Battle of Kiev (1941)

Battle of Kiev (1941)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Kiev

caption=The eastern front at the time of the Battle of Kiev. (click to enlarge)
partof=World War II
place=East and South of Kiev, Soviet Union
date=August 23, 1941 – September 26, 1941
result=Tactical German victory
commander2= (Removed from duty on Sept. 13. No commander after this.)
strength2=850,000 (55 Divisions)
casualties1=150,000 dead or wounded
casualties2=163,600 dead or wounded
452,700 captured|

The Battle of Kiev was the German name for the operation that resulted in a very large encirclement of Soviet troops in the vicinity of Kiev during World War II. It is considered the largest encirclement of troops in history. The operation continued from August 23, 1941 to September 26, 1941 as part of Operation Barbarossa. ["The Devil's Disciples: Hitler's Inner Circle", Anthony Read, p. 731] In Soviet military history it is referred to as the Kiev Defensive Operation (Киевская оборонительная операция), with somewhat different dating of July 7 to September 26, 1941.

Nearly the entire Southwestern Front of the Red Army was encircled with the Germans claiming 665,000 captured. However, the Kiev encirclement was not complete, and small groups of Red Army troops managed to escape the cauldron days after the German pincers met east of the city, including head quarters of Marshall Semyon Budyonny, Marshall Semyon Timoshenko and Commissar Nikita Khrushchev. Nevertheless, the Kiev disaster was an unprecedented defeat for the Red Army, exceeding even the Minsk tragedy of June-July 1941. On 1st September the Southwestern Front numbered 752-760,000 troops (850,000 including reserves and rear service organs), 3,923 guns & mortars, 114 tanks and 167 combat aircraft.

The encirclement trapped 452,700 troops, 2,642 guns & mortars and 64 tanks, of which scarcely 15,000 escaped from the encirclement by 2nd October. Overall, the Southwestern Front suffered 700,544 casualties, including 616,304 killed, captured, or missing during the month-long Battle for Kiev. As a result, four Soviet field armies (5th, 37th, 26th, & 21st) consisting of 43 divisions virtually ceased to exist. The 40th Army was badly affected as well. Like the Western Front before it, the Southwestern Front had to be recreated almost from scratch. [Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad, 1975]


After the quick initial success of the Wehrmacht, especially in the Northern and Central sector of the Eastern front, a huge bulge in the south remained, where a substantial Soviet force, consisting of nearly the entire Southwestern Front was located. In the Battle of Uman a significant victory over the Soviet forces was achieved, but the bulk of forces under Semyon Budyonny's command were still concentrated in and around Kiev. While lacking mobility and armour, due to the majority of his armoured forces lost at the Battle of Uman, they nonetheless posed a significant threat to the German advance and were the largest single concentration of Soviet troops on the Eastern Front at that time.

At the end of August, the German High Command ("Oberkommando des Heeres", or OKH) had the option of either continuing the advance on Moscow, or destroying the Soviet forces in the south. Because the German Army Group South ("Heeresgruppe Süd") lacked sufficient strength to encircle and destroy the forces, a significant contribution from Army Group Center ("Heeresgruppe Mitte") was needed to accomplish the task. After a dispute within the German High Command (see Lötzen decision) the bulk of Panzergruppe 2 and the 2nd Army were detached from Army Group Center and sent due south to encircle the Soviet army and meet the advancing Army Group South east of Kiev.

The Battle

The Panzer armies progressed rapidly to conclude the encirclement, a move that caught Budyonny by surprise. He was therefore relieved by Stalin's order of September 13. No successor was named, leaving the troops to their individual corps and division commanders. The encirclement of Soviet forces in Kiev was achieved on September the 16th when Kleist's 1st Panzer Army and Guderian's 24th Corps met at Lokhvitsa, 120 miles behind Kiev.

After that, the fate of the encircled armies was sealed. For the Russians, a disaster of staggering dimensions now unfolded. With no mobile forces or supreme commander left, there was no possibility to break out from the encirclement. The German 17th Army and 6th Army of Army Group South, as well as the 2nd Army of Army Group Center subsequently reduced the pocket, aided by the two Panzer armies. The encircled Soviet armies at Kiev did not give up easily. A savage battle in which the Soviets were bombarded by artillery, tanks and aircraft had to be fought before the pocket was reduced. By September 19, Kiev had fallen, but the encirclement battle continued. In the end, after 10 days of heavy fighting the last remnants of troops east of Kiev surrendered on September 26. The Germans claimed 600,000 Red Army soldiers captured, although these claims have included a large number of civilians suspected of evading capture. Hitler called it the greatest battle in History.

After the Battle

After Kiev the Red Army had no more reserves. To defend Moscow, the Red Army could field 800,000 men in 83 divisions but no more than 25 of those divisions were fully equipped and staffed, and there was a desperate shortage of tanks, motor vehicles and aircraft. On the German side, the losses exhausted the troops and had worn out much of the equipment. Although there were 2.0 million men in 70 divisions, only 15% of the divisions were motorised, and had been depleted by the operations, despite being the highest proportion of motorised to infantry ratio in any German operation in the war to date. Operation Typhoon, the offensive towards Moscow would begin on October 2 1941.

With the large victory at Kiev, and the last significant resistance in the Southern theater removed, Army Group South could continue its advance to the strategically significant the Donets basin. A complete breakthrough was achieved in the southern sector of the front.

However, the need to complete the Kiev operation delayed the advance on Moscow for 4 weeks, a factor that some argue eventually proved detrimental in the subsequent Battle of Moscow due to onset of cold weather that hampered the offensive operations. While operationally very successful, the Battle of Kiev did little to enhance the German strategic position, because the main objective, a decisive victory that would conclude the war, was not achieved.

While the Soviet forces suffered terrible losses, they bought time for the defence of Moscow, thereby contributing to the prolonging the conflict, and leading to the eventual Allied victory in the war.

This was an important lesson for the Stavka to learn on evading and extricating troops from other encirclement battles. In the later Battle of Moscow, they avoided being encircled by the German forces, and by the time of the Battle of Stalingrad, it was they who were encircling the German formation.


*John Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad

ee also

*Battle of Uman

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