Almost simultaneously in May 1942, two disasters occurred on the Soviet-German front: the rout of the Soviet armies near Kharkov (Barvenkovsky Kotel) and the rout of the Crimean Front. If the first is described in detail, then they try not to recall the second, as if there was nothing terrible there.
Unsuccessful defense of Crimea in the fall of 1941
The forerunner of this disaster was not entirely successful events in the defense of the Crimea in the fall of 1941. For the defense of Crimea in August, the 51st army was formed under the command of General Kuznetsov, and the 11th German army opposed it on the southern wing of the Soviet-German front, commanded by General Manstein.
The only place to invade Crimea was the Perekop Isthmus with a width of only 7 km. The offensive on it could be conducted only frontally. The isthmus was well equipped for defense with field-type structures. Over the entire width it was crossed by the ancient "Tatar moat" up to 15 m deep.
The 51st army consisted of eight rifle and three cavalry divisions. Four divisions were located on the coast to combat naval landings, three cavalry divisions in the center of the peninsula, to repel airborne assault forces and one in reserve. One division defended the Perekop Isthmus, one Chongar and the Arabat Spit, and one stretched out on the coast of the Sivash Bay. That is, more than half of the 51st army was not where the German offensive began. Manstein believed that given the terrain
"Even the stubborn defense of the three divisions was enough to prevent the invasion of the 54th Army Corps in Crimea."
The German forces that went on the offensive on September 9 went to the Chongarsky Bridge on September 16 and broke through the Soviet defenses on September 26, took Perekop and overcame the Tatar Moat. After that, they stopped the attack on the Crimea, as they had to transfer part of the troops to other sectors of the front. The Germans, having taken Perekop, had to overcome the even narrower Ishunsky isthmus (3-4 km wide).
On October 18, by the beginning of the second offensive, German troops totaled six divisions. They were opposed by 12 rifle and four cavalry divisions. These forces were quite enough for a solid defense of the Crimean isthmuses. The Soviet troops had an advantage in manpower and a significant number tanksThe Germans did not have one tank, but there was an advantage in artillery.
However, the command of the 51st Army scattered its forces throughout the peninsula. Three infantry and two cavalry divisions secured the coast, two infantry and one cavalry division were in reserve. Four rifle divisions were deployed in the same echelon to defend the isthmus at the Ishun positions, another division on the Chongar Peninsula.
On October 20, the Germans managed to take the Ishun fortifications, within three days of fierce battles, break through the defenses of the Soviet troops to its entire depth, enter the operational space and launch an attack on the Kerch Peninsula. Command and control of the troops was lost, General Kuznetsov was removed from command. As a result of the October offensive, the German divisions defeated the 51st Army superior to them, from which scattered and demoralized remnants of the troops remained retreating.
Approached parts of the Primorsky Army began to move south to the side of Sevastopol, the garrison of which at that time was very weak, and the remnants of the 51st Army to Kerch. Soviet troops in the Crimea were divided into two parts and lost general control.
Despite the sufficient forces, the command failed to organize the defense of the Kerch Peninsula, by November 16, the last units of the 51st Army were evacuated to the Taman Peninsula, part of the troops went to Adzhimushkaysky quarries and continued to fight there. According to modern data, the losses in the Crimean defensive operation amounted to 63 people, German sources say about the capture of about 860 thousand prisoners. As a result, the whole Crimea, except Sevastopol, was in the hands of the Germans, only part of the Soviet troops who lost all their heavy weapons managed to escape.
Kerch-Feodosia landing operation in December 1941
The loss of Crimea complicated the situation of the Soviet troops in the Kuban and the North Caucasus, as well as the defender in the ring of Sevastopol. In order to restore the situation, the Soviet command in December 1941 decided to carry out the Kerch-Feodosiya landing operation, using for this purpose the whole power of the Black Sea fleet. On December 26, a landing party landed near Kerch. On December 30, at the port of Feodosia, as well as on January 5, 1942, an airborne battalion was marched in the port of Yevpatoriya, but it was completely destroyed by the Germans. The troops were tasked with encircling and destroying the Kerch enemy grouping, then releasing Sevastopol and completely liberating the Crimea.
The 44th Army delivered the main blow in the region of Feodosia, and the 51st Army delivered an auxiliary blow in the Kerch area. The group consisted of 82 thousand people, 43 tanks, 198 guns, supported the landing of more than 700 aircraft. Three rifle and one cavalry divisions were in reserve on Taman. For landing, more than 200 vessels of the Black Sea Fleet were used. For 8 days of fighting, the Red Army advanced 100-110 km and liberated the entire Kerch Peninsula.
