Kerch and Feodosiya
In November 1941, our armies precipitated counterattacks at Rostov-on-Don and Tikhvin. The defenders of Sevastopol simultaneously dealt a counterblow which helped the forces defending the capital. Lieutenant General D.T. Kozlov, commander of the Transcaucasian Front, was ordered to prepare for the recovery of the Kerch Peninsula. It was now clear that GHQ, Supreme Command, wanted to go over from the defence to attack.
I must make it clear that I, personally, was not adequately informed about GHQ's intentions. Nor did I know the data on which its situation estimates and decisions were based.
The front group of armies and Black Sea Fleet staffs worked out a plan which GHQ approved on December 7, together with an essential amendment the command of the Black Sea Fleet proposed. In addition to landing descents in proximity of Kerch and Mount Opuk, GHQ ordered to land still another descent directly in Feodosiya. Two armies were to execute the operation. The descents totalled 41,930 troops who were to be landed by approximately 200 fighting ships and launches and over 300 fishing schooners, barges and even rowing boats.
In pursuit of an order of GHQ the fleet commander was in the Caucasus preparing for the landing of descents in Feodosiya and Kerch. But on December 17, the enemy precipitated another assault on Sevastopol. Both sides engaged in heavy fighting. On December 19, a telegramme addressed to J.V. Stalin was received. It stated that the Nazis had concentrated superior forces reinforced by fresh troops. Employing tanks and aircraft to support the attackers they had been launching incessant assaults in an attempt to take Sevastopol. Disregarding heavy losses the Nazis were constantly committing fresh forces. Our forces were beating off the assaults and tenaciously holding the defence positions.
On December 20, GHQ considered the defence of Sevastopol. A special directive placed the Sevastopol Defence Area under the command of the Transcaucasian Front. Vice-Admiral Oktyabrski was ordered to return to Sevastopol without delay. It was also proposed to send to Sevastopol a competent army commander, to shift an infantry division, two infantry brigades and 3,000 men as replacements.
The aid rendered by GHQ, bold transfer of fighting ships followed by transport vessels under Vice-Admiral F.S. Oktyabrski, fleet commander, and the heroic resistance of the defenders of Sevastopol played a decisive role in beating off the December assault on the city.
On December 20, a fleet detachment under the flag of the fleet commander sailed from Novorossiisk to Sevastopol. It comprised the cruisers Krasny Kavkaz, Krasny Krym, the flotilla leader Kharkov and the destroyers Bodry and Nezamozhnik. They brought in the 79th Marine Brigade. The detachment was followed by two transport vessels and minesweepers carrying ammunition and food. On the following day, the 345th Infantry Division was moved in transport vessels from Tuapse to Sevastopol.
The troops engaged the enemy as soon as they landed while the fighting ships supported the defenders of the main base with gunfire.
The ships of the main fleet detachment had to accomplish an additional mission. Thus, in the night of December 28-29, the battleship Parizhskaya Kommuna, the cruiser Molotov and the destroyers Bezuprechny and Smyshlyony entered Sevastopol harbour. Having rendered support to the defenders with their long-range guns, the ships took the wounded aboard and returned to Novorossiisk without delay.
The diversion offerees to help Sevastopol was an unpredictable circumstance which compelled us to execute the Kerch-Feodosiya landing operation in stages. On December 26, troops were landed on the northern and eastern shores of the peninsula and near Mount Opuk. The landing in Feodosiya had to be postponed to December 29.
It is quite possible that the enemy guessed our intention to land a descent in Feodosiya. But, to all appearances, he no longer feared this possibility, when he saw that we had to divert a considerable force to strengthen the Sevastopol sector. However, he miscalculated. Despite the shortage of time needed for preparations and inadequate air cover, the operation was a success. The descents, fighting ship and transport vessel crews displayed outstanding valour. The landing of units of the Forty Fourth Army in Feodosiya was an exceptionally difficult operation which required unusual daring.
The descents landed in proximity of Kerch were no inferior to that which was landed in Feodosiya. The 83rd Marine Brigade evoked special admiration. Its battalions formed the assault wave, when the Fifty First Army was landed in proximity of Kerch, at Point Khroni and other areas.
Stalin's message stated that the forces under Generals A.N. Pervushin and V.N. Lvov and the ship formations under Captain 1st Grade N.Y. Basisty distinguished themselves in the action. The sailors of the assault wave landed from the cruiser Krasny Kavkaz, and the destroyers Nezamozhnik and Zheleznyakov displayed splendid performance.
The descent having effected a successful landing launched a determined attack. General Graf Hans Sponeck, commander of the 42nd German Army Corps, was forced to order his troops to retreat. Hitler was enraged when he learnt that Kerch and Feodosiya were lost. He ordered Sponeck to be brought to trial. The general was sentenced to be shot.
The Kerch-Feodosiya operation is known m history not only for the heroism displayed by Soviet fighters. This was the biggest landing operation the Soviet Armed Forces executed during the Great Patriotic War. Though there was little time for its preparation, it had been brilliantly planned.
