Siege of Sevastopol (1941–42)
The Siege of Sevastopol also known as the Defence of Sevastopol (Russian: Оборона Севастополя, transliteration: Oborona Sevastopolya) took place on the Eastern Front of the Second World War. The campaign was fought by the Axis powers of Germany, Romania, and Italy against the Soviet Union for control of Sevastopol, a port in the Crimea on the Black Sea. On 22 June 1941 the Axis invaded the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa. Axis land forces reached the Crimea in the autumn of 1941 and overran most of the area. The only objective not in Axis hands was Sevastopol. Several attempts were made to secure the city in October and November 1941. A major attack was planned for late November, but heavy rains delayed the Axis attack until 17 December 1941. Under the command of Erich von Manstein, Axis forces were unable to capture Sevastopol during this first operation. Soviet forces launched an amphibious landing on the Crimean peninsula at Kerch in December 1941 to relieve the siege and force the Axis to divert forces to defend their gains. The operation saved Sevastopol for the time being, but the bridgehead in the eastern Crimea was eliminated in May 1942.
After the failure of their first assault on Sevastopol, the Axis opted to conduct siege warfare until the middle of 1942, at which point they attacked the encircled Soviet forces by land, sea, and air. On 2 June 1942, the Axis began this operation, codenamed Störfang (Sturgeon Catch). The Soviet Red Army and Black Sea Fleet held out for weeks under intense Axis bombardment. The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) played a vital part in the siege. The Luftwaffe made up for a shortage of Axis artillery, providing highly effective aerial bombardment in support of the ground forces. Finally, on 4 July 1942, the remaining Soviet forces surrendered and the Axis seized the port. Both sides had suffered considerable losses during the siege and attack.
With the Soviet forces neutralised, the Axis refocused their attention on the major summer campaign of that year, Operation Blue and their advance to the Caucasus oil fields.
- 1 Background
- 2 Forces involved
- 3 First Axis offensive
- 4 Second Axis offensive
- 5 Aftermath
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The Soviet naval base at Sevastopol was one of the strongest fortifications in the world. Its site, on a deeply eroded, bare limestone promontory at the southwestern tip of the Crimea made an approach by land forces exceedingly difficult. The high-level cliffs overlooking Severnaya Bay protected the anchorage, making an amphibious landing just as dangerous. The Soviet Navy had built upon these natural defences by modernizing the port and installing heavy coastal defences which could fire inland and out to sea. The artillery was protected by strong concrete and armoured turrets. The port was a valuable target. Its importance as a potential naval and air base would enable the Axis to conduct far-ranging sea and air operations against Soviet targets into and over the Caucasus ports and mountains. The Red Air Force had been using the Crimea as a base to attack targets in Romania since the Axis invasion in June 1941, proving its usefulness as an air base. Likewise, the Germans had launched a bombing raid on the Sevastopol naval base at the start of the invasion.
Since the beginning of Barbarossa, the offensive against the USSR had not really addressed the Crimea as an objective. German planners assumed the area would be captured in mopping-up operations once the bulk of the Red Army was destroyed west of the Dnieper river. But in June, attacks by Soviet aircraft from the Crimea against Romania's oil refineries destroyed 11,000 tons of oil. Hitler described the area as a "floating aircraft carrier" and ordered the conquest of Ukraine and Crimea as vital targets in the Directive 33, dated 23 July 1941.
The Command of the Army (OKH) issued orders that the Crimea was to be taken as soon as possible to prevent attacks on Romanian oil supplies, vital to the German military. Hitler, impatient with obstruction to his commands to advance in the south, repeated on 12 August his desire that the Crimea be taken immediately. Over a month later, during the capture of Kiev, Generaloberst Erich von Manstein was given command of the German 11th Army on 17 September. After only a week in command, he launched an assault upon the Crimea. After severe fighting, von Manstein defeated several Soviet counteroffensives and destroyed two Soviet armies. By 16 November, von Manstein had cleared the region, capturing its capital Simferopol, on 1 November. The fall of Kerch on 16 November left only Sevastopol in Soviet hands.
Fortunately for the Soviets, by the end of October 1941, Major-General Ivan Yefimovich Petrov's Independent Coastal Army, numbering 32,000 men, had arrived at Sevastopol by sea from Odessa further west, it having been evacuated after heavy fighting. Petrov set about fortifying the inland approaches to Sevastopol. He aimed to halt the Axis drive on the port by creating three defence lines inland, the outermost arc being 16 km (10 mi) from the port itself. Soviet forces, including the Soviet 51st Army and elements of the Black Sea Fleet, were defeated in the Crimea in October and were evacuated in December, leaving Petrov's force as Sevastopol's main defence force. Having cleared the rest of the Crimea between 26 September – 16 November, the Romanian 3rd Army and German 11th Army prepared for an attack on the port. The German 11 Army was the weakest on the entire front, initially containing only seven infantry divisions. The Romanians contributed a large force, but were only lightly equipped. The weather turned against the Axis in mid-October and torrential downpours delayed the buildup. This gave Vice Admiral Filipp Oktyabrsky, commander of the Black Sea Fleet, time to bring in men and materiel from Novorossiysk. By 17 December, the weather had cleared sufficiently for the Axis to begin a major operation.
