Forcing the Dnipro

The Battle for the Dnieper is a series of interconnected strategic operations of the Second World War, conducted in the second half of 1943 on the banks of the Dnieper. Up to 4 million people took part in the battle on both sides, and its front stretched over 1,400 kilometers. As a result of a four-month operation, the left bank of the Dnieper was liberated by the Red Army from the German-fascist invaders. During the operation, significant forces of the Red Army forded the river, created several bridgeheads on the right bank of the Dnieper, and also liberated the city of Kyiv. The battle for the Dnipro became one of the biggest battles in world history.
Before the battle.
After the Battle of Kursk, the Wehrmacht lost all hope of a decisive victory over the USSR. Casualties were heavy, and to make matters worse, the army as a whole was much less experienced than before, as many of its best fighters had died in previous battles.
By mid-August, Hitler realized that the Soviet offensive could not be stopped—at least not until agreement was reached among the Allies. Therefore, his decision was to buy time by building numerous defensive structures to contain the Red Army. He demanded that Wehrmacht soldiers defend the positions on the Dnieper at any cost.
On the other hand, Stalin was determined to force the Dnieper and return the captured territories. In this respect, the industrial regions of Ukraine represented the greatest importance, both due to the extremely high population density and due to the concentration of coal and other deposits there, which would provide the Soviet state with the resources it lacked. Thus, the southern direction became the main direction of attack of the Soviet troops, even at the expense of the northern fronts.
Description of the battle.
The battle for the Dnieper became one of the bloodiest — according to various estimates, the number of casualties on both sides (including killed and wounded) ranged from 1.7 million to 2.7 million. Considering the large area on which the battle took place, some historians refuse to count the battle for the Dnipro as one single battle. In their opinion, the most bloody battle in the history of mankind was the Battle of Stalingrad.

The main battles, the totality of which is the Battle for the Dnipro, were:

Chernihiv-Prypyat operation (August 26 – September 30, 1943)
Dnipro Airborne Operation (September 1943)
Melitopol operation (September 26 – November 5, 1943)
Zaporizhzhia operation (October 10-14, 1943)
Kyiv offensive operation (November 3-13, 1943)
Kyiv defensive operation (November 13 — December 23, 1943)

Eastern shaft.

After the defeat at Kursk, the German command developed the “Votan” defense plan, which provided for the creation of the so-called “Eastern rampart” from the Baltic to the Black Sea along the line Narva – Pskov – Gomel and further along the Dnieper. This well-fortified line was supposed, according to the plan of the German leadership, to stop the advance of Soviet troops to the west.
The “Eastern Wall” began to be assembled in the winter of 1941-1942, when, in connection with the failure of Operation Typhoon and the transition of the Red Army to the offensive, the German troops were pushed back from Moscow by an average of 250 km. The threat of complete destruction loomed over Army Group “Center”. In the OHV pond, Hitler and his field marshals considered the measures that were supposed to stop the advance of the Soviet troops. And the solution was found. On December 8, 1941, Hitler signed directive No. 39 on the universal transition of German troops to defense and demanded from soldiers “to defend the occupied positions with fanatical tenacity.” It was from this moment that the “Eastern shaft” began to be built.
Fortifications were built along the entire bank of the Dnieper, but there is little hope of providing a reliable and massive defense in such a short period of time. As a result, the “eastern wall” was not equally strong along the entire length of the front. The most serious fortifications were concentrated in the places of the most likely crossing of Soviet troops: in Kremenchuk and Nikopol, as well as in Zaporizhzhia.
In addition to defensive measures, on September 7, 1943, SS and Wehrmacht forces were ordered to completely devastate the areas from which they had to retreat, in order to slow down the advance of the Red Army and try to make it difficult to supply its units.

“EAST WALL” (OSTWALL) – a strategic defensive line of German troops on the Soviet-German front, created by the fall of 1943 on the line of the Narva, Pskov, Vitebsk, Orsha, Sozh rivers, the middle course of the Dnieper, the Molochna river (in in September 1943, it was divided into “PANTERA” and “WOTAN” divisions).

“WOTAN” (WOTAN) is a defensive line of German troops, created in the fall of 1943 on the southern front in the zone of action of army groups “South” and “A”.

Odin, also known as Wotan, is the god of thunder and lightning in ancient Germanic mythology, the supreme god, king of the Æsirs, master of Valhalla, where the Æsirs feast and where the warriors killed on the battlefield end up.

“PANTHER” (PANTHER) – the defensive line of the German troops was created in the fall of 1943 in the strip of army groups “North” and “Center”.

