Kiev Defensive Operation of 1941

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kiev Defensive Operation of 1941


combat actions of troops of the Southwestern Front (commanded by Colonel General M. P. Kirponos and M. A. Burmistenko, member of the military council and secretary of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party [Bolshevik]) to defend Kiev against the fascist German troops of Army Group South (commanded by Field Marshal G. von Rundstedt) between July 11 and September 26 during the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45.

The mission assigned by the fascist German command was to reach Kiev with the left wing of their forces and then turn to the southeast and prevent the Soviet troops operating to the west and south of Kiev from retreating beyond the Dnieper. Having gained a superiority of almost three to one in forces by early July, the enemy broke through the defense of the Soviet forces south of Novograd-Volynskii and by July 11 the German 13th Armored Division had reached the Irpen’ River (15 km west of Kiev). The supreme command of the troops of the southwestern axis (the commander in chief, Marshal of the Soviet Union S. M. Budennyi, replaced on September 13 by Marshal of the Soviet Union S. K. Timoshenko) ordered counterattacks by the Fifth and Sixth armies along converging axes to eliminate the breakthrough and cut off and wipe out the enemy motorized units that had broken through to Zhitomir and Kiev. On July 10–16 the IX and XXII Mechanized corps of the Fifth Army counterattacked from the Korosten’ fortified region, drove two enemy infantry divisions back 15 km, and cut off the Novograd-Volynskii-Zhitomir highway. The offensive actions of the Fifth and Sixth armies drew off significant enemy forces. This was a great help to the defenders of Kiev, who stopped the enemy on July 11–14 and continued fighting to the west of Sviatoshino.

On July 6 the Headquarters for the Defense of Kiev was set up under the direction of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian CP (B) and the Council of People’s Commissars and the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR. The Kiev fortified region was reinforced with three rifle divisions, two airborne brigades, various detached units, students from the Kiev artillery schools, and others. All the forces concentrated to the south of Kiev were joined together as the Twenty-sixth Army. At the beginning of the war more than 200,000 citizens of Kiev (including 16,000 Communists and 40,000 Komsomol members) entered the Red Army as volunteers. The people’s volunteer corps was formed. Each day more than 160,000 citizens worked on building the defense lines.

The counterattacks by Soviet forces and their steadfast defense on the approaches to Kiev thwarted enemy plans to take the city on the run. The enemy was forced to halt the advance on Kiev and begin an envelopment from two sides. The fascist German 1st Armored Group turned to the south while the main forces of the sixth Army concentrated in the Korosten’ region. By the end of July the enemy was able to push back the forces of the Fifth Army and, south of Kiev, to drive the forces of the Twenty-sixth Army back across the Dnieper. On July 30, having concentrated up to five infantry divisions with tanks, the enemy renewed the advance on Kiev from the Glevakhi region and on August 10 broke into the southwestern suburbs of the city. There the enemy was met with heroic resistance by the people’s volunteer corps and stopped. On August 8 the Soviet forces defending Kiev were joined together as the Thirty-seventh Army and received two rifle divisions and three airborne brigades as reinforcement. Going over to the offensive, the troops of the Thirty-seventh Army drove the enemy back and by August 16 had virtually restored the original position. The enemy’s second attempt to take Kiev had failed.

From mid-August the primary fighting developed to the north, and then later to the south, of Kiev. On August 8 the 2nd German Armored Group and the Second Army went on the attack, advancing against Gomel’, Chernigov, and Starodub from the north and reaching the Desna River by the end of the month. On September 9 the northern grouping of fascist German forces went over to the offensive on the Lubny axis. On September 12 the 1st German Armored Group and the Seventeenth Army began an advance on Lubny from the Kremenchug base of operations. On September 15 the forces of these groupings linked up in the Lokhvitsy region and closed the ring of encirclement around the Kiev Group of Soviet Forces (the Twenty-first, Fifth, Thirty-seventh, and Twenty-sixth armies). On September 19 the Soviet troops left Kiev and began a retreat to the east. Because communications and control were disrupted the retreat was disorganized and led to heavy losses. During the encirclement M. P. Kirponos, M. A. Burmistenko, and V. I. Tupikov, chief of staff of the front, died in battle.

As a result of the defeat of the Southwestern Front almost all of the Left-bank Ukraine was lost. But the heroic defense of Kiev played an important role in the course of the war. It drew off large-scale forces from the Army Group Center to the Kiev axis, which disrupted the overall strategic plan of the fascist German command by holding up the offensive along the main axis (Moscow) for two months.

Despite its unsuccessful outcome, the Kiev defensive operation had a large impact on subsequent events around Moscow and was important in thwarting the German plan for a blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.