The German 11th Army, commanded by Erich von Manstein, besieged Sevastopol. At the time of the final assault in June 1942, 11th Army consisted of nine German infantry divisions in two Corps, and one Romanian Corps. Significant support was given by the Luftwaffe. The Oberkommando der Luftwaffe dispatched Luftflotte 4 's (Air Fleet 4) VIII. Fliegerkorps (8th Air Corps) for support. It consisted of nine Geschwader (Wings) containing 600 aircraft, all coming under the command of Generaloberst (General Colonel) Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen. Among this contingent was a powerful concentration of medium bomber, dive bomber, and torpedo bomber Geschwader. Naval support came from the Italian 101st Squadron under Francesco Mimbelli. It consisted of four motor torpedo boats, five explosive motorboats, six CB class midget submarines, and a number of 35-ton coastal submarines and MAS boats. This force was the only Axis naval force deployed during the siege. Although Bulgaria was not technically at war with the Soviet Union, its naval staff worked closely with the Germans, and despite not being committed to combat, they provided bases for the Axis naval command (Admiral Schwarzes Meer, Admiral of the Black Sea) to operate in the Black Sea waters.
The Axis order of battle:
The defence of Sevastopol was provided mainly by the Black Sea Fleet and the Separate Coastal Army under Ivan Yefimovich Petrov (which had been shipped in from the Siege of Odessa). The Black Sea Fleet sent 49,372 personnel to fight as infantry. Most were not trained for ground combat, and the act was an ad hoc emergency measure. The naval brigades formed had four to six battalions of 4,000 men, allowing them to absorb significant losses. These forces were well armed, having a variety of artillery and mortar battalions. Almost 20 percent of the Coastal Army were naval personnel. In the Separate Coastal Army, the strongest divisions were the 95th, 109th, 172nd, and 388th Rifle Divisions. They each had around 7,000 soldiers, the rest of the Red Army units having around 5,000 personnel. Some 5,000 reinforcements made it into Sevastopol in May 1942. However, Petrov's army lacked tanks and anti-aircraft guns. The garrison also lacked food supplies and mortar ammunition, which would severely sap Soviet strength. Poor communications between headquarters and the front lines were also an issue. Petrov found it difficult to respond to Axis attacks quickly.
Red Air Force and Soviet Naval Aviation:
Soviet Black Sea Fleet:
First Axis offensive
The German 11th Army's first task was to break through into the Crimea. The cities of Perekop and Ishun guarded the narrow corridor of land which linked the Crimea to the bulk of Ukraine. Erick-Oskar Hansen's LIV Corps, with its 45th and 73rd Infantry Divisions, broke through at Perekop at the cost of 2,641 casualties in six days of fighting. The Soviets launched a counteroffensive against the 11th Army's flank at Melitopol. Von Manstein withdrew his other corps in order to deal with it. The resulting battle ended with the destruction of two attacking Soviet Armies. By the time that this threat had been dealt with, the Stavka had rushed in reinforcements and established another defence line at Ishun. Ordered to concentrate on the Crimea once more, von Manstein launched his LIV Corps, this time with the support of the German 22nd Infantry Division, into the assault. The Soviets enjoyed local air superiority and armored reserves. They also outnumbered the attacking Germans. In spite of this, the defending Soviet 51st Army was pushed back. The Germans suffered 5,376 casualties in 12 days of combat, and the Soviets many more. By the end of October, the 51st Army was crushed and in full retreat into the Crimea. The situation in the air also changed. Arriving Jagdgeschwader (Fighter Wings) won air superiority for the Axis.
On 22 and 23 October, Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3), JG 52, and JG 77 crippled the Soviet air strength in the Crimea. Over the two days they destroyed 33 Soviet aircraft for one loss. In the six days from 18 to 24 October 140 Soviet aircraft were lost, 124 of them to Luftwaffe fighters. Heinkel He 111s of KG 26 and KG 51 and Junkers Ju 87 Stukas of StG 77 were free to attack Soviet ground positions, contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Crimean Front on 27 October.
With the front collapsing and the Axis closing in on Sevastopol, Vice-Admiral Oktyabrsky assumed command of the port on 4 November 1941. The city had a civilian population of 111,000 in 1941, and most were sent to work on the three defence lines around the port. Only the 7th and 8th Naval Infantry Brigades were available for combat in the port. More naval infantry were formed from ships in the harbor. The 8th Naval Infantry Brigade was sent to guard the northeastern approaches near the Mamachai-Belbek line. The 7th (5,200 men) was deployed in the center, near Mekenzyya. With only 20,000 soldiers, Oktyabrsky relied heavily on his 12 coastal battalions to slow down the Axis. The 62nd Fighter Brigade contributed 61 fighters, which were able to achieve temporary air superiority.
On 30 October, the Soviet defences detected the spearhead of the German 132nd Infantry Division and shelled it at 12:30 on 1 November using Battery 30's 305mm coastal guns. This fort would later become known to the Germans as Fort Maxim Gorky I. Von Manstein lacked sufficient air and mobile units to force a decision. Instead, Manstein ordered Hansen's LIV Corps to head east down the Sevastopol-Simferopol rail line towards Yalta, while the 72nd Infantry Division was to head to Balaklava, effectively encircling Sevastopol. Once there, it would attack Sevastopol from the east. The 132nd made reasonable progress, but was stopped on 2 November by the 8th Naval Brigade. The Germans suffered 428 casualties. Manstein ordered a halt for a week, whilst bringing up reserves. Oktyabrsky used his fleet to bring in a further 23,000 men from the Caucasus. On 9 November, Petrov's Army was brought in, bringing 19,894 soldiers, ten T-26 tanks, 152 artillery pieces, and 200 mortars. The Soviets now had 52,000 troops in the area of the city. The Luftwaffe was considered weak (the bulk of it was engaged in the Battle of Moscow), so the Soviet Navy kept the heavy cruiser Krasny Kavkaz, light cruisers Krasny Krym and Chervona Ukrania, and seven destroyers to protect the port.
