Battle of Kiev (1941)
The First Battle of Kiev was the German name for the operation that resulted in a large encirclement of Soviet troops in the vicinity of Kiev during World War II. This encirclement is considered the largest encirclement in the history of warfare; the operation ran from 7 August to 26 September 1941 as part of Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union. In Soviet military history, it is referred to as the Kiev Strategic Defensive Operation, with somewhat different dating of 7 July – 26 September 1941. Much of the Southwestern Front of the Red Army was encircled but small groups of Red Army troops managed to escape the pocket, days after the German panzers met east of the city, including the headquarters of Marshal Semyon Budyonny, Marshal Semyon Timoshenko and Commissar Nikita Khrushchev. Kirponos was killed while trying to break out; the battle was an unprecedented defeat for the Red Army, exceeding the Battle of Białystok–Minsk of June–July 1941. The encirclement trapped 452,700 soldiers, 2,642 guns and mortars and 64 tanks, of which scarcely 15,000 escaped from the encirclement by 2 October.
The Southwestern Front suffered 700,544 casualties, including 616,304 killed, captured or missing during the battle. The 5th, 37th, 26th, 21st and the 38th armies, consisting of 43 divisions, were annihilated and the 40th Army suffered many losses. Like the Western Front before it, the Southwestern Front had to be recreated from scratch. After the rapid progress of Army Group Centre through the central sector of the Eastern front, a huge salient developed around its junction with Army Group South by late July 1941. On 7-8 July 1941 the German forces managed to breakthrough the fortified Stalin Line in the southeast portion of Zhytomyr Oblast, which ran along the 1939 Soviet border. By 11 July 1941 the Axis ground forces reached the Dnieper tributary Irpin River; the initial attempt to enter the city right away was thwarted by troops of the Kiev ukrep-raion and counter offensive of 5th and 6th armies. Following that the advance on Kiev was halted and main effort shifted towards the Korosten ukrep-raion where was concentrated the Soviet 5th Army.
At the same time the 1st Panzer Army was forced to transition to defense due to counteroffensive of the Soviet 26th Army. A substantial Soviet force, nearly the entire Southwestern Front, positioned in and around Kiev was located in the salient. By end of July the Soviet front lost some of its units due to critical situation of the Southern Front caused by the German 17th army. While lacking mobility and armor due to high losses in tanks at the Battle of Uman on 3 August 1941, 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. Both Soviet 6th and 12th armies were encircled at Uman where some 102,000 Red Army soldiers and officers were taken prisoners. On 30 July 1941, the German forces resumed their advance onto Kiev with the German 6th army attacking positions between the Soviet 26th army and the Kiev ukrep-raion troops. On 7 August 1941 it was halted again by the Soviet 5th, 37th, 26th and supported by the Pinsk Naval Flotilla.
With a help of local population around the city of Kiev along the 45 km frontline segment were dug anti-tanks ditches and installed other obstacles, established 750 pillboxes, planted 100,000 of mines. Some 35,000 soldiers were mobilized from local population along with some partisan detachments and couple of armored trains. On 19 July Hitler issued Directive No. 33 which would cancel the assault on Moscow in favor of driving south to complete the encirclement of Soviet forces surrounded in Kiev. However, on 12 August 1941, Supplement to Directive No. 34 was issued, it represented a compromise between Hitler, convinced the correct strategy was to clear the salient occupied by Soviet forces on right flank of Army Group Center in the vicinity of Kiev before resuming the drive to Moscow, Halder and Guderian, who advocated an advance on Moscow as soon as possible. The compromise required 2nd and 3rd Panzer Groups of Army Group Centre, which were redeploying in order to aid Army Group North and Army Group South be returned to Army Group Centre, together with the 4th Panzer Group of Army Group North, once their objectives were achieved.
