When Operation Citadel was abandoned by Adolf Hitler in July of 1943, it left in its wake the scattered bit of destroyed aircraft, the hulks of thousands of tanks, the burned out remains of more artillery pieces, and the still, quiet corpses of even more Russian and German soldiers.
While not marking the eastern-most advance of Germany’s territorial conquests (those honors go to places like Stalingrad and Moscow), it certainly was the last best chance the vaunted Wehrmacht had to push eastward. When Citadel ended near the city of Kursk, the Germans would be, for the next two years, steadily drifting west. The city of Kharkov (south of Kursk) was wrested from German hands six weeks later (toward the end of August), and the Russian advance picked up some momentum.
Somewhat more than 200 miles to the west of Kursk lies Kiev, the Ukranian capital and, at the time, the 3rd-largest city in the Soviet Union. Two months after retaking Kharkov, the Russians armies were on the cusp of again taking ownership of Kiev.
To the south, Soviet forces were struggling with difficult terrain and well-deployed German defensive positions, and it was believed that a stronger push to the north (around Kiev) might either draw off German guns from the south or allowed those forces to be encircled.
On November 1st, the Soviet 38th Army attacked Kiev (part of the 1st Ukranian Front, comprising nearly three-quarters of a million men), which was occupied by the 4th Panzer Army. On the 3rd, a massive artillery bombardment (partially using pieces quietly moved from the south) rained down on the Germans, and the Soviet 60th Army entered the fray, supported by heavy firepower from the air.
The Germans were simply overwhelmed and, with their heavy casualties and equipment losses, could do little to stop the onslaught. It was time to get out of town. But, as is so often the case in war, the exiting army took time to destroy whatever valuables they could find.
So when the Soviets retook Kiev on November 6, 1943, the city was a smouldering wreck and most of the city’s vast collection of antiquities were nothing more than shattered and burned memories.
Recommended Reading: The Eastern Front – Day By Day, 1941-45