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Battle of Kiev (1941)

The First Battle of Kiev was the German name for the
operation that resulted in a very large encirclement of Soviet troops in the vicinity of Kiev during World War II.
This encirclement is considered the largest encirclement
in the history of warfare (by number of troops). The operation ran from 7 August to 26 September 1941 as part
of Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet
Union.[2] In Soviet military history, it is referred to as the
Kiev Defensive Operation (
), with somewhat dierent dating of 7 July 26
September 1941.

they nonetheless posed a signicant threat to the German

advance and were the largest single concentration of Soviet troops on the Eastern Front at that time.
On 3 August, Hitler temporarily cancelled the drive on
Moscow in favor of driving south and attacking Kiev
in Ukraine.[7] However on 12 August 1941, Supplement
to Directive No. 34 was issued, and it represented a
compromise between Hitler, who was convinced the correct strategy was to clear the salient occupied by Soviet
forces on right ank of Army Group Center in the vicinity of Kiev before resuming the drive to Moscow, and
Halder, Bock and Guderian, who advocated an advance
on Moscow as soon as possible. The compromise required 2nd and 3rd Panzer Groups of Army Group Center, which were redeploying in order to aid Army Group
North and Army Group South respectively, be returned
to Army Group Center, together with the 4th Panzer
Group of Army Group North, once their objectives were
achieved. Then the three Panzer Groups, under the control of Army Group Center, will lead the advance on
Moscow.[8] Initially, Halder, chief of the OKH General
Sta, and Bock, commander of Army Group Center,
were satised by the compromise, but soon their optimism faded as the operational realities of the plan proved
too challenging.[9]

Nearly the entire Southwestern Front of the Red Army

was encircled, with the Germans claiming 665,000 captured. However, the Kiev encirclement was not complete, and small groups of Red Army troops managed to
escape the cauldron days after the German pincers met
east of the city, including the headquarters of Marshal
Semyon Budyonny, Marshal Semyon Timoshenko and
Commissar Nikita Khrushchev. The commander of the
Southwestern FrontMikhail Kirponoswas trapped
behind enemy lines and killed while trying to break
The Kiev disaster was an unprecedented defeat for the
Red Army, exceeding even the Minsk tragedy of June
July 1941. On 1 September, the Southwestern Front
numbered 752760,000 troops (850,000 including reserves and rear service organs), 3,923 guns and mortars,
114 tanks and 167 combat aircraft. 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. Overall, the Southwestern Front
suered 700,544 casualties, including 616,304 killed,
captured, or missing during the month-long Battle for
Kiev. As a result, ve Soviet eld armies (5th, 37th, 26th,
21st, and the 38th), consisting of 43 divisions, virtually
ceased to exist. The 40th Army was badly aected as
well. Like the Western Front before it, the Southwestern
Front had to be recreated almost from scratch.[4]

On 18 August, OKH submitted a strategic survey

(Denkschrift) 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. Pointing out that there was only enough time left before winter to conduct a single decisive operation against
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 Hitlers 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, and the industrial and coal region of the Don; isolate the oil-producing regions of the
Caucasus from the rest of the Soviet Union and in the
north, to encircle Leningrad and link up with the Finns.
Among other instructions, it also instructed that Army
Group Center is to allocate sucient forces to ensure
the destruction of the Russian 5th Army and, at the


After the rapid progress of Army Group Center through

the central sector of the Eastern front, a huge salient developed around its junction with Army Group South by
late July 1941. A substantial Soviet force, nearly the entire Southwestern Front, positioned in and around Kiev
was located in the salient.[5][6] While lacking mobility and
armor due to high losses in tanks at the Battle of Uman,[6]