The Luftwaffe did what it could to disrupt the Soviet defences. On 31 October, the destroyer Bodryy shelled German positions along the coastline. StG 77 Ju 87s attacked and wounded 50 of its crew with machinegun fire. On 2 November Junkers Ju 88s of KG 51 scored several hits on the cruiser Voroshilov, and put it out of action for months. On 7 November He 111s from KG 26 sank the liner Armeniya evacuating soldiers and civilians from Sevastopol, with only eight of the 5,000 passengers surviving. On 12 November, StG 77 sank the cruiser Chervona Ukraina, and KG 26 damaged the destroyers Sovershennyy and Besposhchadnyy. But with the Luftwaffe units being dispatched to other sectors and theatres, the Soviets again achieved air superiority with 59 aircraft (39 serviceable).
Manstein wanted to launch an attack as soon as possible, but his logistical lines were poor. Wanting to avoid strong Soviet forces protecting the north of the port, including the 95th Rifle Division, Manstein chose to press the center and southern Soviet defences. He ordered the German 50th Infantry Division to probe the center of the Soviet line east of the Chernaya river. The 132nd Infantry Division supported the probe and was able to push to within 4 kilometres of Severnaya Bay. The Soviets moved in the 72nd Rifle Division, with the support of the coastal batteries, to stop the attack. The 72nd Infantry Division continued towards Balaklava, and the 22nd Infantry Division joined the assault. Assisted by shelling from two light cruisers and the battleship Parizhskaya Kommuna, the Soviets halted this attack, and Manstein called off the offensive on 21 November, having lost 2,000 men.
Manstein recognised that he could not take the port quickly, and was going to have to organise a proper set-piece offensive. With German offensive operations suspended in December, Manstein found himself the only commander on the Eastern Front with an offensive mission. He would not be ready to carry out his attack until 17 December. In the meantime, Oktyabrsky used the interval to sail the 11,000 soldiers of the 388th Rifle Division into Sevastopol between 7–13 December. Soviet engineers began laying extensive minefields and barbed-wire belts. By the time of the Axis attack, Petrov's force held a fairly strong defensive position. The naval commander demanded that Petrov hold the coast along the northern flank of Sevastopol on the Belbek River in order to retain Coastal Battery 10, an artillery complex near Mamaschai. The German situation was somewhat worse. LIV Corps had only 15,551 men in its four tired infantry divisions (22nd, 24th, 50th, and 132nd). Over 7,000 soldiers in the German 11th Army were on the sick list at that time. It was also short of artillery ammunition and heavy artillery. In order to commit as many forces to the battle as possible, Manstein left the very weak XLII Corps, containing just the 46th Infantry Division and two Romanian brigades, to protect the entire front from Yalta to Kerch.
The attack began at 06:10 on 17 December. The 22nd Infantry Division attacked the 8th Naval Brigade on the Belbek River, pushing west towards the coast, while the 50th and 132nd Infantry Divisions conducted fixing attacks on the Soviet center. The 22nd succeeded in rolling up the flank of the Naval Brigade after five days of fighting. However, Oktyabrsky ordered its retirement south towards Sevastopol, abandoning Mamaschai and forming a new front north of Belbek city and the Belbek river. In the south, XXX Corps tried and failed to break through with the 72nd and 170th Infantry Divisions. Only minor gains were made against the 172nd Rifle Division, even with help from the Romanian 1st Mountain Brigade. The Soviets brought in the 79th Naval Brigade and 345th Rifle Division by sea as reinforcements, using the long winter nights and their naval superiority. Meanwhile, the battleship Parizhskaya Kommuna shelled German forces whenever they threatened a breakthrough. The offensive came to an abrupt end when the Red Army staged an amphibious landing at Kerch.
Between 26 and 30 December 1941, the USSR launched an amphibious assault on the Kerch peninsula to relieve the encircled Soviet forces at Sevastopol. It succeeded in gaining and sustaining a bridgehead for five months. However, a German−led counteroffensive named Operation Trappenjagd (Bustard Hunt) destroyed the bridgehead and the three Soviet Armies supporting the landing in May 1942. This allowed von Manstein to concentrate all of his resources against Sevastopol for the first time. The front over Sevastopol grew quiet and a stalemate ensued. The Luftwaffe kept up the pressure on Soviet sea communications and although supplies still made it through, Vice Admiral Oktyabrsky, commanding the Black Sea Fleet, was forced to reduce the number of coastal bombardment missions.
Second Axis offensive
Sevastopol was still a formidable obstacle. Its airfields provided a base for the Red Air Force to attack the Axis-held Soviet coastline and Romania proper. It was also home to the Black Sea Fleet. Its main fortifications were pointed seaward, while the land defences encircled the city at a distance of 15–20 km, with an inner defense belt at a range of 5 km. Enhancing the manmade defences was the forested, rugged terrain. To the north of Severnaya Bay there were 11 batteries and strongpoints. They were given morale-boosting names such as Stalin, Maxim Gorky I, Molotov, and Lenin. They were defended by the First Coastal Army. Elsewhere, the Soviets had constructed hundreds of timber bunkers with machinegun nests and 45 mm anti-tank artillery. Along the outer belt, concrete bunkers were less common, 19 being stretched across its 37 km. Soviet engineers laid thousands of mines, including PMD-6 wooden anti-personnel mines, TMD-40 wooden anti-tank mines, and barbed-wire obstacle belts.
