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Soviet Amphibious Operations
In The Black Sea, 1941-1943
SUBJECT AREA - Foreign Policy
CSC 1995
               EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Title:   Soviet Amphibious Operations in the Black Sea, 1941-
Author:  Charles B. Atwater, Jr.
Thesis:  The Soviet experience in amphibious warfare in
World War II contributed to the development of Soviet
operational art in combined arms operations.
Background:  Four operations in the Black Sea, two in the
early months of the war and two after the Soviets had gained
the initiative against the Germans, are examined to
illustrate Soviet amphibious warfare experience. As Soviet
prewar writings show, some concepts of amphibious warfare
were developed, but a lack of landing craft made successful
landings difficult to achieve in the operations examined. A
strong trait of adaptability and improvisation highlight the
Soviet experience. The writings of Soviet historians and
past military leaders constitute the majority of the source
Recommendations:  None.
     The Soviet Armed Forces conducted numerous amphibious
assaults in each of their four fleets during their Great
Patriotic War and demonstrated a capability for landings
that the German defenders had not anticipated. While a
majority of the assaults were small raids of a tactical
nature, several were large enough to be considered at the
operational level.
     One purpose of this paper is to examine the performance
of the Soviet Navy, the Red Army, and the marine units that
made the landings in the Black Sea.  Four operations will be
used as examples, the landings at Odessa and at Kerch and
Feodosia in 1941, and the landings at Novorossiisk and at
Kerch and Eltigen in 1943. Three of these were among the
largest amphibious operations the Soviets launched
throughout the war, so these landings are of particular
interest for a study of the Soviet military art of
amphibious warfare, a topic often neglected in the west.
One of the landings, the Kerch-Eltigen operation, conducted
at the end of 1943 when the Soviet forces had gained the
initiative after the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, will
be examined in detail.
     The second purpose of this paper is to illustrate how
the Soviets developed amphibious warfare into another
element of their operational art. A striking, though hardly
surprising, feature of the operations in the Black Sea is
that an army general always was in overall command of the
landings. The role of the Soviet Navy was relegated to
support the maritime flank of the Red Army, to open up or
secure a different avenue of approach so that the ground
forces could attack, defend, reinforce, or withdraw.
     Soviet historians and former military leaders, whose
works are the primary sources for this paper, generally
concede that although their amphibious landings were
successful, there were significant shortcomings, especially
in the lack of landing craft.  A few non-Soviet writers have
objectively given credit to the sailors who launched the
landings and to the marines and soldiers who assaulted the
beaches for their genuine accomplishments under harsh
     The ability to gain access to and maintain control of
major sources of crude oil was a paramount feature of
Hitler's war plans.  The Crimea became a pivotal point in
those plans, especially to protect the oil for the
Wehrmacht.  Russian bombers, staging from the Crimea, would
be capable of duplicating their one-time strike in early
July 1941 on the Romanian oil fields at Ploesti.  On the
Eastern end of the Black Sea, the capture of the Russian oil
in the Caucasus near Grozny and Baku would become, in
Hitler's view, a major strategic prize.  Without sufficient
naval power in the Black Sea, the Wehrmacht was forced to
depend on the ground and air forces of Army Group South to
sieze those fields.  From Stalin's perspective, Admiral
Gorshkov described the military-political significance of
the Crimea as "... relating to the possible entry of Turkey
(who was then biding her time) on the side of Hitler
Germany.   Seizing and holding the Crimea as early as
possible in the war thus would assist Germany in gaining
this strategic objective.  The headquarters of the Soviet
Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol had to be taken first, to
neutralize the Soviet naval dominance.  Afterwards, the
German army would secure the Black Sea ports to the east,
especially Kerch, Novorossiisk, and Tuapse, on its seaward
march to the Caucasus, adding to the pressure by another
offensive farther north, past Rostov-na-Donu.  Kerch and
Novorossiisk were easily taken in 1942; Sevastopol would
become another matter.
     In the grandiose pre-war plans of Hitler and Alfred
Rosenberg, the Ninister of Eastern Occupied Territory, once
     1 S.G. Gorshkov, Red Star Rising at Sea, translated
by T.A. Neely (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute, 1974), p.
the Crimea became firmly established under German control,
it would become administratively merged with the Ukraine.
The Crimea would be renamed either Taurida, the ancient
Greek name for the area, or Gutenland, because it was
claimed that the Goths had settled the Crimea in the 16th
     The official U.S. definition of an amphibious operation
is "... an attack launched from the sea by naval and landing
forces embarked on ships or craft involving a landing on a
hostile shore."3  A recent authoritative Soviet definition
is "An amphibious operation is an action coordinated and
connected by a unified concept and plan for landing the
amphibious forces on a hostile shore and for fulfilling
their combat mission there."4   This definition, by
excluding the phrase "an attack from the sea," implictly
includes riverine operations and therefore differs from U.S.
terminology.  The riverine operations along the Danube in
1944 and 1945 are considered by the Soviets as amphibious.
     The concepts of Admiral Ivan Isakov, written in 1931
     2 Alexander Dallin,  German Rule in Russia 1941-1945
(Boulder: Westview, 1981), pp. 253-254.
     3 Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and
Associated Terms, (Washington D.C.: U.S Government Printing
Office), 1 December 1989, p. 27.
     4 Military Encyclopedic Dictionary  (Moscow: Military
Publishing House), 1983, p. 458.
when he was in the Operations Directorate of the Workers and
Peasants Red Army, served as pre-war theories for conducting
amphibious operations.  The Bolsheviks had conducted several
amphibious landings in the Civil War against the Whites
during the Civil War, and Isakov drew upon those experiences
as well as others during World War I. Isakov was the chief
of the Soviet Navy Main Staff during World War II and was
responsible for forming and coordinating all naval
operations plans, including amphibious operations.