same time, to prepare to repel enemy counterattacks in

the central sector of its front.[10] Hitler referred to the
Soviet forces in the salient collectively as the Russian
5th Army.[11] Halder was dismayed, and later described
Hitlers plan as utopian and unacceptable, concluding
that the orders were contradictory and Hitler alone must
bear the responsibility for inconsistency of his orders and
that the OKH can no longer assume responsibility for
what was occurring; however, Hitlers instructions still
accurately reected the original intent of the Barbarossa
directive of which the OKH was aware of all along.[12]
Engel in his diary for 21 August 1941, simply summarized it as, it was a black day for the Army.[13] Halder Guderian at a forward command post for one of his panzer regoered his own resignation and advised Brauchitsch to do iments near Kiev, 1941
the same. However, Brauchitsch declined, stating Hitler
would not accept the gesture, and nothing would change
anyhow.[12] Halder withdrew his oer of resignation.
north and crossed the Dnieper River, emerged from its
On 23 August, Halder convened with Bock and Guderian bridgeheads at Cherkassy and Kremenchug. Continuing
in Borisov (in Belorussia), and afterwards ew with Gud- north, it cut across the rear of Budyonnys Southwestern
erian to Hitlers headquarters in East Prussia. During Front. On 16 September, it made contact with Guderians
at the town of
a meeting between Guderian and Hitler, with neither 2nd Panzer Group advancing south,
was now
Halder nor Brauchitsch present, Hitler allowed Guderian
Septemto make the case for driving on to Moscow, and then rejected his argument.[14] Hitler claimed his decision to se- ber. No successor was named, leaving the troops to their
cure the northern and southern sectors of western Soviet individual corps and division commanders.
Union were tasks which stripped the Moscow problem
of much of its signicance and was not a new proposition, but a fact I have clearly and unequivocally stated
since the beginning of the operation. Hitler also argued
that the situation was even more critical because the opportunity to encircle the Soviet forces in the salient was
an unexpected opportunity, and a reprieve from past failures to trap the Soviet armies in the south.[12] Hitler also
declared, the objections that time will be lost and the
oensive on Moscow might be undertaken too late, or
that the armoured units might no longer be technically
able to fulll their mission, are not valid. Hitler reiterated
that once the anks of Army Group Center were cleared,
especially the salient in the south, then he would allow
the army to resume its drive on Moscow; an oensive,
he concluded, which must not fail..[13] In point of fact
Hitler had already issued the orders for the shift of Guderians panzer group to the south.[15] Guderian returned
to his panzer group and began the southern thrust in an
eort to encircle the Soviet forces in the salient.[12]

After that, the fate of the encircled Soviet armies was

sealed. With no mobile forces or supreme commander
left, there was no possibility to eect a break out. The infantry of the German 17th Army and 6th Army of Army
Group South soon arrived, along with 2nd Army (also
on loan from Army Group Center and marching behind
Guderians tanks). They systematically began to reduce
the pocket assisted by the two Panzer armies. The encircled Soviet armies at Kiev did not give up easily. A savage
battle in which the Soviets were bombarded by artillery,
tanks and aircraft had to be fought before the pocket was
overcome. By 19 September, Kiev had fallen, but the
encirclement battle continued. After 10 days of heavy
ghting, the last remnants of troops east of Kiev surrendered on 26 September. The Germans claimed 600,000
Red Army soldiers captured, although these claims have
included a large number of civilians suspected of evading

The bulk of 2nd Panzer Group and the 2nd Army were 3 Aftermath
detached from Army Group Centre and sent south.[16]
Its mission was to encircle the Southwestern Front, commanded by Budyonny, in conjunction with 1st Panzer By virtue of Guderians southward turn, the WehrmaGroup of Army Group South under Kleist, which was cht destroyed the entire Southwestern Front east of Kiev
during September, inicting 600,000 losses on the Red
driving up from a southeasternly direction.[17]
Army, while Soviet forces west of Moscow conducted a
futile and costly oensive against German Army Group
Center near Smolensk. These operations, such as the
2 Battle
Yelnya Oensive, were conducted over very bad terrain
against defenders in fortied strong points, and nearly all
The Panzer armies made rapid progress. On 12 Septem- of these counter-oensives ended in disaster for the Red
ber, Kleists 1st Panzer Group, which had by now turned Army. As a result of these failed oensives, Red army