The commander of the 42nd German Corps General Shponek, fearing encirclement, ordered the troops to withdraw from the Kerch Peninsula, Manstein canceled the order, but he did not reach the troops. The German troops, having thrown heavy weapons, retreated, for this General Shponek was put on trial and sentenced to death.
Despite the success of the Soviet troops in this operation, General Manstein, however, wrote in his memoirs about the unsuccessful actions of the Soviet command. Instead of throwing the forces of the 44th Army, which has triple superiority, to destroy the communications of the 11th German Army, and the forces of the 51st Army - to seize the Simferopol-Dzhankoy railway, which could really lead to the defeat of the 11th Army, they acted indecisively and solved only the tactical task of encircling the Kerch group of Germans.
Taking advantage of this, the Germans, having transferred part of the troops from Sevastopol, launched a counterattack on January 15 in the area of Vladislavovka and repelled Theodosius on January 18. Soviet troops retreated 15–20 km east and took up defense in the narrowest part of the peninsula at Ak-Monai positions.
It should be noted a special feature of individual Soviet formations. They were mainly formed from the inhabitants of Transcaucasia. The 63rd Mountain Division was officially Georgian, and the 396th Division was Azerbaijani. These formations were characterized by poor discipline, poor preparation, and low morale; in the 63rd division there were massive transitions to the German side and the assassination of commanders.
The 63rd division was deployed in the region of Feodosia and became famous for the mass surrender at all stages of the operation. Manstein in his memoirs gives an example of how in the camp for Soviet prisoners of war near Feodosia during the Soviet offensive, the camp guards fled, and prisoners in the amount of 8000 people in formation without guard went not towards Soviet positions, but to Germans in Simferopol.
In subsequent battles, the 63rd division was in the first echelon, and the 396th in the second. At the first approach of the Germans, they scattered, opened the front and surrendered, in May both divisions were defeated and then disbanded.
Unsuccessful actions of the Crimean Front in February — April 1942
To liberate the Crimea, at the end of January, the Crimean Front was formed under the command of General Kozlov and strengthened by the 47th Army. In order to strengthen the command of the Crimean Front, in March a representative of the General Headquarters appointed an army commissar of the 1st rank Mehlis, whose role in the defeat of the front was quite substantial. Arriving at the front, he immediately developed vigorous activity, ousted the chief of staff of the front, General Tolbukhin, and replaced him with General Eternal, who he had brought with him, and then began to sort things out with the front commander, the limp general Kozlov. Mehlis crushed the front command and actually replaced the front commander, intervened in command and control, not being an expert in military affairs.
Naturally, all this affected the combat readiness of the front. The troops of the front were seriously replenished and were constantly in intense readiness for the offensive, however, it was carried over and over again. At the same time, the command stubbornly did not want to give an order to strengthen the defense, for fear of lowering the “offensive spirit” and relaxing the soldiers. A nervous atmosphere and a feverish senseless fuss reigned both at headquarters and on the front line.
In February – April 1942, the Crimean Front made three offensive attempts, but achieved nothing and suffered heavy losses. On February XNUMXth, simultaneously with the advance of the troops of the Sevastopol Defensive Region, part of the Crimean Front, consisting of eight divisions and two tank battalions, with artillery support from the ships of the Black Sea Fleet, they tried to break through the German defenses under Ak-Monay.
The German defense at the Yaila-Sivash line was dense, because of the narrow front, the attackers could not use their overwhelming numerical superiority. The losses were very large (only 32 thousand killed and missing). German dominated the sky aviationnot allowing the supply of troops. The spring thaw that had begun and the marshland were not allowed to develop the offensive. The troops advancing from Sevastopol also did not succeed. The March 19 offensive was halted.
The command of the front in the conditions of the mudslide refused to attempt to advance along the swamps along the coast of Sivash. On April 9, the offensive began on the southern front with the aim of capturing Koy-Assan, followed by access to Feodosia. This attack by the fleet was no longer supported and again brought no result. Since April 12, the troops of the Crimean Front stopped all active operations
The May Offensive of Manstein
By early May, the troops of the Crimean Front included seventeen rifle and two cavalry divisions, three rifle and four tank brigades with a total number of three hundred thousand people (with three hundred and fifty tanks). They were opposed by only seven infantry, one tank division and one cavalry brigade of the 11th army of General Manstein, numbering about one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers. Five divisions of the German army were left near Sevastopol.
Despite serious superiority, the position of the Soviet troops turned out to be rather shaky. The main shock group of the 47th and 51st armies concentrated in a ledge on the northern sector of the front. He was tasked with taking Koy-Assan and developing the offensive in two diverging directions: to Theodosia and Dzhankoy. The formations, having reached an unprecedented density of troops, were clustered on a narrow isthmus, the width of which in this place did not exceed 20 km.
