HITLER’S LAST TRIUMPH I

In just five weeks of bitter fighting during the summer of 1944, Rokossovsky’s troops stormed over 450 miles and were within reach of Warsaw. The Polish capital looked a tempting prize for Stalin as a culmination of Operation Bagration’s remarkable success, but his summer offensive was beginning to lose momentum. Rokossovsky’s 1st Byelorussian Front was at the very limit of its supply lines; ammunition and rations were exhausted, as were his men.

Rokossovsky, at this stage, enjoyed a 3:1 superiority in infantry and 5:1 in armour and artillery. He had at his disposal nine armies: one tank army, two tank corps, three cavalry corps, one motorised corps and two air armies. Against this, Field Marshal Walter Model’s 2nd Army could muster barely five under-strength panzer divisions and one infantry division, while the battered 9th Army had just two divisions and two brigades of infantry.

In many ways, Hitler’s defence of Warsaw echoed that of Minsk. The eastern approaches of the Polish capital were protected by a 50-mile ring of strongpoints. The only difference was that, this time, Model had sufficient mobile reserves with which to parry Rokossovsky’s armoured thrusts. He had gathered his wits and, more importantly, sufficient men with which to thwart Rokossovsky’s oncoming tide. Model’s defences coalesced around his panzer divisions with around 450 tanks and self-propelled guns. Over the next week, things would start to go badly wrong for Rokossovsky and his men would experience their first major setback.

Rokossovsky’s Lublin–Brest Offensive was conducted from 18 July to 2 August 1944 as a follow-up to Bagration and to support General I.S. Konev’s Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive by tying down German forces in central eastern Poland. It culminated in the major tank Battle of Radzymin. To the north of Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front, Rokossovsky’s 8th Guards, 47th and 69th Armies supported by the 2nd Tank Army, and the Polish 1st Army struck from the Kovel area toward Lublin and Warsaw, thereby making Army Group North Ukraine’s position untenable.

It seemed appropriate to Stalin that eastern Poland should be liberated as part of Byelorussia, as that is how Hitler had treated it. For administrative purposes, parts of German-occupied Poland had been lumped in with western Byelorussia. When Hitler divided prostrate Poland with Stalin in 1939, he also annexed the region south-west of East Prussia (Wartheland) to the Reich, while the Reichkommissariate of ‘Ostland’ (an area incorporating Minsk and the Baltic States) and ‘Ukraine’ governed parts of eastern Poland, and the ‘rump’ in the middle was run as the Generalgouvernement.

In mid-1944 north of Warsaw, Model turned to Heinrich Himmler’s Waffen-SS for assistance in stabilising the front. The remnants of the 1st SS and 2nd SS Panzer Divisions had been shipped west after their mauling in the Kamenets–Podolsk pocket to re-equip and prepare for the anticipated Anglo-American landings in France. However, the tough 3rd SS and 5th SS Panzer Divisions remained in Romania and Poland rearming.

The 3rd SS was notified to move north as early as 25 June, but the disruption to the rail networks and roads meant that it took two weeks to get to north-eastern Poland. Arriving on 7 July, it found the Red Amy was already striking toward the Polish city of Grodno, threatening the southern flank of Army Group Centre’s 4th Army and the northern flank of the 2nd Army.

Deployed to Grodno, the 3rd SS were given the task of creating a defensive line for the 4th Army to retire behind. Spectacularly, the division held off 400 Soviet tanks for eleven days before withdrawing south-west toward Warsaw. Joined by the Hermann Göring Panzer Division at Siedlce, 50 miles east of the Polish capital, they held the Red Army for almost a week from 24 July, keeping open an escape corridor for the 2nd Army as it fled toward the Vistula. Three days later, the Red Army threw almost 500 tanks to the south and by 29 July it was at the very suburbs of Warsaw.

The 5th SS arrived in western Warsaw on 27 July and trundled through the troubled city to take up positions to the east. The next day, Stalin ordered Rokossovsky to occupy Praga, Warsaw’s suburbs on the eastern bank of the Vistula, during 5–8 August, and to establish a number of bridgeheads over the river to the south of the city.

As instructed, the Soviet 2nd Tank Army and 8th Tank Corps attacked westward along the Warsaw–Lublin road toward Praga. About 40 miles south-east of Warsaw, in the Garwolin area, the 2nd Tank was opposed by two advanced battalions of Genera Fritz Franek’s 10,800-strong 73rd Infantry Division. Holding the north bank of the Swidra River, they were backed up by the Hermann Göring Panzer Division 12 miles east of Praga.

In addition, four panzer divisions (3rd SS, 5th SS, 4th and 19th Panzer) which were poised to counter-attack now defended the approaches to the Polish capital. The men of 19th Panzer were veterans of the Eastern Front, having fought on the central and southern sectors from June 1941 to June 1944, before being shipped to the Netherlands for a refit. Hasso Krappe, an officer with 19th Panzer, recalled the fighting around Warsaw, ‘Over the next two weeks the battles centred on the region north of Warsaw [between the Bug, Narev and Vistula], and on the Varka, which has gone down in military history as the “Magnushev Bridgehead”.’

Franek’s division had endured a rough time during its career, having taken part in the invasions of Poland, the Low Countries, France and Greece before entering the Soviet Union via Romania. It fought at Nikolayev, Cherson, Sevastopol and the Kuban bridgehead. Suffering heavy losses near Melitopol, the 73rd Infantry was withdrawn only to be trapped by the Red Army in Sevastopol in May 1944 and re-formed in June in Hungary under Franek.

Franek’s men and the Hermann Göring bore the brunt of the powerful attacks launched by two Soviet Tank Corps. Garwolin was partially captured during the night of 27/28 July and the 73rd fell back. Despite the presence of elements of 19th Panzer and the Hermann Göring, by noon on 29 July the Soviet 8th Tank Corps had secured Kołbiel and Siennica. About 26 miles from Warsaw at Minsk Mazowiecki, Lieutenant General N.D. Vedeneev’s 3rd Tank Corps broke the German defences, and at Zielonka, General Franek and some of his staff were captured.

Brest-Litovsk fell to Rokossovsky on 28 July and with his troops at Garwolin, three German divisions tried to escape toward Siedlce, south-east of Warsaw. They were surrounded between Biała and the river and crushed, with 15,000 killed and just 2,000 captured. In Moscow, Stalin and his commanders were very pleased with Rokossovsky’s efforts and on 29 July he was nominated a Marshal of the Soviet Union.

Captured German documents showed that the 5th SS Reconnaissance Unit was deployed near Minsk Mazowiecki; units of the Hermann Göring and the 73rd Infantry were holding the Cechowa and Otwock sector of Warsaw’s outer defences; 19th Panzer was defending the approaches to Praga and the 3rd SS were in the Okuniew and Pustelnik suburban areas.

When the 2nd Tank Army’s 16th Tank Corps struck toward Otwock along the Lublin road, the 19th Panzer counter-attacked with forty panzers and an infantry regiment but were unable to hold, and by the evening the Soviets were a mere 15 miles from Warsaw. They were now poised to assault the key defences of Okuniew. The 8th Tank Corps opened the attack, only to be stalled by determined German air and artillery fire.

In the meantime Vedeneev, bypassing German defences, drove them from Wołomin and Radzymin, just 12 miles north-east of Warsaw, where he took up defensive positions along the Dluga River. Having outstretched his supply lines and outrun the rest of the Soviet 2nd Tank Army, Vedeneev was in a dangerously exposed position. The 39th Panzer Corps was in the area and the panzer divisions were coming together in the direction of Radzymin-Wołomin.

Rokossovsky’s forces were quick to react to this threat and attempted to alleviate the pressure on Vedeneev with a diversionary attack. At dawn on 31 July, followed by heavy air and artillery bombardment, the Soviet 8th Tank Corps threw themselves at the Germans who fell back toward Okuniew. The 5th SS counter-attacked in a westerly direction with fifty panzers from Stanislawów, in an effort to link up with the Hermann Göring and 19th Panzer, who were fighting a tank battle with the Soviets at Okuniew and Ossow.

The 5th SS were repulsed and on the evening of 31 July the Soviets took Okuniew, but could not budge the enemy from their strongpoint at Osos. North of the Soviet 8th Tank Corps, the 3rd Tank remained unsupported and, like the 16th Corps, endured a day of heavy attacks from German armour, artillery and infantry. The commander of the Soviet 2nd Army was in an impossible position; his units were enduring heavy casualties; he was short of supplies and his rear was under threat.

Rokossovsky simply could not fulfil his orders to break though the German defences and enter Praga by 8 August – it was simply not possible. On 1 August, at 1610 hrs he ordered the attack to be broken off just as Model launched his major counter-attack. On 2 August, all Red Army forces that were assaulting Warsaw were redirected. The 28th, 47th and 65th Armies were sent northwards to seize the undefended town of Wyszków and the Liwiec River Line. Crucially, this left the 2nd Tank Army without infantry support. This situation was compounded when the 69th Army was ordered to halt while the 8th Guards Army under Vasily Chuikov ceased the assault, to await a German attack from the direction of Garwolin.

Model began to probe the weak spot in Rokossovsky’s line between Praga and Siedlce. His intention was to hit the Soviets in the flank and the rear, and soon, to the north-east of Warsaw, the 39th Panzer Corps was counter-attacking the 3rd Tank Corps and forcing it back to Wołomin. The 3rd SS, Hermann Göring and 4th and 19th Panzer Divisions struck south into the exposed Soviet columns.

The Hermann Göring’s 1st Armoured Paratroop Regiment launched their attack from Praga toward Wołomin on 31 July, heralding the much larger effort to halt the Red Army in its steps before Warsaw. From the south-west, along the Warsaw–Wyszków road attacking toward Radzymin, came the 19th Panzer, while from Wyszków the 4th Panzer acted in support.

The next day, from Węgrów pushing toward Wołomin, came the panzers of the 5th SS. At the same time the 3rd SS was launched into the fray from Siedlce toward Stanislawów with the intention of trapping those Soviet units on the north-eastern bank of the Dluga. General Nikolaus von Vormann, appointed by Guderian to command the 9th Army and bringing up reinforcements from the 2nd Army’s reserves, also launched a counter-attack. Using men of the 5th SS and 3rd SS attacking from the forests to the east of Michałów, he drove the Soviet 8th Tank Corps from Okuniew at 2100 hrs on 1 August and linked up with 39th Panzer Corps from the west.

By 2 August, the 19th followed by 4th Panzer were in Radzymin and the Soviet 3rd Tank Corps was thrown back toward Wołomin. The following day, the Hermann Göring Panzer Division rolled into Wołomin. Pressed into the area of Wołomin, Vedeneev was completely trapped. Attempts by the 8th Guards Tank Corps and the 16th Tank Corps to reach him failed with the former suffering serious casualties in the attempt.

After a week of heavy fighting, the Soviet 3rd Tank Corps was surrounded; 3,000 men were killed and another 6,000 captured. The Red Army also lost 425 of the 808 tanks and self-propelled guns they had begun the battle with on 18 July. By noon on 5 August the Germans had ceased their counter-attack and the battle for the Praga approaches had come to an end. Two German divisions had to be transferred south to deal with the Soviet threat there.

Vedeneev’s corps was destroyed and the 8th Guards Tank Corps and the 16th Tank Corps had taken heavy losses. The exhausted Soviet 2nd Tank Army handed over its positions and withdrew to lick its wounds.

Post-war Communist propagandists cited the Battle of Radzymin as evidence that the German counter-attack prevented the Red Army from helping the Warsaw Uprising. Stalin clearly did not hold Vedeneev responsible. He remained in charge and the 3rd Tank Corps was honoured by being designated the 9th Guards Tank Corps in November 1944. It was not until 25 August that Rokossovsky would inform Stalin that he was ready to have another go at Warsaw.

After such heavy fighting north-east of the Polish capital, it is easy to see why Stalin saw the Polish Home Army’s Warsaw Rising as of little consequence to the overall strategic scheme of things. General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowsky, commander of the underground Polish Home Army, ordered his men to rise up against the German occupation of Warsaw on 1 August. Two days later, Stanislaus Mikołajczyk, who had been appointed prime minister by the exiled Polish government in London, gained an audience with Stalin in the hope of getting help for the Warsaw Rising. Stalin showed little faith in the Home Army’s fighting capabilities:

What is an army without artillery, tanks and an air force? They are even short of riles. In modern warfare such an army is of little use. They are small partisan units, not a regular army. I was told that the Polish government has ordered these units to drive the Germans out of Warsaw. I wonder how they could possibly do this, their forces are not up to that task.

Rokossovsky was ordered to go over to the defensive and watched the Germans systemically crush the Poles for two whole months. Likewise, the Red Air Force, which was just 100 miles away, did very little. At Kraków, the capital of the Generalgouvernement, the Wehrmacht garrison was 30,000 strong, twice that of Warsaw, which had a much bigger population. In addition, there were some 10,000 armed German administrators in the city. As a result, there was no secondary Home Army rising in Kraków.

Just 12.5 miles south of Warsaw, Chuikov’s 8th Guards Army crossed the Vistula on 1 August at Magnuszew. He held onto his tiny bridgehead despite determined counter-attacks. By the 8th, the bridgehead contained three Soviet corps. Holding the northern shoulder of the bridgehead and preventing the Soviets from expanding it was a Volksgrenadier Brigade and a battalion of panzers, while to the south were the 17th Infantry Division.