As a result of this operation the Forty Fourth Army acting in cooperation with the fleet liberated the whole of Feodosiya. The Fifty First Army cleared the Kerch Peninsula of the enemy and established a defence line west of Feodosiya. This compelled Erich von Manstein, commander of the German forces, to abandon further attempts to take Sevastopol. He hastily shifted a part of his forces to the Kerch Peninsula.
The year of 1941 was crowned with our indisputable success in the Crimea. Sevastopol beat off the second German assault. Feodosiya, Kerch and a sizable portion of the Kerch Peninsula were liberated.
However, the enemy still enjoyed superiority in forces, particularly in aircraft and tanks. In January, he managed to seize Feodosiya again and to press the Fifty First Army eastward. But Sevastopol was saved. In the Kerch Peninsula we were still holding a rather large jumping-off ground. The task of the Soviet forces was to hold it firmly, to wear out the enemy and to build up their strength for an offensive.
The Kerch-Feodosiya operation which enabled us to gain a foothold on the Kerch Peninsula played a big role in the further defence of Sevastopol. Some authors have asked whether it would have been more expedient to employ the forces that were landed in the Kerch Peninsula for the defence of Sevastopol. When the Kerch-Feodosiya operation was being planned GHQ intended not only to alleviate the situation in Sevastopol (this was mentioned above). It was hoped that it would be possible to liberate the whole of the Crimea. The forces defending Sevastopol were preparing to penetrate the enemy dispositions around the city and to advance to Simferopol.
At the same time there were signs of the German Army resuming its activities in the Crimea. We did not yet have any information about Hitler's plans for spring of 1942. The increased activity of the Luftwaffe at sea and the enemy's persistent efforts to prevent our Fighting ships and particularly transport vessels from entering Savastopol and Kerch were regarded as defensive measures.
In spring of 1942, the Nazis launched a powerful offensive in the south. The assaults in the Crimea were particularly ferocious.
In May 1942, the situation of our forces in the Kerch Peninsula and Sevastopol was extremely grave.
The defenders of Sevastopol continued to fight gallantly. As it often happens in war there were periods of lulls in the fighting. Then battles would start raging again. The three storms the enemy precipitated on the fortified city were entered into the history of the war as volcanic eruptions. Early in spring of 1942, it appeared to be "quiet". But that was only a period of calm before the storm. Actually already in the beginning of 1942 the situation in the Black Sea in general was more complicated. In preparing for a spring offensive against Sevastopol and Kerch the German High Command started to harass our sea routes to the Crimea. It employed mainly bombers against our shipping. Our losses in transport vessels were heavy. Already in January-February only fighting ships were bringing supplies to Sevastopol. That was why it was necessary to improve the control of the fleet. I decided to raise this question at GHQ. Marshal of the Soviet Union B.M. Shaposhnikov proposed, as it should have been expected, to report the matter personally to Stalin.
When I first reported it to Stalin, I did not receive a clear reply. This was early in March. Some time later I submitted my proposal again. It was discussed in brief. Stalin asked me:
"Who should replace Oktyabrski as commander of the Sevastopol Defence Area?"
I said that General S.I. Kabanov who had proved to be highly competent in the Hanko Peninsula and Leningrad was the most suitable candidate. But no decision was taken on the matter this time either.
I celebrated the New Year of 1942 at home. The state machine was now functioning more or less normally. Though Moscow was partially evacuated in October, by New Year all the government offices and high standing officials whose presence was required in the capital had returned. The work of the Naval Staff and People's Commissariat of the Navy was being improved. Though contact with the fleets in October 1941 was somewhat irregular, it was now reliable again. The Naval Staff was effecting guidance of naval operations. The chief of Naval Staff was working on proposals for the preparation of the Navy for the forthcoming general offensive.
We had no idea that very soon the situation on the battle-front, particularly in the south, in the area of Kerch and Sevastopol would suddenly take a sharp turn for the worse. Nor could we imagine that the tide of the war would turn only after the Battles of Stalingrad and the Kursk Bulge. We did not think that we would have to postpone the plans for an offensive. Having mustered large forces the enemy launched, in spring and summer, a series of attacks on our battlefront in an attempt to force his way to the Caucasus and the Volga.
The events that took place in 1942 showed that we should have made a more cautious and precise appraisal of the enemy's forces, we should have taken into account that in the beginning of the year our army was short of equipment and still inadequately proficient. Therefore, we should have planned offensive operations on a more moderate scale. We should have made more careful preparations for wearing out the enemy in defensive battles, if he were to undertake an offensive. What is adequate for defence may not be sufficient for an offensive.
The Soviet People, the Soviet Army and Navy were then fighting an exhausting war against a formidable enemy single-handed. The Allies were not in a hurry to open a second front. In August 1942, in the heat of battles on the approaches to Stalingrad and the Northern Caucasus, Winston S. Churchill arrived in Moscow for talks. The most crucial question then was that of the second front. The situation demanded that the Allies should take determined action if they really intended to participate in the rout of fascism. I was not initiated in the details of the talks between Stalin and Churchill. Only once I was invited to dinner in honour of the British Premier. However, I knew that Churchill had not come to coordinate the plan for the opening of a second front in Europe. He only tried to explain why it could not be opened. But during these talks Churchill told Stalin about the preparations for an Angio-American landing in Africa.
