German soldiers take cover on the battered concrete face of Fort Maxim Gorky below the burning armored cupola with its two 12-inch naval guns, now crippled and askew. At battle’s end, shattered chunks of the fort’s concrete bulwark testify to the fierceness of the attack. When resistance ended, the Germans found only fifty Russian survivors, all severely wounded, in the bowels of the stronghold.
The fortress of Sevastopol on the Crimea with its ring of forts and coastal batteries covered a circumference of about 10 to 12 km. Six heavy coastal batteries, two located north of Severnaja Bay, reinforced other coastal positions such as three old coastal forts on the north side of the position and three on the south side. Coastal Battery Shiskov, completed in 1912, mounted four 120-mm guns on pivots mounted on concrete platforms. Naval Battery Mamaschai (Coast Battery #10), completed in 1930 and one of the newer positions, mounted four 203-mm guns with gun shields on an open concrete platform similar to most of the other coastal batteries. Coast Battery #18, completed in 1917, and Coast Battery #19, completed in 1924, mounted four 152-mm guns each, and Coast Battery #3, two 130-mm guns. Fourteen new or reconditioned old forts, most of them north of the bay, and 3,600 concrete and earthen positions supported by about 350 km of trenches and thousands of land mines, completed the fortress in early 1942. Trenches and tunnels linked many of the positions. In the Sapun Mountains, at the base of the peninsula where Sevastapol was located, natural and man-made caves in the high, almost perpendicular, bluffs of the Tshornaya River were turned into formidable defenses.
In addition, the Maxim Gorky I and II (Coast Batteries #30 and #35), each had a pair of gun turrets: the first with twin gun turrets located east of Ljabimorka (north of the bay) and the second with a set of similar turrets situated on the south-western end of the peninsula where Sevastopol stood. Battery Strelitzka mounted six 254-mm guns. Fort Stalin and Fort Lenin included a battery of four 76.2 anti-aircraft guns. Other forts, such as Fort Volga, served as infantry positions. Finally, the old strong point of Malakoff was turned into an artillery and infantry position with two 130-mm guns with shields. Besides the normal anti-infantry and anti-tank obstacles, the Soviets employed a “flame ditch,” a concrete lined ditch where fuel funneled through a pipe was ignited, creating a fire barrier.
Although it was not actually a coastal defense sector, the isthmus linking the Crimea to the mainland was defended by the Perekop Line, consisting of permanent works forming two continuous lines. In the low lying treeless plain, every rise over 10 meters dominated the area. The 15 km wide northern belt included the outpost of Perekop. The main defensive area, the 400 year old Tartar Trench, cut through the isthmus and served as a moat supported by two dams. The ditch was about 9.0 meters deep, 20 meters wide and was filled with water. The southern position, which crossed the isthmus taking advantage of the local lakes and canals, was supported further to the south by the Tshetarlyk River. Numerous bunkers covered barriers of steel anti-tank rail obstacles, tank traps, and mine fields. Unlike many of the positions on the border, these were already camouflaged and difficult to detect.
Coast Artillery: Range (meters)
355.6-mm (14´´) 31,000
305-mm (12´´) 24,600 to 42,000
203-mm (8´´) (German) 33,500
181-mm*152-mm (6´´) 14,000 to 18,000
130-mm* (5.1´´) 19,600 to 25,400
105-mm and 152-mm (old weapons) 15,000 to 18.000
75-mm (3´´)(French Canet) 8,000
*These may be the weapons identified as 185-mm and 132-mm weapons by Germans.
152-mm Howitzer 1938 12,400
122-mm Howitzer 1938 12,100
107-mm Cannon 1940 M-60 17,450
76.2-mm Cannon 1936 13,500
45-mm Anti-Tank 1932, 1937 4,670 to 8,800
120-mm 1938 5,700 to 6,000
82-mm Mortar 1936 3,100
50-mm Mortar 1940 800
7.62-mm Light Machine Gun(Maxim 1910)
76.2-mm Light Machine Gun (Degtiarev 1928)
*Sources are inconsistent with regard to the figures and the type of shell used
According to German documents, the so-called 76.2-mm Fortress Cannon on a special ball mount in a gun casemate, replaced the older 76.2-mm gun used in fortifications and had a faster rate of fire. The mount included a funnel that carried the used shell into the fossé in front of the gun position. The older gun positions on the Stalin Line did not have this type of funnel, but included an embrasure cover that dropped in front of the gun.
