Sevastopol, Defense of 1941–42

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sevastopol’, Defense of (1941–42)


combat operations by the Black Sea Fleet, Maritime Army, and the population of the city to defend the major naval base at Sevastopol’ between Oct. 30, 1941, and July 4, 1942; an important phase in the struggle for the Crimea (September 1941-May 1944) during the Great Patriotic War.

Before the war, the city was not prepared for defense on land, and the defensive lines had only been reconnoitered. After the war began, in July the fleet command began preparing for a land defense. It consisted of three lines—forward, main, and rear. They were not completely deployed by November (especially the forward line), but, nevertheless, 82 reinforced-con-crete pillboxes with naval guns and 220 reinforced-concrete and earth-and-timber pillboxes were built, 33 km of antitank ditches were dug, 56 km of wire entanglements were set up, and 9,600 mines were laid. In August 1941 the Headquarters of the Supreme Command formed the Fifty-first Detached Army for the defense of the Crimea and in October 1941 transferred the Maritime Army from Odessa to the Crimea.

From October 25 to 27, 1941, the fascist German Eleventh Army, under the command of Colonel General E. von Man-stein (seven infantry divisions and a Rumanian mountain rifle corps consisting of two brigades, 150 tanks, and more than 300 aircraft), broke through the defense of Soviet forces on the Perekop Isthmus and the Ishun’ positions and entered the Crimea. Forces of the Fifty-first Army withdrew in heavy fighting to Kerch’, while the Maritime Army, because the Simferopol’ road had been cut off by the enemy, withdrew via Iai-Petri along mountain roads to Yalta and then on to Sevastopol’. Therefore, between October 30 and November 9 the Sevastopol’ garrison had only its own forces to repel strikes by the enemy, who was attempting to take the city on the run. The garrison consisted of one brigade, three regiments, and 19 battalions of naval infantry (approximately 23,000 men, about 150 field and coastal guns, and 82 aircraft). The main forces of the fleet (1 battleship, 5 cruisers, 11 destroyers, and 16 submarines) were in Sevastopol’. On October 31 most of them left for bases in the Caucasus.

The first to engage in battle (on October 30) were artillerymen of the 54th Coastal Defense Battery, commanded by Lieutenant I. I. Zaika. near the village of Nikolaevka, 40 km north of Sevastopol’. For three days they carried on the battle with the enemy, who had superior forces. On October 31-November 1 enemy forward units engaged the battle outposts (several naval infantry battalions), which were in the Bakhchisarai region and on the Kacha River line and were supported by long-range coastal guns. In early November the fascist German command committed two infantry divisions and a motorized brigade, trying to break into Sevastopol’ from the north, northeast, and east on the Evpatoriia and Simferopol’ roads.

Demonstrating mass heroism, units of the Sevastopol’ garrison, supported by coastal and ship guns and naval aviation, staunchly repelled strikes by superior enemy forces and, going over to the counterattack more than once, stopped the enemy on the forward and, to some extent, main lines of defense. On November 7 in the Duvankoi region, four naval infantrymen led by Political Leader N. D. Fil’chenkov performed an immortal deed: at the cost of their lives they prevented an enemy advance by engaging German tanks in battle, knocking out ten of them. The population of the city, led by the city defense committee (chaired by secretary of the city party committee B. A. Borisov), rendered a great deal of assistance in the defense.

On November 3 and 4 individual units of the Maritime Army arrived and immediately went into battle. On November 9 the main forces of the Maritime Army approached. Although it was depleted in strength (18,000–20,000 men, including 4,000–5,000 infantry, and 107 guns), it had experienced commanders. On the same day the divisions of the Maritime Army were reinforced by the addition of naval infantry battalions. Moreover, various naval infantry units were made subordinate to the army. All this greatly enhanced the fighting strength of the Maritime Army. On November 7 the Headquarters of the Supreme Command ordered: “Sevastopol’ is not to be surrendered in any case. The main task of the Black Sea Fleet is to be the active defense of Sevastopol’ and the Kerch’ Peninsula with all forces.”

