The 'Battle of the Kerch Peninsula' began with the Soviet 'Kerch-Feodosiya Landing Operation' and ended with the German 'Trappenjagd', and was fought between the Soviet Crimean Front and German 11th Army for control of Crimea (26 December 1941/19 May 1942).
The campaign was fought in the Kerch peninsula, in the eastern part of the Crimean peninsula. The campaign began on 26 December 1941 with the Soviet 'Kerch-Feodosiya Landing Operation' operation by two Soviet armies with the object of breaking the German and Romanian siege of Sevastopol on the western side of the Crimean peninsula. The Axis forces first contained the Soviet beach-heads throughout the winter and interdicted their maritime supply lines through the skilled use of air power. From January to April, General Leytenant Dmitri T. Kozlov’s Crimean Front launched a number of offensives against Generaloberst Erich von Manstein’s 11th Army, all of which failed with heavy losses. The Soviet forces lost 352,000 men in the attacks, while the Axis forces suffered only 24,120 casualties. Superior German artillery firepower was largely responsible for the Soviet defeat.
On 8 May 1942, the Axis forces struck with great force in the 'Trappenjagd' major counter-offensive, which came to an end on about 19 May with the destruction of the Soviet defenders. von Manstein made excellent usage of the concentrated and highly experienced air power available to him, heavily armed infantry divisions, dense artillery bombardments and amphibious assaults to break through the Soviet front in its southern portion in just 210 minutes, and then swing to the north with Generalleutnant Wilhelm von Apell’s 22nd Panzerdivision to encircle General Leytenant Vladimir N. L’vov’s Soviet 51st Army on 10 May and annihilate it on 11 May. The remnants of General Leytenant Stepan I. Chernyak’s 44th Army and General Major Konstantin S. Kolganov’s 47th Army were pursued to Kerch, where the last pockets of organised Soviet resistance were totally destroyed by German air and artillery firepower by 19 May. The decisive element in the German victory was the campaign of air attacks against the Crimean Front by Generaloberst Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen’s 800-aircraft VIII Fliegerkorps, which flew an average of 1,500 sorties per day in support of 'Trappenjagd' and maintained constant attacks on Soviet field positions, armoured units, troop columns, casualty evacuation ships, airfields and lines of supply. German bombers dropped as many as 6,000 canisters of SD-2 anti-personnel cluster munitions to kill very large numbers of fleeing Soviet infantrymen.
von Manstein’s outnumbered 11th Army suffered 7,588 casualties, while the Crimean Front lost 176,566 men, 258 tanks, 1,133 pieces of artillery and 315 aircraft in three armies comprising 21 divisions. The total Soviet casualties during the five-month campaign amounted to some 570,000 men, while the losses of the Axis forces were 38,000 men. 'Trappenjagd' was one of the battles immediately preceding the German 'Blau' summer offensives, and its successful conclusion allowed the Axis powers to concentrate their forces on the final reduction of Sevastopol, which was conquered within six weeks. The Kerch peninsula was used as a launching pad by German forces to cross the Strait of Kerch Strait on 2 September 1942 in 'Blücher II' as part of the German drive to capture the Caucasus oilfields.
On 8 December 1941, the Stavka, the Soviet supreme command, ordered Kozlov’s Trans-Caucasus Front to begin planning for a major operation to cross the Strait of Kerch and link with General Major Ivan Ye. Petrov’s Independent Coastal Army which was under siege in Sevastopol, thereby liberating Crimea from the Germans. The ambitious operation, which the first major amphibious undertaking in Soviet history, was founded on the belief of the Soviet dictator, Iosif Stalin, that the German forces on the Eastern Front were on the verge on collapse. The resulting plan was drawn up by the Trans-Caucasus Front’s chief-of-staff, General Major Fedor I. Tolbukhin. The plan was in fact considerably too complicated for the current capabilities of the Soviet army and navy. It was based on a number of small landings at separate locations at differing times rather than on one co-ordinated landing. Five transport groups of Kontr Admiral Sergei G. Gorshkov’s Azov Flotilla would land 7,500 men of the 51st Army’s 224th Division and 302nd Mountain Division on no fewer than eight isolated beaches to the north and south of Kerch. After the Germans had been distracted by this, Tolbukhin planned, the 44th Army would land at Feodosiya in the German rear. Naval gunfire support would be provided by Vitse Admiral Filipp S. Oktyabrsky’s Black Sea Fleet. The Soviet air forces would contribute air cover from airfields on the Taman peninsula to the east of the Strait of Kerch. The Soviets had the men and troop transports required for the operation, but for lack of landing craft were compelled to use fishing trawlers for the actual landings, had little experience with large-scale joint operations, and were further impeded by the stormy winter weather.
A Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engined reconnaissance aeroplane noted the build-up of Soviet naval forces and reported the fact to the headquarters of Generalleutnant Hans Graf von Sponeck’s XLII Corps, which issued a general alert for Soviet amphibious landings in the Kerch peninsula. The mass of von Sponeck’s units had been transferred for the assault on Sevastopol, however, and had only the 46th Division, whose commander, Generalleutnant Kurt Himer, who had assumed command as recently as 17 December; two coastal artillery battalions equipped with obsolete World War I pieces of artillery; one combat engineer regiment; and one Luftwaffe anti-aircraft battalion. The 46th Division, which was mostly up to strength, was in fact woefully overextended in trying to hold the entire Kerch peninsula against potential Soviet landings. von Sponeck’s only reserve was Colonel Corneliu Teodorini’s Romanian 8th Cavalry Brigade near Alushta.
On the evening of 25 December, the Soviet 224th Division and 83rd Naval Infantry Brigade were packed into small craft on the coast of the Taman peninsula and began to cross the Strait of Kerch. As noted above, the Soviet assault forces was divided into a number of groups. Group 2 disembarked at Cape Khroni to the north-east of Kerch, and comprised the gunboat Don, the transport vessels Krasny Flot and Pyenay, one tug, two motor barges that carried three T-26 light tanks and a few pieces of artillery, and 16 trawlers. For lack of landing craft, whaleboats were used and this meant that the landing was very slow, some men were drowned and equipment was lost. Some 697 men of the 2/160th Regiment landed at Cape Khroni by 06.30 and, in addition to the men who had been drowned, many of the battalion’s other men were incapacitated by hypothermia. Another battalion landed at Khroni later on the same day with a platoon of T-26 tanks and pieces of light artillery. At Cape Zyuk, 290 men came ashore in six hours. but a few vessels foundered on the rocky beach. At Cape Tarhan only 18 men of Group 3’s 1,000 men arrived on the beach as a result of the lack of whaleboats. To the west of Cape Khroni, at Bulganak Bay the Azov Flotilla landed 1,452 men, three T-26 tanks, two 76.2-mm (3-in) howitzers and two 45-mm anti-tank guns. Two more landings, at Kazantip Point and Yenikale, were aborted as a result of stormy weather. By 12.00, therefore, the Soviets had 3,000 lightly armed men ashore to the north of Kerch in five separate beach-heads.
