Manstein’s Romanians in the Crimea
Erich von Manstein was one of the ablest commanders Germany had during World War Two. He started the war as the chief of staff of von Runstedt’s Army Group South in the invasion of Poland in 1939. After this first campaign ended, he proposed a plan for the assault on France in 1940, but it was rejected by the OKH and Manstein was assigned as commander of an infantry corps in Poland, away from the preparations in the West. He then presented it to Hitler, which quickly adopted it as his own. During the French campaign, he commanded 38th Corps, which participated only in the second phase of the operations with very good results. This is why he was appointed, in February 1941, commander of the 56th Panzer Corps for the new campaign against the USSR. This unit was part of Leeb’s Army Group North. Manstein proved his valor again and again in the battles in the Baltic area. Finally, on 12 September, he received a telex from OKW in which he was announced that had just been named the commander of the 11th Army, in the other part of the Eastern Front: the Crimea.
The 11th Army started the war in Romania as part of Army Group “Antonescu” together with the Romanian 3rd and 4th Army. The primary objectives of the Romanian forces, Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina (which had been annexed from Romania by the Soviet Union in 1940), had been completed by 26 July 1941. Prior to this, the 3rd Army started to cross the river Dniester (Romania’s 1940 border) and was put under the command of the German 11th Army. The 4th Army also crossed the Dniester, but later, on 4 August, and went on to attack Odessa. But that’s another story. The 11th and 3rd Army advanced through the Stalin Line to the river Bug and then to the Dnieper.
The 3rd Romanian Army was made up of the Cavalry Corps (5th, 6th, and 8th Cavalry Brigade) and the Mountain Corps (1st, 2nd, and 4th Mountain Brigade). The 19th and 21st Observation Squadron (equipped with IAR-39s) and the 111th Liaison Squadron (Fleet F-10Gs) were assigned to it. There were in total 74,700 soldiers, commanded by Lt. Gen. Petre Dumitrescu.
At the end of August, the German High Command launched the offensive against Kharkov. At the same time, it planned to take Crimea, which represented a serious threat to the bulk of Army Group South’s forces. It was also the main airbase from which Soviet bombers occasionally raided the Romanian oil installations. The 3rd Army’s role was to secure the left flank of the German 11th Army, which was engaged in the assault on Crimea. On 30 August, the German and Romanian troops forced the Dnieper near Beryslav and established two bridgeheads. By 12 September the Soviets were retreating. The front, however, stabilized between the Dnieper and the Azov Sea (Balky-Melitopol) and in the Perekop Isthmus. With the capture of Genichesk on 15 September, all land connections with the Red Army forces in Crimea were cut. This was the situation which Manstein found on 17 September, when he took over the 11th Army, following the death of Gen. Eugen von Schobert (his Fi-156 landed in a minefield), the former commander.
He decided to force his way through the Perekop Isthmus with the 54th Corps and 49th Mountain Corps. The left flank of the 11th Army was secured by the two Romanian corps and the 30th Corps. The Mountain Corps had its left flank on the river Dnieper and the Cavalry Corps had its right flank on the seaside. Between them was the 30th German Corps. The front wasn’t yet well established since the 3rd Army was in the process of replacing the 49th German Mountain Corps. The Soviets launched a counteroffensive on 24 September against this weak flank of the 11th Army and of Army Group South with two armies (9th and 18th Soviet Army). The initial six Soviet infantry divisions were reinforced with another 6 divisions, a tank brigade, and several independent tank battalions. The exhausted Axis troops were overwhelmed. The front was broken in the sectors of the 2nd and 4th Romanian Mountain Brigade and 5th and 6th Romanian Cavalry Brigade. Also, the 170th German Infantry Division and 8th Romanian Cavalry Brigade were pushed back. The situation was almost desperate. There were still many pockets of resistance that were holding out and slowing down the Soviet advance. Gen. Manstein dispatched the 49th Mountain Corps and the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler SS Division. The 49th Corps attacked the left of the Romanian Mountain Corps and the Leibstandarte on the right flank of the Cavalry Corps. By 4 October the Soviet offensive was halted and the Axis troops launched their own counteroffensive. They were joined by the Kleist’s Panzergruppe 1, which attacked from the north. This met up with elements of the Romanian Cavalry Corps three days later, closing the circle around the two Soviet armies. The last pocket of resistance was liquidated on 11 October. Thus a situation that could have turned into a major disaster resulted in the capture of 65,000 soldiers, 125 tanks, and 500 artillery pieces1.
