Arctic naval operations of World War II
The Arctic Circle defining the "midnight sun" encompasses the Atlantic Ocean from the northern edge of Iceland to the Bering Strait. The area is considered part of the Battle of the Atlantic or the European Theatre of World War II. Pre-war navigation focused on the international ore trade from Narvik and Petsamo. Soviet settlements along the coast and rivers of the Barents Sea and Kara Sea relied upon summer coastal shipping for supplies from railheads at Arkhangelsk and Murmansk; the Soviet Union extended the Northern Sea Route past the Taymyr Peninsula to the Bering Strait in 1935. The Winter War opened the northern flank of the eastern front of World War II. Arctic naval presence was dominated by the Soviet Northern Fleet of a few destroyers with larger numbers of submarines and torpedo cutters supported by icebreakers; the success of the German invasion of Norway provided the Kriegsmarine with naval bases from which capital ships might challenge units of the Royal Navy Home Fleet. Luftwaffe anti-shipping aircraft of Kampfgeschwader 26 and Kampfgeschwader 30 operated intermittently from Norwegian airfields, while routine reconnaissance was undertaken by Küstenfliegergruppen aircraft including Heinkel He 115s and Blohm & Voss BV 138s.
To support the Soviet Union against the German invasion, the Allies initiated a series of PQ and JW convoys bringing military supplies to the Soviet Union in formations of freighters screened by destroyers and minesweepers. Escorting cruisers maneuvered outside the formation, while a larger covering force including battleships and aircraft carriers steamed nearby to engage Kriegsmarine capital ships or raid their Norwegian bases; the Soviet Union and Germany employed smaller coastal convoys to maintain the flow of supplies to the Soviet arctic coast, transport strategic metal ores to Germany, sustain troops on both sides of the northern flank of the eastern front. Soviet convoys hugged the coast to avoid ice while German convoys used fjords to evade Royal Navy patrols. Both sides devoted continuing efforts to minelaying and minesweeping of these shallow, confined routes vulnerable to mine warfare and submarine ambushes. German convoys were screened by minesweepers and submarine chasers while Soviet convoys were protected by minesweeping trawlers and torpedo cutters.
A branch of the Pacific Route began carrying Lend-Lease goods through the Bering Strait to the Soviet Arctic coast in June 1942. The number of westbound cargo ship voyages along this route was 23 in 1942, 32 in 1943, 34 in 1944 and 31 after Germany surrendered in 1945. Total westbound tonnage through the Bering Strait was 452,393 in comparison to 3,964,231 tons of North American wartime goods sent across the Atlantic to Soviet Arctic ports. A large portion of the Arctic route tonnage was fuel for Siberian airfields on the Alaska-Siberia air route. 6 September 1939: Bremen was the first of 18 German merchant ships to take refuge in Murmansk after avoiding British naval patrols in the Atlantic. 30 November 1939: The Winter War offensive against Petsamo was supported by Soviet Northern Fleet destroyers Kuibishev, Karl Liebknecht and Grozny. April 1940: Operation Weserübung included an invasion of Narvik by troops embarked aboard ten Kriegsmarine destroyers. Covering battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau engaged HMS Renown.
4 May 1940: The Polish destroyer Grom was sunk off Narvik by a KG 100 bomber. 21 May 1940: HMS Effingham was scuttled after grounding on a shallow pinnacle off Narvik. 4 June 1940: Operation Alphabet troopships Monarch of Bermuda, Sobieski, Lancastria, Oronsay, Arandora Star, Royal Ulsterman, Ulster Prince, Ulster Monarch and Duchess of York began evacuation of 24,600 Allied soldiers from Narvik. 8 June 1940: With some of the longest range naval gunnery hits documented and Gneisenau sank the British aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her escorting destroyers HMS Acasta and Ardent during Operation Juno. 9 July 1940: Raider Komet sailed north from Bergen and waited near Novaya Zemlya until 13 August 1940 for ice conditions to allow passage through the Matochkin Strait into the Kara Sea. Komet proceeded east with the assistance of three Soviet icebreakers to enter the Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait on 5 September 1940. Soviet submarine Shch-423 made a similar trip from Murmansk to Vladivostok from 5 August to 17 October.
