Battle of Kiev (1943)

Battle of Kiev (1943)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Second Battle of Kiev

partof=the Eastern Front of World War II
place=Kiev, USSR
date=November, 1943 — December, 1943
result=Capture of Kiev by the Soviet Union, heavy casualties inflicted by the German forces
strength1=4th Panzer Army
strength2= 1st Ukrainian Front

The 1943 Battle of Kiev describes three strategic operations (two offensive and one defensive by the Red Army, and one operational counterattack by the Wehrmacht which took place in the wake of the failed German offensive at Kursk during the Second World War. These four operations took place between 3 October and 22 December 1943. The Red Army launched their first summer offensive of the war, pushing Erich von Manstein's battered Army Group South back towards the Dniepr River. There, Manstein intended to rest and refit his troops, but that was not to be. STAVKA ordered the Central Front (Byelorussian Front 20 Oct 1943) and the Voronezh Front (1st Ukrainian Front 20 Oct 1943) to force crossings of the Dniepr before the Germans could catch their breaths. When this was unsuccessful in October, the effort was handed over to the 1st Ukrainian Front, with some support from the 2nd Ukrainian Front. The 1st Ukrainian Front, commanded by Nikolai Vatutin, was able to secure bridgeheads north and south of Kiev. His opponent would be the veteran 4th Panzer Army, commanded by Hermann Hoth.

The structure of the strategic operations from the Soviet planning point of view was:
*Kiev Strategic Offensive Operation (October) (1 October 1943 - 24 October 1943) by the Central and Voronezh Fronts:Chernobyl-Radomysl Offensive Operation (1 October 1943 - 4 October 1943):Chernobyl-Gornostaipol Defensive Operation (3 October 1943 - 8 October 1943):Lyutezh Offensive Operation (11 October 1943 - 24 October 1943):Bukrin Offensive Operation (12 October 1943 - 15 October 1943):Bukrin Offensive Operation (21 October 1943 - 24 October 1943)
*Kiev Strategic Offensive Operation (November) (3 November 1943 - 13 November 1943):Rauss' November 1943 counterattack
*Kiev Strategic Defensive Operation (1943) (13 November 1943 - 22 December 1943)

First attempt

In October 1943 several of Vatutin's armies were having serious trouble trying to break out of the rugged terrain of the Bukrin bend, the southern bridgehead. The 24th Panzer Corps of Walther Nehring, in an effective defensive position, had the opposing Soviet forces squeezed in. As a result, Vatutin decided to concentrate his strength at the northern bridgehead at Lyutezh.

The powerful 3rd Guards Tank Army, commanded by Pavel Rybalko, moved northwards towards the Lyutezh bridgehead under cover of darkness and diversionary attacks out of the Bukrin bend. Masses of artillery were shifted northwards, unnoticed by the Germans.

Initial stage of second attempt

On the morning of 3 November 1943, the 4th Panzer Army awoke to a massive Soviet bombardment. The German forces screening the bridgehead were smashed, and Kiev was liberated in short order. 1st Ukrainian Front's objectives were to drive quickly westwards to take the towns of Zhitomir, Korosten, Berdichev, and Fastov. This would cut the rail link to Army Group Center and would be the first step towards the encirclement of Army Group South.

