Operation Störfang

sturgeon trap

This was the German capture of Sevastopol in Crimea by the German and Romanian forces of Generaloberst Erich von Manstein’s 11th Army of Generalfeldmarschall Walter von Reichenau’s Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’ (2 June/2 July 1942).

After the last Soviet forces in Crimea had been pinned in the Kerch peninsula and eliminated by 20 May 1942 in ‘Trappenjagd’, von Manstein was free to concentrate his efforts on the reduction of Sevastopol, which had been left under investment during ‘Trappenjagd’ by General Erik Hansen’s LIV Corps. Under the overall command of Vitse Admiral Filipp S. Oktyabrsky, commanding the Black Sea Fleet, the garrison of Sevastopol comprised General Major Ivan Ye. Petrov’s Independent Coastal Army of about 100,000 men in seven infantry divisions (deployed as two, one, two and two divisions in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Defence Sectors respectively) and one unmounted cavalry division, supported by 6,000 men of three marine infantry brigades (one in the 2nd Defence Sector and two in the 3rd Defence Sector); some 3,000 men of two more infantry brigades were landed during the battle, giving the Soviets a total strength of about 70 battalions.

The defences themselves were formidable, and consisted of 3,600 permanent and extemporised fortifications over a depth of some 15 miles (24 km) round the city, with 600 guns, including four 305-mm (12-in) weapons in two twin turrets, as well as 40 tanks. The extreme difficulty of the terrain was also another significant factor in favour of the defence, which was boosted by 20.5 miles (33 km) of tank ditches, 34.75 miles (56 km) of wire entanglements and 9,600 mines.

On the other side of the wire, the 11th Army comprised the LIV Corps 1 on the northern side of the investment, General Maximilian Fretter-Pico’s XXX Corps 2 on the southern side of the investment, and General de divizie Gheorghe Avramescu’s Romanian Mountain Corps 3 on the eastern side of the investment on the Yaila Heights. The Germans also had various supporting elements including 150 assault guns in three battalions and one of the heaviest concentrations of artillery yet fielded by the German army. The 700 pieces of artillery included three 60-cm (23.6-in) ‘Karl’ mortars, one 80-cm (31.5-in) ‘Gustav’ railway gun, and 24 rocket-launcher batteries. There were also some 600 aircraft in Generaloberst Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen’s VIII Fliegerkorps (seven bomber, three dive-bomber and four fighter Gruppen) of Generaloberst Alexander Löhr’s Luftflotte IV, supported by 17 Flak batteries.

On 6 June, therefore, ‘Störfang’ pitted an Axis strength of 203,800 men against a Soviet strength of 118,000 men.

As noted above, Sevastopol was still a formidable obstacle. Its airfields provided a base for the Soviet air forces to mount attacks against targets on the Axis-held Soviet coast and in Romania. It was also home to the Black Sea Fleet. Its main defensive elements were generally aligned to seaward, although some of the coastal batteries could also engage inland targets. The two outer belts of land defences encircled the city in an eccentric arc at a radius of some 9.3 to 12.4 miles (15 to 20 km), and the inner belt at a radius of 3.1 miles (5 km). Enhancing the man-made defences was the forested, rocky and rugged terrain.

To the north of Severnaya Bay there were 11 strongpoints with morale-boosting names such as Stalin, Maxim Gorky I, Molotov, and Lenin. Elsewhere the Soviets had constructed hundreds of timber bunkers with machine gun nests and 45-mm anti-tank guns. Along the outer belt, concrete bunkers were less common, 19 being stretched across its 23-mile (37-km) length. Soviet engineers had laid thousands of mines, including PMD-6 wooden-cased anti-personnel mines and TMD-40 wooden-cased anti-tank mines, and positioned dense belts of barbed wire. Petrov also had available a powerful pool of some 455 pieces of artillery (guns and howitzers). Among these were 34 6-in (152-mm) and 40 4.8-in (122-mm) howitzers and 918 mortars. The ammunition supply for these weapons was adequate for a two-week battle, but that for the 3.2-in (82-mm) mortars was in short supply. The previous battles of the Crimean campaign had taken their toll on the Soviet artillery, however, and scarcely any tank and anti-aircraft artillery support were available. A further force, under General Major Petr A. Morgunov, was a coastal artillery element which remained semi-independent for much of the siege, and had an initial strength of 12 batteries and 45 guns, although more were added during 1942. By the time of the start of ‘Störfang’, this amounted to eight 12-in (305-mm), one 7.4-in (188-mm), 10 6-in (152-mm), 17 5.1-in (130-mm), three 4.7-in (120-mm), eight 3.9-in (100-mm) and four 45-mm guns.