General Zygmunt Berling’s Soviet-trained Polish 1st Army had reinforced Rokossovsky during the spring of 1944. This was, in fact, the second Polish army to be formed in the Soviet Union and was the military wing of the so-called Union of Polish Patriots, which had come into being with Stalin’s approval in 1943. The earlier army of General Władysław Anders had managed to slip Stalin’s grasp in 1942, getting itself redeployed to fight with the British in the Middle East and Italy.

Berling was ordered to cross the Vistula at Puławy on 31 July on a wide front to support other elements of the Soviet 69th and 8th Guards Armies crossing near Magnuszew. Two Polish divisions gained the west bank on 1 and 2 August, but by the 4th they had suffered 1,000 casualties and were ordered to withdraw. They were then assigned to protect the northern part of the Magnuszew bridgehead.

When Berling joined Rokossovsky he had 104,000 men under arms, comprising five infantry divisions, a tank brigade, four artillery brigades and an air wing. Many recruits who were former POWs from 1939 saw it as a way of getting home, although Stalin kept them on a tight political leash. Berling, like Rokossovsky, was a career soldier having served with the Austrian and Polish armies. The fact that Stalin had spared him and that he had not stayed with Anders made him appear a turncoat to many of his countrymen. Berling was also given the onerous task of endorsing Stalin’s lie that Hitler had perpetrated the massacre of Polish officers in Katyn Forest.

When Poland was partitioned by Stalin and Hitler under the Non-Aggression Pact, 130,000 Polish officers and men immediately fell into the hands of the Red Army (although, in total, some 250,000 soldiers were eventually moved into the Soviet Union as POWs). Stalin had a long memory and a score to settle with the Poles (in 1920 they had defeated the Red Army), and he also wanted to destroy the basis for any future opposition to the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland, which would act as a buffer against post-war Germany. Stalin had acted swiftly and brutally.

He rounded up every Polish officer in his part of pre-war Poland (now the western Ukraine and western Belorussia) and in early 1940 he ruthlessly organised their slaughter. In April–May 1940, 15,000 Polish officers and policemen were evacuated from camps at Kozielsk, Starobielsk and Ostachkov and turned over to the NKVD in the Smolensk, Kharkov and Kalinin regions. With Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the Polish government in exile signed an agreement with Moscow – the provisions included raising a Polish army in the Soviet Union. However, of the 15,000 Polish officers held by the Soviets, only 350–400 reported for duty. Like the kulaks and Red Army officers before them, the Polish officer class had been ruthlessly butchered.

Stalin’s duplicity in his treatment of Poland and the Polish Army knew no bounds. In December 1941, Generals Wladyslaw Sikorski and Anders plus the Polish ambassador met with Stalin to discuss the whereabouts of approximately 4,000 named Polish officers who had been deported to Soviet prisons and labour camps. Stalin initially claimed rather disingenuously that they had escaped to Manchuria. He then changed tack, suggesting they had been released, adding, ‘I want you to know that the Soviet government has not the slightest reason to retain even one Pole’. What he meant was ‘even one living Pole’.

Hitler announced that he had found the mass grave of up to 4,000 Polish officers in the forest of Katyn, near Smolensk, in April 1943. The Germans continued to dig, unearthing an estimated 10,000 bodies, and Hitler set up a Committee of Inquiry which ‘proved’ the Poles had been shot in 1940 by Stalin’s NKVD. The Soviets dismissed the claim as propaganda, calling it ‘revolting and slanderous fabrications’.

Hitler’s discovery had strained Soviet–Polish relations even further, allowing Stalin to undermine the validity of the Polish government in exile in London as a prelude to establishing a Communist government in Warsaw. As far as Stalin was concerned, Poland came within his sphere of influence and he had every intention of it remaining so. On retaking Smolensk, Stalin set up his own commission which stated categorically that the men had been killed in 1941 while road-building for the Germans.

HITLER’S LAST TRIUMPH II

On the morning of 2 August 1944, Rokossovsky went to view the Polish capital and got a good indication of the Polish Home Army’s efforts, recalling:

Together with a group of officers I was visiting the 2nd Tank Army, which was fighting on that sector of the front. From our observation point, which had been set up at the top of a tall factory chimney, we could see Warsaw. The city was covered in clouds of smoke. Here and there houses were burning. Bombs and shells were exploding. Everything indicated that a battle was in progress.

Why did Rokossovsky not try for a bridgehead at Warsaw if the Red Army had established footholds at Magnuszew, Puławy and on the upper Vistula near Sandomierz? To have done so would have been far tougher than in the Radom region, way to the south. Sandomierz had cost them dearly, plus Stalin saw Warsaw as anchoring the Germans’ line on the Narev and Bobr and, in turn, East Prussia and knew they would fight bitterly to defend this. Without the Baltic States secured, Hitler could strike from East Prussia against the flank and rear of the Red Army once it was advancing beyond the Vistula.

Also, by now Rokossovsky was facing twenty-two enemy divisions, this included four security divisions in the Warsaw suburbs, three Hungarian divisions on the Vistula, south of Warsaw, and the remains of six or seven divisions which had escaped from the chaos of Belostok and Brest-Lotovsk. At least eight divisions were identified fighting to the north of Siedlce, amongst them two panzer and three SS panzer or panzergrenadier divisions. Stalin was waiting in the wings with his own Polish government and armed forces.

Marshal Zhukov blamed Polish leader Bor-Komorowski for a lack of co-operation with the Red Army:

As was established later, neither the command of the Front [Rokossovsky] nor that of Poland’s 1st Army [Berling] had been informed in advance by Bor-Komorowski, the leader of the uprising, about forthcoming events in Warsaw. Nor did he make any attempt to co-ordinate the insurgents’ actions with those of the 1st Byelorussian Front. The Soviet Command learned about the uprising after the event from local residents who had crossed the Vistula. The Stavka had not been informed in advance either.

In light of Rokossovsky’s efforts to the north-east and south-east of Warsaw in the face of the tough Waffen-SS, this is largely true.

In Warsaw, General Reiner Stahel’s 12,000-strong garrison included 5,000 regular troops, 4,000 Luftwaffe personnel (over a quarter of whom were manning the air defences) and the 2,000-strong Warsaw security regiment. Wehrmacht forces in the immediate area numbered up to 16,000 men, with another 90,000 further afield. Army Group Centre was to have a limited role in fighting the Warsaw Rising. General Vormann, commanding the 9th Army, sent 1,000 men to Praga to help hold the Poniatowski Bridge. An additional three battalions were also sent to help to assist the Hermann Göring Division in clearing a way through the city to the Kierbedz Bridge.

With the Wehrmacht fully tied up fending off Soviet attacks, it was left to the reviled SS to stamp out the Polish rising, involving military police units and SS troops under SS-Standartenführer Paul Geibel supported by factory and rail guards. Geibel also managed to scrounge four Tiger tanks, a Panther tank, four medium tanks and an assault gun off the 5th SS to strengthen his forces. A motley battle group under SS-Gruppenführer Heinz Reinefarth, supported by thirty-seven assault guns and a company of heavy tanks, was also assembled to crush the Polish Home Army in Warsaw.

SS reinforcements included SS-Brigadeführer Bratislav Kaminski’s hated Russian National Liberation Army Brigade. Kaminski supported SS-Oberführer Oskar Dirlewanger’s Anti-Partisan Brigade. This consisted of two battalions of criminals, three battalions of former Soviet POWs, two companies of gendarmes, a police platoon and an artillery battery. Additionally, Colonel Wilhelm Schmidt supplied men drawn from his 603rd Regiment and a grenadier and police battalion.

All the forces in Warsaw were placed under SS-Obergruppenführer Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, who had been overseeing the construction of defences on the Vistula near Gdańsk. He was the nemesis of partisan forces in the east. Von dem Bach-Zelewski was soon to find that both Kaminski and Dirlewanger’s men were atrociously disciplined. Their brutality in Warsaw was to horrify even the battle-hardened SS, and von dem Bach-Zelewski thought they were the lowest of the low, remarking, ‘The fighting value of these Cossacks was, as usual in such a collection of people without a fatherland, very poor. They had a great liking for alcohol and other excesses and had no interest in military discipline.’

On 5 August 1944, Dirlewanger and Kaminski’s troops counter-attacked the brave Polish Home Army. For two days, they ran amok. After the war, the German officers involved disingenuously laid the blame firmly on the shoulders of Kaminski and Dirlewanger.

On 19 August the Polish Home Army’s efforts to fight its way through to those forces trapped in the Old Town came to nothing and it was clear they would have to be evacuated to the city centre and Żoliborz district. About 2,500 fighters withdrew via the sewers, leaving behind their badly wounded. It was now only a matter of time before the SS crushed resistance in the city centre and cleared resistance between the Poniatowski and Kierbedz Bridges.

To ward off a wider encircling movement by the Red Army to the north, Model deployed the 4th SS Panzer Corps with the 3rd SS and 5th SS moving into blocking positions. From 14 August, the Soviets attacked for a week but the SS successfully held off fifteen rifle divisions and two tank corps. Also in mid-August, Model relinquished his command of Army Group Centre and hastened to France to take charge from Günther von Kluge in a vain attempt to avert the unfolding German defeat in Normandy.

Stalin’s great offensive that had commenced in Byelorussia on 23 June 1944 had all but ended by 29 August. By the 26th, the 3rd SS had been forced back to Praga, but a counter-attack by them on 11 September thwarted another attempt to link up with the Polish Home Army. It was the 3rd SS and 5th SS who had the dubious honour, along with Stalin, of consigning Warsaw to two months of bloody agony.

From 13 September, the Red Air Force spent two weeks conducting 2,000 supply sorties to the insurgents. The supplies were modest, including 505 anti-tank rifles, nearly 1,500 sub-machine guns and 130 tons of food, medicine and explosives. By the time Berling’s Polish 1st Army was committed for the battle for Praga, time was running out, with Żoliborz under attack by elements of the 25th Panzer Division and just 400 insurgents left holding a narrow strip of the river.

Berling recklessly threw his men over the river at Czerniaków, but tragically could make no headway against determined German resistance. He landed three groups on the banks of the Czerniaków and Powiśle areas and made contacts with Home Army forces on the night of 14/15 September. His men on the eastern shore attempted several more landings over the next four days, but during 15–23 September those who had got over suffered heavy casualties and lost their boats and river-crossing equipment.

On 22 September, Berling’s men were ordered back across the Vistula for a second time. There was hardly any Red Army support and out of the 3,000 men who made it across just 900 got back to the eastern shores, two-thirds of whom were seriously wounded. In total, Berling’s Polish 1st Army losses amounted to 5,660 killed, missing or wounded, trying to aid the Warsaw Uprising.

After sixty-two days of fighting, and having lost 15,000 dead and 25,000 wounded, the Polish Home Army surrendered in Warsaw on 2 October. Up to 200,000 civilians had been killed in the needless orgy of destruction. After the surrender, 15,000 members of the Home Army were disarmed and sent to POW camps in Germany, while up to 6,000 fighters slipped back into the population with the intention of continuing the fight. However, the vengeful Himmler expelled the rest of the civilian population and ordered the city be flattened.

Crushing the Poles had been a pointless exercise which cost Hitler 10,000 dead, 9,000 wounded and 7,000 missing. It was clear from the fatalities outnumbering the wounded that no quarter had been given. However, German morale was given a much-needed boost, which had them believing their feat of arms, rather than Stalin, had halted Rokossovsky at the very gates of Warsaw.

Rokossovsky would not occupy the Polish capital for another six weeks, leaving Hitler triumphant before Warsaw. It was to be his last real victory of the war.

At the height of the fighting on the Eastern Front in 1944, 63 per cent of Hitler’s divisions and 70 per cent of his manpower were tied up fighting Stalin’s Red Army. It also accounted for 57 per cent of all his panzers and assault guns, 71 per cent of all guns and mortars and 51 per cent of all operational aircraft. The other two active fronts in France and Italy accounted for just 30–35 per cent of Hitler’s total combat strength.

Despite holding the Red Army before Warsaw and crushing the Polish rising, it was hard to see how Hitler’s Wehrmacht could survive the twin calamities of Byelorussia and Normandy. The enormous loss of manpower urgently needed addressing. While German industry worked wonders reconstituting the shattered panzer formations thanks to Albert Speer’s weapons factories, new infantry divisions were also desperately required. In autumn 1944, Hitler ordered the creation of almost eighty Volksgrenadier divisions. These had fewer infantry battalions and heavy weapons than regular infantry divisions, but issuing them with more sub-machine guns and assault rifles than usual compensated for this.

Initially thirty-five skeleton divisions were refitted and another fifteen new ones created. To the OKW’s displeasure, for propaganda purposes Hitler insisted on naming them Volksgrenadiers (People’s Grenadiers) and placing them under the auspices of the SS. The German Replacement Army was soon gathering men from disbanded army units and convalescing in hospitals, as well as surplus Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine personnel. Old men and teenagers previously considered unsuitable were also rapidly conscripted.

There was constant competition between the army, Waffen-SS and Luftwaffe for resources that created a wholly unnecessary duplication of effort. The OKW would have preferred that all available men were used as combat replacements for existing army units, rather than creating new ones. The army had struggled to gain control of Göring’s twenty-two weak Luftwaffe field divisions in late 1943. By which time the damage was done, as they were standing units and the men could not be transferred. Himmler’s Waffen-SS controlled another thirty-eight elite divisions, which operated outside the army’s chain of command.