The mortars and most of the artillery were placed in field fortifications made of earth and logs. Many of these positions were probably not prepared until after the invasion in 1941.
In addition to these weapons, there were also small flame throwers, static weapons buried into the ground with only their nozzles exposed and ignited electrically or by trip wire. They were placed in front of the defensive position or among the obstacles. According to German sources, the Soviets used a 1941 design, which means that it is not likely that they were in the Stalin Line. However, they may have been placed in other positions such as the Minsk to Moscow highway or the Mozhaisk Line.
World War II
The Germans, who invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, were not fully aware of the defensive positions that faced them. They estimated that 40% were completed, but had no drawings showing exact locations or composition of Russian installations, except for those located right on the border.
The staff of the German 8th and 29th Divisions had little knowledge of the condition or existence of Russian fortifications behind the Popily and Niemen Rivers. They planned to deal with any fortifications they encountered with massed artillery bombardment from twenty-nine heavy batteries, including eleven 210-mm mortar batteries.
The Germans easily overran the first bunkers, which were empty, poorly camouflaged, exposed in open terrain, and devoid of obstacles. The Germans smashed the bunker embrasures with anti-tank guns and destroyed many with flame throwers and demolition charges. The 8th Division quickly overcame most opposition on its front with these methods. Grodno fell on June 23 after all the bunkers in front of it had been eliminated. The 28th Division simply bypassed many Russian fortifications at Dorgun on the first day and moved to the Niemen. This division was later ordered to take the strongest border defenses in the area, the Sopockinie fortifications, which it had previously bypassed. After bitter fighting, Sopockinie was taken on June 24. Troops in a three-level bunker resisted for seven hours in the face of the German troops and engineers who detonated several hundred kilograms of explosives. The Germans attributed their success to insufficient Soviet troops in the area and to the incomplete state of the defenses, which lacked obstacles, minefields, and camouflage.
The old fortress of Brest-Litovsk, located on four islands with wide moats and old walls, was put back into service by the Russians soon after they occupied it in 1939. The German 45th Division attacked it, supported by huge 210-mm howitzers and two 600-min mortars. After a river assault, the German troops encircled it, but it took them seven days of intense fighting to take the citadel, since they had under-estimated the strength of the old works.
Further to the south, the Germans attacked the Sokal defenses on the Bug River where the Soviets had completed and camouflaged many of the bunkers. On the first day, the Germans methodically eliminated each position, leaving an engineer battalion behind to complete the work the next day. On June 25 twenty two- and three-level bunkers, which were still incomplete, went back into action. Even though they lacked camouflage, they managed to resist for a considerable time. One of the bunkers with a cloche proved particularly difficult to disable. The Germans used demolition charges to eliminate many of them. The procedure required engineers to advance under cover of flame-throwers and place demolition charges in the ventilation shafts, blasting the entrances.
The URs of Kiev gave stiff resistance from July to August 1941 with the city of Kiev holding off several assaults until August. Further north on other parts of the Stalin Line, many of the URs such as Slutsk, were little more than skeletons, of little use to the Soviets despite Zhukov’s pre-invasion efforts.
The defenses on the Dniestr extended up to 10 km in depth. Along the east bank of the Dniestr the Germans encountered elements of the old Stalin Line. The defenses near the river lacked an outpost line. Two- and three-embrasure light bunkers for machine guns and a few gun emplacements, stood 400 to 2,000 meters apart in the Yampol sector (UR of Novogrod-Volynski) and were reinforced by field fortifications.
