THE ADVANCE OF THE SIXTH ARMY
GENERAL VON REICHENAU'S ARMY. Among the German forces which
crossed the Russian frontier on June 22, 1941, was the Sixth Army, under the
command of Field Marshal General von Reichenau. It appears that this army,
on the eve of the campaign, was concentrated in German-held Poland in the
Biala-Chelm sector immediately west of the Bug River (the Russo-German
boundary under the agreement of August 21, 1939). The Sixth Army held the
northern flank of the German South Group of Armies under Field Marshal
General von Rundstedt. The Sixth Army included motorized infantry and panzer
divisions, the Adolph Hitler Regiment (an S.S. unit), and foot infantry divisions,
with necessary auxiliary services of all types, and had the support of aviation. "Panzer
and motorized infantry divisions, as well as an S.S. unit" are listed by
a German source as forming a part of the narrow penetration wedge which was
to follow a panzer division spearhead.
In front of Von Reichenau's army was the Russian Fifth Army, which was
a part of the Russian South Group of Armies under Marshal Budenny. The
order of battle of the Russian Fifth Army is not known.
The German Sixth Army had on its right (southern) flank, the First
Panzer Army of General von Kleist, while south of von Kleist was the Seventeenth Army
of General von Stuelpnagel. These two armies later became the southern
arm of the great Kiev encirclement. Further south, von Rundstedt's forces
included Hungarian and Rumanian as well as German troops.
North of von Reichenau was the Center Group of Armies under General
von Bock. No army of the Center Group maintained ground contact with von
Reichenau after the jump-off from concentration areas; ground liaison between
the two armies was prevented by the impassable Pripet marshes. East of the
marshes, in the Dnieper Valley, the Second Army under von Weichs and the
Second Panzer Army of Guderian later established contact with von Reichenau
and became the northern arm in the Kiev encirclement.
THE PRIPET OR PINSK MARSHES AND THE ROUTES TO KIEV. The
great marshes of Western Russia are variously called Pripet, after the river
which runs through but does not effectively drain them, and Pinsk, for the largest
city included in their vast expanse. The term "vast" is not an exaggeration, for
the marshes extend from Brest-Litovsk on the German-Russian border eastward
to and beyond the Dnieper, a distance of more than 300 miles, and stretch from
north to south more than 150 miles.
The marshes had a marked influence on German strategy. Such roads
and railroads as existed in them were not first-class. Moreover, a demolition
which would be merely a nuisance on dry land would be disastrous in a region
where any detour from a road-bed meant hopeless bogging down. Consequently,
the marshes could not be effectively penetrated, and were thus a natural
boundary between the two groups of armies.
From his concentration area, von Reichenau had to advance toward Kiev
along the southern edge of the marshes. The axis of his advance was determined
by the disposition of highways and railroads.
At Kowel, the railroad line from Biala and Brest-Litovsk joined the line
from Chelm and Luboml. East of Kowel, the single line led to Kiev through the
southern part of the marshes, across numerous tributaries of the Pripet River.
From three of the villages on this railroad, branch lines ran north or northwest
toward the Pripet River or the Dnieper (see map). This road and its branches
were single-track, and the gauge was different from that of German railroads.
As with the railroads, a highway from Brest-Litovsk and a highway from
Luboml met at Kowel, east of which a great highway led to Kiev. This highway
was of asphalt and had four traffic lanes from the old Polish-Russian border to
Kiev (according to some accounts, all the way from the new German-Russian
border to Kiev). This road, which was south of and approximately parallel to the
Kowel-Kiev railroad, led through well-drained country and cut across the Pripet
tributaries in their upper courses.
VON REICHENAU ADVANCES AND BUDENNY RETREATS. Because of
the difficulties inherent in the use of the Russian railroads, the Germans
generally chose the highways for their spearheads in Russia -- in this instance, the
excellent Kiev highway.
The men and materiel of von Reichenau's Sixth Army had apparently been
concentrated as close as possible to the border, along all-weather roads. Some
of the first units to enter Russia crossed the frontier near Brest-Litovsk and
advanced along the highway from Brest-Litovsk to Kowel. Others, entering
further south, advanced along the highway from Luboml toward Kowel. Like the
other leading units, which literally rolled into Russia on the morning of
June 22, 1941, the forward units of von Reichenau's army again used the spearhead
tactics which had been so successfully employed in France and moved forward with
great speed, protected by superior air strength. As the Germans advanced, the
Russians retreated at an average rate of some 15 miles a day.
