CHAPTER 7

The German Occupation of the Crimea, 1942–44

“The Crimea should be freed from all foreigners and inhabited by Germans.”

Adolf Hitler, July 19, 1941

“The Judaeo-Bolshevik system should be destroyed once and for all, so that it never threatens our vital European space … the [German] soldier should understand the necessity of punishing the Jews – the carriers of the very spirit of Bolshevik Terror.”

Erich von Manstein, Top Secret Directive to AOK 11, November 20, 1941

The Wehrmacht did not come to the Crimea to liberate its population, but to take control over a region that was regarded as having strategic, military, and economic value, and then exploit it for the benefit of the Third Reich. Hitler was particularly adamant that those members of the local population who were designated enemies of the Third Reich – Jews, Gypsies, communists, and “uncooperative Slavs” – would be eliminated, while the survivors would be put to work repairing war damage and paving the way for German colonization of the Crimea. Generalplan Ost, the master plan for ethnic cleansing in the Soviet Union, envisioned the elimination of two-thirds of the Ukrainian population within a few decades after a German victory and their replacement by Volksdeutsche colonists. Hitler envisioned the Crimea as eventually being transformed into “Gotengau”: a Germans-only Black Sea resort, with autobahns being built by forced labor to provide access for German tourists in a future post-war world. There was no room in this exalted vision of the Crimea for non-Germans, so their removal became an important prerequisite to realize Hitler’s dream.

As AOK 11 moved into the Crimea in November 1941, it was followed by SS-Gruppenführer Otto Ohlendorf’s Einsatzgruppe D. This 600-man unit (not including local auxiliaries) was already responsible for the murder of over 40,000 civilians in Ukraine during the first four months of Operation Barbarossa. Although some German sources have attempted to portray Einsatzgruppe activity as unrelated to Wehrmacht operations, Einsatzgruppe D was attached directly to AOK 11 and was dependent upon it for logistical support. The Korück 553 (Commander Army Rear Areas) under Generalleutnant Heinrich Döhla, which was established to operate the logistical network behind Manstein’s AOK 11 in the Crimea, regularly provided resources to Einsatzgruppe D. Furthermore, Manstein issued his top secret directive to AOK 11’s senior leadership on November 20, 1941, which identified Jews and Bolsheviks as one and the same and directed his troops to cooperate with repressive measures. Ohlendorf also met with Manstein and his staff frequently, both for coordination purposes and social reasons – Ohlendorf and Manstein both enjoyed playing bridge. There was also a certain amount of horse-trading between the Wehrmacht and the SS: Ohlendorf would ask Manstein for trucks and ammunition to support his “special actions,” while Manstein asked Ohlendorf to provide AOK 11 with winter clothing and wristwatches from the victims.

When the Germans first entered the Crimea, the region’s population numbered just under one million, of which roughly 65,000–85,000 were considered Jews under Nazi legal statutes.1 There were two small sub-groups, the Krymchaks (whom the SS regarded as Jews) and the Karaites (whom the SS designated as non-Jews), who had adopted elements of Tatar language and customs. Initially, Ohlendorf had to send half his small unit to support Kleist’s push towards Rostov, and entered the Crimea with two company-size Sonderkommandos. He set up his group command post in Simferopol, not far from Manstein’s headquarters, just two weeks after AOK 11 occupied the city. Given the small numbers of personnel he had at his disposal, he spent the first week gathering information about the Jewish population and communist sympathizers in the Crimea. Ohlendorf was quick to note in his regular reports to Berlin that the local Tatars were “positively inclined towards the German occupying forces” and willing to provide information about the Reich’s enemies. It was at this point that the memory of OZET and the Red Terror hung like a noose about the neck of the Jewish community in the Crimea.

Ohlendorf moved first against Feodosiya and Kerch, which had only recently been cleared of Red Army units. In Feodosiya, Ohlendorf’s men began registering and then liquidating about 1,000 persons over the course of a few weeks, but in Kerch he began the Crimean Holocaust in earnest. All Jews in Kerch were ordered to report to Haymarket Square in the center of the city for registration on November 29, 1941. About 7,000 civilians went to the square and were promptly arrested. Women and girls who were particularly attractive were separated from the group and detained elsewhere; they were raped by men from the SS Sonderkommando, and then shot. The bulk of the arrested population were moved by trucks borrowed from the XLII Armeekorps to Bagerovo, 2½ miles west of Kerch, on December 1. There, the SS had set up an execution area in an abandoned Red Army antitank ditch. On a crisp December morning, with the ground lightly dusted with snow, the SS brought groups of civilians to the ditch, shot them, and tossed the bodies in. Approximately 7,000 civilians were murdered by Ohlendorf’s men at Bagerovo. As usual, there were a few survivors who escaped. By chance, this area was liberated by Soviet troops just a month later – before the Germans had the opportunity to conceal evidence – and they found the antitank ditch, “for the length of a kilometre, four meters wide and to a depth of two meters, filled with dead bodies of women, children, the elderly, and adolescents. Near the trench there were frozen puddles of blood. The area was also littered with children’s hats, toys, ribbons, torn-off buttons, gloves, bottles with nipples, shoes, galoshes, arms, legs, and other body parts. All this was splattered with blood and brains.”2

After Kerch, Ohlendorf concentrated his personnel for a major action against the Jewish population and communists in the Simferopol area. Ohlendorf requested military police, 25 trucks, and ammunition from Korück 553 in order to conduct the operation, and Generalleutnant Döhla provided them. A company of military policemen from Feldgendarmerie-Abteilung 683 were to help round up Jews in Simferopol and then secure the execution site, located at an old Soviet antitank ditch 9 miles northeast of Simferopol, while 20 personnel from Gruppe Geheime Feldpolizei 647 (Secret Field Police) were chosen to assist the executioners. Ohlendorf put Sturmbannführer Werner Braune and his Sonderkommando 11b in charge of the operation at Simferopol. The round-ups began in Simferopol in early December, and Braune’s unit executed approximately 1,500 Krymchaks and 600 Gypsies on December 9–10. However, the main killing began on December 13, and continued for several days. The total number of civilians murdered at Simferopol was approximately 12,000–14,000. Not only did Wehrmacht troops participate in the massacres, but army leaders described the liquidation of the Simferopol Jews as “necessary” in order to avoid famine in the Crimea.3 Although some Jews went into hiding, they were often betrayed by Crimean Tatars or other minorities who resented the loss of farmland to OZET in the 1930s. In his report to Berlin on January 2, 1942, Ohlendorf claimed that Einsatzgruppe D had executed 21,185 people in the Crimea between November 16 and December 15, 1941.4 In addition to Jews and Gypsies, the SS also eliminated at least 212 Communist Party members and former officials rounded up near Simferopol. Since Einsatzgruppe D had no counterintelligence capabilities or ability to sort out local loyalties, the SD dispatched 700 personnel to the Crimea in December 1941.