     Admiral Isakov's 1931 writings, while offering no
definition of amphibious operations, specified and briefly
expounded upon their types, scale, stages, and complexity.5
He listed three types: a strategic landing, a tactical
landing, and a raiding party.  A strategic landing, usually
connected with political goals, involves the main front of
the campaign or would open up a new front, and would be an
independent operation.  It would last from three weeks up to
several months, conducted by a division at the very least,
but more probably by a corps or higher.  A major requirement
of a strategic landing would be the secure lines of
communication with the home country for sustainment of the
operation.  Isakov cited the Gallipoli operation in World
     5 I.S. Isakov, Collected Works: Oceanography, Geography,
and Military History, edited by N.D. Sergeev (Moscow: Military
Publishing House), 1984, pp. 178-183.  His article "Landing
Operation"  included  in  this  collection  was  originally
published in 1931 in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.
War I as a prime example.6
     A tactical landing has limited missions such as
enveloping the flank of the enemy, but it is characterized
as influencing the outcome of the battle on the theater's
coastal sector.  It is a supporting operation, usually
lasting no more than a week, conducted usually by a
battalion but possibly by a division.  A raiding party is a
small scale operation, a demonstration designed for very
limited tasks such as creating panic in the enemy's rear or
destroying a coastal artillery emplacement.  The time of a
raiding party is measured in hours and the inserted forces,
often provided by a ship's company, require extraction.7
     The stages of an amphibious operation, as delineated by
Isakov, generally follow those of the PERMA sequence
(Planning, Embarkation, Rehearsal, Movement, Assault) with
two exceptions.  Rehearsals are not a separate stage.  The
final stage involves fulfilling the mission ashore. The
first stage, called preparation instead of planning,
involves development of the plan, collecting intelligence on
the enemy and the landing sites, and rehearsals for troops,
naval and air forces and all equipment.  The embarkation
phase is next, followed by movement, and then to the assault
onto the shore with naval gunfire and aviation support and
consolidation of the landing ashore.  The final phase is the
     6 Ibid., p. 178.
     7 Ibid., p. 179.
development of activities to achieve the assigned missions
ashore by the ground forces. Tasks for the navy in this last
stage deal primarily for continued naval support, such as
creating bases and keeping open the sea lines of
communication.  Isakov also emphasized planning for an
evacuation in case the operation fails.8
     Isakov briefly listed certain characteristics of an
amphibious assault that make it the most difficult and
complex form of military operations.  These characteristics
include the need for a unified plan for a combined arms
force, the dependence upon a set of multiple external
conditions on the land, on shore and at sea, and in the air,
the weather, and even astronomical indicators such as the
phases of the moon.  The success of an amphibious operation
hinges on the proper selection of landing sites, the timing
of the landing, thorough preparation of all forces, and the
need for secrecy in the preparation and execution of the
landing.  Finally, Isakov made only an oblique reference to
the requirement for air superiority, not developing the idea
at all.9  Isakov compiled this listing apparently for
consideration by Soviet planners, more as a starting point
for further development of a manual with more detailed
     Isakov cited command and control as one of the most
     8 Ibid., p. 180.
     9.Ibid., p. 179.
critical elements in an amphibious operation. For a
strategic operation, the overall control of the entire
operation is entrusted to the ground forces commander. He
has two subordinates who are the "direct executors" of the
operation, the commander of the landing forces and the
commander of the naval forces.10  He did not indicate what
the command relationships would be for landings at a scale
lower than strategic. Because the Soviets did not conduct a
strategic-sized landing, it is unclear how well this key
doctrinal concept was understood at the start of the war.
     Along with Isakov's ideas, the Naval Provisionary
Regulations of 1937 provided a theoretical basis for Soviet
amphibious warfare. An operational-sized assault was added
to the types Isakov specified; its objective would be to
deal a stronger strike than a tactical one or to create a
new direction for entering the enemy's territory.  For
seizing a beachhead, the Regulations recommended that the
units conducting the spearhead seize an area with a depth of
300-600 meters from the shore to keep enemy machinegun fire
away from the follow-on forces.  Soon after, the beachhead
should be expanded to a depth large enough to prevent the
enemy from bringing in observed artillery fire.  The
Regulations apparently did not refine information on command
relationships between the naval and ground forces
     10 Ibid., p. 182.
     Only in the Baltic Fleet had a unit formed by June 1941
which was intended especially for amphibious warfare, the
1st Special Marine Brigade organized in Leningrad in 1940.
The deployment of this unit was not included in the
mobilization plans drawn up in early 1941.12  Soon after
the Germans kicked off Operation Barbarossa, the Soviet High
Command recognized that similar units should be formed in
all the fleets.  Sailors were hastily enlisted from all
types of ships and joined those recently released from
hospitals and schools.  Naval officers who had attended
combined arms academies assumed many of the key command and
staff billets.
     Two types of formations were created, each gaining a
unit title which stemmed from its mission.  A Marine
Brigade, Regiment, or often a Battalion, would be assigned
as its primary mission the spearhead in an amphibious
assault.  A Naval Rifle Brigade, of which 25 were eventually
formed, were primarily intended for combat on the ground.
Some of these units were employed in landings.  Most of them
came from Siberia and the Far East and initially fought in
the defense of Moscow.
     11 P. Yakhimov and V. Petrov, "Combat Use of Marines in
Landings,' Journal of Military History, No 11 (November) 1974,
pp. 27-28.
     12 V. Bagrov, "Marine and Naval Rifle Units in the Summer-
Fall Campaigns of 1941," Journal of Military History, No. 7
(July), 1973, p. 97.