The creation of the Volksgrenadier units caused Allied intelligence some confusion, as Hitler’s home guard was known as the Volkssturm. This resulted in the firepower of the Volksgrenadier divisions being greatly underestimated. They were sent to fight on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. However, fifteen divisions were assigned to Hitler’s Ardennes Offensive. Guderian would rather have seen them and the re-formed panzer divisions all sent east to hold the Oder, but it was not to be.

T-54 Main Battle Tank 1-3 Models

The key lesson that the red Army learned from the Second world war was that you needed a lot of everything, especially tanks, to wage modern armoured and mechanized warfare. It was clear from the T-34 and T-44 that they required a tank that was easy to mass-produce in vast numbers, was very reliable and armed with at least a 100mm gun, while the IS heavy tank had been armed with a massive 122mm gun, it meant that it was 20 tons heavier than the T-34/85. experience showed that there was no long-term future in heavy tanks. Thus was born the T-54 MBT.

In 1946 prototypes of a new design, the T-54, were completed and this type entered production several years later. The T-54 and its variants were built in larger numbers than any other Russian tank to appear after World War II, and by the time production of the improved T-55 was completed in 1980-1 it is estimated that well over 50,000 vehicles had been built. The series was also built in Czechoslovakia and Poland for both the home and export markets, while the Chinese produced an almost identical version designated Type 59. Further development of the T-54 and T-55 resulted in the T-62.

The T-54 has an all-welded hull divided into three compartments (driver’s at the front, fighting in the centre, and engine and transmission at rear). The driver is seated at the front of the hull on the left and steers the tank with conventional sticks. An unusual feature of the T-54 is that it has a 7.62-mm (0.3- in) machine-gun fixed in the centre of the glacis plate to fire forwards, this being fired when the driver presses a button on his right steering lever. The commander and gunner are seated on the left of the turret, with the loader on the right. The turret is a casting with the top welded into position. One of the major weaknesses of the T-54 series has been its engine and transmission, which have proved very unreliable in service.

The main armament consists of a 100-mm gun, which was developed from a naval weapon of the same calibre and also used in a modified form in the SU-100 tank destroyer developed in World War II. A well-trained crew can fire about four rounds per minute, and the types of ammunition that can be fired includes AP-T, APC-T, HE, HE-FRAG, HEAT-FS and HVAPDS-T. The last was introduced some time after the T-54 entered pro¬ duction and will penetrate well over 200 mm (7.9 in) of armour at a range of 1000 m (1,095 yards). A total of 34 rounds of 100-mm ammunition is carried, a poor quantity when compared with contemporary Western tanks. One of the major drawbacks of the T- 54 family is that the main armament can only be depressed to -4°, which makes firing from a hill or reverse slope almost impossible. A 7.62-mm (0.3 in) SGMT is mounted co-axially with the 100-mm gun, and a similar weapon is mounted in the bow. A 12.7- mm (0.5-in) DShKM anti-aircraft machine-gun is mounted on the loader’s hatch. The tank does not have smoke dischargers as it can lay its own smoke screen by injecting diesel fuel into the exhaust pipe on the left side of the hull just above the track.

The T-54 was effectively a Ukrainian tank. Under the designation of Obiekt 137 (or B-40) it was designed by the Morozov Bureau at the Malyshev Plant in Kharkov, Ukraine. The city had been producing T-34s at the start of the Second world war but was captured during the German invasion. It subsequently became the scene of a series of battles fought between the Wehrmacht and the red Army before being finally liberated. However, the Kartsev Bureau at Nizhnyi Tagil in Russia would take the credit for the T-54/55.

The T-54 made its debut in the late 1940s with the first prototype appearing in 1946 and initial production authorized three years later. Three factories were given the task, at Kharkov, Nizhnyi Tagil and Omsk. It and the subsequent T-55 went through numerous upgrades, rebuilds and reconfigurations and unless you are a specialist technical intelligence expert trying to identify them all is a largely fruitless task (some sources are downright contradictory or are simply incorrect). essentially the T-54 and T-55 were the same tank with detailed improvements. The following lists the key T-54 production models.

T-54-1 (Model 1946)

This bore some resemblance to the T-44, with undercuts to the front and rear of the turret. Similarly, it also had a very wide gun mantlet but was armed with the 100mm d-10T tank gun. These features made the turret vulnerable to enemy fire. It was issued to field units for trials but proved unsatisfactory and in the meantime the focus remained on T-34/85 production.

T-54-2 (Model 1949)

This was the very first low-rate production model with an improved turret that eliminated the frontal undercut, featured an overhang at the rear and was armed with the 100mm d-10T tank gun.

T-54-3 (Model 1951)

Second low-rate production model, featuring a turret undercut at the rear and a narrow, so-called `pig snout’ gun mantlet.

Soviet/Russian Silo-Based Nuclear Weapons

A definitive historical account of the origins of the Russian A-bomb has never been published, but by consulting various sources a brief account can be gleaned. Only a summary can be provided here.

Research into nuclear physics had gone on in the Soviet Union as far back as the 1920s, and some scientists such as Igor Kurchatov had at the beginning of the Second World War recognized the atom’s potential military application and had recommended funding for laboratory work. The war prevented such research from taking place, but when Josef Stalin heard the Americans had driven down that road, he decided Russia should follow suit. Stalin had heard from his spies working in key American labs that the research they were engaged in was ultimately to be used in an atomic weapon. But it was really only the United States government’s test and only after two bombs were dropped on Japan in the summer of 1945 that the Russians began seriously focusing on their own weapons. The secrets passed onto Moscow from those American individuals greatly helped the Russians in their endeavour, and in August 1949, years earlier than the Americans had predicted, they detonated their first bomb.

The next step in Soviet weapons development was to find ways to deliver those bombs. Air dropping was the first mode of delivery, but since the bombers the Soviet air force then possessed had a limited range, other methods were contemplated. Research on rocket technology had progressed well, thanks mainly to captured German scientists and information, and tests were made with missiles that carried conventional warheads. By the 1950s, Soviet rocket technology had so advanced that by 1957, it succeeded in placing a Sputnik satellite into space. At the same time, rockets were being examined as nuclear delivery platforms, and more than a full year before Sputnik said ‘hello’ to the world, the first ballistic missile regiments were deployed. Within a few years, the Soviet Union’s first operational rocket, the R-5M, would be supplemented with the R-7, the R-12 and the R-14. The rockets then became so plentiful Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev claimed they were coming out of the factories like sausages.

By the late 1950s, Soviet missile production was running at full speed. Rockets were being deployed on launch pads in bases throughout Russia. The missiles represented such an important element of the Soviet Union’s warfighting machine that some generals thought a new and separate branch of the armed forces should be created specifically for them. At first, all rocket units belonged to the artillery corps, but eventually some were assigned to Long-Range Aviation forces and others to the Soviet Supreme High Command. On 17 December 1959, however, history would be made and the new Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN) were born. It would soon become a military service on a par with the army, air force, air defence service and navy.

The RVSN would be Russia’s first line of action against the West, and in consequence it recruited the best and the brightest among Russian conscripts. Throughout its history, it would have the best facilities, the best equipment and the smartest and most loyal officers. The officers and men were treated so well that in return, Moscow expected utmost dedication from them. To expect anything less, in the Kremlin’s mind, would have invited disaster.

The RVSN’s organizational structure follows a pattern very similar to that of the USAF. In the United States, numbered ‘Air Forces’ consist of Wings and Wings are made up of Squadrons. The latter are further divided into Flights. Since the Strategic Rocket Forces were an outgrowth of the artillery corps, it adopted the army structure of numbered Armies, Divisions and Regiments. The latter are composed of Battalions where each consist of a single launcher. Armies and Divisions have their own primary underground headquarters, and the Armies have apparently also a secondary command post that is airmobile. Regimental headquarters are located in launch tubes on remote properties. The missiles are either silo-based or rail or road-mobile. Following the standard Soviet practice, the various units are identified by both ordinal and five-digit numbers. Some units use the prefix ‘Guards’ to indicate a form of eliteness. Divisions are normally numbered, although some carry names. The RVSN has its own test and support sites such as the No. 4 Central Research Institute at Bolshevo in the suburbs of Moscow, and the No. 25 Central Military Clinical Hospital at Odintsovo, again outside Moscow. Training of staff takes place at military engineering institutes at Perm, Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar, Serpukhov and at the Peter the Great Military Academy in Moscow.

In 1985, the RVSN consisted of the following six Armies:

Headquarters Missile Army Location

Vladimir 27th Russia

Orenburg 31st Russia

Omsk 33rd Russia

Vinnitsa 43rd Ukraine

Smolensk 50th Belarus

Chita 53rd Russia

It then had 1,398 missiles in service, 6,840 warheads and counted 415,000 men and women on its payroll. Today, however, only the first three armies remain, and its population is only a fraction of what it used to be. In 2008, the RVSN had 430 ICBMs in service.

Ultimate use of nuclear weapons is decided upon by a very small number of individuals: the President, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of the General Staff (the Nachalnyk Generalnovo Shtaba or the NGS). All three have access to a nuclear football, called Cheget or more colloquially chemodanchik, that is nearby at all times in the hands of an officer from the General Staff’s 9th Directorate. According to Peter Pry in his book War Scare, only one person, the President, needs to issue the order. He does not need, ‘in all likelihood’, the consent of the other two, although he would certainly consult with them. If the President was unavailable or dead, the Minister of Defence would likely assume command, and if the Minister was incapacitated, he would probably be replaced by the NGS. This line of succession seems to confirm that only one person needs to issue the go signal from the Cheget.

The Russian command and control system is predicated on the concept of ‘launch on warning’, which states that nuclear forces should act only when there are definite indications that an attack is under way. Orders to launch can be passed through the footballs (or from some of the underground command posts around Moscow) via a special communications network called Kavkaz, to the General Staff’s and to the military services’ command centres. At the General Staff’s bunker, the orders are transmitted via the Signal-A multifaceted communications system to the RVSN main staff, then to Armies, Divisions and Regiments. Here, they are received by special equipment called Baksan. The orders are then transmitted to the launchers by launch crews. At the same time, missile unlock codes (which are nicknamed ‘goschislo’) and authorization codes are passed onto the regimental command posts. One key feature present in the Russian command and control system not present in the American system is the ability of the Russian high command to bypass intermediate stages using a radio system called V’yuga and transmit orders to fire directly to launch control centres. As Bruce Blair put in in his book The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, the General Staff is not only the band leader but can also play the instruments.

Before the missileers shoot their loads, several steps must take place throughout the command and control system. First, a preliminary command must be sent from Moscow. The command is really generated from two parts, one that originates from the General Staff and the other from the RVSN main staff, and is then validated, combined and transmitted down the chain of command. This order can only be created after enemy launches have been detected by at least two types of sensors and only after the President has so decided. Once this order is received at the regimental Launch Control Centres, launch consoles are activated. Next, a permission command is generated by the same three individuals (the President, Minister of Defence and the NGS) and transmitted to the Commander-in-Chief of the RVSN. Its only role is to provide legality to the launch order. Finally, a direct command is generated in two parts, one from the General Staff and the other from RVSN Headquarters. The command is later combined and again sent down the chain of command. Once received by Baksan equipment at the LCCs, it is authenticated by launch crews. The same crews then check certain computer symbols against a list kept in their safe, choose their targets (probably from a coded list) and set launch times. The command also allows any missile blocking device to be disabled. It then only remains to turn the two keys. Some Russian experts estimate that launch can take place within twenty-one minutes from the time of initial missile detection. Since an American ICBM takes thirty minutes to reach Russia, this would still give a nine minute window of reaction time. On the other hand, this would prove of little comfort to Russian forces if SLBMs were fired from American or British submarines from the Barents or Mediterranean Sea.

Individual missiles contain the target co-ordinates in the memory of their re-entry vehicles. The co-ordinates are chosen from a set listed in the ‘Plan of Operations of the Strategic Rocket Forces’, a document that parallels the American SIOP. In the 1990s, the two superpowers agreed to de-target their missiles as a gesture of goodwill, but this is only a symbolic move as the rockets can be reprogrammed within minutes thanks to computerization. During an attack, some writers have speculated that silo-based missiles would be fired first because of their susceptibility to a first strike, and that mobile missiles, which can relocate to virtually any point, would be used in a retaliatory assault.

The command and control system in Russia has a feature that guarantees near-total reliability. Should the various communications systems be rendered inoperable, or should the human decision triad described above be unavailable, the RVSN would still be able to launch its missiles. In the early 1970s, a decision was made by Moscow to develop a system that would allow the launch of missiles if most of the human input was erased. In 1974, work began on a system that would see special UHF radio-equipped rockets take off if certain conditions were satisfied and that would automatically transmit pre-recorded voice commands to launching crews. Other missiles would then fire after a pre-set time interval. Called Perimetr, this system was implemented to give Russian leaders an insurance policy against decapitation. This ‘Doomsday Machine’, as it is often called in the Western press, was declared operational in 1985. It is also referred to as ‘Dead Hand’.