Once Simferopol was “pacified,” Ohlendorf moved on to Yalta, which had only a small Jewish population. Lidiya I. Chyernih, a 14-year-old girl in Yalta, remembered that the SS detachment ordered the Jews to assemble on the embankment, where they were shot. A number of Komsomol members and communists were also hanged on the embankment.5 Chyernih noted that some of the executioners were Tatars and former Russian policemen. It is estimated that the SS murdered about 1,500 civilians in Yalta on December 18. Thereafter, Ohlendorf and his Sonderkommando appear to have taken a Christmas holiday for more than a week, while they left Feldgendarmerie to round up the Jews in Feodosiya, with help from an infantry platoon.6 Officials from Korück 553 apparently complained to Ohlendorf about a forgotten displaced-persons camp at Dzhankoy, which was still drawing rations at a time when food was very short in AOK 11. Ohlendorf promptly sent a Sonderkommando, which shot 455 Jews at the camp. AOK 11 expressed its gratitude for the expeditious response. Ohlendorf even claimed that the executions were popular with the non-Jewish population in the Crimea: “In general, the shooting of the Jews has been positively received after the initial fear of similar treatment for the rest of the population has subsided.”

The Soviet amphibious landings at Kerch, Feodosiya, and Yevpatoriya temporarily put Einsatzgruppe D’s activities on hold. After the landing at Yevpatoriya was crushed in January 1942, teams from Einsatzgruppe D and the SD were sent into the city to make an example of civilians who had assisted the Soviet landing force. About 1,300 civilians were rounded up – Jews, Ukrainians, and Russians – and executed. Thereafter, Einsatzgruppe D continued with its ethnic-cleansing operations in the Crimea, but AOK 11 increasingly called upon these professional executioners to inflict punitive measures upon non-Jews who cooperated with either the partisans or the Red Army. Terror became part of the Wehrmacht’s panoply of tools, just like Karl or Dora, to crush all forms of resistance in the Crimea. In the last two weeks of February, Ohlendorf claimed that his group shot 1,515 people, including 729 Jews, 271 communists, 74 partisans, and 421 Gypsies or other “anti-social elements.” Although the Holocaust would continue in the Crimea until the Soviet liberation in 1944, the SS confidently reported on April 16, 1942 that, “Die Krim ist judenfrei” (the Crimea is Jew-free). Only Sevastopol remained to be cleansed of enemies of the Reich. In fact, the SD killed 1,029 Jews and 11 communists in Kerch in July 1942, and was still finding holdouts months later.7

Ohlendorf left the Crimea before the fall of Sevastopol and most of Einsatzgruppe D followed the army into the Caucasus, but the SS and SD retained a strong presence in the occupied Crimea. Although the Wehrmacht established military Ortskommandantur (OK) in each occupied city in the Crimea, the real power was SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Ludolf von Alvensleben. A scion of Saxon aristocracy, Alvensleben had been an early adherent to the Nazi cause, joining the party and the SA in 1929, then the SS in 1934. He rose quickly in the SS hierarchy and took to the ethnic-cleansing mission with relish; he helped to orchestrate the first large-scale murder of civilians in Poland in October 1939. In 1941, Alvensleben was involved in organizing forced labor in Ukraine in an effort to get the region working for the Third Reich. When he arrived in Sevastopol in August 1942, Alvensleben was put in charge of all SS-Police units in the Crimea and was responsible for rooting out any remaining enemies of the Reich. Forced labor and “special actions” were his tools of choice. It was also part of his mandate to begin adapting the Crimea for German colonization.

The occupied Crimea was reorganized in August 1942 as the Generalbezirk Krim (General District) and subordinated to the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. The Austrian Nazi leader Alfred Frauenfeld was put in charge of the Generalbezirk Krim, which he operated as a semi-independent personal fiefdom. Frauenfeld was less vicious than Alvensleben, but viewed ethnic transformation as vital to German success in the Crimea and sought to import Volksdeutsche settlers into the occupied territory. Since virtually all of the Crimean Germans had been removed to the Urals by the NKVD in August 1941, the colonists would have to come from existing Volksdeutsche settlements in areas such as the Tyrol and Moldava. Frauenfeld had announced that Italians were “in all respects equivalent to Volksdeutsche,” and sought to gather up ethnic Italians from Ukraine.8 However, the task of gathering colonists for the Crimea proved far more difficult than expected, and by August 1943 only about 4,000 had been transported to the peninsula. Frauenfeld hoped to get 38,000, but even if he had, they would still have been only a tiny minority.9 Efforts to organize economic projects such as “Arbeitsgruppe Krim” sounded great in reports to Berlin, but the reality on the ground was different. In May 1942, Frauenfeld established two small demonstration economic projects in Simferopol – a leather tannery and a textile factory, which together employed 250 workers.10 Later, small quantities of coal were extracted from the region, as well as some foodstuffs, but the “colonies” remained dependent upon German supplies, draining resources from military projects. Frauenfeld was willing to cooperate with the Tatars, but he was very enamored of introducing or “re-discovering” Gothic culture in the Crimea, which would be renamed Gotengau. He encouraged amateur German archaeologists to come to the Crimea in the hope of discovering ancient Gothic artifacts in the region, which would demonstrate cultural links to the modern Germany and justify the post-war annexation by the Third Reich. While committed to making this fantasy into reality, Frauenfeld was less adept at restoring the region’s agriculture, which had been nearly ruined by collectivization, war, and neglect. Throughout the war, the Crimea barely produced enough food to feed the Axis occupation forces, never mind the local population. One thing that the Crimea did produce in abundance was forced labor, and Frauenfeld provided Robert Ley, the Reich’s labor minister, with over 60,000 forced laborers from the Crimea. Ley openly discussed the possibility of building summer resort camps for German youth groups in the Crimea, in another retreat from wartime reality.