The 49th Mountain Corps and the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler SS Division were taken away from the 11th Army and assigned to the German offensive towards Rostov. Thus Gen. Manstein was deprived of the essential mountain and motorized troops. So he turned to his Romanian allies. The Romanian Mountain Corps was reorganized and put at the disposal of the 11th Army. It was made up of the 1st Mountain Brigade, the 8th Cavalry Brigade, and the 19th Artillery Regiment. The corps was deployed on the left wing of the attacking force, in the Genichesk area. Two motorized heavy artillery battalions: 52nd and 57th were also assigned to the 11th Army and sent to the Perekop Isthmus front, to bolster the Axis artillery force for the upcoming offensive. The motorized cavalry regiments (6th and 10th Rosiori2) of the 5th and 6th Cavalry Brigade formed the Col. Radu Korne” Detachment together with an AT battalion, the 54th Motorized Heavy Artillery Battalion, and a motorcycle company. This mobile force was subordinated to the German “Ziegler” Brigade.
Facing them were 8 Soviet infantry divisions and 3 cavalry divisions and one tank regiment, under the command of the 51st Army and of the Coastal Army, which had just arrived from Odessa. To these we can also add the forces of the Soviet Navy and the large number of obsolete airplanes in the Peninsula.
The 11th Army started the offensive in the Perekop sector on 19 October. The Mountain Corps, however, conducted only an active defense. In the evening of 28 October, when the resistance in the Perekop Isthmus had been defeated, it finally received the order to advance. The 1st Mountain Brigade was going to attack through the Salkovo Isthmus, while the 8th Cavalry Brigade was suppose to take Genichesk. The assault started on 29 October. The Salkovo front was only 2 km wide, which permitted an attack with two battalions, and was very heavily fortified. In his memoirs, von Manstein referred to the Salkovo Isthmus as “useless for an attack”. In the first day, the vânatori de munte (mountain troops) managed to advance only about 1.5 km, despite having artillery and air support (several Stukas from StG 77 bombed Soviet positions). The cavalry didn’t have too much success either at Genichesk. However, the German forces, which were advancing through the Perekop Isthmus into Crimea, were threatening to cut of the Soviet troops in the Salkovo Isthmus. So the next day they started to fall back. The 1st Mountain Brigade engaged the rear-guard and passed through the last line of fortifications by 12 o’clock and then pursued the retreating Soviets to the Sivash Sea. But they managed to escape and blow up the bridges which connected the Salkovo Isthmus with Crimea. About 250 prisoners were taken. On 31 October the 1st Mountain Brigade started to cross over in boats and, later that day, on a pontoon bridge built by German engineers. Since the 8th Cavalry Brigade didn’t have too much success at Genichesk and its mobility was more suited for the pursuing actions in Crimea, it was decided to contain the Soviet forces with the 4th Rosiori Regiment. The 2nd Cavalry Regiment and the 3rd Motorized Cavalry Regiment were sent through the cleared Salkovo Isthmus to Crimea and subordinated to the German 42nd Corps.
The Korne Motorized Detachment entered in Crimea through the Perekop Isthmus and made a quick advance and intercepted the Simferopol-Yevpatoria highway on 31 October, cutting off the retreat route towards Sevastopol.
The 1st Mountain Brigade was given the task to clear up the Yaila Mountains. For this it was split up into three detachments. On 5 November3 they reached the Black Sea near Sudak, after marching and fighting along 180 km in four days and taking 2,247 prisoners. A notable action was the one of the 58th Recon Group (a machine-gun squadron4 and two cavalry platoons). It was assigned to the 1st Mountain Brigade. The Group was part of the vanguard. In the morning of 5 November, it reached the B. Yantura forest and was received with powerful MG fire. They maneuvered to the north and captured 2 officers and 41 soldiers. Then they continued the advance towards Tuak and managed to surprise about 150 Soviets at the western exit of the town. These were captured without a fight, after one cavalry platoon infiltrated behind them and made them surrender.
But the big “pot” came the next day. Their mission was to clear the road to Kuruusen of any enemy groups. They found, however, an entire Soviet cavalry regiment. It was lined up in a column without any precautions. The two cavalry platoons quickly rode on each side of the road, firing at the Soviets and managing to surprise them. They threw down their weapons and surrendered. 1,210 POWs were taken and an enormous quantity of weapons.
The 8th Cavalry Brigade was temporarily under the command of the German 42nd Corps. It started its pursuit on 3 November and was permanently in the front line. By 9 November it was in the Kerch Peninsula with the rest of the German 42nd Corps. Between 10-12 the 8th Cavalry Brigade was assigned the task of cleaning up the seaside of the Soviet troops that remained. After that date it returned under the command of the Mountain Corps. It had fought across 240 km and taken about 1,300 prisoners.
