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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: November 2011

7 - Slaughter in the Ukraine


‘We will break them soon, it is only a question of time’ (Adolf Hitler)

With the ring around the Soviet South-Western Front now closed German intelligence estimated that they had cut off up to sixty Soviet divisions, but that under the prevailing circumstances they would collectively possess a battle strength of only about twenty divisions. In many respects Kirponos now found himself in the eye of the storm as German forces prepared to press the South-Western Front from all sides. In spite of all his warnings and desperate pleas to shore up the flanks Kirponos had been surrounded, and yet still he could not secure permission to order a breakout to the east. Meanwhile his front was already in an advanced state of disintegration. The northern flanks had largely collapsed and his strongest army (the Thirty-Seventh) remained meaninglessly tied to Kiev, some 200 kilometres from the new Soviet line. With his hands firmly tied from above, Kirponos faced an excruciating choice – either risk sharing Pavlov's fate by openly defying Stalin and ordering a retreat or go on rejecting the pleas of his subordinates and accepting the steady suffocation of his entire front. The war diary of Army Group South anticipated that the coming reduction of the Kiev pocket would be a ‘difficult battle’, in which the enemy would have to be ‘smashed’ by ‘strong forces’. There was also a degree of wonderment expressed at the static nature of the Soviet response, which the German command could only guess resulted from ‘complete surprise’ on the part of the Soviets as well as a lack of orders about what to do next. General Heinrici expressed his utter incredulity at Soviet actions: ‘In an incomprehensible manner the Russian has left his troops to remain in a situation in the Ukraine which must result in their capture…In eight days there will be a special announcement that another very far-reaching victory has been won.’ Even so the one-sided battle still remained to be won and Army Group South cautioned, ‘Without a doubt in the next few days one must expect the beginning of large breakthrough attempts.’

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