The Wehrmacht established the Befehlshaber Krim under General der Infanterie Franz Mattenklott to control all military forces, exclusive of the SS, in the Crimea. Once AOK 11 left for Leningrad, he was left with a hodgepodge collection of Feldgendarmerie, coastal artillery, flak, pionier, signal, and supply units to act as an occupation force. In Sevastopol, Ortskommandantur 290 (OK 290) was established under the artillery officer Oberstleutnant Haensch. However, it was the SS, SD, and Abwehr who really ran occupied Sevastopol. Only five days after the end of organized Soviet resistance in the SOR, an SD detachment led by SS Obersturmbannführer D.M. Frick arrived and announced that all citizens left in Sevastopol would register within 48 hours or “be shot.” Assisted by AOK 11’s Gruppe Geheime Feldpolizei 647, the SD used the registration process to identify Komsomol members, communists, and Red Army survivors trying to hide among the population. In order to protect the Wehrmacht from Soviet stay-behind espionage networks, an Abwehr unit known as “Darius 305” arrived in Sevastopol to conduct the counterintelligence mission. Approximately 1,500 Jews and communists were identified in Sevastopol by July 12 and turned over to Sonderkommando 11a for liquidation. The SD was also put in charge of 20 POW camps established around Sevastopol and Simferopol and, after filtering out useful collaborators, began eliminating the prisoners in August 1942. SD detachments took small groups of POWs out for labor details to clear rubble, and then shot them.

Despite the harsh measures inflicted during the occupation, there was some degree of local collaboration, even from ethnic Russians and Ukrainians. The teenager Lidiya I. Chyernih noted that, “among them [the Germans], there were good and bad people,” and went on to describe how German troops employed Russian civilians as cooks, laundry help, and for other odd jobs, which provided a source of food. However, Chyernih noted that Romanian troops were more brazen and more likely to loot or rape. Gottlob Bidermann, whose unit was lodged with Crimean Tatars in the winter of 1941/42, noted a similar dynamic: German soldiers got on fairly well with the local population, but the Romanians were prone to misbehavior. As the Germans found elsewhere in Eastern Europe, there were always people – even Communist Party members – willing to work with the occupiers in return for food or other privileges. In Sevastopol, P. Supryagin was appointed the head of a puppet city council and willingly assisted the Germans in rounding up individuals targeted for elimination. The Germans established a small local auxiliary police force in Sevastopol, with volunteers taken from POW camps, as they did in other Crimean cities. In Yalta, Colonel Viktor I. Maltsev, a captured VVS officer, willingly volunteered his services to the Germans to “fight the Bolsheviks”; Maltsev had been arrested and tortured by the NKVD in 1938–39. Eventually, he would join Vlasov’s anti-Soviet forces.

Nevertheless, the mythical Gotengau never materialized in the Crimea. A few Volksdeutsche colonies were established to harvest cotton, and Alvensleben began referring to Sevastopol as “Theodorichhafen” and Simferopol as “Gotenburg” – names that the Wehrmacht never used. Organization Todt was brought to the Crimea, but instead of refurbishing Soviet fortifications or port facilities, they wasted most of their efforts on ridiculous civil-engineering projects. Frauenfeld and Alvensleben tried to erase traces of the old Crimea and replace it with a new Gothic-inspired creation, but the Third Reich proved more adept at destruction than creation. When Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler visited the Crimea in spring 1943, he was pleased with the progress made in removing the indigenous population and the arrival of a small number of Volksdeutsche settlers to begin the colony of Gotengau. Himmler visited a farm and was shown a cotton crop that was nearly ready for harvesting, proof that the German investment in the Crimea was about to bloom. He was less pleased when a local German army commander complained that he didn’t have enough troops to defend the coastline from possible Soviet amphibious raids, but that Alvensleben was pressuring him to divert men and vehicles to assist with his colonization scheme. Himmler turned away from the Generalmajor without saying a word, thinking that the military mind could not understand what the Third Reich was trying to build here in the Crimea.

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“For twenty years we were prisoners of the godless Soviets and we have hungered and worked day and night. Now we wish to help the German Army with all our strength and with our hearts.”

Aliev Nambed, Tatar Volunteer in II./IR 399

After years of Soviet oppression, many Crimean Tatars welcomed the Germans as liberators. Manstein was willing to grant special status to the Crimean Tatars, and he ordered his troops to respect their religion and customs – but in return, he expected the Tatars to assist AOK 11 in identifying and pacifying pro-Soviet elements in the Crimea. He authorized the creation of Muslim committees – which had no real authority – in occupied Crimean towns, in order to give the appearance of some autonomy. For strategic reasons, the German Foreign Ministry also favored cooperation with the Crimean Tatars, since they viewed their assistance as useful for getting Turkey to join the Axis coalition arrayed against the Soviet Union. To this end, in November 1941 the German Foreign Ministry invited three Crimean Tatar exiles in Turkey – Edige Kirimal, Cafer Seidahmet, and Mustecip Ulkusal – to visit Berlin for consultations. Eventually, the pro-German Kirimal was selected to be a representative for Crimean Tatar interests. In 1940 it was estimated that there were 218,000 Crimean Tatars out of the Crimea’s total population of 1,126,800. The Wehrmacht also regarded the Tatars as a potential source of military manpower, although no mention was made of Hitler’s long-term plans for the Crimea, which would eventually result in their land being taken.

In October 1941, AOK 11 began forming the first Tatar volunteers into an 80-man security detachment, which was soon expanded to a 345-man unit once most of the Crimea was overrun.11 In November, Manstein ordered that POWs of Crimean Tatar origin were to be released. Other Tatars supported the Wehrmacht in unarmed roles as well: as truck drivers, manual laborers in quartermaster units, interpreters, and guides. The Tatars also proved willing to identify communists, Jews, and Soviet agents among the general population. However, the initial recruiting and training efforts were haphazard, producing security units with negligible capabilities.

On November 23, 1941, the Simferopol Muslim Committee was established. The rump administration included recruitment and propaganda departments, intended to bolster the authority of the German occupation – not local autonomy. The AOK 11 referred to the civil administration they established in the Crimea using the old Ukrainian term “Starosta,” in order to suggest continuity with traditional communal councils.12 In January 1942, the committee was allowed to begin distributing a newspaper known as Azat Krym (“Free Crimea”), which regularly included pro-German and anti-Semitic items.