During this same period the Axis forces were suffering the effects of major manpower and artillery shortages. The 11th Army’s divisions had only something between 35% and 75% of their establishment strength. Wolff’s 22nd Division was the strongest formation, only 1,750 men short of establishment, while the weakest was Lindemann’s 132nd Division, which was 2,300 men short. Sander’s 170th Division had been compelled to disband one of its regiments to bring the other two up to strength.

The German infantry was a fragile force at Sevastopol, and von Manstein therefore could not afford to squander it. German doctrine stressed the tactical importance bypassing strongpoints, but since this was not possible at Sevastopol, the German infantry was forced to reduce one fort after another with the support of some 65 Sturmgeschütz III self-propelled assault guns. The assault was based on battalion-strength infantry assault groups supported by a platoon of engineers and a few assault guns. Two pioneer battalions were attached to each division to spearhead the attack and break through the fixed and fortified defences. The eight battalions of the LIV Corps each mustered an average of some 385 men, and was outfitted with 10 to 12 flame throwers, 28 to 30 mine detectors, 6,614 lb (3000 kg) of high explosives, 2,200 hand grenades, and 500 smoke grenades. The 300th Panzerabteilung, a unit operating remotely controlled Goliath tracked mine, was made available for destroying fortifications.

The artillery available to the 11th Army was 785 German and 112 Romanian heavy and medium guns, most of them allocated to the LIV Corps, which was the primary assault formation. But for aded offensive power, as indicated above, some super-heavy artillery was made available in the form of three 23.6-in (300-mm) Karl-Gerät tracked siege mortars ('Thor', 'Odin' and one other) and one 31.5-in (800-mm) 'schwerer Gustav' railway siege gun firing 4,784-lb (2170-kg) and 15,652-lb (7100-kg) shells respectively, and capable of destroying any fortification. However, the Karl-Gerät weapons had only a short range, between 4,375 and 6,560 yards (4000 and 6000 m), a fact which rendered them vulnerable to counter-battery fire. Moreover, only 201 rounds of 600-mm and 48 rounds of 800-mm ammunition were available, most of which were expended before the start of the infantry assault. Of greater support capability for the infantry were the two 11-in (280-mm) railway guns. Two 16.5-in (420-mm) and two 14-in (355-mm) howitzers were also available, as well as four 12-in (305-mm) mortars. Both of the 420-mm guns were of World War I vintage, short in range and with only limited quantities of ammunition. Nine 11.1-in (283-mm) mortars were also available, but these were pre-World War I weapons and six had burst during firing. Also available was some Czechoslovak-built artillery. At the divisional level, 268 4.1-in (105-mm) and 80 6.3-in (160-mm) weapons were in service, including 126 Nebelwerfer rocket launchers. In overall terms, therefore, the 11th Army’s artillery was a collection of modern, obsolete and foreign-built weapons. For the offensive, 183,750 rounds of 105-mm and 47,300 rounds of 150-mm ammunition had been stockpiled, a quantity sufficient enough for 12 days of firing.

To reinforce the 11th Army’s German formations Avramescu’s Romanian Mountain Corps was committed to the assault. Baldescu’s Romanian 18th Division was at full strength, but was inexperienced and made up of reservists; Vasiliu-Rascanu’s Romanian 1st Mountain Division was considered an elite force, and proved useful; and there was also Manoliu’s Romanian 4th Mountain Division. The Romanian formations had 112 pieces of artillery, but virtually no engineers, and their weakness in artillery and supporting arms made the Romanian Mountain Corps reliant on the Germans for all but set-piece infantry attacks.