On 10 November, the 11th Army started to prepare the assault on Sevastopol. This mission was assigned to the German 54th and 30th Corps. The Romanian Mountain Corps was assigned to the defense of the Crimean coast between Sudak and Alushta. A new Romanian unit, the 4th Mountain Brigade, was sent to Crimea at the request of the German command. It arrived at its destination on 26 November and on 2 December commenced the anti-partisan actions in the Yaila mountains. These proved to be quite a problem. The 1st Mountain Brigade also fought them between 6 and 18 November, before it was sent to take part in the assault on Sevastopol, but did not manage to wipe them out. However, by 15 December, the 4th Mountain Brigade managed secure most of communication routes and to destroy the partisan nests, despite the terrible winter conditions (-25°C, blizzard).
As I already mentioned, on 18 November the 1st Mountain Brigade received the order to move to Sevastopol were it was going to be subordinated to the German 30th Corps, in the southern part of the Sevastopol front. It arrived in the designated area on 22. Immediately the 1st Mountain Group was assigned to the 72nd Infantry Division. After two days it was reinforced with the 14th Battalion, a mountain artillery battalion and the 4th Artillery Regiment. The rest of the brigade was assigned to the defense of the coastline and to anti-partisan duties.
On 23 November 1941, the 1st Mountain Group (2nd and 3rd Battalion) with the 2nd Mountain Pioneer Battalion, the 37th AT Company and the 4th Artillery Regiment replace the German 124th Regiment on the front line. On 25 November the 1st Mountain Group took the Alsu village and two days later it assaulted the Denkmal Heights, but failed to take it completely because of the fierce Soviet resistance and the bad weather. The “Lt. Col. Dinculescu” Group (23rd and 24th Battalion) replaced the 1st Group on 6 December and was submitted to several Soviet attacks between 8-13 December, but repulsed all of them.
The assault was planned for 17 December. The 1st Mountain Brigade’s objective was the Chapel Hill. The attack was suppose to start at 6:55 with the two groups simultaneously, each with a battalion. Because of some mistakes in the communication of the orders, the 3rd Mountain Battalion didn’t reach the starting position at the time when it was suppose to and the assault was carried out only by the 23rd Battalion (Dinculescu Group). The advance was stopped by the Soviets on the Karlovka stream. Later that day a second assault was launched, this time with together with the 2nd Battalion, but failed, mainly because of the Red Army troops in the Karlovka village which were firing in the Romanian flank. It was obvious that the village needed to be taken before any further advance could be made. So the next day was used for intense preparations. The Soviets, however, attacked the positions of the 2nd and 23rd Battalion, which suffered heavy casualties, mostly because of the intense mortar shelling. Maj. Gheorghe Stancu, the commander of the 2nd Battalion, was killed that day when his command post was hit by a mortar shell. The assault on 19 December commenced at 7:00. The 3rd Battalion managed to take the northern part of the Karlovka village within an hour. The 2nd Battalion attacked from the south, but stopped in front of the Soviet pillboxes. However, with the support of Stukas from StG 77, which launched their bombs with excellent precision this obstacle was surmounted and the village was taken, after some very violent fighting, even hand-to-hand. In the meanwhile the 1st Battalion continued the advance towards the Chapel Hill. The “Dinculescu” Group was subordinated to the German 105th Infantry Regiment and fought that day under its orders. The command point was hit by a heavy mortar shell and Lt. Col. Gheorghe Dinculescu was killed. During the next days, the offensive actions continued to take the Chorgun village and the heights east and west of it. On 20, the village and the eastern hills were secured, but the Soviet resistance was very powerful in the western part. The guns had to be brought close in order to fire directly on the pillboxes. Several AT pieces were carried up the hills east of Chogun with enormous effort and the obstacle was destroyed. Thus on 23 December, the 1st Mountain Brigade and the 170th Infantry Division took the Chapel Hill. During the 7 day offensive (17-23 December) the brigade lost 1,261 men (331 dead, 801 wounded, 129 missing). But the brigade and its commander (Maj. Gen. Mihail Lascar) won the admiration of Gen. von Manstein, who mentions him in his memoirs, but during the second Battle of Sevastopol, when Lascar was no longer the commanding officer of the 1st Mountain Brigade.
