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THE FALL OF ROSTOV-ON-THE-DON
Written By: Peter Ayers Wimbrow, III
*Click images below to view larger versions.
THE FALL OF ROSTOV-ON-THE-DON
Rostov-na-Donu Memorial
THE FALL OF ROSTOV-ON-THE-DON
Slovakian soldiers headed to Rostov.
THE FALL OF ROSTOV-ON-THE-DON
Viktor Viktorovich Tsyganov, cmdr. Soviet 56th Army
THE FALL OF ROSTOV-ON-THE-DON
Anton Ivanovich Lopatin, cmdr. 37th Army
THE FALL OF ROSTOV-ON-THE-DON
Joseph “Sep” Dietrich, cmdr. LAH
THE FALL OF ROSTOV-ON-THE-DON
Felix Steiner, cmdr. SS Viking Division
    This week, seventy years ago, Axis forces captured the Russian city of Rostov-on-the-Don for the second time in less than a year.
    The city, as its name implies, is located on the Don River, 29 miles from the sea of Azov and about 600 miles south of Moscow. It currently has a population in excess of one million, making it the tenth largest city in Russia. It is the birthplace of author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and of Alexander Pechersky, a Soviet POW who was the leader of the rebellion in the Sobibor Concentration Camp. He was portrayed by Rutger Hauer in the movie "Escape from Sobibor." When the war began, it was a city of 525,000 and was a vital rail hub, with the only rail line connecting the oil-rich area between the Caspian and Black Seas, known as the Caucasus, to western Russia.
    On November 5, 1941, Army Group South, under the command of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt began a push toward the city. The task was assigned to First Panzerarmee - recently upgraded from First Panzergruppe - under the command of Ewald von Kleist. By November 21st, First Panzerarmee’s III Armeekorps, commanded by Eberhard von Mackensen had captured the city, together with 10,000 Soviet soldiers, two armored trains and many guns and tanks. General von Mackensen was the son of World War I’s Field Marshal August von Mackensen. General von Mackensen’s III Armeekorps consisted of the elite Adolf Hitler - recently upgraded to a division, in name but not in strength - and the 13th and 14th Panzerdivisions. Joseph "Sepp" Dietrich, Hellmut von der Chevallerie and Friedrich Kühn commanded the three divisions. Soldiers of the LAH were the first to enter the city.
    That time, the Axis assault was met by Lt. Gen. Fedor N. Remezov’s Tagenrog Operational Group, which included four rifle divisions and three cavalry divisions. By October 17, 56th Separate Army, under General Remezov’s command had been organized for the immediate defense of the city. It included five rifle and four cavalry divisions, and a brigade of light tanks. These forces were a part of the Yakov Cherevichenko’s Southern Front.
    On November 24, the Soviet 9th and 37th Armies, commanded by Lt. Generals Fedor M. Kharitonov and Anton Ivanovich Lopatin, launched counterattacks against the Germans. Three days later, General Remezov’s 56th Separate Army joined the effort. On November 29, the Red Army cut the road to Tagenrog, threatening the Germans with encirclement. Field Marshal von Rundstedt ordered Rostov-on-the-Don and Tagenrog abandoned and the troops withdrawn behind the Mius River.
    When Hitler overruled the order and ordered that the city be held, the Field Marshal responded, "It is madness to attempt to hold. In the first place the troops cannot do it and in the second place if they do not retreat they will be destroyed. I repeat that this order be rescinded or that you find someone else." To emphasize what he was saying, in his own hand, he wrote, "Should confidence in my leadership no longer exist, I beg to request someone be substituted who enjoys the necessary confidence of the Supreme Command."
    He was replaced, as commander of Army Group South, by Field Marshal Walther von Reichnau, who would be dead of a heart attack within two months. Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, who had been relieved of the command of Army Group Center, on December 18, 1941, for "health reasons," replaced Field Marshal von Reichnau. Field Marshal von Bock lasted until July 15, 1942, when he was again relieved.
    According to the Soviets, the German losses, in the first attempt, included: 30,000 casualties; 350 guns; 275 tanks; and 80 airplanes.
    On July 20, 1942, General von Kleist’s First Panzerarmee and Richard Rouff’s 17th Army, began their attempt to retake the city. Seventeenth Army consisted of: Friedrich Kirchner’s LVII Panzerkorps; Rudolph Konrad’s XXXXIX Mountain Corps; and Wilhelm Wetzel’s V Armeekorps. General Konrad’s XXXXIX Mountain Corps included Rudolph von Bünau’s 73rd, Willie Schnekenberger’s 125th & Arnold Szelinski’s 298th Infantry Divisions. General Kirchner’s LVII Panzerkorps included Traugott Herr’s13th Panzer and Felix Steiner’s SS Viking Panzergrenadier Divisions. Steiner’s SS Viking was an international SS division, with soldiers from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Holland, Belgium, Estonia, as well as Germany. It was considered one of the best. General Wetzel’s V Armeekorps consisted of Sigmund von Schleinitz’s 9th, Albert Buck’s 198th Infantry and Jozef Turanec’s Slovak Fast, Divisions.
    As before, the 56th Army, now commanded by Viktor V. Tsyganov, defended the city. It consisted of four rifle divisions, four rifle brigades and an armored brigade. After six days of battle, on July 24, headquarters in Berlin announced that, " . . . units of the Army, the Waffen-SS and Slovakian troops, supported by the Luftwaffe, have broken through Rostov’s strongly defended, deeply in place defense positions, along the whole front, and after hard fighting, have taken the important transport and port city." The Axis captured 83,000 prisoners.
    Most importantly, for the Axis, was the capture, intact, of the Rostov-Bataisk railroad dam with its five bridges across the, otherwise, impassable Don River delta. The Soviet government announced the fall of the city on July 28, 1942. Bataisk was captured two days later. It is located 9.3 miles southwest of Rostov-on-the-Don, on the south side of the Don River, and today has a population of 112,000.
    Rostov-on-the-Don is/was considered, and called, "The Gateway to the Caucuses." For the Axis forces that was the case, as now they would be able to continue their drive in an attempt to capture the rich oilfields located there.
    Axis forces would not be driven from the city until February 14, 1943. By then, only 170,000 citizens remained in the city.
    The city was awarded the Order of Patriotic War, First Degree, and on May 5, 2008, Russian President, Vladimir V. Putin conferred the status of "City of Military Glory" upon Rostov-on-the-Don.

NEXT WEEK: TREBLINKA

Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own. ? Mr. Wimbrow can be contacted at wimbrowlaw@gmail.com <mailto:wimbrowlaw@gmail.com>  

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