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"The German Crossing of the Dnieper in the Kremenchug Area (Kiev Operation)" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following intelligence report on the German crossing of the Dnieper River in Russia in 1941 was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 7, Sept. 10, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



1. GERMAN FAILURE BEFORE MOSCOW AND KIEV, AND PLANS FOR KIEV ENCIRCLEMENT. August 1941 saw the German Center Group of Armies under von Bock halted in front of Moscow, and the South Group of Armies under von Rundstedt halted in front of Kiev (see map at page 42 ). There was now no chance for a quick seizure of the capital and a drive by armored spearheads to other strategically important parts of the country as had been the case in France. Plans were shifted to achieve a gigantic double encirclement, which would aim at the capture of the great Ukranian city of Kiev and the destruction of Budenny's armies. The salient between the Desna and the Dnieper, with Kiev at its apex, was to be cut off in a wedge-and-trap operation. The holding attack would be made by the forces which were already in position in front of Kiev. The northern wedge of the encirclement maneuver would have to be driven across the Desna northwest of Konotov, and the southern wedge across the Dnieper below Kremenchug. As preliminaries to the main operation, Uman to the south of the proposed salient and Gomel to the north would have to be taken in order that German troops might advance to the Desna and the Dnieper.

2. IN THE SOUTH -- THE UMAN OPERATION. While the Sixth Army under von Reichenau was halted in front of Kiev, the German armies in the south had been moving forward in conjunction with Hungarian and Rumanian troops. Von Stuelpnegel's Seventeenth Army and von Kleist's First Panzer Army crossed the Bug west of Uman. They helped von Schobert (who had crossed the Bug further south) in the encirclement of Uman and then occupied the right bank of the Dnieper River.

3. IN THE NORTH -- THE GOMEL OPERATION. Von Bock kept up the feint of striking toward Moscow, but shifted to the south the Second Panzer Army of Guderian and the Second Army of von Weichs. These armies encircled Gomel, which fell on August 19, and moved toward their new assembly areas. Guderian reached the Desna near Novogorod on August 30 and immediately established a bridgehead on the south bank. The advance of the von Weichs and Guderian armies toward the Desna also relieved Russian pressure on German forces (von Reichenau's army) west of Kiev.

4. THE SITUATION. Thus, toward the end of August 1941, the situation was as follows: in front of Kiev the strong army of von Reichenau was in position to launch a holding attack; the von Weichs and Guderian armies some 125 miles to the northeast, and the von Stuelpnegel and von Kleist armies some 190 miles to the southeast, were the potential wedges for encirclement of the Kiev area.

But the maneuver could not be begun, much less completed, until a German bridgehead was established east of the Dnieper. The crossing of this broad and deep river, the third largest in Europe, would have to be attempted in the vicinity of Kremenchug. The operation was entrusted to the Seventeenth Army under von Stuelpnegel, but, according to German custom, the specially created task force was composed of units deemed to be best qualified, irrespective of the command to which they belonged.

[Kiev Encirclement]


(A) Von Bock's drive toward Moscow halted by Timoshenko's Group of Armies. (B)

(C) Von Rundstedt's drive toward Kiev halted by Budenny's Group of Armies. (D)

(E) The von Weichs and Guderian Armies (von Bock Group) advance to the Desna.

(F) The von Stuelpnegel, von Kleist, and von Schobert armies (von Rundstedt Group) advance to the Dnieper.

(G) The initial crossing of the Dnieper.

(H) The "wedge and trap" encirclement of the Kiev salient.


5. SELECTION OF A CROSSING POINT. The general considerations which influenced the German choice of a point for this difficult operation can be seen by reference to the map (see map at end of article).

The area between Kiev and Kremenchug was in every way ill-adapted to crossing operations. From Kiev to Cherkasi, the eastern bank is swampy, and roads would permit the Russians to move troops and supplies easily to a threatened area. Furthermore, a wedge driven across in this area would fail to secure the maximum strategic effect, in that fewer Russian forces would be cut off in the resulting pocket. Between Cherkasi and Kremenchug a crossing is almost impossible; the Dnieper wanders in numerous channels, much of the terrain is marshy, and a tributary (the Tyasmin) parallels the Dnieper on the south.

The area chosen for the crossing, about 25 miles southeast of Kremenchug, possesses several obvious advantages. The Dnieper flows in a single channel, 1,200 yards wide; there are no tributary streams; and the banks are free from swamps. Moreover, in this area the railroads and roads favored the Germans rather than the Russians. On the German side of the river, the Dnieper valley road would be useful at all stages of the operations; on the Russian side, there are no roads to bring reinforcements close to the point of crossing.

