Kiev Offensive Operation

The 'Kiev Offensive Operation' was a Soviet part of the complex of undertaking fought round and for the city of Kiev, capital of Ukraine (3/13 November 1943).

Late in September 1943, the forces of General Nikolai F. Vatutin’s Voronezh Front, which was redesignated as the 1st Ukrainian Front on 20 October, seized bridgeheads on the western bank of the Dniepr to both the north and the south of Kiev, and then twice attempted to liberate the city. The main blow was delivered from the bridgehead at Bukrin, some 50 miles (80 km) to the south of Kiev, and was supported by an auxiliary blow from the Lutezh bridgehead, some 30 miles (50 km) to the north of Kiev. On 24 October, however, the comparative important of the two thrust was reversed by the Soviet supreme command, and that from .

On October 24, by order of the Supreme Command Headquarters, the main effort of the 1st Ukrainian Front was transferred to the forces in the Lutezh 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 redeployed from the Bukrin bridgehead. So great and effective were the Soviets' security measures that the Germans gained no inkling of this change of effort and the forces bing massed in the northern bridgehead.

In the sector in which the Soviet offensive was to be launched, Generaloberst Hermann Hoth’s 4th Panzerarmee had some 11 badly battered infantry divisions and, in reserve, two Panzer divisions. Kiev itself was held by units of General Anton Dostler’s VII Corps (three infantry and one security divisions), which was one of the 4th Panzerarmee's three corps. To cover Kiev from the north, the Germans had created three fortified defensive zones with a well-developed system of field fortifications. The Soviets, on the other hand, could bring to bear a first echelon of between 17 and 20 infantry divisions, three or four tank corps and one cavalry corps.

On 1 November, the Soviet offensive began with a thrust from the Bukrin bridgehead, but the main purpose of this was to pin the German forces to the south of Kiev and thereby prevent any redeployment to the northern side of Kiev, where the main thrust was to be made. This latter began on 3 November: after a 40-minute artillery preparation, the Soviet forces advanced some 0.6 to 1.25 miles (1 to 2 km) without hindrance, and by the end of the day General Leytenant Nikandr Ye. Chibisov’s 38th Army, together with the V Guards Tank Corps and formations of General Leytenant Ivan D. Chernyakovsky’s 60th Army, had advanced between 3.1 and 7.5 miles (5 and 12 km). It is worth noting that the 60th Army advanced from two neighbouring but smaller bridgeheads near the villages of Kazarovichi and Glebovka and near the village of Yasnogorodka, and that this movement was designed to cover the right flank of the 38th Army, which would otherwise have been exposed to German attacks from the north and north-west.

By the end of the first day of the 'Kiev Offensive Operation', the 240th Division, which attacked Kiev directly and was supported by units of the VII Artillery Corps, had reached the Kiev suburb of Pushcha-Voditsa. Over this same period, the Soviet forces repelled a number of German counterattacks, in which units of Generalmajor Georg Jauer’s 20th Panzergrenadierdivision were involved. By the end of 4 November, units of the 38th Army’s LI Corps were able to advance only some 3.1 to 3.75 miles (5 to 6 km) toward Kiev from the north, despite the support of the V Guards Tank Corps and the 3rd Guards Tank Army, but nonetheless reached Kiev’s suburb of Priorka on the northern edge of the city. The I Guards Cavalry Corps entered the battle on 4/5 November and the 3rd Guards Tank Army cut the road linking Kiev and Zhitomir on the city’s western outskirts. The liberation of Kiev was also helped by the crossing of the Dniepr river on 4 November by the 237th Division in the area of ​​Kazach island opposite the villages of Vita-Litovskaya and Pirogovo some 9.33 miles (15 km) to the south of Kiev. At Vita-Litovsk, Soviet units were able to take both sides of the road to Kiev along the bank of the Dniepr river. The Germans were therefore not able to transfer reinforcements to Kiev from the area of the Bukrin bridgehead.

During the morning of 5 November, the German forces began to withdraw from the city along the road to Vasilkov, and by the morning of the following day Kiev had been liberated.

On 7 November, Soviet troops liberated Fastov, and on 13 November retook Zhitomir. Parts of the VII Corps finally brought their retreat to a halt some 30 miles (50 km) to the south of Kiev. By the end of the month, the 60th Army and General Leytenant Nikolai P. Pukhov’s 13th armies, which were still pressing their offensive, reached the line linking the area to the north of Narovlya, Yelsk, Ovruch and the area to the east of Korosten.

At the beginning of November, Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein, the commander of Heeresgruppe 'Süd', could not use his limited mobile reserve (Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions) in the Kiev region as he was faced at this time by a Soviet offensive on the lower reaches of the Dniepr river near Krivoi Rog, Apostolovo and Nikopol. This became important in the fact that the battles for Kiev, insofar as the German were concerned, became a passive withdrawal punctuated by a number of counterattacks. Thus it was only on 10/11 November, that the arrival of Panzer divisions made possible the first major German counterattacks near Fastov and Fastovets.

The operation to liberate Kiev created important strategic and political results, and also opened the possibilities for strikes that bypassed Kiev to cut two roads from the Ukrainian city to the south and west. Even so, it was an inescapable fact that at the tactical level the Soviet forces were still significantly inferior to their German opponents. The loss ratio indicated that the Germans were undertaking an orderly withdrawal and fighting deterrent actions with great competence.