Saturday, December 22, 2018

September 26, 1941: Kiev Pocket Eliminated

Friday 26 September 1941

Finnish Road Signs at Salla 26 September 1941
Road signage at the crossroads of the western shore of Kotikoski. Alakurtti (Salla). September 26, 1941 (original color photograph, SA-Kuva).
Eastern Front: Having surrounded almost a million Soviet soldiers near Kyiv, Ukraine earlier in the month, the combined forces of Army Groups Center and South finish subduing the pocket on 26 September 1941. Out of the approximately 850,000 Soviet troops originally surrounded, only about 150,000 managed to escape to the east. The rest either go into captivity or stay on the battlefield forever.

Field Marshal Ritter Wilhelm von Leeb and Generaloberst Erich Hoepner 26 September 1941
Field Marshal Ritter Wilhelm von Leeb (2nd from left), Generaloberst Erich Hoepner (3rd from left) over the map table in the Army Group North sector, September 1941 (Hansen, Federal Archive Picture 101I-212-0214-08A).
The Germans, led by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, are mystified at how easy it was to eliminate such a large force. They know that the Soviets have large forces nearby to the east and northeast, but those forces have made no attempt to try to break through and rescue their trapped comrades. General Franz Halder writes in his war diary that:
Mopping up of the pockets east of Kiev is drawing to a close. Guderian continues the concentration of his forces toward the north while pushing away the enemy on his eastern flank.
General Guderian's Panzer Group 2 is down to 20% of its original forces, so being able to defend against the Soviets to the east of the pocket so easily shows that the Soviets simply aren't interested in rescuing the men at Kyiv. This is contrary to all military logic, and the Germans almost automatically would launch a relief drive. This illustrates a fundamental difference between the two sides, as the Soviet attitude is that those who have lost a battle are unworthy of being rescued.

German military traffic in Kiev 26 September 1941
 Civilians, car traffic, German soldiers on horses, and horse-drawn carriages in Kyiv shortly after its capture, September 1941 ( Mittelstaedt, Heinz, Federal Archive Bild 183-B13125).
The Wehrmacht is able to process the hordes of Soviet prisoners at its leisure, with about 650,000 Soviet men heading to very rough POW camps in cattle cars. The Germans do not feel bound by the humanitarian provisions of the Geneva Convention in their war against the Soviets, so very little care is taken to ensure the prisoners' survival. It is estimated that only about 6,000 of the Soviets ever return to their homeland - about the same as the number of Germans who return after surrendering at Stalingrad just over a year later.

A decorated panzer Hauptmann 26 September 1941
A decorated panzer Hauptmann (Captain, Knight's Cross and Panzer Badge in Silver) in the turret of his panzer outside of Leningrad, September 1941 (Zoll, Federal Archive Bild 101I-210-0112-01A).
The pocket of trapped Soviet soldiers is a scene of wild chaos. Artillery shells explode amidst groups of defenseless men and horses, food is running short, and there is no leadership following the death of General Mikhail Kirponos on 20 September in a German ambush in the woods. About 100,000 Red Army soldiers perish before the guns fall silent, and more thereafter on the trip west. It is the largest battle of annihilation since... it is the largest battle of annihilation in world history. In a sense, this may be the peak of German military fortunes during World War II, though there are many claimants to that title. The way is now clear for the Wehrmacht to reorient its attack east toward Moscow.

A propaganda exhibit in Paris 26 September 1941
A propaganda exhibit in Paris during September 1941 entitled "The Jews of France."
The Soviets do get some revenge for their massive defeat at Kyiv. Before departing, they have boobytrapped major downtown administrative buildings in Kyiv. They wait until the Germans have fully occupied them and settled in and then, around 26 September 1941, set off the hidden explosions by wireless commands. The explosions kill hundreds of Wehrmacht soldiers and SS officers. The Germans are furious and decide to retaliate against the civilian population, with the main focus coming to rest on the Jews of Kyiv.

German soldiers read a posted newspaper 26 September 1941
German soldiers on the southern section of the Eastern Front read a posted newspaper. These are provisional newspapers for the benefit of the troops because getting actual newspapers to the front is proving extremely difficult over poor roads and long distances (Sanden, Heinrich, Federal Archive Bild 183-B10710).
Further south, General Erich von Manstein continues pushing his 11th Army into the Crimea. Halder opens his report not with this historic news at Kyiv, but the situation there:
A breakthrough is developing at Perekop; the Panzer Group has started attack southeast; Seventeenth Division is slowly gaining ground.
While Manstein's progress is good news, it subtly illustrates a larger problem for the Germans. Every success, every feat of arms, only leads to more campaigns with an enemy who always has somewhere new to run. Manstein is gaining ground, but that only means a completely new area of operations in the Crimea - which has many areas that are easy to defend. The war in the East is endless, and the further east the Wehrmacht goes, the more new battles it faces.

Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair 26 September 1941
Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair informs General George C. Marshall of the outcome of Third Army maneuvers in Louisiana, 26 September 1941 (The George C. Marshall Foundation).
German Military: The Spanish Blue Division, en route to Army Group Center, are at Vitebsk when they are suddenly rerouted to Army Group North. There, they will become part of the German 16th Army.

American Homefront: Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller pitches a one-hitter as he leads the American League in victories, innings pitched, and strikeouts. It is Feller's last game until 24 August 1945 due to his enlistment in the U.S. Navy immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

RKO Radio Pictures releases "Lady Scarface." It stars Dennis O'Keefe and features Judith Anderson (later Dame Judith Anderson) as the title character.

Finnish Road Signs at Salla 26 September 1941
The 26 September 1941 edition of The New York Times is full of news, including German attacks in the Soviet Union and an attempt to repeal the Neutrality Act.

September 1941

September 1, 1941: Two Years In
September 2, 1941: Germans Pushed Back at Yelnya
September 3, 1941: FDR Refuses to Meet with Japanese
September 4, 1941: Hitler Furious at Guderian
September 5, 1941: Germans Evacuate Yelnya
September 6, 1941: Japan Prepares for War
September 7, 1941: Hitler Orders Drive on Moscow
September 8, 1941: Leningrad Cut Off
September 9, 1941: Germans Attack Leningrad
September 10, 1941: Guderian Busts Loose
September 11, 1941: Convoy SC-42 Destruction
September 12, 1941: Starve Leningrad!
September 13, 1941: Zhukov at Leningrad
September 14, 1941: Germany's Growing Casualties
September 15, 1941: Sorge Warns Stalin Again
September 16, 1941: Soviets Encircled at Kiev
September 17, 1941: Iran Conquest Completed
September 18, 1941: Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in Action
September 19, 1941: Germans Take Kiev
September 20, 1941: Death at Kiev
September 21, 1941: Raging Soviet Paranoia
September 22, 1941: Defense of Nickel Mines
September 23, 1941: Air Attacks on Leningrad
September 24, 1941: Japanese Spying Intensifies
September 25, 1941: Manstein at the Crimea
September 26, 1941: Kiev Pocket Eliminated
September 27, 1941: Massacre at Eišiškės
September 28, 1941: Ted Williams Hits .400
September 29, 1941: Babi Yar Massacre
September 30, 1941: Operation Typhoon Begins


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