Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Crimea Campaign (April–May 1944)

Two-month campaign in April and May 1944 that resulted in the Soviet liberation of the Crimean Peninsula, an area that dominates the northern Black Sea and is connected with Ukraine by the 4-mile-wide Perekop isthmus. As Soviet operations around Kursk drew to an end, Generals of the Army Fedor I. Tolbukhin and Rodion Malinovsky received instructions to prepare an offensive for mid-August 1943 to clear the Donets Basin region of German troops.

By the winter of 1943, German Army Groups South and A (together numbering 93 divisions) still held a line along the Dnieper River. The German Seventeenth Army held the Crimea but had been isolated from other Wehrmacht units north of it since October. The isolation of the Seventeenth Army was accomplished by Major General Nikolai I. Trufarov as commander of the Soviet Fifty-First Army of Tolbukhin's 4th Ukrainian Front, which was at Perekop and along the Sivash, and General of the Army Andrei Yeremenko's Independent Coastal Army in Kerch. Indeed, the plight of German forces in the south was such that Army Groups South and A had to be reformed. On 5 April 1944, they were redesignated as Army Groups North Ukraine and South Ukraine, respectively.

Malinovsky's 3rd Ukrainian Front recaptured Nikolaiev on 28 March and then drove toward Odessa, which it retook on 10 April. Meanwhile, on 22 March, Romanian dictator General Ion Antonescu had flown to Berlin in an effort to persuade Adolf Hitler to allow his Romanian forces to withdraw from the Crimea. As might have been expected, the mission was futile. Hitler was determined to hold the Crimea, for in Soviet hands, it would serve as a base from which Soviet aircraft could attack the Romanian oil fields at Ploesti.

Tolbukhin's 4th Ukrainian Front was assigned the task of destroying Colonel General Erwin Jänecke's Seventeenth Army, a mixed force of 11 German and Romanian divisions, totaling some 150,000 men. In March, Tolbukhin had been summoned to meet with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and the chief of the General Staff, Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky, to discuss the plan. The Crimean operation would involve the 4th Ukrainian Front, the Independent Coastal Army, the Azov Flotilla, and the Black Sea Fleet. Tolbukhin would attack across the Perekop isthmus and through the Sivash lagoon using Lieutenant General Georgii F. Zakharov's Second Guards Army and Lieutenant General Iakov G. Kreizer's Fifty-First Army. Follow-up attacks would target Simferopol and Sevastopol. Simultaneously, General Yeremenko would establish a bridgehead on the Kerch Peninsula and block the German escape route as well as German attempts to reinforce against Tolbukhin. Colonel General T. T. Khryukin's Eighth Air Army would support Tolbukhin, and Colonel General Konstantin A. Vershinin's Fourth Air Army would back Yeremenko. In all, the operation would involve 450,000 Soviet personnel.

On 8 April, Tolbukhin's artillery opened the attack at Perekop, followed by an artillery barrage at Sivash. Soviet engineers, working waist-deep in icy water, constructed a pontoon bridge. The next day, Yeremenko attacked from Kerch. On 11 April, Soviet forces reached the railroad junction at Dzhankoy, behind the Perekop isthmus.

On 12 April, Jänecke ordered his divisions to retreat toward Sevastopol from two prepared lines of defense stretching some 20 miles. This step occurred without Hitler's formal approval. Jänecke's forces reached Sevastopol in surprisingly good order, and he hoped to hold there until his forces could be evacuated by sea. By 13 April, Tolbukhin's troops had captured Simferopol, and Yeremenko had secured Feodosia and Yalta.

In the meantime, from 18 April, the Soviets built up their forces and artillery in preparation to storm the fortress defenses of Sevastopol, which stretched some 25 miles. These preparations were completed by 5 May, the starting date of the final battle to liberate the Crimea. At the end of April, Hitler had decided that Sevastopol had to be held, but its defenses were much weaker than they had been in 1941 when the Germans had attacked there. Also, Jänecke had only five weak divisions and little equipment. Because of Jänecke's repeated requests that his forces be evacuated, Hitler replaced him on 2 May with General der Infanterie (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general) Karl Allmendinger.

On 5 May, the Soviet Second Guards Army attacked from north of Sevastopol via the Belbel Valley. This attack was, however, diversionary; the main Soviet attack occurred on 7 May, pitting the Fifty-First Army and the Independent Coastal Army against Sapun Ridge separating Sevastopol from the Inkerman Valley. Soviet forces broke through the German lines, forcing the defenders from the old English cemetery. The Germans then retreated to the Chersonese subpeninsula.

Only on 9 May, with both the city and harbor in Soviet hands, did Hitler authorize an evacuation. The remnants of the German-Romanian force attempted to hold a dock at Kherson. However, any German hopes for a final evacuation by sea were dashed by Soviet air and naval operations. Consequently, on 13 May, the remaining Axis troops surrendered to the Red Army. Soviet authorities put total German losses in the Crimea Campaign at 50,000 killed (most all of them Germans) and 61,000 taken prisoner (30,000 of them at Chersonese). The Germans admitted to having 60,000 men lost; regardless, another German army had been destroyed.

Neville Panthaki

Further Reading
Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984.; Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Ed. and trans. Anthony G. Powell. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1958.; Werth, Alexander. Russia at War, 1941–1945. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1964.

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