Army Group South Invades the Ukraine

The Soviet Army did not fortify the border of the territory they captured from Poland in 1939. As a consequence Lvov was captured on 30 June, 1941. What the Germans called the ‘Stalin Line’, the original Soviet border, was breached with fierce fighting and Zhitomir was taken on 9 July.

Ordered to hold in place, Soviet forces were already bypassed by the Germans when the orders were received. As the disaster developed, Stalin appointed Marshal Semyon Mikhailovich Budenny commander of the Southwest Front, the South Front, and the Black Sea Fleet. Lieutenant General Nikita Krushchev became his political deputy.

The northern end of Army Group South consisted of Colonel General von Kleist’s 1 Panzer Gruppe and VI and XVIII Armies. The southern end of the front, from the Carpathians to the Black Sea coast belonged to Colonel General Ritter von Schobert’s XI Army and motorized brigade ‘Adolf Hitler.’ These units were accompanied by two Rumanian armies and a Hungarian Corps armed with captured French equipment.

German air support was Luftflotte 4 and the Rumanian Air Force with a combined strength of 1150 aircraft. Soviet air opposition consisted of approximately the same number of machines, but 75% of the force was older types. By the end of June the Soviet Air Forces in the Ukraine had lost 911 aircraft: 697 to enemy action, 304 on the ground, 276 machines abandoned, and 214 destroyed in accidents. These numbers include machines called up from repair facilities. Of the 568 remaining, 50% were unserviceable. Despite these losses, the Soviet Air Force flew 600 sorties per day to the end of June.

The Germans considered the Pripet Marshes unsuitable for modern armies, but the Soviet 5th Army used it to great advantage, attacking the German spearhead from the north, while the Soviet 6th Army attacked from Vinnitza and Kazatin from the south-west attempting to pinch off the German spearhead thrust between Zhitomir and Berdichev. The swift German counterattack imposed severe armored losses on the Soviets, though the armor allowed three Soviet Armies to avoid encirclement. It was during this battle that Kampfgruppe 51, a twin-engine Ju-88 unit used for ground support, lost 92 of their bombers. Only after 29 June did the Germans have Stukas to provide this service.

By 9 July Soviet movement west of the Dnieper River had stopped, and the Germans reached the Dnieper opposite Kiev the next day.

Soviet forces in the Pripet Marshes, behind German lines, attracted the attention of Adolf Hitler, who, during a conference on 19 July, ordered II Panzer Gruppe from Army Group Center to eliminate this threat. Moscow was no longer Hitler’s prime prize. He looked toward Kiev, Ukrainian coal, industry, and agriculture. General Guderian, commander of II Panzer Gruppe, became alarmed by the appearance of new Soviet Armies in front of Army Group Center. Already, on 23 July, German infantry was down to 80% of strength, and armor down to 50%. Guderian argued for an attack toward Bryansk, if not Moscow on 27 July. But Hitler ordered Army Group Center to go on the defensive on 29 July to deal with a Soviet attack on Gomel.

On 30 July I Panzer Gruppe attacked Soviet forces leaking back from the Uman pocket. At last, the I Panzer Gruppe met up with Colonel General von Stulpnagel’s XVIII Army near Pernomaisk to enclose the Soviet 6th and 12th Armies and parts of the 18th Army.

Guderian, forbidden from advancing on Bryansk, ordered an attack on Roslavl on 1 August, which was taken on 3 August.

By 8 August the Soviet South Front, being weak on the ground, fell back behind the Dnieper River to prepare a defensive line on the east bank.

Sources: “Barbarossa: Drive to Kiev”, Geoffrey Jukes, 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 & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1973

War Over the Steppes: The Air Campaigns on the Eastern Front 1941-45, E. R. Hooton, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2016

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