A particular feature of the terrain helped the Germans concentrate for attack at this point. The area southwest included a watershed ridge running perpendicular to the river. This ridge was wooded and had sandy soil. The Germans could bring men and supplies by road and rail to a point 30 or 35 miles from the crossing point and advance under cover of the woods, over what was in effect a natural highway almost to the river. The absence of roads would not prevent armored and supply vehicles from negotiating this route.

On the Russian side, the terrain was adapted to exploitation of a successful crossing. Once a bridgehead was established, the Vorskla River would protect it on the right flank, while on the left no natural barrier impeded a German advance toward Kremenchug. North of Kremenchug, the terrain is ideal for a maneuver of envelopment by armored forces. A watershed ridge gave a good route for advance northward by armored units, regardless of damage done to highways or railroads. Each flank of this route was protected by a swampy river.

6. PREPARATION. Very little information is available on the German preparations for this crossing. In view of its difficulty, and of the importance attached to this operation in the strategy of the campaign, there can be little doubt that a task force was prepared for this assignment according to the usual German principles. These may be summarized as follows:

a. A commander for the task force is selected and given sole responsibility for the operation.

b. He is given troops and materiel according to his estimate of requirements. (This would include, in an operation of this sort, all types of infantry and artillery units, a heavy air component, and important pioneer and transport units.)

c. The commander organizes and trains the units for the specific task assigned. If possible, this is done on terrain similar to that of the proposed operation. The object of this training is to develop a combat team thoroughly rehearsed in all stages of the assignment.

Preparation for the Dnieper crossing involved concentration of considerable supplies of weapons and other necessary materiel. This concentration had to be made as close as possible to the place of projected crossing.

The most serious logistical problem was that of bringing up boats and bridging materiel. German accounts state that hundreds of assault boats were used on the Dnieper River. These boats apparently were of two types--one capable of carrying from 4 to 6 men, and one capable of carrying 10 to 16 men. Both were driven by outboard motors. It is not known how many of these boats were used in the operation, but if "hundreds" were used the problem of transporting and concealing them was an operation of considerable magnitude. Equally difficult was the problem of concealing sufficient pontons and platforms for the construction of a 1,200-foot bridge. Apparently there were enough trees on the sandy ridge to afford cover, yet not so many as to block the movement of wheeled or tracked vehicles.

In this wooded area, camouflage by tree limbs was easy, effective, and much used, as is shown by German photographs. German camouflage emphasizes the value of dummy positions which cause the enemy to waste his ammunition and reveal his position, and which divert suspicion from important concealed installations or supplies. It is quite likely that such positions, with indications of boats and bridging equipment, were constructed at other points on the Dnieper in order to deceive the Russian observers as to the area chosen for the initial crossing.

Concentrations at secondary points along the Dnieper were apparently not so well guarded from Russian air observation. These other concentrations were made partly to divert suspicion from the preparations for the initial crossing, and partly to have heavy weapons and supplies ready for later crossings which would follow after the success of the initial operation.

7. THE JUMP-OFF. By the end of August, the subordinate commanders charged with execution of the preliminary operations were able to report to the task force commander that they were ready.

At dawn on the morning of August 31, German planes took possession of the sky in the Kremenchug area. German artillery threw a heavy barrage across the river against the Russian lines. At the same moment, hundreds of assault boats were taken from their hiding places and carried down the gently sloping sandy banks to the shallow water at the edge of the Dnieper. The boats, which were designed for this particular type of operation, were probably similar to those which crossed the Rhine in somewhat less than a minute in the Maginot operation (June 1940). No reports have been seen on the time required for the storm boats to cross the Dnieper, but their attainable speed is variously given as 30 to 40 miles per hour.

The boats were not beached at the eastern bank but returned at once for further loads. The speed of the turn-around is to be noted; it is said that the men jumped from the boats as they turned without coming to a complete stop. The small boats carried about 4 men, and the larger boats (judging from pictures) seem to have carried 10 to 12 men. The carrying of less than the maximum loads may have been designed to permit a speedier crossing.