In September 1942, President Roosevelt's personal envoy Wendell L. Wilikie arrived in Moscow. He favoured an early opening of a second front. He considered it necessary to urge the military to execute this move. Wilikie produced a most agreeable impression on the public in Moscow.
But Wilikie's stand was not to Churchill's liking. Nor did it suit some quarters of the USA's ruling circles, the overwhelming majority of them, to be more exact.
Winston S. Churchill managed to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt not to take risks in the opening of a second front in Europe. He proposed to undertake more determined action in Africa. However, this step did not alleviate the situation on the Soviet-German Front. Thus, in summer the USA and Great Britain did not open a second front. To make matters worse they reduced the number of convoys with war supplies to Arkhangelsk and Murmansk, precisely when we needed them most.
We knew that it was Winston Churchill and the British military Command that were mainly opposed to the opening of a second front in 1942. Their position, naturally, aroused righteous indignation on the part of our government and the Soviet public at large. This is eloquently evidenced by the correspondence between Stalin and Churchill in 1942-1943. It contains quite a few sharp messages.
On April 23, 1942, Semyon M. Budyonny, commander-in-chief of the North Caucasian Sector, and I took off for Krasnodar. Semyon Mikhailovich decided to establish his headquarters there. I was to tour Novorossiisk, Kerch and, finally, Poti where the main fleet detachment was temporarily based.
On the following day F.S. Oktyabrski, Black Sea Fleet commander, arrived in Krasnodar. The Black Sea Fleet was under the operational control of the commander-in-chief of the North Caucasian Sector. F.S. Oktyabrski was summoned to report on the situation. The fleet commander reported to S.M. Budyonny on the composition of the fleet, the situation in Sevastopol and shipments to the Kerch Peninsula. The general impression was that the situation in Sevastopol was taking a favourable turn. After the abortive assault on the city in December Manstein was not making any serious attempts to take the city. The fleet commander was certain that the defences around Sevastopol were strong. He only asked that the Coastal Army should not be weakened and that none of its formations should be diverted for an attack on Simferopol.
Having visited Novorossiisk I returned to Krasnodar on April 27. On the following day Budyonny and I flew to the Kerch Peninsula. We immediately proceeded to the village of Leninskoye, to the front commander's command post. Budyonny was met by Lieutenant General D.T. Kozlov, the front commander. Hardly had we started to discuss the situation and other matters, when Lev Z. Mekhiis, GHQ representative, took over the initiative making one proposal after another in a tone that ruled out all objections. He was just that type of man.
He believed that all talk about the possibility of a successful German attack and our forced retreat was harmful. In his opinion, all precautionary measures were superfluous. It was naive to think that the enemy did not know that the staff of the front was in the village of Leninskoye. It was more logical to assume that the enemy did not bomb Leninskoye, because he intended to launch an air raid on it at the decisive moment. That was what actually happened, when he undertook an attack on Feodosiya in January 1942. He started with bombing the command post. Mekhiis was sure that the Nazis knew nothing about the whereabouts of the front staff. Moreover, he maintained that the secret would not leak out in the future either.
Having heard all the complaints of the Army command about the delivery of supplies by the fleet (we were short of transport vessels and, in addition, the discharge of cargoes was slow) I decided to inspect the marine brigade and then visit Rear Admiral A. S. Frolov, commander of the Kerch Naval Base.
On the following day I departed for Kerch and from there, with the base commander, to the sites of coastal defence batteries, to an air station and the port. On our way back to the base staff A.S. Frolov and I inspected a hospital located in close proximity of the town, in the ruins of Yenikale, an ancient fortress. The wounded were housed in a fortress vault. Though the layer of earth over the vault was rather thin at the entrance it was about 10 metres thick over the farther end. An air alert interrupted our talk with the wounded. Those who could move hastened to the wall at the farther end. A.S. Frolov explained to me that a short while ago a bomb fell near the entrance. As a result, several victims were hit. He said:
"They all fought like heroes. But now they can walk only with the help of crutches. They cannot stand the sound of the air alert. It unnerves them."
As he spoke he pointed to several men who were wearing seamen's striped shirts.
This did not surprise me: I knew that owing to their helplessness the wounded were more conscious of danger. But when they get better, they recover from their psychic trauma too. They become more steeled and braver than before.
In the evening, I returned to Leninskoye. Marshal Budyonny and the front commander had gone to the main line of resistance. They returned late. Sharing a room for the night we exchanged impressions. Though the date of our attack had been postponed twice, he thought that the appointed date was impracticable. As I understood it, the preparations for the offensive had not been completed.
I knew the weaknesses in the organisation of the fleet. Early in the morning we parted. I went to Kerch.
While I was in Poti looking into matters bearing on the fleet, I learnt on May 8, that the enemy had gone over into the offensive in the Kerch Peninsula. The enemy had forestalled us. I immediately flew to Novorossiisk. The events developed rapidly.