The Perimetr system operates in three stages. First, once duty officers located in a special underground radio command post receive the proper order, they must turn the system on. Second, they must determine if communications are still available with the Supreme High Command (e.g. the President). If they are not, they are to assume the leadership no longer exists. Third, the officers are to determine if any detonations have taken place on Russian soil. If all three conditions are met, they are to load a message into the radio warhead and launch the rockets, one from each end of the country. Over the next fifteen minutes, these rockets will broadcast the order to fire to the launch crews. There is apparently no way to stop the Perimetr rockets, which means the responsible officers must be sure of themselves before launching them.

Automated systems notwithstanding, the value of human input in the Russian command and control system was clearly demonstrated in 1983. On 25 September of that year, Lieutenant-Colonel Stanislas Petrov was working as a missile warning officer in one of the nation’s early warning facilities, called Serpukhov-15, south of Moscow. The facility received inputs from a series of detection satellites flying high over the planet. At 12.15am on the 26th, one of the warning panels in the control centre flashed the word ‘launch’. It had originated from the United States.

This had never happened before to Petrov. A launch from the US required the Colonel to contact higher authorities and brace for the worst. He and others began to wonder if the United States was using the NATO exercise Able Archer which was then in process as an excuse for a missile attack. Petrov’s staff began to worry and looked to him for guidance. Another indicator panel in the room showed ‘high reliability’. The electronic map in front that showed all the American missile bases had one lamp turned on showing from which base the missile had come from. Petrov’s duty was to alert the Kremlin and the General Staff, but he held off until he could confirm the systems were working properly and that the launch was real. He knew the system was not perfect, and he began to have doubts when the map showed only one missile launch and when the optical telescopes could not confirm that launch. Petrov’s instincts told him it was a false alarm, and said so to his staff. Soon, however, the system showed five more missiles on the way. Again, knowing the system was full of glitches, he assumed it was giving false readings. Petrov knew that if the United States was to attack, it would do so with hundreds of missiles, not just five, so this knowledge served to reinforce his suspicion. He thus refused to sound the alarm, and the world was spared from a potential Armageddon.

One would think that Soviet generals would have thanked Petrov for using his judgment. Not so. A few hours after the event, senior Army officers dropped in not to congratulate him, but to berate him for not passing on the warnings. Had he done so, however, who knows what actions would have been taken by the leadership? For his actions, Petrov was soon transferred to less sensitive duties, and within a year, he would be gone from the military. Eventually, it would be learned that the warnings were generated from the sun’s reflection from the clouds.

When it comes to Russian targeting policy, very little has been revealed about it. What has been divulged has often been based on educated guesswork, limited military writings and, on rare occasions, on information from defectors. What is known is that during the Cold War, the Soviets’ targeting plan called for the destruction of every single enemy nuclear device, preferably in one massive sweep. The most important targets were bomber airfields, submarine bases, nuclear weapons depots and strategic command and control centres. Secondary targets included radar stations and tactical air and missile bases. Other less important aimpoints would have been large army bases, conventional munitions stores and fuel depots. Civilian sites such as political centres and economic facilities (such as power stations and petroleum stockpiles) would also have been wiped out. Early Russian missiles were not very accurate, so they were likely reserved for large facilities such as air and naval bases, although when the Americans began building missile-launching facilities in the 1960s, the rockets’ quick reaction time meant they too would have to be knocked out in the first wave. To ensure their destruction, some installations, such as ammunition depots (of which there were many in West Germany), could have required up to eighteen bombs to destroy because of their hardened igloos. Russia therefore had a clear incentive to build up its arsenal and to increase the accuracy of its weapons.

While it was always clear that the United States and Canada were prime targets for the Strategic Rocket Forces, some have wondered how Western Europe would have fared. Some academics thought that part of the continent might have been spared the use of strategic weapons during an all-out attack for a number of reasons. First, if the Soviet Union’s goal was annexation, they obviously would not want to occupy a smouldering radioactive ruin. Second, more than likely the Russians would have wanted to take over heavy industries for their own use, as they did with Germany after the Second World War. (This would have also applied to Japan.) Third, if the Russians had indeed attacked with ICBMs, normal west-to-east wind patterns and the resultant radioactive clouds would have meant that they themselves would have been contaminated. For these reasons, theorists believe the Soviets would have restricted their attacks to mostly military targets using tactical weapons only.

When it comes to actual missiles, Russia has developed a much larger array than the United States. Victor Suvorov in his book Inside the Soviet Army claims that one of the reasons was that the Soviet Union was not capable of manufacturing a large quantity of rockets because of the dearth of key components; it was therefore forced to produce limited runs. Whereas the United States had only two ICBMs deployed in 1975–the Minuteman and the Titan II–the RVSN had nine models. The larger number of types was not necessarily a disadvantage, though, since one could make up for the shortcomings of another.

The year 1975 also saw three new missiles come off the assembly line; the UR-100, R-36M and the UR-100N. The UR-100N, known in the West as the SS-19, is described here as an example.

The UR-100N was a two-stage UDMH-fueled ICBM with a range of 10,000km. It was designed by the OKB-52 development facility at Reutov outside Moscow and built in two models: the first carried six independent warheads of 550 kiloton yield each and the second, a single 5 megaton re-entry vehicle. The Russians claim it had a circular error of probability (or impact accuracy level) of 350m, but in his book Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Podvig claims it is 920m, which is still better than older ICBMs. The UR-100N was a leader in fourth-generation missiles since it incorporated new microprocessor technology and improved launch techniques. Some thought that the heavy warhead model was aimed at American missile silos, until it was realized too few were produced and that their high yield made them more suitable for deeper targets such as Mount Weather. Both models were manufactured at the Krunichev machine plant outside Moscow and fitted into modified SS-11 silos, such as at Pervomaysk, Ukraine, or into new silos such as at Tatishchevo. The UR-100N was also eventually put in Derazhnaya, Ukraine, and Kozelsk, Russia. When hints of the missile first appeared in the 1970s, Jane’s Weapons Systems asserted it was hot-launched–launched from within its silo–while the US Department of Defense claimed it was raised first, then fired, or cold-launched. As it turned out, Jane’s was right. The UR-100N was replaced with the UR-100NU in the 1980s due to its launch instability.

The pattern of missile deployment in the Soviet Union seems to have paralleled, up to a point, American patterns. The rockets were either placed in earth-covered bunkers, kept on launching pads or installed in groups of silos, but later models were placed in individual silos. One of the early ICBMs, the R-7, was kept on launching pads and supported by four masts, while some of the R-12Us were put in Dvina complexes that consisted of four silos. One variant of the R-14U was placed in a Chusovaya complex of three silos located less than 100m apart, while the R-16U was deployed in threes in a Sheksna-V complex of three silos forming a straight line 60m from each other. All these complexes included an underground command post. Newer missiles, such as the UR-100 and the RT-2, were placed in individual silos, and their LCCs were located separately.

Russian engineers would end up devising unique ways to install and launch a missile. The R-16U, for example, was placed in a silo in a tube that could be rotated to align the missile’s guidance system. The UR-100 was delivered to the launch facility in a sealed container that was simply lowered in a silo and fastened. In the case of the UR-100U, the missile and its tube were suspended from the top and stabilized at the bottom. Unlike American missiles, some Russian missiles are launched first by ejection from the tube by forced gas, followed by ignition of their motors once outside.

Where launch facilities are concerned, from satellite photos these appear simple. They are often located in wooded areas far from major highways. The properties are large and clear of nearby trees. They include a small number of buildings–one to house guards–and a square landing pad nearby for helicopters. The silo hatches are often circular-shaped and open on a hinge, unlike American silo hatches which travel horizontally on rails. The facilities are connected to their control centres by underground cable. They can be spotted relatively easily on the Internet; two of the facilities associated with the Tatishchevo base can be seen west of Saratov near Petrovo and Bolshaya Ivanovka respectively.

To say that security arrangements at Russian missile bases are tighter than in the US is an understatement. The precautions taken against enemy intrusion are more than adequate and leave practically nothing to chance, as the following shows.

Both launch and control sites are ringed with three or four coils of barbed wire, an electrified fence and in the internal perimeter POMZ-2 anti-personnel and MON-type directional mines. The first coil of wire is 200m to 300m from the silo giving guards much response time and latitude for action. The fence normally carries 800V but this can be increased to 1,600V when conditions require. In between the coils of wire, another fence responds to large objects through a change in capacitance, and the approximate point of disturbance is registered on the guards’ security control panel. The entire site is kept clear of obstructions and mowed to give the greatest possible field of fire.

Inside the perimeter of a launch site, the only structure seen is a bunker for the guards. As stated above, the bunker houses intrusion detection equipment that is continuously monitored. The guards are armed with submachine guns, night vision goggles, floodlights, radios and loudspeakers. The bunkers are topped with either armoured turrets or concrete heads with small arms slits. The land mines can either detonate when tripped or be remotely activated from this position. The launch sites also include an antenna, the main role of which is to receive emergency war orders. The silos are very survivable since they can reportedly withstand thousands of pounds of overpressure.

A command post consists of much more. The property is divided into two parts where the first contains a number of buildings such as the guards’ quarters and a vehicle garage, and the second, a defensive bunker, office hut, a buried LCC (called globes, or in Russian, shariki) and an ICBM launcher. A tunnel that connects the launch control centre to the guards’ barracks provides protection against enemy fire and radiation. The entrance to the LCCs came in two basic forms. The older model, which is no longer used, consisted of only a round metal hatch set on a concrete pad from which one descended by way of ladder. The newer entrances are hidden in camouflage-painted buildings. The mode of descent, whether stairs or a lift, leads to a very long and narrow tunnel that terminates at three consecutive blast doors. The two-man launch crew, a captain and a lieutenant, sit in chairs a few feet apart at desks surrounded by consoles and indicator lights. Two of the most important features of the consoles are the launch-key slots and the square ‘launch’ indicator light. Working in six-hour shifts, these ‘raketchiki’, or missileers, routinely practise drills and continuously monitor the various systems. A third man, a warrant officer, mans a communications panel. At any given time, the trio can be subject to inspections and exercises where the focus could even include armed attacks on their posts. During the Cold War, the two launch officers carried sidearms and had to surrender these to the warrant officer for safekeeping, but nowadays, they no longer carry these. Also, it was the KGB, not the missileers, that armed the warheads, but again, this is no longer the case. Two of the Tatishchevo LCCs can be seen near Chernyshevka and Radishchevo northwest of Saratov.

The support bases contain all the amenities found on a typical military base. There are offices, dormitories, schools for dependents, a store, a gym and dining halls for the missileers where food is served by young women wearing short black skirts. Several missile bases are located near large cities, such as Saratov and Novosibirsk, which provide additional shopping and recreational convenience. The bases have their own motor pools that include a fleet of green trucks used to ferry launch crews to their posts. All three Missile Armies have their own aviation squadrons that use helicopters to ferry such personnel as security response teams and VIPs. Some of the helicopters can serve as airborne command posts.

Some of the key questions that have dogged defence analysts about Soviet/Russian warfighting capability regard the reliability of the RVSN. How reliable are the weapons and how dependable is the personnel? What changes are going on in the Russian nuclear world that will guarantee that the forces will work as required? Of the hundreds of ICBMs, how many will actually launch? Initially, the RVSN counted on the fact that while its missiles had low accuracy, they compensated for this by outfitting them with high-yield warheads. Nowadays, we see the opposite. Accuracy has increased and yields have been lowered. One of the early missiles, the R-9A, had a 5 megaton warhead with a maximum error of 20km, but later on, one of the variants of a newer missile, the MR UR-100, had four 550 to 750 kiloton warheads with a maximum error of 400m. The RT-23UTTH (SS-24) road-mobile missile’s accuracy is even better at 200m. Also, some of the weapons in the RVSN’s arsenal now have the capability to deliver an EMP pulse, which would be particularly useful in knocking out an enemy’s electronic systems. On the other hand, in Soviet times some scholars estimated that during a nuclear war, perhaps only 50 per cent of the missiles would fire, and this may have been the reason why they had so many of them deployed. Bruce Blair in his book The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War writes that the Russian armed forces have established three tiers of nuclear forces, first echelon, operational reserves and uncommitted reserves, where the second category is meant to compensate for launch failures of the first, and where the uncommitted reserves are simply surplus weapons. What they lacked in quality, they made up for in quantity.

When it comes to the reliability of the command and control system itself, besides its high redundancy (radio, radio relay, satellite, cables), new technology developed in the 1990s was designed to enhance threat data collection and analysis. The RVSN tried to establish a system that reduced guesswork partly, no doubt, because of the early warning mishap of 1983. On the other hand, the RVSN has suffered from the same funding problems as have other military services, a situation that has sometimes put it in a precarious position. Throughout the 1990s, articles appeared in the press on the RVSN’s reduced effectiveness. Not only were bases put at risk for not paying their electricity bills, some parts of the command and control system were said to still suffer because they relied on older technology or because of crime. For example, the system has been known to put itself into combat mode for no reason, and thieves have been found to steal underground cables that link the LCCs to the silos for their metal. The armed forces have made up for the decline of its strength by deploying new weapons such as the EMP device previously mentioned, nuclear earth-penetrating weapons, ABMs and precision low-yield warheads, but it is not known how they have tackled the issue of theft. In the final analysis though, if the RVSN command and control system works well enough, and if the new rocket technologies it has acquired have increased firing probabilities, Russia may very well have the ability to meet its attack objectives.