     Tactical and demonstration landings comprised the bulk
of the over 100 landings done throughout the war by all the
fleets.  While Soviet accounts differ as to the number,
there were at least three or four landings at the level of
war.13  Three of these operational-sized landings were made
by the Black Sea Fleet with the Azov Flotilla, two of which
were the largest of all done by the Soviets, the Kerch-
Feodosia and Kerch-Eltigen operations.
     Admiral Sergei Gorshkov, a previous Commander-in-Chief
of the Soviet Navy and a participant in many of the
amphibious operations in the Black Sea, noted that a
majority of the landings had to be planned in an extremely
short period of time, mostly less than two days, some in a
matter of hours.14  He does not differentiate among the
type or scale of operations.  For the operational-sized
assaults conducted by the Black Sea Fleet, there was a
minimum of nearly three weeks for planning and staging
rehearsals, still not a long period of time.
     Because of the short stretches of sea that had to be
traversed and especially because of the lack of landing
craft, the Black Sea Fleet embarked and landed troops in one
     13 V.I. Achkasov and N.B. Pavlovich, Soviet Naval Art in
the Great Patriotic War (Moscow: Military Publishing House,
1973), p. 113. This work specifically notes only three, but
the description of the Novorossiisk operation, excluded in
this tally, suggests it too was operational-sized.
     14 S.G. Gorshkov, "The Development of Naval Art," Journal
of Military History, No. 7 (July), 1982, p. 14.
or more echelons in improvised craft, of widely varying
sizes and seldom of the same type for any operation.  The
craft would return to the embarkation area, often with
wounded, load up again, and return to the beachhead.  This
ferrying of troops compounded logistical tasks, which are
seldom easy during the assault phase, even across short
stretches of water.  Combat loading, the planned storage of
equipment and supplies at the embarkation points for rapid
and sequential unloading at the beachhead throughout the
operation, could be done only with the greatest of
     In the Odessa landing, the assault forces embarked on
one ship and then at sea transferred to smaller landing
craft to make the assault.  At the Kerch-Feodosia operation,
there was a combination of ship-to-shore and shore-to shore
movement, but all conducted a relatively short distance from
the landing sites.  At Novorossiisk and Kerch-Eltigen, the
landings were shore-to-shore, a more expedient process
because of the shorter sea passage.  To gain surprise, it
was recognized that movement should begin during darkness,
with the assault also made during darkness or at dawn.
     Mistakes early in the war in the designation of the
overall commander and the unclear delineation of the
responsibilities of his subordinate commanders had to be
corrected.  By the end of 1943, this problem was solved so
that the Kerch-Eltigen operation was launched with
reasonable success.  The senior overall commander was an
army general.  This assignment made sense because of the
short passage across the Kerch Straits from the neighboring
ports in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov that served as the
points of embarkation.  Much of the planning effort revolved
around the combat ashore, and the embarkation onto the
landing craft originated from shore, not from naval vessels.
     By the end of 1943, with the experience of previous
landings, the planners for the operations refined earlier
areas of weaknesses in procedures for aviation support,
communications and logistics, and especially in coastal
artilley and rocket fire support. They were forced to
realize the absolute necessity for local air superiority.
However, the Soviets never solved the problem of a serious
lack of suitable landing craft.  This caused immense
difficulties, such as limiting the selection of landing
sites.  Operations in all the fleets, except for the brief
operations in the Pacific in 1945, suffered as a
consequence.  Most Soviet accounts acknowledge this
shortage. It is explained that the shortage was overcome
with the expedient use of any craft available, including
commandeered fishing boats, sailboats, rowboats, and even
canoes.  The resulting loss of life of many marines,
soldiers, and sailors is usually omitted in the explanation.
     The first sizable amphibious assault in the Black Sea
occurred on 22 September 1941, in an attempt to relieve a
sector of the Odessa Defense Area that two Romanian
divisions had sealed off from the land approaches.  Prior to
the German invasion, Soviet commanders in charge of the
defense of Odessa stressed repulsing an enemy attack from
the seal the possibility of attacks from the land or the
rear were basically ignored.15  The purpose of the assault
was to land forces to eliminate  artillery positions
threatening Odessa. A tactical landing in the early morning
hours of darkness inserted 1920 men of the newly organized
3d Marine Regiment of the Black Sea Fleet onto the shores
near the town of Grigorevka, 25 kilometers east of Odessa.
On 21 September the regiment embarked on two cruisers at
Sevastopol and disembarked shortly after 0100 onto 19 motor
craft and 10 barges used as landing craft. and were all
ashore in three and a half hours.16  A nine minute naval
gunfire barrage preceded the assault, which came ashore in
two waves.  The first wave consisted of two of the
regiment's three battalions, one of which was led by a
junior lieutenant, a sign the unit was hastily formed. The
     15 John Erickson, The Soviet High Command (Boulder:
Westview, 1984), p. 582.
     16 Kh.Kh. Kamalov, The Marines in the Battle for the
Motherland, (Moscow: Military Publishing House, 1966),
pp. 136-137.
second wave brought in the third battalion. There is no
evidence that the landing was opposed, so the night landing
achieved surprise. A simultaneous air drop of 25
parachutists five kilometers behind the beach resulted in
the destruction of a Romanian command post and created
confusion in the Romanian ranks.
     There was little time for planning the assault, no time
for rehearsal.  Sergei Gorshkov, then a Rear Admiral and
soon to become commander of the Azov Flotilla, was in charge
of the landing forces.  He assumed command on 21 September
after the original commander was wounded when his ship was
severely damaged by German torpedos.17  The overall command
of the Odessa area had just been given to the commander of
the Odessa Naval Base.  Arguments among generals and
admirals in Moscow over the selection of the Odessa
Defensive Area commander generated confusing and conflicting
telegrams and orders in the early days of the defense.18
Overlapping responsibilities in the chain of command came to
Stalin's attention in August, but the issue was not resolved
for several weeks.  In such confusion, the Black Sea Fleet
had no easy task in coordinating the landing plans with the
ground forces and the Odessa Naval Base which was to provide
the landing craft.