Once it became clear in January 1942 that the Wehrmacht was going to be operating in the Crimea for a while, AOK 11 began a serious effort to form Tatar volunteers into more useful units. The Germans began a widespread recruiting campaign in rural Tatar villages, using the local Muslim committees, and among the thousands of captured Red Army prisoners. Eventually, over 9,000 Tatars volunteered for service as auxiliaries in the Wehrmacht, which enabled AOK 11 to form 14 self-defense companies (Schuma). Some of these companies participated in mopping up the Soviet landing around Sudak, where they ruthlessly hunted down isolated Red Army soldiers. Some Tatars were recruited to fill combat losses in AOK 11. Saterov Vetut was assigned to 3. Kompanie of Pionier-Bataillon 132, and wrote that, “From now on things will be better for us than ever would have been possible under the Soviets. For us Tatars comes a new, good era. In the future we will no longer work for others, but for ourselves.”13

After the fall of Sevastopol, the Wehrmacht began referring to the Crimean Tatars as an “allied people” and decided to increase the level of support provided to arming the Crimean Tatars. By November 1942, these original companies were expanded to eight Schutzmannschaft battalions and assigned to populated areas; these auxiliary troops were provided German uniforms and captured Soviet small arms, led by older German reservists. The Schutzmannschaft battalions proved useful for manning numerous checkpoints throughout the Crimea, coast watching, and conducting local security sweeps.14

Some Crimean Tatars took to the German occupation very quickly, and openly collaborated in return for not having their property confiscated. Others were even more enthusiastic and saw the German conquest as an opportunity to even old scores with Russian oppressors. Allegedly, some of the Tatar committees orchestrated the murder of large numbers of ethnic Russian communities in the Crimea in retaliation for earlier ethnic-cleansing operations; yet hard data on these allegations – made after the Soviet liberation of the Crimea in 1944 – is lacking. It is clear the Einsatzgruppe D recruited Crimean Tatar auxiliaries to assist in their ethnic-cleansing operations. Allegedly, Schutzmannschaft Bataillon 152 (tatarische) operated the “Red Farm” concentration camp in 1942–43 near Simferopol, where thousands of civilians with suspected links to the Soviet partisan movement in the Crimea were tortured and murdered. After the war, Soviet authorities unearthed hundreds of human skeletal remains at this site, but like the Katyn Forest situation, the Soviets attempted to mask who murdered these victims. Perhaps they were victims of Crimean Tatar retribution, but it is also possible that they were victims of the Red Terror in the 1920s or even Soviet ethnic cleansing in 1944.

Yet not all Crimean Tatars were so cozy with the German occupation. Dr Ahmet Ozenbasli, a Crimean Tatar nationalist who had been imprisoned in the Soviet Gulag in 1928–34, was made chairman of the Muslim committee in Simferopol in 1942. Although appreciative that the Red Army was gone, he was suspicious of German motives and ultimate intentions in the region. Like many Crimean Tatars, he regarded himself as a nationalist, not a collaborator, since he owed no allegiance to Stalin’s regime. Ozenbasli pushed the Germans for more Crimean local autonomy, and when it was refused he began to speak out against German policies in the region. Unwilling to make a martyr of him and anger the Crimean Tatar populace, the Germans simply marginalized him. A few Crimean Tatars openly opposed the German occupation and ran off to the mountains to join the partisans.

As the war began to go against the Third Reich, the Wehrmacht and SS became increasingly eager to create Eastern European volunteer units for frontline combat duty. While the Crimean Tatars were regarded as “allies,” the existing Schutzmannschaft battalions were only recruited for local service in the Crimea. By late 1942, the SS were interested in forming a Crimean Tatar brigade, and used personnel from the SD and Einsatzgruppe D to interview members of the Schuma units and Tatar POWs to identify potential recruits.15 The SS also used the Tatar local committees to assist their recruiting drive in the rural areas. However, most Crimean Tatars volunteered to defend their local communities, not to join the SS or fight outside the Crimea. Recruitment was slow, and once the German retreat in the Caucasus began in January 1943, many Tatars began to reconsider collaboration. As the Red Army closed in on AOK 17 in the Kuban, discipline in the Schutzmannschaft battalions became problematic, and desertions increased. Consequently, the Wehrmacht was forced to disband several Schutzmannschaft battalions and execute those who encouraged disaffection. Other unreliable Crimean Tatars were deported as forced labor.

In 1943, SS efforts to form Crimean Tatar regular units progressed slowly, and did not succeed in attracting enough volunteers until the Red Army returned to the Crimea in 1944. At that point, some volunteers “voted with their feet” and deserted, but many of the Schuma men could not afford to fall into Soviet hands and had little choice but to remain loyal to the Wehrmacht. As Sevastopol was falling in May 1944, about 2,200 Crimean Tatar volunteers were evacuated to Romania and then Germany, where they were formed first into the Tataren-Gebirgsjäger-Regiment der SS, then the Waffengruppe Krim. In July 1944, the unit was redesignated as Waffen-Gebirgs-Brigade der SS (Tatar Nr. 1), but this formation was disbanded in December 1944 without ever seeing combat. As the war ended, the Crimean Tatar volunteers were apparently dispatched to the Italian front in 1945, but the formation disappeared in the final months of the war.16

In the end, collaboration between the Crimean Tatars and the German occupation authorities in 1942–43 became a justification for the Soviet authorities to inflict collective punishment upon the entire Tatar population when the Red Army returned to the Crimea in May 1944. The Tatars were singled out as traitors and made the scapegoats for Red Army defeats in the Crimea in 1941–42; allegedly the desertion of Crimean Tatars, as well as Chechens and other Caucasian minorities serving in the Red Army, fatally undermined the Soviet defense. By blaming the Crimean Tatars for the German conquest of the Crimea, the Soviet leadership could absolve themselves of any responsibility for their own mistakes in the region.

It is difficult to assess the Crimean Tatars simply as victims, since some of their community willingly assisted the SS in the Holocaust, but one thing is certain: in cooperating with the Germans, they got far more than they bargained for.

