"Withdrawal in this situation will inevitably entail disaster"
August was hot 1941 years throughout the Soviet-German front. In the northwestern direction, the troops of the Red Army tried to prevent the Wehrmacht from reaching Leningrad. In the western direction, the enemy offensive was delayed for two months during the Battle of Smolensk.. In the south-west direction, the question arose on the agenda, will it be possible to defend the mother of Russian cities - Kiev.
Even at the height of the Smolensk battle, heavy battles unfolded in the zone of the Central Front, where were they turned 25 divisions of the German Army Group "Center", including six tank and motorized. They attacked the south with the aim of reaching the rear of the Southwestern Front., stopped the offensive of Army Group "South" on the Dnieper. 8 August, with the support of large aviation forces, the 2nd Panzer Group of General Guderian went on the offensive.
The troops of the Central Front did not hold back a powerful tank strike and, under the threat of being enveloped by superior enemy forces, began to withdraw in the southern and southeastern directions.. The headquarters of the Supreme High Command guessed the intentions of the Germans and, to prevent the encirclement of the front and the exit of the enemy to the rear of the troops, who defended Kiev, deployed the Bryansk Front between the Central and Reserve Fronts, headed by Colonel-General A.I.. Eremenko. Unfortunately, this measure did not work. Guderian's connections to 21 August advanced to a depth of 140 km.
Rate, detecting the turn of the 2nd Panzer Group to the south, 19 August ordered the commander of the Southwestern Front, Colonel-General M.P.. Kirponos to withdraw troops across the Dnieper, organize defense along its left bank, and on the right bank to hold only Kiev.
Kievans were ready to defend their city at any cost. Thousands of people joined the militia. The Red Army voluntarily joined 200 thousand. human. Tens of thousands of people worked on the construction of defensive structures.
The rate also did not intend to surrender the city.. Even during Stalin's meeting with Harry Hopkins, the envoy of the President of the United States, who arrived in Moscow at the end of July.. Roosevelt, the soviet leader said, that the front line by the end of the year will pass west of Kiev and the city will not be surrendered to the enemy.
The surrender of the city created a critical situation on the southern flank of the Soviet-German front, gave a chance to the Wehrmacht already in 1941 g. break through to the Kuban bread and Baku oil, complicated the international situation of the USSR, hurt the feelings of the Soviet people, who saw their city in Kiev, which should not be given to the enemy to be torn apart. Kiev had to be held. And in this sense, Stalin's sharp refusal to heed the sound arguments of the Chief of the General Staff, General of the Army G.K.. Zhukov, who proposed at the end of July to withdraw Soviet units to the left bank of the Dnieper and thereby evacuate the city. Zhukov proceeded from the categories of strategic necessity, Stalin - from a wider range of political and moral reasons.
The dispute with the leader ended for the general of the army with the removal from the post of the chief of the General Staff and the appointment to the post of commander of the Reserve Front.
Another reason for the reluctance of the Soviet commander-in-chief to withdraw troops to the left bank of the Dnieper should be named.. He was aware, that most of the commanders of the Red Army at that time simply could not carry out major operations to withdraw troops to the rear lines. Only in the strip of the Southwestern Front, who was responsible for the defense of Kiev, in late July - early August, the 6th and 12th armies of Generals I.N.. Muzychenko and P.G. Monday. The guarantees of, that parts of the Kiev fortified region will not be taken into account in the event of their retreat beyond the Dnieper from the capital of Ukraine, was not at all. Besides, to give Kiev to the enemy meant to rid the flank of Army Group Center from the threat. In this case, Hitler could begin an offensive on Moscow already at the end of August..
The fate of Kiev was not decided on the positions of the Kiev fortified area, and south and north of the capital of Ukraine. To counter the enemy's breakthrough from the north to the rear of the Southwestern Front, a new 40th Army was deployed at the turn of the Desna River.. However, the withdrawal of troops across the Dnieper was not organized everywhere.. Following the 27th separate rifle corps, the enemy broke through to the crossing north of Kiev, seizing a bridgehead on the left bank. And on the southern front, difficulties arose in connection with a premature explosion 18 August dam of the Dnieper hydroelectric power station. The rise of water in the river south of Zaporozhye, where even before the explosion its width exceeded 1,5 km, complicated the crossing of the 9th and 18th armies. To the credit of the command of these troops, the crossing was clearly organized.: to the end 22 August, the main forces were already on the left bank. By the end of August, the troops of the Southwestern and Southern fronts withdrew across the Dnieper.
The troops of the German Army Group South, aimed at encircling the Southwestern Front, more than doubled it in the number of aircraft and in 4,2 times by the number of tanks. The main danger came from Panzer Group Guderian., which managed to capture two bridgeheads on the Desna near Korop and Novgorod-Seversky, threatening to go deep into the rear of the troops of the Southwestern Front. In early September, fierce battles unfolded here.. In the interfluve of the Seim and Desna, north of Konotop and Bakhmach divisions of the 40th army (Commander Lieutenant General K.P.. Podlas) restrained the onslaught of Guderian's tanks.
About these battles, the Chief of the General Staff of the Wehrmacht ground forces, Colonel-General F. Halder wrote with concern: “The 2nd Panzer Group, during the offensive across the Desna, grabbed the enemy so much with its left flank, that her advance to the south has stopped ".
To prevent the further withdrawal of the troops of the Southwestern Front to the east, Commander of Army Group South, Field Marshal G. von Runstedt demanded connections from his subordinates in the morning 29 August to start crossing the Dnieper on as many sections as possible. 31 August, the Germans captured a bridgehead near Kremenchug. Marshal S.M.. Budyonny immediately understood, what danger this bridgehead poses to his troops. He demanded that the Germans be immediately thrown from the left bank of the Dnieper. However, the enemy quickly expanded the bridgehead..
In early September, the command of the Southwestern Front and the General Staff sounded the alarm in full force.. Now the new chief of the General Staff, Marshal B.M.. Shaposhnikov and his deputy Lieutenant General A.M.. Vasilevsky offered Stalin to leave Kiev, withdraw troops beyond the Dnieper and thereby save the forces of the front.
But Stalin remained unconvinced: Kiev not to surrender! Received the same refusal 10 September command of the front and the South-West direction. Stalin still hoped, that the commander of the Bryansk front, General Eremenko, will still manage to break through to the rear of Guderian, therefore, he forbade the withdrawal of troops from near Kiev to localize the breakthrough. The encirclement of the Soviet group was a foregone conclusion.
Soviet troops too delayed with the withdrawal of the Dnieper. In this situation, it was necessary to look for all possible options for continuing the defense.. Marshal B.M.. Shaposhnikov, telegraphing to the commander of the Southwestern Front (in a copy to the chief Budenny) was right: “You all need to understand, that in firmly holding the flanks and closing the breakthrough is your salvation. Withdrawal in this situation will inevitably entail disaster ". Alas, it was not possible to avoid the latter in September ...