The three Panzer Groups, under the control of Army Group Center, would lead the advance on Moscow. Halder, chief of staff of the OKH, Bock, commander of Army Group Center, were satisfied by the compromise, but soon their optimism faded as the operational realities of the plan proved too challenging. On 18 August, OKH submitted a strategic survey to Hitler regarding the continuation of operations in the East; the paper made the case for the drive to Moscow, arguing once again that Army Groups North and South were strong enough to accomplish their objectives without any assistance from Army Group Center. It pointed out that there was enough time left before winter to conduct only a single decisive operation against Moscow. On 20 August, Hitler rejected the proposal based on the idea that the most important objective was to deprive the Soviets of their industrial areas. On 21 August Jodl of OKW issued a directive, which summarized Hitler's instructions, to Brauchitsch commander of the Army; the paper reiterated that the capture of Moscow before the onset of winter was not a primary objective.
Rather, that the most important missions before the onset of winter were to seize the Crimea, the industrial and coal region of the Don.
Siege of Leningrad
The Siege of Leningrad was a prolonged military blockade undertaken from the south by the Army Group North of Nazi Germany against the Soviet city of Leningrad on the Eastern Front in World War II. The Finnish army invaded from the north, co-operating with the Germans until they had recaptured territory lost in the recent Winter War, but refused to make further approaches to the city; the siege started on 8 September 1941. Although the Soviet forces managed to open a narrow land corridor to the city on 18 January 1943, the siege was not lifted until 27 January 1944, 872 days after it began, it was one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history, the costliest in casualties suffered. Some historians classify it as genocide. Leningrad's capture was one of three strategic goals in the German Operation Barbarossa and the main target of Army Group North; the strategy was motivated by Leningrad's political status as the former capital of Russia and the symbolic capital of the Russian Revolution, its military importance as a main base of the Soviet Baltic Fleet, its industrial strength, housing numerous arms factories.
By 1939, the city was responsible for 11% of all Soviet industrial output. It has been reported that Adolf Hitler was so confident of capturing Leningrad that he had invitations printed to the victory celebrations to be held in the city's Hotel Astoria. Although various theories have been put forward about Germany's plans for Leningrad, including renaming the city Adolfsburg and making it the capital of the new Ingermanland province of the Reich in Generalplan Ost, it is clear Hitler's intention was to utterly destroy the city and its population. According to a directive sent to Army Group North on 29 September, "After the defeat of Soviet Russia there can be no interest in the continued existence of this large urban centre. Following the city's encirclement, requests for surrender negotiations shall be denied, since the problem of relocating and feeding the population cannot and should not be solved by us. In this war for our existence, we can have no interest in maintaining a part of this large urban population."Hitler's ultimate plan was to raze Leningrad to the ground and give areas north of the River Neva to the Finns.
Army Group North under Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb advanced to Leningrad, its primary objective. Von Leeb's plan called for capturing the city on the move, but due to Hitler's recall of 4th Panzer Group, von Leeb had to lay the city under siege indefinitely after reaching the shores of Lake Ladoga, while trying to complete the encirclement and reaching the Finnish Army under Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim waiting at the Svir River, east of Leningrad. Finnish military forces were north of Leningrad, while German forces occupied territories to the south. Both German and Finnish forces had the goal of encircling Leningrad and maintaining the blockade perimeter, thus cutting off all communication with the city and preventing the defenders from receiving any supplies – although Finnish participation in the blockade consisted of recapture of lands lost in the Winter War. Thus, it is argued that much of the Finns participation was defensive; the Germans planned on lack of food being their chief weapon against the citizens.
On Friday, 27 June 1941, the Council of Deputies of the Leningrad administration organised "First response groups" of civilians. In the next days, Leningrad's civilian population was informed of the danger and over a million citizens were mobilised for the construction of fortifications. Several lines of defences were built along the city's perimeter to repulse hostile forces approaching from north and south by means of civilian resistance. In the south, the fortified line ran from the mouth of the Luga River to Chudovo, Uritsk and through the Neva River. Another line of defence passed through Peterhof to Gatchina, Pulkovo and Koltushy. In the north the defensive line against the Finns, the Karelian Fortified Region, had been maintained in Leningrad's northern suburbs since the 1930s, was now returned to service. A total of 306 km of timber barricades, 635 km of wire entanglements, 700 km of anti-tank ditches, 5,000 earth-and-timber emplacements and reinforced concrete weapon emplacements and 25,000 km of open trenches were constructed or excavated by civilians.