4 Assessment
Immediately after World War II ended, prominent German commanders argued that had operations at Kiev been
delayed and had Operation Typhoon been launched in
September rather than October, the Wehrmacht would
have reached and captured Moscow before the onset of
winter.[19] Heinz Guderian and Fedor von Bock in particular ercely argued that the diversion to Kiev would
have dire consequences if the operation dragged on for
too long. Winter was coming in a few weeks, and if
Moscow was not taken before the rst snow, the entire
operation would literally bog down in the mud.
However, David Glantz argued that had Operation Typhoon been launched in September, it would have met
greater resistance due to Soviet forces not having been
weakened by their oensives east of Smolensk. The offensive would have also been launched with an extended
right ank.[19] Glantz also claims that regardless of the nal position of German Troops when winter came, they
would have still faced a counteroensive by the 10 reserve
armies raised by the Soviets toward the end of the year.
If Kiev had not been taken before the Battle of Moscow,
the entire operation would have ended in utter disaster for
the Germans.[19][20][21]

5 See also
Babi Yar
Battle of Uman
107,540 Soviet personnel were awarded the medal for the defence of Kiev from 21st June 1941.

Battle of Bialystok-Minsk
Battle of Kiev (1943)
Yelnya Oensive

6 References
formations defending Moscow were seriously weakened. Citations
With its southern ank secured, Army Group Center
launched Operation Typhoon in the direction of Vyazma [1] Glantz (1995), p. 293
in October.
Over the objections of Gerd von Rundstedt, Army Group
South was ordered to resume the oensive and overran
nearly all of the Crimea and Left Bank Ukraine before
reaching the edges of the Donbas industrial region. However after four months of continuous operations his forces
were at the brink of exhaustion, and suered a major defeat in the Battle of Rostov (1941). Army Group Souths
infantry fared little better and failed to capture the vital
city of Kharkov before nearly all of its factories, skilled
laborers and equipment were evacuated east of the Ural

[2] The Devils Disciples: Hitlers Inner Circle, Anthony Read,

p. 731
[4] Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad, 1975
[5] Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for
Smolensk, Volume 2, March 2011, page 54-55
[6] Barbarossa, Alan Clark, William Morrow and Company, 1965. P. 130


[7] Barbarossa, Alan Clark, William Morrow and Company, 1965. P. 101

Mellenthin, F.W. (1956), Panzer Battles, Konecky

and Konecky

[8] Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for

Smolensk, Volume 2, March 2011, page 55

Stahel, David (2012), Kiev 1941: Hitlers Battle for

Supremacy in the East, Cambridge University Press,
ISBN 978-1-107-01459-6

[9] Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for

Smolensk, Volume 2, March 2011, page 56
[10] Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for
Smolensk, Volume 2, March 2011, page 57
[11] Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for
Smolensk, Volume 2, March 2011, page 60
[12] Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for
Smolensk, Volume 2, March 2011, page 58
[13] Glantz, David, Barbarossa Derailed: The battle for
Smolensk, Volume 2, March 2011, page 59
[14] Guderian p. 200
[15] Guderian p. 202
[16] Barbarossa, Alan Clark, William Morrow and Company, 1965. Pp. 111, 139
[17] Barbarossa, Alan Clark, William Morrow and Company, 1965. P. 133
[18] Barbarossa, Alan Clark, William Morrow and Company, 1965. Pp. 135, 141
[19] Glantz, David, The Soviet-German War 1941-1945:
Myths and Realities: A Survey Essay, October 2001, page
[20] Glantz, David M., Forgotten Battles of the German-Soviet
War (19411945), volume I:The Summer-Fall Campaign
(22 June-4 December 1941). Carlisle, PA: Selfpublished,
[21] Glantz, David M., Forgotten Battles of the German-Soviet
War (19411945), volume II: The Winter Campaign (5
December 1941-April 1942). Carlisle, PA: Selfpublished,

Guderian, Heinz Panzer Leader New York Da Capo
Press, 1952. (Reissue edition, 2001).

Further reading
Clark, Alan (1965), Barbarossa, William Morrow
and Company
Erickson, John (1975), The Road to Stalingrad
Glantz, David M. & House, Jonathan (1995), When
Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler,
Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas,
ISBN 0-7006-0899-0


502713N 303059E / 50.4536N

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