Petrov, commanding the Independent Coastal Army, had a powerful artillery pool. Petrov had on strength some 455 artillery pieces and howitzers. Among those were 34 152 mm and 40 122 mm Howitzers and 918 mortars. Ammunition was adequate for a battle of two weeks for these calibers, but 82 mm mortar ammunition was in short supply. The battles of the Crimean campaign had taken their toll, and scarcely any tank and anti-aircraft artillery support were available. A further force, under Major-General Petr Morgunov, was added. The Coastal Artillery Force was semi-independent for much of the siege, and had an initial strength of 12 batteries and 45 guns, although more were added during 1942. By the time of the German June offensive, the Soviets had available eight 305 mm, one 188 mm, 10 152 mm and 17 130 mm, three 120 mm, eight 100 mm, and four 45 mm guns.
By this time, the Axis was facing a serious manpower and artillery shortage. The German 11th Army's divisions had anywhere between 35 and 75 percent of their initial strength. The German 22nd Infantry Division was the strongest division, and was only short 1,750 personnel, while the weakest was the 132nd Infantry Division, which was short 2,300 men. The 170th Infantry Division had to collapse one of its regiments to bring the others up to strength. The German infantry force was a fragile force at Sevastopol and von Manstein could not afford to squander it. German doctrine stressed bypassing strongpoints, but since this was not possible, German infantry were forced to reduce one fort after another. Some 65 Sturmgeschütz III assault guns were available to support them.
The assault was based around battalion-strength infantry assault groups supported by a platoon of engineers and a few assault guns. Two pioneer battalions were attached to each division to spearhead the attack and break through fixed and fortified defences. The eight battalions of LIV Corps each contained around 386 men on average, and were equipped with 10–12 flame throwers, 28–30 mine detectors, 3,000 kg of high explosives, 2,200 hand grenades, and 500 smoke grenades. The 300th Panzer Battalion, a remote-controlled tank unit using the Goliath tracked mine, was made available for destroying fortifications. The total number of artillery pieces came to 785 German and 112 Romanian medium and heavy guns. Most of these were under the command of LIV Corps, the main assault force. To increase this arsenal, a number of super-heavy artillery pieces were made available. Three 600 mm Karl-Gerät guns (Thor, Odin, and one other) and one 800 mm gun (Schwerer Gustav), delivering 1.4 and 7 ton shells, respectively, and capable of destroying any fortification. However, the Karl-Gerät guns only had a range of between 4–6,000 meters, which made them vulnerable to counter-battery fire. Moreover, only 201 rounds of 600 mm and 48 round of 800 mm ammunition were available. Most of it was used up before the infantry assault.
More useful to the German infantry were the two 280 mm rail guns. Two 420 mm, two 355 mm howitzers were also available, along with four 305 mm mortars. Both of the 420 mm guns were of First World War vintage, short in range and with limited ammunition. Some nine 283 mm mortars were also available, but they were pre-1914 weapons and six had burst during firing. Artillery acquired from Czechoslovakia after the Munich Agreement, the Skoda 305 mm Model 1911 howitzer was also available. At the divisional level, 268 105 mm and 80 160 mm weapons were in service, including 126 Nebelwerfer rocket launchers. Overall, the German 11th Army's artillery was a collection of modern, obsolete, and foreign-built weapons. For the offensive, 183,750 rounds of 105 mm and 47,300 rounds of 150 mm ammunition were stockpiled, enough for 12 days of firing.
To reinforce the 11th Army, the Romanians were committed to the assault. The Romanian 18th Infantry Division was at full strength, and plenty of Romanian infantry were available. However, the 18th Division was inexperienced and made up of reservists. The Romanian 1st Mountain Division was considered an elite force, and its addition was to prove useful. They had 112 guns available, but virtually no engineers. The weakness of their artillery and supporting arms made the Romanian X Corps reliant on the Germans for anything other than set-piece infantry attacks.
The Luftwaffe had to compensate for the Axis artillery limitations. A powerful air armada was brought together. Under Fliegerkorps VIII, von Richthofen assembled six Kampfgruppen (Bomber Groups) from six Kampfgeschwader (Bomber Wings): KG 51 Edelweiß, KG 76, KG 100, and III.Gruppe/LG 1. Dive-bomber support from StG 77 was also given to Richthofen. He could call upon three gruppen of Ju 87s. Jagdgeschwader (Fighter Wings) JG 3 Udet and JG 77 Herz As were available for air superiority operations. II.Gruppe/KG 26 Löwe was also available for anti-shipping operations, in addition to the air-land effort carried out by Fliegerkorps VIII.
The Luftwaffe could not support the land assault and maintain pressure on Soviet sea communications alone. With only KG 26 engaged in anti-shipping operations against Soviet sea communications, the OKW looked to the Kriegsmarine to supply Schnellboot (S-Boat) motor torpedo boats to help eliminate Soviet shipping supplying and evacuating the port. The time it took to dismantle and move the 92-ton boats by rail to Romanian ports was going to be too long. In a rare appeal for help, the Germans turned to their Italian allies, aware of their expertise with motor torpedo boat operations. The Regia Marina sent the 101st Naval Squadron, which brought nine torpedo boats and nine coastal submarines under the command of the highly competent Capitano di Fregata Francesco Mimbelli. The Italian boats were only 24 tons and the submarines were 35 tons, which made them easier to transport by truck and barge. The squadron was based at Feodosiya and Yalta, which made it the only Axis naval force to participate in the siege.
