Operation Barbarossa: Monthly Campaign in the Ukraine (June-December 1941)

Figure 1.-- Here German troops enter a Ukranian city, perhaps Kiev. Here we see a Ukrainian mother and her young son, stepping aside on the side walk. This is a still from an undated film. If it is Kiev it would have been September 1941. Kiev was the site of the greatest German encirclement of the War. Over 0.6 million Red Army soldiers were taken prisoner. To achieve this, however, the Germans had to delay the advance on Moscow.

The Germans upon launching Barbarossa (June 22) moved rapidly east. They unexpectedly encountered problems in the Ukraine. They were not stopped, but they did move east much slower than ancticipated. Rather than supporting operations to the north, the slower advance in the south, exposed the flank of Army Group Center to the Soviets. Ultimately, Army Group Center's drive east would have to be paused and operations launched east to support Army Group South. The result was a massive encirclement at Kiev. This was a great German victory, but it gave the Red Army time to prepare for the all important defense of Moscow. Several factors were involved. There were important Soviet formations deployed there, some armed with the new T-34 tank which shocked the Germans when they first enountered it. In addition, the Romanian allies proved less reliable than hoped. Hitler, anxious to lay his hands on Ukranian resources, diverted powerful Panzer units driving on Moscow from Army Group Center. The results are a spetacular victory at Liev, but in the end the drive toward Moscow fails. Soviet forces badly maul the Romanians at Odessa. The NAZI Eisatzgruppen begin the wholescale murder of Jews. They also suppress Ukranian nationalists and begin mass killings of non-Jewish Ukranians.


The NAZIs launched Operation Barbarossa, the massive invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22). The NAZI's launched Operation Barbarossa, a titanic effort to destroy the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941). After the partition of Poland with the NAZIs, Stalin had moved the Red Army out of fixed positions forward to occupy the Eastern Poland. The Wehrmacht fell upon these forward elements with great effectiveness and rapidly moved East, especially Arnmy Group North and Center. Army Group South in the Ukraine masde slower progress. Stalin knew that Hitler wanted the Ukraine. As a result he deployed a substantial portion of the Red army's armor there. In the south German and Romanian forces moved into the Soviet Ukraine. The Luftwaffe on the first day of Barbarossa bombed Kiev, Odessa and Lviv in the Ukraine. The Red Air Force commander in the Ukraine had managed to disperse air assetts. Thus the Soviet flyers put up a much stiffer fight than was the case in the north. [Roba, Karlenko, and Bernád.] The great tank battles of World War II took place on the Eastern Front. One of the first great tank battle occurred in the northwestern Ukraine--the Bloody Trangle (June 1941). The German Army Group South were surprised with the armored strength they encountered in the Ukraine. The Germans methodically and decisively defeated the Soviets who had not yet mastered armored tactics. The German victory opened the way to Moscow, but time table of Barbarossa was disrupted. [Kamenir] Army Group North and Center moved east much more rapidly. The speed of the initial German advance was staggering. Stalin after an initial confusion organized the resistance to the Germans. His military decessions contributed to the German success. He also instituted a scoarched earth policy to deny the NAZIs useful industriasl and agricultural facilities. The security forces before abandoning a city would shoot political prisoners they were holding. The NKVD shot an estimated 19,000 Ukrainian political prisoners in their custody at Lviv and other cities in the western Ukrainine before joining the retreat east.Mass graves are still being found in the Ukraine. ["Executions"] The Soviets gave priority to ship iductrial machiery east, but where possible people and llivestock were also evacuated. Crops and others resources that could not be moved were destroyed. Other actions such as destroying bridges amd plants and flooding mines were also carried out. An estimated 4 million people were moved east beyond the Urals. The speed of the German advance meant that larger scale population evacuations were not possible. The NAZIS took Lviv (June 30). The Germans moved into the Ukraine very rapidly. Initially there was little resistance. Ukrainians in the West treated the advancing German armies as liberators. The Ukrainians had been the subject of severe Soviet repression, including a dreadful enginnered famine. But Soviet reprssion was not as draconian as the genocide that the NAZIs had in mind. Within only a few weeks, the Ukranians began to understand NAZI intentions.


Ukranian nationalist Yaroslav Stetsko and OUN(B) declared an independent Ukraine. This would have been a nationlist government that would have attracted the support of many Ukranians and would have supported the fight against Stalin and the Bolsheviks. Hitler was, however, not to allow a legitimately Ukranian Government take power. The NAZIs supressed the Bandera-Stetsko Ukrainian Government and arrest the leaders (July 9). Army Group South continues to push east, seizing Berdichev (July 15). The Italians Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia (CSIR) joined the German and Romanian campaign in the Ukraine. Bila Tserkva (July 18), Nova Ukraina (July 25), and Kirovohrad (July 30). The NAZIs deploy Einsatzgruppen C and D in the Ukraine. With the success of the front line operations, the Einsatzgruppen moved into the rear areas to carry out their muderous assignment. The initial target was the Jews, but the units later begin killing Ukrainians as well. Here I am not sure just what their goal was. The memmbers of the Stetsko Government are transported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in the Reich (July 12).


