Tuapse Defensive Operation

The 'Tuapse Defensive Operation' was the Soviet sixth of the seven sub-operations together constituting the 'North Caucasian Strategic Defensive Operation' (25 September/20 December 1942).

The undertaking was fought on the Soviet side by General Polkovnik Yakov T. Cherevichenko’s (from 17 October General Leytenant Ye. Petrov’s) Black Sea Group of Forces of General Ivan V. Tyulenev’s Trans-Caucasus Front, and can be divided into two periods: the first, between 25 September and 23 October, comprised the German offensive within the context of 'Edelweiss' and departure to the line connecting the Pshish river, Mt Semashkho and the villages of Shaumyan and Goyth; and the second, between 23 October and 20 December, comprised the counter-offensive of General Major Andrei A. Grechko’s 18th Army and the German attempt to develop success in the area of ​​Mt Semashkho and toward the village of Georgievskoye.

The Black Sea Group of Forces comprised Grechko’s 18th Army, General Major Aleksandr I. Ryzhov’s 56th Army, General Leytenant Nikolai I. Kirichenko’s 12th Army (until 20 September) and General Leytenant Sergei K. Goryunov’s 5th Air Force.

The German forces involved in this part of 'Edelweiss' were formations of Generaloberst Richard Ruoff’s 17th Army and were General Maximilian de Angelis’s XLIV Corps, General Friedrich Kirchner’s LVII Panzerkorps, parts of General Rudolf Konrad’s XLIX Gebirgskorps and Generalmajor (from 1 December Generalleutnant) Hubert Lanz’s 1st Gebirgsdivision, and air support was provided by Generaloberst Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen’s Luftflotte IV.

In the first period of the 'Tuapse Defensive Operation' between 10 August and 25 November, the German capture of Armavir on 6 August paved the way to the German attempt to seize Tuapse as the first stage of a proposed advance to the south-east along the coast of the Black Sea to Sukhumi and thence Batumi close to the Soviet border with Turkey. On the day before the fall of Armavir the Soviet supreme command, knowing that the loss of Armavir was imminent, ordered Budyonny that 'In connection with the advance [of the Germans], operating from the region of Armavir, to capture Maykop and then to reach the Black Sea coast at Tuapse, [he was] immediately and firmly to cover the area of ​​Maykop and the Maykop-Tuapse road in order to deny [the Germans] the opportunity to advance from the route linking Armavir and Maykop and reach the Black Sea coast.'

On 6 August Kamkov, commander of the 18th Army, was instructed to cover the flank of the 56th Army with the forces of General Major Aleksandr M. Plamenevsky’s 216th Division. At the same time, the front started to regrouping its forces in the Maykop area. Major General Konstantin I. Provalov’s 383rd Division and Polkovnik Gelb N. Korchikov’s 236th Division were to be redeployed to a new defensive line by any and all possible means including horse-drawn as well as motorised vehicles. The former division was to take position in the area of ​​Khadyzhenskaya station, and the latter in the area of Maykop. Both divisions were to reach their new positions by 8 August at the latest.

On 9 August, the order was changed: the 383rd Division was to head for Belorechenskaya, and the 236th Division to take up defensive position behind the 383rd division. The object of this deployment was to prevent the Germans from advancing on Tuapse from Belorechenskaya. On the same day, the XVII Cavalry Corps, at that time commanded by Kirichenko’s, was rapidly redeployed between the Laba river and the Belay rivers with the task of crushing any German advance in the direction of Belorechenskaya and Maykop. The new defence position was based on the village of Kelermesskaya, Giaginskaya station and the villages of Mokro-Nazarov and Vorontsovo-Dashkovsky. On the right, in the area of ​​the village of Makhoshevskaya, were the remnants of General Major Mikhail M. Shapovalov’s I Corps.

The XVII Corps' defending divisions came under attack from 30 German tanks and the motorised infantry of SS-Gruppenführer Felix Steiner’s SS Division 'Wiking' advancing from the area of ​​the villages of Yaroslavskaya and Kostroma. The Germans infiltrated the corps' left flank on the Maykop axis, and at the same time the Germans tried to break through between the villages of Kelermesskaya and Giaginskaya at the junction of the 12th Cavalry Division and 13th Cavalry Division with six tanks and 28 armoured personnel carriers. To the left of the 15th Division, 50 tanks and motorised infantry attacked. After checking the Germans, who suffered significant losses, the corps' divisions began to withdraw to the left bank of the Belaya river, but at 18.30 on the same day the Germans broke into the north-eastern outskirts of Maykop.