The Headquarters of the Supreme Command also created the Sevastopol’ Defensive Region (SDR), which was originally formed on November 4 by order of the commander of forces in the Crimea, Admiral G. I. Levchenko. The SDR consisted of the Maritime Army, the Sevastopol’ garrison, coastal defense units, and specially assigned ships and aviation units of the Black Sea Fleet. Vice Admiral F. S. Oktiabr’skii, fleet commander, was appointed commander of the SDR. His deputies were commander of the Maritime Army Major General I. E. Petrov (for land defense); Major General P. A. Morgunov (for coastal defense and chief of the garrison); and Major General of Aviation N. A. Ostriakov, replaced by Major General of Aviation V. V. Ermachenkóv in April 1942 (for the air force); Division Commissar N. M. Kulakov was the member of the fleet military council. The SDR was divided into four sectors, which were headed by the commanders of the divisions of the Maritime Army. The SDR had a total of 55,000 men, including 29,000 fighting men on the land front.

On November 11, after concentrating four infantry divisions and other units (a total of up to 60,000 fighting men), the enemy renewed their attack on Sevastopol’, this time delivering the main strike from the southeast along the Yalta road. In desperate fighting, Soviet forces drove off all enemy attacks and held their positions. Having suffered substantial losses, on November 21 the enemy halted the attack and went over to the defense. With the evacuation of forces of the Fifty-first Army from the Kerch’ Peninsula on November 19, the SDR was made subordinate to the Headquarters of the Supreme Command. In late November and the first half of December the 388th Rifle Division and personnel replacements were brought to the SDR by sea. The defense was improved, and the production of clothing, ammunition, and mortars was begun in the city.

On December 17, after powerful artillery and air preparation, the fascist German and Rumanian forces (six German infantry divisions, two Rumanian mountain brigades, 1,275 guns and mortars, more than 150 tanks, and 300 airplanes) launched a second offensive against Sevastopol’. The main strike was directed at the junction of the third and fourth sectors from the Duvankoi region along the Bel’bek valley and at Kamyshly with the objective of breaking through to the Mekenzievy Gory and Inkerman railroad stations and reaching Severnaia Bay. Subsidiary strikes were made from Nizhnii Chorgun’ against Inkerman and along the Yalta road against Balaklava. The SDR had five rifle divisions (four of them at 50 percent strength), one understrength cavalry division, two brigades and three regiments of naval infantry, 410 guns, 120 mortars, 26 tanks, and 90 airplanes. The enemy had almost two-to-one superiority in numbers, but the Soviet troops defended stubbornly. The enemy was able to drive a wedge into the defense in the Mekenzievy Gory region.

On December 20 a crisis situation developed in the zone of the fourth sector when the enemy threatened to break through to Severnaia Bay. The Headquarters of the Supreme Command allocated forces to reinforce the Maritime Army. On December 21 the 79th Detached Naval Rifle Brigade arrived in Sevastopol’ on two cruisers and three destroyers. On December 22 it counterattacked in the Mekenzievy Gory region and halted the enemy advance. On December 23–24 the 345th Rifle Division and a tank battalion arrived on transports and warships, and on December 28 the 386th Rifle Division came in. The reinforcements and the powerful fire support of coastal batteries and ships (including a battleship) made it possible to drive the enemy back and eliminate the danger of a breakthrough. The Kerch’-Feodosiia Landing Operation of 1941–42, which began on December 26 and forced the fascist German command to remove some forces from Sevastopol’ and to halt the offensive on December 31, played an important role in repulsing the enemy attack. From January 1 to 4, Soviet forces counterattacked and pushed the enemy back to their initial positions almost everywhere.

After the failure of the enemy’s December offensive, there was a relative lull, which lasted until May 1942.

Both sides were preparing for the decisive battle for the Crimea. The Maritime Army received manpower and ammunition replacements and greatly reinforced the defense by improving fortifications. From January to March, Soviet forces waged combat in different sectors to improve their positions and disembarked tactical landing parties in the Evpatoriia, Yalta, and Sudak regions. The fighting strength of the SDR depended enormously on continuous, adequate delivery of all types of supplies and manpower replacements and on evacuation of the wounded. Therefore, securing sea-lanes was one of the fleet’s main missions. Naval shipping faced enemy superiority in the air and, beginning in the spring of 1942, counteraction by enemy torpedo boats and submarines as well.

In May 1942, the situation of Sevastopol’ was made much worse by the withdrawal of Soviet forces from the Kerch’ Peninsula and the failure of the Kharkov Offensive Operation. On May 21 the enemy initiated air and artillery bombardment of the city and artillery and rear positions and on June 2 launched a powerful, five-day artillery and air preparation for the attack. At the same time, the enemy strengthened the blockade of Sevastopol’ from the sea. The Germans concentrated 10 infantry divisions (three of them Rumanian), one motorized brigade, and three regiments (a total of more than 200,000 men, including 175,000 fighting men, 450 tanks, 1,325 guns, 720 mortars, and 1,060 aircraft). The SDR had seven rifle divisions (with one exception, all at 50 percent strength), four brigades, and three regiments of naval infantry (a total of 106,000 men, including 82,000 fighting men, 38 tanks, 606 guns, 918 mortars, and 116 aircraft).

