Chernigov-Pripyet Offensive Operation

The 'Chernigov-Pripyet Offensive Operation' was one of the three Soviet operational-level sub-operations which together constituted the 'Chernigov-Poltava Strategic Offensive Operation' (26 August/30 September 1943).

The Soviet high command made every effort to capitalise on the Soviet victory in the Battle of Kursk, which resulted from the German 'Zitadelle' offensive. The Soviet forces were to launch an offensive on the Eastern Front between Velikiye Luki in the north and the Sea of ​​Azov in the south. Of these forces, those of the Central Front, Voronezh Front and Steppe Front were to liberate the parts of the Ukraine on the left bank of the Dniepr river by advancing to the west between Cherkassy and Poltava, reach the Dniepr river, force this waterway and seize bridgeheads on its western bank, so creating the conditions needed for the liberation of right-bank Ukraine. The scheme was based on the simultaneous and carefully co-ordinated operations taking the form of several powerful strikes by the three fronts in order to break through the Germans defences and to prevent the Germans from consolidating along the banks of the Desna and Dniepr rivers.

By the beginning of the 'Chernigov-Pripyet Offensive Operation', General Konstantin K. Rokossovsky’s Central Front comprised General Leytenant Pavel I. Batov’s 65th Army, General Leytenant Aleksei G. Rodin’s 2nd Tank Army, General Leytenant Ivan D. Chernyakhovsky’s 60th Army, General Leytenant Nikolai P. Pukhov’s 13th Army, General Leytenant Pavel A. Belov’s 61st Army (from the Supreme Command Headquarters reserve on 6 September), General Leytenant Prokofi L. Romanenko’s 48th Army, General Major Vladimir M. Sharapov’s 70th Army (withdrawn to the Supreme Command Headquarters reserve on 1 September), the IX Tank Corps and General Leytenant Sergei I. Rudenko’s 16th Air Army. The Central Front totalled 579,600 men in 35 rifle and three airborne divisions, one anti-tank division, one mechanised and three tank corps, three infantry brigades and three tank brigades.

After the completion of the 'Orel Offensive Operation', the front’s forces had taken up defensive positions along the line between Dmitrovsk-Orlovsky and Rylsk, and undertaken a rapid programme of regrouping, rehabilitation and incorporation of reinforcements in preparation for renewed offensive operations. The tasks allocated to the front in the supreme command order of 22 August were the delivery of the main blow with the 2nd Tank Army, 65th Army and parts of the 48th Army and 60th Army, toward Novgorod-Seversky, and an auxiliary attack with the rest of the 60th Army toward Konotop with the object of reaching the middle reaches of the Dniepr river. Despite the ambitious nature of the plan, the time offered for preparation was very small.

The Central Front was opposed by General Walter Weiss’s 2nd Army and part of Generaloberst Walter Model’s 9th Army of Generaloberst Hans-Günther von Kluge’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' and, in the southern sector, part of Generaloberst Gotthard Heinrici’s 4th Panzerarmee of Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein’s Heeresgruppe 'Süd'.

On 26 August, the Central Front started its offensive. On the main axis, the Soviet forces met determined German resistance: on 27 August alone, the Soviet troops repulsed 12 German counterattacks. With great difficulty, the formations of the 2nd Tank Army and 65th Army liberated Sevsk on 27 August, and the Germans responded by the redeployment to this area of two Panzer divisions and two infantry divisions, which launched a strong counterattack on the Soviet flank in the area to the west of Sevsk and stopped the Soviet advance on the Germans' next defensive line. By the end of 31 August, the Soviet troops had penetrated the German defences to a depth of between 12.5 and 15.5 miles (20 and 25 km).

On the auxiliary axis, the Soviet offensive took the Germans by complete surprise, and here the Germans had not developed an effective defence and, moreover, had no reserves. Exploiting these German deficiencies, the 60th Army quickly broke through and liberated Glukhov on 30 August. By the following day the 60th Army had advanced 37 miles (60 km) and entered Ukraine. Rokossovsky immediately travelled by air to the offensive area and, quickly assessing the situation, made the bold decision to transfer the axis of the main attack to that of the 60th Army. The 2nd Tank Army and 13th Army were urgently redeployed to the Konotop axis, the IV Artillery Breakthrough Corps , almost all of the front’s anti-aircraft artillery divisions, several anti-tank artillery brigades, and other units including the bulk of General Leytenant Sergei I. Rudenko’s 16th Air Army were redirected there. The redeployment was carried out extremely quickly without stopping the fighting along the entire front zone.