Admiral I.S. Isakov acquainted me with the situation that had now taken shape in the Kerch Peninsula. A part of the forces of Manstein's Eleventh Army was eliminating our foothold in the peninsula. According to fragmentary reports the Crimean Front was withdrawing. On Admiral Isakov's desk there was a large-scale map which showed that the blue-red lines indicating the battlefront were now closer to Kerch than before. The situation in Sevastopol had not changed. The city was prepared to Fight regardless of the balance of forces. It was obvious that, if the enemy eliminated the foothold in the Kerch Peninsula, he would concentrate all his forces on Sevastopol. There was still hope that it would be possible to stop the enemy on the border of Kerch.
On May 11, B.M. Shaposhnikov passed on an order to me to return to Moscow by plane. I took off together with Vice-Admiral Stavitski. Without wasting time he reported to me in the plane the situation in the Black Sea Fleet. He accompanied his report with conclusions and forecasts.
When S.M. Budyonny arrived at Adzhimushkai, D.T. Kozlov, L.Z. Mekhiis and several other officers were already there. They had just returned from the main line of resistance which was on the outskirts of Kerch. It was then that the Black Sea Fleet received the following order:
"1. All shipments by sea for the Crimean Front shall hereby be discontinued.
"2. All available tonnage which is suitable for carrying manpower and cargoes across the Kerch Strait shall forthwith be sent to Kerch.
"3. The fleet shall provide strong escort screens of patrol craft and minesweepers.
"4. Rear Admiral A.S. Frolov, commanding officer of the Kerch Naval Base, shall hereby be appointed crossing area commandant.
"5. He is hereby ordered to start with the evacuation of heavy artillery and rocket mortars.
"6. The fleet is ordered to assure reliable antiaircraft defence of the crossing area and jetties."
Admiral Isakov immediately ordered to send to Kerch all the vessels available in the area, regardless of whom they belonged to.
In that extreme situation it was difficult to register all the cargoes and manpower that were transported by the vessels. However, according to figures verified after the war, up to 120,000 officers and men who had fought in the Kerch Peninsula were evacuated to the Caucasus. On May 22 or 23, I was at GHQ, when the results of the evacuation were being summed up. The causes of the retreat had not yet been established. But it was clear that in the Kerch Peninsula we had not organised a defence in depth. The armies were deployed in a single line. The front had no reserves in the peninsula which could rectify the situation. That was why the enemy who had launched the main attack along the coast managed to secure success.
On May 19, our forces left Kerch. The last Soviet units were shipped across the strait to the Taman Peninsula on that day. Several thousand fighters took refuge in the local quarries. They continued to fight the Germans under Colonel P.M. Yagunov for several long months.
Stalin was extremely disappointed with the unfortunate outcome of the fight in the Kerch Peninsula. On June 4, GHQ, Supreme Command, issued a directive staling the causes of the setbacks on the Crimean Front and pertinent conclusions.
The year of 1942 was full of anxiety. There being no second front, the Nazis were able to commit more and more forces to action in the southern sector where they were conducting an offensive. The Black Sea Fleet was fighting in the most difficult conditions.
Though the Baltic Fleet was squeezed in a tiny space between Kronstadt and Leningrad and was placed at a tremendous disadvantage, it continued to fight the enemy. The mortal danger which threatened Leningrad in August-September 1941 caused the officers and men of the fleet to take an active part in the defence of the cradle of the October Revolution not only in the air and at sea, but also on land.
The sailors erected numerous fortifications, including several hundred permanent weapon emplacements. At the suggestion of the builders they used armour plates for the purpose, which were available at the shipbuilding yards. Two hundred and six permanent weapon emplacements protected by excellent steel plates for ships were built on the Pulkovo Heights alone.
Already then all the ships were included in the city's defence system. Dozens of naval batteries were quickly installed on positions around Leningrad. To organise the Neva Defence Position the sailors mounted 130-mm naval batteries and the guns removed from the cruiser Avrora. The naval batteries at Ivanov rapids remained on the forward edge during the entire period of the siege. They were separated from the enemy by the width of the Neva River alone. Four railway batteries manned by naval crews were on positions covering Leningrad
from the land. The fighter units of the fleet air arm and the ships' antiaircraft guns formed an organic part of the city's antiaircraft defence system. Sailors were defending the city as fliers, gunners and infantrymen. Thanks to their range and accuracy the ships' guns were able to neutralise the enemy's batteries which killed a lot of civilians. They conducted counterbattery fire during the 900 days of the siege.
The Leningrad Front and the naval units in it firmly held their positions on the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland. From the outbreak of the war the fleet covered the flank of the Twenty Third Army. On September 20, 1941 the Twenty Third Army delivered a counterstroke at the enemy to drive him out of Beloostrov. Admiral V.F. Tributs recalled that at dawn on September 20, he controlled all the naval artillery and air units then committed to action. The concentrated fire of the coastal defence batteries and ships' guns and also the rapid attack of our land forces compelled the enemy to withdraw beyond the fortified area. He remained on this line till June 1944.
