The Southern Sector

From a purely military perspective the operations of Army Group South (Rundstedt) arguably represent the most interesting battles on the East Front in June and July 1941. This is because Southwestern Front (Kirponos) came closest to implementing the Red Army’s pre-war plans in June 1941. Essentially this called for the 1st echelon defensive forces (rifle armies) to blunt and possibly stop the enemy offensive, the 2nd echelon forces (mechanised corps) to counter-attack and destroy the enemy spearheads, and the 2nd and 3rd echelon forces to exploit the victory and conduct a strategic offensive into the enemy’s rear area.

As the south-western axis into the Ukraine was where the main effort of any German attack was expected, Kirponos had a huge force at his disposal. The Kiev Special Military District (Southwestern Front from 22nd June) initially possessed 58 (including 16 tank and 8 mechanised) divisions, 907 000 men, 5 465 tanks (including 496 T34s and 278 KV tanks) and 2 059 combat aircraft (excluding Stavka reserves already in the district). By comparison Army Group South (excluding 11th Army which attacked Southern Front from Rumania) had 34 (including 5 tank and 3 motorised) divisions, approximately 809 000 men, 923 fully tracked AFVs, and 652 combat aircraft (excluding 45 Ju 52 transports) at its disposal. Of these only 425 AFVs were Pz IIIs, Pz IVs and StuGs with 50-75mm guns. According to these figures and conventional military theory, it is Army Group South which should have been the defending force and any attack by them should have been easily stopped in its tracks.

On 22nd June 1941 the German and Soviet forces were deployed in the southern sector on the border as shown in the map below. Note, the Soviet’s Kiev Special Military District also had the 19th and 24th Mechanised Corps (not depicted), and the 31st, 36th, 49th and 55th Rifle Corps, to the east in Front Reserves (not depicted).

Maps, Copyright; Brian Taylor 2003, Barbarossa to Berlin.

Maps, Copyright; Brian Taylor 2003, Barbarossa to Berlin.

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