     17 K.F. Fakeev, "Landing at Grigorevka," Naval Digest, No.
9 (September) 1971, pp. 56-57.
     18 N.G. Kuznetsov, On the Road to Victory (Moscow:
Military Publishing House, 1976), pp. 101-102.
	The marines' mission was to land and seize an area in
the enemy's rear and flank, and to destroy artillery pieces
that were threatening the city and port of Odessa.  No
follow-on forces landed after the 3d Regiment.  After a
stiff battle, the marines secured a few areas behind the
landing site, neutralized the Romanian artillery, and joined
up with another marine unit attached to an army division
defending Odessa.  Air strikes by bombers hit Romanian
artillery, troop positions, and airfields while naval
gunfire shifted fire from the beaches to the depth of the
Romanian defenses.19
     The assault, though modest in proportion, had specific
and attainable objectives, surprised the Romanians, and
gained time for the beseiged city. It was the first
successful joint army, navy, and air force attempt at a
landing in the war.20  The seaward flank was the only
available avenue of approach into Odessa, and the Soviet's
judicious use of it during a period of nearly utter
confusion demonstrated their adaptability. Three weeks
later, the Soviet High Command ordered the troops to
evacuate Odessa to reinforce Sevastopol, which was coming
under increasing attack and was considered more important.
Gorshkov's ships took the Odessa defenders there in what one
     19 Fakeev, op. cit., p. 57.
     20 Soviet Military Encyclopedia (Moscow: Military
Publishing House), Vol. 3, 1977, p. 51.
notable historian calls a small Dunkirk.21
     For many days into December 1941, Krupp siege guns had
been battering Sevastopol, the pivotal point in the southern
area, and the only area at the time in which Hitler, after
the resounding Soviet counterstrokes near the gates of
Moscow, allowed offensive operations to continue.  Large
scale relief for the Soviet defenders would be unable to
advance head-on into the port or even in its immediate
vicinity; a sizable force would have to land in the rear of
Erich von Manstein's 11th Army occupying the Crimea.  The
Soviet High Command approved an ambitious plan for an
operational-sized assault not just to repulse the Germans
from Sevastopol, but also to initiate actions to liberate
the entire Crimea.22  The Commanding General of the North
Caucasus Front was put in charge of the overall operation.
The command relationships of the subordinate naval and
ground forces is not noted in Soviet sources. The original
plan was drawn up at the end of November, but it was not
finally approved by the High Command and disseminated to the
     21 John Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad (New York:
Macmillan, 1976), p. 21.
     22 N.G. Kuznetsov, op. cit., p. 167.
forces involved until 16 December.23  This procrastination
gave fits to the head of the Soviet Navy, Admiral Nikolai
Kuznetsov, and the Navy Main Staff, not allowing them what
they considered a reasonable amount of time to prepare.24
     Any landing forces should have, at a rough minimum, a
manpower ratio of three-to-one over the defenders ashore.
Anything less could be courting disaster.  In late December
1941 the commander of the North Caucasus Front mustered a
total of nearly 42,000 men to land on two areas over 100
kilometers apart defended by the Soviet estimate of 25,000
Germans and Romanians of Manstein's 11th Army.25
     The operation was delayed a week to allow three
cruisers to rush reinforcements from Novorossiisk to
Sevastopol.  The cruisers "Krasnyi Kavkaz" and "Krasnyi
Krym" returned on 25 December to Novorossiisk and
immediately began to load up men of the 44th Army, including
a detachment of 300 marines designated as a shock group that
would transfer onto two minesweepers and 12 cutters.26
     Surprise had been a deciding factor in the success of
the Odessa landing.  Surprise was lost for the Kerch-
Feodosia operation before the forces had embarked.
     23 I. Eliseev, "The Kerch-Feodosia Landing Operation,"
Naval Digest, No. 11 (November), 1971, pp. 66-67.
     24 N.G. Kuznetsov, op. cit., p. 161.
     25 Soviet Military Encyclopedia,  Vol. 4, 1977, p. 146.
     26 I. Eliseev, op. cit., p. 69.
According to a former chief of the Soviet Naval Academy, the
volume of radio traffic emitting from the Novorossiisk
communications center during the early December preparations
alerted Manstein to the impending landings.27  The Germans
most likely did not know in advance the exact landing sites.
But the other impediments to an amphibious assault, namely
choppy seas, tumbling surf, and cold, rainy weather, were
waiting along the entire Crimean coast.
     The operation was the largest and most complex
amphibious assault conducted by the Soviets in the entire
war.28  The main assault by elements of a division of the
44th Army landed on the port of Feodosia, which is tucked
near the extreme eastern edge of the Crimean mountain chain
hugging the Black Sea coast.  A combination of the lack of
surprise, gale force winds, and German air superiority
enabled the defenders to put up a bitter defense against the
landing at Feodosia.  The cruisers and auxiliary craft of
the Black Sea Fleet of this main assault departed
Novorossiisk at midnight of 28 December.  The landings
commenced at 0350 under cover of darkness.  It took over
seven hours to land over 5400 men in the first echelon, a
dismal rate of 12 men a minute according to one Soviet
     27 V. Sysoev, "Command and Control Organization by the
Branches of the Fleet," Journal of Military History, No. 7
(July), 1981, p. 37.