In 1941, we managed to organise defence positions along the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland in proximity of the Kronstadt base. This enabled us to retain the Oranienbaum foothold. These defence positions were jointly defended by the Eighth Army and marine brigades supported by the powerful guns of forts Krasnaya Gorka and Seraya Loshad. The artillery of these forts played a decisive role in assuring the success of this operation. Had Oranienbaum been in enemy hands, it would have been more difficult for the fleet to force its way from Tallinn and to evacuate the defenders of the Hanko Peninsula. Kronstadt would have been covered by the enemy's guns of all calibres. In addition, it would have been impossible to maintain contact with Leningrad by sea.
In 1942, the Baltic Fleet no longer faced the question of whether it would be possible to preserve the ships or whether they would have to be demolished to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. The Germans were stopped at Leningrad. But the situation of Leningrad and, hence, of the Baltic Fleet was precarious. The officers and men of the Baltic Fleet were in a state of readiness for action at all times. As spring approached the Luftwaffe made increasingly persistent attempts to destroy the ships. The German artillery shelled them continuously. We know now that the First Luftwaffe Geschwader was assigned the mission of destroying the fighting ships in Leningrad and Kronstadt. In April alone it launched six mass raids. Though several ships were damaged, the bombing was not really effective.
The Hitler naval command feared our submarines. In proximity of Tallinn and the island of Hogland the Nazis virtually littered the sea with mines. Despite this, in the end of May 1942, Soviet submarines began to break out to sea. The enemy tried to block the channels with mines near Kronstadt. He employed aircraft for the purpose. Our fighters and antiaircraft artillery prevented the Luftwaffe planes (the enemy had 300 aircraft there) from laying mines accurately. In his attempt to clutter up the channel with mines the enemy lost about 40 aircraft.
The submarine brigade managed to prepare its units for action against enemy shipping in the trying conditions of the siege. Following in the wake of minesweepers continuously harassed by the Luftwaffe the submarine skippers worked their way out to sea through numerous minefields. Worming their way through the minefields from Kronstadt to Lavansaari (though this was a short distance) was tough, but the passage from Lavansaari to the west was an even more onerous task. The overall distance was over 250 miles. Despite this the first line submarines proceeded to their patrol zones at sea to attack enemy shipping. After over 40 days on patrol the Shch-406 submarine under Yevgeni Ossipov returned home with a good score. The skipper was honoured with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union and his submarine was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
The appearance of our submarines on the high seas was a surprise to the German command. It had obviously overestimated the effectiveness of its antisubmarine measures. In the beginning the Germans wondered whose submarines were sinking their vessels. In summer 1941, the Germans could not bring themselves to believe that it was the Soviet air force that was bombing Berlin. And now they were unwilling to accept that it was Soviet submarines that were active on their sea routes.
We must pay tribute to the deeds of the submarine crews, particularly because the German munitions industry badly needed Swedish iron ore then. Every time they ventured out to sea the crews faced a mortal risk. Not all of them returned home. The Shch-317 did not come back to Kronstadt and the Shch-405 was lost off the island of Seskar.
The ruling clique of the Third Reich was in a hurry to write off the Baltic Fleet. But it was alive and fighting. It was not only beating off enemy attacks, but was also striking painful blows at the Nazis. The fleet air arm was active too. In 1942, the fliers flew about 30,000 sorties, nearly 15,000 over the sea in search for suitable targets. In those days a plane taking off from an airfield near Leningrad had to be airborne for six-eight hours, before it reached the enemy's sea routes to sight a transport vessel and to attack it. As a rule, the main weapon here was the torpedo. It was not easy to sink a ship with a torpedo.
In 1942, our sea routes were right under the enemy's nose. The fleet air arm had to protect them at all times.
Another point. Unless the channels were thoroughly swept several times no transport vessel or fighting ship could put to sea. The channels from Leningrad to Kronstadt and Oranienbaum and from Kronstadt to Lavansaari had to be swept with particular care. In 1942, they were used for transporting tens of thousands of passengers and large quantities of cargoes. The minesweepers made many risky sorties. The crews of these small ships fulfilled their missions close to enemy-held shores. These modest toilers of the sea swept channels within the effective range of his guns.
On August 30, 1941, the State Defence Committee made it binding on the Military Council of the Leningrad Front to supply the city with all that it needed, food above all. Having showered the city with incendiary bombs the Nazis set fire to the Badayev food storehouses beyond the Neva Gate. They were stocked with considerable food reserves for Leningrad which had a population of more than three million. The food supplies burnt for days on end. Dense columns of smoke rose to the very sky. In the night they were illuminated by red flames. Early in September, Leningrad had only a fortnight's supply of flour, ten days' supply of aviation spirit and only seven-eight days' supply of petrol for motor vehicles. The only life line through which the besieged city could receive supplies was Lake Ladoga. The Military Council of the Leningrad Front assigned the task of bringing supplies from Novaya Ladoga and Volkhovstroi to Leningrad and back to the Ladoga Naval Flotilla, and the North-Western Inland Waterway Shipping Lines. The tugs and barges had to navigate the stormy lake in autumn. On the western bank there were no port facilities for discharge of cargoes. The authorities urgently had to build a port at Osinovets Harbour. On September 12, the first two barges, each carrying 800 tons of precious grain, arrived in the harbour, though no jetties had yet been built.
