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Posts Tagged ‘Sevastopol’

I hope you all have had a wonderful 4th of July.  This is two years in a row that ours has been atypical (at least for July).  Last year, it was really cool.  This year was a bit warmer, but it basically rained all day.  Most of the fireworks displays around the area have been postponed until tomorrow, but the forecast calls for a bunch of rain tomorrow evening as well.  I guess we’ll see what happens.

Speaking of fireworks, the fight for Sevastopol in 1942 provided plenty of fireworks of its own.  The final assault, begun in June, was actually the culmination of a larger siege begun by German forces late in the preceding year.  In those heady early days of Barbarossa (heady at least for the Germans), the Wehrmacht had stormed into the Crimean Peninsula and (excepting the part that was bordered by the Black Sea) surrounded Sevastopol.  Then the super-cold winter of 1941 gave way to spring and the fight was on again.

As we discussed a month ago, this final battle also featured the largest guns ever used in conflict.  Massive 600mm and 800mm siege cannon may not have fired a bundle of shells, but the ones that were fired made huge explosions, like on June 6th when a series of projectiles from the 800mm Schwerer Gustav blew up an ammunition magazine.  But this was no ordinary ammo dump…it was the White Cliff and it was submerged in nearly 100 feet of water and protected by 30 feet of concrete.

Despite being heavily outnumbered (by better than 3-to-1), the Soviet forces resisted this final assault for nearly a month before finally collapsing.  On July 4, 1942, organized fighting in Sevastopol ended.  Isolated resistance and skirmishes would continue for a week, but General (soon-to-be Field Marshal) Erich von Manstein’s forces had seized the port.

Recommended Reading:  Barbarossa

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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

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