The plan was ambitious, but nonetheless was proceeding very well for Vatutin. Manstein, normally calm and collected, was worried. As Rybalko's tanks marched through the streets of Kiev on 5 November, Manstein pleaded with Hitler to release the 48th and 40th Panzer Corps in order to have sufficient forces to retake Kiev. The 48th Panzer Corps was committed to Manstein, but Hitler refused to divert the 40th Panzer Corps. In addition, Hitler relieved Hoth of his command and replaced him with Erhard Raus. The new commander was ordered to blunt the Soviet attack and secure Army Group South's northern flank and communications with Army Group North. A number of sources give 6 November as the date for the liberation of Kiev [ [] accessed 26 August 2007 ] [Andrew Gregorovich, Ukrainian Review No. 92, Spring 1995 accessed 26 August 2007 ] [1943: Kiev in Flames : in our pages:100, 75 and 50 years ago, Monday, November 8, 1993 [] accessed 26 August 2007 ] . The 1st Czechoslovak Independent Brigade seems to have started the assault, at 12.30 on 5 November, reaching the Dneipr at 02.00 on the 6th, after sweeping through the western suburbs of the City, with Kiev finally being liberated at 06.50 on the 6th. [Michal Gelbič, Czechoslovak military units in the USSR (1942-1945) [] . accessed on 26 August 2007]

Rauss counterattacks

It was a tall order for Rauss, even with the new Panzer Corps attached. However, 4th Panzer Army was soon reinforced, especially with artillery and rockets. Despite suffering heavy casualties in the initial stages of Vatutin's offensive, the German divisions were brought up to reasonable force. The first unit to arrive from 48th Panzer Corps was the newly formed 25th Panzer Division commanded by General der Panzertruppen Georg Jauer, on 7 November. Its drive on Fastov was halted by the 7th Guards Tank Corps. Rybalko was soon merely 40 miles from Berdichev. Zhitomir was taken by the 38th Army. The 60th Army was at the gates of Korosten. 40th Army was moving south from Kiev. The only break that the Germans caught was that the 27th Army exhausted itself and went over to the defensive in the Bukrin bend.

4th Panzer Army was in deep trouble. However, the situation changed with the arrival of the elite 1st SS Division, 1st and 7th Panzer Division, under the command of 48th Panzer Corps. These new forces drove north to Brusilov and then west to retake Zhitomir. Rybalko sent his armor 7th Guards Tank Corps, to counter the German assault, and a huge tank battle ensued, although not quite on the scale seen at Kursk. This continued for the latter part of November, until the autumn mud halted all operations.

Both sides suffered heavy losses. The casualty ratio was fairly balanced, though the Soviets lost slightly more than the Germans. 4th Panzer had gained some breathing space with the recapture of Zhitomir and Korosten. Vatutin, while temporarily halted, had given a good account of himself during the German counterattack. STAVKA was also releasing substantial reserve forces to First Ukrainian Front.

Final stage of second attempt

By 5 December the mud had frozen with the chill of the Russian winter. 48th Panzer Corps conducted a wide sweeping attack north of Zhitomir. Catching the Soviets by surprise, the Germans sought to trap the Soviet 60th Army, and the 13th Corps. Reinforced with the 2nd Fallschirmjäger Division, the Germans drove eastward. In a dangerous position, the 60th Army withdrew from Korosten. Fastov also being threatened, the Soviets were now the ones in a desperate situation.

Reluctant but with no other choice, Vatutin asked STAVKA for more reserves. He was granted 1st Tank Army and 18th Army. These new units, along with additional Corps from other sectors, were hastily rushed westward to stem the German advance. With more than enough strength, the Soviets stopped the German advance and went back on the offensive, and retook Brusilov. Both sides were exhausted by late December and the battle for Kiev was over.


Though the Soviets had failed to break the rail link with Army Group Center or envelop Army Group South, they had liberated Kiev, broken the Dniepr line, and inflicted massive casualties on the 4th Panzer Army. The Germans, for their part, had destroyed several sizable Soviet formations and kept the vital rail link open. But there was to be no rest. A few days after 48th Panzer Corps was pulled out to rest and refit, the Soviets launched their winter offensive on Christmas eve. The renamed Veronezh Front Offensive succeeded in pushing the Germans back to the 1939 Polish border by 3 January 1944.


* Radey, Jack, Bongard, David, O'Connor, Dave, "Fire Brigade: The Battle for Kiev 1943", Panther Games Pty.Ltd., Canberra, 1988 Home of the Underdogs' [ game entry]


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