The Luftwaffe had to compensate for the limitations of the Axis artillery. A powerful air armada was brought together under the overall command of Löhr’s Luftflotte IV, most particularly von Richthofen’s VIII Fliegerkorps, which mustered six Kampfgruppen (level bomber wings) of the Kampfgeschwader 26, KG 51, KG 55, KG 76, KG 100 and III/Lehrgeschwader 1. The close air support capability of the Stukageschwader 77 was also allocated to von Richthofen, who could therefore call upon three Gruppen of Junkers Ju 87 dive-bombers. The fighters of the Jagdgeschwadern 3, JG 52 and JG 77 were available for air superiority operations. Another air asset was the II/KG 26, which provided a significant anti-shipping capability.

The Luftwaffe contribution was not strong enough, however, both to support the land assault and to maintain pressure on Soviet sea communications. With only the II/KG 26 engaged in anti-shipping operations against Soviet sea communications, the Oberkommando des Heeres therefore looked to the Kriegsmarine to supply Schnellboote motor torpedo boats to help eliminate Soviet shipping supplying and evacuating the port. The time it took to dismantle each of the 92-ton boats and move them by rail to Romanian ports was going to be too long, though, so a rare appeal for help, the Germans turned to their Italian allies, aware of their expertise with motor torpedo boat operations. The Regia Marina sent the 101a Flottiglia MAS, which brought nine torpedo boats and nine coastal submarines under the command of the highly competent Capitano di Fregata Francesco Mimbelli. Weighing only 24 and 35 tons respectively, the Italian motor torpedo boats and midget submarines were easier to transport by truck and barge. The squadron was based at Feodosiya and Yalta, which made it the only Axis naval force to participate in the siege.

von Manstein demanded an all-out air assault before the ground offensive started. Based no more than 45 miles (70 km) from Sevastopol, the German formations had barely enough time to reach altitude before reaching their targets. The VIII Fliegerkorps began its bombing campaign against the northern and south-eastern portions of the port city’s defences, and at the same time German medium bombers undertook attacks on the city using all the units except the LG 1, which was responsible for the suppression of the Soviet anti-aircraft capability. Pinpoint targets such as oil storage tanks, electricity generating stations and distribution networks, water pumps, harbour facilities and submarine bases were attacked by the dive-bombers of the StG 77. All the targets were badly damaged, and fires broke out all over the port city. The Luftwaffe flew 723 missions and dropped 525 tons of high explosive on the first day and, despite heavy anti-aircraft fire, lost just one Ju 87.

While the main weight of the VIII Fliegerkorps was committed to support of the forthcoming land battle, the II/KG 26 concentrated its efforts on the severing of Soviet sea communications. The wing’s bombers sank the tanker Mikhail Gromov, but the flotilla leader Tashkent, the destroyer Bezuprechnyi and transport Abkhaziya escaped to deliver 2,785 more soldiers into the fortress.

Air support continued with 643 sorties on 3 June, 585 on 4 June, and 555 on 5 June, and by the start of the ground offensive on 7 June, the Luftwaffe had flown 3,069 sorties, in the course of which its aircraft had dropped 2,264 tons of high explosive bombs and 23,800 incendiary bombs: many were 2,204-lb (1000-kg) SC-1000, 3,086-lb (1400-kg) SC-1400 and 5,511-lb (2500-kg) SC-2500 weapons, most of them on the Soviet defence lines’ concrete bunkers.

On 7 June von Manstein committed the ground offensive, and in support of this the Luftwaffe flew 1,368 sorties and dropped 1,300 tons of bombs, but the Soviet infantry formations nonetheless managed to hold their positions. The LIV Corps was charged with striking the main blow on the north-eastern sector of the Soviet defensive perimeter. The corps struck along the lines of least resistance, across the Belbek river, while the XXX Corps and Romanian Mountain Corps undertook holding attacks in the south and centre respectively. Both the latter corps did not start major operations until 8 June. The artillery bombardment targeted bunkers with 105-mm (4.13-in) fire, each bunker generally receiving 10 to 25 rounds. Lighter German guns, up to 37-mm calibre, were effective in silencing machine gun nests. The Germans were also quick to bring up 88-mm (3.465-in) dual-role anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns for direct fire into bunker apertures. Between 2 and 6 June, the 11th Army expended 42,595 rounds (9% of its available munitions) in the preparatory phase before the ground formations were sent into the attack.