The guns from the cruiser Aurora were moved inland to the Pulkovo Heights to the south of Leningrad. The 4th Panzer Group from East Prussia took Pskov following a swift advance and managed to reach Novgorod by 16 August; the Soviet defenders fought to the death, despite the German discovery of the Soviet defence plans on an officer's corpse. After the capture of Novgorod, General Hoepner's 4th Panzer Group continued its progress towards Leningrad. However, the 18th Army – despite some 350,000 men lagging behind – forced its way to Ostrov and Pskov after the Soviet troops of the Northwestern Front retreated towards Leningrad. On 10 July, both Ostrov and Pskov were captured and the 18th Army reached Narva and Kingisepp, from where advance toward Leningrad continued from the Luga River line; this had the effect of creating siege positions from the Gulf of Finland to Lake Ladoga, with the eventual aim of isolating Leningrad from all directions. The Finnish Army was expected to advance along the eastern shore of Lake Ladoga.
Army Group North 18th Army (v
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, which started on Sunday, 22 June 1941, during World War II. The operation stemmed from Nazi Germany's ideological aims to conquer the western Soviet Union so that it could be repopulated by Germans, to use Slavs as a slave labour force for the Axis war effort, to murder the rest, to acquire the oil reserves of the Caucasus and the agricultural resources of Soviet territories. In the two years leading up to the invasion and the Soviet Union signed political and economic pacts for strategic purposes; the German High Command began planning an invasion of the Soviet Union in July 1940, which Adolf Hitler authorized on 18 December 1940. Over the course of the operation, about three million personnel of the Axis powers – the largest invasion force in the history of warfare – invaded the western Soviet Union along a 2,900-kilometer front. In addition to troops, the Wehrmacht deployed some 600,000 motor vehicles, between 600,000 and 700,000 horses for non-combat operations.
The offensive marked an escalation of World War II, both geographically and in the formation of the Allied coalition. Operationally, German forces achieved major victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union and inflicted, as well as sustained, heavy casualties. Despite these Axis successes, the German offensive stalled in the Battle of Moscow at the end of 1941, the subsequent Soviet winter counteroffensive pushed German troops back; the Red Army absorbed the Wehrmacht's strongest blows and forced the Germans into a war of attrition that they were unprepared for. The Wehrmacht never again mounted a simultaneous offensive along the entire Eastern front; the failure of the operation drove Hitler to demand further operations of limited scope inside the Soviet Union, such as Case Blue in 1942 and Operation Citadel in 1943 – all of which failed. The failure of Operation Barbarossa proved a turning point in the fortunes of the Third Reich. Most the operation opened up the Eastern Front, in which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in world history.
The Eastern Front became the site of some of the largest battles, most horrific atrocities, highest World War II casualties, all of which influenced the course of both World War II and the subsequent history of the 20th century. The German armies captured 5,000,000 Red Army troops, who were denied the protection guaranteed by the Hague Conventions and the 1929 Geneva Convention. A majority of Red Army POWs never returned alive; the Nazis deliberately starved to death, or otherwise killed, 3.3 million prisoners of war, as well as a huge number of civilians. Einsatzgruppen death-squads and gassing operations murdered over a million Soviet Jews as part of the Holocaust; as early as 1925, Adolf Hitler vaguely declared in his political manifesto and autobiography Mein Kampf that he would invade the Soviet Union, asserting that the German people needed to secure Lebensraum to ensure the survival of Germany for generations to come. On 10 February 1939, Hitler told his army commanders that the next war would be "purely a war of Weltanschauungen... a people's war, a racial war".
On 23 November, once World War II had started, Hitler declared that "racial war has broken out and this war shall determine who shall govern Europe, with it, the world". The racial policy of Nazi Germany portrayed the Soviet Union as populated by non-Aryan Untermenschen, ruled by Jewish Bolshevik conspirators. Hitler claimed in Mein Kampf that Germany's destiny was to "turn to the East" as it did "six hundred years ago". Accordingly, it was stated Nazi policy to kill, deport, or enslave the majority of Russian and other Slavic populations and repopulate the land with Germanic peoples, under the Generalplan Ost; the Germans' belief in their ethnic superiority is evident in official German records and discernible in pseudoscientific articles in German periodicals at the time, which covered topics such as "how to deal with alien populations". While older histories tended to emphasize the notion of a "Clean Wehrmacht", the historian Jürgen Förster notes that "In fact, the military commanders were caught up in the ideological character of the conflict, involved in its implementation as willing participants."