German resistance was initially minimal, but by 10.50 Heinkel He 111 twin-engined medium bombers and Junkers Ju 87 single-engined dive-bombers had begun to attack the Soviet landing forces. At Cape Tarhan, the cargo vessel Voroshilov was bombed and sunk with 450 troops aboard. One vessel with 100 of Group 2’s men was bombed and sunk off Cape Zyuk. Lacking radio equipment, the lightly-armed and half-frozen Soviet units to the north of Kerch moved only 1,095 yards (1000 m) inland before stopping and digging in to await the expected German counterattacks. The Soviet regimental commanders, with little to no communications link to headquarters, decided to wait for the arrival of the planned reinforcements, which were in fact delayed for three days as a result of the unfavorable winter weather and never arrived.
The 302nd Mountain Division landed at Kamysh Burun to the south of Kerch and ran into extremely effective German resistance. Two German battalions of Oberst Ernst Maisel’s 42nd Infanterieregiment held excellent defensive positions on high ground dominating the sandy assault beaches. The landing at 05.00 was stopped by a deluge of fire from the German machine guns, mortars and pieces of light artillery, and this prevented the whaleboats and fishing trawlers from reaching the shore. The 2/42nd Infanterieregiment devastated a Soviet landing at Eltigen. A Soviet naval infantry company landed at Stary Karantin but was annihilated by a counterattack by Major Karl Kraft’s 1/42nd Infanterieregiment. The second wave landed at 07.00 and was also thrown back. Soviet troops seized the docks at Kamysh Burun, allowing the third wave to land there, and this allowed the creation of a Soviet foothold by the afternoon. The Luftwaffe sank several ships offshore and only 2,175 men of the 5,200-strong Kamysh Burun landing force got ashore.
Himer was aware of the Soviet landings by 06.10 but, given the disjointed nature of the Soviet assault. Uncertain about the point of the Soviet main effort, Himer ordered Oberst Friedrich Schmidt’s 72nd Infanterieregiment to wipe out the Soviet force at Cape Khroni, but lacked the troops to deal with the landings at Bulganak Bay and Cape Zyuk. Himer improvised by ordering one headquarters company, the 3/97th Infanterieregiment and one battery of 105-mm (4.13-in) howitzers to tackle the Cape Zyuk landing, and by 00.00 the 97th Infanterireregoment had its first and third battalions and two artillery batteries in position for a counterattack on the following day. At 13.50 on 26 December, the 72nd Infanterieregiment reported that a Soviet officer captured at Cape Khroni had revealed the extent of the Soviet plan, which was to land 25,000 men at Kerch. Himer acted decisively and decided to bring the 2/97th Infanterieregiment from Feodosiya to boost his capacity his capacity to crush the Cape Zyuk force with the 97th Infanterieregiment's full strength. The 42nd Infanterieregiment was to contain the Kamysh Burun landings until the Soviet northern forces had been destroyed. A mixed Kampfgruppe, comprising infantry, artillery and combat engineer elements, would deal with the Bulganak Bay landing. The commander of the XLII Corps, von Sponeck, requested permission to use the Romanian 8th Cavalry Brigade to reinforce Himer’s forces.
As the roads were so muddy, the German counterattack against Zyuk was launched only at 13.00 on 27 December. The area of the Soviet beach-head was flat and devoid of vegetation, offering no cover for either side. The Soviet 2/83rd Naval Infantry Brigade spotted the German deployment and launched an immediate attack with three T-26 tanks and several infantry companies. A 37-mm Pak 36 anti-tank gun fired 42 rounds and knocked out all three of the Soviet tanks. Several German bombers then arrived overhead to support the German infantry and helped to drive the Soviet naval infantry back to its beach-head, but the Germans delayed their main attack until the next day. At dawn, the two deployed infantry battalions of the 9th Infanterieregiment attacked the Soviet position, supported by two 105-mm (4.13-in) howitzers. A combat engineer company blocked the Soviet escape route to the east. The Soviet defensive position was hopelessly exposed. Six Heinkel He 111 twin-engined medium bombers and a few Junkers Ju 87 single-engined dive-bombers attacked the Soviet troops. The Soviet defences were smashed and by 12.00 the Germans had reached the beach. A number of Soviet troops fought on while waist-deep in the water, but their resistance had come to an end by the evening. Some 458 Soviets were taken prisoner and about 300 killed. The 97th Infanterieregiment had lost only 40 men killed or wounded in the two days during which it destroyed the Soviet beach-head at Cape Zyuk.
The Soviet beach-head at Cape Khroni was also eliminated by the 72nd Infanterieregiment on 28 December, with only 12 men swimming to safety. Himer’s division took 1,700 prisoners and only the 1,000-strong Soviet force at Bulganak Bay remained, along with the Kamysh Burun beach-head as well as isolated pockets of Soviet resistance inland.
Feodosiya, a town with a pre-war population of 28,000, was lightly defended by two coastal artillery battalions and 800 combat engineers under the command of Oberstleutnant Hans von Ahlfen. The combat engineers were refitting from the assault on Sevastopol. The artillery units had 17 obsolete World War I-era German and Czech 150-mm (5.91-in) and four 100-mm (3.94-in) howitzers, and the engineers had only small arms. A boom in the harbour’s mouth was intended to deny the Soviets access, but had negligently been left open. The Romanian 3rd Rosiori Motorised Cavalry Regiment was in reserve near Feodosiya. Two other Romanian mountain infantry and cavalry brigades were halfway toward Kerch to crush the Soviet landings there.
