Some dear-bought triumphs. Ah! How soiled and stained,
By needless waste of life on hostile soil,
Where want and sickness, nakedness and toil,
Mowed down whole legions of thy warrior braves,
Their promised glories – nameless Crimean graves!
The supreme importance of the Crimea is due to its commanding presence in the Black Sea – not to minimize its fascinating history and numerous cultural influences (Roman, Byzantine, German, Huns, Tatar, and Russian, just to name a few). Basically, to control the Crimea is to control the Black Sea. This explains the U.S. and NATO efforts to grab control of the Crimea. According to some of the sources (among a few others, which for obvious reason, are not widely publicized) Western politicians in collusion with the current Ukrainian puppet government planned to open a NATO military school in Sevastopol – a city of historic Russian significance. Its location, right on the border with Russia, would offer the NATO ships almost unlimited control over the region and an opportunity to neutralize the Russian Black Sea Fleet. However, return of the Crimea back to Russia spoiled the game. This dainty morsel was taken right out of NATO’s mouth, so to speak. No wonder then that the Crimea became a stumbling block for the White House as far as the U.S.-Russian politics is concerned. Perhaps Western politicians were unaware that they shared this failure with Nazi Germany. Verily, as Hegel once said, “people and governments never have learned anything from history.” As a result of their own supercilious ignorance, Western politicians who have failed once again to learn from history, have committed another political blunder that will have far-reaching repercussions for years to come.
The 2013 Russian documentary “Battle for Sevastopol” (not to be confused with the recent release of the fiction film with the same name!), directed by Aleksey Lyabakh, offers a fascinating account of what happened in and around Sevastopol during World War II. It looks first at the period of 1941-42, when Sevastopol was eventually taken by the Nazis, after a lengthy siege. It then turns to the spring of 1944, when it was liberated by the Red Army. One may almost wish this illuminating documentary could be offered to Western politicians to watch so that they could learn the lessons of the past. This documentary is about the German siege of Sevastopol and about the psychological turning point that changed the whole course of the German offensive in the southern region. For the first time, participants from both sides talk about what really happened in the siege of Sevastopol. The film offers an explanation why this particular city is so dear to the heart of the Russian people and uncovers the amazing phenomenon of the city’s defense.
For Hitler, the Crimea was an embodiment of the Aryan heaven. Germanization of the Crimea and making it a crucial part of the Third Reich was Hitler’s idee fixe, or a sheer obsession. In 1941, Hitler said, “Without the Crimea, the war on the East Front doesn’t have a genuine, sacral meaning.” Hitler believed that the Crimean peninsula was a reminder of the ancient kingdom of Goths, the ancestors of the German tribes who once lived by the Black Sea. He also saw it as a harbinger of the future German victorious stamp on the times to come. “Crimean Goths … were the least-powerful, least-known, and almost paradoxically, the longest-lasting of the Gothic communities,” according to Wikipedia. At the same time it also says that “the exact ethnic origin of the Germanic people in the Crimea is a subject of debate. … Many Crimean Goths were Greek speakers and many non-Gothic Byzantine citizens were settled in the region called Gothia by the government in Constantinople.” One can assume that Hitler might have read this with some chagrin. To complicate the story further, there is also a theory that “some Anglo-Saxons who left England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 arrived in Constantinople in time to help the Byzantines repel an invasion. As a reward, the Byzantine emperor granted them lands near the Sea of Azov in what may have been the Crimean Peninsula.”
Nevertheless, the ethnic origin of the ancient Crimean settlers notwithstanding, Hitler felt that he had legitimate claims on ancient Gothia – and its fabular treasures, as the legend goes – and, thus, the whole Crimea. “The Crimean peninsula should be free from all the strangers and is inhabited by the Germans only,” he said. Quite hastily, in anticipation of the German rule of this ancient land, Hitler renamed the peninsula to Gotenland, the land of Goths. Sevastopol was renamed “Theoderichshafen,” the Harbor of the king Theodor – Theodoric the Great was the king of the Germanic Ostrogoths (475-526). However, Hitler had to conquer the city of Sevastopol first, and this task was among the most essential ones during his eastern campaign. In fact, per Hitler’s plans, to conquer Sevastopol, Leningrad, and the Caucasus oil fields was more important than the conquest of Moscow. Without his firm control over the Crimea, and, above all, Sevastopol, Hitler couldn’t expect to win in the Black Sea and, therefore, the Caucasus.