On the morning of 10 August, Tyulenev received from Moscow a categorical order: 'As a result of the current situation, the most important and dangerous situation for the North Caucasus Front and the Black Sea Group of Forces at the moment is the axis from Maykop to Tuapse. When the [Germans] enter the Tuapse area, the 47th Army and all of the front’s forces in the Krasnodar area will be cut off and taken prisoner. Immediately transfer [Polkovnik M. T. Tikhonov’s] 32nd Guards Division from the 47th Army to join [Polkovnik Gelb N. Korchikov’s] 236th Division, and in no situation, under your personal responsibility, allow the [Germans] to reach Tuapse.' This order triggered the start of the 'Tuapse Defensive Operation'.

Attempts by elements of the 12th Army, 18th Army and XVII Cavalry Corps to check, if not to halt, the momentum of the offensive by the LII Panzerkorps and XLIV Corps in the period between 10 and 16 August constituted the most intense and dramatic period of the August battles in Kuban. The German forces totalled 162,400 men, 147 tanks and assault guns, 1,316 pieces of artillery and 950 mortars, and the operations of the ground forces were supported by 350 warplanes of General Kurt Pflugbeil’s IV Fliegerkorps of Luftflotte IV. These forces were arrayed primarily along the bank of the Belaya river. On the other side of the river, on 10 August the Soviet forces along the 60-mile (100-km) distance from the village of Verbin to Maykop were the remnants of the 16th Brigade, the 68th Brigade and the 81st Brigade on the left flank; four already hard-hit cavalry divisions of the XVII Cavalry Corps in the centre; and the formations of the 18th Army on the right. These last were General Major Mikhail I. Ozimin’s 31st Division and the 383rd Division, the slowly advancing 236th Division, the remnants of the 9th Division with only about 150 men, and the training battalions of General Major Stanislav A. Ivanovsky’s Uryupinsk Infantry School.

The front focused its attention primarily on the area held by he Cossack cavalry divisions, but not only because the approach of the German motorised units was expected here. Between this area and the crossings of the Belaya river, a very large mass of civilians with belongings and livestock heading pell-mell to the river’s fords. Military units and separate unorganised groups of the remnants of the 4th, 74th, 176th, 230th, 261st and 318th Divisions, as well as the 30th Cavalry Division, the 113rd Brigade and 138th Brigade, the 69th Fortified Area and 151st Fortified Areas, and the sundry remnants of artillery and mortar divisions. All this mass of constantly retreating and often panicking persons moved through the defenders, exerting a significantly adverse influence on the morale of the fighting formations and units, and also interfering with the creation and strengthening of an effective defence.

On 10 and 11 August, the Germans tried to force the river at a strength of 100 armoured vehicles and three motorised divisions in the form of Generalleutnant Ernst Rupp’s 97th Jägerdivision, Generalleutnant Erich Diestel’s 101st Jägerdivision and the SS Division 'Wiking'. The Soviet situation was further complicated by the fact that on 9 August the Germans had taken Krasnodar. On 10, 11 and 12 August the formations of the 56th Army attempted to prevent the Germans from crossing the Kuban river. Even at this stage, the Soviet appreciation of German intentions was that they planned to advance into the foothills of the Caucasus mountains main ridge and beyond, through the passes to the settlement of Dzhubga.

On 12 August, preceded by massive artillery and mortar barrages, supplemented by air raids, German tank and mechanised formations and units broke through the defences of the XVII Cavalry Corps and the 18th Army, and pressed forward on two axes: one to Khadyzhenskaya station and the other to the upper reaches of the Pshekha and Maratuk rivers in pursuit of the retreating Soviet forces. During the morning of 13 August, German armour approached Kabardinskaya station.

The Tuapse area was seen by the Soviets as being so important that the 32nd Guards Division was transferred to it from the Novorossiysk region.

On 14 and 15 August, the Germans tried to break into the village of Khadyzhensky, and from this to the station of the same name. By this time the Soviet front command was creating a consolidated detachment out of the remnants of the 967th Regiment, 182nd Reserve Regiment and an army reserve battalion, and this assumed a good defensive position in the area of Khadyzhenskaya station.