25 July 1940: Admiral Hipper sailed for a two-week Arctic patrol. 15 August 1940: Army transport USAT American Legion departed Petsamo for New York City carrying American nationals from Finland, Latvia, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. American Legion carried Princess Märtha of Sweden with her children, a Bofors 40 mm gun manufactured in Sweden which became the prototype for American manufacture of the primary United States Navy anti-aircraft gun of World War II. 25 August 1940: HMS Norfolk and HMAS Australia sailed for a five-day patrol to Bear Island. 16 October 1940: HMS Furious launched an airstrike against the Tromsø seaplane base. 4 March 1941: HMS Edinburgh and Nigeria covered the Operation Claymore raid on Lofoten. 11 April 1941: HNoMS Mansfield destroyed the Øksfjord fish oil factory. 7 May 1941: Destroyers HMS Somali, Eskimo and HMAS Nestor captured code documents aboard the German weather ship München near Jan Mayen while covered by cruisers HMS Edinburgh and Birmingham. HMS Nigeria made a similar capture of the weather ship Lauenburg on 28 June.
25 June 1941: The Soviet troopship Mossovet brought reinforcements to Titovka.
Battle of Brody (1941)
The Battle of Brody was a tank battle fought between the 1st Panzer Group's III Army Corps and XLVIII Army Corps and five mechanized corps of the Soviet 5th Army and 6th Army in the triangle formed by the towns of Dubno and Brody between 23 and 30 June 1941. It is known in Soviet historiography as a part of the "border defensive battles". Although the Red Army formations inflicted heavy losses on the German forces, they were outmanoeuvred and suffered enormous losses in tanks. Poor Soviet logistics, German air supremacy as well as a total breakdown in Red Army command and control ensured victory for the Wehrmacht despite overwhelming Red Army numerical and technological superiority; this was one of the most intense armored engagements in the opening phase of Operation Barbarossa and recent scholarship considers it the largest tank battle of World War II, surpassing the more famous Battle of Prokhorovka. 1st Panzer Group, led by Generaloberst Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist, was ordered to secure the Bug River crossings and advance to Rovno and Korosten with the strategic objective of Kiev.
It deployed two corps forward and advanced between Lviv and Rovno in an attempt to cut the Lviv–Kiev railway line, thus driving a wedge along junction point between the Soviet 5th and 6th Armies. The Southwestern Front, under the command of General Mikhail Kirponos, had received incomplete intelligence on the size and direction of the German attack, they were surprised when Stavka ordered a general counter-attack under the title of "Directive No. 3" on the authority of Chief of General Staff Georgy Zhukov. Most of the headquarters staff were convinced that the strategy would be to remain in a defensive posture until the situation clarified. Hovhannes Baghramyan, a staff officer of the front headquarters who wrote the initial report to Moscow, said that "our first combat report to Moscow was full of generalities and unclear instructions." The general orders of Directive No. 3 read: While maintaining strong defense of the state border with Hungary, the 5th and 6th armies are to carry out concentric strikes in the direction of Lublin, utilizing at least five mechanized corps and aviation of the Front, in order to encircle and destroy the enemy group of forces advancing along the Vladimir-Volynski-Krystonopol front, by the end of June 24th to capture the vicinity of Lublin.
By the end of 22 June, Zhukov was on his way to the Southwestern Front headquarters at Ternopil along with Nikita Khrushchev, the former head of the Organizational Department of the Ukrainian Communist Party's Central Committee, to ensure these orders were carried out. Six Soviet mechanized corps, with over 2,500 tanks, were massed to take part in a concentric counter-attack through the flanks of Panzer Group 1; the intention was to attempt a pincer movement from the north and south that met west of Dubno in order to trap units of the 6th and 17th German Armies on the northern flank of Army Group South. To achieve this, the 8th Mechanized Corps was transferred from the command of the 26th Army, positioned to the south of the 6th Army, placed under the command of N. I. Muzychenko's 6th Army; this brought all the mobile assets of the Southwestern Front to bear against the base of von Kleist's thrust toward Kiev. The primary German infantry formation operating on this sector of the front, IV Army Corps of the 17th Army were advancing south-east with the objective of cutting Lviv-Kiev railway line.