Another Romanian unit that took part in the first battle of Sevastopol was the “Korne” Detachment, which was subordinated to the 54th Corps in the northern part of the Sevastopol front. It was situated on the extreme right of the corps and attacked parallel with the seaside towards the Kacha Valley, securing the flank of the German 22nd Infantry Division, which was the main offensive element of the 54th Corps. It reached the valley on 23 December and by 25 it had already cleared the area of Soviet troops.
In the meantime STAVKA had prepared a really nasty surprise for the German and Romanian troops in the Peninsula. Although initially scheduled for 21 December, the “Kerch-Feodosiya” Operation started on 26, because some of the troops intended for the landings were sent to Sevastopol to reinforce the defenders. About 3,000 troops of the 51st Army landed near Kerch. The only Axis troops in the area were the ones of the German 46th Infantry Division. At 8:30, the Mountain Corps received the order from the 11th Army to prepare the 4th Mountain Brigade and 8th Cavalry Brigade for action. About 7 hours the 8th Cavalry Brigade was ordered to start moving towards Kerch Peninsula, where it was suppose to be subordinated to the 42nd Corps. The 3rd Motorized Rosiori Regiment (assigned to the 30th Corps, near Sevastopol) was sent to Feodosiya. At midnight the 4th Mountain Brigade was also ordered to join the German forces in the Kerch Peninsula. However, two battalions (18th and 29th) were left behind to guard the Simferopol-Alushta highway.
Things got even worse, when elements of the Soviet 44th Army landed at Feodosiya on 29 December 1941. The German 46th Infantry Division already engaged all its forces and the 8th Cavalry Brigade and the “Korne” Detachment were halfway to Kerch. The 4th Mountain Brigade was 20-22 km from Feodosiya. The city’s garrison was quickly eliminated and the Red Army gained a strong foothold in Crimea. In his memoirs, von Manstein makes several mistakes (willingly or not). He states that he ordered the Romanian brigades to go to Feodosiya from 26 December. However, Romanian documents show another destination (Kerch Peninsula). Only the 3rd Motorized Rosiori Regiment was sent directly to Feodosiya. The “Korne” Detachment and the 8th Cavalry Brigade were ordered to turn around and go to Feodosiya. Taking into consideration the fact that the Romanian units marched on considerable distance between 26-28 December (the 4th Mountain Brigade 140 km, the 8th Cavalry Brigade 200 km and the “Korne” Detachment” 100 km) in horrible weather conditions (blizzard, -30ºC) and that some of them were initially ordered to go somewhere else, von Manstein’s remark that the they arrived late is rather unfair. Maybe an attempt to blame others for the failure of preventing the landings, even though the German command knew about them from 20 December, when a Soviet recon team was captured and interrogated? Who knows?
Following these new events, the 4th Mountain Brigade, the 3rd Motorized Rosiori Regiment and the 420th AT battalion were subordinated to the Mountain Corps. Its mission was to attack and eliminate the Soviet bridgehead, in cooperation with the 8th Cavalry Brigade which was suppose to regroup near Vladislavovka. In the morning of 30 December, the 8th Cavalry Brigade hadn’t reached the designated positions. The left flank of the advancing mountain troops was thus vulnerable. The Soviet troops exploited this situation and, soon, the already exhausted soldiers of the 4th Mountain Brigade were on the retreat. However, in the afternoon, the commander of the Mountain Corps, Maj. Gen. Gheorghe Avramescu, managed to stabilize the front around Starii Krim. In “Lost Victories”, von Manstein mentions the fact that the Romanian Mountain Corps’ attack was repulsed by a few Soviet tanks. However, Soviet sources state that in the first 3-4 days after the landing, the Red Amy had at Feodosiya 23,000 troops, 127 guns, 211 mortars and 24 tanks. These fresh forces were numerically superior to the tired Romanian 4th Mountain Brigade, which wasn’t even complete due to the fact that it had to leave two battalions behind.
The German 42nd Corps retreated from Kerch and established a new front in the Parpach Isthmus. In the morning of 31 December the Soviets tested the defenses in the Starii Krim area and later attacked in force the positions of the 4th Mountain Brigade, but were repulsed. The same day, Maj. Strempel, the chief of the Operations Bureau of the 42nd Corps visited the Mountain Corps’ command point and told Maj. Gen. Avramescu that “the situation of the 11th Army depends of the power to resist of the Mountain Corps”. Until 14 January 1942, the Soviets attacked another 7 times. However, the 4th Mountain Brigade held a 20 km front with only half of its forces. The first German unit to reach the Feodosiya front was the 213th Infantry Regiment and some AA, AT and artillery units. Between 5-14 January, the 30th Corps (132nd and 170th Infantry Division) and the Romanian 18th Infantry Division reinforced the front in south-eastern Crimea. The latter had just arrived in the peninsula together with the 10th Infantry Division, after a 20 days march of 450 km in terrible weather conditions.