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In August 1941, Boris A. Borisov’s Communist Party (CPSU) committee in Simferopol, in conjunction with local NKVD authorities, began to discuss the possibility of partisan warfare in the Crimea, but no real action was taken for the next two months. Most of the available manpower had already been called up to fill the four militia divisions raised in the Crimea, and the CPSU was unwilling to arm the civil populace unless absolutely necessary. Everything changed when the Germans broke through at Ishun in late October, and Borisov’s committee in Simferopol realized that it was necessary to act immediately. The committee selected Aleksei V. Mokrousov to head the partisan movement in the Crimea – the very same anarchist sailor who had delivered Sevastopol to the Bolsheviks in December 1917 and ruthlessly murdered Tsarist naval officers and Tatar nationalists in 1918. Mokrousov did have experience in leading irregular warfare, having led a partisan group against Wrangel’s White forces in 1920, but he had no real military training, and discipline was not a strong suit for an anarchist. He had served in Spain as an advisor in 1936–37, but spent most of the interwar period in odd jobs for the Communist Party, including exploring Siberia. When the Germans reached the Crimea, Mokrousov was working as a hatchet man for Borisov’s CPSU committee in Simferopol, tasked with helping the NKVD to hunt down enemies of the state. He was almost certainly involved in the massacre of Tatar prisoners at the NKVD prison in Simferopol in October 1941. Given Mokrousov’s violent and erratic temperament, Borisov’s committee selected NKVD Major Georgy L. Seversky as his military deputy and trusted party member Serafim V. Martynov as political commissar. As the CPSU officials evacuated post haste to Sevastopol or Yalta, Mokrousov announced that there would be five partisan zones formed in the Crimea, and a total of 29 units created. Then he and his handful of lieutenants sped off to the Yaila Mountains in the south, with no plan or supplies.

During November 1941, the anti-German partisan movement began to coalesce in the southern Crimean mountains, based upon small groups of cut-off Soviet soldiers, NKVD Border Guards, and civilians who fled from the towns to avoid German round-ups. Commissars also encouraged underage Komsomol members from the Sevastopol–Balaklava area to join partisan units. The guerrillas went into the mountains with plenty of patriotic enthusiasm but little else, particularly food. Weapons were limited to small arms, without much ammunition. Major Seversky apparently led one of the first partisan attacks near Alushta, where a few German supply trucks were ambushed. However, Manstein was focused on taking Sevastopol and not interested in wasting resources chasing partisans in the mountains, so he left most of the rear-area security mission to the Romanian mountain-infantry units, who were well suited to this task. The Axis learned that lone vehicles were at risk from partisan attacks, but that groups of three or four were fairly safe.

The Crimean partisans were almost totally ineffective in the winter of 1941/42 due to the lack of food and weapons. Most of the new recruits were teenagers, like 15-year-old Vilor P. Chekmak, eager to display their patriotic ardour, but completely untrained and amateurish. Chekmak blew himself up with a hand grenade when approached by a German patrol – heroically according to the Soviet version, but more likely due to mishandling the weapon. Winter hit the unprepared partisans hard, and many starved or froze to death in the mountains, while others were reduced to eating corpses. Virtually all of the enthusiastic Komsomol teenagers from Sevastopol and Simferopol were dead before spring arrived. Mokrousov aggravated an already bad situation by refusing to allow any Tatars to join his partisan groups and raiding Tatar villages to steal food – which helped to encourage the Tatars to assist Axis anti-partisan measures. On January 6, 1942, the Red Army conducted a regiment-size landing at Sudak, southwest of Feodosiya. The landing was ultimately a failure, but a good number of isolated troops from the landing force joined the partisans. In late February 1942, Soviet commissars ordered the Crimean partisans to assist an attempt by Petrov’s Coastal Army to break through the siege lines around Sevastopol. A total of 134 partisans were sent to attack AOK 11’s rear areas and 117 were killed – it was a complete fiasco. Soviet commanders viewed the partisans as a “Fifth Column” that could attack enemy rear areas, but the German appreciation of them as “Bandits,” suitable only for raiding unarmed villages or lone Axis vehicles, was closer to the truth. In March 1942 a single Soviet plane landed with medical supplies, food, and ammunition for the partisans, but this was clearly a drop in the ocean. The main German anti-partisan unit in early 1942 was Feldgendarmerie-Abteilung 683, which was more concerned with hunting down paratroopers than partisans. Romanian anti-partisan operations rolled up hundreds of half-starved partisans, too weak to escape. Further weakening the partisan effort, Mokrousov defined the partisan struggle in the Crimea as a “two-front war” – against the Axis occupiers and against Tatar collaborators.17

By mid-1942 it was apparent that the Crimean partisans had achieved nothing of note, and that Mokrousov’s erratic command style prevented effective recruiting or operations. Partisan strength in the Crimea dropped to fewer than 600. Soviet accounts are unusually candid about Mokrousov’s continual drunkenness and casual execution of his own partisans for various alleged infractions. Indeed, under Mokrousov, the Crimean partisan movement was floundering, and was no hindrance at all to the Axis. Mokrousov sent communications to the North Caucasus Military District that blamed the Crimean Tatars for his failures due to their collaboration with the enemy. With the destruction of the Crimean Front in May 1942 and the fall of Sevastopol in July, Mokrousov’s inability to orchestrate an effective partisan campaign in the Crimea was no longer tolerable to the Stavka. A plane was sent into the Crimea to collect Mokrousov from a clandestine landing strip on July 8, and he was flown back to the Caucasus. Although some officers wanted to put Mokrousov before a military tribunal, he had plenty of party and NKVD friends who protected him. Instead, Petrov promoted him to Colonel and made him the chief of intelligence for the North Caucasus Front.

While the partisan movement languished in the Yaila Mountains, there was resistance in other places in the Crimea. Colonel M. Yagunov, commander of the rearguard at Kerch in May 1942, had retreated into the Adzhimushkay Quarry. These underground limestone quarries had been used as hiding places by local partisans in the winter of 1941/42, as well as underground storage shelters for artillery ammunition. Yagunov pulled his small command back into the underground quarry, which consisted of deep catacombs that had been excavated for decades and were impervious to bombing. Other Soviet troops that had been abandoned in Kerch, as well as civilians, made their way to the Adzhimushkay Quarry, swelling Yagunov’s “command” to purportedly between 10,000 and 13,000 people. Soviet sources claim that these resistance forces held out in the Adzhimushkay Quarry for 170 days with negligible water and supplies, and stole what they need from nearby German units. Claims are also made that the resistance in the Adzhimushkay Quarry tied down large numbers of German troops. Unfortunately, this version of what happened at the Adzhimushkay Quarry is a patriotic exaggeration. Although water was a major problem for those in the quarry, post-war excavations revealed that the defenders succeeded in digging deep wells through the rock.

