Bloody Sebastopol.




Hitler was planning his massive invasion of the Soviet Union for June 1941. The invasion itself would be an immense success, with panzer divisions cutting hundred mile swathes into Western Russia, overwhelming the inexperienced Red Guard officer Corps whose order of battle was a gallimaufry of tanks and infantry and horse drawn cannon – unsure of their orders or the location of friendly forces. Before the first step was taken over the Russian border, Hitler knew he had to secure his southern flank, so he invaded the Balkans and after a few weeks controlled most transportation in and out of the area. Hitler needed also to control Sebastapol and Odessa, both today luxurious seaside travel destinations on the Black Sea. From airbases in the Crimean peninsula old Ilyushin DB3 bombers were lumbering over Romanian oil facilities at Ploesti and bombing them so successfully that the oil supplies to the Wehrmacht were beginning to attenuate. Now Hitler had to invade Crimea to stop the bombing runs and the shelling from the Soviet Black Sea Fleet.


The Ploesti oil fields in Romania were the biggest suppliers of oil to Germany in World War II. The bombing runs were beginning to work by July 1941, just three weeks after Barbarossa, and the Germans were having a hard time moving oil into theater. This meant that Army Group Center now had to turn south and invade the Ukraine to secure supply trains westward. As it turned out, as successful as he was on the battlefield, Hitler never truly secured his southern flank and insurgents and Russian army units and turn-tail Axis allies wreaking havoc behind the Wehrmacht.


The Black Sea Fleet was the largest naval force in the Black Sea at the time, and it was comprised of a single battleship, 5 cruisers, 16 destroyers and 44 submarines. The Black Sea Fleet was commanded by a 45 year old Filip Oktyabrusky, ( he changed his last name to this because it means “October” and represents the Soviet Revolution). The Coastal Army was headed by General Petrov.


On October 5th 1941, the Romanians under Erich Von Manstein began an operation to cut the Crimean off, but their advance on Sebastapol was pushed back by Petrov with artillery support from the Black Sea fleet. Von Manstein then made a surprise assault on Odessa with the 11th Army. After a few days of fighting, the Russians were beginning to run out of ammo, and were taking huge casualties. The Russian commanders made a fateful decision, they evacuated Odessa and sacrificed it to save Crimea. Like MacArthur in the Philippines, the Russians swore they would return.


Fighting was going on at both ends of the Peninsula. The German casualties far outnumbered the Russian casualties, but Hitler knew he would be doomed early in Russia unless he could control Crimea. Historically, no one has fought for the Crimean harder than the Russians. In the East the Russians took Theodosia and Kerch, forcing German garrisons out and placing heavy guns and armor on the ground to break the sieges of the two port cities. 


Much of the fighting for Sebastopol centered around two huge gun implacements: Guns designated Battery Number 30 and Battery Number 35. These were heavily armored turrets that rose out of the adamantine concrete pillbox and fired the twin 12 inch guns. The permanently installed guns could accurately hit targets at 26 miles in range. These guns made an invasion of Sebastopol Hell for the Germans. They fired 1000 pound shells as tall as a man and carried in one pallet jacks and special lifts. The upper plating armor was 400mm thick. The defenses of the city were discretely divided into 4 regions.  In the Sea beyond the city, the Black Fleet was bringing up reinforcements, troops and munitions, and these supply ships depended upon the accurate fire of the twin batteries, or the fear of it. These were the first guns that were out of the immediately destructive reach of the Nazis. The Germans were planning to remove these killers. The Russian ship Armenia was bringing in troops and ammunition when a German torpedo bomber sank it, and killed 7000 passengers in a few moments. 


Meanwhile Von Manstein was planning a new more aggressive offensive, but instead of attacking up the Yalta Highway running East and West, he attacked the city from the North, an unexpected move. This would avoid the tank traps that the Red Guard was spotted building on the Yalta Highway. He launched commando operations to stop the guns. When the assault began, the Black Fleet and the Russian Army fought bitterly, even hand to hand in prepared trenches around the city. For the first time in a long time, Von Manstein was thrown back, and had to suspend the attack. Russian commander Petrov had just enjoyed his biggest moment.


Meanwhile the Nazis retook Theodosia in the East in a grinding seesaw war.


The Luftwaffe made relentless runs on the Black Fleet and made great progress sending the moribund naval assets of the Soviet Union to the bottom of the Black Sea. In fact, 23 Russian ships were sunk by the attack on Sebastopol.


The Russians could hardly catch their breath after forcing Von Manstein back before he attacked again, once ordered him to retake Kerch. This city would again change hands. By the beginning of 1942, the Nazis had eradicated a third of the Black Sea tonnage capability, severely dealing a blow to the Russian’s chance of keeping the diamond shaped peninsula under their control. In a plan called Operation Bastard Hunt, Air Marshall Von Richtofen took the German 8th Air Corps and pressed the attack to take on the Russians in the Crimean.


Ultimately the Russians were forced out of the Crimean, but the fight on the way out was brutal and the Russians made it as expensive to the Germans as it was to them. Stalin calumniated Russian commanders who lost territory but the 51st Red Army surrendered on July 4th 1942. Still, the Russian forces in the Crimean had done as well anyone had fighting the Germans before them.


In 1944, the Crimea was recaptured by 4th Ukrainian Front. It was a bloody, desperate battle. The casualties were enormous.


Soviet Casualties                          Axis Casualties

17,754 killed and missing

67,065 wounded

84,819 overall[1]

    57,500 killed and missing

    61,580 captured

    39,200 wounded





Sources: History Channel, BBC History, Bundesarchive, wiki







2 thoughts on “Bloody Sebastopol.”

  1. I expect that you mean Black Sea fleet, where you write Baltic Sea Fleet, as the Baltic is near Leningrad\St. Petersburg.

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