At 13.00 on 28 December at Novorossiysk, the Soviet 44th Army began loading its men and equipment into the vessels of invasion fleet, which comprised two light cruisers, eight destroyers, 14 transport vessels and dozens of smaller craft. At 17.30, the advance guard, consisting of the Soviet cruiser Krasny Kavkaz, the 'Fidonisy' class destroyers Shaumyan, Zhelezniakov and Nezamozhnik, patrol boats and minesweepers steamed toward Feodosiya in relatively favourable weather permitting speeds of 16 kt. The destroyer Sposobny struck a mine and sank with 200 casualties. The Soviet troops were exposed to freezing weather and suffered from hypothermia and seasickness. Two Soviet submarines waited on the surface at Feodosiya harbour to mark the port entrance with lights. At 03.50 on 29 December, the Soviet destroyers Shaumyan and Zhelezniakov reached Feodosiya, fired star shells for illumination and followed with a 13-minute barrage on the German defences. Four 'MO' class small guard ships carrying 60 naval infantrymen secured the lighthouse on the harbour’s mole, and the naval infantrymen, led by Lieutenant Arkady F. Aydinov, captured two 37-mm anti-tank guns and launched green flares to signal the all-clear for the follow-up forces. The gunners of the 2/64th Artillerieregiment engaged the Soviet patrol boats but achieved no hits. In the 20 minutes from 04.26, the destroyer Shaumyan inserted a company of naval infantrymen into the harbour. The destroyers Zhelezniakov and Nyezamozhnik landed reinforcements soon after that, and Shaumyan was damaged by German artillery fire.
At 05.00, the cruiser Krasny Kavkaz began to unload 1,853 soldiers of the 157th Division’s 633rd Regiment at the mole. The Germans concentrated all their fire on the cruiser, hitting her 17 times and setting her No. 2 gun turret on fire. Krasny Kavkaz responded with her 180-mm (7.09-in) main guns, landed her troops in three hours and then departed. The Luftwaffe arrived above the battlefield and sank a minesweeper and a patrol boat during the morning, but missed its chance to stop the main force from landing. By 07.30, the Soviets were in full control of the port and began landing artillery and vehicles. The Soviets fought their way through the town and by 10.00 the Germans had pulled back after a brief fight.
In a quickly executed operation, the Soviets had landed 4,500 troops in the morning and parts of three divisions were ashore by the end of the day.
von Sponeck immediately ordered the a pair of Romanian units, Teodorini’s 8th Cavalry Brigade and General de brigadă V. Gheorghe Manoliu’s 4th Mountain Brigade, to reverse their positions and form a defensive cordon around the Soviet beach-head at Feodosiya. He requested permission from von Manstein’s 11th Army to withdraw Himer’s 46th Division from Kerch to avoid its encirclement, but von Manstein refused and ordered von Sponeck to throw the Soviets back into the sea with the help of reinforcements in the form of the Oberstleutnant (from 1 January Oberst) Otto-Maximilian Hitzfeld’sKampfgruppe 'Hitzfeld' from Generalleutnant Rudolf von Bünau’s 73rd Division and the whole of Generalleutnant Walter Wittke’s (from 8 January Generalleutnant Erwin Sander’s) 170th Division, which would crush the Soviet landing force at Feodosiya.
von Sponeck then disobeyed orders, severed all contact with the 11th Army's headquarters and at 08.30 on 29 December, ordered the 46th Division to retreat to the west from Kerch in order to avoid encirclement. von Sponeck’s order was highly controversial: there were insufficient German troops at Feodosiya to stop farther Soviet advances, but there were 20,000 Romanian troops in the vicinity and strong German reinforcements were on the way. The two Romanian brigades launched a counterattack on 30 December, but were defeated, in large part as a result of their insufficient air and artillery support.
The 46th Division retreated some 75 miles (120 km) through a snowstorm on 30/31 December, but had to abandon a number of vehicles for lack of fuel. Moving from Feodosiya, the 63rd Mountain Division had established a roadblock by the morning of 31 December, and after a brief fight the 46th Division made a cross-country detour through a narrow 6.2-mile (10-km) corridor between the leading Soviet elements and the Sea of Azov. The 46th Division thus avoided encirclement, but suffered moderate equipment losses and light personnel casualties before it established a new defensive line to the east of Islam Terek.
On 31 December, 250 Soviet paratroopers jumped from 16 Tupolev TB-3 four-engined bombers to close the gap between the Soviet land forces and the Sea of Azov. The bombers were unsuitable for airborne operations, however, and the paratroopers were too dispersed for decisive action. They nonetheless caused a degree of worry at the headquarters of the XLII Corps because the nocturnal nature of this Soviet undertaking concealed its limited nature.
von Sponeck was relieved of his command on 29 December for insubordination and court-martialled in Germany three weeks later. He was replaced by Mattenklott, the commander of the 72nd Division, and Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Reichenau, the commander of of Heeresgruppe 'Süd', ordered that, 'because of its slack reaction to the Russian landing on the Kerch Peninsula, as well as its precipitate withdrawal from the Peninsula, I hereby declare 46th Division forfeit of soldierly honour. Decorations and promotions are in abeyance until countermanded.'
The 302nd Mountain Division attacked from its Kamysh Burun beach-head to capture Kerch on 31 December after 46th Division's retreat, and the 51st Army had four infantry divisions ashore and had liberated the eastern part of the Kerch peninsula by 1 January.
On this same date, the XLII Corps had created a defensive line 12.5 miles (20 km) to the west of Feodosiya. The Kampfgruppe 'Hitzfeld' arrived with the 213rd Infanterieregiment of the 73rd Division, one artillery battalion, the 173rd Panzerjägerabteilung, four StuG III assault guns and one anti-aircraft detachment.
The Soviet 236th Division attacked the Romanian 4th Mountain Brigade and gained ground. The Soviets advanced only 6.2 miles (10 km) in three days after landing at Feodosiya on 29 December. Their failure to cut off the 46th Division and destroy the two Romanian brigades was criticised by von Manstein as a Soviet missed opportunity to destroy the entire 11th Army. On 1 January the 44th Army had 23,000 troops ashore in three infantry divisions, but this was insufficient for sustained offensive operations against the 11th Army. A Soviet infantry and armoured attack on the headquarters of the XLII Corps at Islam Terek failed after 16 T-26 tanks had been knocked out by the fresh 173rd Panzerjägerabteilung. By 2 January, the follow-up effects of the Soviet success at Feodosiya were dissipated and the 44th Army’s combat operations degenerated into a static defence.
The Soviet landings prevented, at last in the short term, the fall of Sevastopol and seized the initiative, but nonetheless failed in their primary objective of relieving Sevastopol. Moreover, the Soviet casualties were high: the Soviet forces involved in the 'Kerch-Feodosiya Landing Operation' from 26 December 1941 to 2 January 1942 had lost 41,935 men, including 32,453 killed or taken prisoner and 9,482 wounded or taken ill.