However, XXXXII Armeekorps quickly discovered the Soviet presence in the Adzhimushkay Quarry, and surrounded the area with barbed wire and mines. German pioneer units made a few attempts to smoke or burn out the defenders, which caused some within the quarry to exit and face capture. However, the records of Ortskommandantur 287 in Kerch reveal that the Germans were little concerned about the Adzhimushkay Quarry, and simply assigned a reinforced Romanian infantry company to keep an eye on the place.18 Indeed, OK 287 was far more concerned about Soviet air and artillery attacks from the Taman Peninsula than they were about some holdouts in a cave. German reports described the protracted defense of the Adzhimushkay Quarry as “tenacious” but “absurd.” As supplies ran low, Yagunov was forced in desperation to mount a sortie on the night of July 8/9 to try and gain water and food from outside the quarry, but he was killed in the process. Afterwards, the defenders of the Adzhimushkay Quarry died a slow death of starvation and dehydration. On October 23, OK 287 noted that a single officer emerged from the cave to surrender, but that a handful were still alive inside.19 By October 30 the Germans finally entered the caverns, as resistance from the starved defenders collapsed. At least 48 survivors were captured and sent to the Red Farm death camp near Simferopol, where they were probably executed. Sovietera sources claim that 10,000–15,000 people died in the Adzhimushkay Quarry, but this claim is very unlikely. Based upon the known losses for the Crimean Front and OK 287’s registration of the civilian population of Kerch in July 1942, it is unlikely that more than a few thousand were ever in the quarry at any one time, and that many left long before the end of the 170-day siege. Recent excavations suggest about 1,200 persons in the quarry. It is likely that most belonged to Yagunov’s rearguard, along with a few hundred local civilians. Certainly the Germans would not have left a single Romanian company as a blocking force against 10,000–15,000 Soviets, and the matter-of-fact references to the quarry in German reporting suggests that is was not a large enemy force trapped inside. In any case, their resistance was certainly brave, but futile. Even though Yagunov had a radio and was in contact with Soviet forces on the Taman Peninsula, no effort was made to help his group. Interestingly, the whole incident of the Adzhimushkay Quarry was initially suppressed from Soviet historiography after the war, because all references to the crushing defeat of Kozlov’s Crimean Front were still raw and the fact that these people were abandoned to die in an underground quarry did not reflect well on the party or senior military leaders.

By November 1942 the partisan movement in the Crimea had all but sputtered out, with only 150 members still active. During the year, at least 398 partisans were killed, 473 starved to death, and hundreds more missing or deserted. A few brave souls remained, particularly in the occupied cities of the Crimea. In Sevastopol, Petty Officer Vasiliy D. Revyakin had been captured when the city fell in July 1942 but had managed to escape and be hidden. In March 1943, in conjunction with sympathetic civilians, he formed a resistance cell in Sevastopol that was grandiloquently named the “Communist Underground in the Rear of the Germans” (the KPOVTN). Working with dockyard workers like Paul D. Silnikova, who had a secret printing press, the group focused on political agitation and propaganda via leaflets. This was a typical communist tactic, but it did not accomplish much, and the Germans took little interest in the group until they started committing sabotage against rail lines. Once German logistics in the Crimea were threatened, the SD swooped in, arresting Silnikova in October 1943, which led to further arrests. In March 1944, Revyakin was betrayed by an informer and tortured to death by the SD. The underground resistance in Sevastopol was broken, just before liberation arrived.

Despite utter failure in 1942 and disappointments through much of 1943, the partisan movement began to revive once the Germans evacuated the Caucasus and the advance of the Red Army isolated the Germans in the Crimea in November 1943. Air resupply operations via short takeoff and landing aircraft like the Po-2 and R-5 biplanes increased in 1943, and succeed in preventing the partisans from either starving to death or running out of ammunition.20 Lidiya I. Chyernih, a teenage girl from Yalta, joined the partisans in November 1943, at age 16. There were many female partisans, but Lidiya did not carry a weapon and served in a support role. She did note that, by this point, the partisans were forming into ten-person squads and were regularly receiving arms and supplies by air, as well as political commissars to direct them. Seven partisan brigades were formed in late 1943 and several clusters of active partisan areas appeared between Simferopol and Feodosiya. The partisans concentrated on attacking traffic on the Simferopol–Feodosiya and Simferopol–Sevastopol stretches of road, both of which ran through mountainous terrain. Most of the road security consisted of Feldgendarmerie and Schuma units. In late November 1943 the partisans began attacking in groups of up to 200 fighters, and inflicted 75 casualties on the Axis, but suffered 310 themselves.21 In December 1943 a partisan offensive inflicted another 155 casualties on the Axis, but lost over 200 of their own. For the first time, the Axis had to seriously worry about road and rail security in the Crimea. By January 1944 there were 3,700 Soviet partisans in the Crimea, of which at least 630 were Tatars. Partisan tactics were still quite amateurish, resulting in heavy losses, but they were becoming increasingly bold, and the Axis had to devote significant forces to secure their supply lines to Sevastopol.

Soviet-era claims about the achievements of the Crimean partisan movement are only appropriate for the last six months of their fight against the Axis occupation. Throughout 1941–43, the Crimean partisans were badly led and mostly ineffectual, and only became a threat once the Red Army had isolated the German forces in the Crimea.

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Nazi empire builders were not the only ones in the Third Reich that tried to convert fantasy into reality in the Crimea. Despite having done little to win the Crimea until the final weeks of Operation Störfang, the Kriesgmarine leadership became very interested in using the occupied Crimea to turn the Black Sea into a German-dominated lake, which could also provide future access to the Mediterranean. Although Sevastopol was a shattered ruin by the time it fell into German hands, the Kriesgmarine believed that it could be rebuilt into a “German Gibraltar” that would solidify the German hold on the region. Even before Sevastopol fell, Konteradmiral Heinz-Heinrich Wurmbach, titular commander of Kriesgmarine forces in the Black Sea, moved his headquarters from Bucharest to Simferopol. Wurmbach had a varied background, which included service on U-Boats in 1917–18, minesweepers, and diplomatic service in Rome in 1934–36, but at heart he was a “big ship” sailor and had commanded the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer just before the war began. When he arrived in Simferopol in late June 1942, Wurmbach had no intention of leading a “paper command” from a dusty and desolate Crimean provincial city.