     28 N.G. Kuznetsov, op. cit., p. 164.
historian.29  According to a German historian, the
defenders at Feodosia were spread thinly and lacked mobile
motorized reserves.30  The commander of the forces at
Kerch, General Count Sponeck, disobeyed Manstein's orders to
hold fast and moved his men in the bitter cold to reinforce
those at Feodosia.  Hitler later ordered Sponeck's
execution, a verdict the historian calls "barbaric" and
fulfilled in 1944.31
     The secondary assault by the Soviet 51st Army onto the
steep escarpments north of Kerch on the Sea of Azov
succeeded.  The assault waves of three battalions of the 83d
Marine Brigade, nearly 5000 men, had landed on 26 December.
The marines were transported by the Azov Flotilla in a
shore-to-shore movement from the port of Temryuk,
approximately 60 kilometers from the landing sites.  This
landing began at 0630 when the temperature had dropped well
below freezing.  Several of the narrow beaches were blocked
by ice, forcing the marines to jump out of their rowboats
and wade through neck deep water to the shore.32  Although
hit hard by German aircraft, the follow-on forces of the
51st Army were able to expand the beachead and tied in with
     29 G. Ammon, The Tempo in Amphibious Assaults," Journal
of Military History, No. 3 (March), 1982, p. 25.
     30 Paul Carell, Hitler Moves East (Boston: Little Brown,
1963), pp. 297-301.
     31 Ibid., p. 301.
     32 Kh.  Kh. Kamalov, op. cit., p. 144.
the beleaguered 44th Army that was struggling against
Manstein's reinforcements from Sevastopol.
     The two armies of the North Caucasus Front, then,
accomplished their initial mission, drawing away Germans
from Sevastopol; by 2 January the Kerch peninsula briefly
returned to Soviet control.  It is important to note that
the two-pronged amphibious assault was entirely successful.
Subsequent actions were not so.  By April Manstein launched
a large counterattack against the North Caucasus Front,
wiping it out and taking a large number of prisoners.  At
least one non-Soviet historian cites the Soviet failure to
make any more than piecemeal attacks on the Crimea, leading
to defeat.33 What might be overlooked in that evaluation
was the Soviet ability to establish a beachhead with forces
less than the "required" minimum.  The future failure to
provide enough forces for operations beyond the beachhead
should not detract from the Soviet accomplishment for making
a successful amphibious assault at the operational level.
     A regular feature of Stalin's centralized command and
control was the practice of dispatching a representative of
the Moscow High Command to the local battle area to ensure
that the High Command's orders were being followed.  In the
early spring of 1942, Stalin sent a political henchman, the
dreaded Lev Mehklis who led much of the purges against the
     33 Alan Clark, Barbarossa (New York: Signet, 1966), p.
military in the late 1930's, to coordinate the Crimean
offensive.  This move proved disastrous, resulting in many
Soviets being captured.  Overall coordination of future
operations would require major overhaul.
     Following the victory at Stalingrad in early 1943 and
the retreat westward of elements of German Army Group "A"
from the Caucasus, the Soviet High Command turned its
attention once again to the German forces around the Black
Sea.  A tactical landing on the western side of the port of
Novorossiisk in February 1943 was supposed to begin
operations to liberate the Taman peninsula.  This landing,
known and celebrated as "The Little Land" and the topic of a
book by Leonid Brezhnev who participated as a political
officer, created a small beachhead, but follow-on
reinforcements were effectively sealed off by German
defenders. Even though destroyers of the Black Sea Fleet
were positioned in the Novorossiisk harbor, they failed to
provide gunfire support.34  A battalion of the 255th Marine
Brigade remained holed up for six months on the Taman
Peninsula, isolated from the reconstituted North Caucasus
     The sequencing of the operation could be characterized
     34 Robert W. Herrick, Soviet Naval Strategy (Annapolis:
United States Naval Institute, 1968), p. 52.
by the acronym PREMA, because the rehearsals preceded the
embarkation.  Preparations began two months before the
operation, stressing rehearsals by all branches of service
assembled for the combined arms assault.  The landing
forces, both marine and army, practiced night-time
embarkation and landings, with special attention to loading
and unloading equipment.35
     On 18 August Stalin sent Admiral Kuznetsov from Moscow
to the area to review personnally the plans and preparations
for the operation with the commander of the Front, General-
Colonel I.E. Petrov. They drove in Petrov's lend-lease
Studebaker to the Front's field command post in Gelendzhik,
on the coast only a short distance east of Novorossiisk.
