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|Battle of the Sea of Azov|
|Part of the Eastern Front of World War II|
The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Brigade enters burning Taganrog, October 1941
|Commanders and leaders|
Gerd von Rundstedt|
Erich von Manstein
Ewald von Kleist
|Casualties and losses|
(21 September–10 October)
212 tanks destroyed or captured
772 guns captured
The Battle of the Sea of Azov, also known as the Chernigovka pocket was an Axis military campaign fought between 26 September 1941 and 11 October 1941 on the northern shores of the Sea of Azov on the Eastern Front of World War II during Operation Barbarossa. It resulted in a complete Axis victory over the Red Army.
After destroying five Soviet armies at Kiev in late September 1941, the German Army Group South advanced east and south to capture the industrial Donbass region and the Crimea. Within days of the battle of Kiev's conclusion, the Soviet Southern Front launched an attack on 26 September with two armies on the northern shores of the Sea of Azov against elements of the German 11th Army, which was simultaneously advancing into the Crimea. After initially pushing back the Romanian 3rd Army, which fought under German command, the Soviet advance ground to a halt when the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Brigade arrived to reinforce their Axis allies. On 1 October the 1st Panzer Army under Ewald von Kleist swept south to isolate the two Soviet armies. The offensive caught the Red Army completely by surprise, forcing them to retreat on 3 October to avoid encirclement.
The Germans now attacked from the west, north and east, cutting the Soviets off on 7 October after capturing Melitopol and Berdiansk. The Soviet 9th and 18th Armies were caught in a vise and annihilated in four days. The Soviet defeat was total; 106,332 men captured, 212 tanks destroyed or captured in the pocket alone as well as 766 artillery pieces of all types. All units of the German 11th Army and the 1st Panzer Army lost 12,421 men combined from 21 September to 10 October; actual German losses in the battle were lower as only parts of both armies fought in the battle.
The death of or capture of two-thirds of all Southern Front troops in four days unhinged the Front's left flank, allowing the Germans to capture Kharkiv on 24 October. Kleist's 1st Panzer Army took the Donbass region that same month, while Manstein's 11th Army was freed to conquer Crimea with its full strength from 18 October onward.
After concluding the Battle of Kiev in September 1941, the German Army Group South advanced from the Dniepr to the Sea of Azov coast. The city of Rostov was assigned as the objective for the 11th Army now commanded by General von Schobert, however he died in a crash on the same day after landing his liaison Fieseler Storch aircraft in a minefield. To replace him, General of Infantry von Manstein was ordered to travel from the Leningrad sector of the front to the extreme southern sector. He would also receive support from the 4th Luftwaffe Air Fleet.
At this time the LIV Army Corps of the 11th Army was still engaged in Crimea, and because the Romanian forces were still engaged in the Siege of Odessa, the Army's resources for the Rostov objective were severely limited even against retreating Red Army troops. Therefore, initially von Manstein replaced the LIV Corps with the smaller XXX Army Corps and XLIX Mountain Corps, and ordered the LIV Corps into the first echelon in the advance to Rostov.
Late in September the 3rd Romanian Army joined the 11th Army in its advance towards Rostov, but was severely depleted by the attacks of the Soviet 9th and 18th Armies on 26 September. This forced a halt to the Army's advance to safeguard its flank, and forced Manstein to use his only mobile reserve unit, the Leibstandarte Brigade to shore up Romanian defenses.
After the LSSAH had stabilized the Romanian sector, the Soviets increased the pressure on XXX Army Corps. The Soviets did not respond to the buildup of the 1st Panzer Army on their northern flank. On 1 October the Germans started their counterattack from the north and the west. The rapid advance of German armored and motorized forces from the north compelled the Soviets to retreat on 3 October. The 11th Army took up the pursuit, with the Leibstandarte's attack eliminating the Soviet 30th Rifle Division's HQ section and dispersing its subordinate formations. Melitopol was captured by III Panzer Corps on 5 October. The LSSAH reconnaissance battalion under Kurt Meyer captured Berdiansk on 6 October. The XIV motorized Army Corps under Gustav Anton von Wietersheim linked up with the Leibstandarte to encircle seven Red Army divisions in the Mariupol-Berdiansk area on 7 October. Four days later the battle was over and the 150,000 9th and 18th Army troops caught in the pocket had been killed or captured. The Germans took more than 106,332 prisoners, both in the pocket and during the pursuit, along with 212 tanks and 772 guns of all types. The 18th Army commander Smirnov was killed in action and buried with full military honours by the Germans.
First Battle of Rostov
The assault on Rostov began on 17 November, and on 21 November the Germans took Rostov. However, the German lines were over-extended, and von Kleist's warnings that his left flank was vulnerable and that his tanks were ineffective in the freezing weather were ignored. On 27 November the Soviet 37th Army, commanded by Lieutenant-General Anton Ivanovich Lopatin, as part of the Rostov Strategic Offensive Operation (17 November 1941 – 2 December 1941), counter-attacked the 1st Panzer Army's spearhead from the north, forcing them to pull out of the city. Adolf Hitler countermanded the retreat. When von Rundstedt refused to obey, Hitler sacked him, and replaced him with von Reichenau. However, von Reichenau saw at once that von Rundstedt was right and succeeded in persuading Hitler, via Franz Halder, to authorise the withdrawal, and the 1st Panzer Army was forced back to the Mius River at Taganrog. It was the first significant German withdrawal of the war.
The offensive along the Azov coast was resumed in the summer of 1942, during Fall Blau. With air support from the Ju 87s of Sturzkampfgeschwader 77, Wilhelm List's Army Group A recaptured Rostov, the "gate to the Caucasus", on 23 July 1942 relatively easily.
Further South along the coast, the remaining small ports and coastal areas still in Soviet hands were captured by Romanian Cavalry. Yeysk fell to the Romanians on 8 August. The campaign came to an end on 23 August, when the Romanians captured the port of Temryuk after bitter house-to-house fighting against Soviet naval infantry. As Romanian troops entered the last Soviet-held Azov port, the main warships of the Soviet Azov Flotilla were scuttled to avoid capture: gunboats Bug, Don and Dniester (each of 840 tons and armed with two 130 mm guns).
With the Sea of Azov secured, the Axis proceeded to launch a massive amphibious operation (Fall Blücher) in a bid to wipe out Soviet resistance on the Taman Peninsula and open the sea route to the Crimea.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 May 2013. Retrieved 12 December 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Liedtke 2016, p. 149.
- Werner Haupt, Army Group South: The Wehrmacht in Russia 1941-1945, pp. 87-91
- Clark, Alan (1965). Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict 1941–45; p. 178
- Hayward (2001), p. 145.
- Robert Forczyk, The Caucasus 1942–43: Kleist’s race for oil
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- Liedtke, Gregory (2016). Enduring the Whirlwind: The German Army and the Russo-German War 1941-1943. Helion and Company. ISBN 978-1910777756.