Von Manstein demanded an all-out assault by the Luftwaffe before the main ground action began. Situated only 70 km from Sevastopol, the German formations had barely enough time to reach altitude before reaching their targets. Fliegerkorps VIII began its bombing campaign along the north and southeast of the city. At the same time, German medium bombers conducted rolling attacks on the city, which included all units except LG 1, which engaged in suppressing anti-aircraft installations. Oil, electricity, water pumps, harbor facilities, and submarine bases were attacked by StG 77 Ju 87s. Von Richthofen watched the bombing from an observation post close to the front. The targets were badly damaged, and fires broke out all over the port city. The Luftwaffe flew 723 missions and dropped 525 tons of high explosive on the first day. Despite heavy anti-aircraft fire, just one Ju 87 was lost.
While the bulk of the Luftwaffe was busy with the land battle, III./KG 26 sought to break Soviet sea communications. They sank the tanker Mikhail Gromov, but the flotilla leader Tashkent, the destroyer Bezuprechnyy, and transport Abkhaziya escaped to bring 2,785 soldiers into the fortress. Air support continued with 643 sorties on 3 June 585 on 4 June, and 555 on 5 June, with some German crews flying daily averages of 18 missions. By the start of the ground attack on 7 June, the Luftwaffe had flown 3,069 sorties and 2,264 tons of high explosive and 23,800 incendiary bombs were dropped. Many of the bombs dropped were 1,000 kg SC 1000, 1,400 kg SC 1400, and 2,500 kg SC 2500 bombs. The heavy-caliber weapons were aimed at Soviet concrete bunkers. Ivan Laskin, commanding the 172nd Rifle Division in the northern sector recalled, "Bombers in groups of twenty to thirty attacked us without caring for their targets. They came in, wave after wave, and literally ploughed up the earth throughout our defence area". From 3 to 6 June, the Luftwaffe carried out 2,355 operations.
On 7 June, von Manstein ordered the ground assault. The Luftwaffe carried out 1,368 sorties and dropped 1,300 tons of bombs on Soviet positions, but the Soviet infantry clung on.
Ground fighting: 7–10 June
LIV Corps was to strike the main blow. Situated on the northeast edge of the city, they struck along the lines of least resistance, across the Belbek river while the German XXX and Romanian Mountain Corps conducted holding attacks in the south and center, respectively. Both the latter corps did not start major operations until 8 June.
The artillery bombardment targeted bunkers with 105 mm fire, which usually received 10–25 rounds. German 36 and 37 mm guns also did an effective job of eliminating machinegun nests. The Germans were also quick to bring up 88 mm artillery guns to fire directly into bunker apertures. Between 2 and 6 June, the German 11th Army expended nine percent of its munitions (42,595 rounds, amounting to 2,449 tons of munitions) on pre-advance shelling. The railway guns also fired a few rounds at the main fortifications and rail lines, but most missed by some distance. The closest shell landed 80 meters away from its target. Soviet ammunition dumps were also targeted by these weapons, with no effect. The main fortifications, forts Stalin, Molotov, and Maxim Gorky (which lay in the path of LIV Corps) remained active. It was not until the afternoon of 6 June when one shell from 'Thor' knocked out Maxim Gorky's second turret, damaging the weapon. This was the only success of the German super-heavy guns, which did not have an impact commensurate with their expense. The Luftwaffe had a greater impact, using its Ju 87s to knock out the communications systems of the fort.
On the morning of 7 June 1942, the German infantry began advancing cautiously. XXX Corps attacked the southern positions held by the 7th Naval Brigade and 388th Rifle Division. The German infantry advanced behind air and artillery support. The infantry seemed afraid of their fire support and did not advance close enough behind it. The bombardment also failed to have enough of an effect. The Soviets held their fire until the Germans were well within range before opening fire, and little progress was made. Von Richthofen was angered by the fear of the infantry and called the day "a real disappointment". The next few days were not much better, despite the Luftwaffe flying 1,200 sorties. The pace of operations exhausted the machines and men. Often crews did not get out of their aircraft and made three or four sorties without rest.
LIV Corps began its assault in the north on the seam of the Soviet defence sectors III and IV. The 'Schwerer Gustav' weapon continued to fire against ammunition dumps, which produced no effect. Nevertheless, the 132nd Infantry Division was able to work its way up to the river. The 600 mm guns concentrated on the coastal batteries and Maxim Gorky fortress. Meanwhile, the German 22nd Infantry Division attacked further to the east. Some 200 Soviet reinforcements of the 79th Naval Infantry Brigade, protecting this sector, were lost in the bombardment, but the main defences held out. The brigade held most of its forces in reserve, while committing only a single company to cover the hilly terrain on the Belbek river front. German assault groups breached the first and reserve lines by 08:15. The Germans had to negotiate heavily mined areas, slowing them down and allowing the Soviets to make a partial recovery. Supporting operations by the 50th and 24th German Infantry Divisions failed, which cost the Germans 12 StuG assault guns. The remote-control demolition units were not effective as the terrain was unsuitable.
By 17:15 the town of Belbek was secured. The 22nd Infantry Division made considerable progress in breaking through the defenses of the 25th Rifle Division. The 50th Infantry Division supported the 22nd's left flank. Now facing the Germans was the Haccius Ridge, on which the fortress Maxim Gorky was located. It was flanked by several smaller forts to the east.
Now the 132nd Infantry Divisions was ordered to conduct a converging pincer movement on the Maxim Gorky fortress in conjunction with the 22nd and 50th Infantry Divisions, to trap its defenders against the coast. The 132nd pushed into the 95th Rifle Division's positions north of the fort, while the other two divisions attacked in a flanking move. While the Germans did make progress, nearing the main railway station just southeast of Maxim Gorky, they were stopped from achieving a full-scale breakthrough by the 172nd Rifle Division. The 22nd and 50th Infantry Divisions had been heavily shelled by mortar fire from the 25th Rifle Division facing them east of the Haccius Ridge, which caused heavy casualties. By 18:00 hours, the German attack was spent.