The 30th Corps (132nd and 170th Infantry Division and the Romanian 4th Mountain Brigade) received the mission to eliminate the Soviet bridgehead at Feodosiya, while the 42nd Corps (46th Infantry Division, the “Hitzfeld” Detachment and the Romanian 18th Infantry Division and 8th Cavalry Brigade) held the front in the Parapach Isthmus. The assault started on 15 January. The 4th Mountain Brigade was situated on the corps’ right flank. It advanced rapidly from the first hours of the attack, threatening the flank of the Soviet troops facing the 170th Infantry Division. Two mountain companies infiltrated behind a Red Army counterattack against the German division’s position’s and opened fire causing the enemy to retreat in panic. The brigade continued its advance the next day and encountered a fierce resistance from the Soviet troops. Its already small forces were diminished when the 13th Battalion was sent to Sudak where the Soviets made a new landing. On 17 January, the 17th Battalion reached the seaside at Pavlovka. The following day, Feodosiya fell. The 4th Mountain Brigade cleared the last remaining pockets of resistance in its sector. The brigade’s assault and the attacks of the StG 77’s Stukas against Soviet positions were decisive in the 30th Corps’ success at Feodosiya.
In the meantime, the Romanian troops assigned to the 42nd Corps also conducted offensive operations in the sector between Seit Asan and the sea. They took the objectives that were assigned to them from the first day and then repulsed several Soviet counter-attacks. Only on the front of the 18th Infantry Division the Red Army lost 16 tanks and 600 dead.
While the battle for Feodosiya was just beginning, the Chernomorskiy Flot made a second landing at Sudak in the night of 15/16 January. The first attempt was only 3 days before and was repulsed by a Romanian company, under the command of Cpt. Tomescu. But this time they were grossly outnumbered by a force made up of two Soviet mountain regiments and forced to evacuate the Taraktash village. However, with the arrival, later that day, of the Romanian 13th Mountain Battalion, of a battalion from the 4th Artillery Regiment as well as of a German battalion, AA company and an artillery battery, the situation stabilized. All the units were put under the command of the German Col. Rusker. On 17 January, the “Rusker” Group attacked and manage to take the eastern part of Traktash. The next day the western part of the village was taken, only to be lost to a Soviet counterattack. The same day, the “Otusi” Detachment was created, with the mission to defend the Sudak-Otusi highway. It was made up of the 4th Mountain Pioneer Battalion, a squadron from the 3rd Motorized Rosiori Regiment, a machine-gun platoon, two German infantry companies and an AA company. The attack was renewed on 20 January, but only the “Otusi” Detachment made any progress. Because the Soviets received a strong support from partisan units in the area, it was decided to eliminate them. Between 21-23 January about 200 partisans were killed in the fights. On 24, with stronger air and artillery support, the group finally managed to take Taraktash. The 17th Mountain Battalion reinforced the Romanian-German formation and on 27 and 28 January the Soviets were pushed back towards Sudak. A company managed to take the city and cut their retreat. 880 prisoners were taken and 770 dead were found on the battlefield. In a report, Col. Rusker mentioned that “the audacious actions of the vânatori de munte won the admiration of the German battalions from the 170th Division, who operated timidly and impressed by the amplified echo of the bombardments”.
During the offensives in January 1942, the 4th Mountain Brigade suffered 894 casualties: 206 dead, 623 wounded and 65 missing. Its contribution to the destruction of the Soviet bridgehead at Feodosiya was very important. The commander, Brig. Gen. Gheorghe Manoliu (who remained in command until the end of the war), installed his command post only a few hundred meters from the first line, from where he conducted with the operations. He is one of the few Romanian officers who received the Ritterkreuz during WWII.
The same day as the 30th Corps was marching into Feodosiya, the Soviet offensive in the Izyum sector began. Luftflotte 4 transferred two bomber groups and one Stuka group from Crimea to this critical area. Because of this and of the fact that the majority of his troops were almost completely exhausted Gen. Erich von Manstein decided to postpone his attack against the newly formed Crimean Front (44th, 47th and 51st Army) in the Kerch Peninsula. On its whole front, the 11th Army was on the defensive, leaving the initiative to the Red Army. The 54th Corps was at Sevastopol. In the Parpach Isthmus were the 30th Corps, 42nd Corps and 6th Romanian Corps (18th Infantry Division and 8th Cavalry Brigade). The Mountain Corps (4th Mountain Brigade and the “Schröder” Group) was assigned to anti-partisan and coastal defense duties.