The 51st Army moved only very slowly westward from Kerch, reaching the Parpach narrows on 5 January but deploying only two infantry divisions as its forward formations on 12 January. It undertook no offensive action against the 46th Division other than raids and patrols. The Axis response was far more rapid and decisive. Mattenklott’s XLII Corps was bolstered by the arrival of reinforcements in the form of the 170th Division and Generalleutnant Rudolf Sintzenich’s (from 11 January Generalleutnant Fritz Lindemann’s) 132nd Division together with two battalions of Generalleutnant Philipp Müller-Gebhard’s 72nd Division, some five StuG III assault guns and General de brigadă Radu Băldescu’s Romanian 18th Division. The task of the revitalised corps was to hold the line against the 51st Army.
von Manstein also diverted Generalmajor Maximilian Fretter-Pico’s XXX Corps from the siege of Sevastopol to lead a counter-offensive mounted by the four Axis divisions which were in place by 13 January. The objective was to recapture Feodosiya and throw the 44th Army off balance. Luftwaffe reinforcements poured in to satisfy von Manstein’s demand for greater air support, and a new Sonderstab 'Krim' was created under the command of General Robert Ritter von Greim to lead air operations over the peninsula.
The leadership of Kozlov’s Trans-Caucasus Front, which had now become the Caucasus Front, did not believe that the Axis forces were sufficiently strong to mount an attack and Kozlov did not order his two armies to dig in as he was planning a renewed offensive. To support this, Kozlov landed 226 men from the destroyer Sposobny some 25 miles (40 km) to the south-west of Feodosiya as a diversion, but succeeded in drawing off only one Panzerjäger company to contain the newly landed force.
On 16 January, Kozlov landed the 226th Regiment behind the German lines at Sudak. Supported by the battleship Parizhskaya Kommuna, the cruiser Krasny Krym and four destroyers, the Soviets quickly dispersed the town’s small Romanian garrison with naval gunfire. After wading ashore, the Soviet regiment sat tight and entrenched itself. von Manstein correctly saw the operation as a distraction and sent only a token force to keep the Soviets occupied. The Soviet landing force at Sudak initially resisted the counterattacks of two Romanian infantry battalions, but the Germans then made use of their air power and artillery to reduce the Soviet force through attritional warfare. The 226th Regiment lacked supporting artillery, anti-tank guns and mortars, and thus could not fight back. Kozlov sent more troops to Sudak between 24 and 26 January to bring the total number of landed troops to 4,264 men. The XXX Corps deployed more reinforcements to crush the Soviet units, and by 28 January the battle was over. Some 2,000 Soviet troops had been killed at Sudak, another 876 had been taken prisoner and executed, and between 350 and 500 men had joined local partisan groups, while the rest had melted away into the local wilderness. Fretter-Pico tasked a Romanian mountain infantry battalion with mopping-up operations, which continued for the five months to June.
The 236th Division’s forward security zone was 12.5 miles (20 km) to the west of Feodosiya, and the Soviet main line of resistance ran atop a major ridge 9.33 miles (15 km) from the town. At the break of day on 15 January and preceded by a short artillery preparation, He 111 medium bombers and Ju 87 dive-bombers began attacking the Soviet positions on the ridge. German bombers located the headquarters of the 44th Army, destroying it and severely wounding its commander, and this threw the Soviet leadership into chaos. Hitzfeld’s 213rd Infanterieregiment attacked, supported by two battalions of the 46th Division and three StuG III assault guns. The Germans achieved complete surprise and swiftly overran the Soviet positions. The StuG IIIs knocked out two T-26 tanks but lost one of their own number to a Soviet 76.2-mm (3-in) anti-tank gun. The ridge-line to the west of Feodosiya was in German hands by the afternoon, along with a dominant position over the 44th Army.
In the north, the 46th Division and the Romanian 8th Cavalry Brigade launched diversionary attacks against the 51st Army and succeeded in drawing the majority of the Soviet reserves into an irrelevant sector. Fretter-Pico’s XXX Corps lost 500 men killed, wounded and missing in its 15 January attack against the 236th Division. In exchange, five German infantry battalions, backed by powerful air support and several assault guns, crushed a Soviet division and established a clear superiority over the 44th Army.
The German counter-offensive continued on 16 January. Fretter-Pico reinforced Hitzfeld with more battalions as the 63rd Mountain Division and 236th Division lost ground and were driven into narrow, isolated sectors close to the sea. In the afternoon, the 132nd Division began to deploy for an attack into Feodosiya, in which the Luftwaffe bombed the Soviet forces with impunity. The Soviets came to the erroneous conclusion that the German point of main effort was at Vladislavovka to the north of Feodosia, and therefore launched a battalion-sized armour and infantry counterattack there. The Soviet attack was stopped in its tracks by the StuG III vehicles of the 100th Sturmgeschützabteilung, which destroyed 16 T-26 tanks. the 32nd Division assaulted Feodosiya at dawn on 17 January. The Soviets in the town continued to fight through heavy street combat but were badly hampered by constant dive-bomber attacks as well as German artillery and machine gun fire. Impenetrable clouds of black smoke formed above the burning buildings. As a result of incessant German air attacks, a Black Sea Fleet evacuation of the trapped 236th Division failed. The formation was destroyed, and 5,300 men were taken prisoner by Fretter-Pico’s corps on 17 January. Its commanding officer escaped, but was convicted by a Soviet military tribunal three weeks later and executed.
The XXX Corps' attack intensified on 19 January as the remaining two divisions of the 44th Army were pursued along the Black Sea coast in a German advance which unravelled the Soviet forward positions to the north. On 20 January, the XLII Corps and XXX Corps reached the Parpach narrows, greatly shortening the front. Kozlov panicked and predicted the Soviet landing force’s complete destruction, and the Soviet forces now paid the price for their slow westward advance from Kerch as they lacked the reserves to throw back this new and potent German threat. Soviet generals complained of impassable roads, although this did not stop the 46th Division from executing a fast march over the same terrain late in December. Both sides began to construct defensive positions reinforced by dug-outs, trenches and barbed wire entanglements.
The XXX Corps had defeated the 44th Army in five days, thrown two Soviet armies onto the defensive, killed some 6,700 Soviet troops, destroyed 85 tanks and taken prisoner about 10,000 men, and destroyed 177 pieces of artillery for the cost of 995 men, of whom just 243 were killed or missing. The Caucasus Front, having lost 115,630 men in January, was too shaken and weakened by von Manstein’s high-speed counterstroke and the Luftwaffe’s anti-shipping campaign to undertake large-scale offensive operations for more than a month. However, the Germans lacked enough armour and sufficient air units to exploit their victory to the hilt.