LIV Corps' losses on 7 June amounted to 2,357 casualties in four divisions, including 340 killed. It had also expended 3,939 tons of ammunition. The 132nd Division had exhausted all of its basic munitions load by midday. On the other side, the formidable Soviet defence lines east and southeast of Belbek had been overrun, and the Germans succeeded in advancing 2 km through dense Soviet defences. The Soviet casualties had also been severe. It is estimated that three battalions were effectively destroyed.
Von Manstein recognised the seriousness of the failure on 8 June. He was worried that the 132nd Infantry Division, locked in combat with the 79th Naval Brigade and 95th and 172nd Rifle Divisions north of the city on the Belbek river front, was "approaching the end of its strength". Once again, the army turned to the Luftwaffe for support. Richthofen responded by ordering attacks against Soviet supply lines. The same day, German bombers, including KG 100, began attacks on Soviet shipping. They sank the destroyer Sovershennyy and the survey vessel Gyuys, with the 4,727 ton transport Abkhaziya and destroyer Svobodnyy following them on 10 June.
The period between 8–12 June descended into a battle of attrition. Several Soviet counterattacks were repulsed with heavy losses. The German LIV Corps extended the salient on the seam of the III and IV sector to 3 km, determined to break through before Petrov could reinforce his lines. The 132nd Infantry Division cleared the Haccius Ridge while the 22nd Infantry Division overran most of the Soviet 79th Naval Infantry Brigade. The Soviet unit tried counterattacking on 10 June, but was repulsed. The Soviet formation was effectively destroyed, with the support of the Luftwaffe, which used anti-personnel bombs against Soviet infantry caught in the open. Only one battalion (the Soviet 1st Batt./241st Rifle Regiment) was in a position to block the Germans from encircling the Maxim Gorky fort. Still, on 8 June LIV Corps had lost 1,700 men. In return, the lodgement in Soviet lines was extended to 3 km deep and 5 km wide.
In the south, XXX Corps made no progress in four days of attacks. They suffered 496 casualties at the hands of the 109th Rifle Division. The 28th Light and 72nd Infantry Divisions had succeeded in puncturing the Soviet lines opposite the 109th and 388th Rifle Divisions. The outer defences were broken in some parts, but the most were still in Soviet hands on 12 June. The main belt on the Sapun Ridge (Sapun-gora) was unbroken. Soviet casualties amounted to 2,500, including 700 captured. By 13 June, XXX Corps had lost 2,659 men, including 394 killed.
Air-land operations: 11–15 June
As the Germans made slow progress toward the main train station, Petrov withdrew the battered 172nd Rifle Division and replaced it with 345th Rifle Division. The 95th Rifle Division halted the 132nd Division's progress in the north. Although a relatively quiet day, 10 June saw the elimination of the Soviet 79th Naval Brigade and LIV Corps lost 2,772 men. Counterattacks by the Soviet 345th Division aimed at the hinge between the German 132nd and 50th Divisions were repulsed by the Luftwaffe. On 11–12 June, LIV Corps lost another 1,957 men. The Soviets had committed all of their reserves and were stretched dangerously thin. One more push might collapse the northern sector. But at this time, the tired German infantry were running short on reinforcements and ammunition.
In contrast, the Black Sea Fleet was bringing in reinforcements in spite of the Luftwaffe. On 12 June the cruiser Molotov and destroyer Bditel'nyy brought in 2,314 soldiers, 190 tons of ammunition and 28 artillery pieces. The Luftwaffe turned its attentions to these convoys. On 13 June it sank the transports Gruzyia, TSch-27, patrol boat SKA-092, motor boat SP-40, five barges and a floating crane. On 15 June another 3,400 soldiers, 442 tons of ammunition, 30 tons of fuel and 12 tons of provisions reinforced the Soviets.
The Luftwaffe had flown 1,044 sorties on 11 June, dropping 954 tons of bombs. The consumption rate of ammunition was putting von Richthofen's logistical network under strain and he could no longer afford to fly massed bombing raids. On 11 June, he surmised there was less than two days worth of munitions left, requiring a change of tactics. Instead of carpet bombing, fewer targets would be attacked simultaneously, and aircraft would strike at designated targets in long and narrow lines. This was designed to maintain accurate pressure without wasting ordnance. Even this failed to alleviate shortages in the long term. By 17 June, scarcity of aviation fuel meant the Luftwaffe dropped only 800 instead of the planned 1,000 tons of bombs. Adding to the Luftwaffe's troubles in the sector, von Richthofen was transferred to prepare the Corps' Headquarters near Kursk support the nearing Operation Blue. He retained formal command, at least until given control of Luftflotte 4, but Wolfgang von Wild took over air operations over Sevastopol.
The primary objective for the 22nd Infantry Division on 13 June was Fort Stalin, blocking the advance to Severnaya Bay. It was a tough position. The fortifications allowed the Soviets to concentrate artillery against breakthroughs and machine gun posts protected the fort from southern and eastern attacks, but it was vulnerable from a northern assault. In addition, only 200 men from the 345th Rifle Division were stationed there. The Germans launched their assault on the position at 03:00 on 13 June with just 813 men. The 3rd Battalion was assigned to suppress Soviet machine gun and mortar positions located on the southeast as a diversion. The 1st Battalion, supported by five StuG assault guns, two 37mm guns and an Engineer Company were to serve as the main effort. Some 200 and 110 men were committed respectively in each unit.