Concerned about the security of its weapons, the RVSN has established its own personnel reliability programme. The missileers are tested for personality defects, not only before they enter the service, but also routinely once accepted. Membership in the ‘nuclear club’ is restricted to those who would turn the keys unhesitatingly and who possess no serious vices. During Soviet times, the staff was also checked for political reliability, but these days the requirement no longer exists: gone is the annoying zampolit. In the offices of missile commanders, one will no longer find the ubiquitous red star but perhaps rather a picture of St Barbara, the patron saint of the RVSN. On the other hand, Deborah Yarsike Ball writes in Jane’s Intelligence Review that since the end of the Cold War, the Russian armed forces have seen a dramatic increase in diseases and drug abuse in its soldiers. If such individuals were to be put in charge of nuclear weapons, the West could be put at risk. Russian officers claim the West does not need to worry since those in charge of the nuclear arsenal are ‘different’.

For a few years following the end of the Cold War, the two superpowers enjoyed a spirit of co-operation. Both the United States and Russia sent officers to each other’s country to see first hand how their armed forces worked. Both have also witnessed the destruction of each other’s silos, and in 2001 a Joint Data Exchange Center was created in Moscow as a point of contact when the USAF and NASA want to warn the Russians when they are launching missiles. This spirit, however, soon disappeared when the relationship between the two superpowers began to freeze; even though its ICBMs are supposed to be de-targeted, the RVSN still conducts exercises where the main enemy is the United States. At the doctrinal level, while the Russian government has dropped its ‘no-first-use’ policy on nuclear weapons employment in 1993, it has stated that it would be willing to use such weapons in a conventional conflict, this to make up for the reduction of its conventional forces. Some say that if the United States began such a war and later decided to use atomic weapons, Russia would respond in kind. Both sides would then end up with a conflict no one wants.

Missile development in Russia is still taking place. The new single-warhead Topol RS-12M Model 2 ICBM (the SS-27) was put into active service in existing silos in 1997–98, despite long delays and financial cutbacks, at the 104th Missile Regiment at Tatishchevo. At the same time, a road-mobile version was developed. The Topol is a three-stage rocket with a single 550 kiloton warhead and comes equipped with protection against ABMs. It is thought to have a CEP of 100m to 200m. The RVSN was expected to have 160 to 220 RS-12Ms in active service by 2005, but in 2007, only 47 of both the fixed and mobile variants were found on the roster.

Manstein Takes Over the Eleventh Army 1941 Part I

The German military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz wrote that danger is ‘part of the friction of war’, observing that ‘chance makes everything more uncertain’. At 12.30 hours on 12 September 1941, luck ran out for the commander of the German Eleventh Army, Colonel General Eugen Ritter von Schobert, when his Fieseler Storch light aircraft landed on a Russian minefield and burst into flames. He and his pilot were killed instantly. By that evening, Hitler had appointed Schobert’s successor. Over the next ten months Manstein captured swiftly most of the Crimea, skilfully thwarted determined Soviet attempts to liberate it during the winter of 1941/1942, and consummated his conquest in midsummer with the capture of Sevastopol. As he noted, the campaign deserves attention for ‘it is one of the few cases where an army was still able to operate independently in a segregated theatre of war, left to its own devices and free from interference from the Supreme Command.’

On the afternoon of 17 September 1941, Manstein arrived at his new headquarters in Nikolayev, a Soviet naval base at the mouth of the southern Bug. First and Second Panzer Groups had just encircled Marshal of the Soviet Union Budenny’s South-Western Front defending Kiev, resulting in the loss of four Soviet armies comprising forty-three divisions, an unmitigated disaster for the Red Army. Notwithstanding such spectacular success, Eleventh Army had slogged all the way from the Rumanian-Soviet border. Progress had been slow, casualties high and supply lines increasingly stretched. Having just led a motorized corps in the forests of northern Russia, Manstein was now responsible for an infantry army on the open steppe of the southern Ukraine – ‘ideal tank country’, as he remarked – with no armour in support.

Whereas Schobert had been a ‘hands-off’ commander, Manstein was soon in the thick of all operational planning. Before his arrival, his reputation for clear thinking had preceded him. The chief of staff, Colonel Hans Wöhler, advised in a staff conference: ‘Don’t be afraid of the new commander-in-chief. He is a friend of relaxed conversation.’ Coincidentally, the preceding war diary entry stated, ‘it is not worthy of an officer to witness shootings of Jews’. Manstein was entering a different type of war yet again in Army Group South.

Manstein was again blessed with an extraordinarily capable staff, including Colonel Theodor Busse, head of the operations section. A solid, bespectacled and operationally gifted general staff officer, he became a lifelong friend. In the intimate working environment of a busy operational headquarters, Manstein’s clipped manner appeared abrasive. Busse confided with his former commander’s defence lawyer, Reginald Paget, that during the first few weeks, he ‘hated [Manstein’s] guts’ and ‘never left his presence without smarting’. He went on:

But in spite of myself I admired his amazing grasp. Then one day, late in the evening, he sent for me and said: ‘Busse, I realise that you are the hardest worked member of my staff. I hate to ask you this, but will you look through these papers and see if you can find any possible grounds upon which I can spare these men?’ . . . From that point onwards I saw von Manstein in a new light. Beneath his icy exterior there was a kindly, indeed an emotional humanity.

In dealing with cases of cowardice, Manstein suspended a court-martial sentence of death for four weeks with the agreement of the soldier’s regimental commander. If the condemned ‘redeemed himself in action during this time’, Manstein quashed the sentence; ‘if he failed again, it was carried out’. Of all the men he dealt with in this way, ‘only one went over to the enemy. All others either proved their worth or died like true soldiers in the heavy fighting in the east.’

The situation facing Eleventh Army in mid-September 1941 was unenviable. Although numerically superior Soviet forces (9th and 18th Armies) to its front were in retreat, they retained considerable residual fighting power. Worse still, Manstein had assumed the poisoned chalice of a double mission, which would lead inexorably to the dissipation of his forces on two divergent axes. Striking east, he had to advance along the northern shore of the Sea of Azov towards Rostov-on-Don whilst tasked simultaneously to turn south to capture the Crimea as a ‘special priority’.

At first sight, the Crimea appeared a diversion. From a strategic perspective, however, its seizure had much to commend it. On 12 August 1941, Army Group South was ordered by Hitler to ‘occupy the Crimean Peninsula, which is particularly dangerous as an enemy air base against the Rumanian oilfields’. Nine days later, the Führer gave further directions. ‘The most important aim to be achieved before the onset of winter’, he wrote, ‘is not the capture of Moscow’ but, rather, ‘to seize the Crimea and the industrial and coal mining area of the Donets Basin, and to cut off the Russian oil supply from the Caucasus’.

To control operations on both his eastern and southern fronts, on 21 September Manstein established a forward headquarters in a collective farm at Askania Nova on the dry Tavriya Steppe. Frequent Soviet air attacks had delayed this move. Once a favourable air situation had been achieved, Manstein was able to visit his corps and divisional commanders more freely. He confided to Paget: ‘My tactical decisions were influenced greatly by the morale of the particular units that would have to carry them out.’ Busse confirmed: ‘When the Field-Marshal talked to the troops they always felt that they could do what he asked.’

The peculiar geography of the Crimean peninsula favours strongly the defender. Separating the Crimea from the Ukrainian mainland is the Lazy Sea (Zatoka Syvash), a stretch of seawater, mudflats and salt marsh that forms a 30-kilometre western extension to the Sea of Azov. The shallow Syvash was not suitable for a major amphibious operation: Manstein’s army had nothing more substantial than his combat engineers’ assault boats.

From the north there are three potential avenues of approach to the Crimea. In the north-west lies the Perekop, with a road and railway running through a slender tongue of twisted land at the head of the Ishun isthmus. Historically, this was the principal gateway to the Crimea with its ancient bulwark, the Tatar Ditch, still posing a formidable obstacle to movement in 1941. To the north-east, the Chongar peninsula of southern Ukraine is linked to the Crimea by the isthmus at Salvako, and then by the causeways and bridges carrying the main railway line and road from Kiev and Melitopol over the Syvash to Dzhankoi and Simferopol. Forcing a corps attack axis through a gap only 2 kilometres wide and then over the causeways would have been suicidal. Rightly it was discounted in Manstein’s planning as being ‘quite useless’. Slightly further to the east lay one final approach route at Genichesk, separated by a short stretch of water from the Arabat, itself a very narrow neck of land that stretched nearly a hundred kilometres south-east to the Kerch peninsula. It, too, was unsuitable for developing a major attack.

So only the Perekop offered any realistic prospect for Manstein’s entry into the Crimea, albeit by frontal assault. Once the isthmus had been breached, the northern two-thirds of the Crimea, consisting of open steppe, terrain particularly suitable for armoured operations, lay ripe for rapid exploitation. To the south and east of Simferopol lies the Crimean mountain chain that towers above the southern and south-eastern coastline.

On taking over, Manstein commanded the following German forces: XXX Corps under General of Infantry Hans von Salmuth; XXXXIX Mountain Corps under General of Infantry Ludwig Kübler; and LIV Corps under General of Cavalry Erik Hansen. A separate infantry division (the 50th) was split between supporting the Rumanians at Odessa and being ‘partly engaged mopping up the Black Sea Coast’. Of the Axis forces under command, the Third Rumanian Army comprised a mountain and a cavalry corps, each of three brigades – the equivalent of a further two divisions of uncertain capability.

The first operational decision that Manstein faced was to determine how to pursue the enemy towards the east and to capture the Crimea: should these tasks be conducted simultaneously or sequentially? As he noted critically, it was a decision that ‘was really the responsibility of the Supreme Command’. Forcing the Perekop was too difficult to be left to the single corps (LIV) assigned already for this task. The 51st Separate Army under Colonel General F. I. Kuznetsov had recently assembled three militia divisions for its defence and three more were on the way; the total Soviet force on the Crimean peninsula would soon amount to twelve rifle and four cavalry divisions, of mixed quality. In any case, as Manstein concluded, ‘a stubborn defence by even three enemy divisions would probably suffice to deny LIV Corps access to the Crimea or at least cause it considerable losses in the fight through the Isthmus’.

The terrain between Perekop and Ishun, lying 30 kilometres south-east, which narrows to 3 kilometres in width, had been thickened with strong field defences. At Perekop, the first zone of defence incorporated the Tatar Ditch. In depth, the Soviets had constructed a second main zone of defence linking the salt lakes and the new town of Krasnoperekopsk (Red Perekop), built in the 1930s to commemorate the Red Army’s famous victory there over the White Russians in 1920. These natural and manmade obstacles, when combined with the local Soviet superiority in the air – for the Luftwaffe could not be strong everywhere on the Eastern Front – demanded a ‘hard and exhausting struggle’ by Eleventh Army.

Manstein needed reinforcements if any breakthrough were to be converted into exploitation and pursuit: the only source now was his two corps pressing eastwards (XXX and XXXXIX). To attempt both operations simultaneously would result in neither objective being achieved, so Manstein decided to give initial priority to the Crimea over Rostov-on-Don. In breaking in at Perekop, he reinforced LIV Corps as best he could with all available army artillery, anti-aircraft and engineer units, and feinted operations from the Chongar peninsula. He brought up 50th Division to reinforce LIV Corps and warned XXXXIX Mountain Corps to ‘conquer the Crimea quickly after the breakthrough’ had been achieved.

Notwithstanding the anticipated difficulties, such was Manstein’s optimism that he tasked the Leibstandarte, in conjunction with other motorized elements of the army, to act as a fast mobile group to pursue the retreating enemy to Sevastopol and capture the city. To substitute the troops drawn from his eastern front, he placed the Rumanians, reinforced by German troops, in a thinly manned defensive line on the steppe approximately 100 kilometres east of the Dnepr bend. In so doing he took a big, albeit calculated, risk. It represented the ‘price that had to be paid if we were to avoid attempting the capture of the Crimea with inadequate forces’.

Storming the Perekop and the Battle of Azov

A deliberate attack – one with detailed preparation – as opposed to one conducted hastily off the line of march can favour either the attacker or defender depending on the relative build-up of resources on both sides, particularly in terms of fire support. A frontal attack such as the one conducted by Manstein’s army at Perekop, against a determined enemy in a prepared defensive position may result, as German Army doctrine noted, ‘in long, obstinate fighting for dominance’. And so it turned out. When LIV Corps attacked on 24 September 1941 it achieved an initial, extremely hard-fought penetration to the Tatar Ditch. On the 26th, 73rd Division stormed the obstacle as described by a young officer:

At 04.40 hours, therefore before dawn, divisional artillery concentrated its fire on the regimental breakthrough axis. Under cover of the barrage infantry troops worked themselves forward until they were close to the Tatar Ditch. At 04.50 the artillery support was lifted. In unison, infantry and engineers rushed forward traversing the northern edge of the ditch, sliding and slipping down into the channel, at some places twenty metres deep, climbing up the far side and breaking into and seizing the enemy positions.

During the next night, LIV Corps, reinforced by the Leibstandarte, began to break through south-west of Armiansk, and prepared to mount an attack past the Ishun lakes. But, as Manstein noted, ‘the fruit of this hard-won victory, the final break-out into the Crimea, could still not be plucked’. Since 26 September, the Soviet 9th and 18th Armies, twelve divisions reinforced with strong tank units, had been mounting increasingly threatening attacks on Third Rumanian Army. By the morning of the 27th, Soviet forces had forced a penetration in the north between XXXXIX Corps heading for the Perekop (which Manstein turned back) and the Rumanians. An alarming 15-kilometre ‘hole’ suddenly appeared in his eastern line of defence.