The Soviets launched an offensive in the sector of the 18th Infantry Division in the morning of 27 February. The estimated attack force was two divisions strong. In the evening they managed to create a 4 km wide and 8 km deep breach. The next day, the German 213th Infantry Regiment and the Romanian 18th Infantry Regiment counterattacked and progressed only for 3 km. In the afternoon the Soviets counterattacked and took the village Kiet, but held it only for a little while and lost it to the 213th Regiment, later that day. The 8th Cavalry Brigade entered the battle the next day. The fights continued in the next days with artillery bombardments, attacks and counterattacks. By 3 March, both sides were exhausted. The Soviets were stopped. However, managed to gain some ground in the northern sector of the front.
A new Romanian corps arrived in Crimea in March 1942: the 7th, which replaced the 6th. It had under its command the 19th Infantry Division and the 7th Heavy Artillery Regiment. The 11th Army also received reinforcements from the OKW: 22nd Panzer Division and the 28th Light Division. Also Gen. Wolfram von Richtofen’s Fliegerkorps VIII was assigned to support von Manstein’s future offensive in the Kerch Peninsula: Operation “Trappenjagd” (Bustard hunt). For this the 11th Army deployed 3 corps in the Parpach Isthmus: from north to south the 7th Romanian Corps (19th Infantry Division and 8th Cavalry Division5), the 42nd Corps (46th and 50th Infantry Division) and the 30th Corps (132nd Infantry Division, 28th Light Division and 170th Infantry Division). The reserve was made up of the 22nd Panzer Division, the “Groddek” Motorized Brigade and 3 German infantry regiments. The “Groddek” Brigade was an ad-hoc unit which contained the few motorized formations of the 11th Army. Its the main unit was the “Korne” Detachment (2 motorized cavalry regiments). It also contained the German 22nd Recon Group, the 6th Company from the Brandenburg Regiment and the 560th Tank Hunter Company. This unit will play a very important part in the coming offensive.
The Crimean Front had at its disposal 3 armies: 44th, 47th and 51st, totaling 17 infantry divisions, 3 infantry brigades, 4 tank brigades and 1 cavalry brigade. The VVS forces that supported them had 176 fighters and 225 bombers, but the majority of obsolete types.
According Gen. Erich von Manstein’s plan the 7th and 42nd Corps had to tie down the Soviet forces in the northern sector, while the 30th Corps and the 22nd Panzer Division broke the front in the south and swept towards north, trying to encircle the Soviet forces. The “Groddek” Brigade was suppose to secure the 30th Corps’ flank by advancing as quickly as possible towards Kerch and preventing the Soviets from creating a new front. This plan was favored by the fact that the Crimean Front had concentrated most of its troops in the northern part, because it expected an attack aimed at recovering the terrain lost in early March, by the 18th Infantry Division.
The assault was launched early in the morning of 8 May, with devastating air attacks. The 30th Corps penetrated the Soviet defenses and, through the breach, the “Groddek” Brigade began its advance east and reached Kipchak by nightfall. However, in the evening, the weather conditions worsened and the roads became quagmires, making the advance, but also the retreat, difficult. The rain stopped the second day at noon, so the brigade wasn’t able to move too much, but reinforced its forward positions at Bikech and Chenkishel. On 11 May, the Axis troops in Bikech were attacked by Soviet forces which were trying to get to Saraymin, but were repulsed. The advance was resumed and they soon reached Saraymin, which they tried to take, but failed. Col. Korne was lightly wounded in the action. The brigade took defensive positions near the city, so that it could control the traffic on the Saraymin-Kerch highway. The following days the retreating Soviet forces tried desperately to fight their way to Kerch, but every attack was repulsed. If they would have succeeded a large part of the Red Army troops that were captured, would have escaped. During the afternoon of 13 May, a part of the brigade was left to defend the positions near Saraymin, while another part continued the advance to Kerch through Ortaely, which was reached later that day. The assault on this final strongpoint was carried out during the morning of 14 May, under the command of Col. Korne, the new commander of the brigade (Col. Groddek was severely wounded that day and had to be evacuated; he died a few days later). There were few losses, mainly because of the accuracy of the artillery fire and of a Romanian squadron from the 10th Motorized Rosiori Regiment, which managed to go around the Soviet defenders and attack them from behind. A few hours later, the “Groddek” Brigade linked with the 132nd Infantry Division at Kamish Burun, a few kilometers south of Kerch. The brigade’s rapid advance “prevented the enemy’s attempts to form a new front behind the existing one”, as von Manstein wrote in his memoirs. This was crucial for the outcome of the battle. He then praises Col. Groddek and mentions the fact that the brigade also had Romanian forces, but doesn’t say that they were in fact the majority. That would probably contradict his previous statements of the “limited offensive potential” of the Romanian units.