German bombardment began on 12 June. Artillery fire from 'Dora' had failed to neutralise the fort. Nevertheless, a combined arms attack from eleven 420 mm mortars and dive-bombing by Ju 87s of StG 77 knocked out the forts main armament (three of the four 76.2 mm guns). At 19:00 the 22nds divisional artillery began shelling the fort and its smaller supporting fortress, Volga, located to Stalin's rear, with 210, 280 and 305 mm weapons. At 03:00 the German infantry attacked. The fog of war intervened. The Soviet mortar teams were not suppressed, and a fierce battle developed which lasted until 05:30. The Germans, with the support of five assault guns and a few 37 mm weapons, silenced the fort, bunker by bunker. In the heavy fighting a large number of company commanders were killed.
As the Germans seized this vital fort, the neighbouring Volga fort realised it had fallen and shelled the position. A company-sized counterattack by the Soviets was wiped out by German small arms fire. The Germans declared the position secured at 07:00, though some bunkers held out until 15:00. German casualties amounted to 32 dead, 126 wounded and two missing – half of the force committed. Soviet casualties amounted to 20 captured, the remainder were killed. With only 91 men left near the fort, Petrov did not order a recovery attempt – a grave mistake.
The fall of Fort Stalin meant the Soviet defences in the north were on the verge of collapse. Hansen ordered LIV Corps to divert its attention to Fort Maxim Gorky and the elimination of the Soviet 95th Rifle Division. The 95th Rifle Division had been halting the 132nd Infantry Division's progress since the start of the offensive. The 132nd was reinforced by one Regiment from the idle 46th Infantry Division near Kerch. The German 24th, 50th and Romanian 4th Mountain Divisions were to maintain pressure in the central sector while they pushed towards the Mekensia and Gatani Valley and the Chernaya River opening at Severnaya Bay. For three days, 14–16 June, the battle continued as the Axis advanced towards Sevastopol in the face of Soviet resistance. On 15 June the 132nd was within 900 metres of the Maxim Gorky's outer bastion (Bastion I). The front opposite the 25th Soviet Rifles was still strong, but the northern flank was giving way. The 79th Naval Brigade had only 35 percent of its fighting strength remaining. Blocking the way to Maxim Gorky was just 1,000 men of the 95th Rifle Division and 7th Naval Brigade.
In the south the Soviet 109th and 388th Rifle Divisions were forced back along the coast by the German 72nd and 170th Infantry Divisions while the Romanian Corps' 18th Mountain Division dislodged the Soviet 386th Rifle Division threatening XXX Corps' right flank. The battles continued to grind on until 20 June. In six days, XXX Corps had lost 2,646 men. In exchange the outer defences of the 388th Rifle Division had been broken and the formation effectively destroyed. Still, the German advance on Balaklava had been halted. The Germans had not yet reached its outer defences and the Sapun Ridge to the east of the town was still under Soviet control . By 15 June, some 1,000 Soviet soldiers and 1,500 mortar bombs had been captured indicating the Soviets had plenty of ammunition after two weeks of battle.
Despite shortages of aviation fuel and ordnance, the Luftwaffe had played a significant part in the success of the German operations. From 13 June, up until 17 June, it flew 3,899 sorties and dropped 3,086 tons of bombs. This average of 780 sorties per day was only a slight drop from the opening 11 days. Massed sorties were made on the city of Sevastopol itself. Bombing targeted hangars, port facilities, flak and artillery batteries, barracks, supply depots with high explosive bombs. Most of the city was engulfed in flames. The smoke rose to 1,500 metres and stretched to Feodosiya, 150 kilometres away.
Ground fighting: 16–28 June
As Hansen poised his corps for the breakthrough against the 95th Rifle Division, 27 Ju 87s of II./StG 77 attacked Maxim Gorky's main battery. The Germans believed the strike had knocked it out as it stopped firing its artillery. The Soviets claimed the fort withstood the bombing, and the fort ran out of ammunition. Still, the artillery bombardment began on 16 June. In the morning the attack by the reinforced 132nd Division collapsed the line. The Soviet garrison held out in underground tunnels, capitulating only on 20 June.
The 22nd and 24th Infantry Divisions advanced from the northeast. They employed their Goliath remote control demolition vehicles with success against the timber bunkers. One exploded prematurely and two were knocked out by a minefield. Two Panzer III control vehicles were knocked out by Soviet anti-tank fire. By 19:30, Forts Maxim Gorky, Molotov, Schishkova, Volga and Siberia were overrun. The 24th Infantry Division in particular made extensive use of its Nebelwerfer rockets. The 95th and 172nd Rifle Divisions had been lost, as well as the majority of the fortifies defences. Only the 25th Rifle remained in the line. Petrov rushed up the 138th Naval Brigade with an extra 2,600 men, which was landed on the 12–13 June. It prevented German forces reaching Severnaya Bay that day.
The Luftwaffe was also engaged in applying pressure to Soviet naval forces. On 18 June the cruiser Kharkov was severely damaged. Attacks on 19 June by KG 51 destroyed the anti-aircraft platform in Severnaya Bay, allowing air operations to continue unopposed. The lack of anti-aircraft cover made it impossible for the minelayer Komintern to enter the harbour with reinforcements. The lack of supplies ensured Soviet ammunition and fuel supplies to slip to critical levels on 20 June. The Luftwaffe was experiencing shortages of its own. The daily average of sorties was now reduced by 40 percent. Due to the shortages of bombs, all ordnance had to be dropped individually to minimise wastage. Some experienced crews had to conduct dive-bombing attacks 25–30 times a day. kg 51's Ju 88 crews in particular had felt the strain.
