Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Soviet Storm. WW2 in the East - The Battle of Kiev. 1941. Episode 2. StarMedia. Babich-Design

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June 1941. Hitler has invaded the Soviet Union.

The German Blitzkrieg seems unstoppable.

Now the only hope of saving Kiev is theStalin Line’…

Originally produced for Russian television in 2011,

this is the story of RussiasGreat Patriotic War

and the Red Armys long road from defeat to victory.

A German motorcycle unit raced through western Ukraine.

Suddenly it came under a hail of machine gun fire.

The survivors scrambled into cover.

The Germans thought theyd run into the rearguard of the retreating Red Army.

But it was soon clear this was no rearguard.

The machine gun fire came from a concrete bunker disguised as a farmhouse.

The German motorcyclists had run into the Stalin Line.

By the 1930s, fortress walls had given way to fortified lines,

which featured concrete gun-emplacements, heavy guns in turrets,

and anti-tank obstacles. The French built the Maginot Line,

the Finns built the Mannerheim Line, and the Germans, the Siegfried Line.

The Soviet Union built its own defensive line on its western frontier.

Foreign newspapers dubbed itthe Stalin Line’.

In reality it wasnt a continuous line but a series of fortified zones.

The sheer length of the border meant in some places,

the defences consisted of just a few machinegun positions.

Old tanks were recycled to provide gun turrets.

The line was 13 years old when the Germans invaded,

and in most places lacked modern anti-tank defences.

After the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939,

the Stalin Line was stripped of men and weapons.

They were moved to new defences being built far to the west,

along the new frontier.

When the Germans attacked, the Stalin Line was hurriedly reoccupied.

In the first weeks of the war, the German blitzkrieg seemed unstoppable.

Soviet generals hoped desperately that at the Stalin Line,

the invaders could be stopped, and then thrown back.

The first German formation to engage the Stalin Line was the 1st Panzer Group.

It was led by one of the Wehrmachts most experienced commanders, Ewald von Kleist.

In 1941, von Kleist was 60 years old.

He had commanded a cavalry regiment in the First World War.

Now he was Germanys senior panzer general.

In 1940 his Panzer Group had played a crucial role in the Fall of France,

breaking through French positions at Sedan and encircling the Allies at Dunkirk.

At the end of the war, von Kleist was arrested by the Americans

and extradited to the USSR. He was found guilty of war crimes,

and died in prison in 1954.

The Stalin Line did not overly concern von Kleist.

His men were well trained in storming enemy fortifications.

German assault teams were made up of infantry platoons reinforced

with combat engineers and light artillery.

In an assault, German infantry would try to outflank enemy strongpoints

in order to isolate them.

The bunker could then be attacked from the rear,

using explosives to blow a way in.

Another tactic was to fire a flamethrower in through the observation slits,

killing everyone inside.

Von Kleists tanks reached the Stalin Line at several points simultaneously.

On the approach to Kiev, the fighting raged for three days.

14th Panzer Division was in the thick of it.

As it prepared to assault Soviet positions, it came under air attack.

Then the infantry began their assault on the Stalin Line.

Slowly the Germans fought their way through the Soviet defences.

On 8th July, they broke through to the Zhitomir highway.

They broke through again to the south, at Ostropol.

The road to Kiev, capital of Ukraine, lay open.

But now the advance ran into well camouflaged Soviet gun positions.

Each bunker had to be taken out by heavy artillery.

Next stop was the Ukrainian city of Berdychev.

Red Army survivors were once more in retreat.

The Stalin Line had held up von Kleists Panzergroup for just four days.

When news of the breakthrough reached General Mikhail Kirponos,

Commander of the South-Western Front, his only comment was,

"We are going to pay dearly for this".

Mikhail Petrovich Kirponos had been declared a Hero of the Soviet Union

the states highest award

for his leadership during the Soviet-Finnish war in 1940.

In 1941, he was put in charge of the Kiev Special Military District.

Kirponos was a resourceful, brave and energetic commander.

But many envied his rapid promotion.

On the morning of 9th July, von Kleists tanks reached Zhitomir.

The Chief of Staff of Army Group South signaled Berlin:

It is imperative that we go on and try to take Kiev by surprise

using the Third Army Corps”.

But Hitler had other priorities.

He ordered Von Kleist to swing south to help encircle Soviet forces around Uman.

Von Kleist was given just a few days to take Kiev.