Wehrmacht and Romanian units invested Odessa on the Black Sea (August 5). Soviet resistance there restrict movement further east. The Germans left the city to 18 Romanian divisions supported by only 1 Wehrmacht division. Hitler appointed Erich Koch (1896-1986) Reichskommissar of the central and eastern part of Ukraine, Reichskommissariat Ukraine (August 20). Koch was aman of incrediblr brutality and a fervent proponent of NAZI racial policies> He vicerly hates the Slavs and would play a major role in turning the Ukranians from potential allies to enemies. The Germans began the mass killing of Ukrainians (August). Ukrainian guerillas organized by T. Borovets-Bulba begin fighting the Red Army. These gureillas became the core of the UPA.


The NAZIs begin executing OUN Ukrainian nationalists. Ukrainian guerillas begin to engage Whermacht units (September). Hitler is dissapointed by the progress of Army Group South in the Ukraine. He orders powerful units of Army Group Center moving toward Moscow to move south toward Kiev to support Army Group South. While Hitler's generals arguing for a focus on the drive on Moscow, Hitler was disatisfied with progress in the Ukraine. He could not resst a diversion south where Army Group South was encountering unexpectedly stiff resistance. (Knowing that Hitler was especially interested in the Ukraine, Stalin had deployed substantial Red Army forces in the south.) The result was the battle of Kiev. As the NAZIs move toward Kiev, Ukranian nationalist Ivan Rohach, begins publishing Ukrainske Slovo (September 11). The NAZIs seize Kiev (September 19). Kiev was a city of 0.9 million peope before the NAZI invasion. By the end of the War less than 0.2 million people were left in the city. Massive Soviet forces were trapped in the Kiev pocket. The Soviet forces surrender (September 26). The surrender included five Soviet armies and 665,000 mem along with 886 tanks and 3,718 cannon. It was the largest mass surrender in the history of warfare. Few of those who surrendered would survive the War. Kiev was one of the greatest German successes of the War. That victory came, however, at a high price. The diversion of south of Army Group Center meant that the drive toward Moscow had stalled. This bought Stalin precessious time. He ordered Marshal Zukov to Moscow to plan fo the capital's defese. Hitler's decession to divert Army Group Central south from the drive on Moscow is one of the critical decessions of the War and was motivated by his avarice for the agricultural and mineral resources of the Ukraine. The NAZI Einsatzgruppen quickly begin killing the large Jewish population of Kiev and the surrounding area. They murdered 33,771 Jews in Babyn Yar, a canyon near Kiev (September 29-30). This becomes a favored German killing field, in part because they do not have to dig pits before beginning the killing. The NAZIs eventually killed about 150,000 people at Babyn Yar, including many Ukrainians and others deemed undesirable.


Hitler was anxious to begin the economic exploitation of te Ukraine. He expanded the Government General (NAZI occupied Poland) to include the western Ukraine (October 12). After resisting for over 2 months, Odessa fellmto German and Romanian forces (October 16). Romanian losses were very substantial (79,000-110,000 men). The impact on the Romanian Army was significant and impaired their ability to drive rapidly east. The weakening of the Romanian Army was to have important consequences at Stalingrad (1942). The Soviets managed to evacuate about half the population by sea, about 350,000 people. The NAZIS took Kharkov (October 24).


By the onset of Winter with Wheremacht moving toward Moscow, most of the Ukraine was in NAZI hands (November 1941). Only the Crimea in the extreme south continued to resist the NAZIs.


The Germans arrested Ivan Rohach and the staff of nationlist newspaper Ukrainske Slovo (December 12). They were subsequently shot at Babyn Yar.


Kamenir, Victor J. The Bloody Triangle: The Defeat of Soviet Armor in the Ukraine, June 1941, 320p.

Roba, Jean-Louis, Dmitiry Karlenko, and Dénes Bernád. From Barbarossa to Odessa: The Luftwaffe and Axis Allies Strike South-East June - October 1941 Vol. II ( 2008 ).

Executions," New York Times (December 4, 2001). A short New York Times item read, "Officials have found evidence that Soviet forces summarily executed 513 people whose bodies were dumped in a mass grave in July 1941 near Lviv, now western Ukraine. Municipal archives yielded information on the mass grave in the registry of the Yanivske cemetery. Authorities have not yet made a decision on whether to carry out exhumations."


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Created: 6:29 PM 4/2/2011
Last updated: 3:39 AM 7/14/2014