Elements of the German Eleventh Army in pursuit of Soviet troops retreating from the Pruth River, encountered these works in mid-July. Two infantry divisions attacked across the defended river crossings on July 18 at Cosauti and General Poetash. The Germans successfully forced a crossing at both points. Assault engineers eliminated the bunkers at Porohy with the use of flame-throwers and pole charges placed against the embrasures. Heavy explosive charges reduced the remaining bunkers. Russian troops continued to fight desperately even when out flanked and in a hopeless position, not knowing that the high command had already sacrificed them before the invasion began. German reports indicate that the Soviets reoccupied abandoned positions in places where local resistance was strong. In some instances, however, the troops turned out to be raw recruits forced to defend bunkers unfamiliar to them and they surrendered quickly.
A heavily fortified area of the Stalin Line at Dubossary, containing many bunkers, artillery batteries, and other supporting positions, finally fell at the end of July. German engineers and infantrymen, supported by anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, engaged in close combat, finally overcoming Soviet resistance.
In September, the Germans penetrated the position they called the Leningrad Line and struggled on. The Mozhaisk Line, the defenses in front of Moscow, was still incomplete and fell quickly in October. For the most part, the Soviets failed to use effectively the fortifications between the border and Moscow, partly because most were incomplete and not fully manned. Odessa, which had only field fortifications and no permanent landward fortifications, resisted until November 1941.
After the Germans overran the Perekop Line on the isthmus leading into the Crimea in October 1941, it was only a matter of time before Sevastopol fell. It held out for twenty-eight days in a battle that ended in July 1942. At Sevastopol the Germans deployed their super heavy artillery, including the 800-mm rail gun Dora, to destroy key points like Maxim Gorky I. On June 6, heavy German guns and mortars fired on Maxim Gorky I and scored direct hits that destroyed one of the gun turrets and damaged the other. Additional artillery fire and air bombardment failed to eliminate the Maxim Gorky damaged turret, which was finally put out of action by assault engineers on June 17. The battle for the battery continued as the Russians fought from its battered positions until July 1. The 800-mm monster rail gun inflicted little damage beside landing three rounds on Fort Stalin on June 5, and fifteen rounds on Fort Molotov on the next day. German heavy artillery concentrated on Fort Stalin on June 11-12. The four 76.2-mm guns of the fort had special shelters and remained in action until June 13 when an infantry assault finally took the fort. By early July, the Germans had fired over a million rounds. They had taken over 3,500 fortified positions, 7 armored forts, 38 bunkers built into the rock, 118 bunkers of reinforced concrete, and another 740 built of earth and stone. On July 4, after taking the Sapun positions, and the final assault that took Maxim Gorky II, the campaign against the last major pre-war fortified position came to a close. Soviet methods of fortifications began to change as the war progressed.
The German Siege 1942
Between 2 and 6 June, the Eleventh Army fired a total of 42,595 rounds equivalent to 2,449 tons of munitions. Some nine per cent of Eleventh Army’s ammunition stockpile was expended in the preparation phase. German divisional artillery fired 19,750 rounds of 105mm and 5,300 rounds of 150mm ammunition in the five-day bombardment. Infantry guns fired another 4,200 rounds of 75mm and 150mm ammunition, plus 5,300 81mm mortar rounds. The corps-level Nebelwerfer battalions remained silent during this phase, not firing a single rocket. Two-thirds of the super heavy artillery rounds fired in the prep phase were from the four 240mm H39 howitzers and 16 305mm Skoda mortars.
The heaviest weapons, the Karl mortars and ‘Dora’, only played a minor role in the opening bombardment. One Karl mortar fired two registration rounds on 2 June, but the battalion then was not committed until 6 June. After an immense engineering effort, ‘Dora’ was finally installed at Bakhchysaray 25km north-east of Sevastopol and was ready for firing on 5 June. At 0535hrs, ‘Dora’ fired one of its 7-ton shells at Fort Maxim Gorky I’s Bastion I, and then proceeded to lob eight rounds at the minor Coastal Battery 2 near the harbour entrance. Accuracy was poor, with most rounds missing by 300m or more. Six rounds were then fired at Fort Stalin, with the closest round landing within 35-40m of the target and most impacting 130-260m away. On 6 June, ‘Dora’ opened fire in the evening and fired seven rounds at Fort Molotov; one round struck within 80m of the target, three rounds within 165-210m, one round within 310m, one round 500m off and one round 615m off. ‘Dora’ was then directed against a cleverly camouflaged ammunition dump named White Cliff on the northern side of Severnaya Bay and fired nine rounds with no effect.