The Germans report that the Russians, taken by surprise, nevertheless immediately organized a determined resistance. Since the steersmen of the German boats stood up, many were killed by the Russian machine-gun fire, which was withheld until the boats were near the shore, but in each instance another soldier took the helm. Preparations had been made for plugging bullet holes immediately, and many boats that received hits were thus enabled to continue across the river. German photographs show spouts of water in the Dnieper caused by Russian artillery shells, and also show sand clouds produced by Russian shells bursting only a few yards from German concentrations on the eastern side. Russian resistance cost the Germans many assault troops, but not enough to endanger the success of the operation.

8. FORMATION OF A BRIDGEHEAD. As soon as the German assault troops reached the far bank, they immediately began to overcome enemy resistance. The boats crossed the river again and again. The special river-crossing units were followed by more assault troops and by pioneers, and then by the infantry. By noon, enough troops had been ferried over to make the Germans feel that their position was secure. During the afternoon they transported more infantry and further organized their bridgehead. All these operations were continuously reconnoitered and protected by units of the German air arm.

The passage of troops and materiel was now increased by the use of additional, more vulnerable transport. Inflated rubber boats were used for ferrying more men--some 10 to a boat--and ammunition. Large rubber rafts were loaded with heavy infantry weapons, especially antitank guns. These rafts were towed to the eastern side of the river by motor boats. The Germans also prepared ferries consisting of pontons lashed together to support a platform on which heavy guns were towed across the river to be used in neutralizing and capturing the field fortifications of the Russians.

In the meantime the troops which had been transported earlier in the day advanced and took the sand dunes and low hills beyond the opposite shore. The enemy line of artillery observation was thus in German hands. Many troops were now on the Russian side of the river and much materiel had been transported. Since the area was not occupied in force by the Russians, and possessed neither roads or railroads, there was no possibility of an immediate heavy Russian counterattack. Thus, in a single day, a strong German bridgehead had been established. Since they had been carefully rehearsed by specially trained troops, the crossing operations were carried out successfully without great losses.

9. CONSTRUCTION OF THE BRIDGE. Transport by storm boats, inflated rubber boats, and pontons had been effective, but loading and unloading was necessarily slow. The bridge was needed and, with air superiority in the area and artillery already in place on the Russian side of the river, the Germans did not hesitate to proceed with its construction. This was accomplished in a single night (August 31-September 1), and the next day supplies and troops were pouring across the bridge.

It seems certain that the bridging equipment used in the crossing below Kremenchug was of the type which the Germans refer to as "bridge-gear B": equipment tried out in Poland, perfected, and used for the crossing of the Rhine in the Maginot operation in France.

The basic unit in the construction of a German military bridge is the half–ponton. This is built of metal except for strips of wood on the gunwales. It is 25 feet long, 6.3 feet broad, and 3.3 feet deep. The weight is not known. Half-pontons are used in constructing 4-ton and 8-ton ferries, and sections of 8-ton bridges. Two half-pontons locked stern to stern form a full-ponton. The full-pontons are used in constructing 8-ton and 16-ton ferries and sections of 16-ton bridges. As soon as the pontons are in the water by the shore, the Germans construct platforms on them.

The maneuvering of the bridge section or the ferrying of a ponton-supported raft is accomplished by rowing, by the use of storm boats, by the use of "M" boats (a powerful light motor boat of 100 h.p.), or by the use of outboard motors on the pontons themselves.

German bridging equipment includes prefabricated metal material for building piers at the shore. However, such piers were not needed at Kremenchug. Photographs show that the bank was well drained and sloping, and ramps could easily be used to connect the shore with the ponton-supported bridge.

10. ENLARGEMENT OF THE BRIDGEHEAD. By the end of August 31, the Russians realized that a major threat had developed. Russian planes made repeated but unsuccessful efforts to destroy the bridge, and also attacked the points of German advance. Hastily assembled Russian reserves made heavy counterattacks with tanks. The Germans, however, maintained their bridgehead, and extended it upstream to threaten the Russian position at Kremenchug.

11. ADDITIONAL BRIDGES AND BRIDGEHEADS. The Germans gradually enlarged their tactical bridgehead on the east bank of the Dnieper into a strategic bridgehead. Land operations to the northwest reduced enemy resistance 15 miles upstream, at another area free from swampy banks and multiple channels. To gain another route across the river, a second bridge was built at this point, apparently during the night of September 2-3. German reinforcements poured across the new bridge, only 10 miles below Kremenchug. Under their flank attack and a frontal attack from the west, Kremenchug fell on September 8, and the Germans had secured the controlling center of a road and railroad net.