The Crimea was easily captured by Hitler’s army in the fall of 1941, but Sevastopol was too hard of a nut to crack. By the end of November of 1941, only Sevastopol remained in the Soviet hands. At this point most of Soviet forces, after their defeat elsewhere, were evacuated in December. Only the Independent Coastal Army, under command of Major-General Ivan Petrov, and the Black Sea Fleet were the city’s main defense force. The long siege was definitely not to Hitler’s liking, and, impatient with the delay of his precious plans, he issued an imperative order to take the city of the Russian glory by December 22, 1941, to commemorate the 6-month anniversary of Germany’s war against the Soviet Union. To conquer Sevastopol, Hitler sent the cream of the German army, as well as the elite Luftwaffe troops. However, the citizens of Sevastopol – and the Coastal Army and Russian Navy – were not impressed. For eight months, they withstood numerous attacks by German assault troops, which were conducted by land, sea and air. Outnumbered and out-equipped, the Soviets fought like daredevils. The precision of the Russian artillery fire was the main reason the Germans could not even approach Sevastopol for more than one month. Boris Kubarsky was in charge of artillery fire-direction, and his spotter post was located in the ruins of the old chapel, on the top of Gosford Mountain. If the Germans only knew where this post was positioned it could have been wiped off the face of the Earth quite easily. The art of camouflage was essential in this historical battle.
But it was not the only place of heroism that prevented the easy victory over the Crimea. There were quite a few of those, to vexation of the German military brass. On the northern outskirts of Sevastopol are the Mackenzie Heights, from which the city can be seen as on a platter. In October 1941, this strategically important position was attacked by the German troops. For the Russians to lose this important position was equivalent to losing Sevastopol. The 365th anti-craft battery, under command of Nikolay Vorobyev, covered the northern side of the city and the Sevastopol Bay. Anti-aircraft gunners were firing with such an intensity that the Germans believed that they are dealing with the newest Soviet automatic weapons. If they only knew that a total of only 50 people and two anti-aircraft canons of Russian tsarist times (made in 1915) were standing against 9,000 soldiers of the German elite division and the powerful Luftwaffe they would not have believed it! According to Wikipedia, the latter division in the Crimea “consisted of nine Geschwader (Wings) containing 600 aircraft.” The battle for MacKenzie Heights had turned into a living hell for both sides. This battery position consisted of a bunker, a few trenches and a small fortification. The Germans called it by a big name, Fort Stalin. Such names are not given by accident. “If we take Fort Stalin, Sevastopol will fall,” the Germans said.
Fort Stalin controlled the shortest way by railroad to Sevastopol. The Germans coveted gaining control of this road, and they had to pay the heavy price for it. As reported by one of the German survivors of this battle, “Our plans were thwarted by the fact that everything was very well disguised. We then all thought it was a naked height, and that there are no Russians there.” Fighting around Fort Stalin began on November 1, 1941. The fortitude and resourcefulness of the defenders were the decisive factors that helped to hold the MacKenzie Heights for more than seven months. At one point, the Soviets outsmarted a German sniper. Nikolay Vorobyev killed this sharpshooter while tricking him into believing the latter was shooting at the battery commander. Vorobyev had gotten hold of an artillery signal pistol. At the most daring times, Vorobyev shot the signal rocket in direction of German assailers, and German artillery – being misled to where to shoot – targeted their own soldiers. It was definitely not easy to fight the Russians. They used numerous tricks and fought without any regard for their own lives. In the area around Fort Stalin, there were Soviet marines, or the “Black Commissars” as the Germans called them, who’d run toward German positions with a harrowing scream. They preferred to be engaged in the close-in fighting and moved directly toward the Germans while never wavering under fire. There was an armored train that helped to hold the main railroad station, by Mackenzie’s Heights, that swapped hands for quite some time.