The Ukrainian capital was in grave danger.

The Chief of Staff of the Southwestern Front received a visitor

a Major who brought news of the German advance.

The Soviet command rushed all available reserves to Kiev.

Paratroopers, tank crews without tanks, NKVD police units,

naval infantryall arrived to help defend the city.

The Soviets knew the first German thrust would come along the Zhitomir highway.

And where it crossed the Irpin river, they were ready to meet it.

The Germans had reached the Kiev Fortified Region, the last section of the Stalin Line,

and it was ready to welcome the invaders.

Von Kleist had reached Kiev,

but his panzers needed infantry to break through the citys defences.

And the infantry had been left far behind.

Von Kleist was out of time. He had orders to move south,

away from Kiev, to encircle Soviet forces around Uman.

Meanwhile, German infantry were fighting their way through

the Stalin Line to the southwest.

Here their advance was supported by the new assault guns.

They had been deployed to help get Army Group South through the Stalin Line

where it protected the Ukrainian city of Vinnitsya.

The German assault guns were the brainchild of Erich von Manstein.

In 1935 he had written to the Army General Staff.

The assault guns should act in conjunction with the infantry.

They shouldnt charge like tanks, or attempt breakthroughs

they should support the infantry by destroying enemy strongpoints.

They shouldnt operate en masse like tanks, but be deployed in individual platoons.

They must be able to rapidly neutralize enemy gun emplacements.“

In 1940, the German army received its first assault gunthe Sturmgeschutz, or Stug, 3.

It was built on a tank chassis, and armed with a short 75 millimetre gun.

It had a low silhouette and thicker armour than most tanks.

Head on, it was almost impervious to the standard Soviet anti-tank gun.

During an assault, the Stugs role was to get in close to enemy gun positions,

and knock them out by firing directly through the observation slits.

The StuG 3 became Germanys most produced armoured vehicle of the war.

But in 1941, only a few were in service on the Eastern Front.

Red Army defences around Letychiv

were pounded by German artillery and assault guns.

The German 4th Mountain Division war diary described the attack:

After 3 hours of softening-up by the artillery,

mountain troop assault teams and engineer squads went forward.

By 9:30 p.m., all objectives had been taken.”

The Stalin Line had been broken once more.

Other Red Army units would soon be outflanked unless they withdrew.

The breaching of the Stalin Line at Letychiv was regarded as a disaster

by the Soviet Front command.

Marshal Semyon Budyonny was Commander of the Southwestern Direction in Ukraine.

This put him in charge of twoFronts’, the Soviet equivalent of an army group.

He sent a surprisingly frank report to the Stavka

the Soviet High Command in Moscow.

Number 1. Restoring the situation to its state before the enemy breakthrough,

with current forces, is not possible. Number 2.

Further resistance by Sixth and Twelfth Armies in their current position

may result in them being surrounded and destroyed within 1 to 2 days”.

Semyon Mikhailovich Budyonny, Marshal of the Soviet Union,

was a Bolshevik legend and a close ally of Josef Stalin.

The son of poor peasant farmers,

he had risen to command the 1st Red Army Cavalry Corps in the Russian Civil War.

Budyonny was a dedicated cavalryman,

firmly convinced that tanks could never replace horses.

As such, he was distinctly out of touch with the realities of modern warfare.

Budyonny asked the Stavka for permission to withdraw Sixth

and Twelfth Armies towards the Dnieper River. Permission was given.

At first, everything seemed to go smoothly.

General Hube, commanding the 16th Panzer Division, looked on:

Not able to do anything.

We can only watch the brown convoys lose us and go East”.

Franz Halder, Chief of the German General Staff, shared his frustration:

The enemy has again found a way to withdraw his forces from under our nose.

Using fierce Counterattacks and great skill, they are able to escape intact.”

But this time there would be no escape.

In accordance with the Fuehrers orders,

von Kleists Panzer Group now turned south to cut off the retreating Soviet armies.

On 3rd August the trap closed at Uman.

The encircled troops fought on for nearly two weeks.

But they had no chance.

The two army commanders, Muzychenko and Ponedelin,

were among 103,000 Soviet prisoners.

Most would die of starvation or disease in the so-called Uman Ditch,

or other rudimentary German prisoner of war camps,

where the men received no shelter and little food.

Major General Ponedelin, however, survived German captivity.

At the wars end he was freed by Soviet troops.

