From: Utlima Thule
The final week of July saw a significant shift in the tempo of the fighting. On hand, losses for both sides increased with this being the bloodiest week in July for both armies and Soviet tank losses escalated as a number of powerful formations were thrown into the battles. On the other hand, the fighting became much more concentrated into four specific sectors. Other sectors of the long battle line were mostly quiet.
However, the German armoured spearheads made significant gains and created a series of crises for the Soviets.
In the north, they reached the edge of Lake Ladoga, firmly splitting Leningrad from the rest of the USSR and breaking the Northern Front into two distinct operating groups.
In the centre, the Smolensk pocket was eliminated along with another 100,000 Soviet troops but more worrying was that 39 Panzer and 8 Infantry Corps pushed across the upper Dniepr in 21 Army's sector. Equally the southern Panzer forces had taken no part in destroying the Smolensk pocket and would presumably be committed into the sector where Reserve and Western Front formations protected the southern flank of Vyazma.
In the Ukraine, the fighting was concentrated in two sectors. Around Kiev, German infantry operated without armoured support and took heavy losses as they forced elements of 5 and 26 Armies back into the city itself.
The pressure was intense and a number of Soviet formations had to be sent to the rear to recover, but Zhukov remained confident that there was no fear of a major breakthrough on this sector.
The real crisis was south of Cherkassy where 46 Panzer Corps and supporting units had breached the Dniepr. 9 and 10 Panzer divisions and SS Wiking were across the river and another 4 Motorised Divisions (DR, LAH SS motorised, Gross-Deutschland and 25 motorised) were ready to cross.
From here, they could threaten the rear of the forces at Kiev, drive NE towards Kharkov or swing East to complete the destruction of the Soviet forces in the lower Dniepr region. Zhukov's four armies were fully committed but Southern Front's 16 Army still had substantial numbers of tanks.
3 divisions, backed by most of the airpower in SW and S Front , crashed into the flank of SS Wiking which was finally driven in disorder back across the Dniepr.
Relying on T-26s and BT-7s, Soviet tank losses were appalling, but for the moment the German advance was checked.
(BT7 of 13 Tank Division in action)
With the Germans over the Dniepr in critical sectors, opening the roads to Moscow, Kharkov and the Dombas, Soviet attention switched to any means to slow their advances. Soviet intelligence reports indicated their rail heads were at Tarnopol in the Ukraine, Vilnius and just over the Estonian border west of Pskov. They were clearly operating at the practical extent of their supply lines. With this, Stavka formally instituted a campaign of partisan warfare . At the start this was concentrated in Bielorussia and Western Russia and mostly in conjunction with Red Army units that had escaped encirclement.
The VVS was ordered to fly in supplies and NKVD sabotage squads. Stalin intended to make the whole of the occupied regions of the USSR into an active war zone.
(Soviet partisans in operation)
OOB on key sectors (end of July)
Despite the heavy losses, overall Soviet combat strength remained at around 4.4 million. Northern Front was allocated reinforcements to fill out the Volkhov Line and a new army (32) was activated to hold the region to the north of 24 Army. Despite this the effective manpower of the Front dropped by 75,000 and 600 AFVs as the pre-war tank divisions had taken heavy losses trying to prevent the Germans reaching Lake Ladoga.
Despite the losses at Smolensk, Western and Reserve Fronts still had 1 million men guarding the approaches to Moscow. In addition, Stavka was creating a number of reserve formations that could be fed into the battle as needed or kept back for a major counter-attack.
On the key sectors, Stavka mostly ordered Soviet forces to stand fast. At Leningrad, it was accepted that the ring of German units was too strong to allow an effective attack so the Northern Front fell back on the Volkhov
In the centre, there was no longer any scope to give ground. If the Germans took Rzhev and Vyazma then the road to Moscow was wide open. The front line armies had to hold long enough to allow Stavka to bring up the reserves.
In the south, SW and S Fronts were ordered to hold the Dniepr line as long as possible. Although the German bridgehead was dangerous, it was suspected that they lacked fuel and supplies. At the least, they needed to capture the rail crossings at Cherkassy before the Panzers could risk an offensive deep into the eastern Ukraine. At worst, holding the Germans on the current front allowed more time to evacuate the key factories from Kharkov and the Dombas.
Overall July had seen the Germans advance from Pskov to the Lake Ladoga, from Vitebsk to cross the Dniepr at Durovo and from Tarnopol to the gates of Kiev and across the Dniepr south of Cherkassy.
In trying to delay this, Soviet losses were 500,000 men, 4,500 tanks and 1,000 aircraft. It was estimated the Germans had lost 80,000 men, 600 tanks and 240 aircraft.
Overall, the Red Army had grown slightly from 3.9 million to 4.5 million but its armoured force had been wrecked. Only 5,500 remained compared to 9,000 at the start of the month. The VVS had fared better, as it now deployed 3,900 aircraft at forward bases compared to 3,500 at the start of the month.
The real problem was the loss of industrial capacity. Many factories had been evacuated even as the Germans reached the outskirts and it would take time to bring them back into full production. The result was reserves of armanents dropped from 2.1 million to under 1 million.
Manpower, too, was in short supply as the Soviets raced to replenish losses in the front line formations and bring reserve units into the field. At the start of July, reserves had been 573,000 and were now down to 131,000. The only area where there was no immediate crisis was in terms of trucks. The reserve pool had steadily grown from 200,000 to 300,000.
 – 3 bombing raids before the attack went in
 – historically planning for this was stopped in the 1930s as, of course, under 'Great Stalin's' leadership the borders of the USSR would never be breached.