(January 28, 2022) This week, eighty years ago, the Supreme Command of the Soviet Union – Stavka – created the Crimean Front, commanded by Dimitry Kozlov, for the defense of the Black Sea port of Kerch on the Crimean peninsula. A “front” is roughly equivalent to an army group. At 2,600 years old, Kerch is the oldest city in Crimea. It is located on the Kerch Peninsula in the eastern part of the Crimean Peninsula and today has a population of 150,000.
On November 6, 1941, the 45th Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Count Hans von Sponeck, captured Kerch and drove its Soviet defenders across the Kerch Strait to the Taman Peninsula. Since the recent Russian occupation of Crimea, Europe’s longest bridge across that strait was completed in November 2019.
The Soviet Fifty-First Independent Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Vladimir N. L’vov, along with the Forty-fourth Army, commanded by General Aleksei Pervushin, landed on the Kerch Peninsula on December 26, 1941. , and in four days the city had been recaptured.
This maneuver temporarily saved Sevastopol, home of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, and currently home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The German Eleventh Army, commanded by Erich von Manstein, suffered 8,595 casualties, while the Red Army lost 7,000 killed and 20,000 captured.
In the meantime, General von Sponeck, against von Manstein’s orders, had freed his division from a possible destruction trap, and with the help of some Romanian units he kept the Red Army off the rest of General von Manstein’s Eleventh Army. tried to subdue Sevastopol. Rather than be commended for his swift action to save his division from destruction and later hold the line so that General von Manstein’s Eleventh Army was not attacked from behind, he was court-martialed.
The Soviets reinforced the Kerch defenders and their defenses between January 20 and February 11.
Feodosia was recaptured by the Wehrmacht in January 1942. This 2,500-year-old seaside town has grown from a pre-war population of 28,000 to 85,000. The 3,248 Jewish civilians were murdered by Einsatzgruppe-D, commanded by Dr. Otto Ohlendorf, who was hanged on June 8, 1951, for his crimes at Landsberg Prison in Bavaria.
General Koslov’s Crimean Front consisted of the Forty-fourth Army, which is now commanded by Major General Konstantin S. Kolganov, as General Pervushin was seriously wounded; the fifty-first independent army of Lieutenant General L’vov; and the Forty-seventh Army, commanded by Konstantin Fedorovich Baronov. In February, General Baronov was replaced by General Stepan Ivanovich Cherniak. He and General Kolganov then exchanged commands.
On April 11, 1942, the Red Army tried unsuccessfully to recapture Eupatoria. The 2,500-year-old city today has 123,000 inhabitants.
Axis Forces were reinforced by Luftflotte 4, commanded by Austrian Alexander Löhr. With the arrival of Gen. Löhr’s Luftflotte 4 began to suffer Soviet shipping considerably. Six transports were sunk, along with a minelayer, a minesweeper and a torpedo boat. Six other transports were temporarily taken out of service.
On May 8 at 4.15 am, the attack of the Axis against Kerch began. The city was defended by 250,000 Soviet soldiers divided among the following: Gen. L’vov’s Fifty-First Independent Army; Gene. Cherniak’s Forty-fourth Army; and Gen. Kolganov’s Forty-seventh Army. By now, Stalin had placed the defending Soviet forces under the command of one of his incompetent cronies, People’s Commissar Lev Mekhlis. He was never sent into the field again.
Although outnumbered by two to one, the advantage the Germans had, in addition to superior leadership, was the 800 aircraft of Fliegerkorps VIII, commanded by General Dr. Baron Wolfram von Richthofen, a cousin of the famous “Red Baron” of WWI.
The ground attack tactics that Baron von Richthofen had developed in Spain and perfected in Poland, France and Greece were used with great success against Kerch and later Sebastopol. Gene. von Manstein said that these tactics, “…pulled the infantry forward…”, through successive Soviet defensive positions.
Gen. von Manstein’s Eleventh Army consisted of five infantry divisions, divided between the XXX and XXXXII Armeekorps, commanded by Maximilian Fretter-Pico and Franz Mattenklott; the 22nd Armored Division, commanded by Wilhelm von Apell; and three divisions in the VII Romanian Corps, commanded by Florea Mitrănescu.
Within three and a half hours of the attack being launched, General Cherniak’s forty-fourth army collapsed. On May 9, General von Manstein dispatched General von Apell’s armor, which destroyed General L’vov’s Fifty-First Independent Army, killing its commander. The surviving soldiers surrendered on May 11.
Baron von Richtofen’s aircraft dropped 1,780 bombs on Kerch on May 12, which were lost to the Germans on May 15. Baron von Richtofen’s Fliegerkorps VIII was then transferred to the Sixth Army to assist in the Second Battle of Kharkov.
Baron von Richthofen would later describe the bombing raids during the Battle of Kerch as: “… concentrated air support, such as never existed.” Kerch would remain under German occupation until April 11, 1944. At that time, 15,000 residents of the city died and another 14,000 were ‘deported’.
Although 90,000 Soviet soldiers were evacuated, 162,282 were killed or captured, along with the loss of 4,646 guns and mortars, 496 tanks and 417 aircraft. The Axis casualties amounted to only 3,397, along with the loss of 12 guns and eight tanks. The Kerch operation had delayed the capture of Sevastopol, and the subsequent redeployment of General von Manstein’s Eleventh Army to either the Siege of Leningrad or the Caucasus Operation, by six crucial months.
On September 14, 1973, Kerch and Novorossiysk were proclaimed Hero Cities of the Soviet Union. They joined Leningrad, Stalingrad, Sevastopol, Odessa, Kiev and Moscow. They would later be joined by Minsk, Tula, Murmansk and Smolensk.
Next week: Singapore Waterfalls
Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he is an attorney representing individuals charged with criminal and traffic violations and those who have suffered personal injury through no fault of their own. He can be reached at email@example.com.