On the opposite side, the Black Sea Fleet was seriously hurt by the loss of its shipbuilding facilities at Nikolayev in 1941 and its main base at Sevastopol in 1942. After the loss of the Crimea, the fleet was forced to retreat to the minor ports of the Caucasus – Poti, Sochi, Tuapse, and Batumi – which had minimal repair and support facilities. These facilities had been intended to provide a support base for a few minesweepers and patrol boats, not battleships and heavy cruisers. The larger port facilities at Novorossiysk became untenable soon after the loss of the Crimea due to frequent Luftwaffe attacks, and were no longer useable. Although Oktyabrsky had succeeded in evacuating some of the stocks of ammunition, torpedoes, and spare parts from Sevastopol during the winter of 1941/42, the Black Sea Fleet lost a great deal of its material when Sevastopol fell. Without decent bases or supplies, the operational effectiveness of the remaining large Soviet warships was severely impaired. Oktyabrsky’s flagship, the battleship Parizhskaya Kommuna, would spend more than a year hiding in the small port of Poti, but her 305mm gun barrels were worn out and could not be replaced.22 For the next year, Oktyabrsky’s fleet was reduced to two cruisers, eight destroyers, and 20 submarines, of which only about half were operational at any one time. The Soviet merchant marine had also been gutted trying to keep Sevastopol supplied, meaning that naval transport and supply capabilities in the Black Sea would be insufficient for the rest of the war. Instead, most of the Soviet naval effort in the Black Sea after the fall of Sevastopol focused on occasional raids by cruiser–destroyer groups against the Crimean coastline and a stepped-up offensive by the Black Sea Fleet submarine flotillas against Axis merchant traffic in the Black Sea. However, the greatest weakness of the fleet remained their vulnerability to air attack, and as long as the Luftwaffe maintained a credible anti-shipping force in the Crimea, the Black Sea Fleet could not seriously contest the waters around the peninsula.

This weakness was amply demonstrated on the night of August 2/3, 1942, when Oktyabrsky sent the heavy cruiser Molotov and the destroyer leader Kharkov to bombard the port of Feodosiya, where the Kriegsmarine was believed to be assembling an amphibious force. Although the two warships travelled at high speed, the long summer days did not give them sufficient hours of darkness to make the entire transit in one night. The Soviet warhips were spotted by German reconnaissance aircraft and the defenses at Feodosiya were forewarned. As they approached the port, the Molotov was suddenly attacked by two Italian MAS boats and forced to turn away. The Kharkov lobbed 59 unaimed 130mm rounds at the port and then fled as well. For six hours the two warships were attacked by the Luftwaffe, and an He-111H from 6./KG 26 finally scored a torpedo hit that tore off the Molotov’s stern.23 It was a painful lesson, which sidelined one of Oktyabrsky’s best warships for more than a year.

The Kriegsmarine naval build-up in the Black Sea accelerated after July 1942, as regular supply convoys began between the Romanian port of Constanta and Sevastopol–Balaklava–Feodosiya. In addition to Birnbacher’s six S-Boats, which moved to Ivan Baba near Feodosiya, the 3. Räumbootsflotille arrived with five R-Boats and estlablished themselves in Balaklava harbor. Both the R- and S-Boats were about the same size, but they had different capabilities. While the S-Boats were built for high-speed torpedo attacks, the R-Boats were designed as coastal minewsweepers and were also useful as general-purpose escorts. No more S-Boats were sent to the Black Sea, but 12 more R-Boats were sent in late 1942. Initially, the Kriegsmarine was capable only of conducting sea-denial missions with its handful of S-Boats, but the arrival of the R-Boats enabled Wurmbach to attempt more aggressive operations. In August 1942, the Kriegsmarine launched Operation Regatta, in which a group of R- and S-Boats ran through the Kerch Straits – past Soviet artillery positions on the Taman Peninsula – to attack Soviet coastal shipping in the Sea of Azov. This operation assisted Heeresgruppe A’s advance into the Caucasus and inflicted heavy losses on Gorshkov’s Azov Flotilla.

Heeresgruppe A wanted the Kriegsmarine to support its advance into the Caucasus by conducting amphibious attacks across the Kerch Strait to seize the Taman Peninsula, but Wurmbach lacked the resources to pull this off according to the army’s schedule. Unrealistically, Heeresgruppe A wanted five divisions from AOK 11 to be sent across the strait in August, but Wurmbach’s Kriegsmarine forces did not have the ability to mount amphibious operations of such scale. However, the Kriegsmarine had invested heavily in developing amphibious craft for the aborted Operation Sealion in 1940, and that investment was about to bear fruit in a different area than intended. In 1940, the Kriegsmarine had developed the Marinefährprahm (MFP) and Siebel ferries, both motorized barges built from bridging pontoons and aircraft engines, to carry troops across the English Channel. Both were modular designs that were easier to disassemble and transport by rail than standard vessels, and large numbers were transferred via the Danube to the Black Sea. By early September 1942, Kapitänleutnant Max Giele’s 1. Landungs-Flotille had arrived in the Crimea with 24 MFPs; since each MFP could carry either two medium tanks or 200 troops, that meant that the Kriegsmarine had gained the ability to mount a brigade-size amphibious landing in the Black Sea. On September 1, 1942, the Kriegsmarine began Operation Blucher II, with the 24 MFPs transporting part of the 46. Infanterie-Division across the strait to land on the Taman Peninsula, escorted by four S-Boats. The operation was a great success, and the growth of Kriegsmarine capabilities significantly assisted army operations in the Caucacus. Nor were Gorshkov’s light forces able to significantly interfere with German amphibious operations. Soviet motor torpedo boat (MTB) raids against German convoys found that their torpedoes passed harmlessly under the shallow-draft MFPs, and the Soviet MTBs were armed only with one or two machine guns. Giele soon began to mount 2cm or 8.8cm flak guns on some of his MFPs to repel Soviet MTB raids, and 10.5cm howitzers on others to provide naval gunfire support to the army. More and more amphibious craft were transferred to the Black Sea command, until by mid-1943 there were four landing flotillas with the ability to move nearly a division – this would become very useful in time.

Yet the Kriegsmarine wanted to be more than a mere adjunct to Heeresgruppe A, and kept pouring resources into the Black Sea area even after the Crimea was occupied and Novorossiysk had fallen. At great effort, the Kriegsmarine had begun transporting six disassembled Type IIB U-Boats by barge to the Black Sea in April 1942, and they were re-assembled at Constanta in Romania. The first U-Boat, U-9, became operational on October 28, 1942, followed by U-19 in November, but the other four would not be ready until mid-1943. Although large surface warships could not be transported to the Black Sea, the Kriegsmarine sought to resurrect damaged Soviet warships that had fallen into its hands. The Kriegsmarine picked over the remains of the abandoned shipyards at Nikolayev and considered trying to launch the hull of the partially complete 59,000-ton battleship Sovyetskiy Ukraina, but this was eventually rejected as too difficult a task. Instead, the materials from two incomplete Soviet destroyers were plundered to build complete two incomplete troopships acquired from Hungary, which were named the Totila and the Teja. At Sevastopol, the Kriegsmarine put great effort into trying to salvage the wrecked cruiser Chervona Ukraina, which they thought could be restored to operational condition. However, none of these salvage efforts produced useful warships before the Crimea was liberated in 1944. In its quest for a true flagship for the Kriegsmarine in the Black Sea, German diplomats approached neutral Turkey about selling the obsolescent battelecruiser Goeben/Yavuz back to Germany, but this was ignored.