To the German commanders, as to observers outside the battle area, the
parallel with the campaign in France must have appeared striking. In each case,
large areas of important territory were promptly occupied by the Germans.
The Russian withdrawal, however, was not due entirely to weakness. Beyond
question, the Russians knew that the Germans had massed great quantities
of men and materiel along good highways, just across the Bug. Uncertain
exactly when and exactly where these massed Nazi resources would be used, the
Russians apparently held their forward positions with delaying forces only and
elected to make their main defensive stand many miles to the east. In this way,
the Russian commanders were able to learn the direction and strength of the
German thrusts before committing the Russian reserves. Even in retreating,
they could learn something of German tactics. Finally, when the main engagement
would take place, German lines of communication would be long and Russian
lines short. These considerations, as well as the strength of the Nazi
military machine, probably played a part in the rapid Russian retreat before the
German armies in the 1941 campaign. Nor was the German advance made without
cost. Battered vehicles abandoned by the road, dead horses, and destroyed
villages told of the fury of the Russian rearguard action.
FIGHTING BETWEEN A HIGHWAY AND A RAILROAD. Since von Kleist
was on his right, von Reichenau appears to have had no difficulty on that flank
as his spearhead advanced.
On the left (northern) flank, the situation was different. There was no
ground contact with the nearest army of the Center Group; this army, in fact,
was miles away, north of the Pripet marshes. Moreover, the Russians were in
these marshes in considerable force and at once began to harass von Reichenau's
left flank. Accurate and heavy Russian artillery barrages came down unexpectedly
on German transport.
In spite of this harassment by Russian artillery, von Reichenau's forward
troops continued to move ahead. The area taken by the spearhead troops
extended not more than 2 or 3 miles on each side of the highway.
The situation on the marsh flank could not, however, be ignored. Resistance
to the Russians was left to foot-infantry troops armed with the necessary
heavy weapons and artillery. At every crossroad or junction, a task force
had to be constituted to cope with a Russian attack which, if neglected,
might threaten the flank. A German commentator, irked by the cost of the
operations, stated that a full-scale battle had to be fought for each miserable
village, which was worthless in the first instance and rubble when taken.
In the battles between the troops on the highway and those on the
railroads, the Germans had the advantage. They were able to move forward more
troops and material on the four-lane highway than the Russians could bring up
on the single-track railroad, and a Russian retreat was forced. In no case,
however, was the bulk of the Russians cut off. When outgunned by superior German
artillery and in danger of being flanked by the advance on the highway, the
Russian troops retreated along their railroad line to the next vantage-point and
again harassed the German advance.
Shortly after the campaign began, the Germans were at Kowel, the junction
of the railroad line which the Russians had determined to hold and the highway
on which the Germans had determined to advance. After overcoming strong
Russian resistance at Kowel, the Germans again moved forward, and took
in turn Luck, Rowne, Zwaihel. Soon they were at Zhitomir, an important
junction some 75 miles from Kiev.
After crossing several minor streams, their forward elements reached
the heights west of the Irpen River. From the summit of this high ground they
could see the spires of Kiev. They were 5 miles from the outskirts and
12 miles from the heart of the city. In 20 days they had come 312 miles. With
Kiev in sight, an armored division hurried down the four-lane highway toward a
wooden bridge over the Irpen.
CHECK OF THE SPEARHEAD AT THE IRPEN RIVER
THE GERMAN SPEARHEAD IS HALTED. Despite the unexpected and
strong Russian assaults which had harassed their advance and were still
continuing against their left flank well to the rear, the Germans claim they were
confident on July 12 as they started down the western (left) bank of the
north-flowing Irpen. Suddenly, in front of them, the wooden bridge of the great
four-lane highway was blown out by Soviet troops. Germans often make light of Russian
demolitions, but this one they conceded to be perfect. There was nothing
left of the bridge, and the steep west banks were under Russian fire. The
armored spearheads could not cross the Irpen, and had to retreat up the hill. The
delay was annoying, but (according to German sources) it did not shake the
confidence of men who had advanced 312 miles in 20 days.