Before and during the invasion of the Soviet Union, German troops were indoctrinated with anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic, anti-Slavic ideology via movies, lectures and leaflets. Likening the Soviets to the forces of Genghis Khan, Hitler told Croatian military leader Slavko Kvaternik that the "Mongolian race" threatened Europe. Following the invasion, Wehrmacht officers told their soldiers to target people who were described as "Jewish Bolshevik subhumans", the "Mongol hordes", the "Asiatic flood", the "Red beast". Nazi propaganda portrayed the war against the Soviet Union as both an ideological war between German National Socialism and Jewish Bolshevism and a racial war between the Germans and the Jewish and Slavic Untermenschen. An'order from the Führer' stated that the Einsatzgruppen were to execute all Soviet functionaries who were "less valuable Asiatics and Jews". Six months into the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen had murdered in excess of 500,000 Soviet Jews, a figure greater than the number of Red Army soldiers killed in combat during that same time frame.
German army command
Battle of Moscow
The Battle of Moscow was a military campaign that consisted of two periods of strategically significant fighting on a 600 km sector of the Eastern Front during World War II. It took place between October 1941 and January 1942; the Soviet defensive effort frustrated Hitler's attack on Moscow, the capital and largest city of the Soviet Union. Moscow was one of the primary military and political objectives for Axis forces in their invasion of the Soviet Union; the German strategic offensive, named Operation Typhoon, called for two pincer offensives, one to the north of Moscow against the Kalinin Front by the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies severing the Moscow–Leningrad railway, another to the south of Moscow Oblast against the Western Front south of Tula, by the 2nd Panzer Army, while the 4th Army advanced directly towards Moscow from the west. According to Andrew Roberts, Hitler's offensive towards the Soviet capital was nothing less than an'all-out attack': "It is no exaggeration to state that the outcome of the Second World War hung in the balance during this massive attack".
The Soviet forces conducted a strategic defence of the Moscow Oblast by constructing three defensive belts, deploying newly raised reserve armies, bringing troops from the Siberian and Far Eastern Military Districts. As the German offensives were halted, a Soviet strategic counter-offensive and smaller-scale offensive operations forced the German armies back to the positions around the cities of Oryol and Vitebsk, nearly surrounded three German armies, it was a major setback for the Germans, the end of the idea of a fast German victory in the USSR. Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch was excused as commander of OKH, with Hitler appointing himself as Germany's supreme military commander. Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion plan, called for the capture of Moscow within four months. On 22 June 1941, Axis forces invaded the Soviet Union, destroyed most of the Soviet Air Force on the ground, advanced deep into Soviet territory using blitzkrieg tactics to destroy entire Soviet armies; the German Army Group North moved towards Leningrad, Army Group South took control of Ukraine, Army Group Centre advanced towards Moscow.
By July 1941, Army Group Center crossed the Dnieper River, on the path to Moscow. In July 1941, German forces captured an important stronghold on the road to Moscow. At this stage, although Moscow was vulnerable, an offensive against the city would have exposed the German flanks. In part to address these risks, in part to attempt to secure Ukraine's food and mineral resources, Hitler ordered the attack to turn north and south and eliminate Soviet forces at Leningrad and Kiev; this delayed the German advance on Moscow. When that advance resumed on 30 September 1941, German forces had been weakened, while the Soviets had raised new forces for the defence of the city. For Hitler, the Soviet capital was secondary, he believed the only way to bring the Soviet Union to its knees was to defeat it economically, he felt. When Walther von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, supported a direct thrust to Moscow, he was told that "only ossified brains could think of such an idea". Franz Halder, head of the Army General Staff, was convinced that a drive to seize Moscow would be victorious after the German Army inflicted enough damage on the Soviet forces.