At the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, German armor was composed of a mix of Czech and German tanks, as well as small numbers of captured French and British tanks. Furthermore, nearly 50% of the tanks deployed by the Wehrmacht were the obsolete Panzer I and Panzer II light tanks. Of the 4000 armored vehicles available to the Wehrmacht, only 1400 were the new Panzer III and Panzer IV. In the first few hours of the invasion, German commanders were shocked to find that some Soviet tanks were immune to all anti-tank weapons in use by the Wehrmacht. During pre-war exercises, Heinz Guderian noted that on their own, tanks were vulnerable to infantry. Furthermore, he noted that tanks lacked the heavy caliber weapons needed to knock out reinforced concrete bunkers and fortified positions, a role that could only be performed by heavy artillery or air strikes. While dispersing tanks among infantry formations solved many of the tank's weaknesses, it negated some of their strengths. Therefore, German military theorists concluded that to reach their full potential, armored units needed to be concentrated in their own formations and integrated with mobile artillery, mobile infantry, close air support.
Lastly, Guderian concluded that in order for tanks to be at their peak effectiveness, all armored vehicles must be equipped with radios so that each tank commander could hear instructions from the unit commander allowing each tank to work with all others in an organized fashion. At the beginning of June, the Red Army included over 19,000 tanks in their inventory, most of them light tanks such as the T-26 or BT-7; the front armor of the T-26 was just 15mm thick, the BT-7, just 22mm, offering no protection against any anti-tank weapon at any range. Furthermore, the poor design of Soviet shells meant that most rounds shattered on contact, rather than penetrating. More modern tanks, such as the KV-1 and the T-34, were only beginning to roll off production lines and were not available in anywhere near the numbers that were needed to throw back the German advance. During the interwar years, far sighted military theorists such as Mikhail Tukhachevsky came to similar conclusions as Heinz Guderia
Battle of the Caucasus
The Battle of the Caucasus is a name given to a series of Axis and Soviet operations in the Caucasus area on the Eastern Front of World War II. On 25 July 1942, German troops captured Rostov-on-Don, opening the Caucasus region of the southern Soviet Union, the oil fields beyond at Maikop and Baku, to the Germans. Two days prior, Adolf Hitler issued a directive to launch such an operation into the Caucasus region, to be named Operation Edelweiß. German forces were compelled to withdraw from the area that winter as Operation Little Saturn threatened to cut them off. North Caucasian Front - until September 1942 Transcaucasian Front Black Sea Fleet Azov Sea Flotilla Army Group A - General Field Marshal Wilhelm List 1st Panzer Army- General Paul von Kleist 17th Army - Colonel-General Richard Ruoff 3rd Romanian Army - General Petre Dumitrescu Operation Edelweiss, named after the mountain flower, was a German plan to gain control over the Caucasus and capture the oil fields of Baku during the Soviet-German War.
The operation was authorised by Hitler on 23 July 1942. The main forces included Army Group A commanded by Wilhelm List, 1st Panzer Army, 4th Panzer Army, 17th Army, part of the Luftflotte 4 and the 3rd Romanian Army. Army Group A was supported to the east by Army Group B commanded by Fedor von Bock and by the remaining 4th Air Fleet aircraft; the land forces, accompanied by 15,000 oil industry workers, included 167,000 troopers, 4,540 guns and 1,130 tanks. Several oil firms such as "German Oil on Caucasus", "Ost-Öl" and "Karpaten-Öl" had been established in Germany, they were awarded an exclusive 99-year lease to exploit the Caucasian oil fields. For this purpose, a large number of pipes—which proved useful to Soviet oil industry workers—were delivered. A special economic inspection "A", headed by Lieutenant-General Nidenfuhr was created. Bombing of the oil fields was forbidden. To defend them from destruction by Soviet units under the command of Nikolai Baibakov and Semyon Budyonny, an SS guard regiment and a Cossack regiment were formed.
The head of the Abwehr developed Operation Schamil, which called for landing in the Grozny and Maikop regions. They would be supported by the local fifth column. After neutralizing the Soviet counter-attack in the Izyum-Barvenkovsk direction the German Army Group A attacked towards the Caucasus; when Rostov-on-Don, nicknamed "The Gates of Caucasus," fell on 23 July 1942, the tank units of Ewald von Kleist moved across the Caucasian Mountain Range. The "Edelweiss" division commander, Hubert Lanz, decided to advance through the gorges of rivers of the Kuban River basin and by crossing the Marukhskiy Pass, Uchkulan reach the Klukhorskiy Pass, through the Khotyu-tau Pass block the upper reaches of the Baksan River and the Donguz-Orun and Becho passes. Concurrently with the outflanking maneuvers, the Caucasian Mountain Range was supposed to be crossed through such passes as Sancharo and Marukhskiy to reach Kutaisi, Zugdidi and the Soviet Georgian capital city of Tbilisi; the units of the 4th German Mountain Division, manned with Tyroleans, were active in this thrust.
