The Kerch–Eltigen Operation was a World War II amphibious offensive made in November 1943 by the Red Army as a precursor to the Crimean Offensive (8 April-12 May 1944) with the object of defeating and forcing the withdrawal of the German forces from the Crimea. Landing at two locations on the Crimea's eastern coast, the Red Army successfully reinforced the northern beachhead of Yenikale, but was unable to prevent an Axis counter-attack that collapsed the southern beachhead at Eltigen. Subsequently, the Red Army used the beachhead at Yenikale to launch further offensive operations into the Crimea in May 1944.
Following the defeat and withdrawal of German and Romanian troops from the Taman Peninsula in the fall of 1943, the Soviets decided to follow this success with two amphibious landings on the eastern coast of the Crimea as a prelude to the re-taking of the entire Crimean Peninsula. The southern, diversionary assault was planned for the small town of Eltigen and the northern, main assault landed at Yenikale, near Kerch.
The Axis defense
Soviet successes north of the Crimea had succeeded in cutting off the German 17th Army in Crimea, although the Axis forces were still supplied by sea. The 17th Army controlled the V Army Corps in the north, the XLIX Mountain Corps defending the Perekop Isthmus, and the Romanian Mountain Corps in the south and southeastern areas of the Crimea. The Germans also had anti-aircraft artillery batteries/operators and 45 assault guns to bolster their defense. Commanding the Axis forces was German General Erwin Jaenecke.
The Soviet assault
For the landings, the Soviet 4th Ukrainian Front employed the 18th (under Colonel-General K. N. Leselidze, with Leonid Brezhnev as Chief Political Commissar) and 56th Armies, the Black Sea Fleet, and the Azov Flotilla. Commanding the 56th Army and overall on the Soviet side was General Ivan Petrov, and Vice Admiral Lev Vladimirsky for naval operations. Despite poor weather and rough seas that postponed the landings, the Soviets succeeded in landing Colonel V. F. Gladkov's 318th Rifle Division (18th Army) and the 386th Naval Infantry Battalion at Eltigen on 1 November. The landing was characterized by ad hoc use of naval craft of all kinds and the loss of formation organization in the face of bad weather and darkness. Fighting their way ashore, the Soviets pushed back the Romanian defenders and established a small beachhead.
Two days later at Yenikale, over 4,400 men of the Soviet 56th Army (landed were units of 2nd and 55th Guards Rifle Divisions, and the 32nd Rifle Division), enjoyed massed artillery support from positions on the Taman Peninsula and established a firm beachhead which the German V Army Corps and Romanian 3rd Mountain Division were unable to defeat. By 11 November, the Soviets had landed 27,700 men in the Yenikale Beachhead. Among the reinforcing units was the 383rd Rifle Division which landed on 7 November.
Axis victory at Eltigen
Although the Soviets managed to land the 117th Guards Rifle Regiment to reinforce the Eltigen Beachhead, they were unable to push farther than 2 km (1.2 mi) inland, a situation worsened when the Germans managed to establish a naval blockade around the landings with light craft of the 3rd Minesweeper Flotilla operating out of Kerch, Kamysch-Burun, and Feodosiya. The Soviets countered by attempting to supply the beachhead at night, resulting in close-range naval encounters but completely insufficient delivery of supplies. Soviet attempts at aerial resupply were interdicted by the Luftwaffe. The Axis forces besieged the beachhead for five weeks before attacking on 6 December. During the attack, Romanian cavalry of the 6th Division made diversionary attacks from the south while Romanian mountain troops supported by assault guns attacked from the west. By 7 December, the beachhead had collapsed and the Romanians took 1,570 prisoners and counted 1,200 Soviet dead at a cost of 886 men to themselves. The Romanians also captured 25 antitank guns and 38 tanks.
Battle of Mount Mithridates
In the course of the Eltigen Beachhead's collapse, some 820 Soviet troops managed to break out to the north in an attempt to reach Yenikale, occupying Mount Mithridates and defeating German artillery positions there. This alarmed General Jaenecke, as the attack had the potential of breaching the German front facing the Yenikale Beachhead. Jaenecke committed the Romanian 3rd Mountain Division to a counter-attack against the desperate Soviet troops. By 11 December, the Romanians recaptured Mount Mithridates and defeated the evading Red Army troops. An unknown number of these Soviet troops were subsequently evacuated to Opasnoe village in the Yenikale Beachhead by the Azov Flotilla under the command of Rear Admiral Sergey Gorshkov.
In the face of strong German reinforcements, the Soviets contented themselves with reinforcing the Yenikale Beachhead. By 4 December, the Soviets had landed 75,000 men, 582 guns, 187 mortars, 128 tanks, 764 trucks, and over 10,000 short tons (9,100 t) of munitions and material at Yenikale. The Soviets pushed some 9 km (5.6 mi) inland and to the outskirts of Kerch. Although the Germans succeeded in initially defending the Crimea against the Soviet landings, the successful landing near Kerch placed the Soviets in a solid position from which to liberate the entire Crimea from Nazi occupation, an operation they successfully concluded in May 1944.
- Hayward 1998, pp. 50–51: Allowed German and Italian warships to use Bulgarian ports for operations in the Black Sea.
- Schönherr, pp. 468–469.
- On 20 November 1943, Headquarters of the North Caucasus Front was renamed the Separate Coastal Army and took over control of the units in the Kerch beachhead. Gretschko, p. 285.
- Axworthy, p. 130.
- The German 3. Räumbootsflottille was originally based in the Baltic Sea. To get the small ships to the Black Sea, the Germans sailed them down the Elbe River to Dresden and then moved them via the Autobahn on massive transporters to Ingolstadt on the Danube River from which they sailed to the Black Sea. See this page on German flotillas for more information.
- Gretschko, p. 282.
- Axworthy, p. 131.
- 1,500 men, per the Soviet official history (map 103).
- Gretschko, p. 284.
- Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. p. 180. ISBN 3-540-00238-3. See also Jet Propulsion Laboratory object database
- Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg (German official history of World War II), Volume 8, Klaus Schönherr et al., München: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2007. ISBN 978-3-421-06235-2.
- Geschichte des Zweiten Welt Krieges (German translation of Soviet official history of World War II), Volume 7, A. A. Gretschko et al., Berlin: Militärverlag der DDR, 1979.
- Soviet Amphibious Operations in the Black Sea, 1941-1943, Charles B. Atwater, Jr., thesis for the CSC, 1995.
- Third Axis Fourth Ally, Mark Axworthy et al., London: Arms and Armour Press, 1995. ISBN 1-85409-267-7.
- Page on German minesweeper flotillas (in German)