the destruction of 16 German tanks, six self-propelled guns, 12 half-track vehicles, up to 200 other vehicles, 110 wagons and 830 men for the loss to itself of just three tanks, two anti-tank guns and 30 men. In total, during the operation, the corps inflicted 14,995 casualties on the Germans and took 1,023 men prisoner. The headquarters of the 3rd Guards Tank Army, on the other hand, recorded German losses for the period between 3 and 10 November as 229 tanks and self-propelled guns, 130 half-track vehicles, 315 pieces of artillery and mortars, and 12,201 casualties of which only 3,052 were attributable to the VII Guards Tank Corps.
The Soviet claims of German casualties and matériel losses are therefore conflicting, as further evidenced by a document that claims that the units of the 3rd Guards Tank Army in this period inflicted 2,546 casualties on the Germans, of which 221 were the share of the VII Guards Tank Corps. The same document reported recorded the Soviet seizure of only eight self-propelled guns and eight other armoured vehicles, which is highly disproportionate in relation to the claims for destroyed German tanks and self-propelled guns; the speed of the German withdrawal from Kiev as in general greater speed results in a larger quantity of abandoned weapons and equipment; and the number of German armoured divisions operating in this sector: these were Generalleutnant Hasso von Manteuffel’s 7th Panzerdivision, Generalmajor Gottfried Frölich’s 8th Panzerdivision and Generalmajor Georg Jauer’s 20th Panzergrenadierdivision, which between them possessed no more than 200 tanks and self-propelled guns.
All this serves to raise questions about the Soviet claims for German losses. The figures fore German losses by the VII Guards Tank Corps, which equate to the loss of a full-strength division, are severely overestimated, since no such a decrease is mentioned in German sources. However, German post-war memoirs mention the defeat near Fastov during November of Generalleutnant Hans Tröger’s 25th Panzerdivision, which lost only a small number of men but almost all of its weapons, vehicles and other equipment.