The 7th Romanian Corps had the task of simulating attacks in the first days of the offensive, in order to deceive the Soviets and make them think that the assault in the southern part of the front was not the main offensive. As the operation progressed, the corps received the order to start the actual attack on 10 May, but because of the weather, it was postponed with one day. In the morning of 11 May, the 19th Infantry Division and 8th Cavalry Division started to advance after 30 minutes of artillery bombardments. By nightfall they had reached Djantora. During the night the 8th Cavalry Division was pulled out of the front line and sent into the southern sector, where its mobility was better used. Its place was taken by 19th Light Infantry Battalion, from the corps reserves. The next day, the division assaulted the city and by 5:30 it had fallen into Romanian hands. The day’s objective, Arabat, was taken only two and a half hours later. The advance continued towards Ak Monay, contributing to its fall to the 28th Light Division. From 13 May, the Soviets were on the retreat and the pursuit started. It ended in the evening of 15 May, when the 19th Recon Group and two platoons from the 94th Infantry Regiment captured the Mama Ruskaya port and taken 3000 prisoners.
The 8th Cavalry Division was assigned to the 30th Corps on 12 May. It was then used to destroy pockets of resistance on the southern coast of the Kerch Peninsula. On 16 May it received the “Korne” Detachment, because the “Groddek” Brigade was disbanded, and was assigned to the defense of the coast south of Kerch.
Operation “Trappenjagd” was a total success. The Red Army lost 162,282 soldiers (dead and prisoners), almost all the heavy weapons and equipment and 417 airplanes.
All the conditions were set for the final battle in Crimea: Sevastopol. The redeployment of forces began on 17 May, when there were still Soviet troops surrounded in the Kerch Peninsula. The fortress was defended by the Soviet Coastal Army, which had under its command 106,000 soldiers (7 infantry division, 4 marine and 2 infantry brigades). The defenders were favored by the difficult terrain and the network pillboxes and forts built around the city. They had about 450 guns at their disposal, including 151 of the coastal artillery, which included the mighty 305 mm pieces of the “Maxim Gorkiy I” fort. There was also the important possibility to bring in supplies and reinforcements by sea, since there were no powerful Axis naval forces to challenge the Chernomorskiy Flot.
To counter this impressive defenses, von Manstein assembled the highest concentration of guns per kilometer ever achieved by the Wehrmacht: 37 artillery pieces/km, including the 600 mm heavy mortars “Thor” and “Karl” and the 800 mm “Dora”. The air support was provided by the same Fliegerkorps VIII, which had under its command almost 600 airplanes. The attacking force comprised of 3 corps: to the north the 54th Corps (22nd, 24th, 50th and 132nd Infantry Division and, later, the Romanian 4th Mountain Division) on a 17 km front and to the south the 30th Corps (28th Light Division, 72nd and 170th Infantry Division.) on a 8.5 km front. Between them was the Romanian Mountain Corps: the 18th Infantry Division was protecting the left flank of the 54th Corps and the 1st Mountain Division the right flank of the 30th Corps. Its mission was to tie down the Soviet forces in front of it and assist the neighboring German Corps in their advance. The Romanian troops were spread out on a line of 17 km, the same as the 54th Corps, but which have 4 divisions. Also this sector had a very irregular wooded terrain, the most difficult around Sevastopol. This is why von Manstein decided to go around it.
The rear of the 11th Army was secured by the 42nd Corps and the Romanian 7th Corps, which were assigned to guard duties in the Kerch Peninsula.
Operation “Störfang” (Sturgeon) started with a savage five day artillery and air bombardment, between 2-6 June. The Romanian artillery units that took part in it were the 7th Heavy Artillery Regiment (30th Corps) and the 52nd, 54th and 57th Motorized Artillery Battalion, as well as the divisional artillery regiments. The infantry assault started on 7 June at 2:30. The 1st Mountain Division attacked towards Nordnase and Zuckerhut6 hills, but failed to take them, while the 18th Infantry Division just had to tie down the Soviets in front of it. The next day, the terrain gained in the previous assaults was lost to powerful Red Army counterattacks. Only the heights east to Nordnase hill were kept by the 1st Mountain Division. But on 11 June, after two attacks the vânatori de munte managed to take the Nordnase hill.