The result of this manoeuvre was an acceleration of the Soviet offensive: on 3 September, Soviet troops advanced to the south of Novgorod-Seversky to reach the Desna river, then crossed the Seim River off the march, liberated Konotop on 6 September, Bakhmach on 9 September and Nezhin on 15 September. On this axis the Soviet advance was 145 miles (230 km) in 20 days. The Germans realistically assessed the threat caused by the breakthrough of the 60th Army at the junction of Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' and Heeresgruppe 'Süd', and now committed two Panzer and three infantry divisions supported by large air forces. The commitment of these formations was carried out on a piecemeal basis as they arrived, and thus had little effect on the course of the battle: the newly arrived divisions were defeated one-by-one. The front’s right-wing forces on the earlier axis, exploiting the success on the Konotop axis, also reached the Desna river, crossed it straight from the march and liberated Novgorod-Seversky on 16 September 16. The loss of this stronghold area opened a gap in the Germans' defences and allowed the Soviet forces to speed their offensive, all the more so as the Germans' organised defence virtually ceased to exist. Thus the forces of the Central Front were advancing rapidly toward the Dniepr river.

This stunning success was not properly exploited by the Soviet supreme command, however. Iosif Stalin’s order of 28 September reoriented the Central Front from the Kiev axis to the Gomel axis, the task of taking Kiev now being allocated to the Voronezh Front. This was lagging so significantly behind the Central Front, however, that the Central Front’s southern flank was exposed for something between 62 and 74.5 miles (100 to 120 km). Rokossovsky therefore found that it was necessary to transfer an increasing number of his divisions there to safeguard the advance of his main forces. This had a negative impact on the front’s offensive capabilities. However, given the fact that their front was in imminent danger of collapse, the Germans did not possess sufficient forces in September to defend Kiev.

Continuing the offensive, the front’s left-wing forces crossed the Desna river in the area to the south-west of Chernigov. The 13th Army, which was now brought into the battle, liberated Chernigov on 21 September and reached the Dniepr river. In the wake of the 13th Army, the rest of the front’s forces also reached the Dniepr river.

On 22 September, the 13th Army crossed the Dniepr river straight off the march, and within 24 hours had advanced through confluence area of the Dniepr and Pripyet rivers to seize a bridgehead, 18.5 and 21.75 miles (30 to 35 km) wide and 21.75 miles (35 km) deep. Elements of the 60th Army crossed the Dniepr river after taking a bridgehead, 12.5 miles (20 km) wide and 9.33 miles (15 km) deep, in the area near ​​the mouth of the Teterev river, and elements of the 61st Army crossed the Dniepr river in the Loyev area. These assault crossing were effected by improvised means such as home-made rafts and fishing boats. The Soviet forces suffered heavy casualties in the process, but this fast-paced assault ensured the capture of bridgeheads. The Germans were unable to stop the Soviet offensive on the Dniepr river and were forced to undertake severe and therefore costly fighting on the river’s western bank. Partisan bands captured several crossings on the Dniepr and Pripyet rivers, and thereby rendered great assistance to the troops.

The 48th Army and 65th Army also captured a pair of small bridgeheads on the right bank of the Sozh river in the Gomel area. By the end of September, the troops of the Central Front had seized a total of seven bridgeheads, beaten off the Germans' first counterattacks on these, thereby ensuring that they remained in Soviet hands.

The end of the operation is considered to be 30 September, for after this date the Central Front’s efforts were focused on the expansion of the bridgeheads rather than on their initial seizure and retention.

The Central Front’s losses were 33,523 men killed, missing or taken prisoner, and 107,878 men wounded or taken ill. The German casualties are not known.

The 'Chernigov-Pripyet Offensive Operation' was the greatest success of the first stage of the battle for the Dniepr river. Rokossovsky’s forces had advanced between 185 and 200 miles (300 to 32- km) in the space of only 30 days, and the distance and rate of the Soviet undertaking had completely stunned the Germans. The Central Front’s command had demonstrated initiative and high skill in command and control, and the troops had revealed a significantly increased level of combat training and capability for battlefield action. Troop morale was also very high.

The success of the Central Front meant that by the end of September the Voronezh Front was also able to step up the pace of its own offensive, and to reach and cross the Dniepr river. The bridgeheads seized in the area to the north of Kiev were of great importance for subsequent operations to liberate Belorussia.