The railway guns also fired a few rounds at the main fortifications and rail lines, but most of their projectiles missed by some distance: the closest one of the heavy shells came to its target was 87.5 yards (80 m). Soviet ammunition dumps were also targeted by these weapons, with no effect. The main fortifications, the Stalin, Molotov and Maxim Gorky forts, which lay in the path of the LIV Corps, remained active. It was not until the afternoon of 6 June when one shell from ‘Thor’ knocked out Maxim Gorky’s second turret, damaging the weapon. This was the only success claimed by the German super-heavy guns, which did not have an impact commensurate with the cost of their delivery, manning, manoeuvring and ammunition.

The Luftwaffe had a greater impact, using its dive-bombers to knock out the communications systems linking headquarters with the forts.

On the morning of 7 June the German infantry began to advance behind air and artillery support. The XXX Corps attacked the southern positions held by the 7th Naval Infantry Brigade and 388th Division. However, the German infantry was overly cautious of its fire support and did not advance close enough behind it. The bombardment also had insufficient impact. The Soviets were therefore able to hold their fire until the German assault troops were well within range, and the German infantry was soon stalled after only the most limited of gains. The next few days were little better for the Germans despite the fact that the Luftwaffe flew 1,200 support sorties at a pace which exhausted men and machines: crews often did not get out of their aircraft, and therefore flew three or four sorties without rest.

The LIV Corps began its assault in the north on the junction of the Soviets’ 3rd and 4th Defence Sectors. The 'schwerer Gustav' continued to fire against ammunition dumps, which produced no effect. Nevertheless, the 132nd Division was able to work its way up to the river. The 600-mm (23.6-in) guns concentrated on the coastal batteries and Maxim Gorky fortress. Meanwhile, the 22nd Division attacked farther round to the east. Some 200 Soviet reinforcements of the 79th Naval Infantry Brigade, protecting this sector, were lost in the bombardment, but the main defences held out. The brigade held most of its forces in reserve, while committing only a single company to cover the hilly terrain on the Belbek river front. The German assault groups had managed breach the first and reserve lines by 08.15, but had to negotiate heavily mined areas, which slowed them and afforded the Soviets the opportunity to make a partial recovery. Supporting operations by Schmidt’s 50th Division and von Tettau’s 24th Division failed, and cost the Germans 12 StuG III assault guns. The Goliath remote-control demolition ‘tankettes’ were not effective as the terrain was unsuitable for their use. Even so, by 17.15 the Germans had taken the town of Belbek. The 22nd Division made considerable progress in breaking through the defences of the 25th Division with support on its left flank by the 50th Division.

Now facing the Germans was the Haccius Ridge, on which the Maxim Gorky fort was sited, flanked by several smaller forts to the east. The 132nd Division was ordered to undertake a converging pincer movement on the Maxim Gorky fort in conjunction with the 22nd Division and 50th Division, thereby trapping its defenders against the coast. The 132nd Division pushed into the 95th Division’s positions in the area to the north of the fort, while the other two divisions attacked in flanking moves. While the Germans did manage to make progress, as they approached the main railway station just to the south-east of the Maxim Gorky fort they were prevented from achieving a full-scale breakthrough by the 172nd Division. The 22nd Division and 50th Division had received heavy mortar fire from the 25th Division facing them east of the Haccius Ridge, and had suffered heavy casualties to this mortar fire. By 18.00 hours the German attack was spent. The LIV Corps’ losses on 7 June amounted to 2,357 men, including 340 killed, in its four divisions, and the formation had also expended 3,939 tons of ammunition. The 132nd Division had exhausted all of its basic munitions load by 12.00.

