I mentioned these battles in previous blogs Drive to Kiev, Second Air Army: Kursk to the Dnieper River, and Second Air Army–Crossing the Dnieper River; however, these battles figure in my current novel tentatively titled Women Fighters Over the Ukraine. Consequently, this blog focuses more directly on the course of these battles on the ground and in the air.
As an introduction, for those who do not refer to my above mentioned blogs, I will begin with the taking of Kharkov by the Soviets on 23 August, 1943. Stalino fell to the Soviets on 8 September. General von Mantein requested a retreat to the Wotanstellung line along the Desna and Dnieper Rivers with Hitler, who finally authorized the withdrawal.
General Konev’s Steppe Front took Romny on 16 September. Poltava fell on 20-22 September. A bridgehead across the Dnieper River was established at Bukryn, south of Kiev, on 21 September with another north of Kiev near Lyutich on 26 September. German reaction was swift. Bombers sent to annihilate the bridgeheads met Soviet fighters operating from makeshift airfields.
General Vatutin could not get bridging equipment up to the river fast enough to take advantage of the German weakness in the area and a parachute attack on 24 September failed.
As the battle stalled near Kiev, two hundred kilometers to the north, General Rokossovskii crossed the Desna River.
The German Fourth Air Fleet with 867 aircraft and the Sixth Air Fleet with 960 aircraft attempted to eliminate the Bukryn bridgehead on 10 October. Numbers of aircraft on the opposing Soviet side matched those totals. Soviet forces were ordered to break out of the Bukryn bridgehead, beginning on 12 October. Second Air Army night bombers flew 272 sorties in preparation for the breakout, targeting infantry concentrations, strong points, and artillery.
The German bridgehead over the Dnieper River at Zaporozhye was eliminated during fight between the 10th and 14th of October during a three day period of poor weather and low cloud.
With the assistance of 16th Air Army, General Rokossovskii, to the north, managed to accomplish a crossing of the Dnieper River at Loyev, 55 kilometers south of Gomel on 15 October. The Germans were able to contain this bridgehead as well.
German artillery made the attempt to breakout of the Bukryn bridgehead so expensive the attempt was abandoned on 15 October. At this point the Soviets decided to try a breakthrough at the Lyutich bridgehead to take advantage of a weakness in the German lines.
Wotanstellung was pierced at Zaporozhye on 20 October. Twelve hundred Luftwaffe sorties per day saved Krivoy Rog from surrendering to the Soviets until February 1944.
Ferocious fighting continued all along the Dnieper River during the last eleven days of October. On 3 November, supported by artillery and the Second Air Army’s fighters and bombers, the Soviet infantry broke through and entered the city of Kiev on 5 November. On 6 November Stalin was advised the city was taken, though house to house fighting continued.
Sources: The Soviet Air Force in World War II, edited by Ray Wagner, translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, NY 1973
Kursk: The Clash of Armour, Geoffrey Jukes, Ballantine Books, Inc., New Your, NY, 1968
‘The Battle of Kiev: Ending the Nazi Terror,’ Pat McTaggart, Warfare History Network, December 27, 2016
‘Battle for the Dnieper,’ Grigory Utkin, World War II Magazine, 1970s
Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1943-1945, Robert A. Forczyk, Pen and Sword Military, South Yorkshire, England, 2016
War Over the Steppes: The air Campaigns on the Eastern Front 1941–45, E. R. Hooton, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2016