This being the only route to the besieged Leningrad, it was referred to as the city's life line.
Our press, literature and stories rendered by word of mouth sometimes identified the Lifeline—Road of Life—with the road across the icebound lake. This was, apparently, due to the fact that the shipping of supplies in summer was regarded as a regular, though tough duty of the North-Western Inland Waterway Shipping Lines and the Ladoga Naval Flotilla. In time of peace no one could imagine that regular haulage would be organised across the icebound lake in defiance of tremendous difficulties and hazards. Cargoes were to be carried by convoys of trucks.
But who had an easy life on Lake Ladoga during the war? The Lifeline of Leningrad was both the road over the ice and the water route. The crews of the ships and craft of the flotilla and the transport vessels of the shipping lines took equal risks and displayed equal fortitude in delivering troops and cargoes to Leningrad. In the period from September 12 to December I, 1941, they carried across Lake Ladoga 40,000 people and over 60,000 tons of cargoes.
Being aware of the role of the Lifeline the Nazis relentlessly bombed the fighting ships, craft and transport vessels, the port of shipment and port of delivery. During these months the flotilla lost the gunboat Olekma, minesweeper TSHCH-122 and rescue ship Vodolaz while they were on escort duty.
GHQ and the General Staff displayed a particular interest in Osinovets Harbour, where river boats and barges were discharging food supplies and ammunition, though there were no port facilities yet. B.M. Shaposhnikov demanded that I should take measures to increase the shipments to Leningrad and decrease the losses.
During that critical autumn the Ladoga Naval Flotilla was not only engaged in the transportation of troops and cargoes to Leningrad. In October-November the situation on the Volkhov Front changed for the worse. The Germans took Tikhvin. Volkhovstroi (the power station) was threatened with capture. GHQ urgently moved from Leningrad via Lake Ladoga to the Volkhov Front two infantry divisions and a marine brigade. The troops were committed to action coup de main. Volkhovstroi was saved.
Late in November, floating ice interfered with the shipping But the crews heroically continued to carry out their mission Separate vessels spared no pains to make their way to Osinovets till November 29, though the route across the ice was already functioning from November 22.
When the first ice appeared the naval hydrographers and the officers and men of the road construction and operation regiment started to lay a trail across the icebound lake. Soon sledges with grain headed for Leningrad. It was not possible to wait till the ice was really safe. Leningrad was living, working and fighting in a state of siege. It was starving. That was why on November 22 the first food trucks started movement to the city. Delivered at tremendous risk the food saved thousands of lives.
While the winter frosts were still harsh the Ladoga Flotilla and shipping lines prepared for navigation in 1942. They were busy building a port, assembling metal barges out of prefabricated sections and building wooden barges.
In 1942, the navigation season opened late in May and lasted till early January 1943. The Lifeline across the lake functioned till Soviet armies raised the siege of Leningrad. The transport facilities moved in both directions close to two million people (including more than one million by water). The ships and vessels delivered 1,690,000 tons of cargoes.
In pursuit of Hitler's personal orders the Luftwaffe bombed the lifeline round the clock. In summer 1942 alone, they dropped 6,400 bombs. But the enemy could not break down the morale of the crews and other fighters.
Seeking to cut the lifeline across the lake the Germans and the Finns attempted to land a descent in the island of Sukho which covered the eastern leg of the trail. The commands of the Ladoga Naval Flotilla and the Baltic Fleet took urgent and energetic measures to beat off the assault. Before the first hour was over our aircraft attacked the enemy descent which had already approached the island and started to go ashore. The ships and craft of the flotilla bravely engaged the enemy defying his numerical superiority. A coastal defence battery stationed in the island of Sukho conducted accurate fire at the enemy.
In July 1944, the Ladoga Naval Flotilla was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for courage and heroism displayed by its officers and men.
The dangerous situation at Leningrad and the enemy advance from Finland in the first half of August caused the Navy to submit to the command of the North-Western Sector a proposal on the formation of an Onega Naval Flotilla. On August 7, 1941, the command of the North-Western Sector passed a pertinent decision.
The Onega Flotilla was to co-operate with the Seventh and Thirty Second Armies. The army units needed support from Lake Onega.
Armoured boats and gunboats were particularly active and effective in supporting divisions whose flanks rested on the banks of the lake. Their fire helped the army units secure success in operations.
The German command was trying to take Sevastopol at all costs.
Though battles had been fought continuously on Sevastopol's ramparts since November 1941, the enemy launched the third assault on June 7, 1942. While engagements were pursued on the ground and in the air, the defences were being improved. More food supplies and ammunition were being brought into the city. The shipments did not quite meet the demand. After the storming of the city in December and particularly after the enemy recaptured Feodosiya, it was becoming increasingly difficult to supply Sevastopol. Making preparations for an all-out offensive in the Crimea the German High Command widely employed the Luftwaffe and motor torpedo boats to thwart our shipping and to cut off the supplies to the battlefront. The command of the Black Sea Fleet was unable to provide reliable air cover for the slow transport vessels. It. therefore, employed surface ships, submarines and aircraft for transportation of manpower and cargoes.