This view was shared by most within the German high command. But Hitler overruled his generals in favor of pocketing the Soviet forces around Kiev in the south, followed by the seizure of Ukraine; the move was successful, resulting in the loss of nearly 1,000,000 Red Army personnel killed, captured, or wounded by 26 September, further advances by Axis forces. With the end of summer, Hitler redirected his attention to Moscow and assigned Army Group Center to this task; the forces committed to Operation Typhoon included four infantry armies supported by three Panzer Groups and by the Luftwaffe's Luftflotte 2. Up to two million German troops were committed to the operation, along with 1,000–2,470 tanks and assault guns and 14,000 guns. German aerial strength, had been reduced over the summer's campaign. Luftflotte 2 had only 549 serviceable machines, including 158 medium and dive-bombers and 172 fighters, available for Operation Typhoon; the attack relied on standard blitzkrieg tactics, using Panzer groups rushing deep into Soviet formations and executing double-pincer movements, pocketing Red Army divisions and destroying them.
Facing the Wehrmacht were three Soviet fronts forming a defensive line between the cities of Vyazma and Bryansk, which barred the way to Moscow. The armies comprising these fronts had been involved in heavy fighting. Still, it was a formidable concentration consisting of 1,000 tanks and 7,600 guns; the Soviet Air Force had suffered appalling losses of some 7,500 to 21,200 aircraft. Extraordinary industrial achievements had begun to replace these, at the outset of Typhoon the VVS could muster 936 aircraft, 578 of which were bombers. Once Soviet resistance along the Vyazma-Bryansk front was eliminated, German forces were to press east, encircling Moscow by outflanking it from the north and south. Continuous fighting had reduced their effectiveness, logistical difficulties became more acute. General Guderian, commander of the 2nd Panzer Army, wrote that some of his destroyed tanks had not been replaced, there were fuel shortages at the start of the operation; the German attack went according to plan, with 4th Panzer Group pushing through the middle nearly unopposed and
Battle of the Kerch Peninsula
The Battle of the Kerch Peninsula, which commenced with the Soviet Kerch-Feodosia landing operation and ended with the German Operation Bustard Hunt, was a World War II battle between Erich von Manstein's German and Romanian 11th Army and the Soviet Crimean Front forces in the Kerch Peninsula, in the eastern part of the Crimea. It began on 26 December 1941 with an amphibious landing operation by two Soviet armies intended to break the Siege of Sevastopol. Axis forces first contained the Soviet beachhead throughout the winter and interdicted its naval supply lines through aerial bombing. From January through April, the Crimean Front launched repeated offensives against the 11th Army, all of which failed with heavy losses; the Red Army lost 352,000 men in the attacks. Superior German artillery firepower was responsible for the Soviet debacle. On 8 May 1942, the Axis struck with great force in a major counteroffensive codenamed Trappenjagd which concluded by around 19 May 1942 with the liquidation of the Soviet defending forces.
Manstein used a large concentration of airpower armed infantry divisions, concentrated artillery bombardments and amphibious assaults to break through the Soviet front in its southern portion in 210 minutes, swing north with the 22nd Panzer Division to encircle the Soviet 51st Army on 10 May and annihilate it on 11 May. The remnants of the 44th and 47th Armies were pursued to Kerch, where the last pockets of organized Soviet resistance were eradicated through German aerial and artillery firepower by 19 May; the decisive element in the German victory was the campaign of airstrikes against the Crimean Front by Wolfram von Richthofen's 800 aircraft-strong VIII. Fliegerkorps, which flew an average of 1,500 sorties per day in support of Trappenjagd and attacked Soviet field positions, armored units, troop columns, evacuation ships and supply lines. German bombers used up to 6,000 canisters of SD-2 anti-personnel cluster munitions to kill masses of fleeing Soviet infantrymen. Manstein's outnumbered 11th Army suffered 7,588 casualties, while the Crimean Front lost 176,566 men, 258 tanks, 1,133 artillery pieces and 315 aircraft in three armies comprising twenty-one divisions.
Total Soviet casualties during the five month-long battle amounted to 570,000 men, while Axis losses were 38,000. Trappenjagd was one of the battles preceding the German summer offensive, its successful conclusion allowed the Axis to concentrate their forces on Sevastopol, conquered within six weeks. The Kerch Peninsula was used a launching pad by German forces to cross the Kerch Strait on 2 September 1942 during Operation Blücher II, a part of the German drive to capture the Caucasus oilfields. On 8 December 1941, the Soviet supreme command, ordered General-Lieutenant Dmitry Timofeyevich Kozlov's Transcaucasian Front to begin planning for a major operation to cross the Kerch Strait and link up with the Soviet Separate Coastal Army holed up in Sevastopol, thereby liberating the Crimea from the Germans; the ambitious operation, the first major amphibious operation in Soviet history, was founded upon Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's belief in the German Wehrmacht's imminent collapse. The plan was drawn up by the Transcaucasian Front's chief of staff General-Major Fyodor Tolbukhin.