But then he and his subordinate General Kirrilov were arrested by SMERSH,

the Soviet counter-espionage service.

After a 5 year investigation into their conduct,

Ponedelin and Kirrilov were found guilty of cowardice and treason, and shot.

Lieutenant General Muzychenko, Commanding 6th Army,

also survived the German camps.

He too was arrested by SMERSH at the end of the war.

But Muzychenko was cleared of any wrongdoing,

because hed been badly wounded when captured.

He was reinstated and allowed to resume his military career.

After the victory at Uman,

Von Kleists Panzer Group dispersed in a general advance eastwards.

In the port of Nikolayev, they captured great prizes:

an unfinished battleship, a cruiser, and two submarines.

German tank crews describeda forest of cranes,

and submarines lying on their sides like giant fish thrown onto the shore.”

But their commander, von Kleist, was uneasy.

To his mind, they were miles from where they should be.

His tanks had advanced hundreds of miles,

their progress marked by the graves of comrades, and their burnt-out tanks.

But they were further than ever from what von Kleist

believed was the decisive targetMoscow.

After a 300 mile march, the infantry of the German 6th Army

had finally arrived outside Kiev. In support:

flamethrowers, heavy artillery, and Stug 3 assault guns.

On 30th July, 6th Army began a concerted attack on the citys southern defences.

From this direction, they would not have to fight across the Irpin river.

The Red Amy was slowly forced back.

Many units became cut off in their bunkers. But they fought on.

Bunker 131 near Kremenishche repelled attack after attack.

Its commander, 19 year old Lieutenant Yakunin,

had been an officer for just 6 weeks.

Finally the Germans blew their way in.

No prisoners were taken.

The neighboring bunker, No. 127, held out for three days.

Its machineguns only fell silent when they ran out of ammunition.

When the Germans blew their way in,

they found two men dead and three badly wounded.

The wounded men were carried into captivity.

On 4th August, the Germans intensified the assault on Kiev.

On the left flank, near Vita-Poshtova, the Germans captured a series of bunkers.

The next day they fought their way through to Kievs second defensive line.

But every step forward came at a heavy price.

Franz Halder, Chief of the German General Staff, was alarmed:

Army Group South are taking heavy losses in Kiev.

6th Army loses up to 1,600 men per day”.

Red Army losses were also severe.

Militia battalions were formed, and sent forward to plug gaps in the line.

These men had received only a few weeks training.

Most hadnt received their army papers yet. When they were killed,

they had to be identified by Party papers, or the names on student exercise books.

On 6th August, through a thick morning mist,

the Germans began their attack on Kievs second defensive line.

The fighting ebbed back and forth. But finally,

Halders diary entries could record real progress:

The fortified line around Kiev has been breached.”

German infantry had entered the suburbs of Kiev:

Pirogovo, Myshelovka, Golosiiv park, and the citys two technical colleges.

The Germans were just a few miles from the Dnieper bridges.

To the west, theyd nearly reached the Zhuliany Airport,

held by General Rodimtsevs 5th Airborne Brigade.

With their leather flying helmets, Soviet paratroopers looked a lot like pilots.

In 1941, they were being used as elite infantry.

They were well-trained, and their morale was high.

The brigade commander, Lieutenant General Alexander Ilitch Rodimtsev,

was an experienced soldier, whod already been awarded the title

Hero of the Soviet Unionfor his service in the Spanish Civil War.

He was personally brave and popular with his men. 18 months later, his role

in the defence of Stalingrad would make him a household name in the Soviet Union.

In 1943, he was given command of the 32nd Guards Rifle Corps,

which he led all the way to Prague.

As the sun set on 9th August 1941,

Soviet artillery opened fire near the airport.

10 minutes later, Rodimtsevs paratroopers attacked.

At first the Germans thought they were being attacked by pilots from the airport

a last desperate move by the Soviets. But they soon realized their mistake.

By sunrise the paratroopers had thrown the Germans back almost 2 miles.

More importantly, they had bought Kiev time.

Every day, more reinforcements arrived in the city.

That very day Red Army reports recorded the arrival in the city

by train of the 284th Rifle Division.

The bitter fighting on the Stalin Line and around Uman had, at least,

slowed the German advance. And each week,

the Red Army raised fresh divisions in the east.

The citys reinforced garrison was reorganized as the 37th Army.

It now launched a large-scale counter-attack.