There is such a photograph: Hitler and his field marshal Manstein are standing in thought, resting their hands on a long table on which an operational map is spread out. The photo has the date and place: Zaporizhzhia, September 1943. The picture shows the scene that played out in the headquarters of the commander of Army Group South, Field Marshal Manstein, in connection with the arrival of the Führer, enraged by the failures on the Eastern Front. It was about how to keep the Right Bank of the Dnieper in your hands, how to make the “Eastern Wall” an impregnable fortress for the Soviet troops.
The “Eastern rampart” along the banks of the Dnieper played a huge role for the Nazis. Hitler’s general Otto Knobelsdorf notes:

“The Dnipro was planned as a line of resistance even after the fall of Stalingrad… in the spring of 1943; its great width, low eastern bank and high steep western, it seemed, should have become an insurmountable barrier for the Russians.
Fascists were interested in the Dnipro not only as a convenient line of defense. The West German historian K. Ricker states very bluntly on this matter:
“Possessing the fertile regions of Western Ukraine, the Kryvyi Rih railway, the manganese and non-ferrous metals of Zaporizhzhia and Nikopol, Romanian… Hungarian and Austrian oil, Germany could continue the war for a long time.”
That is why the fascist command made desperate attempts to keep the “Eastern Wall” in its hands, on the creation of which the fascists had been working since the spring of 1943.
The defensive line consisted of: anti-tank ditches, barbed wire in 4-6 rows, deep trenches and communication passages, dugouts, minefields, bunkers and trenches, reinforced concrete shelters and command posts. On average, 8 armored caps and 12 anti-tank guns were needed for each kilometer of defense.
Long-term fire point (DVT) is a term for a capital (usually reinforced concrete) fortification armed structure for long-term defense. This building can be either a single building or one of many in the system of a fortified district. Like other types of long-term fortifications, DVT protects military personnel from being hit by enemy fire and, in addition to protection, provides its garrison with the opportunity to fire at the enemy through embrasures, sponsons or turret installations.
A tree is an earth fire point (DZVT) – a term for a defensive field fortification armed structure, both single and one of many in the system of a fortified area. Several types are provided: “Building with trench armor closure for firing from a machine gun”, “Building with a frameless structure for firing from a machine gun”, “Building with a special installation for a machine gun”.
Hitler had high hopes for this rampart, and propaganda in every way praised its power and impregnability. At one of the political meetings, Hitler declared that the Dnieper would sooner flow back than the Russians would overcome it. Hitler believed that it would take several months for the Soviet troops to prepare for forcing. For the construction of the frontier, the fascists used the labor of not only their compatriots, but also prisoners of war. And there is information that D.M. was offered to become the head of the construction of fortifications. Karbyshev.

Powers of the parties.

On August 24, 1943, Soviet divisions began to move along the entire 1,400-kilometer front that stretched from Smolensk to the Sea of Azov. It was a large-scale operation involving 2,650,000 men, 51,000 guns, 2,400 tanks and 2,850 aircraft, divided into five fronts:

Central Front (commander – Army General K.K. Rokosovsky, renamed the 1st Belorussian Front on October 20)
Voronezh Front (commander – Army General N.F. Vatutin, renamed the 1st Ukrainian Front on October 20)
Steppe Front (commander – Army General I.S. Konev, renamed the 2nd Ukrainian Front on October 20)
South-Western Front (commander – Army General R.Ya. Malinovsky, renamed the 3rd Ukrainian Front on October 20)
Southern Front (commander – Army General F.I. Tolbukhin, renamed the 4th Ukrainian Front on October 20)

A total of 36 combined arms, 4 tank and 5 air armies were involved in the operations.
The Soviet troops were opposed by the two largest German groups: Army Group “Center” (commander – General Field Marshal G. Kluge) and Army Group “South” (commander – General Field Marshal E. Manstein) consisting of 62 divisions, including 14 tank and motorized divisions. The ground troops were supported by the forces of the 4th and 6th air fleets. In quantitative composition: 1,240,000 people, 12,600 guns, 2,100 tanks, 2,100 aircraft.
Three weeks after the start of the offensive, despite the huge losses of the Soviet army, it became clear that the Wehrmacht could not hold back the Soviet attacks on the flat, open space of the steppes, where the numerical superiority of the Red Army easily ensured its victory. Manstein invited 12 new divisions to help in the last hope of stopping the offensive, but the German reserves were already dangerously depleted. Many years later, Manstein wrote in his memoirs:
From this situation, I concluded that we cannot hold Donbas with the forces we have, and that an even greater danger for the entire southern flank of the Eastern Front was created on the northern flank of the group. The 8th and 4th Tank Armies are unable to hold back the enemy’s onslaught in the direction of the Dnieper for a long time.