For 20 days they had averaged 15 miles a day; in the next 2 months, however, they
were not to move a yard!
The first difficulty was the terrain. Directly in front of the Germans
was the Irpen River, a natural bastion of Kiev. Here in its middle course the
Irpen had dry banks, but the channel was unfordable. There were many wooded
areas on the slopes, particularly on the Russian-held eastern slope, and Russian
troops in these woods commanded every yard of open space between the heights
on the western bank and the river. Most of the cultivated land was in tall grain,
under cover of which the Germans apparently constructed field fortifications. Suburban
houses, which offered many opportunities for concealment, dotted both
slopes, particularly the Russian-held eastern slope. The four-lane highway cut
across the Irpen and ran straight up the hill through a wood toward Kiev, but
the bridge was destroyed and every foot of the roadway was under Russian fire.
The Irpen position, moreover, could not be flanked by the German advance
units which were halted there. To the north near the mouth of the Irpen,
the terrain was swampy, and the Russians held the rail-line in menacing
strength. To the south, the upper Irpen, which widened at places into lakes,
was an obstacle; and across the divide between the Irpen and the Dnieper, the
Weta and the Strugna Creeks were as well defended as the Irpen.
After von Reichenau's leading elements had been halted on the west bank
of the Irpen, he immediately devoted himself to a three-fold task: the
consolidation of the Irpen position; the elimination of the Russian artillery which was still
pounding his supply line and interfering with the bulk of the Sixth Army's
movements to its new concentration area east of Zhitomir; and the protection of the
Irpen position by operations on the Weta and the Strugna. The accomplishment
of these tasks would have the dual result of preventing a successful Russian
counterthrust and of establishing the Sixth Army in positions from which, under
more favorable circumstances, a further advance might be made.
THE HALTED GERMANS DIG IN AND RECONNOITER. Von Reichenau's forward
units were much over-extended. According to German claims, these units were
some 125 miles ahead of the foot-infantry divisions of their army and now had to
devote themselves to holding on until the infantry divisions could come forward.
A headquarters for the defending German troops was apparently established
in the little village of Milaja, just west of the Irpen, and the main body of the
forward troops occupied two shallow ravines more or less parallel with the
river. Fox holes were dug at once to give shelter to the troops, who were tired
by their rapid advance. Construction was carried out under extreme difficulties. Any
movement beyond cover brought a storm of Russian artillery fire. Russian
aviators flew over the German-held houses on the west bank every 2 hours at a
height stated by the Germans to be only 35 to 50 feet, dropping 5-pound bombs
and machine-gunning the German positions.
There is no reference in available sources to German air reconnaissance
over the Irpen position, but such reconnaissance was routine in similar
situations and doubtless took place here. Ground reconnaissance was constant. From
hidden positions just east of the village of Milaja, officers with camouflaged
BC scopes searched the eastern banks of the Irpen. Soon a bunker was
discovered. Some hours later a second bunker was detected, and finally the
general course of a line of bunkers. Further observation with field glasses
led to the discovery of field positions and to the conjecture that there was a
tank-trap ditch behind a stockade-type fence. Numerous trucks full of men and
materiel were seen to turn off into the woods on both sides of the main highway
from Kiev. The Russians were evidently strengthening their already well-defended
THE RUSSIANS COUNTERATTACK. In a few days the Adolph Hitler Regiment
took over the position from the spearhead troops, and was later relieved
by infantry at dawn on a date unknown but shortly after July 20.
But the Russian reconnaissance and intelligence had been effective. The
Russians had learned precisely what was happening on the German side of the
river and during the relief of units launched a strong artillery attack. During
the afternoon, Russian combat patrols crossed the river on footbridges. Even
though the slope on the German side of the river was level and open in comparison
with the slope on the other side, Soviet advanced units, under cover of their
artillery, succeeded in hiding themselves in small hollows and depressions.
At nightfall, a German battalion was ordered to regain the lost ground. On
a front which extended about a mile and a half north and 2 miles south of
the highway, the Germans attacked along a line about 500 yards west of and
parallel to the Irpen. Under the cover afforded by fields of tall grain, they used
machine guns, rifles, and hand grenades against the newly-won Russian positions
under fire, however, from Russian mortars.
