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> 35. The Offensive in Crimea
dragos
Posted: March 31, 2004 03:53 pm
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by Alesandru Dutu

I. THE BREAKTHROUGH INTO PENINSULA

To do away with the danger represented by the Soviet forces at both flanks and behind the troops acting offensively towards Harkov, the High German Headquarters planned, early in September 1941, the operations aimed at conquering Crimea. The latter was defended by the 51st and the Coast (Shore) Independent Armies in the Taman peninsula and in Cuban. Military operations here were timely related to those carried out in the north of the Azov Sea.

The offensive started on September 24, 1941 by the attacks of the XLIX German Corps divisions in Perekop Isthmus. Enemy's strong positions and Soviet counter offensive launched north of the Azov Sea determined, on September 29, a temporary halt of the attack.

Restarted on October 11, the offensive was underheld by the XLIX Army Corps through Perekop Isthmus and by the XXX Army Corps (since October 21) through Salkovo Isthmus. It was in the latter offensive that the Romanian Mountain Corps took part, having General Gheorghe Avramescu as commander-in-chief, together with the 1st Mountain and 8th Cavalry Brigades.

At the same time, the Perekop Isthmus offensive was also supported by the "Colonel Radu Korne" Motorized Detachment, made up by the 6th and 10th Regiments.

After ten heavy fighting days, the German divisions broke into the defence of Soviet forces and proceeded to their chasing towards the town of Simferopol, later conquered on November 1st.

After that, the attack was kept on by the XLIX Army Corps and "Colonel Radu Korne" Motorized Detachment towards Sevastopol, by the XXX Army Corps Towards Feodosia and Yalta and by the XLII Army Corps towards Kerci. The last one unit was been introduced in battle on October 1941.

At the same time, the Romanian Mountain Corps - that was successfully penetrating the fortified Soviet positions in Salkovo, Ghenicesk and Ciongon Isthmuses - started movement to south of peninsula with 1st Mountain Brigade (to Alusta and Sudak) and 8th Cavalry Brigade (to Kerci). Despite heavy snowing and freezing cold, German and Romanian forces managed to surround the fortified city of Sevastopol until November 14 and the port of Kerci (November 17); practically, they conquered the entire peninsula of Crimea.

During the military actions, the Romanian forces also hardly fought against Soviet partisans that held their control in the mountaineous zone of Iaila.

In order to eliminate this permanent danger, General von Manstein, the commander of the 11th German Army, ordered on November 1942, a general action to take place. It dealt with "the cleaning off” the mountain area and with the ensuring of the local communications.

This mission was initialy accomplished by the 1st Romanian Mountain Brigade, which between November 6-18, 1941, captured about 1,000 partisans and then by the 4th Mountain Brigade.

Other fights against partisans were carried out after the city of Sevastopol was conquered. They were advantaged by the mountaineous and woody terrain with vertical walls of 3-5 m high, with few access paths. They were also wellinformed and armed, organized in 3-4,000 people camps.

The annihilation of resistance areas held by partisans was accomplished with great efforts by the Romanian troops.

II. THE FIGHTS FOR KERCI

By the end of 1941, to support forces defending the city of Sevastopol, the High Soviet Headquarters undertook a vast parachuting operation on Kerci peninsula with forces of the 51 Army in north on December 26 and of the 41st Army in Feodosia on December 29. The total amount of the airborne force was 40,000 personnel, 236 guns and launchers, 43 tanks and so on.

Although informed in time on the future initial action, the Command of the 11th German Army did not take the required measures for enforcing troops so that, at the time when enemy reached the peninsula, there were only two available German big units enemy (the XLII Army Corps and 46th Infantry Division) which, of course, couldn't cope with the hostile forces.

Within this context, the commander-in-chief of the 11th German Army, General von Manstein, ordered the Romanian 8th Cavalry, 4th Mountain Brigades and "Colonel Radu Korne" Detachment in Crimea to move to the area. They had to cover about 70-100 km in within 24 hours under hard conditions of minus 30 Celsius degrees on harsh winter storms and on slippery roads.

After heavy fights, the Romanian and German forces managed to prevent enemy's movement and stabilized the front within 100-120 km east of Kerci peninsula on Koktebel, Azimovka, west of Vladislavovka, Kiet alignment and permited to the German Headquarters to bring in the area new units (10th and 18th Romanian Infantry Divisions, 132nd and 170th German Infantry Divisions).

The counter-offensive started on January 15,1944, overlapped with a new Soviet attack at Sudak (7-8 battalions) which attempted to go north and east with a view to reverse the Romanian and German front and to connect themselves with their own forces at Feodosia.

The latter action had a connexion with those undertaken by partisans.

The Soviet breakthrough at Sudak was put an end to until January 28, by the firm intervention of the "Colonel Rukser" Detachment made up of both German and Romanian forces.

Colonel Rukser, later on, confessed: "Those fights were specifically mountain operations and the action undergone by the daring Romanian montain troops aroused the admiration of the battalions of the 170th German Division".

The final offensive to defeat Soviet forces in Kerci Peninsula had to be initiated on May 8, 1942, after a serious artillery fire and air force bombardment.

Given the personnel superiority of the enemy (23 Soviet divisions as compared to 11 Romanian and German), General von Manstein initially planned an action of attracting and fixing the enemy frontally and then surrounded and destroyed forces located in the north of the Peninsula.

To deceive enemy, in central and northern areas, they settled fake artillery strongholds, moved troops and sent false radio messages.

