Novorossiysk Landing Operation

The 'Novorossiysk Landing Operation' was a Soviet amphibious landing in which ships of the Black Sea Fleet landed and supported ground forces of the North Caucasus Front in the port of Novorossiysk within this first of the two sub-operations together constituting the during the 'Novorossiysk-Taman Strategic Offensive Operation' (10/16 September 1943).

Embodied in the basic concept of the 'Novorossiysk-Taman Strategic Offensive Operation' by General Polkovnik Ivan Ye. Petrov’s North Caucasus Front was the liberation of the whole Taman peninsula from the Axis forces. Novorossiysk was regarded as the key to the defence of the Taman peninsula by the German and Romanian forces of General Erwin Jaenecke’s 17th Army of Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist’s Heeresgruppe 'A'. From the moment of it occupation by the Axis forces in August 1942, Novorossiysk had remained a front-line city which was strongly and very carefully fortified by the occupation troops. On the approaches to Novorossiysk, five lines of trenches, seven lines of barbed wire entanglements, a system of pillboxes and bunkers, and fields of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines were created. More than 500 fortifications were built within the city, in which as many as 30,000 mines were laid. The approaches from the sea were covered by coastal artillery complemented by mortar and machine-gun points to tackle close-range targets. The entrance to the port was blocked by boom-supported nets and minefields. In the area of ​​the city, five infantry divisions and several smaller units of General Karl Allmendinger’s V Corps.

In their planning, under the supervision of Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Semton K. Timoshenko in his capacity as the representative of the Soviet high command, Petrov’s North Caucasus Front and Vitse Admiral Lev A. Vladimirsky’s Black Sea Fleet of course took into account the perceived strength and capability of the Axis defences and the unsuccessful 'Malaya Zemlya Operation' attempt to capture the city in February 1943. The two commanders rapidly came to the conclusion that success at Novorossiysk would be problematical should they deliver the assault in the form of only a single axis: here they appreciated that the layout of their defensive lines allowed the Axis forces to manoeuvre their forces quickly as they would have the benefit of interior lines of communication. The natural starting points for the attack were the Malaya Zemlya beach-head and the south-eastern outskirts of the city along the road from Tuapse farther to the south-east, where the Axis forces were expecting an offensive and had therefore created potent defences. It was therefore decided that the attack on Novorossiysk would be made from three locations: Malaya Zemlya, the Tuapse road and the sea, the last in the form of an amphibious landing directly into the port of Novorossiysk between the two land assaults. Should the landing prove successful and lead to the capture of the port, the rear of the troops defending against the two land assaults would be threatened. Because of its special importance, the landing operation was entrusted wholly to the Black Sea Fleet with operational command of the landing entrusted to Kontr Admiral Georgi N. Kholostyakov, the commander of the Novorossiysk naval base that was temporarily based in Gelendzhik. The ships carrying the landing force had to break through a narrow passage to the port between the breakwaters into Tsemesskaya bay, which extended deeply inland. The western coast of the bay was held by the Axis forces, who had at their disposal as many as 40 artillery and mortar batteries, which had originally been readied for the bombardment of the bay while it was still in Soviet hands.

The port of Novorossiysk had its own powerful anti-amphibious defence in the form of mines, underwater obstacles, powerful ground defences and a large number of pre-prepared firing points.

The landing at the port was to be carried out in two waves. For the first wave, the Soviets created three detachments. The first of these was the Landing Support Detachment, which included a breakthrough group (seven motor torpedo boats, two mine boats and two small craft), the Shore Attack Group (13 motor torpedo boats), the Port Attack Group (six motor torpedo boats) and the Sea Landing Cover Group (six motor torpedo boats); the second a detachment of gunfire support vessels and a detachment of casualty treatment boats; and the third the direct disembarkation force with 120 combat and support boats, 28 motor launches and a number of landing boats. All these vessels and craft had previously been assembled in Gelendzhik bay, in which they had arrived in small detachments or singly, and these assets were scattered around the bay and sheltered against discovery from the air.

The landing force included the 255th Naval Brigade, the 393rd Separate Marine Battalion, the 1339th Regiment from the 318th Mountain Division of General Leytenant Konstantin N. Leselidze’s 18th Army, the 290th Separate NKVD Regiment, and comprised 6,480 men together with 41 pieces of artillery, 147 mortars and 53 heavy machine guns. On the south-east coast of Tsemesskaya bay, a powerful artillery group was created for direct artillery support of the landing: 161 guns from the artillery of the 18th Army and 47 guns from the Novorossiysk naval base. The artillery involved in supporting the landing forces was as many as 800 guns and 227 rocket-launchers. A special air group was also created for support of the anding: this comprised 148 aircraft from the Black Sea Fleet’s air arm and General Leytenant Konstantin A. Vershinin’s 4th Air Army in the form of 58 fighters, 36 attack aircraft and 54 bombers.

The forces and means for the operation were generally adequate given the powerful nature of the Axis forces' defences and the overall complexity of the Soviet plan. Special emphasis was placed on the training of personnel: the crews of the ships, vessels and craft involved carefully studied the operational area and carried out training in bays along the eastern coast of the Black Sea. The personnel of the airborne force were selected well in advance, and thus were withdrawn from the front line, rested and committed to combat training. The Black Sea Fleet’s intelligence service organised and carried out number of disinformation measures.

During the Soviets' long-term reconnaissance of the landing sites, the locations of the minefields on the approaches to the port, anti-landing pillboxes of reinforced concrete, and the positions of the coastal artillery were identified. For the destruction of water-front fortifications, it was decided to use torpedoes, and the destruction of other fortifications was entrusted to concentrated heavy artillery fire.

