Krasnodar Offensive Operation

Otherwise known as the 'Krasnodar-Novorossiysk Offensive Operation', the 'Krasnodar Offensive Operation' was a Soviet undertaking within the Caucasus campaign of 1942/43 by General Polkovnik Ivan I. Maslennikov’s North Caucasus Front (created in its second iteration on 24 January 1943 out of the Northern Group of Forces of the Trans-Caucasus Front) supported by Vitse Admiral Filipp S. Oktyabrsky’s Black Sea Fleet to drive the German and Romanian forces of Generaloberst Richard Ruoff’s 17th Army and Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist’s Heeresgruppe 'A' from the Kuban area seized by the Axis forces in 'Edelweiss' until checked by the 'North Caucasus Defensive Operation' during the course of the last five months of 1942 (9 February/16 March 1943).

The Soviet high command’s overall plan was to encircle and destroy the Axis ground for in the western Kuban with three co-ordinated advances. From the north, General Major Konstantin A. Koroteyev’s (from 11 February General Major Vasili V. Glagolev’s) 9th Army and General Major Konrat S. Melnik’s 58th Army were to deliver the main attack. General Major Piotr M. Kozlov’s 37th Army and General Major Ivan P. Rosly’s 46th Army were to attack from the east. And from the south the attack was to be made by General Leytenant Ivan Ye. Petrov’s Black Sea Group of Forces (General Major Konstantin A. Koroteyev’s 18th Army and General Major Aleksandr I. Ryzhov’s 56th Army). These three attacks were to encircle and destroy the Axis grouping in the area of Krasnodar, thereby preventing it from undertaking a retreat into the Taman peninsula and thence farther to the west across the Strait of Kerch in the eastern part of Crimea. The Axis forces in the area of Novorossiysk were to be defeated by General Leytenant Konstantin N. Leselidze’s 47th Army. To deny the Axis forces access to the eastern part of Crimea across the Strait of Kerch, the Soviets planned to take Anapa on the southern coast of the Sea of Azon, and both Kerch and Feodosiya in eastern Crimea with the forces of the Black Sea Fleet. The Soviet ground forces committed in the 'Krasnodar Offensive Operation' were supported by the warplanes of General Major Nikolai F. Naumenko’s 4th Air Army and General Leytenant Sergei K. Goryunov’s 5th Air Army.

On 5 February, command of the Black Sea Group of Forces was transferred from General Ivan V. Tyulenev’s Trans-Caucasus Front to Maslennikov’s North Caucasian Front. The Black Sea Group of Forces' administrative group was then disestablished on 15 March, when its formations were transferred to the North Caucasus Front.

The North Caucasus Front’s offensive began on 9 February, and while putting up a stubborn resistance, the Germans pulled back the main strength of the 17th Army to the south-west even as the effects of the North Caucasus Front’s shortages of men, ammunition and fuel began slowly to play a part on the slowing of the Soviet advance. Going on the offensive from the areas of Armavir and Kropotkin, the 37th Army broke through the German defences and thus came to pose a very real threat to the German forces near Krasnodar, on the Kuban river, from the north-east. Attacking to the north from the Tuapse area, on 12 February formations and units of the 18th Army and 46th Army, with the assistance of partisans, liberated Krasnodar. The Germans began to withdraw their troops westward into the Taman peninsula, but also launched several counterattacks, supported by warplanes of Luftflotte IV, against elements of the 9th Army and 58th Armies moving to the south-west. It was the forces of the 58th Army which were in the worse position as they were operating in the flat and effectively coverless flood plain on the northern Kuban, and suffered heavy losses.

In this period, the squadrons of the 4th Air Army and 5th Air Army shot down 157 German aircraft. This marked the beginning of the air battle in Kuban, and this paved the way to Soviet air superiority, and soon air supremacy, in the following years of the 'Great Patriotic War'. The Black Sea Group of Forces received significant aid in the movement of reinforcements, ammunition and military equipment from ships of the the Black Sea Fleet.

In the middle of February, the Germans built up the level of their resistance and began the process of evacuating rear-area personnel and organisations as well as large quantities of booty, across the Strait of Kerch into Crimea. The ships of the Black Sea Fleet and the warplanes of the 4th Air Army and 5th Air Army launched a campaign against the shipping used by the Germans, but the Soviets found it impossible to interdict the entirety of the German maritime communications.

On 22 February, the Soviet high command ordered the North Caucasus Front top concentrate its forces on the line of retreat being taking by the 17th Army, and then to encircle and destroy this German formation, and in accord with this revised instruction the front renewed its offensive on 23 February. In the areas of the villages of Slavyanskaya, Abinskaya and Krymskaya there was fierce fighting which did not, however, provide the Soviets with the success for which they had hoped.

Between 28 February and 4 March, the 17th Army, supported by the warplanes of Luftflotte IV, launched strong counterattacks, especially in the 58th Army’s sector. Then the attacks of the 9th Army and 37th Army on 9 March forced the Germans to begin a withdrawal to their newly prepared defence line. The North Caucasus Front pressed hard on the heels of the 17th Army's withdrawal, overran several significant centres of resistance, and by the middle of March had reached a new German defensive line some 37.5 to 43.5 miles (60 to 70 km) to the west of Krasnodar. This the Soviets failed to penetrate off the march, however, and on 16 March the Soviet high command ordered the North Caucasus Front to break off its offensive and go over to the defensive while starting to prepare for a new offensive operation to destroy the Axis forces in the Taman peninsula.

As a result of the 'Krasnodar Offensive Operation', the Soviets forces inflicted significant damage on the Axis forces, though only at a high cost to themselves, liberated Krasnodar and by 24 May had reached a line linking Kalabatka, Kievskoye and Novorossiysk.