The First Ukrainian Front’s advances to Zhitomir and Fastov attracted German attention. They quickly moved troops and aircraft into the area, though the movements were confused and poorly planned. At the beginning of January, 1944, the Germans achieved nearly a two to one superiority in aircraft. These movements proved none to soon.
With the First Ukrainian Front at Zhitomir and Fastov and the Second Ukrainian Front threatening Kirovograd, the situation of German forces still holding Cherkassy on the Dnieper River, though not dire, looked perilous.
On 5 January Vatutin and Konev launched their attacks. Konev began with a heavy artillery bombardment of German forces protecting Kirovograd. Troops north and south of the city advanced westward, supported by the Fifth Air Army and Rotmistrov’s 5 Guards Tank Army. Rotmistrov’s advance in the south took him beyond the support of Soviet infantry.
On the first day of the attack the Germans claimed 120 tanks destroyed, however, communications between General Vormann’s headquarters and Kirovograd were cut.
The First Ukrainian Front, commanded by General Vatutin, captured Berdichev and Belaya Tserkov, and advanced toward Uman, assisted by the Second Air Army attacking railroad targets and airfields. Fog and low cloud hindered air support. Ice restricted telephone communications so most orders were given by radio.
The German air force were particularly affected by poor airfields, frequent moves, and the transfer of infrastructure to Poland. They flew only 300 to 350 sorties per day.
The next day General Beyerlein attacked Konev’s forces north of Lelekova in an attempt to cut Soviet supply lines of the Soviet forces west of Kirovograd, but his movement was hindered by the deep snow.
By 7 January the Soviet main front was 10 kilometers east of Kirovograd, and the southern suburbs had been penetrated. The rail junction at Shepetovka was hammered by Il-2s. The Third Panzer Division attempted to move northwest into the Kirovograd under heavy cloud cover. A withdrawal of German forces was scheduled to begin at 1600.
General Beyerlein reached Ivanivka by dawn of 8 January, still moving toward Lelekova. Fighting inside Kirovograd intensified though the Soviets now occupied most of the city. The Soviet 67th Tank Brigade destroyed the airfield at Mala Vyska northwest of Kirovograd.
General von Manstein felt confident that he could re-take Kirovograd. He had two Panzer divisions located north of the city and moved two SS Panzer Divisions (Totenkopf and Grossdeutschland) south of the city.
In the Korsun-Shevchenkovky area the Germans occupied the central position with nine Infantry Divisions, a Panzer division, and a Motorized Brigade. Soviet General Katukov’s First Tank Amy threatened Uman and Vinnitsa. General Hube, feeling the presence of the First and Second Ukrainian Fronts closing in on him, requested permission to evacuate the Korsun salient. In spite of the shattering of the German line, Berlin forbade any retreat.
Kirovograd was liberated by the Soviets on 8 January. As a reward for their support the First Guards Bomber Division, the 203rd and 302nd Fighter Air Divisions, and the First Ground Attack Air Corps were designated Kirovograd units.
Sources: ‘Escape from Kirovograd’, Pat McTaggart, WWII History Magazine, December 2015
‘Crucible at Cherkassy”, Pat McTaggart, WWII History Magazine, September 2005
Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1943-1945: Soviet Steamroller, Robert A. Forczyk, Pen and Sword Military, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, 2016
War Over the Steppes, the Air Campaign on the Eastern Front, 1941-45, E. R. Hooton, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2016
‘The Red Army’s Drive to Rumania, A. N. Shimansky, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s
The Soviet Air Force in World War II, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, NY, 1973