After a conflict which lasted about an hour and was especially violent along
the highway near the blown-up bridge, the Russians were pushed back across the
Irpen. The large searchlights, which the Soviets had camouflaged in the
treetops, began to flare across the German-held west bank, sweeping the grain fields,
and the Germans did not attempt to pursue the retreating Russians across the
river. The infantrymen sought out their old fox holes east of Milaja, and an hour
before dawn set up their machine guns again in the positions they had occupied
before the Russians crossed the river.
THE SIXTH ARMY CONCENTRATES BEFORE KIEV. Meanwhile,
screened by the troops who had repulsed the Russian counterattack on the Irpen,
the rearward combat units of von Reichenau's Army continued to move forward
rapidly to positions east of Zhitomir.
The one road to Kiev had to be used by almost the entire Sixth Army; it
was therefore imperative that any possible jamming and confusion be avoided. Rather
than depend entirely upon guides and messengers, the Germans made
great use of directional signs. At each junction there were many road markers
bearing unit insignia. The signs were especially elaborate at Kotscherowo, where
units turned off to protect the southern flank of the Irpen position, and at
the junction south of Makarov, where units turned off to secure the northern
flank. With these route markers as guides, motor vehicles left the highways
without a halt for task missions against the Russian railroad positions or to move
into concentration areas. Serials were formed, according to the speed of
vehicles or the time a small unit was ready for moving, and the markers with division
insignia were relied on to bring the subordinate units together again.
Provision had to be made for servicing and supplying advanced units, and one
lane (at least between Zhitomir and Kiev) was designated for west-bound traffic, with
three lanes for eastward movement of men and materiel. Over the west-bound
traffic lane, transport elements of the forward units went to Zhitomir
each night on missions of servicing and supply.
To sum up, the Germans, in the days following July 13, made use of the
great highway to strengthen their position on the Irpen, and bring forward troops
in great quantities. Some of these relieved the soldiers on the Irpen. Some were
thrown off on the left flank to continue the fight for the railroad. Some moved to
the South to prevent the Irpen position from being outflanked. Most of
them, however, were brought just east of Zhitomir into a staging area which was
almost as large as the original concentration area between Biala and Chelm on
the west bank of the Bug. Supplies were also brought forward in large quantities. From
this new concentration area, troops and supplies were in a position to be moved
at the commander's will as operations developed.
OPERATIONS ON THE LEFT FLANK OF THE SIXTH ARMY
THE RUSSIANS CONTINUE TO THREATEN THE GERMAN LFT FLANK. While
von Reichenau in the days following July 13 was strengthening his position
on the Irpen and was bringing forward the bulk of the Sixth Army into its new
concentration area east of Zhitomir, Russian artillery was still active on his
north (left) flank. The Russians on the railroad had apparently not retreated
further eastward than Korosten, and Russian artillery was now dangerously near
the new concentration area east of Zhitomir. Accordingly, von Reichenau
determined to secure at any cost his exposed left flank, and launched a vigorous
assault on the Russian position at Korosten. The railway junction here was
defended by the Russians with bitter determination, and it fell into German hands
only after hard fighting; again, the Russians retreated northwest and east along
the railroad lines.
THE BATTLE FOR ANDREJEVKA. By July 23, the Germans had mopped
up Korosten and other neighborhoods to the east, and now determined to take
Andrejevka. Many details in regard to the struggle for this village are available
and are believed to be typical.
For the Andrejevka engagement, German forward units apparently left
the Zhitomir-Kiev highway at the junction near Makarov. During the night of
July 22-23, several artillery battalions and a smoke battalion moved up under
cover of darkness, and took their positions less than three-quarters of a mile
from the infantry front line. At 0430, light and heavy field howitzers, 100-mm
guns and 180-mm mortars opened fire against the Soviet field fortifications
which German observers had detected on the southern edge of Andrejevka. At the
same time, German smoke shells fell among the Russian field positions and
spread a thick veil of smoke just in front of the village.
