Kiev Defensive Operation

The 'Kiev Defensive Operation' came after the end of the 'Kiev Strategic Offensive Operation' and was a Soviet undertaking fought by General Nikolai F. Vatutin’s 1st Ukrainian Front to defeat the attempt of Generaloberst Erhard Raus’s 4th Panzerarmee of Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein’s Heeresgruppe 'Süd' to retake Kiev, the capital of Ukraine (13 November/22 December 1943).

In the first half of November, during the 'Kiev Strategic Offensive Operation' of 1943, the formations of Vatutin’s 1st Ukrainian Front (13th Army, 60th Army, 38th Army, 40th Army, 27th Army, 3rd Guards Tank Army and 2nd Air Army) had reached a line between Chernobyl and Stayki via Malin, Zhitomir and Fastov after a deep penetration of the German line at the junction of Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' and Heeresgruppe 'Süd', and seized a substantial bridgehead on the western bank of the Dniepr river.

Feeling that it was essential to restore its defensive line along the Dniepr river, the Germans planned a major counter-offensive to encircle and subsequent destruction of the Soviet forces in the area of Zhitomir and then to develop the counter-offensive to retake Kiev. The main blow was delivered from the south, from the area to the south-west of Fastov toward Brusilov, and the subsidiary blow from the area to the north-west of Zhitomir toward Radomyshl. This undertaking was allocated to the Raus’s 4th Panzerarmee, which mustered three corps and General Franz Mattenklott’s Armeegruppe 'Mattenklott' (totalling seven armoured, seven infantry and one mountain divisions) for the task.

The preparation of the German counter-offensive quickly became known to the Soviet high command. After establishing that the larger of the two German concentrations, with the bulk of the armoured formations, was that to the south and south-west of Fastov, on 12 November the high command instructed Vatutin to suspend, on a temporary basis, his front’s offensive in the area to the west of Zhitomir and ready it to prevent the Germans from achieving a breakthrough on the axis from Fastov to Kiev. From 13 November the left-wing and central formations of the 1st Ukrainian Front carried out a defensive operation, while the right-wing formations (General Leytenant Nikolai P. Pukhov’s 13th Army and General Leytenant Ivan D. Chernyakovsky’s 60th Army) continued the offensive. By 8 November the Germans had launched strong counterattacks toward Tripolye, Fastov and Kornin, and on 15 November, before the Soviet forces had been able to complete the preparation for their defensive undertaking, the Germans launched their counter-offensive on a wide front from Zhitomir to Fastov with the initial object of reaching the road linking Zhitomir and Kiev.

Under the pressure of the German forces, which significantly outnumbered the Soviet forces, General Polkovnik Kyrill S. Moskalenko’s 38th Army was forced to retreat to the north and the left flank of Chernyakovsky’s 60th Army was threatened with encirclement. On 17 November, German forces cut the road linking Kiev and Zhitomir in the area to the east of Korostyshev and then concentrated their armour for the advance on Kiev. On the following day, in attacks from the south and the west, the Germans encircled part of the 60th Army in the Zhitomir region, but on 20 November the Soviet forces broke out of the encirclement and left Zhitomir. On 23 November, the 38th Army, whose flanks had been deeply outflanked, abandoned the city of Brusilov on Vatutin’s order and withdrew to a prepared defensive line lying some 5 to 6.2 miles (8 to 10 km) east of the city. Vatutin was very energetic in the organisation of the Soviet efforts to beat back the German onslaught. In the areas to the north and east of Brusilov, General Leytenant Pavel S. Rybalko’s 3rd Guards Tank Army was regrouped after its withdrawal from Fastov, and the infantry corps of General Polkovnik Vasili I. Kuznetsov’s 1st Guards Army, which had been transferred to the front from the high command reserve, was concentrated. Between 15 and 17 November, General Leytenant Kyrill S. Moskalenko’s 40th Army and part of General Leytenant Sergei G. Trofimenko’s 27th armies were transferred to the Fastov and Tripolye sector: this redeployment was carried out by the individual infantry, tank, artillery and engineering formations and units. The main forces of General Leytenant Stepan Ya. Krasovsky’s 2nd Air Army flew many missions against the German armour and infantry on the main axes.

On 25 November, the 1st Ukrainian Front committed three infantry corps to a counterattack from the area of Rayevka and Borovka to the south and into the flank of the German forces in the area of Brusilov and advancing along the main road toward Kiev. For several days there was fierce combat before the Germans were compelled to abandon their attempt to break through to Kiev by the shortest route along the Zhitomir road.

By 30 November, the front had stabilised along the link from Chernyakhov to Yurovka via Radomyshl and Stavishche. In December, the 4th Panzerarmee twice launched armoured thrusts in their efforts to break through to Kiev in the sector held by the 60th Army: between 6 and 14 December through the Chernyakhov area, and between 19 and 22 December through the Korosten area. Both attempts failed as the 1st Ukrainian Front’s forces repelled the onslaughts, and the Germans were finally brought to a halt along the line from Ignatpol to Stavshche via Meleni.

As a result of almost six weeks of offensive operations, the Germans had advanced only some 21.75 to 25 miles (35 to 40 km) toward Kiev. The Germans were totally exhausted in this effort and has lost large numbers of men as well as great quantities of armour and other equipment a result of its 'Kiev Defensive Operation', the 1st Ukrainian Front had defeated the Germans' plan to retake Kiev and restore their defences along the Dniepr river.