On 28 September, within XXX Corps’ sector to the south-east, the situation became yet more critical. Manstein was now obliged to act decisively in order to maintain the integrity of his army. Although he did not close down his attacks at Ishun immediately, it became evident soon enough that LIV Corps was exhausted and that he must divert fresh forces to meet the new threat. In any case, the German High Command – ‘on the Führer’s orders’ – had intervened unhelpfully by reserving the Leibstandarte, Manstein’s only fully mobile formation, for employment with First Panzer Group for the intended thrust to Rostov-on-Don.

By counterattacking with XXXXIX Corps, together with elements of 50th and 22nd Divisions and the Leibstandarte drawn from Perekop, Manstein was able to stabilize the situation on 29 September. It had proved a close-run affair. To stiffen resolve, he established a small tactical headquarters at Nish Segorosi close ‘to the danger spot’. As he remarked, such action

is always an expedient measure in times of crisis, if only because it prevents subordinate staffs from pulling out early and making a bad impression on the troops. On the occasion in question it was particularly appropriate in view of the tendency of many Rumanian headquarters staffs to change their locations prematurely.

His concern about his allies was born of experience. On at least one occasion, he had found it necessary to rally the Rumanians in person, finding ‘their commanders’ staff cars pointing west with their engines running’.

But it required more than Manstein’s mere presence to win the battle. Following urgent requests, Army Group South finally ordered von Kleist’s First Panzer Army on 1 October to advance into the rear of the Soviet grouping (9th and 18th Armies). This envelopment from the north and further hard fighting by Eleventh Army attacking east to capture Melitopol decided the battle of the Sea of Azov. Total Soviet losses by 10 October amounted to 106,362 prisoners, 212 tanks and 672 artillery pieces. In retrospect, Manstein believed that his army could have been driven back to the Dnepr had the Soviet counter-offensive been better planned and led. As one historian observed, ‘it was a victory pulled from the brink of disaster’.

Although never one for dramatic gestures, Manstein thought the action worthy of recognition. He issued an order of the day on 4 October 1941:

Soldiers of the 11th and 3rd Rumanian Army! You can be proud of your achievements when attacking as well as in defence against the enemy assault, which you have brought about through loyal comradeship-in-arms. We remember our comrades who gave their lives and blood, whose sacrifice has set us on the path to final victory.

The stunning success also brought Manstein his first mention during the Second World War in the daily Wehrmachtsberichte (reports of the Wehrmacht) on 11 October 1941.

Manstein Takes Over the Eleventh Army 1941 Part II

he battle caused a necessary rethink in the German High Command. At last, the impracticability of Eleventh Army conducting two simultaneous operations was recognized. Manstein retained XXX and LIV Corps for the Crimean operation, some five and two-third divisions, for a third of 50th Division was still employed in the vicinity of Odessa. Conquering the Crimea and then mounting an operation over the Strait of Kerch on to the Kuban peninsula and the Caucasus still figured prominently in OKH’s thinking. Manstein applied to Army Group South for the ‘immediate release of a corps of three divisions for the Crimea’, and called for increases in air support. Although he received Headquarters XXXXII Corps with 24th and 132nd Infantry Divisions, it remained to be seen whether such reinforcements would guarantee the ‘complete clearance of the Crimea’. As he predicted, the Soviet Supreme Command would rather abandon Odessa than lose Sevastopol.

Over the period 2-16 October, the Red Navy evacuated the Coastal Army from Odessa and reinforcements began to flow into Sevastopol and into other smaller ports of the western Crimea, exacerbating Manstein’s problems. Although some Soviet shipping was lost, neither the Luftwaffe nor the Kriegsmarine had sufficient forces to interdict this sea line of communication effectively. As a result, Soviet land and naval forces had pulled off a remarkable operation on the scale of Dunkirk, evacuating some 300,000 military and civilian personnel without significant loss.

When Manstein resumed his offensive at Ishun on 18 October, six German divisions were soon faced by ‘eight Soviet rifle and four cavalry divisions’. Even allowing for a significant overestimation of the enemy, his forces hardly dominated. The LIV Corps eventually assaulted the Ishun position with 22nd, 46th and 73rd Infantry Divisions. Initial progress was excruciatingly slow and extremely costly. True, Manstein was able to mass his army’s artillery but this could not offset the Soviet air superiority over the battlefield. He recalled:

The salt steppes of the isthmus, flat as a pancake and bare of vegetation, offered no cover whatsoever to the attacker. Yet the air above them was dominated by the Soviet Air Force, whose fighters and fighter-bombers dived incessantly on any target they could find. Not only the front-line infantry and field batteries had to dig in: it was even necessary to dig pits for every vehicle and horse behind the battle zone as protection against enemy aircraft. Things got so bad that anti-aircraft batteries no longer dared to fire in case they were immediately wiped out from the air.

Such was Manstein’s mounting concern about the lack of air support that he wrote on 20 October to General Sodenstern, chief of staff of Army Group South, arguing for a ‘drastic concentration of the Luftwaffe’ to defeat the enemy air force, to destroy the Soviet artillery and to give his weakened infantry the necessary ‘moral uplift in the attack’. Further, he requested ‘at least one mobile armoured formation’ to block the road between Simferopol and Sevastopol in order to cut off retreating Soviet forces.

Manstein’s diary entry for 22 October reveals that he even considered calling off his offensive once he had forced the Ishun position in order to ‘bleed the Russians in counter attacks’ and to allow the concentration of Fourth Air Fleet to keep the Russian Air Force at bay. He decided to press on, noting ‘how often have I taught that one should not throw away victory five minutes too early’. With the arrival of the Mölders fighter wing (Jagdgeschwader 52), local air superiority by day was achieved by 26 October.

Meanwhile, Manstein had become increasingly alarmed by the declining fighting power of his force, a recurring feature of the campaign. The commander of a ‘particularly good division’ (73rd Infantry) had reported on two occasions that week that his formation could ‘do no more’. ‘This was the hour’, he wrote after the war, ‘that usually comes sooner or later in such a contest, when the outcome of the battle is on the razor’s edge. It was the hour that must show whether the will of the attacker to exert himself to the very limit of physical endurance is stronger than that of the defender to go on resisting.’ Manstein’s soldiers were made of stern stuff: their opponents cracked first on 28 October. The German pursuit into the Crimea could now begin.

Exploitation into the Crimea

With the departure of the Leibstandarte, Manstein did not have any obvious means immediately available to exploit the situation by plunging into the Crimea before the Soviets could recover. So he employed an old device he had used before with XXXVIII Corps in France. He assembled a forward detachment comprising the reconnaissance battalion of 22nd Infantry Division, a reinforced Rumanian motorized regiment and sundry other German motorized troops.42 Manstein tasked this ad hoc mobile group under Colonel Heinz Ziegler to drive hard south towards the river Alma. On 31 October, Ziegler’s force cut the road between Sevastopol and Simferopol, capturing the Crimean capital the next day.

Heavy rain slowed down the pursuit by Manstein’s infantry divisions, as did determined Soviet rearguard actions. The German High Command, however, was delighted with Manstein’s achievements. Brauchitsch congratulated him on 30 September, signalling his ‘best wishes and full recognition for the outstanding performance of the command and the troops in the breakthrough into the Crimea’. Manstein, however, had more pressing concerns, noting acerbically, ‘I would have much preferred to have received a panzer division.’

On 30 October, he set out his proposed intent in a typically carefully argued estimate to Headquarters Army Group South. He assessed that his opponent had two courses of action open: either to hold the southern Crimea as a firm base for maritime and air operations; or, if too weak to achieve this, to split his forces, directing the mass to Sevastopol and the remainder to Kerch. Manstein considered the most attractive option for Eleventh Army was to pursue the retreating 51st Separate Army to Kerch. He hoped this would tempt Soviet forces out of the mountains and provoke a general engagement on open ground to German advantage away from Sevastopol’s fortifications.

Manstein had presumed here a degree of operational sophistication that his opponents were not yet capable of. He conceded ‘that it is unlikely that the enemy would decide on such an operation. Probably he would only win time to prepare Sevastopol for defence.’ Hence Manstein decided to focus his main effort against the anticipated Soviet concentration between Simferopol and Sevastopol, and to cut off any retreat into the fortress city. At this stage he did not plan to attack the enemy grouping at Kerch until sufficient forces could be released from Sevastopol. But the unexpected tenacity and resilience of the Soviet forces confounded this approach: whilst Kerch fell to Manstein’s forces on 16 November – only to be recaptured by the Red Army at the end of December 1941 and lost again in mid May 1942 – Sevastopol held out until 1 July 1942.

On 1 November, having received endorsement for his plans from Headquarters Army Group South, Manstein confirmed his scheme of manoeuvre. Two corps, LIV and XXX, with a total of four divisions, were tasked to take Sevastopol, whilst XXXXII Corps with three German divisions, together with the Rumanian Mountain Corps, was to press eastwards towards Kerch.

Meanwhile, the Soviet command structure on the Crimea was in disarray although Russian troops were retreating in reasonably good order. On 30 October, Major General Ivan Efimovich Petrov, commander of the Coastal Army that had been redeployed from Odessa, called a council of war at Ekibash, a small settlement 40 kilometres north of Sevastopol. According to one of his subordinate commanders, Colonel I. A. Laskin, Petrov declared:

there is unofficial information that Colonel General Kuznetsov has been dismissed from commanding the Crimean armed forces and the 51st Army. The situation here is changing quickly and not to our advantage. . . . We have two options, two ways to go: either to Sevastopol, to the main Navy base of the Black Sea Fleet so that we can defend the city and the base together with the Fleet; or we can go to the Kerch Peninsula to join the 51st Army and establish the defence there.

Petrov consulted his divisional commanders and then announced his decision that the Coastal Army would retreat to Sevastopol.

Despite Manstein’s best efforts, his forces were far too dispersed over the southern Crimea to prevent the Coastal Army from breaking through to Sevastopol either over the mountains or escaping along the coastal road from Alushta and Yalta. In the race against time to reach the city, the Soviets just managed to forestall any German attempt to seize Sevastopol off the line of march. Eleventh Army would now need more time to bring up the troops, heavy artillery and ammunition required for a deliberate operation. The heady optimism of the first two weeks of November, reflected in Halder’s comment that ‘good progress has been made in the Crimea, but it will take a few more days before we have cleared out the last enemy’, was to be confounded by the tenacity of the Soviet defence and by the onset of winter.

Until the main railway line to Simferopol (and onwards to the army’s principal off-loading point at Bakhchisarai) was reopened in January 1942, all combat supplies were hauled over the Crimea’s poor roads, most of which were unpaved. In contrast, the Red Navy still controlled the Black Sea, providing a vital lifeline to the population and the Soviet forces in Sevastopol. In 1941 the first snow on the Crimea fell early on 9 November, followed by continuous ‘hopeless rain’ as Manstein recorded on 11 November, that turned all German routes into muddy tracks that ‘brought everything to a halt’. With the onset of the Russian rasputitsa (literally, the time without roads) any chance of a swiftly conducted assault on Sevastopol disappeared. The worsening weather and declining daylight favoured the Soviet defenders. Petrov’s men used the precious time to reinforce their fortifications with well-camouflaged bunkers, wire entanglements, mines, machine-gun posts and field-gun positions.

As Manstein’s divisions struggled forward towards Sevastopol and Kerch, and fought off determined attacks by partisans in the mountains, Headquarters Eleventh Army established itself in and around Simferopol. Whilst the administrative branch (Ib with specialist logistics staffs) remained in the city, Manstein with his operations and intelligence sections (Ia and Ic respectively), ‘found very suitable accommodation in one of the new schools built by the Soviets’ in Sarabus. Manstein shared a small farmhouse nearby with his chief of staff, living in ‘a modest room’ with only ‘a bed, a table and a chair, a stool for the wash-bowl to stand on, and a few clothes-hooks’. Neither he nor his staff believed ‘in indulging in comforts which the ordinary soldier had to do without’.

For his office, Manstein used a classroom heated by two improvised stoves. As in all armies, when operations become static, the dampening hand of ‘routine’ administration returns to dominate the life of a headquarters. According to Paget, Manstein ‘hated paper work and rarely read papers that were put before him. He expected his officers to report concisely upon their contents and then he initialled the papers to indicate that they had been reported on.’ So perhaps there was some truth in Manstein’s comments after the war that he could not remember reading various documents, and perhaps even the more incriminating ones.

Intermittent Soviet air raids on the nearby Sarabus airfields caused some disruption to staff work. Manstein was on the road most of the time visiting his subordinate formations, not without its attendant dangers. For the majority of his front-line troops, the daily threat and personal demands of combat remained immense. Although Eleventh Army had conquered all of the Crimea by 16 November 1941 except for the heavily fortified area around Sevastopol, frequent partisan ambushes meant that no road movement was safe from attack, and particularly so in the mountains.