— Manshtein E. “Lost victories.”
As a result, on September 15, 1943, Hitler ordered Army Group “South” to retreat to defensive fortifications on the Dnieper. The battle for Poltava was particularly bloody. The city was well fortified, and the garrison defending it was well trained. After a series of unsuccessful assaults, which seriously slowed down the Soviet offensive, General Konev decided to bypass the city and go straight to the Dnieper. After two more days of fierce street fighting, the Poltava garrison was destroyed.
Towards the end of September 1943, Soviet troops finally reached the bottom of the Dnieper. However, the most difficult battles were still ahead.

Dnipro airborne operation.

In order to weaken resistance on the right bank of the Dnieper, the Soviet command decided to land a parachute landing on the right bank. Thus, on September 24, 1943, the Dnipro Airborne Operation was launched. The goal of the Soviet paratroopers was to capture the bridgeheads before the approach of reinforcements.
A bridgehead – (fr. place d’armes — a square for the assembly of troops), the territory (or part of it) of one’s own or another state, which is used in the preparation of an invasion of the territory of another state as a base for the concentration and deployment of armed forces, may have a strategic or operational value.
Also called a bridgehead is a section of terrain that was taken over by the advancing troops when forcing a water obstacle or held by the retreating troops on its opposite bank.
Tactical bridgeheads are usually captured on the move by advanced units, vanguards, or units of the first echelon, and then expanded by operational forces of other echelons entering the battle and reserves. Both tactical and operational bridgeheads can be captured by airborne forces. The presence of large bridgeheads ensures the concentration of a powerful group of troops on them to conduct offensive operations in favorable conditions without the need to ford rivers.
The operation ended in complete failure. Due to the pilots’ poor knowledge of the terrain, the first wave of landings was dropped on the Soviet positions and, partially, to the Dnieper. The second wave of 5,000 paratroopers was scattered over an area of several tens of square kilometers.
Moreover, due to poorly conducted reconnaissance of the area, which did not allow finding mechanized units of the Germans, a large part of the landing party, due to the lack of anti-tank weapons, was destroyed soon after landing.
Separate groups, having lost radio contact with the center, tried to attack German supply units or joined the partisan movement.
Despite the heavy losses, the Dnieper airborne operation diverted the attention of a significant number of German mechanized formations, which made it possible to carry out the crossing of troops with lower losses. However, after the failure of the Vyazem and Dnipro amphibious operations, the Headquarters of the VHK refused further mass use of the amphibious assault.

Forcing the Dnipro.

On September 9, 1943, the Staff of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief issued a directive “On rapid and decisive fording of rivers and awarding of personnel for successful fording of water obstacles.”
The first bridgehead on the right bank of the Dnieper was conquered on September 22, 1943, in the area of the confluence of the Dnieper and Pripyat rivers, in the northern part of the front. On September 24, another position was recaptured near Dniprodzerzhinsk, the next day in the same area — a third, and a fourth on September 28 near Kremenchuk. By the end of the month, 23 bridgeheads were created on the opposite bank of the Dnieper, some of them 10 kilometers wide and 1-2 kilometers deep.
The forcing of the Dnipro is a vivid example of the heroism of the Soviet troops. Soldiers, taking advantage of the smallest opportunity to cross, crossed the river on any watercraft that stayed on the water, suffering heavy losses under the fierce fire of the fascist troops. After that, the Soviet troops practically created a new fortified area on the conquered bridgeheads, actually digging into the ground from enemy fire, and covering the approach of new forces with their fire.
Soon, German forces launched powerful counterattacks at almost every crossing, hoping to destroy the Soviets before the heavy equipment could reach the other side of the river and engage in battle. Thus, the crossing at Borodaevsk, mentioned by Marshal Konev in his memoirs, was subjected to powerful enemy artillery fire.
The bombers were almost everywhere, bombarding the crossing and military units near the river. Konev mentioned, in this regard, the shortcomings in the organization of air support from the Soviet side, the establishment of air patrols in the area of troop crossings in order to prevent bombing approaches to the crossings, and his order to send reinforced artillery to the front line of the front to repel tank enemy attacks.
When the Soviet aviation became more organized and improved the synchronization of its actions with the ground troops of the front, with the support of the fire of hundreds of guns and artillery formations of the guard mortar “Katyusha”, the situation with the defense of the crossings began to improve. Forcing the Dnieper became relatively safer for Soviet soldiers.
Such situations were not isolated, becoming a problem almost along the entire forcing line. Despite keeping all crossing points in the hands of the Soviet army, the losses on its part were really colossal — at the beginning of October, most divisions retained only 25-30% of the number of personnel and weapons.
By mid-October, the forces gathered by the command in the area of the lower crossings of the Dnieper were already able to launch the first mass attack on the German fortifications on the opposite bank in the southern part of the front. So, a powerful attack was planned on the Kremenchuk-Dnipropetrovsk front line. At the same time, large-scale military operations and the movement of units of troops were initiated along the entire front in order to divert the German forces (and the attention of its command) from the southern crossings and from the Kyiv area.
At the end of the forcing process, the Soviet armed forces controlled the crossing area with a length of more than 300 kilometers and in some places a bridgehead depth of up to 80 kilometers. To the south of this region, in the Crimea, the Soviet command conducted an operation that ended with the Crimean grouping of German troops being cut off from their main forces. All hopes of the fascists to stop the advance of the Soviet troops were lost.