They succeeded in advancing 30 km toward Sukhumi. To attack from the Kuban region, capture the passes that led to Elbrus, cover the "Edelweiss" flank, a vanguard detachment of 150 men commanded by Captain Heinz Groth, was formed. From the Old Karachay through the Khurzuk aul and the Ullu-kam Gorge the detachment reached the Khotyu-tau Pass, which had not been defended by the Soviet troops. Khotyu-tau gained a new name — "The Pass of General Konrad"; the starting point of the operation on the Krasnodar-Pyatigorsk-Maikop line was reached on 10 August 1942. On 16 August the battalion commanded by von Hirschfeld reached the Kadar Gorge. On 21 August troops from the 1st Mountain Division planted the flag of Nazi Germany on the summit of Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in the Caucasus and Europe. 3 August 1942 - Wehrmacht takes Stavropol 10 August 1942 - Wehrmacht takes Maykop 12 August 1942 - Wehrmacht takes Krasnodar 25 August 1942 - Wehrmacht takes Mozdok 11 September 1942 - Wehrmacht and Romanian Army take Novorossiysk End of September 1942 - Wehrmacht blitzkrieg stopped at two Chechen-Ingush ASSR towns: Malgobek and Ordzhonikidze There were no military operations in the region in 1941.
But the region was affected by warfare elsewhere in the Soviet Union. In his memoirs, Soviet Transcaucasian Front commander Ivan Tiulenev recounts how thousands of civilians attempted to flee from Ukraine to the comparatively safe Caspian ports, such as Makhachkala and Baku; the Caucasus area became a new area of industry when 226 factories were evacuated there during the industrial evacuations undertaken by the Soviet Union in 1941. After the Grozny to Kiev line was captured during Axis advances, a new link between Moscow and Transcaucasia was established with the construction of the new railway line running from Baku to Orsk, bypassing the front line Grozny, while a shipping line was maintained over the Caspian Sea through the town of Krasnovodsk in Turkmenistan. In 1942, the German Army launched Operation Edelweiss, aimed at advancing to the oil field of Azerbaijan; the German offensive slowed as it entered the mountains in the southern Caucasus and did not reach all of its 1942 objectives.
After the Soviet breakthroughs in the region around Stali
Battle of Rzhev, Summer 1942
The Battle of Rzhev in the Summer of 1942 was part of a series of battles that lasted 15 months in the center of the Eastern Front. It is known in Soviet history of World War II as the First Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation, defined as spanning from 30 July to 23 August 1942. However, it is documented that the fighting continued undiminished into September and did not cease until the beginning of October 1942; the Red Army suffered massive casualties for little gain during the fighting, giving the battle a notoriety reflected in its sobriquet: "The Rzhev Meat Grinder". Rzhev lies 140 miles west of Moscow and was captured by the German Wehrmacht in Operation Typhoon in the autumn of 1941, which took them to the gates of Moscow; when the Soviet counteroffensive drove them back, Rzhev became a cornerstone of the Germans' defense. By mid-1942, the city stood at the apogee of a salient that protruded from the front lines, pointing in the general direction of Moscow. In July and August 1942, Stalin tasked two of his front commanders, General Georgy Zhukov and General Ivan Konev, to conduct an offensive to recapture Rzhev and strike a blow against Army Group Center that would push them away from Moscow.
The attack would fall upon one of their main opponents of the winter battles, General Walter Model's 9th Army, which occupied the majority of the Rzhev salient. The high losses and few gains made during the two-month struggle left a lasting impression on the Soviet soldiers who took part. In October, the strategic balance in the centre of the Eastern Front remained unchanged. However, the German army had suffered grievous losses, whilst its defence had been tactically successful, it had achieved little more than maintaining the status quo, and although the offensive failed, Zhukov was given another chance to crush the Rzhev salient soon afterwards. The closing stages of the Battle of Moscow saw the formation of the Rzhev salient; the Soviet counter-offensive had driven the Wehrmacht from the outskirts of Moscow back more than 100 miles, had penetrated Army Group Centre's front in numerous places. Rzhev, a strategic crossroads and vital rail junction straddling the Volga, became the northern corner post of Army Group Centre's left wing.