It was more difficult for the Germans to employ the clumsy and shortrange Karl system, but on the late afternoon of 6 June the men of the 1st Battery/833rd Heavy Artillery Battalion were able to manoeuvre the 600mm mortar known as ‘Thor’ up onto a hill just 1,200m from the nearest Soviet positions of the 95th Rifle Division. From this location, ‘Thor’ had a clear line of sight to Fort Maxim Gorky I 3,700m to the south, and at 1700hrs it started lobbing 16 of its 2-ton concrete-piercing shells at the target. One of the shells hit Turret No. 2, severely damaging the weapon and causing casualties among the crew. ‘Thor’ was less effective against Bastion I, which contained the fort’s communications and range-finding equipment, but a Stuka attack succeeded in knocking out the cable trunk. All told, Coastal Battery 30 suffered about 40 casualties among its 290 naval gunners during the air and artillery bombardment, but neither ‘Thor’ nor ‘Dora’ had succeeded in destroying the installation.
Although the use of super-heavy weapons such as the Karl mortars and ‘Dora’ may have undermined the morale of the Soviet troops on the receiving end of multi-ton shells, these weapons actually failed to make a significant contribution commensurate with their cost. Primary responsibility must rest with General der Artillerie Zuckertort, the commander of the 306th Army Artillery Command, who violated the cardinal rule of artillery support in that he allowed these expensive weapons to fire too few rounds at too many targets, resulting in none of them actually being destroyed. ‘Dora’ had only 48 rounds available but Zuckertort used them against eight different targets, including only nine rounds against the primary target of Fort Maxim Gorky I. Furthermore, the super-heavy artillery of 420mm or larger all ran out of ammunition early in the offensive and it was the less-celebrated Czech-made 305mm mortars and 240mm howitzers that made the greater contribution and continued to fire from the first day of the offensive to the last.
The Soviets held back most of their artillery during the period 2-6 June because of limited ammunition supplies and concern about exposing their few heavy weapons to enemy counterbattery fire or Stuka attack. At the start of June, the SOR had about 200-300 rounds for each of its howitzers and 600-700 rounds for each mortar. Yet Soviet observers were vigilant and when they could confirm the location of a German artillery unit, they would call upon a few designated ‘sniper batteries’ that could shoot and then re-position. During the period 2-6 June, the Soviets destroyed three German artillery pieces, including a precious 280mm howitzer.
On 7 June 1942, after five days of bombardment, the Soviets expected an imminent ground assault. On the evening of 6 June around 2300hrs, Soviet artillery supporting Defensive Sectors III and IV began shooting harassing fires against suspected German troop assembly areas. In spite of this, at 0315hrs the 306th Army Artillery Command began a massive one-hour ‘destruction fire’, concentrating on the area between Haccius Ridge and Trapez. Both ‘Odin’ and ‘Thor’ joined the bombardment, firing a total of 54 rounds against Coastal Battery 30’s turrets [ Maxim Gorky I] and Bastion I, as well as against targets around Belbek. Infantry guns and mortars fired for effect against the front-line trenches in the Belbek Valley, while Nebelwerfer hit the second-line positions and 305mm mortars worked over key targets such as the Olberg. Unlike the previous five days, the German artillery fired at nearly maximum rates of fire and did not pause to assess damage. The effect on the forward Soviet positions around the Stellenberg (Hill 124) was stunning as infantry fighting positions were pounded mercilessly. Long-range guns went after targets in the Soviet rear, particularly reserves and known artillery positions. The Soviet 7th Naval Infantry Brigade, sitting in reserve well behind the line, was particularly hard hit and lost most of the 200 replacements that had just arrived to a combined air and artillery attack. However, ‘Dora’ continued to waste rounds firing against the White Cliff ammunition dump – which prompted an angry rebuke directly from Hitler to stop misusing the weapon against such targets. Although the Germans claimed that ‘Dora’ destroyed the dump – a claim that may be exaggerated – it is clear that it had failed to neutralize Fort Maxim Gorky I, which continued to fire periodically throughout 7 June.