By 14th August theyd liberated many of the citys southern suburbs.

Bunkers 205, 206, and 207 were relieved after being cut-off for several days.

Kievs two inner defensive lines had been re-established.

Then in late August,

Soviet intelligence reported a decrease in enemy activity around Kiev.

During the battles outside the city, life in Kiev continued much as normal.

There was electricity and running water. Trams and buses still ran.

Information about the course of the war was tightly controlled.

Few realized just how precarious the situation was.

Meanwhile, a Junkers transport aircraft arrived

at a secret airfield in East Prussia.

On board General Guderian, Commander of the 2nd Panzer Group,

made final preparations for his meeting with Adolf Hitler.

Guderian had come to the Wolfs Lair

to persuade the Fuehrer that he was making a strategic blunder.

Hitler was concerned at the slow progress of Army Group South,

which was supposed to capture the rich farmland of Ukraine.

Stubborn Soviet resistance in this zone had created a dangerous bulge

in the German frontline, which exposed the southern flank of Army Group Centre.

Hitler was also alarmed by air raids on his Romanian oil fields,

launched from bases in the Crimea.

So Guderians 2nd Panzer Group was being sent south,

to encircle Soviet forces defending Kiev.

Guderian opposed the plan. Moscow, he insisted, was the key objective.

This diversion to Kiev wasted valuable time and resources.

And soon the Russian winter would be upon them.

Hitler listened patiently to Guderian. But he was not going to change his mind.

My generals know nothing about the economic aspects of war!”, he declared.

The discussion was over. Guderian was going south to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, 150 miles southeast of Kiev, the Germans were about to cross the Dnieper.

They encountered only light resistance.

This toehold across the mighty river became known as the Kremenchug salient.

The Soviet High Command did not regard the salient as a priority.

There were no bridges, so only German infantry had got across.

It was the tanks that worried them. Now those tanks were on the move again.

General Yeremenkos Bryansk Front was ordered to strike

at Guderians flank as he moved south.

But Yeremenko had only a few, obsolete tanks.

They stood no chance against the 2nd Panzer Group.

On 10th September, Guderian reached Romny, 130 miles east of Kiev.

As the threat of encirclement grew,

the Soviet Southwestern Front requested permission to retreat.

But the Stavka High Command hesitated.

They still hoped to stop Guderian, and save Kiev.

180 kilometres still separated the two prongs of the German advance.

And the southern pincer at Kremenchug held only infantry. It could be contained.

Von Kleists panzers were still far to the south.

Red Army forces retreating from Kiev would be highly vulnerable as they pulled back.

This was what had happened at Uman. They would not make the same mistake again.

The strategic arguments ran back and forth. But the fact was:

Stalin was not prepared to abandon Kiev to the enemy.

The 37th Army, 100,000 strong, would hold the city.

Only 11th September, General Kirponos, commanding the Southwestern Front,

spoke to Marshal Shaposhnikov, Chief of the General Staff.

He wanted permission to withdraw the 37th Army from Kiev,

and use it against the German forces threatening his rear.

Shaposhnikov told him this could not be permitted. He must find other troops.

A few hours later, Kirponovs superior, Marshal Budyonny,

contacted Moscow with the same request.

The enemys plan to surround the Southwestern Front

from the direction of Novgorod-Siversky and Kremenchug is obvious to everyone”.

Budyonny requested they either withdraw all forces to the East, or evacuate Kiev,

freeing up troops to defend a reduced front. But the Stavka was inflexible.

Kiev must be held. Their orders read:

You are not to evacuate Kiev or destroy any bridges without Stavka authority”.

Marshall Budyonny was removed from command. His place was taken by Marshal Timoshenko.

Instead of pulling back, more troops were being sent into the Kyiv salient.

One by one, German tanks drove onto a 2,000 metre-long bridge

that floated over the Dnieper River.

With the help of German combat engineers,

Von Kleists panzer group crossed into the Kremenchug salient.

And Soviet intelligence had no idea

As the sun rose, von Kleist made his move.

The Soviet Command expected a strike from the north.

But now the fatal blow came suddenly from the south.

Von Kleist and Guderian were about to encircle the entire

Soviet Southwestern Front.

On 13th September, Kirponoss Chief of Staff,

General Tupikov, painted a bleak picture:

We have nothing to counter the enemy,

who has already reached Romny and Lokhvitsa.

