The enemy will break his neck! Defenders of Sevastopol in autumn 1941 pass the monument to the defenders of Sevastopol in 1854-1855.



In the hitlerite plan of war with the Soviet Union the Army Group Centre was assigned to make the main thrust towards Moscow, whereas the Army Group South was assigned to auxiliary tasks. From the area south to the Pripet Marshes it had to advance to Kiev, Occupy the Ukraine and Crimea, and proceed to the Caucasus.

German plans attached a lot of importance to the southern direction for several reasons. First, they counted on grabbing natural reaches of southern Russia - Ukrainian wheat, coal and iron of Donbass, and Caucasian oil. Control of those materials would deprive the Soviet Union of the ability to wage the war, and help Germany to win the war with Great Britain before the United States would come to her aid.

Second, control of the Black Sea coasts, and Crimea in first place, would dismiss the danger of air raids on the Romanian oil fields supplying German industry and armed forces with fuels and lubricants. The Romanian petroleum industry used to deliver to Germany 3 million tons (out of 4 million of annual production) of fuels every year, and was the only considerable source of supply in this respect.

And third, plans of occupation of southern Russia, and especially Crimea and Caucasus, foresaw hitching the hesitating Turkey to the "Axis" chariot, and getting to the oil-rich areas on the Persian Gulf. In October 1941 the Operations Divisions of the Chief Command of the Army (OKH) drew up the plan for a Caucasus operation and reaching the Iranian and Iraqi borders. The operation was to be executed in six separate phases, extending from November 1941 to September 1942. All those strategic issues brought a closer attention of the German command to the operations of the Army Group South. The chief of staff of the OKH, Gen. Franz Halder, in his memo to Adolf Hitler from 23 July 1941 outlined the tasks of that army group as "Ukraine - Crimea, the lower Volga - Caucasus; transfer troops to coastal defence". He also estimated that around 28 August the German forces would be at Leningrad (Petersburg), Moscow, and along the line Orel - Crimea; in the beginning of October they were supposed to be on the Volga, and in November - in Baku and Batumi.

Meanwhile in fact the Army Group South (Field-Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt), after the protracted tank battle in Volhynia, in the middle of July was brought to a halt in the approaches of Kiev. In those circumstances Hitler, against the opinion of the OKH, on 23 July made the decision to transfer the 2nd Armoured Group (Gen. Heinz Guderian) from the Army Group Centre to the south, to close the Kiev pocket.

It was a far-fetching decision, as the 2nd Armoured Group and the 1st Armoured Group (Gen. Ewald von Kleist) from the Army Group South, after encircling and annihilation of the Soviet forces in the Kiev pocket, had to open German armies the way to Kharkov and Donbass, and launch the offensive towards the Don and Caucasus. As soon as the state of operations and of supplies allows (...), said the supplement to the Directive No.33, the bulk of the infantry divisions will then occupy the Ukraine, the Crimea, and the area of Central Russia up to the Don. The security of the area immediately south-west of the Bug is to be left to the Romanian army.

The Army Group South included two Romanian armies: 3rd and 4th. Together with the German 11th Army (Gen. Eugen von Schobert), concentrated in Romania in June 1941, they had to achieve the following objectives:
  • protect the right wing of the forces attacking from the territory of Romania,
  • contain in fights Soviet forces in the south during the outflanking manoeuvre from the north, and
  • pursuit after the retreating Soviet forces and their possible encirclement.
General von Schobert, who arrived in Romania on 23 May 1941, found the Romanian army demoralized and capable of limited military operations. After all, Romania did not put before its armed forces any tasks more ambitious than recovering the territories lost in 1940 to the USSR, Hungary and Bulgaria. To encourage Romania's involvement in the pending invasion, Germany had to provide substantial military aid and promise that territories between the Dniester and Southern Bug would be incorporated into Romania. Nevertheless, the combat capacities of the Romanian armed forces remained very low.

The German command was particularly concerned about the defence of the Romanian coast against Soviet amphibious operations. To organize the Romanian coastal defence, in February 1941 a German mission came to Constance. The chief of the mission, Rear-Admiral Friedrich Fleischer, previously the commandant of the naval base in Pillau, focused on deployment of the coastal artillery and mine-fields (Germany delivered 2,000 naval mines to Romania), while Captain Hans-Joachim Gadow, a naval commander distinguished in the battle of Narvik, who arrived in Romania in April 1941, became the chief of the German training mission in Romania and the German chief of staff in the Romanian navy. On 22 June 1941 Fleischer became the Admiral of the Black Sea, and Gadow - the chief of convoy operations in the Black Sea. The German supreme command had no plans of transferring German navy ships to the Black Sea, as it expected that in the lightning campaign whole coast would be quickly occupied, and the Soviet Black Sea Fleet would be deprived of its operational bases and cease to exist as a factor in the Germano-Soviet war.

In the beginning of the operation Barbaroßa VIII Corps VIII Corps ( the Germano-Romanian forces till 1 July concentrated along the Soviet-Romanian border along the River Prut, after which they launched their attack on the junction of the Soviet South-Western Front (Gen. Mikhail Kirponos) and Southern Front (Gen. Ivan Tyulenev). The German 11th Army, advancing from the area of Iasi on Pervomaysk, was stopped on the River Dniester. Meanwhile the development of the situation in Volhynia and around Kiev brought a series of clashed between 15 July and 4 August, known as the battle of Uman, in which the 1st Armoured Group (Gen. Ewald von Kleist), 17th Army (Gen. Otto von Stülpnagel) and the Hungarian VII Corps (Gen. Ferenc Szombathelyi) partly surrounded the forces of the Southern Front (18th Army) and South-Western Front (6th and 12th Armies). That let the Army Group South to reach the line of the Dnieper in the south of Kiev, and break the Soviet defence on the Dniester. The Romanian 4th Army (Gen. Nicolae Ciupercă) approached Odessa.

In August and September the Army Group South further exploited its superiority in troops and equipment to cross the Dnieper in the south of Kiev, and seize bridgeheads on the eastern bank near Okunev, Kremenchug and Dnepropetrovsk. On 30 August units of the German 11th Army forced the Dnieper in several places near Kakhovka and after several days of fight widened the bridgehead. Forces of the Soviet Southern Front withdrew to the line Novomoskovsk - Zaporozhye - Melitopol.

On 10 September began the dramatic battle of Kiev, which resulted in abandoning the city on 19 September and heavy fights on the eastern side of the encirclement ring. At the end of September von Rundstedt's forces exited to the operations space, where they could advance on Kharkov in the east, Rostov in the south-east, and Crimea in the south.