The pressure tolled, and between the 18–23 June, the entire Soviet defence line in the north collapsed. The remnants of the 95th Rifle Division was huddled into a 2 km square portion of coast line near Coastal Battery 12, north of the Bay. At 09:00 the battery and the division surrendered to the 132nd Infantry Division. Further south the 24th Infantry Division captured Bartenyevka, on the mouth of the Bay. The 22nd Infantry Division had reached the north of the Bay on the same day. The Soviet 138th Naval Brigade counterattacked, but it was destroyed without artillery and air support. On 20 June, the 24th Infantry Division tackled the main obstacle remaining on the north side of the Bay. The Lenin anti-aircraft position protected by the Northern Fort, a position which had 5 metres wide anti-tank ditched, 1,000 mines, 32 concrete bunkers, seven armoured cupolas, and 70 earth-and-timber bunkers making it a formidable defensive position. The Lenin defences surrendered, having already lost three of their four 76 mm weapons. The Germans tried to use the remote-controlled mines to break into the North Fort, but they were knocked out. At 11:30 on 21 June the Fort fell after a sustained infantry attack. Around 182 Soviet prisoners were taken. The Germans began mopping up operations and clearing the northern shore. Most Soviet units were exhausted and out of ammunition, surrendering quickly. Others made attempts at a last stand. Some tried to evacuate across to the southern side by boat, but they were picked off by German artillery.
While the main actions were playing out in the north, XXX Corps alternated between attack and defence. The Soviets held the Sapun Ridge and could observe German movements. On occasion they could deliver effective counter battery fire. Between the 21–28 June, the Germans lost 10 artillery pieces, including five 150 mm s.FH 18 medium howitzers. In the centre, the Romanians took up the slack. The 18th Infantry, 1st, and 4th Mountain Divisions, supported by 100 guns, gradually advanced up the Chernaya River towards the mouth of the river and Severnaya Bay. With support from LIV Corps on its left, the Axis captured all the Soviet defensive lines east of the Chernaya River.
The Luftwaffe had contributed 4,700 sorties in seven days up until 26 June. They dropped 3,984 tons of bombs. The daily average sorties had decreased 15 percent from the week before and 10 percent the week before that. The increasing operational readiness (49.8 to 64.5 percent) revealed the severity of bomb and fuel shortages. Von Wild, despite the withdrawal of some Geschwader for Operation Blue, did succeed in bringing in much needed reinforcements to bring the strength levels up to a standard not seen since the start of the offensive. The Luftwaffe continued the intense bombardment. On 26 June, its attacks supporting XXX Corps, devastated Soviet defences on the Sapun Ridge. It was the last Soviet defensive line between the Axis and Sevastopol.
Axis land, sea and air offensive: 29 June
Fall of Sevastopol: 30 June – 4 July
As the German 11th Army closed in, Stalin himself made it categorically clear that the top commanders, Party and administrative officials be brought out by submarine. Oktyabrskii and Petrov were flown out at the last moment. On 30 June, LIV Corps launched a heavy assault, supported by heavy Luftwaffe bombardment and several dozen guns. Heavy fighting took place for the next three days, but it was becoming clear that the Soviets could not hold their increasingly untenable positions for more than a day, at most. On 3 July, the Soviets' last line of defense was breached. The following day, the last of the Soviet defenses were overrun, and with the city finally under German control, all organised resistance collapsed. The few remaining Red Army units continued to put up scattered resistance to the south of the city, which lasted until 9 July.
The Germans claimed that over 90,000 Red Army soldiers had been taken prisoner, and an even greater number killed. However, this claim appears to be overstated as, according to Soviet sources, the Soviet garrison defending Sevastopol totalled 106,000 men beforehand (and received only 3,000 reinforcements during the attack), while it is known that 25,157 persons were evacuated, the overwhelming majority being either wounded soldiers or officers evacuated on Stalin's orders.
An interesting and brutal observation about the siege and its aftermath was given by Lt. Joseph Avokian, an Armenian who was fighting with the Soviet forces at Sevastopol. This account was given to Lt. Carl A. Keyser, USNR, and was recorded in Lt. Keyser's diary: "He was captured at Sevastopol after 83 days of bombardment. He had fought in Odessa and Kiev. He reported that they ate their own comrades in Sevastopol and in the prison camps."
Lt. Avokian and some of his fellow Armenian prisoners were then pressed into service by the Germans and were later captured by the crew of the USS Eberle (DD 430) on Monday, 21 August 1944 at the Île de Porquerolles. Avokian stated that the Germans told them to "fight for us or starve." The Armenians were eventually turned over to Soviet authorities and may have been transported to the Soviet Gulag[relevant? ].
Soviet accounts claim that there were very few Soviet troops who survived the German onslaught; von Manstein himself records that the Soviets preferred to blow themselves up along with the German soldiers closing in on their positions rather than surrender. von Manstein ascribed this behavior to the ruthlessness of the "commissars" and to the basic "contempt for human life of this Asiatic power"[relevant? ]. Another explanation for the Soviet unwillingness to surrender was the understandable fear Soviet servicemen had for their treatment if they were taken as prisoners of war by the Wehrmacht.
Although a success in the end, the operation had taken much longer than the Germans had imagined. Operation Blau, Army Group South's advance towards Stalingrad and the Caucasus was just beginning, and the German offensive would not have the 11th Army to support them. Instead of having the 11th Army to help it on its quest to capture Stalingrad, the German 6th Army under Paulus would be without crucial support that ultimately contributed to its defeat.
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