Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ
7th March, 2016
In the USSR everyone at the front and in the rear was, as they say, worth their weight in gold. Since the time of industrialisation the country lacked the human resources for the construction of factories, work for building enterprises in the country, and the development of the territories of the Far East and Siberia.
There was a lack of human resources to protect the homeland and the rear during the great Patriotic war; Hitler’s United Europe considerably exceeded the USSR in number. Until the summer of 1943 the troops’ strength of Germany and its allies exceeded the number of troops of the Red Army on the Eastern front by more than 1 million people .
Despite superior enemy forces, our troops in the first half of 1942, not only in the battle of Moscow, but in other areas in separate operations had achieved positive results.
From January 7th to May 20th 1942, armies of the Northwest front held the Demyansk offensive operation, encompassing six German divisions (about 95,000 people). Unfortunately, it was not possible to take capture or destroy the surrounded grouping. Most of the German troops escaped. In 1942, the Red Army conducted more than 20 large-scale offensive and defensive operations.
Whilst performing some operations, our troops achieved significant tactical success: when the forces holding the North-West and the right wing of the Kalinin fronts in the period from 9th January to 6th February 1942 during the Toropets–Kholm operation, our forces moved 250 kilometres and broke through to Velikiye Luki and Vitsebsk; in conducting an operation from 18th to 31st January in Barvenkovo-Lozovaya the troops of the southwestern and southern fronts advanced 100km in Western and South-Western directions, inflicting significant losses on the enemy – up to 70% of the personnel of the infantry divisions; when our forces carried out an operation from 30th July to 23rd August at Rzhev-Sychevka on the left wing of the Kalinin and right wing of the Western fronts, German forces suffered heavy losses in manpower (50 – 80% of staff) and technology (in the 3rd German tank division, from 150-160 tanks only 20-30 remained).
There are other examples of successful offensives of our troops in operations in the winter and summer of 1942. But generally we did not have enough forces to fully implement the goals set for operations in the spring and summer of 1942.
However, it was necessary to continue to conduct offensive operations on certain routes: first, to expel the enemy from the occupied territories, secondly, to preserve the strategic initiatives necessary to prevent large unjustified loss, and thirdly, to help our defending troops – in particular the troops defending Sevastopol.
This support started back in 1941. On 25th December 1941, just over a month after the German and Romanian armies captured Crimea, the Kerch-Feodosiya operation commenced – Soviet troops were planted on the Kerch Peninsula.
The operation began with the objective of assisting Sevastopol, which, since 30th October 1941, continued to fight the advancing German troops. On 2nd January 1942, the operation was successfully completed, and the Kerch Peninsula was cleared of the enemy. Since that time, the defense of the Crimean Peninsula held the front.
The memoirs of German military leaders exaggerate the number of our troops that landed on the Kerch Peninsula.
“In fact, near Kerch, from 26th to 31st December, about 19,000 members of the 51st army of the Transcaucasian front were planted. In Feodosia, from 29th to 31st December, with the help of the Chernomorsky fleet, 3 echelons containing 23,000 troops from the staff of 44th army of the same front landed.
Taking into account the losses incurred on January 1st, no more than 40,000 people were concentrated here. By this time the enemy had, considering transferred reserves, about the same,” – writes A.V Isyaev and E.M Moroz. They were mostly Romanian troops.
Manstein wrote about the six divisions of the 44th army that landed at Feodosiya, while there were only three: 157th and 236th infantry and 9th infantry. We didn’t have not only a threefold superiority over the enemy, according to von Manstein, but any superiority at all. But, despite the lack of superiority, our troops still occupied the Kerch Peninsula.
Mainstein made Earl von Sponeck the scapegoat, who, it should be noted, by retreating his troops he saved the division from destruction from the impact of Soviet paratroopers. On 23rd January 1942, von Sponeck was sentenced to death and executed in 1944. Manstein approved their power and used their own mistakes to prosecute others.
On 2nd January, the front line stabilized, and from that moment the commander of the 11th army began to assemble forces against our troops standing on the Kerch Peninsula, not having enough to move into the depths of the Crimean Peninsula. But the presence of our troops did not allow the enemy to take Sevastopol.
