80 years ago, the heroic defense of the main base of the Black Sea Fleet began
… There are no traces in the military archives about this meeting of the command of the Primorsky Army on October 27, 1941 in the steppe village of Ekibash, which is 40 kilometers north of Simferopol.
It is known about the meeting only from the memoirs of Marshal of the Soviet Union N.I. Krylov, in those days a colonel, chief of staff of the army. The troops of the army, only a few days earlier evacuated from Odessa and thrown against the troops of E. von Manstein’s 11th German army advancing from the north of the Crimean peninsula, did not withdraw from the battles. Taking advantage of a short pause, Army Commander Major General I.E. Petrov summoned the commanders and commissars of all formations of the army and informed them that German tanks had appeared several kilometers south of Simferopol. The road going through Bakhchisarai to Sevastopol was cut. Communication with the commander of the Crimean troops, Vice Admiral G.I. Levchenko and his headquarters, which withdrew together with the 51st Army to Kerch.
“There are practically two ways before us: to Kerch and to Sevastopol, – said General Petrov. – The road to Kerch is not closed yet … However, as you know, the 51st Army is leaving. It seems that it will be enough if it gains a foothold in the Ak-Monai positions … The free path to Sevastopol no longer exists, at least for the entire army. To go there is to go fighting. But Sevastopol is the main base of the Black Sea Fleet. It is necessary to keep it in order to preserve our domination in the Black Sea. It is no secret that the city is not covered from land: there are no field troops there. If the Primorsky army does not break through to it, if significant enemy forces outstrip it, Sevastopol may fall … “
Without further ado, I.E. Petrov turned to those present with a proposal to express their opinion on where the army should go. The overwhelming majority were in favor of making their way to Sevastopol. This was also the decision to which the military council of the army, in principle, had already arrived at last night. The commander’s voice sounded like an order: “So, we are going to cover Sevastopol”…
From this short meeting in a village lost among the steppe, in essence, the epic of the heroic Sevastopol defense began. Although the immediate date of its beginning is considered to be October 30th.
By this time, the situation in Crimea was extremely difficult for the Soviet troops. The initiative was in the hands of the command of the German group. Our formations were sorely lacking ammunition for artillery, not to mention tanks and aircraft. In the steppe part of the Crimea, there were no lines prepared in engineering terms on which our troops could gain a foothold.
German units escaped to the steppe expanses of the Crimea and rushed to Evpatoria and further to Saki and Bakhchisarai in order to cut off the path to the formations and units of the Primorsky army, which was retreating to Sevastopol and Alushta with battles, and to block the highway to Kerch. As Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union S.G. Gorshkov, “The enemy’s tank units and motorized infantry cut the Simferopol-Sevastopol highway, the main forces of the Primorsky army had to retreat through the Yaila mountain range to Alushta and Yalta. Within a few days, the enemy captured a significant part of the Crimean peninsula: October 31 – Evpatoria, November 1 – Simferopol, November 3 – Feodosia. By November 4, his troops captured the entire coast from Yalta to Cape Chauda “…
German troops also occupied most of the airfields in the Crimea, creating a real threat of air strikes against the main base of the Black Sea Fleet and the ships stationed there. The resulting situation forced the commander of the Black Sea Fleet on the night of November 1 to begin relocating the ships of the squadron from Sevastopol to the ports of the Caucasian coast. Subsequently, some fleet services were evacuated there, and a spare flagship command post was deployed in the Tuapse region.
Anticipating the possibility of strikes on the main base of the Black Sea Fleet from land, the military council of the fleet decided in July to begin the construction of land defensive lines. Several thousand people worked daily on their construction – the personnel of the garrison units and the inhabitants of the city. These events played an important role in thwarting the German plan to capture the city before the approach of units of the Maritime Army retreating in a roundabout way.
Former People’s Commissar of the Navy, Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union N.G. Kuznetsov recalled: “As the enemy approached the city, the work accelerated. The military council of the fleet attracted more and more soldiers and local residents to them every day. The main defensive line was being built ten to twelve kilometers from the city, the rear line was being built closer to the city, three to six kilometers from it. By the time the Germans broke through to the Crimea, a lot had been done … The troops of the Primorsky Army would not have been so combat-ready without proper military-engineering training of all defense lines … Hundreds of pillboxes, bunkers and trenches were ready to receive the troops “…
In addition, the main base of the fleet had a powerful coastal defense – 11 batteries of only large and medium caliber, ready to fire at coastal and sea targets. In total, the Sevastopol garrison numbered about 23 thousand people and had up to 150 field and coastal guns. The battle of one of the coastal batteries of the Black Sea Fleet marked the start date of the Sevastopol defense.
Defense of Sevastopol. Artist A. Deineka
To get ahead of the retreating units of the Primorsky Army and try to break into Sevastopol on the move, von Manstein, using his armored vehicles and infantry units on cars and motorcycles, created a consolidated “Ziegler brigade”, which saddled the Simferopol highway and began a rapid advance towards Sevastopol. Parts of the Maritime Army had to change plans and leave along the mountain roads, but Manstein did not achieve his goal. On October 30, at 4.35 pm, on the outskirts of the city, the Ziegler brigade was stopped by volleys from the 54th coastal battery, located 40 km north of the city. Commander Senior Lieutenant I.I. Zaika (in 2004 he was awarded the title of “Honorary Citizen of Sevastopol”) skillfully directed the firing. The destroyer Bodry provided fire support from the sea. Marine units, sailors of warships and coastal units of the fleet, cadets of the naval school rushed into battle. This day is considered to be the beginning of the Sevastopol defense.
In the following days, two more German divisions approached the city, but the enemy did not succeed in capturing the city outright.
From the troops of the Primorsky Army, ships and aviation of the Black Sea Fleet, as well as parts of the Sevastopol naval base, the Sevastopol Defense Region (SDR) was created. It included dozens of fortified gun positions. The coastal defense was replenished with eight stationary batteries armed with naval guns, which were removed from the damaged ships. The defense system also included the 30th and 35th armored turret batteries, the caliber of which – 305 mm – speaks for itself. They became the basis of the artillery power of the defenders of Sevastopol and played a significant role in its 250-day defense.
By the first half of November, the SOR consisted of up to 50 thousand servicemen, 170 guns, about 100 aircraft. The air defense forces consisted of more than 60 anti-aircraft guns and 30 machine guns. Vice-Admiral Oktyabrsky was appointed commander of the SOR, Major General Petrov was his deputy for ground defense, and Colonel Krylov was chief of staff.
On November 7, the Supreme Command Headquarters sent a directive with a categorical order to the commander of the Crimean troops, Vice-Admiral Levchenko and the commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Vice-Admiral Oktyabrsky:
“1. The main task of the Black Sea Fleet is to consider the active defense of Sevastopol …
2. Not to surrender Sevastopol in any case and to defend it with all your might … “
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