The Stavka now reinforced the Caucasus Front with nine infantry divisions. Soviet engineers built an ice road across the frozen Strait of Kerch, making it possible for 96,618 men, 23,903 horses and 6,519 motor vehicles to reinforce the formations on the Kerch peninsula. General Major Konstantin Baranov’s 47th Army was deployed to the area, initially with only two infantry divisions. The Stavka created the Crimean Front, under Kozlov’s command, on 28 January with Polkovnik Serafim Ye. Rozhdestvensky’s 44th Army, Baranov’s 47th Army and L’vov’s 51st Army as its organic formations, and the Independent Coastal Army and Black Sea Fleet coming under its operational control. Kozlov had little command experience above the regimental level and his staff was inept. The Stavka representative, Lev Mekhlis, arrived at the headquarters of the Crimean Front late in January and introduced his own ideas into the planning process. Stalin and Mekhlis wished to liberate Crimea with an offensive on 13 February, but the Soviet forces were unequal to the task. Soviet troops lacked food and much in the way of ammunition: three 76.2-mm (3-in) artillery regiments, for example, had no ammunition at all. The backward nature of the Kerch peninsula’s road network, the muddy roads and the Luftwaffe’s bombing campaign against ports and Soviet cargo shipping prevented a sufficient logistical build-up and made Stalin’s demand unrealistic.
Thus it was only on 27 February that Kozlov finally had available for his operation the required 93,804 men, 1,195 pieces of artillery and mortars, 125 anti-tank guns, 194 tanks and 200 aircraft. These were grouped into nine front-line infantry divisions together with numerous tank brigades operating T-26 light, T-34 medium and 36 KV-1 heavy tanks. All the same, the Soviet forces were far from ready for any effective offensive effort: their tanks and aircraft lacked adequate fuel, many weapons did not work, the artillery had not organised a fire system, communications between Kozlov’s headquarters and the Crimean Front’s armies were repeatedly cut, and engineers had not constructed field works of any kind. Even so, under pressure from Stalin, Kozlov started his offensive despite the fact that the Soviet planners had failed to account for the warm weather, which had turned the terrain into a sea of cloying mud.
The 51st Army planned to attack in the north on 27 February across a flat plain dotted only by a handful of small villages including Tulumchak, Korpech' and Koi-Asan that the Germans had fortified. The 46th Division and 132nd Division held the XLII Corps' front along with the Romanian 18th Division, and the Kampfgruppe 'Hitzfeld' waited in reserve. The defensive preparations of the Axis forces were extensive and wholly in accord with German tactical doctrine. Reinforced German strongpoints were sited for all-round defence to neutralise the effects of simultaneous Soviet frontal and flank attacks, and the Germans created a system of engineering works laid out with boosted artillery fire, but Mattenklott made the mistake of putting the Romanian 18th Regiment into a difficult and exposed position in a salient on the northern part of the line.
The 51st Army’s offensive began at 06.30 on 27 February with an artillery preparation by 230 pieces of artillery, of which most were 76.2-mm (3-in) light guns and only 30 were 122-mm (4.8-in) medium guns. The German fortified strongpoints were largely unharmed by the light high-explosive rounds. German artillery responded with its own fire and the Soviets lacked the counter-battery capabilities to suppress this German response. The open terrain provided no cover for the Soviet soldiers, who were systematically killed or wounded in great numbers by the incessant German artillery fire. The Soviet KV-1 heavy tanks sank into the mud and could not get forward, and vehicles also became stuck and Soviet artillery shells had to be brought forward by hand. Confused Soviet soldiers trampled their comrades to death in the mud.
The German strongpoint at Tulumchak was overrun by T-26 tanks and infantry, although seven of the tanks were lost to German mines; and the Romanian 18th Regiment was routed. One German artillery battalion in support of the Romanians lost all 18 of its 105-mm (4.13-in) howitzers and 14 37-mm anti-tank guns. Kozlov’s push was supported by 100 sorties by the aircraft of the Air Force of the Crimean Front on this first day, while the Luftwaffe flew only three sorties in the area. After a Soviet penetration of 3.1 miles (5 km), the Kampfgruppe 'Hitzfeld' sealed off the attack with artillery, anti-tank and machine gun fire. The strongpoint of Korpech' remained in German hands and decimated its Soviet attackers with withering machine gun and mortar fire. Kozlov added the 77th Mountain Division to the right-wing attack at the plain, while Mattenklott redeployed Hitzfeld’s 21st Infanterieregiment and 1/105th Infanterieregiment to aid the Romanians. Hitzfeld attacked on 28 February and retook part of the ground which had been lost. The Romanians proved brittle and 100 were captured as the 77th Mountain Division made a small penetration and captured the hamlet of Kiet, thereby threatening to outflank the whole 11th Army, but Hitzfeld counterattacked and retook Kiet, stabilising the line. The Soviet attack against the Romanians continued on 1 March until it was stopped by the arrival of the 170th Division, and the impetus of the rest of the Soviet effort slackened. The 44th Army’s weak attacks failed to tie down all the German troops opposite it and thus could not prevent German reinforcements from moving to the threatened northern sector. The Soviets lost 40 tanks in the three days between 27 February and 1 March. Soviet naval bombardments of Feodosiya and Yalta achieved little, as did a small and quickly withdrawn landing at Alushta on 1 March.
The German strongpoint at Koi-Asan, held by the 42nd Infanterieregiment and 72nd Infanterieregiment, on the junction of the XLII Corps and XXX Corps, was the pivot of von Manstein’s defensive arrangements and its control allowed the Germans to feed reserves into the north with little difficulty. Kozlov directed two infantry divisions, three tank brigades and one tank battalion to take the village on 2 March, but the presence of German obstacles slowed the progress of the Soviet tanks, which rendered them easy targets for German anti-tank units and artillery. The Luftwaffe made its presence felt with 40 Ju 87 dive-bomber sorties on the overcrowded Soviet tank masses, and the Soviets admitted the loss of 93 tanks in one day. The Soviet gains were comparatively minor: four Czech-made German howitzers were destroyed and the Soviet air forces bombed and destroyed a 23-ton ammunition dump at Vladislavovka. The Soviets called off their attack on 3 March.