The heavy fire preparation, the laying of the smoke screen, and the beginning
of the infantry advance had been coordinated. The Russians were
blinded; neither their forward infantrymen nor their observers in observation posts
could see more than five or six yards through the thick smoke. Unobserved,
the German infantrymen left their positions of readiness and rushed across the
open terrain toward Andrejevka, whole infantry companies reaching the edge of
the village with hardly the loss of a man. The Russians were unable to check
the German advance with their heavy weapons, because their firing was based on
data obtained before the laying of the smoke screen.
The smoke screen had been launched under ideal weather conditions and
remained for a long time.
As soon as the Soviet observers could see through the gradually
disappearing smoke, they directed fire against the German attacking
infantry. However, the German forward artillery observers quickly informed their batteries
of the location of the Soviet artillery and heavy weapons positions. These
positions were at once shelled heavily, and soon became silent.
The German infantrymen then entered Andrejevka, which consisted of
many field positions, all excellently camouflaged and all liberally provided with
machine guns and mortars. Houses and barns had been equipped for defense. The
Russian positions were in many cases connected by cleverly arranged trench systems.
THE THREAT TO THE LEFT FLANK IS REMOVED. The engagement at
Andrejevka was basically a struggle for the Korosten-Kiev railway line, which
passed a mile or two to the north. With the German capture of this village,
following the capture of Korosten and Malin, this vital railroad, except for a
short suburban portion near Kiev, was in German hands. The Russians who had
threatened von Reichenau's left flank withdrew now to assist in the defense of
Kiev. No information is available as to their line of retreat; but most of them
probably fell back along the railroad to the strongly held position east of the
Irpen. The new Russian front line north of the Zhitomir-Kiev highway became
something like the top half of the letter "C".
Overcoming the Russian resistance along the railroad reduced the threat
of a Russian flank attack from the north. Few roads and railways led through
the Pripet marshes toward the new German positions, and the Germans instead
of the Russians were now aided by the fact that a slight demolition could render
a whole area impassable.
Von Reichenau had not only secured his left flank; he was also getting
into position to make contact (previously denied him by the Pripet marshes) with
von Bock, whose Second Army and Second Armored Army were soon to move
down from the north.
OPERATIONS ON THE RIGHT OF THE SIXTH ARMY
A CORPS MOVES TO SUPPORT THE RIGHT FLANK. While elements on
the northern flank of von Reichenau's army were attacking Russian positions on
the railroad north of the Zhitomir-Kiev highway, one of his corps was assigned
a mission to the south. The mission of this corps was not only to assist in
securing the Irpen position but to put von Reichenau's army into areas from
which an assault upon Kiev could be made when the situation permitted.
The German units destined to take part in the large-scale operations
south of the Irpen position turned off the main Zhitomir-Kiev highway at
Kotscherowo, and proceeded in a southeasterly direction by way of Brusilov
to Fastov. German panzer and motorized infantry divisions went first along the
paved road, which stopped at Fastov, some 40 miles southwest of Kiev. Beyond
Fastov, the troops had to advance toward their new positions along ordinary
roads, which had been turned into mud by a three-day rain.
On a front of some 12 miles running from southeast to northwest astride
the Fastov-Vasilkov-Kiev road, five infantry divisions were moved up to
establish prepared assembly areas from which an attack was to be made later
against Kiev. Fastov was the center of combat for the entire sector, since it was
the only practical road to Vasilkov, the one city of any size between Fastov
and Kiev. There were regimental assembly areas on each side of this road.
Two villages, Gelenovka on the left and Marjanovka on the right, flanked
the roadway some distance in front of these assembly areas, and as the Germans
approached these villages they encountered difficult terrain, for the Strugna had
many tributary creeks with steep slopes. The two villages had, moreover, been
very heavily fortified by the Russians, and here again, as north of the Zhitomir-Kiev
highway, the Germans were compelled to use their heavy weapons and expend
themselves in force against unimportant localities which the Russians had
transformed into fortresses.
THE GERMANS USE DIVE BOMBERS AND TANKS IN CAPTURING THE
VILLAGE OF GELENOVKA. The German heavy artillery had been moved into
position, apparently south of Fastov, and by July 30 von Reichenau felt that his
southern corps was ready to launch an attack toward Kiev. The attack was made
at 0400 on a 12-mile front. Artillery concentrations fell on Gelenovka and
Marjanovka--and at the same instant similarly heavy Russian artillery attacks
were directed upon the German positions. The Germans learned later from
prisoners that the Russians had, by an unusual coincidence, made their plans for
an attack upon the German positions at this same hour.