The High Command had decided that Petrov, a veteran of
operations in the area, would be the overall commander.  He
was to have two deputies, the 18th Army Commanding General
for ground forces, and the Black Sea Fleet Commander for
naval forces.  The landing itself would be led by the
commander of the Novorossiisk Naval Base. It is unclear what
arrangements were made, if any, on the transfer of command
once the forces ashore could control the battle.  Kuznetsov
noted that the Navy Main Staff in Moscow would be following
closely the naval portion of the operation.  As Stalin's
representative (it is noteworthy that only a naval
representative was dispatched to ensure that the operation
     35 I. Eliseev, op. cit., p. 55.
followed the High Command's directives), Kuznetsov helped
refine the plans, arguing successfully with Petrov on at
least one naval matter, the proper embarkation points for
the landings.36
     After a two day delay because of strong winds, the
attack on the Taman Peninsula finally began in the early
morning hours of 10 September.  The attacks came from the
north and west on the ground, and from the south from the
sea. It was a three-pronged assault by elements of four
combined arms armies, supported by the 4th Air Army and the
aviation of the Black Sea Fleet.   The most important phase
of the offensive was the joint ground and amphibious assault
on Novorossiisk.  In all, Soviet forces had only a 1.5
numerical superiority over the defending German and Romanian
     The main strike was to be directed on Novorossiisk by
the 18th Army.  For the amphibious assault, 140 ships were
divided into two echelons carrying 6500 men, 4000 in the
first echelon.  The initial waves consisted of 3000 men of
the 255th Marine Brigade, an experienced unit that had the
mission of securing the western side of the port, near where
their fellow marines were still holding out on the "Little
Land."  Other waves, which had to maneuver past piers that
considerably narrowed the width of the entrance to the port,
     36 N.G. Kuznetsov, op. cit., p. 302.
     37 Soviet Military Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, 1978, p. 621.
also had marines as leading elements.  Follow-on forces came
from two regiments of the 18th Army.38
     An important feature of this landing was the
coordinated fire support it received, a vast improvement
over previous landings.  The 18th Army artillery commander
controlled 225 rocket launchers and 390 mortars of his army
as well as the 44 coastal artillery pieces of the Black Sea
Fleet, which somehow were moved into position for the
assault.  The rocket and artillery fire pounded the German
defensive positions for 15 minutes as the assault craft
sailed into the harbor.  The wave commanders signaled cease-
fire either by radio or by flare as they neared the landing
sites.  The 4th Air Army detached 60 aircraft and the Black
Sea Fleet provided 88 aircraft.  Both air and artillery
support continued throughout the battle ashore, so the
Soviets learned their previous lessons well, recognizing the
need to ensure air superiority.  Another feature of the
landing was the use of hydrographic-geodesic teams that
landed early on to set up fire control points on the piers
for accurate positioning and more precise targetting
     By 16 September, the port was secure after heavy
fighting.  The Germans and Romanians quickly broke through
     38 Kh. Kh. Kamalov, op. cit., p. 156.
     39 M. Karyagin, "On the Black Sea," Naval Digest, No. 11,
1974, p. 56.
in retreat to the west and managed to escape virtually
unscathed across the Kerch Straits and to dig defensive
positions on the commanding heights of the port of Kerch.
Allowing these forces to escape proved to be a costly
oversight for the North Caucasus Front.  In less than two
months another bloody battle would ensue.
     The landing at Odessa in 1941 was attempted as a time-
gaining measure to relieve the burdened forces, enabling
them to evacuate to Sevastopol.  The ambitious assault on
Kerch and Feodosia two months later was essentially a
desperate rear-guard action, imaginative in concept and
conducted with skill in the face of terrible weather
conditions, a lack of experience, and unsuitable landing
craft.  At Novorossiisk in 1943, with the initiative on the
Red Army's side, the amphibious assault was only a part of
the overall plan, albeit a significant part, executed by
applying lessons learned from previous mistakes.
     The next operational-sized assault, launched on 31
October 1943, once again across the Kerch Straits, would
test the Soviet's adaptive skills to the fullest.  Two
beachheads on heavily defended areas would have to be
established and then expanded to allow a rapid build-up of
forces being ferried from across the straits.  Rain and cold
again were to impede the assault.  And this time the meagre
forces of the German 3d Minesweeping Flotilla became an
unexpected and dangerous foe to the Soviet Naval forces,
still equipped with makeshift landing craft.
     According to Admiral Doenitz, the Germans evacuated
over 200,000 men across the Kerch Straits in September 1943
in the wake of the Soviet offensive on the Taman
Peninsula.40  The 3d Minesweeping Flotilla assisted in this
task with minimum opposition from Soviet air and naval
assets, whose primary concern centered on mopping-up actions
in the immediate vicinity of Novorossiisk. The story of the
3d Flotilla can rate only brief mention here.  Its assorted
craft, mainly minesweepers and a few barges, had moved in
1942 from the Baltic across the autobahn on giant 64-wheel
carriers, down the Danube and into the Black Sea.41  The
forces the Flotilla carried across the Kerch Straits
throughout September were needed to defend the Crimea that
Hitler still deemed strategically essential as the hub of
all activity in the south, especially since the consequences
of the defeat in August at Kursk had become apparent.  The
prize of the Caucasus oil was never realized; the defense of
the Ploesti oil still depended on denying the Crimean
airfields to the Soviets.
     The Germans, on the retreat, had ground, air, and naval
     40 Karl Doenitz, Memoirs, Ten Years and Twenty Days,
translated by R.H. Stevens (Cleveland: World, 1959), p. 389.
     41 C.D. Bekker, Swaztika at Sea (London: William Kimber,
1954), p. 116.
assets to frustrate any amphibious assault onto the Crimea.
Chief among the naval assets were the fast-landing barges
especially fashioned for navigating shallow waters and armed
with rocket launchers and machine guns.  The 3d Flotilla had
laid over 2000 mines in the approaches and throughout the
straits.  In the air, the Germans would be unable to counter
the Red Army's air superiority.  The ground forces that
remained to defend against the inevitable assault across the
Kerch Straits consisted of one German infantry division and
one division each of Romanian cavalry and mountain troops,
in all about 85,00 defenders, per Soviet accounts.  Mortar
and artillery totalling 56 pieces along with 23 anti-air
artillery guns were emplaced along the 40 kilometer stretch
of coast at the most likely landing sites.42  The most
heavily fortified area was around the port of Kerch where
the straits are narrowest, only five kilometers across.
These forces had adequate time to string barbed wire and to
dig ditches to impede any landing attempt.
     The Soviets mustered four rifle divisions, one from the
18th Army and three from the 56th Army, to assault the
German positions at two areas twenty kilometers apart.  Each
assault was spearheaded by a battalion of experienced
marines.  The ships of the Azov Flotilla under Admiral
Gorshkov were to land the main assault in and around the
port of Kerch.  The Black Sea Fleet was to land the
     42 Soviet Military Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 147.
secondary assault onto the beaches of Eltigen, the area
closer to the Black Sea and across the wider portion of the
mine-infested straits.