Thus Kozlov’s major offensive had failed, and from 27 February the Crimean Front had suffered extremely heavy losses of infantry and tanks, including 28 KV-1 heavy tanks. Kozlov’s forces had gained an exposed salient, which they could hold only with light forces for lack of natural cover. Kozlov blamed the weather for his failure, while Mekhlis decided the fault lay with Tolbukhin’s inept planning and had him dismissed. Stalin ordered the second offensive to proceed in 10 days.
The Soviet planning staffs saw Koi-Asan as the priority target and decided to mass the 51st Army’s striking power against this strongpoint, and the 44th Army was to launch a significant feint attack on the 132nd Division along the coast. Kozlov had 224 tanks, but on the recommendation of Mekhlis decided to distribute this strength among the infantry divisions rather than mass it into a possible decisive strike force. Stalin had reinforced the Air Force of the Crimean Front to 581 aircraft by a time early in March, although the reinforcement was largely of obsolete models. The Germans laid 2,000 anti-tank mines near the Koi-Asan position and von Manstein concentrated assault guns for its defence.
The Soviet forces attacked at 09.00 on 13 March with three infantry divisions that were quickly cut to pieces in the boggy terrain. The supporting Soviet tanks were easily destroyed by StuG III assault guns and anti-tank guns: Johann Spielmann’s StuG III destroyed 14 T-34 medium tanks in one day, while Fritz Schrödel’s StuG III destroyed eight Soviet tanks, of which two were KV-1 heavy tanks. The Soviet armoured losses were large, with 157 tanks destroyed in a mere three days: 88 of these losses were machines of the 56th Tank Brigade.
The Soviet attempt to capture Koi-Asan had failed yet again in bitter fighting: the 46th Division, for example, repulsed at least 10 attacks during the three-day Soviet offensive. On 24 March, the Korpech' strongpoint fell to the 51st Army, but only after the Soviet infantry had suffered heavy losses. The Crimean Front had fired most of its artillery ammunition and could not proceed farther despite its limited success. The II/Jagdgeschwader 77 fighter wing now arrived in Crimea after refitting, and began to weaken the Soviet air superiority. The 60-ton ammunition dump at Vladislavovka was again blown up by Soviet bombers.
von Apell’s 22nd Panzerdivision was a fresh German armoured division and was tasked by von Manstein with the recapture of Korpech'. The formation was not yet fully equipped with its supporting elements, and its tanks were mostly obsolete Czech-built PzKpfw 38(t) machines. Its attack at 06.00 on 20 March in dense fog ran headlong into an offensive build-up of Soviet armour and went badly wrong. One of the division’s battalions had to stop after encountering a minefield, while another lost cohesion in the fog. The 55th Tank Brigade blocked the road to Korpech' with a battalion of T-26 and four KV-1 machines. One battalion of the 204th Panzerregiment lost two-fifths of its tanks destroyed or damaged after running into a concentration of Soviet 45-mm anti-tank guns. After three hours, the German attack was called off, the 22nd Panzerdivision having lost 32 of its 142 tanks destroyed or damaged, including 17 PzKpfw 38(t), nine PzKpfw II and six PzKpfw IV machines. von Manstein conceded that he had been premature in committing an inexperienced, half-deployed division into an all-out assault, but pointed out that an immediate counterattack was necessary as his army was in danger of losing its critical defensive positions. Also, the division did succeed in disrupting the Soviet attack preparations.
Kozlov’s third drive on Koi-Asan began after a week of replacement, reinforcement and resupply. This was a smaller operation conducted by the 51st Army’s 390th Division and 143rd Brigade supported by two T-26 companies as well as six KV and three T-34 tanks, of the 39th Tank Brigade, 40th Tank Brigade and 229th Separate Tank Battalion. The offensive failed on its first day after suffering considerable losses, and quickly came to an end. As a result of these operations, the 51st Army had suffered the loss of 9,852 men killed, 4,959 missing and 23,799 wounded for a total of more than 39,000 casualties, between 10 and 31 March.
Increasing Luftwaffe air superiority began to tell as the port of Kerch came under heavy and sustained German air attack, constraining the build-up of Soviet armour and artillery. Even so, Mekhlis now demanded that massed tank attacks be made against the unbroken German lines. von Manstein received further reinforcement in the form of Generalleutnant Johann Sinnhuber’s 28th leichte Division, whose equipment included a new anti-tank gun in the form of the 28-mm low-silhouette sPzB 41 weapon. von Manstein estimated the Soviet attack strength as six to eight infantry divisions and 160 tanks. After three days of heavy losses, Kozlov called off his fourth and, as it turned out, last offensive and had withdrawn to his February starting positions by 15 April. The Crimean Front was now heavily weighted toward its right flank, held by the 51st Army, leaving the 44th Army on the left depleted and the 47th Army in reserve as what was in effect a ghost command.
Kozlov’s four major offensives between 27 February and 11 April had all been defeated by the 11th Army with heavy Soviet losses. From 1 January to 30 April, the Crimean Front, including the forces at Sevastopol, had lost 352,000 men, of whom 236,370 were lost between February and April in the fighting for the Parpach narrows. The front’s losses were the second heaviest of any Soviet front during the period. The offensives had cost the Crimean Front 40% of its men, 52% of its armour and 25% of its artillery. The 11th Army's casualties between January and April were far fewer at just 24,120. The result was a wholly unbalanced loss ratio of 14/1 in favour of the Germans. The insufficiency of artillery and air support and the ignorance of the German defences were singled out by Soviet critics as the causes of the failure. The Crimean Front had been all but destroyed as a combat-effective formation and would be completely routed from the peninsula in May. For four months, von Manstein had conducted successful and simultaneous defences on two fronts. The spring thaw arrived fully at a time early in May, and each side prepared for the battle that would decide the entire campaign.
To slow the Soviet build-up, Generaloberst Alexander Löhr’s Luftflotte IV was sent to the region to interdict Soviet shipping. The 7,500-ton transport Emba was severely damaged on 29 January, but the Luftwaffe failed to prevent the transport of 100,000 men and hundreds of pieces of artillery to Kerch between 20 January and 11 February. At Sevastopol, 764 tons of fuel and 1,700 tons of supplies arrived at the port. On 13 February, the cruiser Komintern and destroyer Shaumyan delivered 1,034 men and 200 tons of supplies. The cruiser Krasny Krym and the destroyer Dzerzhinsky brought in another 1,075 men on 14 February, and on the following day the minesweeper T-410 brought in 650 men and evacuated 152. On 17 February, the transport Byelostok delivered 871 men. The warships of the Black Sea Fleet also shelled German positions on the coast on a regular basis.