The next day, the 4th Mountain Division was assigned to the 54th Corps, which had suffered heavy casualties so far. During the night of 13/14 June, the Romanian division started to replace the German 24th Infantry Division and by noon on 15 June it had taken over its entire sector. Later that day it had already advanced after some heavy fighting, in some cases even involving hand-to-hand combat.
After it had made some preliminary attacks with little territorial gain on 16 June, the following day the 1st Mountain Division launched a powerful assault and managed to occupy the Zuckerhut hill, thus making it easier for the 30th Corps to advance from Kamari. During the next 2-3 days there was little progress, because of the fierce Soviet resistance and numerous counterattacks (but which were repulsed). On 20 June, the 1st Mountain Division managed to reach the Denkmal bridge and the 18th Infantry Division advanced and, at nightfall, was still engaged east of the Altes Fort. The assaults towards the Fediukini Heights and Bastion II hill continued the following days, but without much success. During the night of 22/23 June, the 1st Mountain Division managed to take the bridge over the river Chernaya and continued to advance. The same day, the 18th Division approached to one kilometer from Bastion II. The 4th Mountain Division also gained some ground on 23 June.
On 24 June, the Mountain Corps began its attack on Bastion II, the most important Soviet observation point. After a few hours of savage fighting, from 14:40 until evening, the 18th Infantry Division only managed to get closer to objective. The same for the 1st Mountain Division, which was repulsed. The next day, however, the 18th Division, assisted by the 1st Mountain Division, broke through the Soviet lines and the 3 regimental recon companies infiltrated and took Bastion II at 12:30 and held it against the Soviet counterattack. Thus, the 11th Army had conquered the Sevastopol’s exterior defense belt. On 27 June, the 18th Infantry Division started its attack on the Hügel heights, while the 4th Mountain Division took the heavily fortified positions at Kegel in the Sakharnaya Golovka area (the last strong point in the Gaitani massive) and practically opening Sevastopol’s gates.
The second phase of Operation “Störfang”, the assault on Sevastopol’s interior defensive belt, started on 29 June with a powerful artillery and air bombardment. The Romanian Mountain Corps was pulled out from the first line and sent south to eliminate the Soviet resistance at Balaklava and the 4th Mountain Division was put in the reserve of the 54th Corps. Until the beginning of July, the 1st Mountain Division and the 18th Infantry Division managed to clear the area around Balaklava and take 10,000 prisoners.
Gen. Manoliu, the commander of the 4th Mountain Division, was very annoyed by the fact that his division, which had paid a heavy price (aprox. 2,600 casualties) in the heavy fighting of June 1942, was left out and denied the honor to enter Sevastopol as victors with the Germans. After his relentless efforts and protests7, he received the order to reintroduce his unit in the first line so that it would take part in the final assault on Sevastopol on 1 June. This order came at 23:15 on 30 June. Nevertheless, at 6:00 the next day the division was on its starting position, to the amazement of the German liaison officers. Next, Brig. Gen. Manoliu simply ignored the orders he had not to attack before 12:00 (that was four hours after the Germans were suppose to commence their final assault) and at 10:30, the Romanian national flag was installed on the monument that commemorated the Crimean War (1853-1855).
The fights around the city continued until 4 July, but the battle was practically over. About 95,000 prisoners were taken and 467 guns, 26 tanks, 824 machine-guns, 758 mortars, 86 AT guns and 69 AA guns were captured. The Soviets suffered an estimated 50,000-60,000 casualties (dead and wounded). The 11th Army lost 35,559 men, of which 8,454 were Romanian (1,597 dead, 6,571 wounded and 277 missing). The total number of casualties suffered by the Romanian troops during the 295 days of the Crimean campaign is about 19,000.
I would like to finish with a telegram sent by the new Marshal Erich von Manstein (promoted on 1 July 1942) to Marshal Ion Antonescu:
To Marshal Antonescu,I report the fall of Sevastopol.The Romanian divisions, which I had the honor to command, had fulfilled their duty. They had an essential contribution to the conquest of Bastion II, the attack through rough, wooded terrain against the Sapun Heights. Another Romanian division entered Sevastopol together with the German units. I think with profound gratitude to the sacrifices the Romanian Mountain Corps made for the final victory in Crimea.Marshal von Manstein.