German pincers meet around Kiev

German troops captured the burning city of Kiev on 19th September 1941.

Among many historic buildings virtually destroyed was the 11th century Cathedral of the Assumption, centre for the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine. It was not re-built until 2000.

On 19th September the two German pincer movements met up, completing the largest encirclement of an army yet seen in any war. In fact five Soviet Armies were caught in the pocket and most of their troops killed or captured. A vast area equivalent to a triangle drawn between Paris, Frankfurt and Milan fell to the Germans. During 64 days of fighting the Soviet losses were an average of 8,543 soldiers killed every day. In total 50 Soviet Divisions with at least 665,000 men (and possibly as many as 750,000) were surrounded by German forces.

As groups of Russian troops, large and small, sought to break out the Luftwaffe dropped over 500,000 kg of bombs, including many incendiary bombs that set fire to the forests. German troops were to remember the smell of burnt flesh, whether from horses or men, over many areas of the battlefields.

Major Jurij Krymov wrote what he expected would be his last letter to his wife:

How is it that we come to be inside a pocket. One could offer a long explanation, but I do not feel like it. Until now it’s not exactly clear. No one is going to argue about one point.

All around, wherever you look there are German tanks, sub-machine guns or machine gun nests. Our unit has already been defending on all sides by the fourth day, within this circle of fire.

At night the surrounding ring is clear to see, illuminated by fires that light up the horizon, which here and there give the sky a wonderful yellow hue.

Quoted by Robert Kershaw in War Without Garlands: Operation Barbarossa 1941-1942.

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