When the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa in June of 1941, they did so with more than 180 divisions and numerous objectives. Among them were the city Leningrad (which was nearly captured), Moscow (also nearly captured), and the naval port of Sevastopol. And of the those three, Sevastopol may be the least familiar, so we’ll spend a couple of minutes there.
Located on the very tip of the Crimean Peninsula, Sevastopol was home to the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, and was an incredibly important objective for the Wehrmacht to capture. Within four months of Barbarossa’s launch, General Erich von Manstein’s forces had conquered most of the Crimea and, by mid-November, had surrounded the port…well, sort of. The Germans had cut off all land access to Sevastopol, though ships and submarines could still sail through a gauntlet of German aircraft to reach the port.
Like Moscow, the winter of 1941 saw a Soviet counteroffensive that succeeded in gaining back some territory and halting the German advance. But the spring brought renewed fighting and, with the Germans capturing the Kerch Peninsula in May of 1942, von Manstein again turned his attention to the port, which he considered to be the strongest fortress in the world. He piled up 9 Divisions of the Eleventh Army into a 35-mile perimeter, hundreds of artillery pieces, and Wolfram von Richthofen’s entire Luftflotte 4 to put a pounding on the roughly 100,000 Red Army soldiers still hanging on.
But that wasn’t all. In a 4-year war full of extreme and excess, Thor came on the scene. Thor was a 600-mm gun and Manstein had 3 at his disposal. If that wasn’t big enough, there was the Schwerer Gustav, and 800mm gun (that’s 31.5″ for you battleship fans). Weighing 1,350 tons, it was moved into position on special railcars pulled by 60 locomotives. It could fire a 7-ton armor-piercing shell more than 20 miles. It truly was overkill as aircraft could now carry bombs of a similar size, but seeing that gun in the distance through a powerful set of field glasses must have been a most sobering view.
Throughout May, Manstein’s forces coiled themselves tight. On June 2, 1942, they were released in a deafening roar as the cacophony of a massive 5-day air and artillery bombardment began. The final push by the Germans to capture Sevastopol had begun.
Recommended Reading: The Eastern Front – Day By Day, 1941-45