On the other hand, the Germans had succeeded in overrunning the formidable Soviet defence lines to the east and south-east of Belbek and managed to penetrate 2,185 yards (2000 m) through dense Soviet defences. The Soviet casualties had also been severe, and it is estimated that three battalions had been effectively destroyed.

von Manstein recognised the serious nature of what was in effect a failure on 8 June. He was concerned that the 132nd Division, locked in combat with the 79th Naval Infantry Brigade and with 95th and 172nd Divisions to the north of the city on the Belbek river front, was on the verge of exhaustion. Once again, the army turned to the Luftwaffe for support and von Richthofen responded by ordering attacks against the Soviets’ essential supply lines. On this same day German bombers, including those of KG 100, began attacks on Soviet shipping. They sank the destroyer Sovershennyi and the survey vessel Gyuys, with the 4,727-ton transport Abkhaziya and destroyer Svobodnyi following them on 10 June.

Between 8 and 12 June the battle became one of attrition. The Germans drove back several Soviet counterattacks, which suffered heavy losses. The LIV Corps extended its salient on the junction of the 3rd and 4th Defence Sectors to a depth of 3,280 yards (3000 m), determined to break through before Petrov could reinforce his lines. The 132nd Division cleared the Haccius Ridge while the 22nd Division overran most of the 79th Naval Infantry Brigade. The Soviet unit attempted a counterattack on 10 June, but was repulsed and was effectively destroyed, with the support of the Luftwaffe, which used anti-personnel bombs against Soviet infantry caught in the open. Only one battalion (the 1/241st Regiment) was in a position to block the Germans from encircling the Maxim Gorky fort. Still, on 8 June the LIV Corps had lost 1,700 men but had extended its lodgement into the Soviet line by 3,280 yards (3000 m) in depth 5,470 yards (5000 m) in width.

In the south, the XXX Corps made no progress in four days of attacks, and suffered 496 casualties at the hands of the 109th Division. Sinnhuber’s 28th leichte Division and Müller-Gebhard’s 72nd Division had succeeded in puncturing the Soviet lines in the sector held by the 109th and 388th Divisions. The outer defences were broken in some parts, but most of the defensive line was still in Soviet hands on 12 June. The main belt on the Sapun Ridge (Sapun-gora) was unbroken. Soviet casualties amounted to 2,500 men, including 700 captured. By 13 June, the XXX Corps had lost 2,659 men including 394 killed. As the Germans continued to make slow progress toward the main railway station, Petrov withdrew the battered 172nd Division and replaced it with the 345th Division. The 95th Division halted the 132nd Division’s progress in the north.

Although a relatively quiet day, 10 June saw the elimination of the 79th Naval Infantry Brigade and LIV Corps lost 2,772 men. Counterattacks by the 345th Division aimed at the hinge between the 132nd Division and 50th Division were repulsed by the Luftwaffe.

On 11/12 June the LIV Corps lost another 1,957 men, but the Soviets had now committed all of their reserves and were stretched to a dangerously thin extent. von Manstein appreciated that one more push might collapse the Soviet hold on the northern sector, but at this time the exhausted German infantry formations were running short of replacements and ammunition. By contrast, the Black Sea Fleet was managing to bring in reinforcements in spite of the Luftwaffe’s efforts. On 12 June the cruiser Molotov and destroyer Bditelnyi brought in 2,314 men, 190 tons of ammunition and 28 pieces of artillery. The Luftwaffe now turned its attentions to these reinforcement convoys. On 13 June it sank the transports Gruzyia and TSch-27, the patrol boat SKA-092, motor launch SP-40, five barges and a floating crane. Even so, on 15 June another 3,400 men, 442 tons of ammunition, 30 tons of fuel and 12 tons of provisions arrived to bolster the Soviet defence.

The Luftwaffe had flown 1,044 sorties on the 11 June, dropping 954 tons of bombs, but his units’ consumption of munitions was putting von Richthofen’s logistical network under strain, and he could no longer afford to fly massed bombing raids. On 11 June, von Richthofen assessed that his force had left to it munitions for less than two days of combat, and this demanded a change of tactics: instead of carpet bombing, fewer targets would be attacked simultaneously, and aircraft would strike at designated targets in long and narrow streams in a tactic designed to maintain accurate pressure without wasting ordnance. Even this failed to alleviate shortages in the long term. By 17 June, the scarcity of fuel meant that the Luftwaffe was able to drop only 800 instead of the planned 1,000 tons of bombs. Adding to the Luftwaffe’s troubles in the sector, von Richthofen was transferred to the north in order to prepare his corps’ headquarters near Kursk support the forthcoming ‘Blau I’ (otherwise 'Braunschweig'), and while he retained notional command formal command, at least until given command of Luftflotte IV, actual control of operations over Sevastopol devolved onto Oberst Wolfgang von Wild, the Fliegerführer ‘Süd’ responsible for all naval aviation in the region.