     Admiral Kuznetsov complained that a change of plans by
the High Command forced the Navy Main Staff to coordinate
the details of the operation in a hurried fashion. The High
Command, or most likely Stalin himself, had the opportunity
by mid-September to decide on the Kerch Straits as the
primary area of action for initiating the liberation of the
Crimea.  Not until 12 October did the North Caucasus Front,
to which to 18th and 56th armies were subordinate, receive
the directive to conduct the amphibious assault.43  That
left less than three weeks to prepare for the operation.
     As in the Novorossiisk operation, Stalin sent Kuznetsov
from Moscow to the Taman area to supervise the naval
preparations and rehearsals and to confer with Marshal
Timoshenko, the High Command's representative there for
ground forces.  Two concerns stood out for Kuznetsov.  The
probability of worsening weather increased as winter
approached, and the waters of the straits could ice up even
in early November, evoking memories of the Kerch-Feodosia
landing nearly two years before.  The lack of landing craft
might hinder the success of the passage across the straits
and coupled with the extensive German mine-laying threat,
     43 N.G. Kuznetsov, "The Kerch-Eltigen Landing Operation,"
Journal of Military History, No. 8 (August), 1974, pp. 73-74.
the assault echelons might have difficulty in getting to the
beach, let alone securing a beachhead.  Kuznetsov heard the
familiar reports of the shortage of landing craft and tanks
when he met with all the principal commanders.
     General-Colonel Petrov, still the commanding general of
the North Caucasus Front which was then headquartered just
to the north of Novorossiisk, was in charge of the
operation.  Petrov's deputy for naval units was Vice Admiral
Vladimirskii, commander of the Black Sea Fleet.  Rear
Admiral Gorshkov was in charge of bringing in the landing
forces of the main assault, the 56th Army.  The commander of
the Novorossiisk Naval Base, Rear Admiral Kholostyakov, was
in charge of bringing in the landing forces of the 18th
Army, the secondary assault.44
     In this arrangement, there was no exact equivalent to
the U.S. title of Commander, Landing Forces. General Petrov
commanded all forces, ground and naval, throughout the
operation.  The assignment of Admiral Vladimirskii as deputy
for naval units roughly corresponded to the U.S. title of
Commander, Amphibious Task Force.
     This chain of command fit Soviet procedures perfectly,
demonstrating the primacy of the ground forces, through
General Petrov's overall command, and the supporting role of
the navy for the maritime flanks of the Red Army.  Besides,
     44 N.G. Kuznetsov, "The Kerch-Eltigen Landing Operation",
p. 75.
Stalin's demanding eye retained strict and centralized
control over the strategic direction of the entire area.
Admiral Kuznetsov's presence as the High Command's naval
representative, at least during the preparations, ensured
obedience to that control.  Marshal Timoshenko stayed in the
area throughout the assault phase of the operation.45
     During the three weeks of preparation, the ports and
airfields on the Taman Peninsula were readied with munitions
and other logistical requirements. The army commanders moved
more than 600 artillery guns and rocket launchers into
position, some onto the Chushka Spit in the Kerch Straits
only five kilometers from the port of Kerch.46  Naval units
conducted reconnaissance by fire to flush out enemy
artillery and machine gun positions just prior to the
assault, scheduled for 28 October.
     The best detailed account of the Kerch-Eltigen
operation is contained in the memoirs of General V.F.
Gladkov, then a colonel who had assumed command of the 318th
Rifle Division less than two weeks before the start of the
operation and was assigned to lead the ground forces of the
secondary assault at Eltigen.  Many of his men were
recruits, others had seen little combat, but one of his
three regiments had participated in the amphibious assault
     45 N.G. Kuznetsov, "The Kerch-Eltigen Landing Operation,"
p. 73.
     46 Soviet Military Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 146.
on Novorossiisk the month before. Gladkov used that regiment
along with marines assigned to him to instruct the
newcomers.  They constructed mock-ups of the Eltigen beaches
and conducted several day and night wet-run rehearsals.47
     Gladkov notes in his memoirs that the Germans were
aware of his unit's activity; the only elements of surprise
in his favor were the areas and timing af the assault.48
Admiral Kuznetsov, however, admitted that only a few beaches
were suitable for landing, no others could be chosen, so
surprise was negated.49
     D-Day was postponed to 31 October because of foul
weather.  Embarkation from at least five locations on the
Taman Peninsula began at 1800 on 119 cutters, 159 auxiliary
craft, and assorted other boats, including rafts, sailboats,
and rowboats.50  Logistics officers had their hands full in
loading these non-standard craft to ensure timely delivery
of ammunition, food, and medical supplies. Combat loading as
defined in U.S. doctrine was non-existent. Before the troops
embarked, Leonid Brezhnev instilled the fear of Lenin and
Stalin in their hearts.
     Colonel Gladkov formed three operations groups for
     47  V.F.  Gladkov,  The  Landing  on  Eltigen  (Moscow:
Military  Publishing House, 1972), p. 13.
     48 Ibid., p. 14.
     49 N.G. Kuznetsov, "The Kerch-Eltigen Landing Operation,"
p. 75.
     50 Soviet Military Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 148.
command and control of his division.  His chief of staff
loaded up with the lead regiment that, along with 575 men of
the 386th Independent Marine Battalion, constituted the
assault echelon of over 3000 men.  Gladkov and his deputy
commander would accompany each of the other two regiments
which comprised the two follow-on echelons.51 Events during
the movement phase and the assault precluded this judicious
separation of the division's command element.
