The Defence of Sevastopol, 1941–1942: The Soviet Perspective, by Clayton Donnell, Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley, U.K., 2016, $34.95
Crimea and the naval base of Sevastopol were not among the primary targets for the Wehrmacht’s Army Group South when Adolf Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941. All that changed when Crimea-based Soviet bombers hit the oil fields in Ploesti. For their part, the Soviet navy and army at Sebastopol had prepared for a seaborne invasion. Thus both sides were slow to appreciate Crimea’s geostrategic import. Once the Germans did, their decision to task General Erich von Manstein with seizing the peninsula was a classic case of the right man in the right position, right place and right time.
Although Donnell claims Manstein underestimated his opponents, he acknowledges the German commander’s decisive role in taking the region in 250 days—far less than the 348 days French, British, Turkish and Sardinian forces needed to occupy Sevastopol in 1854–55.
Among the interesting details in this overview of the operation is that the traditional Russian names of Sebastopol’s forts were in fact code names given them by the Germans. Fort Stalin, for example, was just Battery 365 to the Soviets, while Batteries 30 and 35 became Forts Maxim Gorki I and II. A more significant revelation was the utter failure by the Soviet intelligence services to pinpoint several key German positions, including those of the heavy artillery batteries and the 600 mm Karl mortars, or to notice the arrival of the 800 mm “Dora” gun, the largest mobile artillery piece ever made. Another interesting point Donnell makes is that without air support, a naval base under siege—even if it has underground factories and the strongest fortifications ever made—will ultimately fall.
The German Eleventh Army fought its campaign at Sevastopol from early autumn 1941 until mid-summer 1942. On its successful conclusion Manstein was promoted to field marshal. Soon after, however, the German High Command deactivated the Eleventh Army and transferred Manstein to the Leningrad sector. Thus, when General Friedrich Paulus asked for new divisions to support him in Stalingrad, no such reinforcements were available in the region. In that respect readers may find reason to agree with the author that the Crimea-Sebastopol campaign went down as a lost victory.