Winter is always hard for the soldier: the German Landser manning the half-ring of circumvallation around Sevastopol faced not only enemy artillery fire and air attack, but also debilitating living conditions. As the historian of 22nd Division noted bitterly:

It was not all that cold, but the storms from the sea and the wet snow made life in the front line a misery. Clothing was completely insufficient: many soldiers did not have a coat; far fewer still had gloves or head protection. On top of this came the physical exhaustion; [in this condition] even light wounds could lead to death.

OKH had made no effective preparations for a winter campaign in the Soviet Union. Manstein did what he could do for his troops, but his army was at the very end of an extremely long and thin supply chain, which had no redundancy.

The lack of troops made it even more difficult to give soldiers in the hollowed-out infantry companies the urgent rest and recuperation they needed. Across his seven infantry divisions, losses up to 7 November from combat and sickness, including jaundice, amounted to nearly 40,000 men. Despite receiving almost 16,000 replacements, Eleventh Army was still approximately 25 per cent short of its establishment. The opening stages of the campaign in the Crimea had also proved very costly in Russian blood. German intelligence estimates put Soviet military losses since 18 October 1941 as 100,000, of which three-quarters were prisoners of war. For the civilian population of the Crimea, however, there were yet thousands of casualties to come.

The Soviet Black Sea Navy

Black Sea Fleet Sinking 1918

On April 23, 1918 in the face of a threat of the Crimea seizure by the German troops the RSFSR Council of People’s Commissars (CPC) issued an order on relocation of the Black Sea fleet from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk. The Central Committee of the Black Sea Navy that was vested full power from early January 1918 decided to fulfill the order of RSFSR CPC. On April 29-30 Sevastopol was left by 2 battleships, 14 destroyers, 2 torpedo boats, 1 auxiliary cruiser and 10 patrol ships making the battle core of the fleet (in total about 3,500 men of the crew). On May 1-2 they joined in Novorossiysk. In Sevastopol the German troops seized old battleships, cruisers, submarines, some destroyers and other ships that were mostly inoperative. On May 11 the German Commander-in-chief in the East front laid down an ultimatum demanding from RSFSR CPC the return of ships to Sevastopol. In order to keep the Brest Peace Treaty in force RSFSR CPC had to agree and the People’s Committee on Foreign Affairs sent the respective notes on May 13 and June 9. However, not willing to give the ships to the enemies RSFSR CPC decided to sink them about which a respective order was given (the directive signed by V. I. Lenin on May 28). On June 18 the battleship “Svobodnaya Rossia” (“Free Russia”), 6 destroyers and 2 torpedo boats were sunk in the Novorossiysk Bay and one more destroyer was sunk on June 19 in Tuapse. Eight patrol boats were transported via railroad to Tsaritsyn and they made the core of the future Volga Navy. From December 12, 1917 to June 4, 1918 the Black Sea fleet was under command of Admiral M. P. Sablin.

Black Sea Shipbuilding Yard – in Nikolaev City (Ukraine)

In 1895, a Belgian joint-stock company commenced the building of a shipyard in Nikolaev, which was subsequently called “Society of Shipyards, Mechanical and Foundry Plants”. One of the oldest shipyards. The yard was officially commissioned on October 9, 1897 as “Naval” plant (translated from French, meaning “marine”). The plant was specialized in the manufacture of military ships and vessels, ship engines, mechanisms, boilers, ship equipment, canons and ship’s artillery turrets, railway cars, bridges, cranes. The yard had shops, slipways, piers and workshops with most advanced equipment at the time, and was the foremost plant for the building of steamship metal fleet on the Black Sea. The world’s first submarine mine-layer “Krab” (Crab) was built here, along with the main seaborne machinery of the ironclad battleship “Potemkin”. Alongside the main orders, the shipyard built barges, ship’s boilers, cranes, tram cars, steam engines, railway bridges. In 1925, the first Soviet tanker “Krasny Nikolaev” was laid down at the shipyard, in 1941, the construction of the ice-breakers “I. Stalin” and “Krasin” was completed. During the Great Patriotic War (WWII), the shipyard was evacuated and turned out products for the front. In 1949, the first postwar vessel-tanker “Kazbek” was laid down. Unique vessels, like the whaling bases “Sovetskaya Ukraina” and “Sovetskaya Rossiya”, vessels for scientific expeditions and research and fishing ships of the type of “Yu. M. Shokalsky”, “Akademik Knipovich” were built at the shipyard. At present, the shipyard is busy building dry-cargo vessels, large refrigerator trawlers, container carrying ships. Also, the shipyard manufactures the newest seaborne machinery and devices, pleasure craft, ship furniture. The ship is decorated with the Order of the Red Banner of Labor (1926), 2 Orders of Lenin (1949, 1977), Order of the October Revolution (1970).

(Ivanov) Filipp Sergeevich Oktyabrskiy (1899-1969)

Soviet Admiral

In December 1918 he volunteered to serve on the Baltic Fleet. From 1920 to 1938 he served on various ships of the Baltic and Pacific Fleet. In 1939-1943 he commanded the Black Sea Fleet. In July 1940 he participated in formation of the Danube Fleet. In 1941 he was conferred the rank of Rear Admiral. By the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) due to his efforts the Black Sea Fleet was ready for the war and it was the first unit that met the enemies fully armed. During the war he was responsible for laying mines, formation of sea brigades, repair of ships and evacuation of the population. He organized the aircraft and ship attacks on the oil product warehouses in Romania. At approaching of the Germans he focused his efforts on defense of Odessa and later Sevastopol. In November 1941 he was appointed the commander of the Sevastopol defense region. Near Sevastopol he organized support of the land troops by the Fleet and took part in development of the Kerch-Feodosiya operation and commanded its realization. He ensured supply of Sevastopol and actions on enemy communications. After defeat of the troops of the Crimean Fleet in May 1942 he organized their transfer to the Taman Peninsula. On 1 July 1942 he left Sevastopol on the last plane as it was impossible to defend any further. He commanded the operations of the Black Sea Fleet from the command posts in the Caucasus. After the unsuccessful attempt of landing near Novorossiysk in February 1943 he was dismissed from the Black Sea Fleet. In 1943-1944 he commanded the Amur (River) Fleet. In 1944-1948 he was again appointed the commander of the Black Sea Fleet. In 1944 he was promoted to Admiral. He took part in development of the military campaign of 1944 on the Black Sea and operation on liberation of Crimea. He commanded the actions of the Black Sea Fleet and Danube Fleet during the Yassy-Kishenev operation. In 1946 he was appointed a member of the Supreme Military Council of the Armed Forces keeping the post of a Fleet commander. In December 1948 he became Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Navy. In April 1952 he was appointed the Chief of the Navy Research Center. In 1954-1957 he retired. In 1957-1960 he was the director of the Black Sea Higher Naval School named after P. S. Nakhimov in Sevastopol. In September 1960 he was included into the group of general inspectors of the USSR Ministry of Defense. He was awarded many orders and the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union.

Gorshkov Sergey Georgievich (1910-1988) – admiral of the USSR Navy.

In 1926 he became a nondegree student of the physical-mathematical faculty of the Leningrad University. In 1927 he entered the M. V. Frunze Naval School. After finishing in 1931 of this school he served as a navigator on a destroyer of the Black Sea Fleet. In 1932 he was transferred to the Pacific Fleet. In June 1939 he was appointed the Brigade Commander of the torpedo boat squadron of the Black Sea Navy. From 1940-the commander of the cruiser brigade of the Black Sea Navy. In 1941 he finished the courses for command staff advancement at the Naval Academy. He was promoted to first Rank Captain. Commanding the detachment of assault landing ships he showed bravery during the landing operation at Grigorievka near Odessa. In 1941 he was promoted to the Rear-Admiral. He took command during the Kerch-Feodosia operation and during evacuation of the troops of the Crimean front in 1942 he commanded the defense of the Kerch Strait. After loss of bases on the Sea of Azov he organized pullout of a part of military ships and transport ships with their cargo. Using the forces of the Azov Navy, Kerch and Novorossiysk naval bases he took part in defense of the Taman Peninsula until the ships left the Sea of Azov and the troops retreated for defense of Novorossiysk. He commanded the Novorossiysk defense and was the last to leave it. In 1943-1944 he commanded the Azov Navy for the second time. In spring 1943 he commanded some landing operations. Among the major naval operations there were landings in Mariupol, Osipenko and Temryuk; support from the sea of the forces of the North-Caucasian front during liberation of the Taman Peninsula and, at last, a major operation in November 1943 on landing of the Detached Maritime Army on the Kerch Peninsula and its support on the conquered base area. In 1943 during the Kerch-Eltigen operation he commanded the preparation and landing of the marine forces and then crossing to Crimea of the troops of the 56th Army. From April 20 to December 12, 1944 he commanded the Danube Fleet that supported the Soviet troops in their attack of German Army in Eastern Europe. He commanded the actions of the fleet during forced crossing of the Dniester mouth, and the liberation of Bulgaria and Romania. In September 1944 he was promoted to the Vice-Admiral. In 1944 he was successful commanding the fleet during the Belgrade and Budapest operations. From 1945 he commanded the squadron of the Black Sea Navy. From November 1948 he was the Chief of the naval staff, in 1951-1955-the commanded of the Black Sea Navy. In 1955 he was appointed the First Deputy Commanded-in-Chief and in 1956- Commander-in-Chief of the Navy and USSR Deputy Naval Minister. In 1967 he was awarded the rank of the Naval Admiral of the USSR. G. advocated development of submarine fleet and guided-missile ships. He was the author of such books as “Naval Might of the State” and “In the Southern Maritime Flange. Autumn- Spring 1941” describing the army and naval operations near the coasts of the Black and Azov seas. For the achievements in the Navy development he was conferred the USSR State Award (1980) and Lenin Award (1985); he was twice Hero of the Soviet Union (1965, 1982). He was awarded many orders and medals of the Soviet Union as well as medals of other states. In 1990 his name was given to heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser “Naval Admiral of the Soviet Union Gorshkov” (former “Baku).

Kerch-Feodosiya Operation

The landing operation of the troops of the Transcaucasus Front commanded by General D. T. Kozlov in Kerch and Feodosia on 26 December 1941-2 January 1942. The Soviet command planned to capture the Kerch Peninsula and then liberate Crimea occupied by the German Eleventh Army of General Erich von Manstein. As the main forces of Manstein were engaged in storming Sevastopol the Soviet troops (more than 40,000 people) on 26-31 December 1941 landed near Kerch and Feodosia. The troops were supported with 43 tanks and 1,802 horses. This was the largest landing operation during the Great Patriotic War. Despite the winter storm, shortage of special landing facilities and resistance of the Germans the landing troops using the element of surprise on 29 December seized Feodosia and continued their attack in the northern direction. Commander of the German 42nd Army Corps Hans Graf von Sponeck fearing that his detachments on the Kerch Peninsula (up to 25,000 people) could be cut off gave an order to leave Kerch and retreated (for this act he was subject to court-martial and put to prison). Having seized Feodosia the Soviet command acted rather cautious and irresolutely which enabled the Germans to retreat without any problems from the Kerch Peninsula and to organize defense on the Parpachaisky isthmus. With the beginning of the Kerch-Feodosiya Operation Manstein had to stop the assault of Sevastopol (on 31 December) and to transfer some of its forces against the landing troops. On 15 January Manstein troops made a counterattack and broke through the landing troops positions and on 18 January they seized Feodosia back. The Soviet troops retreated to the Ak-Monaisk isthmus.

Kerch Military Operation

This was an assault on 8-20 May 1942 of the forces of the Eleventh Germany Army commanded by General Erich von Manstein against the Soviet troops commanded by General D. T. Kozlov. The 300,000 grouping of the troops of the Crimean front on the Kerch Peninsula that nearly twice the German forces was preparing to lift the siege of Sevastopol and to liberate the Crimea. But Manstein in anticipation of these attacks, made a preventive strike on May 8. Having the greater number of forces in the south of the Crimean Front the Germans broke the Soviet defense, also the Germans landed in the rear of the Soviet troops, thus, disorganizing Soviet situation. In spite of its domination on the sea, the Black Sea Fleet did not provide the expected support to the defending land troops, so Manstein forces moved freely along the coast. After the Crimean Front all but disintegrated, the German tanks attacked further Russian defense positions. First the attacking units moved along the coast and then turned northward and reached the dislocation of the Soviet reserve forces and destroyed them. As a result, the basic Soviet grouping in the north of the Kerch Peninsula (47th and 51st armies) was cut off and forced to the bank of the Sivash Lake. The troops of the Crimean Front went out of control and retreated in chaos to the east. On 15 May the Germans captured Kerch. The Soviet troops numbering about 120,000 troops were evacuated to the Northern Caucasus. Those who did not manage to evacuate (about 18,000 troops) found shelter in the Adzhimushkay rock quarry (catacombs) where they heroically resisted the German attacks until late October 1942. The German victory “buried” the Soviet plan of Crimea liberation and, in fact, decided the fate of Sevastopol. The success of the Germans in battle at Kerch in 1942 had opened the way to new victories, which could be attributed to low competence of the commanding staff of the Crimean Front that enabled Manstein, without much effort, to realize this well-prepared, but risky plan.