The Luftwaffe increased its pressure, dispatching the Kampfgeschwader 27, KG 55 and KG 100 to bomb the ports at Anapa, Tuapse and Novorossiysk on the Caucasian Black Sea coast. On 20 February, the 1,900-ton transport Kommunist was sunk by KG 100.
Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe had flown in the KG 26, a specialist torpedo bomber unit. On 1/2 March, aircraft of this unit damaged the 2,434-ton steamer Fabritsius so severely that she was written off. The 4,629-ton oil tanker Kuybyshev was damaged on 3 March to the south of Kerch, and this deprived the Soviets of much fuel: the damaged vessel was withdrawn to the port of Novorossiysk, where it was crippled by Junkers Ju 88 twin-engined medium bombers of the KG 51 on 13 March. On 18 March, Ju 88 bombers of the KG 51 sank the 3,689-ton transport Georgi Dimitrov. Further damage was done on 23 March when nine Ju 88 bombers of the KG 51 sank the minelayers Ostrovsky and GS-13 and a motor torpedo boat in Tuapse harbour. The bombers also damaged the submarines S-33 and D-5. During the evening of the same day, He 111 bombers of the KG 27 claimed one 5,000-ton and two 2,000-ton ships sunk: Soviet records recorded the sinking of the 2,960-ton steamer V. Chapayev, with the loss of 16 crew and 86 soldiers. The KG 51 returned to Tuapse on 24 March and sank the transports Yalta and Neva. On 2 April, Kuybyshev was intercepted and sunk. So great was the loss of shipping that Soviet land forces were ordered to cease all offensive operations to conserve supplies.
In the Germans' eight-week air offensive, from a time early in February to the end of March, the Black Sea Transport Fleet had been reduced from 43,200 tons of shipping to 27,400 tons. Six transports had been lost and six were under repair. On 17 April, the 4,125-ton steamer Svanetiya was sunk by the KG 26 during an attempt to supply Sevastopol, and some 535 men were lost with her. On 19 April, the tanker I. Stalin and three transport vessels were damaged. On 21 April, the KG 55 damaged the minesweeper Komintern and sank a transport ship. By this time the Black Sea Fleet’s ability to supply the Soviet forces in Sevastopol had been severely curtailed.
The Germans launched 'Trappenjagd' on 8 May. Before this, as just noted, the Luftwaffe had succeeded in applying severe pressure to the Soviet supply lines. By a time late in April, the Soviet food and other resources had been almost totally exhausted. Everything, including firewood, had to be brought in by sea, and the Stavka asked Stalin to consider the evacuation of the Kerch region. Stalin refused, and on 21 April ordered preparations for an offensive to retake Crimea. On 6 May, he changed his mind and issued Order No. 170357, which instructed all Crimean forces to assume a defensive posture. He also refused to send more reinforcements. Mixed with this order was an instruction for a limited offensive against German lines to improve the defenders' tactical positions. Instead of preparing for a defence against the impending German offensive, therefore, the Soviets were preparing for an attack.
For the defence of the peninsula, the Soviets had three major formations: the 51st Army, protecting the north, had eight infantry divisions and three infantry and two tank brigades; the 44th Army in the south had five infantry divisions and two tank brigades; and the 47th Army had four infantry and one cavalry division, and was kept in reserve. The Air Force of the Crimean Front deployed 404 aircraft. Kozlov did not expect a major attack as he outnumbered the Germans by a factor of 2/1. Moreover, on the southern front, he had swampy terrain, which made it an unfavorable place for offensive by another factor of 2/1. Although the Soviets constructed an anti-tank ditch that ran the entire length of the Parpach narrows and had three lines of defence, the infantry units were deployed in one line at the front, with the tanks and cavalry in reserve, but Kozlov had wholly failed to deploy his troops into a well-prepared defence in depth.
The German offensive had no option but to make a head-on breakthrough of the Soviet lines in the south and then to swing to the north with armoured and motorised units to encircle the 51st Army. To do this, it needed exceptionally strong air support, and von Richthofen’s Fliegerkorps VIII was despatched to support the assault. This formation was the Luftwaffe’s best equipped and most experienced close air support corps, and to bolster its strength it was given the experienced KG 55 medium bomber wing. von Richthofen had 20 Gruppen, comprising 740 aircraft, and a number of seaplanes. Two Kampfgruppen were also made available by General Kurt Pflugbeil’s IV Fliegerkorps. The corps operated from newly built airfields as von Richthofen had the airfield system expanded to reduce bomber sortie times. He was also a firm believer in the 4.4-lb (2-kg) SD-2 anti-personnel cluster bomb and had more than 6,000 canisters of these delivered by the end of April. By 8 May, von Richthofen had 800 aircraft under his command in Crimea and Soviet air superiority in the area had collapsed. The limited Soviet air reconnaissance failed to spot this German build-up.
To maximise the element of surprise, von Manstein selected the swampy terrain held by the 44th Army as his main attack sector. Fretter-Pico’s XXX Corps would breach the Soviet line, allowing the 22nd Panzerdivision to run amok through the gaps. Improved tactics for breaking through heavily prepared Soviet lines were utilised, built on the integration of infantry assault groups, assault guns, combat engineers, Panzerjäger and Flak units. Fretter-Pico received 57 StuG III assault guns, of which 12 had the new 75-mm (2.95-in) KwK 40 gun, two batteries of 88-mm (3.465-in) Flak guns, and ample combat engineer support. Only one German infantry division and the Romanians were in the north, while the rest were under Fretter-Pico’s command.
'Trappenjagd' started at 04.15 on 8 May, and Fliegerkorps VIII, operating under Luftflotte IV, began operations against Soviet lines of communication and airfields. Within hours, Ju 87 dive-bombers of the Sturzkampfgeschwader 77 had knocked out the 44th Army’s critical communications and mortally wounded the 51st Army’s commander. The airfields were destroyed and 57 of the 401 Soviet aircraft in the area were shot down in 2,100 German sorties. With the army’s headquarters destroyed, the Soviets could not organise a counter-offensive and the 44th Army collapsed into a retreat when von Manstein launched the ground attack. For this, von Manstein had five infantry divisions, the 22nd Panzerdivision and 2.5 Romanian divisions against 19 Soviet divisions and four armoured brigades at Kerch. The 902nd Sturmbootsabteilung of the 436th Infanterieregiment in the 132nd Division landed behind the Soviet lines and helped outflank the Soviet second lines. The Soviet Black Sea Fleet failed to stop the German seaborne attack. The German artillery bombardment, which included four batteries of Nebelwerfer artillery rocket launchers, lasted only 10 minutes, and within 210 minutes of the offensive’s start the 44th Army’s second defensive line had been penetrated.
