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> 32. The Operation of Odessa
Posted: February 17, 2004 06:27 pm
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by Alesandru Dutu

lmportance and Initial Outlook

After the liberation of the central and southern parts of Bessarabia, the Romanian 4th Army, which had been commanded until September 1941 by General Nicolae Ciuperca and then by General Iosif Iacobici, carried out between August 8 Octomber 16, 1941 the offensive operation of Odessa. The importance of the operation in the general context of the war was determined by the outstanding strategic position of the town of Odessa, the main base for ground, naval and air operations of the Soviet command, lying very close to Romania (150 km away from the Danube Delta, 300 km from the bridge of Cernavoda over the Danube, 400 km from Bucharest and the oil-field area), in the north-western flank and behind the German and Romanian forces advancing towards the Bug and the Dnieper. "By contenting ourselves with surrounding Odessa - General Radu R. Rosetti remarked - would have meant to retain a thorn in our flank and give the Russians the possibity to build up, bringing in by sea, a grat number of forces with which they could have attacked us when they had an opportunity". In the initial outlook of the Romanian General Headquarters the V Romanian Army Corps was to advance towards Katargi, Buzibovo, Bol. Bujalik and then southwards, to intercept from the east and north-east the communications of the Soviet forces in Odessa while the III Army Corps was to concurently launch an attack to the general direction Ploskaia, Razdelnaia, Odessa.


The offensive was launched on August 8, by the forces of the V Army Corps whose 1st Armoured Division was deployed over the area between the banks Kujalnik and Mal. Adjalik, while the 1st Cavalry Brigade covered the area between banks Tibig and Bal. Adjalik, checking the enemy withdrawal north and eastwards. Between the Kujalnik and Hadjibei banks a detachment was committed to action, initially made up of a battalion and an observation group.

In the central part of the front-line (north-east of Odessa), the III Army Corps came up against a fierce enemy resistance but on August 14 it reached the advanced defence lines around Odessa, stretching between the localities Brilevka, Mihailovski, Manheim, Kagarlik, Beleavka. In order to break through that line, General Nicolae Ciuperca rearticulated the Army disposition engaging the I Army Corps in the first line and on August 16 decided to undertake a frontal attack to the direction Karpova, Vigoda with the III Army Corps and a turning manoeuvre (to the south) on the direction Iaski, Dobrojani, Vakarjany, with the I Army Corps. The 1st Armoured Division brought to the area of the III Army Corps was to deliver the attack between Hadjibei bank and Svinaia valley in order to secure bridgeheads in the Otradovka and Polijova and to take subsequent action behind the enemy lines in front of the III Army Corps.

As the preparatory actions were not completed in time, the offensive was resumed on August 18 and after four days of staunch fighting the second defence enemy line was reached, stretching from Malaky, Freudental to Vakarjany, north-east of Gnileakovo, south of Kubanka, south of Sverdlova, north of Siskova. Although the Romaniar big units resumed the offensive or August 22, they made little progress or the left flank of the V Army Corps Under those circumstances, the commander of the IV Army Corps decided to assign the XI Army Corps the mission to break through the fortified area to the direction Freudental, Tatarka, and to engange the IV Army Corps at Gnileacovo, Dalnik. Between the two army corps the I Army Corps was deployed. After the offensive was resumed on August 28, it took great efforts and the engagement in battle of the III Army Corps on September 1, between Gnileacovo and Dalnik, to repulse the Soviet forces, particularly in the centre of the attack and on its right flank, on the main enemy defence disposition running through Gnileakovo, Dalnik, Tatarka, Guhoi bank.

The continous pressure exerted by the Romanian troops, the heavy artillery bombings, the interception of all land junction communications, determined the Soviet Command to carry out the first airborne and landing attack, on the night of September 21-22, in the area of Cebanka, east of Odessa, which forced the V Army Corps to withdraw 10-13 kms to Kubanka, between the banks Kujalnik and Adjalik. Although initially the Romanian command had planned to resume the offensive in order to break through the last enemy fortified line, taking into account the exhaustion of troops and the lack of ammunition, it decided to assume temporarly an active defence, characterised by local attacks, harassment and artillery fire, with concurent preparation of the future offensive. Meanwhile, however, on October 2, the enemy staged an infantry and artillery attack, supported by the Frontier Guard Division, and succeeded in advancing at about 7 km in the direction Dalnik-Freudental. The bulge was annihilated during the following days due to the prompt and determined fight of the 6th, 7th and 1st Infantry Divisions. At the same time, taking advantage of the prevailing defensive attitude of the 4th Army (even if between Octomber 8-11 some positions north of Gnileakovo south of Tatarka and Guhoi Iake area had been conquered), the Soviet Command continued to evacuate by sea the population and important industrial equipment from the town.