Whether or not the Russians had destroyed existing bridges is not clear. In any case, the Germans felt the need of better transportation across the Dnieper at Kremenchug, and decided to move to that point the bridge which had been constructed 10 miles downstream. The sections were detached and towed upstream during a single night, in a rainstorm, and the bridge was rebuilt at a place where it could serve the Kremenchug road net.

Meanwhile, the Germans had established other bridgeheads across the Dnieper further down the river. These bridgeheads doubtless had the double purpose of paving the way for further operations in the Dnieper Valley and of preventing the reinforcement of Russian troops further north.

12. THE PINCER MOVEMENT BEGINS. With the eastern bank of the Dnieper at Kremenchug in their possession, and a strong bridgehead established, the Germans had accomplished the most difficult part of the large-scale pincer movement which was to isolate Kiev and destroy a considerable portion of Budenny's armies. The way was now clear for the southern wedge to move. With the First Panzer Army on the right and the Seventeenth Army on the left, the Germans advanced northward along the strategic ridge of high ground from Kremenchug toward Lubni and Lokvitsa, their flanks protected by marshy tributaries of the Dnieper. Meanwhile, from the Desna, the Second Panzer Army moved southward protecting the advance of the Second Army. At Lokvitsa and at Lubni the armored spearheads which had crossed the Dnieper met those which had crossed the Desna, to complete a gigantic double encirclement. The Russians of the Kiev salient were in a trap. The Sixth Army joined the Second and the Seventeenth in the annihilation and capture of Russian forces, while the two Panzer armies protected the operation and moved toward their next objectives. This successful wedge-and-trap maneuver had been made possible by the river crossing at Kremenchug.

13. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION. Air superiority is absolutely essential to the success of an operation such as the initial German crossing of the Dnieper below Kremenchug. Airplanes were used in the initial phases for reconnaissance, and to deny reconnaissance to the Russians. Combat aviation guarded the sky above the bridge. Bombardment aviation was doubtless used to harass and neutralize the Russian lines as German troops moved across the newly constructed bridge.

The German success in the Kremenchug operation especially in the initial stages, owed much to surprise, which they achieved by the secrecy of preparations, by deception, and by very rapid execution.

Deception was achieved by obvious preparations for a river crossing at other points in order to draw the defending forces out of position. The incomplete evidence suggests that either actual attempts or feints at crossings may have been made at points other than the one described above. An attempt at Dnepropetrovsk, of uncertain date, is known to have been repulsed.

Speed of execution aided the Germans enormously. By the end of the the first day (August 31), the Russians knew that the operation was of major importance, but the speed with which the Germans built the bridge and moved their forces across the river enabled them to establish a large bridgehead, and prepare to extend it, before adequate Russian forces could be brought up.

In river crossings the Germans send over antitank guns very early in the operation in order to neutralize local tank attacks. Infantry supporting weapons (75-mm and 150-mm howitzers of the infantry regiment) are also ferried over early to support the operation of enlarging the bridgehead.

In the Kremenchug operation, the construction of the first bridge did not commence until after the assaulting formations on the far bank had captured the line of artillery observation; even then the construction was carried out under cover of darkness. Normally, in crossing smaller streams, the bridge-building operations start much sooner, in some cases before the site is clear of small-arms fire. When speed of execution is being employed to achieve surprise, as is often the case with armored forces, much time can be saved by an earlier start even though a few casualties must be accepted. The over-all gain justified those losses.

The German forces employed in the difficult initial crossing of the Dnieper below Kremenchug attribute their success to the secrecy of their preparation, thus exploiting the principle of surprise to the maximum; to good staff work in the careful tactical and technical preparation; and, finally, to boldness and skill in the execution of the plans.

[Kremenchug Bridge Operation, 1941]


A. Site selected for crossing. Here river is narrow and has neither multiple channels nor swampy banks.

B. Watershed on which Germans concentrated men and material.

C. Bridgehead area. Protected on east by Vorskla River and has no roads or railroads for use of Russians in bringing up troops and equipment.

D. Enlargement of bridgehead. Flanks Russian position at Kremenchug.

E. Site of second bridge across Dnieper.

F. Germans take Kremenchug and move bridge from "E" to "F", in order that it may serve Kremenchug road net.

G. Advance of German armored troops northward to Lokvitsa and Lubni where they effect junction with similar spearheads moving south from the Desna River, thus completing the meeting of the wedges in the "wedge and trap" maneuver.


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