On June 7 the enemy went on the offensive, delivering the main strike from the north and northeast against Mekenzievy Gory with the objective of reaching Severnaia Bay and subsidiary strikes against Sapun-Gora and Balaklava. Each day enemy aircraft carried out 800–1,000 sorties, dropping 4,000–4,500 bombs. The defenders of Sevastopol’ held their positions heroically as long as it was possible. Only when all able-bodied defenders and ammunition were gone was the enemy able to occupy defensive positions. The 138th Rifle Brigade, which had been brought in on June 13 by destroyers, gave some assistance. On June 18, after heavy losses, the enemy was able to break through to the shore of Severnaia Bay. The small garrisons of the 30th Coastal Defense Battery, the northern fortifications, the engineering wharf, and the Mikhalovskii and Konstanti-novskii ravelins that remained on the north side continued to defend heroically until June 22 to 24.

The defenders’ strength was waning, and ammunition was running out. With the shortened period of darkness and superiority of enemy aviation it became extremely difficult to supply Sevastopol’ by surface ships; after the enemy took the north side it became impossible. On June 17 the last transport, Belostok, arrived in Sevastopol’, and on June 26 the last large surface vessel, the leader Tashkent, broke through the blockade. Supply by submarine and airplane did not meet the needs of the defense. The losses of the defenders grew; by late June divisions were down to 300–400 men, brigades to 200 fighting men. The arrival of the understrength 142nd Rifle Brigade on June 27 could no longer save the situation. During the night of June 28 the enemy crossed Severnaia Bay and that same day took Sapun-Gora.

On June 30, fascist German forces broke into the Korabel’-naia Storona (Ship Side), where desperate fighting for Malak-hov Hill went on all day. The remnants of units retreated in small groups toward the Khersones Peninsula. During the night of June 30 authorization to evacuate was received from the Headquarters of the Supreme Command. The military council left Major General P. G. Novikov as senior officer in Sevastopol’. The defenders of Sevastopol’ continued to fight heroically on the Khersones Peninsula in the region of the 35th Coastal Defense Battery until July 4. A certain number of the men managed to evacuate in submarines, airplanes, cutters, high-speed minesweepers, sloops, and boats or to break through and join the partisans in the mountains. The enemy lost up to 300,000 men in the battle for Sevastopol’.

The soldiers of the Maritime Army and seamen of the Black Sea Fleet demonstrated mass heroism and exceptional staunchness. The title “Hero of the Soviet Union” was given to 37 of them. Units that especially distinguished themselves in the defense were the 25th (commanded by Major General T. K. Kolo-miets), 95th (Major General V. F. Vorob’ev, replaced by Colonel A. G. Kapitokhin in January 1942), 172nd (Colonel I. A. Laskin), 109th (2nd Brigade until January 1942; Major General P. G. Novikov) and 345th (Lieutenant Colonel N. O. Guz’) rifle divisions, the 7th (Colonel E. I. Zhidilov), 8th (Colonel V. L. Vil’shanskii, replaced in January 1942 by Colonel P. F. Gor-pishchenko), and 79th (Colonel A. S. Potapov) naval infantry brigades; the 265th and 134th artillery regiments; a pillbox artillery regiment; and the 30th, 35th, 54th, 19th, and 705th coastal batteries.

The defense of Sevastopol’ of 1941–42 was strategically important, because it pinned down major enemy forces on the southern wing of the Soviet-German front for eight months and prevented the enemy from developing an offensive against the Caucasus. In the defense of Sevastopol’ there was precise coordination between the army, navy, and air force. This was achieved by creating a unified command and correctly organizing control. The defense of Sevastopol’ is one of the brilliant examples of a prolonged and stalwart defense of a naval base surrounded by the enemy on the land side. On Dec. 22, 1942, to commemorate the feat of the defenders of Sevastopol’, the medal “For the Defense of Sevastopol’” was instituted and awarded to more than 45,000 people.


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Borisov, B. A. Podvig Sevastopolia. Simferopol’, 1959.
Zhidilov, E. I. My otstaivali Sevastopol’, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1963.
Krylov, N. I. Ognennyi bastion. Moscow, 1973.
Kulakov, N. M. Gorod morskoi slavy. Moscow, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.