The primary objective for the 22nd Division on 13 June was the Stalin fort blocking the advance to Severnaya Bay. It was a difficult objective as the fortifications allowed the Soviets to concentrate artillery against breakthroughs, and machine gun posts protected the fort from attacks from the east and south, but it was nonetheless vulnerable to an assault from the north. Moreover, its garrison comprised only 200 men of the 345th Division.

The Germans launched their assault at 03.00 on 13 June with just 813 men. One battalion was to use 200 men for the suppression of the Soviet machine gun and mortar positions located to the south-east, though this was primarily a diversion. Some 110 men of another battalion, supported by five StuG III assault guns, two 37-mm guns and a pioneer company, was to make the main effort. The German bombardment had begun on 12 June. Artillery fire from ‘Dora’ had previously failed to neutralise the fort, but now an attack by 11 420-mm (16.5-in) mortars and dive-bombing by Ju 87 aircraft of the StG 77 knocked out three of the four 3-in (76.2-mm) guns that constituted the fort’s main armament. At 19.00 the 22nd Division’s artillery, augmented by heavier weapons, began to shell the fort and its smaller supporting fortress, Volga, located to Stalin’s rear, with 210-, 280- and 305-mm (8.27-, 11- and 12-in) weapons. At 03.00 the German infantry attacked. The Soviet mortar teams were not suppressed, however, and there developed a fierce battle that lasted to 05.30. Supported by five assault guns and a few 37-mm weapons, the Germans finally silenced the fort on a bunker-by-bunker basis. In the heavy fighting several experienced company commanders were killed.

As the Germans seized the Stalin fort, the garrison of the neighbouring Volga fort realised the fact and shelled the position. A company-sized counterattack by the Soviets was wiped out by German small arms fire. The Germans declared the position secured at 07.00, though some bunkers held out until 15.00. The German casualties totalled 32 dead, 126 wounded and two missing, which was about 50% of the force committed. Soviet casualties amounted to 20 captured, the remainder were killed. With only 91 men left near the fort, Petrov did not order a recovery attempt.

The loss of the Stalin fort meant that the Soviet defences in the north were now on the verge of collapse. Hansen ordered the LIV Corps to switch its focus to the seizure of the Maxim Gorky fort and the destruction of the 95th Division, which had been checking the progress of the 132nd Division since the start of the offensive. The 132nd Division was now reinforced by one regiment of Generalmajor Ernst Haccius’s 46th Division currently awaiting any Soviet developments at the eastern end of Crimea near Kerch. The 24th Division, 50th Division and Romanian 4th Mountain Division were to maintain pressure in the central sector while pushing toward Mekensiya, the Gatani valley and the mouth of the Chernaya river on Severnaya Bay.

During 14/16 June the battle continued as the Axis forces advanced toward Sevastopol in the face of Soviet resistance which was still very determined. On 15 June the 132nd Division was within 985 yards (900 m) of the Maxim Gorky fort’s outer bastion. The front of the 25th Division was still strong, but the northern flank was giving way. The 79th Naval Infantry Brigade had only 35% of its strength remaining. Blocking the way to the Maxim Gorky fort were just 1,000 men of the 95th Division and 7th Naval Infantry Brigade. In the south the 109th and 388th Divisions were forced back along the coast by Müller-Gebhard’s 72nd Division and Sander’s 170th Division while the Romanian Mountain Corps18th Mountain Division dislodged the 386th Division threatening the XXX Corps’ right flank.

The battles continued to 20 June. In six days, the XXX Corps lost 2,646 men but broke the outer defences of the 388th Division and effectively destroyed this formation. Nonetheless, the German advance on Balaklava had been halted: the Germans had not yet reached its outer defences and the Sapun Ridge to the east of the town was still under Soviet control. By 15 June the XXX Corps had captured some 1,000 Soviet soldiers and 1,500 mortar bombs, the latter suggesting that the Soviets had adequate ammunition after two weeks of battle.