Tolbukhin's plan was too complicated for Soviet Navy's abilities. It was based on multiple small landings at separate locations at separate times instead of one large, simultaneous landing. Five transport groups from Rear-Admiral Sergey Gorshkov's Azov Flotilla would land 7,500 soldiers from the 224th Rifle Division and 302nd Mountain Rifle Division of the 51st Army on eight isolated beaches north and south of Kerch. After the Germans were distracted by this, the 44th Army would land at Feodosiya in the German rear. Naval gunfire support would be provided by the Black Sea Fleet; the Soviet Air Forces, would contribute air cover from the Taman Peninsula. The Soviets had the men and troop transports on hand but were compelled to use fishing trawlers for the actual landings due to the lack of landing craft, had little experience with large-scale joint operations and were impeded by the stormy winter weather. A German Messerschmitt Bf 110 reconnaissance aircraft noted the buildup of Soviet naval forces and reported it to Lieutenant General Hans Graf von Sponeck's XXXXII Army Corps headquarters.
Sponeck issued a general alert for enemy amphibious landings in the Kerch Peninsula. The mass of Sponeck's units had been transferred for the assault on Sevastopol and he had only the 46th Infantry Division under Lieutenant General Kurt Himer who had assumed his command on 17 December, two coastal artillery battalions equipped with obsolete World War I artillery pieces, a combat engineer regiment and a Luftwaffe anti-aircraft battalion; the 46th Infantry Division up to strength, was woefully overextended holding down the entire Kerch Peninsula against potential Soviet landings. Sponeck's only backup was the Romanian 8th Cavalry Brigade near Alushta. On the evening of 25 December 1941, the 224th Rifle Division and 83rd Naval Infantry Brigade were packed into small craft on the Taman Peninsula and began to pass the Kerch Strait. Group 2 disembarked at Cape Khroni to the northeast of Kerch, it consisted of the gunboat Don, the transports Krasny Flot and Pyenay, a tugboat, two motor barges that carried three T-26 light tanks and a few artillery pieces, 16 fishing trawlers.
Whaleboats were substituted for landing craft, resulting in tediously slow landings and the drowning of men and equipment. 697 men from the 2nd Battalion of the 160th Rifle Regiment landed at Cape
Battle of Uman
The Battle of Uman was the German offensive operation against the 6th and 12th Soviet Armies — under the command of Lieutenant General I. N. Muzychenko and Major General P. G. Ponedelin, respectively; the battle occurred during the Kiev defensive operation between the elements of the Red Army's Southwestern Front, retreating from the Lwow salient, German Army Group South commanded by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, as part of Operation Barbarossa on the Eastern Front during World War II. The Soviet forces were under overall command of the Southwestern Direction, commanded by Marshal Semyon Budyonny, which included the Southwestern Front commanded by Colonel General Mikhail Kirponos and Southern Front commanded by General Ivan Tyulenev; the battle finished by the encirclement and annihilation of 6th and 12th armies to the southeast of the Uman city. In the initial weeks of Operation Barbarossa, Army Group South had advanced East, defeating several Soviet mechanized corps at the great tank Battle of Brody 23–30 June.
The armies of the Southwestern Front were ordered to retreat to the line of fortifications along the old Soviet-Polish border of 1939. III and XXXXVIII Motorized corps of the 1st Panzer Group wedged in between the 5th and 6th Soviet armies. On July 5, XXXXVIII Motorized Corps cracked a weak defense on the Stalin Line and began to move embracing the right flank of the 6th Army. A new Soviet counter-attack was attempted on July 9 in the direction of Berdychiv to prevent further advance of the 1st Panzer Group to the east; the fighting continued until July 16, the 11th Panzer Division lost 2,000 men, but Soviet troops failed and on July 16 the German offensive continued. Further to the north, the mobile units of the III Motorized Corps overcame the Stalin Line and reached the approaches to Kiev; the command of Army Group South intended to capture Kiev while Hitler and the High Command insisted on a strike in the southern direction, which guaranteed the encirclement of the Soviet troops in conjunction with the 11th Army.
