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THE SECOND SIEGE OF SEVASTOPOL
Written By: Peter Ayers Wimbrow III
*Click images below to view larger versions.
THE SECOND SIEGE OF SEVASTOPOL
Author (r) and Yakov Shevchenko, a veteran of the Soviet Navy and defender of Sevastopol at Sevastopol on the 60th Anniversary of Liberation Day, May 9, 2004.
THE SECOND SIEGE OF SEVASTOPOL
Monument to the Imperial Russian Fleet from the First Siege, in Sevastopol Harbor.
   This week, 70 years ago, the second siege of Sevastopol came to an end when the last Soviet defenders finally surrendered to General Eric von Manstein’s 11th Army, on July 4, 1942. The siege had lasted 250 days.
    Sevastopol is a Black Sea port located on the Crimean Peninsula, and was home to the Soviet Black Sea Fleet. The city currently has a population of 350,000 and is now home to the Ukranian and Russian Black Sea Fleets.
    The first siege had lasted almost 11 months when the city was defended by the Imperial Russian Army and Navy, against forces of the French, British, and Turkish Empires and the Kingdom of Sardinia, during the Crimean War, between 1854-6.
    During the second siege the defenders numbered 118,000 men under the command of Black Sea Fleet Admiral Filipp Oktyabrsky. The defenders were also supported by the Soviet Black Sea Fleet and the Red Air Force.
    General von Manstein’s 11th Army consisted of the XXX, XXXXII, and LIV Armeekorps, commanded by Maximilian Fretter-Pico, Franz Mattenklott, Erik Hansen, and the Romanian VII, and Mountain, Corps, commanded by Florea Mitrãnescu and Gheorghe Avramescu.
    Access, by land, into the Crimean Peninsula was difficult because it was limited to the Perekop Isthmus, which was only 4 miles wide. The assault on the Isthmus of Perekop began on the 24th of September 1941, and lasted for five days. The Crimean Peninsula was defended by the 51st Independent Army, commanded by Colonel-General Fyodor Isidorovich Kuznetsov. The Germans were able to push past the Soviet defenses on the Perekop Isthmus, because Kuznetsov was guarding against a seaborne assault. He was relieved of command and replaced by General Pavel Batov, who had previously commanded the 9th Rifle Corps.
    On the 16th of October, the forces defending the Crimea received reinforcements when the 80,000-man Coastal Army, which had been defending Odessa, was evacuated from that city to Sevastopol. Commanding the Coastal Army was Major-General Ivan Yefimovich Petrov. However, most of their heavy equipment had been left, or destroyed, in Odessa.
    On November 1, Simferopol was captured. Today, the city has a population of 340,000 and serves as the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The 2500-year-old Black Sea resort of Feodosia was captured on November 4. It currently has a population close to 100,000. By now, 16 Soviet divisions had been destroyed. Meanwhile, the historic ally of the Russians, General Winter, was arriving. Temperatures would fall to minus 20 degrees F. Sevastopol was unsuccessfully assaulted on November 13, and the siege began.
    Count Theodore von Sponeck’s 46th Division captured Kerch on November 15, and its defenders retreated across the Kerch Strait to the Kuban Peninsula. At 2600 years of age, Kerch is the oldest city in the Crimea. It is located on the Kerch Peninsula in the eastern part of Crimea and, today, has a population of 150,000. On December 26, 1941, the Soviet Fifty-First Army, now under the command of Lieutenant General Vladimir N. L’vov, together with the Forty-Forth Army, commanded by General Aleksei Pervushin, landed on the Kerch Peninsula, and on December 29th Feodosia was recaptured and the next day Kerch was retaken. The Soviets re-enforced the city’s defenses between January 20th and February 11th.
    General von Manstein realized that he would have to deal with the Red Army in his rear, at Kerch, before he could mount a successful assault on Sevastopol. The Red Army had bought the great port an additional six months. General von Manstein gave it his personal attention and that, together with the aerial superiority provided by Dr. Baron Wolfram von Richthofen’s Luftflotte VIII and Soviet incompetence, resulted in the reconquest of Kerch on May 16, 1942.
    Sevastopol’s defenses included three zones of trenches, pillboxes and batteries. The three most significant batteries were Forts Stalin, Molotov and Maxim Gorky I, each equipped with a turret containing two 12-inch guns. To counter the Soviet fortifications the Germans moved into the line the Gustav, a howitzer with a crew of 2500 commanded by a major-general, which fired a 16.5-inch shell weighing 10,500 pounds and standing two stories tall, and Karl and Thor mortars which had been used to reduce the Brest fortress the year before. These monster mortars were the largest self-propelled guns to see service during the war. They weighed 122 tons and could fire a 4,800-pound shell 4,720 yards, capable of penetrating more than 8 feet of concrete. Put in perspective, the Bismarck fired 15-inch shells and the Iowa class battleships fired 16-inch shells.