The question of bringing supplies and ammunition to Sevastopol to beat off the assailants was always in the focus of the Military Council's attention. The city was not effectively blockaded from the sea. But the Luftwaffe's supremacy gravely endangered every ship that entered the harbour of the fortified city. Transport vessels no longer being equal to the task, fighting ships had to take over. The ships of the main fleet detachment had to accomplish this mission. From February to June they made 92 runs. The fleet even had to put the submarines on the job. In May-June 1942, 27 submarines made 8U runs delivering supplies and evacuating the wounded.
The Supreme Command displayed special concern about shipments to Sevastopol and Kerch. GHQ and the General Staff justly reproached the fleet for loss of ships or delays in cargo delivery. B. M. Shaposhnikov would invite me to hear reports on the sealift and protection of transport vessels.
In preparing to storm Sevastopol the enemy concentrated close to 204,000 officers and men, 670 75-420-mm artillery pieces, 655 antitank guns, 720 trench mortars, a battery of super-heavy 600-mm artillery mortars, 450 tanks and 600 aircraft.
The defenders numbered 106,000 officers and men, including 82,000 in combat units. They were equipped with 600 artillery pieces of different calibres, close to 2,000 trench mortars, 38 tanks and 53 serviceable aircraft. The enemy enjoyed an obvious superiority. To blockade Sevastopol from the sea the German command formed a special group of motor torpedo boats and aircraft. Since May the enemy had been laying mines in the harbour of Sevastopol. All the airfields were constantly shelled by enemy artillery. The Luftwaffe bombed them. The defenders of Sevastopol were short of weapons and ammunition. When the enemy stormed the city it was impossible to replenish the daily consumption of artillery and mortar shells and small arms ammunition. To put it in a nutshell the garrison's reserves were melting away.
The ring around Sevastopol was tightening more and more. It could no longer count on the support of the big ships. The fleet Military Council urgently asked for aid. But in the situation that had taken shape neither the command of the sector, nor GHQ could render it on the required scale. The fleet was prepared to base another 100 fighters on the few airfields at Sevastopol. It was ready to use its only battleship to transport tanks from Poti or Tuapse. However, after Kerch was lost all the available forces and weapons were badly needed in another place. The enemy was preparing for an offensive in the direction of the Volga and the Caucasus.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to reach the besieged city by sea and air. During the first half of June we lost the transport vessels Gruziya, Abkhaziya and Belostok. The tanker Grornov was sunk. In the end of the month submarines alone could carry supplies to Sevastopol. But their "payload" was negligible.
Moscow closely followed the events in Sevastopol. After we withdrew from the Kerch Peninsula the situation in it became extremely serious. I issued an order immediately to report to me all the messages received from Sevastopol. Many of them were addressed to GHQ. Those that were forwarded to the People's Commissariat of the Navy were sent directly to the General Staff which reported them to the Supreme Comman-der-in-Chief.
In June 1942, the fight for the fortified city mounted in ferocity with every passing day. Every day I expected the Supreme Commander-in-Chief to ask me: "What is the situation in Sevastopol?" Desiring to get first hand information he frequently asked me to report to him over the telephone. In those days B.M. Shaposhnikov being seriously ill, A.M. Vassilevski was gradually taking over his duties.
After our setback at Kerch I saw that my reports on the heroic performance of the defenders of Sevastopol aroused an obviously warm feeling in Stalin.
On June 12, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief sent them a telegramme:
"To: Vice-Admiral Oktyabrski, Major General Petrov. "I warmly salute the gallant defenders of Sevastopol — Red Armyrnen, Red Navymen, commanders and commissars — who are bravely defending every inch of Soviet soil and are striking blows at the German invaders and their Romanian toadies.
"The self-denying struggle of the defenders of Sevastopol is a model of heroism for the Red Army and the Soviet people.
"I am sure that the glorious defenders of Sevastopol shall live up to their duty to the Homeland with dignity and honour. Stalin."
The attack on Sevastopol started with a powerful artillery and air preparation which lasted five days. The enemy's artillery fired some 13,000 rounds and the Luftwaffe dropped about 48,000 bombs.
On June 7, enjoying artillery, air and panzer support the Nazi infantry went over into the assault. But the enemy did not secure any tangible success either on June 7 or 8. Though Soviet soldiers and seamen were showered with bombs and shells, they rebuilt the demolished fortifications and erected new ones. They kept the ammunition and weapons in shelters built in rocks. The enemy suffered tremendous losses. The losses of the de-
fenders were heavy too. On June 9, Coastal Defence Battery No. 30 renowned for its accurate fire was seriously damaged. On June 10, the destroyer Svobodny and the hospital ship Abkhazia were sunk.
Though the losses of the fleet mounted, the ships continued to fight for Sevastopol. The cruiser Molotov and the destroyer Bditelny bombarded the enemy.
The fiercest battles were fought on the Northern Side where the enemy launched savage assaults. His purpose was to intensify the fire on the city through the Northern Harbour. On June 17, we sustained serious losses in manpower and equipment. On the following day the Nazis managed to isolate Coastal Defence Battery No. 30. It continued to fight in complete encirclement. The crew preferred death to surrender.