On October 5, 1941 Hitler offered to put at the disposal of the Romania Command "more heavy artillery" to be engaged particulary in the area of the V Army Corps, in the north-east of Odessa, and depending on situation, an infantry division (when it was to be available).

The Romanian General Headquartes asked the Romania 4th Army to draw up final plan for breaking through the fortified position and to occupy the town. After analising the situation, General Iosif Iacobici pointed out on October 12,in the Operative Instruction No.5 the general outlook on the final offensive, which was to start with the offensive of the V Army Corps towards east of bank Hadjibei and to continue with the general offensive of the main forces of the Army (five army corps with 11 division and two independent brigades), from the west to eastwards, to penetrate the town on the plateau of Tatarka. In case of enemy's retreat, the Romania troops were to chase them, no matter the stage of preparation. The 4th Army ordered to mount local attacks on October 16, at dawn, to check the strength of enemy's resistance. As the resistance was weak everywhere, the order was issued to further the advance and to ocupy the town. In the afternoon of October 16, fighting in a terrain with many obstacles (mines, traps, etc.), the Romanian troops entered Odessa, crushing in street fights the last hostile resistances in a town in which more than 250 barricades had been raised. A document of the time recorded that advancement was made through "a barrage of fire, mortars, automatic weapons, grenades and explosions at every step. The streets are obstructed with barricades desperately defended by military and civilians. Numerous traps and mines spluttering death at every step are scattered everywhere. The Bolsheviks, most of them without uniforms, hidden in cellars and catacombs continue the fight, shooting through windows and crenels, set on fire or blow up buildings, as soon as our soldiers enter them".

General Ioan Glogojeanu, Commander of the 10th Infantry Division. Killed in Odessa on October 22, 1941, following the explosion produced in the building where the Headquarters of that big unit was situated.

Final Survey

The conquest of Odessa, after more than two months of heavy fighting against a well-equipped enemy, resolute to resists "by all means" (as state the documents seized in late August 1941 ) in a fortified terrain (about 250 km of antitank ditches, trenches and various fight dispositions, fortified with wooden or dug casemates or metallic shelters, 45 km of barbed wire network, 40,000 antitank and anti-infantry mines) which first and foremost favoured the defenders, had an outstanding importance for the development of military operations at the southern flank of the front. The fact that important ground (over 100,000 military) and air forces as well as of the Soviet Black Sea war and commercial fleet were immobilised, offered great possibilities of action to the German forces which advanced 450 km eastwards, till the vicinity of the Don, and even took part in the encirclement of the enemy south and north-east of Kiev. The defeat and evacuation of Soviet troops from the area of Odessa ensured the safety of the Ploiesti oil-field area and vanished any possibility of a Soviet action at the rear of the right flank of the Romanian and German forces committed to battle in the area of the Azov Sea and in the north of Crimea.

However, the success obtained at the cost of great efforts, engaging in fight six army corps with 18 divisions and four independent brigades (three fourts of the total number of forces committted to action on the eastern front, or half of the forces called up), 24 heavy artillery divisions, six battalions and six reconnaissance groups for each army corps, 650 aicrafts (91% of the total), half of the antiaircraft artillery, two speedboats and a submarine which made inroads in the area of Odessa, south of Oceakov and off the Crimean coast, as well as seven German heavy artillery bateries (four of coast artillery) two assault battalions, a diving bomber squadron, etc.

In all, the Romanian 4th Army committed to the battle of Odessa 340,223 military (12,049 officers, 9,845 NCOs and 318,329 troops) of whom it lost 90,020 military (3,345 officers – 28%, 1,385 NCOs - 14% and 85,200 troops - 27% dead, wounded and missing). During the combat actions 70,000,000 infantry cartridges, 26,000 grenades and 830,000 artillery shells were fired.

Learned Lessons

When assessing the importance of the victory scored by the 4th Army at Odessa, the Romanian General Headquarters and Marshal Ion Antonescu pointed to the eforts and sacrifices made both during the operation and after its end, but did not hesitate to draw the attention, with competence and lucidity to the drawbacks in the plans and unfolding of military actions.

Making an analysis of the causes that enabled the 4th Army to score an important but lacking in brightness victory at Odessa, General Alexandru Gavrilescu, chief of Section 3 Operations in the Romanian General Headquarters, remarked that they were "many" and "less obvious than might seem at first sight". In the outlook of the Romanian military analyst the setbacks in the battle were particulary due to the insufficient personnel, training, organization, equipment, deficient command and carrying out of the plans.