On 16 August, during a battle with German armour and motorised infantry in the village of Khadyzhensky, two battalions of the 236th Division’s 818th Regiment were destroyed. On the same day, in the course of fierce hand-to-hand fighting, battalions of the 81st Naval Brigade in the area of ​​the villages of Shugai and Kura-Tsice defeated a regiment of General II Treidy Jozef Turanec’s Slovak Mobile Division. This prevented the German attempt to break through to Khadyzhenskaya station from the rear. The consolidated detachment successfully repelled the Axis attacks, killing as many as 500 men and destroying their regimental headquarters.

What cannot be denied is the fact that the Soviet ability to stabilise the situation in the Tuapse area was facilitated by the transfer of Generaloberst Ewald von Kleist’s 1st Panzerarmee to the Grozny area and the redeployment of other German elements in the Novorossiysk area.

On 22 August, the 32nd Guards Division was shifted to a position centred on Khadyzhenskaya station, and all the German efforts to break through its defences failed. The fighting then assumed the character of local tactical undertakings until 25 September. On the left flank, by the beginning of 20 August, the 20th Division, 30th Division, 349th Division and 395th Divisions, as well as the remnants of the 76th Naval Brigade, had brought to a halt the drives of Generalleutnant Rudolf von Bünau’s 73rd Division, Generalleutnant Willi Schneckenburger’s 125th Division, Generalleutnant Ludwig Müller’s 198th Division and the Slovak Mobile Division, and all routes through Pyatigorsk and Khrebtovy passes had been sealed. In the rear of the 56th Army’s first-line formations, second-line formations blocked the roads and paths to the Black Sea coast, Polkovnik Fyedor S. Kolchuk’s 353rd Division had taken up position. Here on the left flank, events now declined to the level of local tactical operations until 25/26 September.

On the Soviet defence’s right flank, along the upper reaches of the Maratuk and Pshekha rivers, all the German attempts to break through the defences of the 31st Division, 11th Guards Cavalry Division, one regiment of the 236th Division and battalions of the Uryupinsk Military Infantry School, and thereby force the Khakuch pass in the direction of Lazarevskaya station failed until December 1942. Thus failed all German hopes of reaching the coast of the Black Sea in the area of Tuapse during August. The August failures in front of Tuapse had a dramatic effect on the careers of three senior German commanders, two of them Generalfeldmarschälle and one a Generaloberst.

In the second half of September, the Oberkommando des Heeres developed the plan for the 'Attika' offensive in which Heeresgruppe 'A', under the direct command of the Oberkommando des Heeres from 10 September, would break out of the so-called 'Gotenkopf' bridgehead on the Taman peninsula, which had been secured in the 'Blücher II' amphibious assault from Kerch on 2 September and advance to the south-east along the coast of the Black Sea to Tuapse. This undertaking was designed to restore the impetus of the stalled 'Blau III' toward the oilfields at Maykop and the Caucasus mountains between Maykop and the oilfields at Baku on the Caspian Sea side of the mountains. Lanz’s 1st Gebirgsdivision and Generalleutnant Karl Eglseer’s (from 22 October Generalleutnant Hermann Kress’s 4th Gebirgsdivision of Konrad’s XLIX Gebirgskorps, Generalmajor Ernst Haccius’s 46th Division, battalions of three foreign legions and several special forces units arrived from the region of Mt Elbrus region to the area of Tuapse. The men of two infantry, two Jäger divisions and two motorised divisions were substantially reinforced and re-equipped for the undertaking, and much of Luftflotte IV was committed. The operation was to be led by Lanz as the commander of the Tuapse assault group.

The situation in the second period of the 'Tuapse Defensive Operation', which started on 20 August, was prefaced by the somewhat strange situation which developed for the Germans after their capture of Novorossiysk, for they could not make use of Novorossiysk’s port as the 47th Army still held east coast of Tsemesskaya Bay. This persuaded the German high command to attempt the encirclement and/or isolation of the 47th Army by taking Tuapse. Thus the Germans opted to transfer formations made available by the seizure of Novorossiysk, as well as the so-called Gruppe 'Lanz' of the XLIX Gebirgskorps to this area.

During the afternoon of 23 September, the Germans deluged the defensive positions of the 56th Army with artillery fire. In the sector of General Major Boris N. Arshintsev’s 30th Division, the Germans fired 5,000 shells and mortar bombs, supplemented by the bombs of 32 warplanes, to soften the Soviet defences before launching an attack based on two infantry battalions. In the sector of Polkovnik A I. Petrakovsky’s 395th Division, after a major artillery preparation and a raid by 75 aircraft, the Germans committed as many as 3.5 infantry regiments, five medium tanks and 11 light tanks and armoured vehicles to the attack. Both the Germans efforts were repulsed. On the right flank of the 18th Army, the Germans followed the standard artillery bombardment and air attack with a drive that hard pressed the 236th Division’s 968th Regiment and seized the Belaya Glina and Chervyakovo farms.