It was the only town of note for many miles and gave the 9th Army something to hang on to, in what otherwise seemed a wilderness of forest and swamp in all directions. The salient's existence was threatened at the moment of its creation, when the Kalinin Front's 39th and 29th Armies opened a gap just west of Rzhev and thrust southwards into the German rear. Just managing to keep the encroaching Soviet armies away from the vital rail link into Rzhev, the 9th Army, now commanded by General Model, managed to close the Rzhev gap, thereby cutting the Soviet supply lines and reducing their ability to deal a crippling blow to the whole army group; the Soviet counter-attack had run out of steam and the Germans recovered enough to mount several operations to clear up their rear area. In July 1942, Operation Seydlitz was mounted to trap and destroy the two Soviet armies and succeeded in little over a week in doing so, making the army group once more an credible threat to Moscow. General of Panzer Troops Heinrich von Vietinghoff was senior corps commander in the 9th Army in June 1942, temporarily led the Army at the start of the battle, whilst Model was on convalescent leave.
He commanded 10th Army and Army Group C in Italy. General of Panzer Troops Walter Model had commanded 3rd Panzer division at the start of Operation Barbarossa, had become commander of XXXXI Motorised Corps in October 1941, he had shown great resolve in the defensive winter battles, was promoted to 9th Army commander on 12 January 1942. He proved to be a defensive specialist. Respected by Hitler, his star continued to rise, becoming a field marshal in March 1944. Georgy Zhukov was Chief of the General Staff when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union but, following a disagreement with Stalin concerning the defense of Kiev, was demoted to command of the Reserve Front, he became a troubleshooter, commanding the Leningrad Front in the autumn, back to Moscow to conduct its defense and counteroffensive. Zhukov remained in the central sector, he argued in the spring of 1942 that the Moscow axis was the most critical and that Army Group Center posed the greatest threat to the Soviet Union. To him, the German forces at Rzhev "represented a dagger pointed at Moscow".
Zhukov convinced Stalin to give him the extra forces. He commanded Western Front's attacks until, in the latter part of August, Zhukov became deputy supreme commander and was transferred to Stalingrad, he continued to hold the highest commands in the Soviet Army, became a Marshal of the Soviet Union in January 1943. Zhukov remained always in the thick of the fighting until the end of the war, commanding the 1st Belorussian Front in the assault on Berlin, still in rivalry with Konev, who commanded the 1st Ukrainian Front in the final battle. Colonel-General Ivan Konev began the war against Germany commanding the 19th Army, which become encircled around Vitebsk in the first weeks of the conflict. Stalin blamed Konev for the disaster but Zhukov intervened and ensured his survival and promotion to Front commander, he went on to command Kalinin Front in the winter battles around Moscow with distinction, still commanded Kalinin Front at the start of the Rzhev Operation. When Zhukov was promoted to deputy supreme commander, Konev was given overall responsibility for the continuing offensive.
The summer months of 1942 in the Rzhev area was warm, with long days and a high sun which allowed the area to dry out after the spring thaw. R
Battle of Smolensk (1941)
The First Battle of Smolensk was a battle during the second phase of Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, in World War II. It was fought around the city of Smolensk between 10 July and 10 September 1941, about 400 km west of Moscow; the Wehrmacht had advanced 500 km into the USSR in the 18 days after the invasion on 22 June 1941. The German army encountered unexpected resistance during the battle, leading to a two-month delay in their advance on Moscow. Three Soviet armies were encircled and destroyed just to the south of Smolensk, though significant numbers from the 19th and 20th armies managed to escape the pocket; some historians have asserted that the losses of men and materiel incurred by the Wehrmacht during this drawn-out battle and the delay in the drive towards Moscow led to the defeat of the Wehrmacht by the Red Army in the Battle of Moscow of December 1941. On 22 June 1941, the Axis nations invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. At first, the campaign met with spectacular success, as the surprised Soviet troops were not able to offer coordinated resistance.