When the fighting for the Northern Side reached its climax, the ships of the harbour patrol sent their officers and men as reinforcements. It was clear that if the enemy were allowed to take the Northern Side and to reach the waterfront, it would be impossible and purposeless to defend the harbour. The situation in Sevastopol was reaching a critical point. On June 30, GHQ decided to leave the city. Were measures taken to evacuate the troops? I heard this question time and again. It should have been brought to the attention of the Black Sea Fleet command, the command of the North Caucasian Sector which exercised operational control of the fleet and the People's Commissariat of the Navy. It was the duty of all these commands to display interest not only in the defence of the city to the last possibility, but also in a speedy withdrawal, if the situation demanded it. Historians shall yet make an unbiassed analysis of the evacuation of the troops that survived the third assault on the city. It is very difficult to undertake a detailed study of the matter within the framework of these memoirs.
However, I feel it my duty to answer a number of questions which concern me personally. Of course, the People's Commissariat of the Navy should have given thought to the evacuation of troops without awaiting a telegramme from Sevastopol. It was above all the Naval Staff under the People's Commissar of the Navy rather than any other command that should have displayed concern about the defenders of Sevastopol. The fact that the fleet was under the operational control of the North Caucasian Sector and the fact that the Sevastopol Defence Area was controlled either directly by GHQ or through the commander-in-chief of the North Caucasian Sector did not absolve the People's Commissariat from the responsibility for the evacuation. Having received orders to fight to the last possibility, the local command pursued its mission. Therefore, it does not deserve to be reproached for lack of foresight. In the context of heavy fighting the Military Councils of the Black Sea Fleet and the Coastal Army could not work out a plan for evacuation of troops. Their attention was wholly focussed on beating off the enemy's assaults.
The staff of the North Caucasian Sector in Krasnodar could have paid more attention to the evacuation as the situation ripened for such a move.
On June 30, F.S. Oktyabrski reported that it was necessary to leave Sevastopol. When his message reached Moscow, we were under the impression that the city could hold out for another week or two. But this was a miscalculation. We had overestimated the capabilities of the defenders. The fact that the enemy had effected a breakthrough from the Northern to the Korabelnaya Side was a surprise to us. I discussed the matter with Admiral I.S. Isakov later. In those days he was deputy commander-in-chief and member of the Military Council of the North Caucasian Sector. He frankly said that "if detailed plans for the evacuation had been made in advance and executed earlier, it would, perhaps, been possible to move more manpower". But this was only a supposition. If we had brought the question of evacuation of Sevastopol to GHQ's attention, say, in mid-June 1942 and had obtained the latter's consent (which was highly improbable), it would have been possible to take more men and even some equipment from Sevastopol.
But in the mighty battle for Sevastopol no one could predict when the situation would become critical. GHQ's orders, the entire course of the war and the situation that took shape on the battlefronts demanded that Sevastopol should fight to the last possibility and not give thought to evacuation. If this were not so, Sevastopol would not have played such a big role in the fighting for the Caucasus and, indirectly, for Stalingrad, Man-stein's army would not have suffered such losses and would have been shifted to another strategic sector. It must be mentioned that only a few days before it was decided to leave the city the flotilla leader Tashkent brought in reinforcements. This cannot be regarded as a mistake under any circumstances.
When the Germans reached the last defence positions in Khersones and the harbours were within the range of their artillery, it was already impossible to send transport vessels or big fighting ships there. The small ships and craft did what they could. Some of the officers and men swam to them under enemy artillery and small arms fire. After July 1, only two submarines, two minesweepers and several patrol craft managed to force their way into that area. Some of the defenders of Sevastopol who could not be evacuated by sea fought their way into the mountains and joined the guerrillas. Later they took part in the liberation of the city together with our attacking forces.
Though Sevastopol was abandoned, it is difficult to overestimate the role it played. The battle for it did not boil down to the defence of the city alone. The fighting for Sevastopol exercised a powerful influence on the entire course of the war. It materially contributed to beating off the offensive of the southern group of German armies.
The splendid performance of the defenders of Sevastopol rendered effective aid to our fronts fighting hundreds of kilometres away from the city. No wonder it was in the focus of attention both of our well-wishers and enemies. The Nazis had planned to take Sevastopol in October-November 1941. But they were able to capture the city at a cost of enormous losses as late as July 1942.
In the history of wars quite a few coastal towns and naval bases were staunchly defended. But it is difficult to compare any of the known cases with the defence of Sevastopol. It was defended determinedly and self-denyingly. The Army, Navy and the people formed an integral whole to defend their besieged city for such a long time. Was there another city that ever showed such heroism, indomitable spirit and determination? The feat performed by Sevastopol can, perhaps, be compared with that of Leningrad.
It is typical of Soviet people to display heroism on a mass scale in the hour of trial. This feature was particularly mani fest in the defence of Sevastopol. The fact that the defender; displayed such matchless fortitude was largely due to the efforts of the political workers and all Communists.
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