Despite its fuel and munitions shortages, the Luftwaffe had played a significant part in the success of the German operations to this date. in the period 13/17 June its aircraft flew 3,899 sorties and dropped 3,086 tons of bombs. This average of 780 sorties per day representing only a slight drop from the figure for the first 11 days of the offensive. Massed sorties were made on the city of Sevastopol, and the bombing targeted hangars, port facilities, flak and artillery batteries, barracks and supply depots. Most of the city was engulfed in flames, the smoke rising to 4,900 ft (1500 m) and streaming downwind to Feodosiya, some 95 miles (150 km) distant.

As Hansen readied his LIV Corps for the breakthrough against the 95th Division, 27 Ju 87 dive-bombers of the II/StG 77 attacked the Maxim Gorky fort’s main battery. The Germans believed the attack had knocked it out as the fort’s artillery ceased fire. The Soviets claimed the fort had withstood the bombing but run out of ammunition. Still, the artillery bombardment began on 16 June. In the morning the attack by the reinforced 132nd Division collapsed the Soviet defence, but the Soviet garrison held out in underground tunnels, capitulating only on 20 June. The 22nd Division and 24th Division advanced from the north-east, and were now able to use their Goliath remote-control demolition vehicles with success against the timber bunkers, though one vehicle exploded prematurely and two others were knocked out by a minefield. Two of the PzKpfw III control vehicles for the tankettes were also knocked out by Soviet anti-tank fire.

By 19.30 the Maxim Gorky, Molotov, Schishkova, Volga and Siberia forts had been overrun. The 24th Division in particular made extensive and effective use of its Nebelwerfer rocket-launchers. The Soviets had now lost their 95th and 172nd Divisions, as well as most of the fortified defences. Only the 25th Division remained in the line, and Petrov pushed forward the 138th Naval Infantry Brigade with an extra 2,600 men. Landed only on 12/13 June, this prevented the Germans from reaching Severnaya Bay on that day.

The Luftwaffe was also busy against the Soviet naval forces, on 18 June severely damaging the flotilla leader Kharkov. On 19 June KG 51’s bombers destroyed the anti-aircraft platform in Severnaya Bay, allowing air operations to continue unheeded. The lack of Soviet anti-aircraft cover now made it impossible for the older light cruiser/minelayer Komintern to enter the harbour with reinforcements. Lack of fresh supplies meant that the Soviet ammunition and fuel levels dropped to critical levels on 20 June. However, the Luftwaffe was experiencing shortages of its own, and the average daily sortie rate fell by 40%. Munitions shortages meant that all ordnance had to be dropped individually to minimise wastage. Some experienced crews had to conduct dive-bombing attacks 25 to 30 times a day, and the KG 51’s Junkers Ju 88 crews in particular were feeling the strain.

Despite the fact that each side was near exhaustion, the continued Axis pressure finally told, and in the period 18/23 June the entire Soviet defence in the north collapsed. The remnants of the 95th Division were compressed into a small area on the coast near Coastal Battery 12, to the north of Severnaya Bay, and at 09.00 the battery and the division surrendered to the 132nd Division. Farther to the south, the 24th Division captured Bartenyevka, on the mouth of the bay. The 22nd Division had reached the northern shore of the bay on the same day. The 138th Naval Infantry Brigade counterattacked, but lacked air and artillery support and was soon destroyed.

On 20 June the 24th Division tackled the main obstacle remaining on the northern side of the bay, the Lenin anti-aircraft position protected by the Northern Fort, a position rendered formidably strong by its 16.5-ft (5-m) wide anti-tank ditch, 1,000 mines, 32 concrete bunkers, seven armoured cupolas, and 70 earth and timber bunkers. The Lenin position’s defences surrendered, having already lost three of their four 76-mm (3-in) weapons. The Germans tried to use Goliath remotely controlled demolition tankettes to break into the North Fort, but these were destroyed by the defences while still short of the Soviet positions. At 11.30 on 21 June the fort fell to a sustained infantry attack, yielding some 182 prisoners.