After three weeks of fighting, the Germans had reached the Dvina and Dnieper rivers and planned for a resumption of the offensive. The main attack aimed at Moscow, was carried out by Army Group Centre, its next target on the way to the Soviet capital was the town of Smolensk. The German plan called for the 2nd Panzer Group to cross the Dnieper, closing on Smolensk from the south, while the 3rd Panzer Group was to encircle the town from the north. After their initial defeats, the Red Army began to recover and took measures to ensure a more determined resistance and new defensive line was established around Smolensk. Stalin placed Field Marshal Semyon Timoshenko in command and transferred five armies out of the strategic reserve to Timoshenko; these armies had to conduct counter-offensives to blunt the German drive. The German high command was not aware of the Soviet build-up until they encountered them on the battlefield. Facing the Germans along the Dnieper and Dvina rivers were stretches of the Stalin Line fortifications.
The defenders were the 13th Army of the Western Front and the 20th Army, 21st Army and the 22nd Army of the Soviet Supreme Command Reserve. The 19th Army, was forming up at Vitebsk. In Soviet histories, the battles around Smolensk are divided into phases and operations to halt the German offensive and the pincers Battle of Smolensk Smolensk Defensive Operation Smolensk Offensive Operation Rogechev-Zhlobin Offensive Operation Gomel-Trubchevsk Defensive Operation Dukhovschina Offensive Operation Yelnia Offensive Operation Roslavl-Novozybkov Offensive Operation Prior to the German attack, the Soviets launched a counter-offensive; the result was a disaster, as the offensive ran directly into the anti-tank defenses of the German 7th Panzer Division and the two Soviet mechanized corps were wiped out. On 10 July, Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group began a surprise attack over the Dnieper, his forces overran the weak 13th Army and by 13 July, Guderian had passed Mogilev, trapping several Soviet divisions.
His spearhead unit, the 29th Motorised Division, was within 18 km of Smolensk. The 3rd Panzer Group had attacked, with the 20th Panzer Division establishing a bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Dvina river, threatening Vitebsk; as both German panzer groups drove east, the 16th, 19th and 20th armies faced the prospect of encirclement around Smolensk. From 11 July, the Soviets tried a series of concerted counter-attacks; the Soviet 19th Army and 20th Army struck at Vitebsk, while the 21st and the remnants of the 3rd Army attacked against the southern flank of 2nd Panzer Group near Bobruisk. Several other Soviet armies attempted to counter-attack in the sectors of the German Army Group North and Army Group South; this effort was part of an attempt to implement the Soviet prewar general defense plan. The Soviet attacks managed to slow the Germans but the results were so marginal that the Germans noticed them as a large coordinated defensive effort and the German offensive continued. Hoth's 3rd Panzer Group drove north and east, parallel to Guderian's forces, taking Polotsk and Vitebsk.
The 7th Panzer Division and 20th Panzer Division reached the area east of Smolensk at Yartsevo on July 15. At the same time, the 29th Motorized Division, supported by the 17th Panzer Division broke into Smolensk, captured the city except for the suburbs and began a week of house-to-house fighting against counter-attacks by the 16th Army. Guderian expected that the offensive would continue towards Moscow as its main focus and sent the 10th Panzer Division to the Desna River to establish a bridgehead on the east bank at Yelnya and cleared that as well by the 20th; this advanced bridgehead became the center of the Yelnya Offensive, one of the first big coordinated Soviet counter-offensives of the war. This objective was 50 km south of the Dnepr and well clear of the objective of liquidating the armies trapped at Smolensk. Under Fuhrer Directive 33 issued on July 14, the main effort of the Wehrmacht was re-orientated away from Moscow
Black Sea campaigns (1941–44)
The Black Sea Campaigns were the operations of the Axis and Soviet naval forces in the Black Sea and its coastal regions during World War II between 1941 and 1944, including in support of the land forces. The Black Sea Fleet was as surprised by Operation Barbarossa as the rest of the Soviet Military; the Axis forces in the Black Sea consisted of the Romanian and Bulgarian Navies together with German and Italian units transported to the area via rail and Canal. Although the Soviets enjoyed an overwhelming superiority in surface ships over the Axis, this was negated by German air superiority and most of the Soviet ships sunk were destroyed by bombing. For the majority of the war, the Black Sea Fleet was commanded by Vice Admiral Filipp Oktyabrskiy, its other commander being Lev Vladimirsky. All of the major Soviet shipyards were located in the Ukraine and Crimea and were occupied in 1941. Many incomplete ships which were afloat were evacuated to harbors in Georgia which provided the main bases for the surviving fleet.