The possibility of an advancing enemy front command was not considered at all. The troops were lined up in two echelons, however, they did not have a second echelon of defensive positions, the army leadership was preparing to enter it into battle immediately after the enemy’s defense broke through the first echelon divisions.
Three armies occupied bands of 8-10 km, the bulk of the troops of 12 rifle divisions were in the first defense zone. The defense section of the 44th Army was extremely weak; the second line of defense actually merged with the first. Front reserves were located at a distance of 15-20 km from the front edge. The first line of defense was poorly prepared and did not have a developed network of trenches. It consisted of separate rifle cells, trenches, dugouts, sometimes not even interconnected by communication paths, although an anti-tank moat was dug in front of part of the first defense line. Troop reserves were located as close to the front line as possible.
The rear defensive position of the front passed along the Turkish Wall - a chain of old fortifications located on the hills in the eastern, widest part of the peninsula. They were not equipped, no one was preparing for defense here at all. The command posts of the armies were located close to the front, there were no reserve command posts, and when the front broke through, command and control of the troops was immediately lost. The coastal anti-landing defense was not organized, and there was practically no masking of troops or command and observation posts. Despite the protests of the front commander Kozlov, Mehlis forbade to dig trenches in order to "not undermine the offensive spirit of the soldiers." Turning to the defense, the front maintained an offensive force, 19 of 21,5 divisions were close to the front line.
The Black Sea Fleet did not take any part in the planned operation. He remained inactive all spring (until the last battle for Sevastopol). Meanwhile, in the depths of the enemy's defense there were many places convenient for landing, which could strike at the rear of the German defense and deep into the peninsula, the Germans simply did not have serious forces to strengthen these points. And the matter here was no longer in the Mehlis, commanders of all levels did not carry out their duties properly, the troops were almost doomed.
At dawn on May 8, the Germans went on the offensive, which was a complete surprise to the front command. As a result of artillery and air raids, the work of the headquarters was paralyzed, communications and command and control of the troops were disrupted. The main blow was inflicted in the south on the weak positions held by the 63rd Mountain Division of the 44th Army, and amphibious landing was unhindered in its rear. German aircraft dominated the battlefield, and Soviet aircraft almost did not appear.
Despite the fact that the German group was twice as inferior to the Soviet in people, 2 times in artillery, 1,8 times in tanks, and 1,2 times superior to the Soviet only in planes, Manstein decisively broke through the defense, command The front lost control, disorganized troops surrendered and fled towards Kerch.
The breakthrough included tanks, only briefly detained by the old anti-tank ditch. On the morning of May 10, the Stavka ordered the troops of the Crimean Front to withdraw to the Turkish Wall, but by this time the German units had turned north and reached the area of deployment of Soviet reserves. The reserves were broken, and did not turn into battle formations, some of them hastily retreated to the east, and some were in close proximity on the coast of Sivash.
The fleet practically remained inactive. The enemy was advancing along the coast in close order, on which the fleet could easily inflict a massive artillery strike, but nothing was done. On the morning of May 13, the rear position was broken, the next day German troops reached the outskirts of Kerch.
A hasty evacuation of the city and the remaining troops through the strait to Taman began, which took place under the constant attacks of German aircraft. Kerch fell on May 15, the remnants of the Soviet troops retreated to the peninsula east of the city and on May 18 stopped resistance. The evacuation of the remnants of the troops from the peninsula lasted until May 20. Unable to evacuate units of about fifteen thousand people left for Adzhimushkaysky quarries.
The total losses of Soviet troops in May 1942 on the Kerch Peninsula amounted to about 180 thousand people killed and captured, as well as 258 tanks, 417 aircraft and 1133 guns. Until May 20, about 120 thousand troops were evacuated to the Taman Peninsula. According to German data, their losses amounted to 7588 people.
In terms of the total losses of the Soviet troops, this defeat was similar to the one that broke out a week later and the much more famous Kharkov catastrophe.
The defeat of the Kerch grouping of Soviet troops allowed the Germans to liberate troops for the final assault on Sevastopol, which fell in July, and for the summer offensive in the Caucasus.
The main culprit for the disaster on the Kerch Peninsula, Stalin announced Mehlis, the front commander of Kozlov and the chief of staff of the Eternal. They were demoted in ranks and posts. On June 4, 1942, the Stavka directive stated that they, as well as army commanders, "discovered a complete misunderstanding of the nature of modern warfare" and "tried to repel the attacks of enemy strike groups by linear construction of the defense - consolidation of the first-line troops by reducing the depth of the defense formations".
The inept actions of the Soviet command could not oppose anything to the well-calculated steps of one of the best generals of the Wehrmacht.