     All the flat bottomed boats that could be scraped up,
many just commandeered from nearby fishing villages, were
fitted with 45mm machine guns for the assault echelon. Under
cover of darkness this motley armada of the Black Sea Fleet
set out from port.  The shortage of landing craft is shown
by their putting aboard 60 men on motorboats that had a
normal capacity for only 45.  The choppy seas and freezing
temperatures delayed the departure of some of the boats and
required leaving behind small caliber artillery pieces. No
tanks could fit aboard the already small craft, the last of
which finally departed at 0300 on 1 November. Boats bumped
into each other and many became disoriented. As the first
boats approached the landing sites at around 0500, a few
German search lights scanned the straits. Many of the boats
carrying the marines and a few companies of the 318th
Division landed on the wrong sector, but they initially
faced only minor opposition at Eltigen. When the marines
     51 V.F. Gladkov, op. cit., p. 19.
charged the beach, several German defenders were caught
literally with their pants down.52
     The passage at sea for the following waves became a
disaster. One kilometer off shore the boat carrying Colonel
Gladkov foundered in the rough seas and had to be towed back
to Taman.  Many craft were hit by mines that had loosened
from their anchors in the shallow waters.  The original
integrity of formation from which they departed soon
disappeared in the frothy waters.  No regimental commander
landed with his troops; only a regimental chief of staff got
ashore to lead the less than 1000 men who initially landed.
     Later that morning Colonel Gladkov urgently requested
that he and the rest of his staff board one boat and risk
the trip together. General-Colonel Petrov was reluctant to
approve, so Marshal Timoshenko intervened and granted
permission.53 During daylight and in weather just as
treacherous, Gladkov and his deputy commander, chief of
staff, chief political officer, a regimental commander, and
chief of engineer troops crossed the straits, narrowly
avoiding mines and strafing by German Junkers. The boat
grounded on shoals, forcing the officers to wade the rest of
the way through the frigid water onto the beaches the
marines had secured earlier.
     To the north, the situation for the main assault was
     52 Ibid., p. 45.
     53 Ibid., p. 32.
even worse.  Admiral Gorshkov had to turn all the assault
craft back. They were unable to launch again until 2
November when the weather slackened somewhat. Setting
smokepots off in the straits as a screen for the assault
forces of the 56th Army's 2d Guards Division, spearheaded by
the 369th Independent Marine Battalion, the Azov Flotilla
navigated the narrow straits and successfully landed onto
the port of Kerch as well as onto the beaches on the
northern side of the Peninsula. Enough of the German 98th
Infantry Division had been drawn away to reinforce the
defenders at Eltigen, allowing the 369th Battalion to form
several beachheads for the areas of the main assault. Three
days later the reinforcements arrived.54
     Meanwhile, the Soviet forces at Eltigen had become
isolated. The German 3d Flotilla blockaded resupply boats in
what has been characterized as a battle from the the days of
pirates.55  Soviet and German sailors fought in the middle
of the straits at pistol range and less, usually at night
because daytime crossings for resupply and reinforcement
were too risky. Over 1000 aircraft of the 4th Air Army and
Black Sea Fleet performed extensive bombing and aerial-
dropped supplies, flying over 4000 sorties.56  Flying at
     54 N.K. Zakurenkov, The 32d Guards  (Moscow: Military
Publishing House, 1970), p. 72.
     55 C.D. Bekker, op. cit., p. 118.
     56 Soviet Military Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 148.
night and guided by lights held by men of the 318th Division
who became dangerously short of ammunition, women pilots of
the famed 46th Light Bomber Regiment would mask their
approach to the division by cutting off their engines and
drop their supplies.57 Despite these heroics, the Eltigen
contingent had dwindled so by early December that they had
to abandon their positions. They broke through to the north
and came to the aid of the 56th Army units which by then had
formed a beachhead several kilometers deep. Eventually
Gorshkov's ships ferried 75,000 men onto the beaches around
     Not until April of 1944 were the Soviet forces able to
develop enough punch at Kerch and Eltigen to begin the
offensive westward into the Crimea. Once again, as during
the Kerch-Feodosia operation, the initial objectives of the
amphibious assault were accomplished. This time, the further
objectives of continued strikes against the German 17th Army
were also successful, even though it took time to develop an
offensive capability. The operation was not without its
defects in planning and mistakes in execution. However,
command and control had been streamlined, fire support
improved, and enough forces were employed to overcome a
stubborn defense. The lessons learned from this operation
     57 V.F. Gladkov, op. cit., pp. 110-111.
were to be studied for many years by the Navy Main Staff.58
     The experience gained in the Black Sea added greatly to
the development of tactics, techniques, and procedures for
conducting amphibious assaults by the post-war Soviet Navy.
However, as one leading student of Soviet naval affairs has
     Nothing beyond Army flank-support theory was added
     to Soviet naval theory directly from Soviet
     experience during the Great Patriotic War. This
     was due to the fact that the Navy served almost
     exclusively as the "faithful handmaiden" of the
     Army ground forces.59
What did become of value was an understanding of the naval
portion of combined arms operations, especially regarding
amphibious warfare as a component of operational art.
Clearly, the final stage of an amphibious operation being
accomplishment of the mission ashore, as initially set forth
by Admiral Isakov in the 1930's and as demonstrated during
the war, placed the emphasis on the land battle. In the
Soviet art of war, the ground forces took precedence.
     After Admiral Gorshkov became Commander-in-Chief of the
Soviet Navy in the mid-1950's, he set out to improve the
amphibious warfare capabilities in the fleets.  Landing
     58 N.G. Kuznetsov, "The Kerch-Eltigen Landing Operation,"
p. 71.
     59 Robert W. Herrick, Soviet Naval Theory and Policy:
Gorshkov's Inheritance  (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press,
1988), p. 156.
craft was of prime concern.  The development and production
of the Ivan Rogov-class landing ship and a large component
of air-cushion vehicles of varying classes served to fill
previous gaps in both open ocean and littoral amphibious
operations for power projection and defense of the homeland.
Marine units received emphasis in naval and joint forces
training beginning in the 1960's. Their small size would
continue the tradition of being the spearhead in tactical
and operational-sized operations. Their increased
capabilities were a direct result of their experience during
the war.
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