These ports such as Poti, however had limited repair facilities which reduced the operational capability of the Soviet Fleet. On 22 June 1941, the Black Sea Fleet of the Soviet Navy consisted of: Romanian naval forces in the Black Sea consisted of four destroyers, four torpedo boats, eight submarines, three minelayers, one submarine tender, three gunboats and one training ship; as Turkey was neutral during World War II, the Axis could not transfer warships to the Black Sea via the Bosphorus. However, several small ships were transferred from the North Sea via rail and canal networks to the Danube; these included six Type IIB U-boats of the 30th U-boat Flotilla which were dis-assembled and shipped to Romania along the Danube. They were re-assembled at the Romanian Galați shipyard in late 1942 and afterwards sent to Constanța; the Germans transported 10 S-boats and 23 R-boats via the Danube and built armed barges and KTs in the captured Nikolayev Shipyards in Mykolaiv. Some ships were obtained in Romania and Hungary, converted to serve the German cause, such as the S-boat tender Romania, the minelayer Xanten and the Anti-submarine trawler UJ-115 Rosita.
Additional vessels were built in German or local shipyards, captured from Soviets, or transferred from the Mediterranean nominally as merchant ships. In total, the German naval forces in the Black Sea amounted to 6 coastal submarines, 16 S-boats, 23 R-boats, 26 submarine chasers and over 100 MFP barges; the German Black Sea fleet operated hundreds of medium and small warships or auxiliaries before its self-destruction prior to the defection of Bulgaria. Few vessels were able to make good their escape via the Danube; the Croatian Naval Legion was formed in July 1941. It was comprised some 350 officers and ratings in German uniform, but this swelled to 900–1,000, their first commander was Andro Vrkljan replaced by Stjepan Rumenović. The Croats' purpose in posting a naval contingent to the Black Sea was to evade the prohibition on an Adriatic navy imposed by the 18 May 1940 Treaty of Rome with Italy; this prohibition limited the Croatian Navy to a riverine flotilla. Upon its arrival at the Sea of Azov, managed to scrounge up 47 damaged or abandoned fishing vessels sailing ships, to man them hired local Russian and Ukrainian sailors, many deserters from the Soviet Navy.
The Legion acquired 12 German submarine hunters and a battery of coastal artillery. Lieutenant Josip Mažuranić notably commanded the submarine hunter UJ2303. Despite Bulgaria's neutral status in the German-Soviet war, the Bulgarian navy was involved in escort duties to protect Axis shipping against Soviet submarines in Bulgarian territorial waters; the small Bulgarian Navy consisted of 4 old torpedo boats, 3 modern German-built motor torpedo boats, 4 Dutch-built motor torpedo boats of the Power type, 2 SC-1 class submarine chasers and 3 anti-submarine motor launches. In late August 1944, 14 MFP landing barges were transferred to Bulgaria; the Italian Navy dispatched a small force to the Black Sea. The force dispatched included a flotilla of torpedo motorboats. Hungary became landlocked in the aftermath of World War I, but some Hungarian merchant ships were able to reach the Black Sea via the Danube River. Hungarian cargo ships were operated as part of Axis sea transport forces on the Black Sea, thus participated in the Axis evacuation from Crimea.
On June 26 the Soviet forces attacked the Romanian city of Constanța. During this operation, the destroyer leader Moskva was lost to mines while evading fire from coastal batteries; the Black Sea Fleet supplied the besieged garrison in Odessa and evacuated a significant part of the force at the end of October, but lost the destroyer Frunze and a gunboat to the German dive bombers in the process. The Black Sea Fleet played a valuable part in defeating the initial assault on Sevastopol. In December, there was an amphibious operation against Kerch which resulted in the recapture of the Kerch Peninsula. A naval detachment including the cruiser Krasnyi Krym remained in Sevastopol to give gunfire support. Soviet submarines raided Axis shipping on the Romanian and Bulgarian coasts, sinking 29,000 long tons of shipping. During fall of 1941, both sides laid many mine fields in southern Black Sea: Romanian defensive minefields sunk at least 5 Soviet submarines during this period, however during such operations the Axis forces lost the Romanian minelayer Regele Carol I, sunk by a mine laid by Soviet submarine L-4: 2 of the 5 Soviet submarine
Operation Iskra was a Soviet military operation during World War II, designed to break the Wehrmacht's Siege of Leningrad. Planning for the operation began shortly after the failure of the Sinyavino Offensive; the German defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad in late 1942 had weakened the German front. By January 1943, Soviet forces were planning or conducting offensive operations across the entire German-Soviet front in southern Russia, Iskra being the northern part of the wider Soviet 1942–1943 winter counter offensive; the operation was conducted by the Red Army's Leningrad Front, Volkhov Front, the Baltic Fleet from 12 to 30 January 1943 with the aim of creating a land connection to Leningrad. Soviet forces linked up on 18 January, by 22 January the front line was stabilised; the operation opened a land corridor 8–10 kilometres wide to the city. A railroad was swiftly built through the corridor which allowed more supplies to reach the city than the Road of Life across the frozen surface of Lake Ladoga reducing the possibility of the capture of the city and a German–Finnish linkup.