The Black Sea Fleet responded to the Axis naval build-up in the Black Sea by mounting numerous submarine patrols off the Crimea and the Romanian coast, but the results were disappointing even though Axis anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities were minimal. Between June 1941 and December 1942, the Black Sea Fleet was able to sink only about 33,500 tons of Axis shipping, but lost 20 of its 43 submarines in the process. Soviet submarines laid only 60 mines in the Black Sea in the first eight months of the war, but laid 176 in Crimean waters in the months right after the fall of Sevastopol.24 Most Soviet submarine losses were due to Axis mine barrages, which their submarines kept blundering into. Soviet submarines had great difficuly attacking moving vessels, and had a tendency to sink neutral Turkish vessels. In the most egregrious incident, the submarine Shch-213 sank the refugee vessel Struma just 10 miles off Istanbul on February 24, 1942, killing 781 Jewish refugees trying to flee to Palestine. In 1943, the Black Sea Fleet had far fewer submarines operational, but the ones they had were more effective, sinking 27,500 tons of Axis shipping. Eventually, the loss of several Romanian merchantmen to Soviet submarines and the threat of mines being laid to block the use of Sevastopol caused the Kriegsmarine to create an anti-submarine capability in the Black Sea. In June 1943, the 1. Unterseebootsjagd Flotille was based at Sevastopol with 18 armed trawlers. A number of Soviet submarines were damaged and destroyed by this improvised ASW force, which made it increasingly difficult for the Soviets to attempt to operate near the approaches to Sevastopol. The Luftwaffe also finally deployed a naval-reconnaissance unit with six BV 138 flying boats to Sevastopol in July 1943, which were well suited to spotting submarines or mines.

While the Kriegsmarine had achieved a certain amount of sea control in the Black Sea by mid-1943 due to Luftwaffe support and the weakened condition of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, this success was erased by Heeresgruppe A’s failure to conquer the Caucasus. By February 1943, Generaloberst Richard Ruoff’s AOK 17 had fallen back to the Kuban bridghead, which it managed to hold for the next seven months against Petrov’s North Caucasus Front. However, AOK 17 was gradually pushed back in heavy fighting, and although the Kriegsmarine was capable of keeping them supplied – unlike the Luftwaffe’s failure to supply AOK 6 at Stalingrad – it was increasingly clear that this large formation was being wasted in the Kuban. The German military situation in Ukraine deteriorated very rapidly in southern Ukraine after the battle of Kursk in July 1943 and the beginning of an all-out Soviet multi-front offensive to reach the Dnepr River. Heeresgruppe Süd suffered over 159,000 casualties in July and August, and was straining to hold its front. Yet Hitler was reluctant to withdraw AOK 17 from the Kuban – still harboring delusions about making another push for the oil of the Caucasus – and did not authorize an evacuation of the Kuban until September 4. By that point, the northern part of Heeresgruppe Süd was retreating toward the Dnepr while AOK 6 was bleeding to death trying to stop a Soviet advance along the Sea of Azov. Once Hitler authorized the evacuation of the Kuban, the Kriegsmarine was ordered to transport AOK 17 to the Crimea, after which most of the German divisions would be transferred to reinforce AOK 6 while the Romanian divisions would remain to defend the Crimea.

On September 12, 1942, the Kriegsmarine began Operation Brunhild to evacuate AOK 17, and by this point it had four amphibious groups with a large number of MFPs and Siebel ferries. It was a complicated, three-phase operation, to be conducted over 38 days. AOK 17, now under General der Pioniere Erwin Janecke, had to hold off repeated Soviet attacks by Petrov’s North Caucasus Front while the Kriegsmarine began evacuating one corps at a time across the Kerch Straits. Soviet efforts to interfere with the evacuation failed miserably, although Soviet aircraft sank a few MFPs and barges. Over the course of four weeks, the Kriegsmarine succeeded in evacuating 15 divisions with more than 239,000 German and Romanian troops across the Kerch Strait, plus most of their equipment, artillery, and vehicles. By October 9, 1943, Petrov’s forces had liberated the entire Kuban, but AOK 17 had slipped away. Operation Brunhild was a major operational-level sucess for the Germans at a point after the battle of Kursk when they enjoyed few successes, but it is almost unknown today. Although the Kriegsmarine was unable to fulfill its dream of creating a Gibraltar in the east, it had succeeded in creating a general-purpose naval force that was capable of accomplishing astonishing results with very limited resources.

In contrast, the Black Sea Fleet became increasingly irrelevant. On October 5, the fleet decided to dispatch the destroyers Kharkov, Sposobnyi, and Bezposhchadny under Captain 2nd Rank G. P. Negoda from Tuapse to bombard German coastal traffic between Yalta and Feodosiya. As Negoda’s squadron approached Feodosiya around 0530hrs, they ran into the German S-28, S-42, and S-45; a brief naval skirmish resulted in no damage to either side. However, it was clear that the element of surprise was lost, and after briefly shelling Yalta Negoda’s squadron beat a hasty retreat. The VVS-ChF managed to provide three fighters for cover over the squadron, and they managed to shoot down a German reconnaissance plane at 0810hrs. Nevertheless, Ju-87 Stukas from III./StG 3 found the destroyers at 0900hrs and crippled Kharkov with three bomb hits. Negoda tried to tow the Kharkov, but his squadron suffered repeated air attacks, damaging the other two destroyers. At 1413hrs, the Bezposhchadny was hit by four bombs and broke in two. The other two destroyers were sunk by 1835hrs. Altogether, three destroyers with 716 sailors were lost for no appreciable gain, and once again the Black Sea Fleet proved unable to operate in daylight in waters controlled by the Luftwaffe. When he learned of this naval disaster, Stalin ordered that all major warships of the Black Sea Fleet be placed in reserve and used only with his permission – effectively putting Soviet naval capabilities in the Black Sea on par with the Kriesgmarine.

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