Their advance cannot be resisted.

It is a matter of a couple of days before the catastrophe occurs”.

Once again, Kirponos recommended retreating from Kiev

before his forces were cut-off. But Marshal Shaposhnikov replied:

I think this encirclement is a delusion, which exists chiefly in the minds

of commanders of the Southwestern Front and 37th Army”.

But on the ground, encirclement had become a reality.

On 14th September, German 1st and 2nd Panzer Groups linked up near Lokhvitsa.

They had surrounded 532,000 Soviet soldiers.

Two days later a Colonel from Stavka

flew to Kiev to give Kirponos his new orders.

Now that it was too late, and the trap had closed,

he finally had permission to withdraw.

But the new orders contradicted Stalins directive about Kiev.

Kirponos knew other generals had been executed

for making mistakes in similar situations. He demanded written confirmation.

He would not leave the city without it.

Stavka confirmation came just before midnight on 17th September.

Kirponos immediately gave the order to evacuate Kiev.

48 hours later, the Red Army left the city and crossed to the east bank of the Dnieper.

NKVD Colonel Mazhirin was with them.

It was a surprisingly warm day. At about 11 in the morning,

the Nazis started firing furiously into the citys suburbs.

Then they advanced on the bridges.

On a signal, the Darnitsya bridge was blown up.

The Navodnitsky bridge had been covered in tar, and was now set on fire.”

Having destroyed the bridges, the 37th Army retreated towards Yagotin.

But there was no escape. In five days of fighting,

the Southwestern Front was chopped up into smaller

and smaller pockets of resistance.

Some Red Army units held out for 10 days.

But they were under attack from all sides, and without supplies.

Some bands of soldiers tried to escape east through the German lines.

They were hunted through the ravines and woods by German motorized columns,

supported by tanks.

More than half a million Red Army soliders became prisoners,

in what had become the largest encirclement in military history.

Fewer than 20,000 escaped.

Even Front Commander General Kirponos did not get away.

He was killed by shell fragments while leading a breakout attempt.

His Chief of Staff Vasiliy Tupikov, Front Commissar Burmistenko,

and most of his Headquarters were also killed.

Guderian described the Battle of Kiev as a great tactical success.

But what, he wondered, was its strategic significance?

The Germans were still looking for the knockout blow.

Guderian, and many German generals,

firmly believed it could only come at Moscow, and before winter.

But was there still time?

The Germans entered Kiev on 19th September.

Five days later, NKVD agents dynamited the buildings chosen by the Nazis

as their administrative headquarters.

Acts of arson and sabotage continued for several days.

They destroyed department stores; the circus on Karl Marx Street;

and The Continental Hotel which the German army had chosen as its headquarters.

Great fires raged across the city.

Khreschatyk, the citys main street, was almost entirely destroyed.

No one tried to put the fires out. They raged for 4 days.

The Nazis used these events as their pretext to round up the Jews of Kiev.

On 28th September, a proclamation went up around the city.

It ordered all Jews to come to the junction of Melnikov and Dehtaryivska Street

at 8am the next day. Jews, it said, wereto be relocated’.

The next morning, more than 30,000 Jews arrived from across the city.

Supervised by German SS troops and Ukrainian collaborators,

they were marched down Melnikov Street to the Babi Yar Ravine

on the outskirts of town.

Near the ravine, men, women and children were told to undress,

and put clothes and valuable belongings into separate piles.

Then they were led to the ravine in groups of 10.

Two machine guns waited on the far side of the ravine.

Over two days, the Nazis murdered 33,771 Jews here.

The bodies were buried in the ravine.

For 103 weeks, every Tuesday and Friday,

the Nazis brought people here for extermination

Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, Gypsies.

Babi Yar was used for executions for exactly two years:

29th September 1941, to 29th September 1943.

By summer 1943, the Nazis had begun to cover their tracks.

Prisoners from the neighbouring Syrets Concentration Camp

were made to dig up the bodies and burn them.

Historians estimate that between 100 and 200,000 people were murdered at Babi Yar.

These massacres were the first indication of the kind ofNew Order

that the Nazis planned to bring to the Soviet Union.

The war in the east had become a war like no other.

This was now a struggle for existence.

For the Soviet Union, there could be only victory, or annihilation.

The Description of Soviet Storm. WW2 in the East - The Battle of Kiev. 1941. Episode 2. StarMedia. Babich-Design