As the advancing German forces seized the Novgorod-Volynskii Fortified Zone along the Soviet 1939 borders, Southwestern Front’s (Kirponos) attention was focused on halting the German armour on the road to Kiev, and restoring the links between the battered 5th and 6th Armies. Accordingly the Stavka ordered a series of major counterstrokes aimed at forestalling the German advance on Kiev in what is known as the Novgorod-Volynskii Offensive Operation. For this operation Southwestern Front had the 9th, 19th and 22nd Mechanised Corps immediately available, while the 16th and 18th Mechanised Corps were ordered northwards from 12th Army and Southern Front’s 9th Army. Starting on 11th July, the 31st Rifle Corps and 9th, 19th and 22nd Mechanised Corps attacked south-westwards; hitting mainly the 17th and 29th Infantry Corps and 3rd Panzer Corps. A few days later the 6th Army joined the offensive by attacking north-westwards towards Berdichev with the 49th Rifle Corps and 16th Mechanised Corps (18th Mechanised arrived too late form the far south). After four days of bitter fighting, and despite the northern attack force advancing some 10 miles, the Soviets were forced to withdraw. The consequence was further huge Soviet tank losses: the 9th, 19th and 22nd Mechanised Corps were left with only 95 tanks between them. On 22nd June 1941, only 23 days previously, these three mechanised corps had 1 430 tanks between them!
With Zhitomir and Berdichev firmly in German hands, the 14th and 48th Panzer Corps started to advance east and then south-east.(5) It is evident at this point that both the Stavka and Southwestern Front assumed Army Group South would exploit the failed counter-offensive and advance on Kiev with 1st Panzer Group. Accordingly they moved the newly mobilised 37th Army to cover the direct route into Kiev. They also pulled 26th Army back into front reserve and gave its HQ control of all forces east and north-east of Belaya-Tserkov with orders to link up with 5th Army further north. Lastly, the 3rd Airborne Corps was transferred from Southern Front and deployed at Borispol to counter the possibility of a German parachute assault across the Dnepr.
(5) Some accounts state that at this point the 3rd Panzer Corps had an ‘open road’ to Kiev, but that Hitler forbade an opportunistic advance on Kiev. It seems unlikely the road to Kiev was ‘open’ given the Soviet forces in the area, and Kiev itself was heavily defended with close to an entire Soviet Army. It was certainly not a city that a panzer force could have seized with a coup de main.