Defense of the Soviet Polar Regions of

Defense of the Soviet Polar Regions of

 

1941–44, combat actions of the Fourteenth Army and the Northern Fleet between June 1941 and October 1944 during the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45 to defend the northern frontiers of the USSR.

The fascist German command planned to capture an important strategic point in the North—the city of Murmansk and the Kirov Railroad. The mission was assigned to the German Norway Army (renamed the Lapland Army on Jan. 15, 1942, and the Twentieth Mountain Army on June 22, 1942) commanded by Colonel General N. von Falkenhorst (followed by Colonel General E. Dietl on June 1, 1942, and Colonel General L. Rendulic on June 28, 1944). The army consisted of three corps, part of the forces of the Fifth Air Fleet (more than 160 aircraft on the Murmansk axis), and a few naval forces. The Norway Mountain Corps (renamed the XIX Mountain Corps in July 1942), employing two mountain divisions, was supposed to take Murmansk; the German Army’s 36th Corps (about two German infantry divisions) had the mission of taking Kandalaksha and cutting off the Kirov Railroad; the Finnish Army’s III Corps (two Finnish and one German infantry divisions) was supposed to reach the Kirov Railroad in the Loukhi region.

The Soviet North was protected on land by Lieutenant General V. A. Frolov’s Fourteenth Army, which was part of the Northern Front (from Aug. 23, 1941, the Karelian Front), and at sea by the Northern Fleet (eight destroyers, seven patrol vessels, 15 submarines, and 116 aircraft) commanded by Rear Admiral A. G. Golovko.

The enemy forces began their offensive on June 29, 1941, delivering the main strike along the Murmansk axis, which was defended by the 14th and 52nd rifle divisions; the 23rd Fortified Region was located on Rybachii and Srednii peninsulas. The 135th Rifle Regiment of the 14th Rifle Division and units of the 23rd Fortified Region stopped the enemy on the isthmus of Srednii Peninsula, where the enemy was unable to pass USSR border sign no. 1 and penetrate into Soviet territory.

The 95th Rifle Regiment of the 14th Rifle Division, defending tenaciously against superior enemy forces on the Titovka River, withdrew by July 4 to a defensive line on the Bol’shaia Zapadnaia Litsa River, where the enemy was stopped by the 52nd Rifle Division and naval infantry units (including landing parties set down in the enemy rear on July 7 and 14). On the Kandalaksha and Loukhi axes Soviet troops stopped the enemy advance before it reached the railroad, and the enemy was forced to go over to the defensive.

By September the fascist German High Command had reinforced the Norway Corps (including the addition of a mountain division from Greece) and moved flotillas of destroyers, torpedo boats, and submarine chasers to northern Norway. On September 8 the German troops renewed their attack on Murmansk. In ten days of fighting they advanced just 16 km and then were forced to pass to the defensive. By the autumn of 1941 the front was finally stabilized, and the center of fighting switched to the sea, where a communication lane with Great Britain was opened. Convoys were formed in Iceland, and on August 31 the first Allied convoy reached Arkhangel’sk. The Northern Fleet provided escorts for the convoys until they reached 20° E long. The fascist German command tried to disrupt Soviet sea lanes and defend their own, which were being used to supply German troops in the North and to ship nickel ore from Kirkenes to Germany. In April 1942, Soviet troops went over to the offensive along the Murmansk and Loukhi axes, but they were not able to break through the enemy defense. In July 1942 the Northern Defense Area was established on Rybachii and Srednii peninsulas; it played a large part in the defense of the polar regions and in the blockade of Petsamo Bay.

In the spring of 1942 the fascist German command undertook vigorous actions at sea. They concentrated one battleship, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, two flotillas of destroyers, 20 submarines, and up to 500 aircraft in northern Norway. Beginning in March 1942 a special naval and air operation was carried out against every Allied convoy. Both sides suffered great losses. By its aggressive actions the reinforced Northern Fleet was able to secure movement of the convoys, and so the enemy could not cut off the Soviet sea lane. During the war, 41 convoys consisting of 738 transports reached the USSR and 36 convoys consisting of 726 transports went back. The plans of the Hitlerite High Command to isolate the USSR in the North from Great Britain and the USA were thwarted by the joint efforts of the Soviet Northern Fleet and the naval forces of the Allies.

At the same time the enemy attempted to disrupt Soviet internal lines of communication that connected the polar regions with Arkhangel’sk. The lines were defended by the White Sea Naval Flotilla, which, with its base in Arkhangel’sk, deployed some of its forces to a base in Iokan’ga in 1941, to Novaia Zemlia in 1942, and to Dikson Island in 1944. In August 1942 the German heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer carried out a raid in the Kara Sea, sank the icebreaker Sibiriakov (which defended itself heroically), and met resistance from shore batteries and the patrol ship Dezhnev at Dikson Island. Fearing a concentration of Soviet aviation and submarines, the raider departed for northern Norway in late August.

The Soviet Northern Fleet (submarines, torpedo boats, and airplanes) waged aggressive combat actions on enemy sea lanes along the coast of northern Norway to Troms0. In this zone more than 400 enemy transports and vessels carrying about 1 million registered gross tons were sunk. On Dec. 5, 1944, the medal For Defense of the Soviet Polar Regions was instituted by a directive of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.

A. V. BASOV

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