Under the cover of fire by their artillery, German infantry troops moved
into positions of readiness at the bottom of the small valley in front of
Gelenovka. During this movement, they were under fire from Russian artillery.
Either by previous plan or because of the unexpectedly heavy Russian
artillery fire, the Germans sent in eight dive bombers at 0530. The German and the
Russian artillery fire ceased as the planes appeared. These dive bombers
released their bombs at an altitude of about 450 feet. A decrease in Russian fire
indicated that Soviet observation posts and guns had been hit by the bombs.
The advancing German infantry, however, had to cross broad fields of
ripe grain before arriving at the edge of the village. In accordance with their
customary tactics, the Soviets had taken advantage of the cover afforded by the
grain and, digging deeply into the black soil, had constructed an elaborate system
of field positions to protect the village. Russian machine-gun fire from flanking
positions, as well as carelessly directed German infantry fire, increased the
difficulties of the forward German units as they moved through the grain fields. There
was heavy hand-to-hand fighting for the Soviet machine-gun and rifle
nests. Finally, the leading German units reached the edge of Gelenovka. There
again machine guns, rifles, and hand grenades were used on both sides in close
combat in front of the village.
In spite of bitter and incessant fighting from 0400, Gelenovka was still
held by the Russians shortly before sunset. At this time, German armored
assault artillery advanced through lanes among the halted forward elements and
charged into the village, firing in every direction from which resistance
appeared. Riflemen followed closely and beat down any resistance not broken by
the assault artillery. At sunset Gelenovka was finally captured. The exhausted
infantry sat at the side of the road amid dead Soviet soldiers, crushed horses,
and burned vehicles and watched a stream of Russian prisoners led to the rear.
According to German sources, an equally severe struggle was necessary
to secure possession of other villages, including Marjanovka. When Marjanovka
was taken, the Germans felt that they had entered the outer protective ring of
the positions in front of Kiev.
THE GERMANS ARE STOPPED AT WETA CREEK BY RUSSIAN DEPLOYMENT IN DEPTH. On
July 31, German troops worked forward from Marjanovka
toward Vasilkov, the only city on the road to Kiev from the south. German
observers with glasses sought for any possible show of hostile resistance in the
tall grain. Infantrymen combed the grain fields and the steep slopes of the
The Russians harassed the German advance by artillery fire; however, they
evacuated the inhabitants of Vasilkov, and did not defend that city. The
Germans entered the town, established headquarters, and dug in around the
outskirts to protect the units and supplies which were brought up.
During the forenoon of August 1, the leading German elements continued
beyond Vasilkov in close pursuit of the Russians. After passing through several
villages and crossing several swamps, the Germans, encountering increased
opposition, approached the Weta, which the Russians had determined to hold. Russian
artillery and mortar shelling of the German forward positions was
extremely heavy on August 1, 2, and 3.
In front of the Germans and across the Weta, the Russians had constructed
a semicircular line of bunkers similar to those further north along the
Irpen River. The Germans at once began efforts to force these positions. At
dawn on August 3, a young lieutenant succeeded in leading his platoon into the
valley through a ravine obscured from the enemy. The platoon crossed the
Weta and surprised a hostile security group located behind wire obstructions
and an antitank ditch. Although accurate Russian shellfire prevented this platoon
from holding its position, the observations reported by the lieutenant formed the
basis for his battalion commander's attack. During the evening of August 3, German
heavy weapons units, varying from heavy mortars to light field howitzers, completed
their movement into positions in front of the Weta bunkers. Fire
began at once, and hits were registered on positions located by observers
in advance posts.
On August 4 at 0400, German artillery opened a heavy concentration of
fire against Russian fortifications in the woods across the Weta. Three Russian
bunkers received direct hits. After 45 minutes of continuous firing, there was a
lull of five minutes, and at 0450 the German shelling was renewed with increased
intensity. Smoke mortars next went into action; their shells exploded in front
of and between enemy bunkers, and covered the center of the valley with a smoke
cloud. Artillery fire was continued. The commander of a German infantry
battalion leaped out of his cover, led his companies down the slope, through the
knee-deep Weta, and across a 70-yard open space to a lane cut through the Wire
entanglements by the bridgehead platoon. Fortunately for the Germans, the
bunker which protected the antitank ditch just beyond the wire had been put out of
action by a mortar.