On the night of September 10, the landing force departed Gelendzhik bay, and during the crossing to Novorossiysk the sounds of Soviet vessels' engines was drowned by specially designated aircraft which patrolled over the German positions. At the same time, bombing attacks were launched against the identified and suspected Axis observation posts along the coast. The movements of the deception detachment distracted the attention of the Germans by suggesting the imminence of a landing at Yuzhnaya Ozereyka, to the west of Novorossiysk toward Anapa, and here the German response took the form of heavy fire and the mass launch of flares.

The Soviet artillery preparation began at 02.44 on 10 September and was quickly supplemented by air attacks. Ay 02.45, the breakthrough group’s craft attacked German firing points on the breakwaters with a total of 24 torpedoes, whose detonations destroyed 19 bunkers on the pier and the shore, and damaged as many as another 10 such installations. The boom net barriers at the entrance to the bay were breached, and Soviet craft also landed assault groups on the breakwaters. Thus the long and artillery-dominated approach into the bay was opened. Motor torpedo boats attacked the German defensive positions on the water front of the bay with torpedoes. At 02.56, motor torpedo boats of the Port Attack Group moved at high speed into the port and attacked the berths and landing sites with torpedoes. From 03.00, motor torpedo and patrol boats, motor launches and craft carrying the first landing wave stormed into the port, where the initial landings lasted to 05.00.

All this took place under very heavy German artillery, mortar and machine gun fire. The Soviet craft and boats manoeuvred violently among the solid columns of water thrown into the air by the detonation of shells, and the sky was lit by hundreds of German flares, and many of the Soviet craft and boats were hit. Realising that an amphibious assault on the port had started, the Germans began hastily to rush reinforcements into the area, strengthened the artillery, and from dawn started to commit their air strength. The Germans managed to disrupt the approach of the second landing wave so effectively that it was able to land only 370 men.

Nevertheless, the Soviets were able to establish two beach-heads: one of these was in the port, where more than 800 men of the 393rd Marine Battalion were landed, and the other in the north-eastern part of the bay near the Krasny Oktyabrsky cement factory, where 1,247 men of the 1339th Regiment were landed. Several groups of paratroopers from the 255th Marine Brigade were landed in the southern part of the port, but for lack of support these were threatened with complete destruction until they fought their way through to the Soviet positions on Malaya Zemlya. The fighting in the beach-heads was continuous, and were characterised by its extreme ferocity right down to hand-to-hand combat.

On this first day of the 'Novorossiysk Landing Operation', German artillery sank eight Soviet boats and five landing boats.

Despite the Germans' partial dislocation of the original plan, which had called for a single beach-head, the Soviet command decided to increase its commitment in the landing operation. This decision came from the fact that the Germans had reacted swiftly and effectively, committing a significant number of reserves into the battle and even removing troops from other sectors of the front.

On the night of 11 September, therefore, the landing of the second wave began, despite the continued severity of the German artillery response, which sank seen boats. In a night battle, the Proletarian cement plant, which was the strongest centre of the coast’s defence, was completely taken by the Soviets. Also, the paratroopers managed to make a significant advance from the Krasny Oktyabrsky to the village of Methodiyevsky. The airborne stormed directly into the city, where street fighting began.

On 12 and 13 September, the Soviet troops expanded their beach-heads, driving the Germans out of fortified locations and factory buildings. The vessels of the Black Sea Fleet ensured that supplies of all kinds continued to reach the beach-heads, that reinforcements and ammunition were delivered, and that casualties were evacuated. All these naval efforts were carried out under German artillery fire, but as a result of the capture or destruction of the most threatening German batteries, heavy naval losses were avoided.

By 14 September, men of the 18th Army were advancing at speed from the direction of Tuapse, and after failing to break through to Novorossiysk along the coast, struck out in a sweeping movement from the north and broke through the Axis defences and entering Novorossiysk to link with the landed units.

On the night of 16 September, the troops of the 18th Army’s western grouping launched an offensive from Malaya Zemlya, broke through the Axis defences in the Stanichka area and also broke into Novorossiysk. By this time the Axis forces were involved in brutal combat within the city and had already suffered heavy losses, and were thus unable to check the new Soviet attacks. The Germans decided to abandon Novorossiysk, and by 10.00 on 16 September the city had been completely liberated.

The capture of Novorossiysk decided the outcome of the struggle for the Taman peninsula: fearing the Soviet movement out of Novorossiysk onto the rear of their main defensive zone, the Germans hastily began to leave the area and withdraw to Temryuk and Taman.

The 'Novorossiysk Landing Operation' had therefore achieved its object: a landing in a bay saturated with Axis forces and defences of all kinds, and the establishment of a beach-head which played the key part in defeat of the Axis forces in the Novorossiysk area.

One of the largest Soviet amphibious operations, the 'Novorossiysk Landing Operation' is regarded as one of the best-planned and best-prepared Soviet offensive operations undertaken on a joint-service basis. The success of the operation showed that with careful preparation, an amphibious assault on a heavily fortified coast was possible.

During the operation, units of the landing force and the ships of the fleet suffered significant losses, but they were caused not by unsuccessful preparation and action, but by the nature of an offensive battle against an extremely strong defence. The Black Sea Fleet suffered all of its losses in ships on 10 and 11 September, when the Axis artillery sank 20 vessels (four patrol boats, eight motor torpedo boats, three minesweepers and five landing boats).