Ju 87 dive-bombers, Henschel Hs 129 twin-engined attack aircraft, Ju 88 bombers and He 111 bombers raked the Soviet positions, paving an unimpeded path for the German ground forces. Soviet field fortifications were neutralised by the VIII Fliegerkorps' close air support and air interdiction capabilities. The 44th Army’s 157th and 404th Divisions were mauled and paralysed in their movements by the Ju 87 and Hs 129 aircraft. In one incident, 24 counterattacking Soviet tanks were destroyed by StuG III machines for the loss of only one German assault gun. The 56th Tank Brigade and 126th Separate Tank Battalion launched a counterattack with 98 tanks, including seven KV-1 heavy vehicles, against the 28th leichte Division. Ju 87 and Hs 129 aircraft arrived and destroyed the attacking Soviet tanks: it is estimated that 48 Soviet tanks, including all seven KV-1 machines, were knocked out.
On this first day, the XXX Corps, attacking with Sinnhuber’s 28th Division, Generalleutnant Friedrich Schmidt’s 50th Division and Generalleutnant Fritz Lindemann’s 132nd Division, broke through in the south. At the cost of 104 men killed and 284 wounded, the XXX Corps took prisoner 4,514 Soviet soldiers. The German engineers partially bridged the anti-tank obstacles on 8 May to prepare the way for the 22nd Panzerdivision. Kozlov did not appreciate the significance of the German breakthrough and failed to release reserves for a counterattack.
On 9 May, the German engineers finished breaching the anti-tank ditch and von Manstein accordingly committed the 22nd Panzerdivision, which swung to the north and had trapped the 51st Army against the Sea of Azov by 12.00 on 10 May. Confused Soviet counterattacks near Arma-Eli were shattered by German close air support and combined infantry and armour teams. The remaining combat-capable Soviet armour was destroyed by German air power on 9 May and 25 Soviet aircraft were shot down by Messerschmitt Bf 109 single-engined fighters. von Richthofen’s air units flew 1,700 sorties on 9 May and claimed 52 Soviet aircraft shot down for the loss of just two of their own machines. A rainstorm gave the Soviets a brief respite on the evening of 9 May, but when this cleared during the morning of the following day, the VIII Fliegerkorps destroyed the remaining and now wholly isolated Soviet tanks, including 11 KV-1 machines. Soviet morale and organisation collapsed, and there began a stampede to the rear. Once this had started, the eight divisions of the 51st Army surrendered on 11 May, releasing the XXX Corps to pursue the fragmented Soviet forces to Marfovka, barely 8 miles (13 km) from Kerch. Oberst Groddeck’s extemporised Brigade 'Groddeck' (mot.) reached the airfield at Marfovka during the afternoon and destroyed 35 fighters on the ground. The VIII Fliegerkorps' air supremacy peaked on 12 May, when the corps flew 1,500 sorties without significant Soviet opposition and thus found itself entirely without opposition as it bombed the fleeing Soviet columns, points of resistance and the harbour of Kerch. von Richthofen’s warplanes burned Kerch to the ground by landing 1,780 bombs on it during 12 May, the day on which von Richthofen was ordered to redeploy the bulk of his combat units to support Generaloberst Friedrch Paulus’s 6th Army in the '2nd Battle of Kharkov'. The number of missions now flown was was reduced accordingly, from 1,500 to 2,000 sorties per day before the redeployment to between 300 and 800 sorties per day to the end of 'Trapenjagd'. von Richthofen described his bombing operations during 'Trappenjagd' as 'concentrated air support, the likes of which has never existed'.
The speed of the German advance was rapid. The 132nd Division overran several airfields, and captured 30 Soviet aircraft on the ground. On 10 May, the VIII Fliegerkorps launched the KG 55's He 111 bombers against the Soviet forces. Comparatively large and slow, the He 111 warplanes made easy targets for ground fire, and eight were lost, but their loads of SD-2 anti-personnel bombs devastated the Soviet infantry. German bombers also attacked the ships being used to evacuate personnel from Kerch. Three transports with 900 wounded aboard were sunk, along with one gunboat, six patrol boats and other small craft. The 1,048-ton Chernomorets was sunk on the same day. By this time, the air battle had been overwhelmingly won by the Luftwaffe. Despite the withdrawal of a number of Geschwadern to support the 6th Army at Kharkov, the Luftwaffe had destroyed Soviet aerial opposition and enabled the German army to make deep penetrations, capturing 29,000 Soviet men, 220 pieces of artillery and about 170 tanks. Kerch fell on 15 May, and the Luftwaffe assisted the final defeat of Soviet ground forces on 20 May, when the last pocket of resistance to the south of Kerch was destroyed.
von Manstein’s 11th Army had destroyed three Soviet armies, eliminating nine Soviet divisions and reducing another nine to ineffective remnants. Although forced to return several Luftwaffe units and the 22nd Panzerdivision for 'Blau', von Manstein could now concentrate his forces for the 'Störfang' reduction of Sevastopol.
von Manstein had executed a successful combined-arms offensive, concentrating armoured mobility as well as artillery and aerial firepower to annihilate a Soviet grouping twice his strength. The Soviets failed to conduct a defence in depth, allowing the Germans to puncture their lines on the first day of the offensive and defeat their counterattacks. Three Soviet armies either surrendered within four days, or were heavily mauled by von Richthofen’s VIII Fliegerkorps while retreating.
In the 11 days of 'Trappenjagd', the VIII Fliegerkorps lost a mere 37 aircraft. At the same time, the Air Force of the Crimean Front lost 417 aircraft. Something between 37,000 and 116,045 Soviet soldiers were evacuated by sea, of whom 20% were wounded. An estimated 162,282 were left behind, either dead or taken prisoner. A total of about 28,000 Soviet men had been killed and between 147,000 and 170,000 more, including large numbers of civilians, had been taken prisoner. The German casualties amounted to only 7,588 men in the XXX Corps and XLII Corps, this figure including 1,703 killed or missing. The Germans had expended 6,230 tons of ammunition, lost nine pieces of artillery, three assault guns and between eight and 12 tanks.
Several groups of Soviet survivors refused to surrender and continued the for many months, hiding in the catacombs of the area’s quarries and caves, many of which also accommodated trapped civilians who had fled Kerch. The Germans deployed poison gas against the survivors, thereby enlarging the casualty list.