Therefore, on 20th March 1942, the troops of the field marshal took to the offensive against our Crimean front. Manstein’s offensive ended in defeat with heavy losses. This defeat can be explained by the superiority of the Soviet troops, who themselves went on the offensive, as well as poor training of the German tank division. Von Bock supports Manstein and declares the loss of the advancing German military’s 72 tanks. But there were only 17 German tanks on our positions, of which 8 turned out to be serviceable and were entered by Soviet troops. V. Goncharov concludes: “It can be stated that there was total eyewash in the Wehrmacht – from the tank regiment to the command of the army groups”.
Our offensive on 9th April on the enemy’s positions had not brought us success. It should be noted that the personnel of our troops, deployed in Crimea in January-February 1942 to assist the paratroopers, designed in the republics of the Caucasus, showed low efficiency.
On May 8th, 1942, the Germans again assumed the offensive and captured… the Kerch Peninsula. Most researchers and historians believe this victory was the most brilliant of victories Manstein won against overwhelming odds. It should be noted that he won all the other victories by having superior forces to the enemy.
In my opinion, there are no grounds to assert unequivocally the superiority of our troops over the Germans due to the fact that there is no official information about the number of German troops who took part in the May offensive on the Kerch Peninsula.
V. Goncharov estimated our forces at 249,800 people, including those located in Kerch and Kamysh Burun as part of the black sea fleet and Azov flotilla. V. Goncharov wrote the following on the number of German troops:
“The number of German troops is unknown and Manstein, and later German historians, chose not to report it. From the number of units (estimated 10 divisions plus housing and attached parts) we can assume that even with the losses in previous battles, the total number of German troops was from 150,000 to 200,000 people”.
But maybe the Germans had joined forces and offset the loss in numbers in previous battles. In my opinion, the strength of Soviet and German troops was the same, and the challenges facing them, were the same: to help their troops in battle for Sevastopol. Soviet troops, of course, helped the defenders of the city, while the troops of Manstein helped their Nazi invaders of the city.
Manstein claims 170,000 Soviet prisoners of war were captured in these battles. But calculations show that Manstein wrote a lie, increasing the number of Soviet prisoners as well as constantly increasing the number of Soviet troops opposing him.
The evacuation of the Soviet troops was made in very difficult conditions, and from 14th to 20th May, 120,000 people were taken from the Kerch Peninsula. This information is confirmed by the encyclopedia and research of V. Goncharov.
The КВБМ (military vehicle driving school) report about the fighting, composed in July 1942, indicates 150,000 people trafficked across the Strait. And this is a real figure, as many wounded and rear divisions began crossing over on May 9th-10th. But like the 120,000, 150,000 does not take into account those who passed through the Strait on their own.
Part of our troops took refuge in Adzhimushkay quarries and heroically fought the enemy in October 1942. Some of the Soviet fighters were killed in the fighting and at the crossing. A.M Vasilevsky wrote: “As a result, the enemy, on May 14th, broke through to the outskirts of Kerch. The retreat of our troops began to the East and across the Kerch Strait to the Taman Peninsula. The troops suffered heavy losses.”
Usually entering captivity refers to being missing without a trace, that is, the number of troops where the fact of their death is not confirmed, so it is difficult to establish the number of killed Soviet soldiers and officers in the May fighting in defence of the Kerch Peninsula and at the crossing. The sailors of the Chernomorsky fleet and Azov flotilla battling at sea could hardly have been among the prisoners.
A.V Vasilevsky wrote about what we had in the composition of the Crimean front 21st division. For 1942 our infantry division of 7,000 people was considered well-stocked, which means that the number of rifle divisions of the Crimean front was no more than 150,000 people.
Even if we take the number of our troops on the Kerch Peninsula on May 8th 1942 as equal to 249,800 people, and deduct from this amount the evacuated, killed, remaining in the quarries, the sailors of the fleet and of the flotilla, as well as those not taken into account who were crossing through the Strait, the number of captured Soviet soldiers and officers could not exceed 50,000 people, and this is the maximum possible number.
I think that in fact the number of prisoners was much less. The Nazis carried out brutal terror in the city and suburbs of Kerch; they killed 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, killed 14,000 civilians and more than 14,000 were taken away for forced labor in Germany.
Perhaps the number of our prisoners of war was 15,000 people, and the Germans shot them all, because they did not want to feed and protect them; they used their course of extermination of the Soviet people, and in the number of prisoners Manstein recorded almost all were troops of the Crimean front.
But the question arises: who issued the mandate to mindlessly rely on foreign sources and to present untrue information?!
To be continued…