After crossing the antitank ditch, the right flank rifle company encountered
another band of wire entanglements. Pioneers rushed to the front and cut a
lane, through which a second special group of pioneers moved against the
bunker on the right, bursting it open with two concentrated explosive charges. Then
the flame throwers squirted their liquid fire into the hatchways, and a
black smoke cloud obscured the view for some minutes. The Germans pushed on
into the forest and found numerous abandoned field positions dug deeply into the
earth. Their artillery fire had destroyed Russian resistance in that particular
area. In places, the forest was a jumble of giant craters, broken trees, and torn
branches. The air was full of dust mingled with the smell of exploded shells. A
rolling barrage of German artillery, directed by observers with the leading
elements, lifted just ahead of the Germans advancing through the forest. Finally
the Russians were pushed out of their last positions in this area, which was
over 100 yards inside the forest and a little more than a mile from the creek.
Simultaneously, other Russian bunker positions were penetrated, not
only here, but on the front of the entire corps attacking on the south. The
Russian fortifications were arranged in great depth, however, and this corps, while
it had scored minor gains, could not effect a break-through.
Under heavy Russian fire the German riflemen lay on either side of the
road in deep trenches which protected them from hostile shell splinters. They
were surrounded by ankle-deep mud, and stretched pieces of canvas over
themselves for shelters. They did not shave or wash for days. The field kitchens
were several miles in the rear, and by the time meals could be served the food
was cold. But, in spite of difficulties; the Germans held their position in spite
of strong Russian counterattacks. They thought, according to their own
accounts, that they would reach Kiev in 2 or 3 days. However, they remained in
their positions, 12 miles from the heart of the city, and for a number of
weeks made no advance against the determined Soviet resistance.
In the meantime the Germans strengthened their positions, turned Vasilkov
into a headquarters town, and brought up supplies and reinforcements
again by an all-out attack, which made no appreciable headway.
VON REICHENAU'S HALTED ARMY BECOMES THE HOLDING ATTACK OF THE KIEV ENCIRCLEMENT OPERATION
The situation before Kiev was finally resolved in September by events
many miles away, both south and north. In the south, von Stuelpnegel
had thrown a bridge across the river below
Kremenchug, (see Tactical and Technical Trends No. 7 p. 40), and
still nearer German forces had established bridgeheads across
the Dnieper at Kanev, Rjishchev, and Tripole. Thus the west bank of the lower
Dnieper was in German hands.
In the north, von Kleist had crossed the Desna near Novgorod-Seversky. Also, on
the northern flank, a German advance to the northeast had forced the
Russians out of Garnostaipol and across the Dnieper. The more northern
elements of von Reichenau's Army had also established connection with von Weichs's army
which had advanced north of the Pripet marshes, and had turned southward
and crossed the Desna.
If the Germans had planned to take Kiev by a frontal attack, they had
failed. Von Reichenau's army in two months of effort made no appreciable headway
on the Irpen and on the Weta. The Germans had, however, dug themselves
in so that they could not be easily thrown back. Whether the Germans had
planned to take Kiev and had failed, or whether they had planned merely to
secure strong positions before that city, they were now ready to become the
holding attack in the envelopment which followed.
On September 17 at 0630 von Reichenau, once more began his attack on
the Russian positions. As usual, violent artillery bombardment, assisted by
dive bombers, paved the way for assaults with mortars, machine guns, hand
grenades, and other weapons. The Russians again defended villages so stubbornly
that each village outside of Kiev was destroyed. Because of the closing of the
trap by armored troops far to the east of Kiev, however, the Russians had to
cease their resistance, and withdraw across the Dnieper River. The city was
captured by the Germans on September 19. Despite their heroic 10 weeks of
resistance to the Germans in front of Kiev, the outflanking operations of
von Bock from the north and of von Rundstedt from the south had forced the Kiev
defenders into a disastrous position. The Russian soldiers who had fought so
valiantly were withdrawn across the Dnieper, but were not able to escape from
the trap which closed around at least four and possibly five of Budenny's armies.