As regards the structure of the troops, most of the military were over 30 and came from 12 contingents who had undergone fairly brief training because of many leaves accorded to save money in the period before the war which resulted in the fact that the fortified system of Odessa was attacked by an "infantry made up of individuals lacking the enthusiasm of youth which in so necessary in such operations".

Also as regards the personnel, the number of officers in active service was small (50 per cent were reserve officers). At the end of the battle some regiments were left with only 20 officers in active duty out of 43, from which only 5 had been there since the fights began. Besides, the number of NCOs in active duty was also small, many of them being replaced by enlisted sergents, which was felt in the command of subunits.

A negative impact had the great number of changes in the structure of units and the insufficient organization and equipment of units: the lack of artillery brigade commands at big units, to coordinate and direct the fire of artillery divisions "the lack of own transportation means, which put obstacles in the rapid movement of troops, according to the requirements of the dynamics of the battle; the insufficient comunications equipment and trained personnel to operate at the level of research companies; the lack of antiaircraft armament, particularly in the machinegun and heavy mortas companies in the infantry regiments.

Another factor which hindered the development of military actions was the poor training of the troops, due to the "reduction of the training period, of the time necesaiy for training in the use of modern armament, which arrived only on the eve of Romania's entering the war". In many situations, skill was acquired in the very battle field. So, no wonder that there was "fear of the combat cars", "restraint to make use of the hand grenades", "insufficient use of the terrain".

In spite of all this, the victory of Odessa had an outstanding importance in the military operations at the southern wing of the battiefront.

The Results of Peace Times Mistakes

"The results of mistakes made throughout two decades could not be but disastruos. Untrained officers brought about untrained soldiers and NCOs. Everything is linked into an organism.

Everything starts with the head. The state political and, consequently, military leadership coud not bring about but what it has: disaser.

But now the question arises: What should we do? Take note and further pick our teeth ? We should start again from the begining and work hard.

1. A new atmosphere of energy, conscionsnees, hardwork, coordinate, profesional, well-led action should be established within the General Staff.

2. The command of big units, army corps and divisions, should be entrusted only to commanders that have not only brains but also enthusiasm and stamina, who are diligent and righteous, which not only set an example but also encourage and stimulate the others to carry out rational, well-organised, well-prepared and animated work.

3. The training of NCOs and officers should be done in such a way as to develop their elan, strength and skills, as well as the consciousness which they have at the start of their career and which they lose because of lack of method, bad examples, injustice, because the worthy ones are not punished, things they come up against in units right from the beginning of their career.

4. Finally, we need thorough training of soldiers and the bringing up to the full number of units. In the absence of these, the armament can not be used, no matter how hard they try – and this has been done - on the battlefield to avoid the disaster entailed by peacetime mistakes.

5. And, above all, we need continuity in our organization, command, training, measures, actions, etc, etc.

This is what I had to say as regards ths terrible accusation which cannot charge the true culprits - the statesmen and King Carol II - who are now hiding and spend what they have stollen, rub their hands, willing to make others fail as well so that they could say it is not they who are guilty, but the people. The fact is that the people are the victims. They cannot revenge because, in the present circumstances it would be an even greater crime to point to it as it would mean to raise the people to revolt which would lead to their destruction, because any revolt would mean the fall of the borders.

Everybody at the General Staff (commanders of big units and regiments) should be informed of the contents of this inquiry, the conclusions of the summary and my resolution.

Together with them we should draw up a plan for resolute action to be taken in order to correct the mistakes, to remove the causes and start a healthy life, of work, military honour and manhood in the Army.

We should use, in agreement, the best methods. On their basis we can do away with all the wrongs that have been pointed out.

I am sure they can be easily corrected.

A new attitude should prevail in the Traning Section of the General Staff which should draw up simple training methods on the grounds of the personal experience of everybody. The useless and supeficial should be ousted, harmony should guide our training activity which together the Organisation and SSAV should ensure the permanent engagement of cadremen in units.

From a NCOs to an army corps commander, who has not become permanent in at least three years at the command of the same units, cannot make a career in the army.

And this should become a law. In the absence of continuity not even a genius can achieve anything."

December 14, 1941
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Ross Hackett
Posted: November 25, 2004 06:45 pm
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Thankyou for all your help many thanks Ross
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Posted: December 08, 2004 05:17 pm
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Locotenent colonel

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Dragos, I wanted to thank you also for these articles/posts.

They are very interesting and informative.
Posted: January 25, 2009 06:10 pm
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General de divizie

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They are very interesting and informative

Indeed. Plus the fact that translating is *not* that easy... Makes me kinda sad that nobody was really interested. :(
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  Posted: August 08, 2011 11:24 am
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  Posted: August 08, 2011 11:35 am
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dragos esti cel mai bun la iformatii dinastea
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