    Beginning on June 2, the Axis pounded the Soviet defenses day and night with bombs and shells. Survival above ground was impossible.
    Facing the city’s defenses were, from left to right, General Fretter-Pico’s XXX Armeekorps, General Avramescu’s Romanian Mountain Corps and General Hansen’s LIV Armeekorps. On June 7, General von Manstein ordered General Hansen’s Armeekorps forward. The next day, the other two were given the order. By this time, Baron von Richthofen had been promoted and replaced by Wolfgang von Wild.
    Fort Stalin was captured by soldiers of General Ludwig Wolff’s 22nd Division, on June 13, with much assistance from the Luftwaffe. By this time, the Axis had suffered 10,300 casualties. On June 17, Fort Siberia was taken. Fort Maxim Gorky I fell to German flamethrowers the next day. Its 1000-man garrison had fought, literally to the last man. The only Soviet soldiers taken alive were forty that were too badly wounded to provide further resistance. By June 20, Forts Molotov, Volga, Lenin and Schishkova had been captured. By June 25, Soviet airplanes had been evacuated from the beleaguered city and its defenders were out of ammunition for their anti-aircraft guns. The following day, the Axis could claim that the city’s outer defenses had been overrun. Smoke clouds from the city could be seen 100 miles distant.
    On June 28, the Crimean War battlefield of Inkerman was captured by Axis forces. The next day, General von Manstein’s 11th Army began the final assault on the city. The Romanian Fourth Mountain Division, commanded by Gheorghe Manoliu, together with the German 50th Division commanded by Friedrich Sixt mounted a nighttime amphibious assault across Severnaya Bay, while the Romanian 18th Division, commanded by Radu Bãldescu, held the enemy’s attention in the Balaclava area. Balaclava, now a part of Sevastopol, was the site of "The Charge of the Light Brigade," immortalized by Alfred Lord Tennyson, during the Crimean War. Within three days the Fourth Division would capture 10,000 prisoners. Meanwhile, the Soviets blew an ammunition dump in a cave, which was also used as a refuge for thousands of civilians and wounded soldiers, taking all with it.
    Fort Malakoff, which had been the scene of heavy fighting in the first siege, fell on June 30. That night, Admiral Oktyabrsky and General Petrov were evacuated on Stalin’s orders. Command of the remnants of the defenders devolved to Maj.-Gen. Petr Georgivich Novikov, commander of the 109th Rifle Division. Like many millions of other Soviet prisoners, he died in German captivity. After another intense bombardment by the artillery and Luftwaffe, the city was finally occupied on the afternoon of July 1.
    But the battle was not over. General Novikov had established a perimeter on the Chersones Peninsula in the hopes of a Soviet "Dunkirk." But with the Luftwaffe controlling the skies, it was not going to happen. On July 4, the Axis assaulted the remaining defenders huddled on the Chersones Peninsula. Although many of the women fought to the death, 30,000 more Soviet soldiers surrendered that day.
    In addition to the 95,000 Soviet prisoners, the Axis captured 467 guns, 824 machine-guns, 758 mortars, 86 antitank guns, 69 anti-aircraft guns and 26 tanks. Soviet dead and wounded numbered 50-60,000. Eleventh Army suffered 75,000 casualties, of which 8,454 were Romanian. The entire Crimean Peninsula was now under Axis control.
    Upon the capture of the city, General von Manstein was called by der Führer, congratulated, and promoted to Field Marshal. Although it was important to capture Sevastopol, it had taken so long that Eleventh Army, the talents of its leader, Erich von Manstein, and the Luftwaffe, had been lost to the Axis’ summer offensive.
    The Red Army liberated the city on May 9,1944. On May 1, 1945, Stalin designated Sevastopol, Leningrad, Stalingrad and Odessa "Hero Cities." Sevastopol was designated a "Red Banner City" on October 16, 1954 - the 100th anniversary of the first siege, by the Supreme Soviet Presidium. On May 8, 1965 - the 20th anniversary of the Reich’s surrender - the Presidium confirmed its designation as a "Hero City" and conferred upon it the Gold Star and the Lenin Order.
    After Stalin’s death, in 1954, the Crimea was transferred from Russia to Ukraine. Then, it made no difference. Now, however, it is very important, since the majority of its inhabitants are Russian and Sevastopol is the home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

NEXT WEEK: THE DESTRUCTION OF CONVOY PQ-17

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@beachin.net>

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