World War II Alantic Sea Areas: The Black Sea

German sailor
Figure 1.--This image from Odessa, the first major Black Sea port encountered by the Germans. It was taken in 1941 during the siege of Odessa (August 8 October 16, 1941) during the German Barbarossa campaign. The caption read, "What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up: A Soviet sailor asks the inevitable qustion and probably receives the inevitable answer, ' A sailor,' from child hero-worshipers. A human study in Odessa shortly before the evacuation." Odessa was awarded the status of 'Hero City' for its resistance. The Red Navy sucessfully carried out an evacuation as the city's defenses began to falter.

At the time that Hitler and Stalin launched World War II by invading Poland (September 1939), the Soviet Red Navy dominated the Black Sea. None of the other Black Sea countries (Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania) had sizable navies. The Germans forced Bulgaria and Romania which had been desmembered by the Soviets into the Axis. Turkey wavered, but was concerned with Soviet aspirations to control the Bosporus ad Dardanelles. British naval victories in the Mediterranean (1940-41) meant that the Axis was unable to introduce major fleet elemets into the Black Sea. and it meant that the Mediterranean could not be a conduit for Middle eastern oil. The Axis naval campaign in the Black Sea to support Barbarossa was an international effort with units from Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Italy, and Romania confronting the much larger Red Navy Black Sea force. Many of the smaal boats deployed bt the Axis force were brought to the Black Sea by rail and canal. The Red Navy Black Sea fleet because of geography and priority and thus survived the initial German blow. Unfortunately for the Red Navy, the Black Sea is an enclosed sea, all of which is acceable by air bases surrounding it. And while the Black Sea was not a German prioroty in the first week of Barbarossa, the Red Air Force and its substantial and vulnerable forward deploymment was a priority. The Germans basically destroyed the Red Air Force during the first week of Barbarossa--much of it on the ground. This meant that for the first two years of the conflict in the East, the Red Navy had little or no air cover. And during the War most of the major Red Navy ships were lost--mostly the result of air attacks. The Black Sea campaign was largely fought in support of the land campaigns fought in the Ukraine, most prominently the Crimea. The Crimea is a peninsula which juts out into the Black Sea and from an early point it would dominate the Black Sea campaign. The Soviet Black Sea Flet played an important role in the defense of Sevastopol and in the subsequent Soviet liberation of the Crimea. For the Germans, the Black Sea was potentially of great importance, especially after Hitler shifted the focus of the campaign to the south (1942). Logistics were one of the most serious problems the Germans faced, With Barbarossa the battles were being fought huge distances from the war industries and supply depots in the Reich. Thus men and material had to be transported by rail requiring a major logistical effort which was vulnerable to Soviet attck. Control of the Black Sea could provide a badly needed safe, efficent supply line after the Germans smashed through the Don Bend and entered southern Russia and the Caucauses (July 1942). It also mean a safe route for transporting the oil of the Caucauses back to Axis countries where it could be shipped on to the Reich. The Soviet naval campaign was overseen primarily by Vice Admiral Filipp Oktyabrskiy. Another major factor other than the Soviet Black sea fleet units was the shipyards which built and maintaned the fleet. The major Soviet shipyards were located in the Ukraine (Nikolayev) and Crimea (Sevastopol). Both were occupied by the Germans during Barbarossa campign (1941). Fleet units including still uncompleted ships were evacuated to harbors in Georgia which would be the only port cities the Red Army was able to protect. Thesethus became the bases for the surviving fleet. These Georgian ports like Poti had very limited repair facilities. This significantly impaired the operational capability of Black Sea Fleet.


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Created: 1:32 PM 9/14/2016
Last updated: 1:44 AM 9/15/2016