The Kiev Offensive Operation was not going smoothly for the Red Army. After penetrating the first line of enemy defenses, Soviet forces traveled 5-12 km, encountered German reserves, and started losing momentum. Nevertheless, on the second day of battles, November 4th, 1943, it was already clear that the Germans will not hold the city. The enemy started withdrawing westward. The Red Army attempted to prevent this, encircling the enemy and cutting their supply lines. The city of Fastov, some 70 kilometers south-west of Kiev, was among key positions that had to be captured for this plan to work. Tankers from P.S. Rybalko's 3rd Guards Army hit the city.
Fastov was valuable to the Germans, since it was a key transport hub that connected German forces in Kiev, Kirovograd, and Krivoy Rog. A fast capture of Fastov cut these connections and prevented the enemy from effectively moving reserves.
The Soviet offensive slowed down on November 4th. Tankers of the 3rd Guards Army, at the tip of the spearhead, had to make their own way through the German defenses. They managed to do what infantry could not. By that evening, advance units were to the west of Kiev, in Svyatoshino. The Germans sent two reserve divisions against the Guardsmen, one tank and one motorized. A fierce battle lasted until the evening of November 5th. Soviet tankers deflected all German counterattacks, took Svyatoshino, and cut off the Kiev-Zhitomir highway.
Colonel I. Yakubovkiy's 91st Tank Brigade (42 tanks, artillery, mortars, and infantry) was the first to set out from Svyatoshino to Fastov. Its task was to take the city along with the 6th Guards Tank Corps. The brigade traveled over 60 km between the morning and evening of November 6th, defeating several groups of retreating Germans. By 18:00, Yakubovskiy's tankers reached the eastern outskirts of Fastov.
The Germans were ready, expecting an attack from this direction. Among other defensive measures were 64 AA guns, a powerful force protecting the railway station. Some of the guns were located near the station, and some were placed on the hills around the eastern outskirts. Advancing Soviet tanks came under their fire.
Colonel Yakubovskiy understood that the surprise attack failed and that further attempts would only result in excess loss of men and materiel. He pulled back to prepare. First, the tankers scouted out German defenses, collected information on the Fastov garrison, and found weaknesses in German defenses.
The German garrison consisted of two guard battalions, the aforementioned AA guns, elements of the 7th Tank Division, and other units. The Germans had 15 tanks and 9 SPGs in Fastov, mostly Marders. These tank destroyers were placed in ambush, aiming at the eastern approach to the city.
Late on the evening of November 6th, tanks from the 6th Guards Corps started pulling up, which fell behind the 91st Brigade due to encountering more powerful German resistance. In addition to enemy reserves and retreating units, the corps was hit by massive air strikes. The corps HQ was bombed, and it lost several officers and communications equipment.
Battle for the Railroad Station
Colonel Yakubovskiy decided to not wait for the full concentration of the 6th Corps and to attack Fastov on the night between November 6th and 7th. His main forces would burst into the city from the north, and leave 15 tanks in the east to create the illusion of a tank attack from that direction.
28 tanks along with submachinegunners circled around from the north and reached the starting point of its attack. Even though the maneuver was noticed by the Germans, the enemy first mistook the tanks for allied ones and did not fire even when the Soviet tanks entered the city.
Before the Germans realized who just arrived, the tanks sped up and rushed for the railroad station. Realizing that who they were dealing with, the Germans opened fire from AA guns. Both sides suffered losses in the resulting battle. After a while, infantry from the 91st Brigade managed to get close to the German guns and started clearing out their crews.
Platoon commander Lieutenant Starostin distinguished himself twice in this battle. First, he replaced his wounded company commander, then was one of the first to reach the train station. His driver, Sergeant I. Boborykin, acted courageously and decisively. He drove the tank straight at the switches on the route to Fastov-2 and blocked the path for German trains in a hurry to leave the city. As soon as a train approached, the tank would open fire and force it to stop. A single tank managed to not let a single train out of the city.
The Germans tried to destroy Starostin's tank, but the crew demonstrated the peak of skill. First, an enemy tank that tried to reach the switches was knocked out. Soon after, the Germans managed to knock a track off the T-34. Infantry crawled up to the tank to destroy it with grenades, but the driver managed to spin the tank on its surviving track while the crew fought off the infantry. The Germans never managed to finish off Starostin's T-34. Later, the commander and driver of the tank received the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
Victory, but not the End
The first tanks from the 6th Guards Tank Corps to reach Fastov belonged to the 51st Guards Tank Brigade. Every tank that was capable of fighting was united under the command of Senior Lieutenant N. Bal and hit the city from the south. Overcoming the German resistance, Bal also reached the train station. During the day on November 7th, his tanks and several SU-85 tank destroyers headed for Fastov-2 and engaged German tanks. Losing one tank, the enemy retreated.
The core of the corps entered the battle in the morning of November 7th, Soon after, the Soviet forces captured the entire train station, but fighting in the city continued. The Germans held out until the evening, and our tankers only finished them off by 17:00.
Soviet actions at Fastov deserve praise. The quick and decisive penetration to the train station did not allow the Germans to evacuate the trains or destroy the tracks. Aside from the undamaged railroad station, the Red Army captured various institutions and warehouses. Aside from vehicles, German trains left in Fastov contained over 3000 tons of fuel, 154,000 tons of grain, and other supplies.
High command rewarded the success of the forces that took Fastov. Several brigades from the 6th Corps and Yakubovskiy's 91st Brigade received the title of Fastov, and 10 soldiers from the brigade alone (including the commander) received the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
The battle for Fastov happened at the same time as the Red Army was liberating Kiev and finished the day after the Germans were driven out of the Ukrainian capital. However, this was not the end. The Germans were not about to let go of the city so easily. Only a few days remained before new battles.
Original article available here.