Voyskovo-Vovnizhsky labor camp.

On September 8, 1943, the troops of the Southwestern Front under the command of General of the Army R. Ya. Malinovsky and the troops of the Steppe Front under the command of General of the Army I. Z. Konev, entering the borders of the Dnipropetrovsk Region with the advanced detachments of the formations, knocked down the enemy curtains and advanced 100 —130 kilometers and freed the left-bank areas of the region.
On the right bank of the Dnieper, in the difficult conditions of forcing a large water obstacle, the troops of the fronts captured several bridgeheads, where fierce battles took place.
On September 22, 1943, the 6th Army of the South-Western Front, led by General I. T. Shlemin, went to the Dnipro. On September 23, the troops of the 12th army of General A.I. went to the Dnipro. Danilova. They cleared the left bank from the enemy in the lane Ploska — Alekseevka — Osokorivka — Kruglik.
On September 24, 1943, the units of the 6th and 12th armies began preparations for crossing the Dnieper in the area of the villages of Voyskove and Vovnygi. And on the night of September 26, units of the 25th Guards Rifle Division of the 6th Army (commander of the division – Guards Major General G. A. Kryvolapov, having crossed from the area of the village of Alekseevka across the Dnipro River, seized a bridgehead in the area of the southern outskirts of the village of Viyskogo and by morning completely mastered the dominant height.
Petrovo — Svystunovo simultaneously with the assault detachments of the 25th Guards Rifle Division, led by senior lieutenants V.S. Zyvakhin and M.I. Shishlov, the landing detachment of the 333rd Rifle Division of the 12th Army, commanded by Captain O.A. . Stryzhachenko.
Under intense fire from the enemy, the squad stuck to the shore, broke into the enemy’s location, imposed close combat and forced the fascists to flee. Pursuing the enemy, the squad advanced a kilometer deep, where it took up a position.
All day on September 26, the enemy tried to throw the soldiers to the Dnieper with continuous fierce counterattacks, supported by the fire of mortar batteries and tanks, despite the losses. Having used up the ammunition, the paratroopers let the enemy tanks pass, and met the infantry with hand-to-hand combat, destroying everything that was suitable for close combat with a bayonet, a butt, a knife, a shovel.
On the night of September 27, the 1120th and 1116th rifle regiments crossed to the right bank. During September 27, 28 and 29, units of the 333rd Rifle Division fought to maintain and expand the bridgehead.
Simultaneously with units of the 25th Guards Rifle Division at 3:00 a.m. on September 26, a reinforced detachment of the 47th Guards Rifle Division of the 6th Army (commander of the division — Guards Major General F. A. Ostashenko), having crossed the Dnipro, landed north of the village Zvonetsky and took the southern heights with a fight. All attempts to consolidate and expand the captured bridgehead were unsuccessful: the enemy fired artillery, mortars, and machine guns at the units of the division that tried to cross the river on September 26 and 27.
From 8:00 p.m. on September 27 to 8:00 p.m. on September 29, units of the 57th Guards Rifle Division (commander — Guards Major General A.P. Karnov) in the concentration area (the settlements of Nenasytets, Voronyachy, Zeleny) were preparing to cross the Dnipro from the mouth of the river Ploska Osokorivka.
During the night from September 26 to 27, units of the 35th Guards Rifle Division (commander – Guards Major General I.Ya. Kulagin) crossed to the right bank. The units that crossed over, overcoming persistent enemy resistance, repelling numerous counterattacks, supported by artillery, mortar fire and tanks, interacting with their left neighbor (25th Guards Rifle Division), fought for possession of the village of Voyskov.
The division fought on this line until September 30, and later, having moved slightly to the left and consolidating their battle formations, the guardsmen of the 35th Rifle Division fought actively for the expansion of the bridgehead.