Kerch-Eltigen Operation

A landing operation of the troops of the North-Caucasian Front (commanded by General I. E. Petrov) with the seizure of the Kerch Peninsula that lasted from 31 October to 11 December 1943, during the Great Patriotic War. After success of the Novorossiysk-Taman operation the Soviet command put the task to seize the Kerch Peninsula and to create there a base for Crimea liberation from German Army. For this purpose two landing units went ashore. One of them landed to the northeast of Kerch, but could not take hold of the city because of the tough resistance of the Germans, but it managed to consolidate its positions on the seized area and to organize defense. The second landing unit got established to the south of Kerch, near Eltigen. After fierce battles in the early December the Germans liquidated the forces in this landing area. On 6 December the remaining landing troops attempted a breakthrough trying to reach the base to the north of Kerch. After marching for 25 km in the rear of the German positions they came to the southern outskirts of Kerch and seized the Mitridat Mountain and organized an all-round defense. But they failed to organize cordination with the northern unit. After receiving an order to evacuate on 10 December the Eltigen unit forced its way to the coast and was transferred by sea to the Taman Peninsula. The Kerch landing area held out till the Soviet troops launched an offensive in Crimea in spring 1944. It played a very important role in seizure of the Kerch Peninsula. The Soviet Army lost more than 27,000 killed.

Novorossiysk Landing Operation 1943

Amphibious operation on 10- 16 September 1943 organised by the Soviet Black Sea Fleet in Novorossiysk during Novorossiysk-Taman operation against German Army during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. As one of the largest Soviet amphibious operations, the Novorossiysk operation went down in history as one of the most well planned and prepared by the Soviet Army, and carried out jointly by the Army and Navy. It showed that with careful preparation of the landing operations their success is possible even on a heavily fortified coast.

Georgiy Nikitich Kholostyakov (1902-1983)

Vice Admiral in the USSR Fleet. In 1915 he worked as unskilled laborer. He took part in Civil War in Russia. In 1925 he finished the Naval Hydrographic College. From 1926 to 1938 he served on different submarines in the Far East. In 1938 he was arrested, accused of treason and condemned to 15 years in a correctional labor camp. He was sent to a labor camp on the Olga Bay shore of the Pacific. Later his case was reconsidered and he was returned his rank. In autumn 1940 he was appointed commander of the Third Brigade of submarines of the Black Sea Fleet. Later he was promoted to Captain first Rank. Kholostyakov was appointed the Chief of submarine division of the fleet and in July 1941 he headed the Naval Base in Novorossiysk. He supported the Kerch-Feodosiya military operation in late 1941. He took part in land-based defense of Novorossiysk. After retreat of the Soviet troops he moved to Gelendzhik from where the artillery of the Novorossiysk Naval Base shelled Novorossiysk, thus, preventing the Germans from using the port. In 1942 he was promoted to Rear Admiral. In 1943 he was in charge of the landing operation in Novorossiysk. In September under Kholostyakov command two more landing operations were conducted. The German troops left the Taman Peninsula. At night on November 1 he organized landing at Eltigen near Kerch. Regardless of the overwhelming superiority of the Germans the landing troops made strong beachhead on Ognennaya zemlya and defended this area for more than a month and then broke through the German positions and united with the main Soviet forces. In 1944 he acted as Commander of the Azov Flotilla replacing S. G. Gorshkov in this position. He organized two more landings-on the Tarkhankut Cape at night on January 10 and in the Kerch Bay on January 23. In December 1944 he was appointed to the Danube Flotilla and commanded its last operations. In 1950 he graduated from the General Staff Academy with a gold medal. In 1950-1951 he in the rank of Vice Admiral commanded the Caspian Military Flotilla and then received an appointment to the Pacific Ocean. In 1953-1969 Kholostyakov was Deputy Chief of the Military Training Department of the Navy General Staff. He took other positions of importance. In 1965 he was awarded the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union. In 1969 he resigned. The memorial museum of Kholostyakov is opened in Baranovichi, Belorussia. He was also awarded many orders and medals.

Crimean operation of 1944

The liberation of the Crimean Peninsula by the troops of the Fourth Ukrainian Front commanded by General F. I. Tolbukhin and Separate Maritime Army commanded by General A. I. Yeremenko with the support of the Black Sea Fleet commanded by Admiral F. S. Oktyabrsky and Azov Flotilla commanded by Rear-Admiral S. G. Gorshkov from German Army. This operation lasted for 36 days-from 8 April through 12 May 1944 and ended in victory of the Russian troops. They were opposed by the Romanian and German troops of the Seventeenth Army. A week after beginning of the offensive the Soviet troops came up to Sevastopol and on 5 May began the storming of the city. They fought most furiously for the Sapun Mountain-the key point of the German defense. On 9 May the Soviet assault units broke the German defense and rushed into the city. On 12 May the remaining German troops (21,000) laid down their arms on the Khersones Peninsula, as the Black Sea fleet had disrupted the enemy evacuation plans. The Seventeenth Army lost 140,000 (killed, wounded, captives, and drowned during the evacuation). If in 1941-1942 the Germans spent 250 days for seizure of Sevastopol, then in 1944 the Soviet troops needed only 5 days for the city liberation. After recovering Crimea the Soviet Union regained control of the Black Sea. The casualties of the Red Army during the Crimean operation were about 85,000.

Odessa

During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), Odessa fought against German and Romanian troops from August 5 to October 16, 1941. Since 13 August 1941 Odessa was completely blocked from land. Despite the land blockade the enemy failed to break the resistance of the defenders-Soviet troops were evacuated and transferred to increase 51th Special Army, defending the Crimea. In 1941-1944 Odessa was occupied by Romanian troops and was part of Transnistria. In early 1944, due to the advance of the Red Army German troops entered Odessa, and the Romanian administration eliminated. On 10 April 1944 Odessa was liberated by Red Army. During the occupation, the population of the city of Odessa was actively resisting the invaders. During the years of occupation, tens of thousands of civilians were executed in Odessa.

Russia in the Azov Sea

Azov campaigns of 1695-1696  

Campaigns of Russian army and fleet led by Peter I during the Russian-Turkish war of 1686-1700 with a view to protecting Russia’s southern lands against the attack of the Turkish and Tatar troops and occupying the Turkish fortress Azov that closed Russia’s access to the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. Early in April of 1695, the Russian forces (around 31,000 warriors) that consisted of Streltsy (soldiers), regiments of a new “fighting formation” and manorial noblemen’s cavalry set out from Moscow to Azov. To divert enemy attention from the fortress, troops headed by B. P. Sheremetev were sent to the lower reaches of the Dnieper River. On July 5 (15), Russian troops concentrated around Azov which was defended by a garrison of 7,000 soldiers. The enemy repelled two assaults causing heavy casualties to the attackers. Therefore, Peter I lifted the siege and on November 22 (December 2) Russian troops returned to Valuiki and Voronezh. As peparations for a new campaign under the guidance of Peter I were being made, the Azov fleet was established. A. Ya. Lefort was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Azov Fleet. A. S. Shein was the Commander of the Azov Army. Peter I was in charge of overall leadership of the second campaign. On April 23-26 (May 3-6), 1696 the army set out on the campaign from the districts of Voronezh, Tambov, and Valuiki overland and by ships down the Voronezh and Don rivers. Sheremetev’s cavalry again headed for the Dnieper lower reaches, but stopped at the Kolomak River. On May 27 (June 6), the main forces of the Russian fleet set out on the Sea of Azov in the Azov area and by June 12 (22) isolated the city, while the Russian army lay a siege from the land. The Turkish fleet tried to rescue Azov but failed. On June 14(24) the Turkish fleet emerged opposite the Don River mouth (6 corvettes, 17 galleys with a landing party of around 4,000 men), but having seen the Russian galleys, the fleet left for the sea. On July 17 (27), after heavy artillery fire, assault of the fortress began simultaneously from land and sea. On July 19 (29), the garrison surrendered. As a result of successful termination of the second Azov campaign, Russia attained access to the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, made provisions for the security of the country’s southern frontiers. Because under the Constatinople Peace Treaty of 1700, fortresses in the circum-Dnestr area were to be demolished, Russia’s international standing was enhanced, Turkish neutrality on the eve of the Northern War was secured. The seizure of Azov was the first major victory of the Russian army and fleet in the struggle for access to the sea.

Azov Fleet

First regular formation of the Russian Navy instituted by Peter I in order to fight Turkey for access to the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. In 1694, there began the construction of large ships and assembly of galleys and fire ships, using parts made in Bryansk, Preobrazhenskoe Village (near Moscow) and at other locations. By the spring of 1696, three 36-cannon ships, 23 galleys, 1,300 sailrow boats and 4 fire ships were built. The fleet, under the command of F. Ya. Lefort left Voronezh and on May 27 (June 6) entered the Sea of Azov. On June 12 (22), the Russian ships blocked the Azov Fortress in the mouth of the Don River, while the ground troops did the same from land. On July 19 (29), the fortress garrison surrendered. At the insistence of Peter I, the Boyar Duma decreed: “Let there be sea vessels”. This date is regarded the official birthday of regular Russian fleet. The admiralty was transferred from Voronezh to Tavrov on the coast of the Sea of Azov, a sea port comes into being in Taganrog. During the period from 1696 to 1711, 215 ships of diverse classes were built for the Azov fleet. In the spring of 1699, Peter I for the first time in the history of Russian Navy held sea maneuvers in the vicinity of Taganrog. In August, the largest 46-cannon ship “Krepost” (`Fortress’) sailed in the Black Sea and visited Constantinople with a diplomatic mission. After the Prut Treaty of 1711 and return of Azov and Taganrog to Turkey, the Azov fleet ceased to exist, its ships were disassembled or sold to Turkey.

Azov Military Flotilla  

(1) A formation of Russian fleet established at the beginning of the Russian-Turkish War of 1768-1774. Under the command of the Vice-Admiral D. N. Senyavin, AMF performed successful military operations against the Turkish fleet on the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, cooperated with ground troops, when seizing Kerch and Yenikale, repelled enemy attempts to land amphibious parties in the Crimea. In 1783, AMF was disbanded, yet its ships were included in the Black Sea fleet that was established in May of the same year.

(2) Russian flotilla with a base facility at Yeisk was configured to fight against German invaders and the White Guard. When the enemy seized the coast at the end of June of 1918, the ships were disarmed, and their personnel joined the Red Army units. In March of 1920, after Denikin’s army was defeated and the Red Army reached the Azov Sea coast, the flotilla was reestablished by the staff of the South-Eastern Front (the base at Mariupol-currently, Zhdanov; from September- Taganrog; from November-Mariupol again). The flotilla included ships that were in the ports of the Sea of Azov. Flat-bottomed fishing boats and barges were reequipped as battle-boats and floating batteries, tug boats were reequipped as escort ships, fighter boats were delivered by railway. The armament, supplies and personnel came from the Baltic Fleet, Don-Azov, Volga-Caspian and other flotillas that terminated combat activity. From May 25 to September of 1920, the Don River division (former Don Flotilla of the Caucasus front) was subordinated to AMF. In May of 1920, AMF became part of the Marine Forces of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. There were about 70 ships and vessels (9 gun-boats, 4 floating bases, 3 mine layers, 6 escort vessels, 22 chaser cutters, 25 auxiliary vessels), 18 aircraft, for amphibian operations, a marine expeditionary division was detailed (up to 4,600 men). AMF provided fire support to troops, set up a mine-artillery position in Taganrog, placed mine barriers in Kerch Strait, dropped tactical landing parties with a view to eliminating, in association with the 9th Army, the Wrangel landing party Ulagaya; on July 9, 1920, AMF destroyed a White Guard landing party near Krivaya Kosa (`Crooked Spit’), on September 15 in combat near Obitochnaya Kosa, AMF destroyed a group of enemy ships that were transporting troops and armament. After the defeat of Wrangel in April of 1291, the ships and personnel were handed over to the Black Sea Fleet.

(3) During the Great Patriotic War (WWII), on July 22, 1941, AMF was re-established for combat actions against German Nazi invaders (main base at Mariupol; from October 9, 1941-Primorsko-Akhtarsk, at present-Primorsko-Akhtarsk; from August 3 to August 24, 1942-Novorossiisk). AMF comprised the ships of the Danube Military Flotilla, that, the Danube battles over, moved eastward across the Black Sea. AMF included squadrons of escort vessels, mining boats, airborne tactical formation, coastal defense squadrons and marine units. The separate Kuban detachment (from May 3 to August 30, 1942) as well as the separate Don Detachment (from October 5, 1941 to July 28, 1942) based in Rostov-on-Don. The flotilla fought against German-Nazi invaders in liaison with the troops of the South and North-Caucasus Fronts, supported defense actions of the 9th and 51st Armies, took part in the Kerch-Feodosiya landing operation of 1941-1942, evacuated troops of the Crimean Front, assisted ferrying troops of the 56th Army across the Don River. For a long time, marines contained the enemy assault on Taman Peninsula. On September 5, 1942, the flotilla forces were included in Novorossiisk Defense Area (NDA) for marine operations. On February 3, 1943, AMF was reconstituted again (main base Yeisk; from September of 1943-PrimorskoAkhtarsk; from April of 1944-Temryuk). The flotilla ships took part in action on sea lines of communications, dropped tactical landing parties in Taganrog, Mariupol, Osipenko (Berdyansk). In the course of the Kerch-Eltingen Amphibian Operation, AMF dropped units of the 56th Army north of Kerch, and in January of 1944-two tactical landing parties on the coast of Kerch Peninsula. On April 20, 1944 the flotilla was disbanded, its ships handed over to the newly-established Danube Military Flotilla.