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1 August, 2012  ▪  Ihor Losiev

The Khersones Betrayal

In July 1942, the soviet command shamefully retreated from Sevastopol, leaving its defenders to the mercy of fate

70 years ago, at the beginning of July 1942, Sevastopol’s defence came to its tragic end. The last city defenders found themselves isolated on the rocky cape. They had no chance of escape and found themselves with only two choices; death or captivity, the latter often meaning a prolonged version of the first. This tragedy resulted from the rather specific features of proletarian art of war and the professional level of the soviet commanders.

AWKWARD STRATEGY

At the beginning of the German-Soviet war the Crimea’s defence potential looked almost perfect; the reason being that it is a peninsula which is only linked to the mainland by a narrow strip of land. It was securely blocked and the only solution for the enemy would have been sea-borne troops and/or air assaults to stand any chance of success. For the former option sea supremacy was needed, however the Black Sea Fleet controlled the area and German and Romanian sea troops were much weaker than their soviet opposition. For the latter option it was necessary to conquer the airspace. Besides this, strong Red Army troops were stationed on the peninsula which meant that any German paratroopers entering with no support from outside the Crimea risked total destruction.

In spite of all their advantages, Red Army commanders made the decision to scatter their forces all over the Crimea and provided no secure defence for the peninsula’s ‘gate’, which was the Isthmus of Perekop. Field marshal Erich von Manstein breached the ‘gate’s’ defences and German troops quickly rushed deep into the territory. They were finally stopped near Sevastopol. The city managed to hold itself due to its connection with the mainland, meaning defenders were provided with ammunition transported by Black Sea Fleet vessels. But the Germans managed to conquer the surrounding airspace and in the spring of 1942 forced all soviet vessels out to their Caucasian bases. Thus, it became an extraordinary event for any vessel to break through into Sevastopol. But the city could have survived with the necessary support, so it was worth the vessels taking the risk.What is more, Field Marshal Von Manstein, commander of the Sevastopol siege, acknowledged German soldiers were totally exhausted. Meanwhile his soviet counterparts of the Black Sea command and Sevastopol defence district cared more about their own rescue. On the night of June 30-1 July 1942 two submarines and 14 Douglas PS-84 transport aircrafts took about 500 representatives of the command from Cape Khersones. These were party members, soviet institutions workers,security officers, admirals and generals.

HEROIC ESCAPE

The main point here is that the commanders abandoned their soldiers and rushed to the planned evacuation site, which was their order from above. This event effectively “decapitated” the defences. On the night of 2 July abandoned servicemen organized democratic elections of new commanders in place of the escapees. It was an unprecedented event for Stalin’s empire, as servicemen replaced their command without any control from the party or any administrative bodies, a true example of military democracy. Later, even in Khrushov’s time, this fact was nearly never spoken about, as it was obviously not “politically correct” for the communists. Such a story was nothing to be proud of,  in particular the fact that Black Sea commander admiral Filipp Oktiabrskiy and Maritime army commander general Petrov saved themselves having left at least 80,000 (up to 90,000, by other sources) subordinates to the merit of fate. Meanwhile the defending soldiers and sailors, having understood they had been betrayed, began shooting escapees… Furthermore, the soviet command did not make any real effort to help the last defenders of Sevastopol.

The 500 “Spartans” who escaped from the city to the Caucasus went on without any obstacles serving the country and gaining titles, positions and orders, while those who were left on the Khersones rocks were almost forgotten about for 50 years.