The success led to Operation Polyarnaya Zvezda less than two weeks which aimed to decisively defeat Army Group North, lifting the siege altogether. The operation was a failure. Soviet forces made several other attempts in 1943 to renew their offensive and lift the siege, but made only modest gains in each one; the corridor remained within range of German artillery, the siege was not lifted until a year on 27 January 1944. The Siege of Leningrad started in early autumn 1941. By 8 September 1941, German and Finnish forces had surrounded the city, cutting off all supply routes to Leningrad and its suburbs. However, the original drive on the city failed and the city was subjected to a siege. During 1942 several attempts were made to breach the blockade but all failed; the last such attempt was the Sinyavino Offensive. After the defeat of the Sinyavino Offensive, the front line returned to what it was before the offensive and again 16 kilometres separated Leonid Govorov's Leningrad Front in the city from Kirill Meretskov's Volkhov Front.
Despite the failures of earlier operations, lifting the siege of Leningrad was a high priority, so new offensive preparations began in November 1942. In December, the operation was approved by the Stavka and received the codename "Iskra"; the operation was due to begin in January 1943. By January 1943, conditions were improving for the Soviets; the German defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad had weakened the German front. The Soviet forces were planning or conducting offensive operations across the entire front in southwestern Russia. Amidst these conditions, Operation Iskra was to become the first of several offensive operations aimed at inflicting a decisive defeat on Germany's Army Group North; the area south of Lake Ladoga is a forested area with many wetlands close to the lake. The forest shielded both sides from visual observation. Both factors hindered the mobility of artillery and vehicles in the area, providing a considerable advantage to the defending forces; the Sinyavino heights were a key location, with terrain 150 meters higher than the surrounding flat terrain.
Because the front line had changed little since the blockade was established, German forces had built an extensive network of interconnected trenches and obstacles, interlocking artillery and mortar fire. The Neva River was frozen, allowing infantry to cross; the Germans were well aware that breaking the blockade was important for the Soviet side. However, due to the reverse at Stalingrad and the Soviet offensive at Velikiye Luki to the south of Leningrad, Army Group North was ordered to go on the defensive and was stripped of many troops; the 11th Army, to lead the assault on Leningrad in September 1942, which had thwarted the last Soviet offensive, was transferred to Army Group Center in October. Nine other divisions were reassigned to other sectors. At the start of the Soviet offensive, the German 18th Army, led by Georg Lindemann consisted of 26 divisions spread across a 450 kilometres wide front; the army was stretched thin and as a result had no division-level reserves. Instead, each division had a tactical reserve of one or two battalions, the army reserves consisted of portions of the 96th Infantry Division and the 5th Mountain Division.
The 1st Air Fleet provided the air support for the army. Five divisions and part of another one were guarding the narrow corridor which separated the Soviet Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts; the corridor was only 16 kilometres wide and was called the "bottleneck". The German divisions were well fortified in this area, where the front line had been unchanged since September 1941, hoping to repel the Soviet offensive; the plan for Operation Iskra was approved in December. With the combined efforts of the Volkhov and Leningrad Fronts, defeat the enemy in the area of Lipka, Dubrovka and thus penetrate the Leningrad blockade. Finish the operation by the end of January 1943; this meant opening a 10 kilometres corridor to Leningrad. After that, the two fronts were to rest for 10 days and resume the offensive southward in further operations; the biggest difference from the earlier Sinyavino Offensive was the location of the main attack. In September 1942 the Soviet forces were attacking south of the town of Siniavino, which allowed them to encircle several German divisions, but left the army open to flanking attacks from the north, it was this which caused the offensive to fa