The Germans now embarked on mopping-up operations and the clearance of the northern shore. Exhausted and out of ammunition, most of the surviving Soviets unit surrendered quickly, but some made attempts at a last stand, and others still tried to cross to the the southern side of the bay by boat, but were picked off by the German artillery.

While the main actions were being fought to a conclusion in the north by the LIV Corps, in the south the XXX Corps alternated between attack and defence. The Soviets held the Sapun Ridge and could observe German movements. On occasion they could deliver effective counter-battery fire. In the period 21/28 June, the Germans lost 10 pieces of artillery, including five 150-mm (5.9-in) howitzers.

In the centre, the Romanian Mountain Corps took up the slack. Supported by 100 guns, its three divisions gradually advanced down the Chernaya river toward its mouth at the eastern end of Severnaya Bay. With support from the LIV Corps on their right, the Romanian forces took all the Soviet defence lines to the east of the Chernaya river.

The Luftwaffe had contributed 4,700 sorties in the period 20/26 June, dropping 3,984 tons of bombs. The daily average sorties had decreased by 15% from the week before and 10% from the week before that. Despite the withdrawal of some major units for the ‘Blau’ offensives, von Wild succeeded in gaining much needed reinforcements to bring the strength levels up to a standard not seen since the start of the offensive. The Luftwaffe was thus able to continued its intense bombardment. On 26 June, its attacks in support of the XXX Corps devastated the Soviet defences on the Sapun Ridge, the final defensive line between the Axis forces and Sevastopol.

As the 11th Army closed on Sevastopol, Iosef Stalin ordered that the most senior commanders, party members and administrative officials be brought out by submarine. Oktyabrsky and Petrov were flown out at the last moment.

On 30 June the LIV Corps launched a major assault, supported by heavy Luftwaffe bombardment and several dozen guns. Heavy fighting took place over the next three days, but it was becoming increasingly clear that the Soviets could not hold their final positions for more than one more day. On 3 July the Axis forces breached the Soviets’ last defensive line, and on the following day overran the final Soviet defences.

With the city finally under German control, all organised resistance collapsed, and the remnants of the garrison fell back westward to the Kersonese peninsula, where on 4 July the Soviets’ main surviving strength, some 30,000 men, finally surrendered, and the last pockets on the peninsula capitulated on 9 July.

The German casualties were in the order of 27,000 men (at least 4,264 killed, 21,626 wounded and 1,522 missing), and the Romanian losses 8,454 men (1,597 killed, 6,571 wounded and 277 missing) for an Axis total of 35,866, while the Soviet casualties were at least 18,000 men killed, 5,000 wounded and 95,000 (two-thirds of them wounded) taken prisoner. The Soviets also lost 460 pieces of artillery.

Only in the extreme south of Crimea was there still Soviet resistance, in the form of partisan forces operating out of the mountains, so the bulk of the 11th Army was now available for further operations. So impressed with the 11th Army’s triumph that he promoted von Manstein to Generalfeldmarschall on 4 July, Adolf Hitler decided that the army should not now be transferred to the Kuban peninsula as originally intended, but rather to the other end of the Eastern Front, where it would undertake the final reduction of Leningrad. General Eugen Ott’s LXII Corps was left as garrison of Crimea while the XXX and LIV Corps moved to the north with all the heavy artillery and four infantry divisions. The 11th Army’s other formations were dispersed as reinforcements to points as diverse as Smolensk and Crete.

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This comprised Generalmajor Ludwig Wolff’s 22nd Division, Generalmajor Hans Graf von Tettnau’s 24th Division, Generalmajor Friedrich Schmidt’s 50th Division and Generalmajor Fritz Lindemann’s 132nd Division.
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This comprised Generalleutnant Johann Sinnhuber’s 28th leichte Division (from 1 July 28th Jägerdivision), Generalleutnant Philipp Müller-Gebhard’s 72nd Division and Generalmajor Erwin Sander’s 170th Division.
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This comprised General de brigadâ Constantin Vasiliu-Rascanu’s 1st Mountain Division, General de brigadâ Gheorghe Manoliu’s 4th Mountain Division and General de brigadâ Radu Baldescu’s 18th Division.