Note: As we approach the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, we are releasing more material related to this epic conflict so important to Russia’s collective memory.
This article originally appeared on Report on Russia and India
The Crimean Offensive of 1944, which saw the victorious advance of the Red Army and the rout of the Germans, has been called unique by historians, and one of the 10 critical “blows” delivered by (Joseph ) Stalin in World War II, which destroyed (Adolf) Hitler. It began on April 8 and ended in mid-May, when the German-Romanian 17th Army (Group A) was completely destroyed and the Soviet Union regained control of this strategically crucial region.
“Wind, snow, rain, mud… sappers, soldiers waist deep in freezing water were building bridges, then repairing them after they were broken by storms. All this was done under heavy enemy fire and bombs. A titanic task…” is how Boris Bozhedomov, a military historian at the Research Institute of the Military Academy, described the battle. He was speaking at a roundtable to commemorate the anniversary of the operation.
It described the efforts of the Red Army to force the shallow Gulf of Sivash, separating the northern part of Crimea from the mainland controlled by Soviet troops. To cross this gulf, the Red Army built bridges more than a mile long, in dangerous conditions.
As historians pointed out, German forces were desperately trying to hold on to Crimea. Despite the fact that German troops on the peninsula were cut off from the mainland in the fall of 1943, Hitler refused to evacuate his soldiers and his Allied armies.
Mikhail Myagkov, scientific director of the Russian Military Historical Society, said Soviet leaders were aware of the crucial strategic importance of this operation.
In Germany, they hoped that German soldiers would emulate the feat of Soviet troops in 1941-1942. At that time, the Germans had taken 250 days to capture Crimea, with the assault on Sevastopol lasting 30 days, while Soviet troops then liberated all of Crimea in just 35 days and Sevastopol was recaptured in just 4 days.
secret concentration of forces
Before the 1944 offensive, the strength of the Red Army was reinforced with superior equipment and improved manpower. The Soviet group consisted of approximately 470,000 soldiers, compared to 200,000 German and Romanian soldiers.
However, in order to take advantage of this strength, the troops first had to secretly concentrate in the two areas where the attacks would take place – Perekopa (in the north) and Kerch (in the southeast of the peninsula), using the heads of bridge previously taken from the enemy on these sites.
However, as Bozhedomov pointed out, the enemy was aware that, given the impossibility of a large-scale landing (tens of thousands of troops could not be secretly infiltrated), these were the only directions of possible attacks, and was working on preparations to repel them. Nevertheless, Soviet troops quietly managed, unbeknownst to the Nazis, to concentrate a significant number of troops, including an armored corps, in a relatively small area.
The main attack came from Perekopa. The second was in the direction of Kerch, which was recaptured on April 11. Within days, Soviet troops broke through the German defenses – on both sides, and the enemy began to retreat. By mid-April, Soviet troops were near Sevastopol. Two hasty attempts to break through the enemy defenses failed, and so began preparations for a full-scale assault, which began on May 5 and ended on May 9.
As a result of this operation, the German-Romanian forces lost 140,000 men, about half of whom became prisoners. The losses of the Red Army amount to 17,000 men, killed in action.
According to Sergei Chennyk, editor-in-chief of the magazine “Military Crimea”, the Crimean operation demonstrated the epitome of combat experience that the Red Army had gained at that time. According to him, this “decisive operation” was followed by a series of continuous victories. One of the ten “coups”, or successful strategic offensives carried out by the Red Army in 1944, which led to the complete defeat of Nazi Germany.
The operation itself was distinguished by a high degree of motorization; the Red Army advanced rapidly, the soldiers barely having to move on foot.
The Crimean Liberation Operation was also notable for the geography of the peninsula itself; assimilated to an impregnable medieval fortress, surrounded on all sides by moats.
Nevertheless, Soviet troops managed to recapture this fortress in record time. As historians point out, this operation opened the way to the Balkans for the Red Army, while the heavy losses suffered by the Romanian troops led this country, a few months later, to renounce its alliance with Germany and to join the anti-Hitler coalition.