The compromise solution proposed the capture of Belaya Tserkov and after that a strike in the south-west direction towards the 11th Army. Such a decision left the possibility, instead of a strike to the southwest, to continue the offensive from Kiev farther east, beyond the Dnieper, but Kiev was secured by a separate fortified area, the rear communications of the III Motorized Corps were under attack from the 5th Army. So, in the opening days of Battle of Uman the task of encircling the 6th and 12th armies from the north and the east was to be done by divisions of the XXXXVIII Motorized Corps only. To help them, the third unit of the 1st Panzer Group, the XIV Motorized Corps, was transferred from the south and committed to action between the III and XXXXVIII Motorized corps in the direction to the Belaya Tserkov. Infantry units of the German 6th Field Army on the north hastened to replace the advanced tank units, the 17th Field Army on the west continued to pursue retreating forces of the Soviet 6th and 12th armies.
The advance of the 11th Field Army from the Soviet-Romanian border was suspended by Soviet counterblows, its attack from the south towards Vinnytsia was postponed. Most of the Soviet forces were depleted, having withdrawn under heavy assaults from the Luftwaffe from the Polish border, the mechanised units were reduced to a single "Corps" after the Brody counter-offensive, its mechanised infantry now fighting as ordinary rifle troops; the Axis forces were divided into those of 1st Panzer Group that had suffered significant losses in matériel, but retained combat effectiveness, the large infantry formations of the German and Romanian armies that attempted to advance from the West to meet the armored troops north of Crimea, the initial strategic objective of Army Group South. Since July 15, the XXXXVIII Motorized Corps of Wehrmacht repulsed the counter-attacks of the Soviet "Berdichev Group" and resumed the offensive; the 16th Panzer Division seized the city of Kazatin. On the left, the 11th Panzer division was in the gap between Soviet armies, so by July 16 it made a deep breakthrough to the South-East.
By July 18, the division advanced another 50 km, crossed the Ros' River and captured the settlement of Stavishche. The 16th Panzer Division, forced to repel counterattacks of the Soviet 6th Army, advanced slower, but by July 17 its forward detachment seized the Ros' station, where was an important Soviet base of rear services support. July 18, units of the 6th army managed to recapture the station. Further to the North, the XIV Motorized Corps advanced to Belaya Tserkov, but met counterattacks by the 26th Army; this army had no time to prepare the offensive, its divisions didn't have time to concentrate. They couldn't beat out the 9th Panzer Division from Belaya Tserkov, they for a short time captured Fastov. The advance of the 26th Army soon stopped, but its attacks contained the mobile units of the 1st Panzer Group. A similar situation was with the Panzer divisions of the III Motorized Corps. Halder, the chief of OKH, irritably wrote on July 18 that "the operation of the Army Group «South» is losing its shape", that "enveloping flank of the 1st Panzer Group is still hang about in the area of Berdichev and Belaya Tserkov".
At the same time the 17th Field Army from the West was approaching too and Halder feared that the future "cauldron" will not trap significant enemy forces. Meanwhile, the 17th Field Army tried to implement a shortcut version of the original plan, according to which the Soviet troops were to be surrounded to the
Battle of Rzhev, Summer 1942
The Battle of Rzhev in the Summer of 1942 was part of a series of battles that lasted 15 months in the center of the Eastern Front. It is known in Soviet history of World War II as the First Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation, defined as spanning from 30 July to 23 August 1942. However, it is documented that the fighting continued undiminished into September and did not cease until the beginning of October 1942; the Red Army suffered massive casualties for little gain during the fighting, giving the battle a notoriety reflected in its sobriquet: "The Rzhev Meat Grinder". Rzhev lies 140 miles west of Moscow and was captured by the German Wehrmacht in Operation Typhoon in the autumn of 1941, which took them to the gates of Moscow; when the Soviet counteroffensive drove them back, Rzhev became a cornerstone of the Germans' defense. By mid-1942, the city stood at the apogee of a salient that protruded from the front lines, pointing in the general direction of Moscow. In July and August 1942, Stalin tasked two of his front commanders, General Georgy Zhukov and General Ivan Konev, to conduct an offensive to recapture Rzhev and strike a blow against Army Group Center that would push them away from Moscow.