In the central sector, in the area of ​Khadyzhenskaya station, everything did not proceed as planned by the Germans. On the night of 20/21 September, the 32nd Guards Division itself took the offensive with the support of the 465th Penal Company and a sub-machine gun unit. The men of the penal company attacked the height occupied by the Germans and drove them back some 440 yards (400 m), and then held their position on 24 and 25 September. This made it possible for the Soviets to remove 183 chemical bombs from no man’s land, an undertaking which had not been possible in August.

It was during the morning of 25 September that the Germans began their own offensive operation, and this was the date used in Soviet accounts of the 'Great Patriotic War' as the beginning of the 'Tuapse Defensive Operation'. The second period of the 'Tuapse Defensive Operation' was characterised by the bloody nature of the fighting, especially that of the central sector. Early in October, the German took the village of Shahumyan. On 19/20 October, the Germans caught Polkovnik P. N. Kitsuk’s 408th Division in a pincer movement, and in the next two days the division was effectively destroyed in the valley of the Pshish river. In the same period, however, the Germans failed to break through the Goytkh pass, where the 107th Brigade offered a notably tough defence.

On 23 October. a German battalion pressing hard on the heels of the 408th Division’s retreating remnants reached the summit of Mt Semashkho, from which Tuapse is visible. Only a matter of hours later, however, the German battalion was driven back and down by the 353rd Division’s 1147th Regiment. In the course of the next four days, the 8th Brigade, 9th Guards Brigade, 10th Brigade and 165th Brigade were redeployed to the central sector of the 18th Army’s sector, and on 28 October the 10th brigade launched a counterattack in the upper reaches of the Pshish river. On the left flank, by the end of September the Germans had managed to break through to the villages of Bezymyannoye and Fanagoriyskoye, which they captured and then advanced farther in the upper reaches of the river. The Germans could not take Psekups in the rear of the 18th Army as the battalions of the 76th Marine Brigade had closed the valley. The Germans failed to drive back the battalions of the 395th Division, entrenched on the heights of the Kachkanov ridge. As before, units of the 30th Division in the valley of the Kaverze river, covered the exit from the Pozvonochnik pass and checked the Germans. On the Soviet right flank, in the area of Lazarevskoye, there was no conclusive end to the fighting. The 46th Army transferred the 67th Mountain Regiment and an infantry Brigade to this sector, and the Germans bided their time in the valleys of the Maratuk and Pshekha rivers.

At the end of October, the 56th Army was reinforced by the arrival of the 83rd Naval Brigade, and early in November, the 255th Marine Brigade reached the junction of the 18th Army and 56th Army, quickly checking the German offensive from the western spurs of Saray-Gora. On 8 November Petrov, the commander of the Black Sea Group of Forces, defined the 18th Army’s tasks in the upcoming offensive operation, and for the successful implementation of this task Polkovnik Aleksandr A. Luchinsky’s 83rd Mountain Division was transferred from the General Major Sergei G. Trofimenko’s 53rd Army of Tyulenev’s Trans-Caucasus Front. One special-purpose regiment, one separate special-purpose officer battalion, one marine battalion and four Baku mountain detachments were sent to the central sector.

By 20 November, the Germans had been brought to a halt, and five days later the entire central sector of the 18th Army went over to the offensive, so ending the 'Tuapse Defensive Operation' and starting the 'Tuapse Offensive Operation'.

The 'Tuapse Offensive Operation' was aimed at the destruction of two German groupings known to the Soviets as the 'Goytkhskaya grouping' and 'Semashkhovskaya grouping'. In difficult conditions, with the snow lying 10 ft (3 m) deep in the river gorges and as much as 5 ft (1.5 m) on the hill and mountain sides, it was pointless to attempt wide-ranging offensive operations. Thus it was only by 25 December 25 that the 'Semashkhovskaya grouping' was destroyed by the offensive operations of the 56th Army and the Lazarevsk Group of Forces. In January 1943, the 32nd Guards Division and the formations of General Major Veniamin A. Gaidukov’s XVI Corps went over to the offensive. Thus the liberation of Kuban began from the Tuapse area.