Having entered Sevastopol, Wehrmacht soldiers found neat folders with lists of soviet intelligence agents, secret soldiers and partisans in the city department of Interior Affairs Committee located in the city centre. The department’s head, state security senior lieutenant Anatoliy Nefiodov, had reasons for not burning these discrediting documents and he essentially facilitated the work of the Nazi intelligence service. Street fights were still being conducted and it was necessary to save super-valuable lives of powerful representatives of the regime, there was a poorly organized retreat of the troops to evacuation sites. The soldiers had to cover those who had the exclusive right to rescue. As Belorussian war historian Vladimir Beshanov said, “When military commanders got on the planes and flew away they sent a goodbye wave to the soldiers left behind and gave them their last orders, “fight to the bitter end” and “make a reversed front attack”.” It is hard to imagine Friedrich Paulus leaving his Sixth Army in Stalingrad, while Hitler could not even think about an opportunity to take the field marshal out of the siege. And commander of the 14th tank corps, General Hans-Valentin Hubeever getting the Führer’s order to leave the dangerous area, was simply incredible. He informed Berlin that he had taken his soldiers to Stalingrad with an order to fight to the last bullet and that he intended to show them how to do it. Stalin always tried to save his generals from possible German capture, fearing another traitor like General Andrei Vlasov. The fear was not unreasonable, as during the war a dozen Red Army generals served together with Mr.Vlasov in the Russian Liberation Army headquarters.

Meanwhile proletarian commanders shamefully left Cape Khersones having abandoned their soldiers and sailors who were simply deemed to be cheap cannon fodder. The generals were trying to save themselves and did not even think about ’bourgeois’ notions of honour and conscience.

At the time of the 1853-1856 Crimean War General Count Dmitriy Osten-Saken headed the evacuation of Russian troops to the northern part of Sevastopol. He appeared on the pontoon bridge only after he saw the last soldier on it, in spite of the risk of coming under fire from the French and English servicemen. Communist admirals and generals behaved in a totally different way.

REPRESSED MEMORY

After 1945 those who showed too much interest in the Cape Khersones tragedy would come under the surveillance of security bodies. The victims and survivors, having been to Nazi and often soviet concentration camps, preferred silence on the subject. They had to live with the guilt complex of the capture of the town, which was the direct result of their commanders’ deeds. Meanwhile, those same commanders returned from the Crimea and went on commanding without seeming to be guilt stricken at all.

In accordance with the army’s ‘working-class and peasant’ title, there was an incredible gap between soldiers and sailors and their military commanders. There were absolutely no traces of a war ‘brotherhood’. Here is what one of the victims of Cape Khersones tragedy remembers: “The dock and bridge were full of people. Captain 3rd class Iliychev, appointed by Mr.Oktiabrskiy, as head of the evacuation, was stationed on the rock… He and his riflemen shot front troops in order to stop them swimming to the rock and fired short bursts on those trying to swim to the boat”. Another recollection; “The evacuation of injured people by air started in the dark…, but, in fact, only the strongest people could get on the planes. I was supposed to get on the third plane, but when trying to board it I got a good kick from one of the servicemen and fainted”.

After the Wehrmacht’s 1940 destruction of France, The British Navy took around 300,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers from Dunkirk. The best forces of Her Majesty’s Navy were brought in to save them. There was simply no intention of saving only the chosen ones. Crossing the English Channel the soldiers left tens of thousands of their helmets on the French coast; according to ancient war tradition it was some kind of greeting for the Nazis. It meant “we are going to come back!”, and they did, in 1944.

But the fighters of Cape Khersones did not get any support from the Black Sea Fleet, in spite of numerous promises. It was terrible; “the coastal side of the sea was full of heads of people swimming to the boats… I watched two sailors pulling a rope with a man and then I saw two or three men catching this rope and then all of them falling into the sea, and that was the case for all the boats… All the coast line right out to the boats was covered with people… And in the morning all visible coast line was covered with a layer, seven-eight bodies high, of thousands of dead people bathed by the waves… Bodies of drowned men in different poses could easily be seen in water.”

The Soviet military machine was as cruel, ineffective and wasteful as the whole totalitarian regime. It was the idea to conceal the obvious facts that made the Soviets create a huge historiagraphy  about the so called ‘Great Patriotic War’, an enormous myth system about “the unconquerable and legendary” Red Army, about “the great victory” and “the liberation mission” of Stalin’s Army. It is unfortunate that these myths still live on today, not only in Russia, but also in Ukraine.


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