At the end, the Germans had their own tricks up their sleeves. Saboteurs – some of them were the same white officers who left Russia after October Revolution – were dressed in the Red Army uniforms and sent to shoot the Fort defenders. As they spoke perfect Russian, they brought a lot of confusion at the end. After Vorobyev was seriously wounded on June 8, 1942, the last battery commander, Ivan Piyanzin, demonstrated such a heroism that the aircraft battery is remembered by historians as the Battery of Piyanzin. On June 13, 1942, the Germans broke through to the battery firing position (translated from http://www.battlefield.ru/365-antiaircraft-battery.html). In this battle, Piyanzin was badly wounded, but the commander could not leave his people at such a critical moment and the German infantry so close to the guns. By Piyanzin’s order, the surviving defenders of the battery, in despair, quickly counterattacked and wrestled the Germans face to face. The Germans were beaten back, but the price of this temporary victory was too high to pay – only a few people survived, all of them wounded.Germans, knowing that the defense forces’ chances of surviving were zilch, and that their food and water supply are running out, quickly regrouped and attacked again – with the support of seven tanks.Realizing that they could not repel this attack by the Germans, Sr. Lieutenant Ivan Piyanzin radioed the following: “We have nothing to fend off with. Almost the entire staff is knocked out of action. Open fire on our position.”
These were the last words by Piyanzin. The Soviet artillery concentrated the fire of a few artillery divisions at the 365th battery location and turned the top of Mackenzie Heights into a mush. All the remaining defenders but one were killed. Pray tell, how did the 50 defenders of the poorly fortified Fort Stalin stop the whole division, numbering about 9,000 soldiers and officers, for such a long time?! Out of those 50, only two people survived – Nikolay Vorobyev, who was evacuated after being seriously wounded at the beginning of June 1942, and private Petr Lipovenko, who survived under the last artillery fire and, with the broken legs, managed to crawl till the closest Soviet artillery battery, where he took part in another fight and was bayoneted at the end.
The only monument to commemorate the heroism of the Soviet artillerymen who fought here is a monument to Ivan Piyanzin. There are two mass graves in which they buried remains of the soldiers and commanders found at the scene of the battle for the height of 60.0 (military term for this strategic position). Unfortunately, most of the remains were not identified – thus, the tombstones have the inscription, “To the unknown defenders of Sevastopol.” These people gave their lives for the city to live and defend itself. As one of the Russian songs says, “the names of many heroes of yore vanished without a trace. Those who fought hard since then turned into the soil and grass.” When people visit this sacred place, they begin to understand that they walk over the remains that were mixed with rocky dust.
The German siege of Sevastopol was more catastrophic for Hitler than expected, with more than 300,000 German soldiers being killed. Germans were stuck at the approaches to Sevastopol for 250 days– and the precious time was lost. If not for the heroic battle for Sevastopol, the outcome of the battle for Stalingrad could be different. From October 30, 1941, to the beginning of July of 1942, the troops of the Sevastopol defense regiment held the line against the 11th German army under the command of one of the best Hitler’s generals, Erich von Manstein. The main task of the battle for Sevastopol was accomplished – one of the best German armies was pinned down with significant losses, and was prevented from taking part in the attack on Stalingrad or being send to the oil fields of Caucasus.
Two years later, in the spring of 1944, the operation for the liberation of Sevastopol from the German invaders began with the storming of Fort Stalin. In his arrogance, Hitler said, “If the Russians were able to defend Sevastopol for eight months, we must last for eight years.” However, his conceit and presumptuousness were easily shattered. It took only two days for the Red Army to take Fort Stalin, and two more to liberate the city. Despite Hitler’s order to stop the Red Army at whatever cost, the effort to hold on to Sevastopol turned into a catastrophe for the Germans – more than 23,000 soldiers and officers became prisoners of war, and many more were killed. The Soviet flag that was raised over the legendary city on May 9, 1944, became a symbol of the upcoming victory over fascist Germany.
After the Yalta conference in February 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt had a chance to see Sevastopol and see the degree of destruction incurred on this city by the Nazis. In his address to U.S. Congress on March 1, 1944, he said, “I had read about Warsaw and Lidice and Rotterdam and Coventry – but I saw Sevastopol and Yalta! And I know that there is not enough room on earth for both German militarism and Christian decency.” One cannot help but wonder if this U.S. politician – looking on the extent of destruction and death brought around the world by NATO, and, mostly, U.S. military – would agree that western militarism and common, human decency cannot exist simultaneously on this earth.