By 2:00 p.m. on September 27, units of the 592nd Rifle Regiment of the 203rd Rifle Division (commander – Colonel R.Z. Zdanovich) forced their way from the Petrovo-Svystunovo Dnipro area.
On September 29, the division consisting of the 592nd, 610th, and 619th rifle regiments, having completely finished forcing, at 15:00 after an artillery raid on enemy positions went on the offensive, broke through the enemy’s defenses and, having captured the village of Vovnygi, established itself on the occupied line .
From the air, the actions of the ground troops on the bridgehead were supported by the pilots of the 17th Air Army of Lieutenant General V. O. Sudets (our compatriot).
The enemy’s troops tried to restrain the actions of our troops on the bridgehead with continuous infantry and tank counterattacks, supported by strong artillery and mortar fire. To correct the mortar fire on the location of our troops and crossing points from the Groza village area, artillery observers rose into the air on a balloon, but they were shot down by our fighters and anti-aircraft batteries.
In the course of the subsequent battles, the enemy introduced new forces, and the fighting in the area in the Voyskove-Vovniy area did not stop either day or night until October 23, when the troops of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, with the decisive assistance of the troops of the 2nd Ukrainian Front, began new offensive actions, the result of which was the liberation on October 25, 1943 of large industrial centers of Ukraine – Dnipropetrovsk and Dniprodzerzhinsk.

Memorial in the village Military

The village of Viyskove is part of the Solonyan district of the Dnipropetrovsk region.
Village council center. It is located on the right bank of the Dnieper, below the formidable Nenasytets rapid, which was flooded after the construction of the Dniproges River.
The settlement received the name Viyskove back in the days of the Cossacks, because Zaporizhia Cossacks from the Lower Army settled there.
This area was inhabited as early as the 16th century. In 1648, B. Khmelnytskyi was here.
After the liquidation of Zaporizhzhya Sich, the Military sloboda was presented by Empress Catherine II to her wife I.M. Synelnikova. In 1907, the great-granddaughter of I. Synelnikova, the landowner Leonova, presented the county zemstvo with a land allotment and 50 thousand rubles. In 1908, an educational and production workshop was opened in the village, which trained locksmiths, blacksmiths, and carpenters.
On May 9, 1985, after the reconstruction, a monument was opened in the village of Voyskovo (sculptor – Yu. Pavlov, architect – L. Suponin) dedicated to the immortal feat of Soviet soldiers. The reinforced concrete monument rises above the waters of the Dnieper, where on September 26, 1943, Soviet troops crossed the river and captured one of the 23 bridgeheads.
The monument itself is symbolic. In the foreground you can see slabs – these are pontoons, thanks to which the landing party landed on the right bank. Next comes the plate on which all the units that participated in the battle are presented. The same plate symbolizes the height that the Red Army overcame. And in the center – a mound. Symbol of the Eastern shaft. There you can see the monument to the unknown soldier. He seemed to crash into this mound.
The soldiers died, but they fulfilled their duty to the Motherland – they defeated the enemy and captured the impregnable “fortress”. In the past, near the monument, you could hear the sound of a beating heart, this is a memory of those who did not return from the war. No one knows what the boy lying under the granite slabs of this obelisk actually did. They only know the main thing: he was one of those who brought victory to the country.

Consequences of the battle.

The battle for the Dnieper became a rare example in the history of wars of such a large-scale and rapid forcing of a wide water obstacle in the face of fierce resistance from powerful enemy forces.
According to the German general von Butlar, during this offensive “the Russian army demonstrated its high combat qualities and showed that it has at its disposal not only significant human resources, but also excellent military equipment.”
The fact that 2,438 soldiers were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for crossing the Dnieper (20% of the total number awarded with this title during the entire war) testifies to the importance that the Soviet leadership attached to the breakthrough of the Eastern Wall.
Military losses: USSR – 1,500,000 (of which 373,000 were killed), about 5,000 tanks and self-propelled guns (without the Kyiv defense operation), about 1,200 aircraft (without the Kyiv defense operation)