In spite of bad weather generating difficulties to vehicles' movement and also to the Air Force, the XXX German Army Corps was successful in surrounding, up to May 11, eight Soviet divisions, thus allowing to the "Graddek" Motorized Brigade (with "Colonel Radu Korne" Detachment as a part of it) to break through the city of Kerci and to disassemble the back of the enemy. Meanwhile, in the north, the XLII German Army Corps and the VII Romanian Corps were continuosly pressing the Soviet divisions, preventing the latter from leaving fight. It was after several days, that the latter were completely taken out of Kerci Peninsula which happened on May 16. Making the outcome of the final offensive at Kerci, Romanian General Platon Chirnoaga pointed out: "Not to mention the undisputable bravery of German and Romanian fighters, it was mainly the conception and preparation of the battle that played a role of utmost importance. It was a «Napoleonian conception battle»".

To eliminate military presence in Kerci Peninsula was finally launched the attack over Sevastopol which had been resisting for about eight months.

III. THE SIEGE OF SEVASTOPOL

Placed in the south-west of Crimea Peninsula, Sevastopol had represented until July 1942 the most important strategic point held by Soviets at the southern flank of the German-Soviet front.

The terrain configuration, very favourable to defence, the large number of means of fight in the area, the three fortified belts and the fierce resistance of Soviets transformed military actions against this position into a siege that lasted more than seven months.

The first assault over the fortified city was started on November 21, 1941 by divisions belonging to XLIX and XXX German Army Corps and by the Mechanized Detachment "Colonel Radu Korne". The strong resistance opposed by the Soviet troops and their numerous counterattacks put an end to further military actions. On November 23, on the front in the south Sevastopol and north-west of Kamari, the 1st Mountain Brigade joined the fight; it was further replaced by the 4th Mountain Brigade in the montainous zone of Iaila.

After concentranting new forces and enforcing artillery and air force around Sevastopol, General Erik von Manstein, the commander-in-chief of the 11th German Army, on December 17,1941 ordered the start of the second attack. This time, the German and Romanian forces were successful in penetrating enemy's positions causing high human and material losses to Soviets. Romanian mountain troops managed to break through enemy's fortifications southwest of the city which allowed them to conquer the localities of Karlovka, Nij and Verh, Ciorguni with its surrounding heights, inclusively the Chapel where the tomb of Italian soldiers dead in the 1853-1856 Crimean War was situated. At the same time, the Motorized Detachment "Colonel Radu Korne" launched attacks in the north of Sevastopol and along the Black Sea coast and reached Lubimovka locality.

The Soviet landing and counterattack in Kerci Peninsula required troops mouvements in late December 1941. This prolonged in time the battle for Sevastopol until the middle of the next year.

On May 14, 1942, while rejecting Soviet troops in Kerci, the German Headquarters planned the third assault over Sevastopol, the last unconquered fortress in the south of the front.

To do away with this, important German and Romanian forces were brought to area. Totally, along 43 km of front, the 11th Army displaced 7 German divisions (subordinated to the XLIV and XXX Army Corps) and 2 Romanian divisions (Romanian Mountain Corps), later on backed by heavy artillery and tank units.

To conquer Sevastopol General von Manstein decided to strike two convergent blows and to penetrate the external fortified zone: the former to the Kamali-Sevastopol direction (north-westward) using the XLIV Army Corps, the latter to the Kamari-Sevastopol direction (southeastward) with the XXX Army Corps, concomitantly with keeping the enemy in the central zone of front, in the McKenzie sector and on Fedjukini heights. This was done by the 1st Mountain Division (since April 1942, mountain and cavalry brigades had been transformed into divisions), and by the Romanian Mountain Corps, which was to support the main attack given by the XLIV Army Corps.

Later on, they planned to attack the internal belt of the fortified zone, according to further orders in respect of the evolution of military actions.

The assault was launched at 02.30 a.m. on June 7, 1942, after a massive and prolonged artillery fire started on June 2, while Soviets were striking back. Despite the fierce initial resistance, the 1st Romanian Mountain Division conquered the heights of Fedjukini, Gaytani, Balaklava; the 4th Mountain Division (that joined the fights on June 14, as replacement for the 24th German Infantry Division) conquered the group of fortresses west of heights which raised around the Bastion II, Kegel, thus contributing to the final success of the general offensive towards Sevastopol.

In the final stage of the battle, when the Soviet forces were whitdrawing from the fortresses next to Sevastopol (the Sapun heights), the 18th Infantry and 1st Mountain Divisions were moved from their initial direction to the southern flank of the front tasked with conquering the heights north of Balaklava, thus facilitating an open way for the XXX Army Corps on their advance towards Chersones. Meanwhile, the 4th Mountain Division (which had been kept in the reserve of the XLIV German Army Corps) was reintroduced in fight, between the 20th and 50th German Infantry Division. It thus participated in the final assault over Sevastopol that was conquered on July 4, 1942. Military actions aimed at penetrating the powerful fortified system of Sevastopol raised difficult problems for the Gerrnan and Romanian Headquarters, commands and troops.

They had to thoroughly plan the attacks, by chosing the best directions, cooperating among specialities, picking up the best commanders.

On those fierce fights, general Avramescu stated: "The battle for Sevastopol proved that no position, however strong and well-fortified it may be, is inpenetrable. All is needed is a thorough and long organization of all means owned by a modern army". The conquest of Sevastopol, after 250 siege days, seriously changed the ratio of forces at the southern flank of the German-Soviet front and Black Sea zone in the benefit of German and Romanian troops; it thus allowed the latter to direct their military effort to the Caucasus and to the Volga river.
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