The attack would fall upon one of their main opponents of the winter battles, General Walter Model's 9th Army, which occupied the majority of the Rzhev salient. The high losses and few gains made during the two-month struggle left a lasting impression on the Soviet soldiers who took part. In October, the strategic balance in the centre of the Eastern Front remained unchanged. However, the German army had suffered grievous losses, whilst its defence had been tactically successful, it had achieved little more than maintaining the status quo, and although the offensive failed, Zhukov was given another chance to crush the Rzhev salient soon afterwards. The closing stages of the Battle of Moscow saw the formation of the Rzhev salient; the Soviet counter-offensive had driven the Wehrmacht from the outskirts of Moscow back more than 100 miles, had penetrated Army Group Centre's front in numerous places. Rzhev, a strategic crossroads and vital rail junction straddling the Volga, became the northern corner post of Army Group Centre's left wing.
It was the only town of note for many miles and gave the 9th Army something to hang on to, in what otherwise seemed a wilderness of forest and swamp in all directions. The salient's existence was threatened at the moment of its creation, when the Kalinin Front's 39th and 29th Armies opened a gap just west of Rzhev and thrust southwards into the German rear. Just managing to keep the encroaching Soviet armies away from the vital rail link into Rzhev, the 9th Army, now commanded by General Model, managed to close the Rzhev gap, thereby cutting the Soviet supply lines and reducing their ability to deal a crippling blow to the whole army group; the Soviet counter-attack had run out of steam and the Germans recovered enough to mount several operations to clear up their rear area. In July 1942, Operation Seydlitz was mounted to trap and destroy the two Soviet armies and succeeded in little over a week in doing so, making the army group once more an credible threat to Moscow. General of Panzer Troops Heinrich von Vietinghoff was senior corps commander in the 9th Army in June 1942, temporarily led the Army at the start of the battle, whilst Model was on convalescent leave.
He commanded 10th Army and Army Group C in Italy. General of Panzer Troops Walter Model had commanded 3rd Panzer division at the start of Operation Barbarossa, had become commander of XXXXI Motorised Corps in October 1941, he had shown great resolve in the defensive winter battles, was promoted to 9th Army commander on 12 January 1942. He proved to be a defensive specialist. Respected by Hitler, his star continued to rise, becoming a field marshal in March 1944. Georgy Zhukov was Chief of the General Staff when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union but, following a disagreement with Stalin concerning the defense of Kiev, was demoted to command of the Reserve Front, he became a troubleshooter, commanding the Leningrad Front in the autumn, back to Moscow to conduct its defense and counteroffensive. Zhukov remained in the central sector, he argued in the spring of 1942 that the Moscow axis was the most critical and that Army Group Center posed the greatest threat to the Soviet Union. To him, the German forces at Rzhev "represented a dagger pointed at Moscow".
Zhukov convinced Stalin to give him the extra forces. He commanded Western Front's attacks until, in the latter part of August, Zhukov became deputy supreme commander and was transferred to Stalingrad, he continued to hold the highest commands in the Soviet Army, became a Marshal of the Soviet Union in January 1943. Zhukov remained always in the thick of the fighting until the end of the war, commanding the 1st Belorussian Front in the assault on Berlin, still in rivalry with Konev, who commanded the 1st Ukrainian Front in the final battle. Colonel-General Ivan Konev began the war against Germany commanding the 19th Army, which become encircled around Vitebsk in the first weeks of the conflict. Stalin blamed Konev for the disaster but Zhukov intervened and ensured his survival and promotion to Front commander, he went on to command Kalinin Front in the winter battles around Moscow with distinction, still commanded Kalinin Front at the start of the Rzhev Operation. When Zhukov was promoted to deputy supreme commander, Konev was given overall responsibility for the continuing offensive.
The summer months of 1942 in the Rzhev area was warm, with long days and a high sun which allowed the area to dry out after the spring thaw. R