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The Romanians and the Battle for the Crimea

During the German conquest of the Crimea from August 1941 to July 1942 a significant number of Romanian units played an important role in the campaigns.

Romanian cavalry, mountain and infantry formations took part in the campaign in a number of combat rolls, from anti-partisan duties through flanks security to significant contributions to the front line defence and assaults.

Part 1 ~ 1941

The German assault on the Crimea was timed to coincide with the Khakov offensive in August 1941. The German XI Armee was assigned to the task with flank support from the Romanian 3rd Army.

German XI Armee (Gen. Lt. Erich von Manstein)
  SS-LSAH Division (detached October
 XLIX Gebirgs korps
 (detached October 1941)
 XXX Korps
  28. Jagerdivision
  72. Infanteriedivision
  170. Infanteriedivision
 XLII Korps
  46. Infanteriedivision
  73. Infanteriedivision
LIV Korps
  22. Infanteriedivision
  50. Infanteriedivision
  132. Infanteriedivision

Romanian 3rd Army (Lt. Gen. Petre Dumitrescu)
 Cavalry Corps
  5th Cavalry Brigade
  6th Cavalry Brigade
  8th Cavalry Brigade
 Mountain Corps
  1st Mountain Brigade
  2nd Mountain Brigade
  4th Mountain Brigade

On August 30 German and Romanians crossed the Dnieper near Berslav. Two bridgeheads were established and the advancing Axis forces soon had the Soviets retreating. By September 15 the Crimea peninsular had been cut off from the mainland and Soviet forces were cut off from land links to supplies and reinforcements.

Manstein launched the XI Armee through the Perekop Isthmus on September 17.
The Romanian corps and the German XXX Korps were assigned to protect the flanks, the Mountain Corps on the left (Dnieper) and the Cavalry Corps on the right (coastal), with the German XXX Corps between them.
Romanian Infantry fighting in Odessa
Romanian Cavalry on the March

As the forces advanced the Soviets launched a counter-offensive on September 24 on the flank of the XI Armee with the 9th and 18th Armies. The flank forces were hard pressed and the Romanians were broken through in the sectors of the 2nd and 4th Mountain Brigades and the 5th and 6th Cavalry brigades, while the German 170. Infanteriedivision and Romanian 8th Cavalry Brigade were pushed back. Groups of resistance still held against the Soviet onslaught.

General Manstein quickly dispatched the XLIX Gebirgs Korps and the LSAH SS Division to shore-up the flank.

By October 4 the insertion of these elite troops soon turned a desperate defence into a counter-attack. The XI Armee was joined by elements of Kleist’s Panzergruppe 1 from the north and by October 11 the two Soviet armies were surrounded and over 65,000 men were captured. Substantial amounts of equipment were captured, much of which was pressed into service or sent back home by the Romanians.
XI Armee operations in Crimea 1941.
Romanian Mountain Troops receive German awards

After the successful counter-offensive the German mountain and SS troops were sent north to join Kleist’s forces as they moved on Rostov. The rest of the XI Armee turned its attention back toward Crimea. The Romanian troops became more important, the mountain troops filling the void left by the Gebirgsjager and the motorised elements of the cavalry division providing the mobility offered by the SS.

The Romanian corps were reorganised and the Mountain Corps was placed under the direct command of General Manstein’s XI Armee.

Romanian Mountain Corps
 1st Mountain Brigade
 8th Cavalry Brigade
 19th Artillery Regt

They were deployed on the left wing of the XI Armee in the area of Genichesk. A mobile group was also formed from the motorised 6th and 10th Rosiori cavalry regiments (from the 5th and 6th Cavalry Brigades) under the command of Col Radu Korne. Detachment Korne also gained additional troops to bring it up to roughly brigade strength.

Detachment Korne
 6th Rosiori Regiment
 10th Rosiori Regiment
 54th Motorized Heavy Artillery Battalion
 Anti-tank Battalion
 Motorcycle Company

They were attached to German brigade “Ziegler”.

Defending the Crimea were the Soviet 54th and Coastal (from Odessa) Armies, a total of eight infantry and three cavalry divisions.

The armies were also supplemented with personnel from the Soviet Navy, many of whom were pressed into action as infantry.

Romanian Cavalry dress for the onset of winter.
Romanian Infantry The operation to take the Crimean peninsular was started on October 19 1941. Initially Romanian troops held defensive position while the Germans worked their way through the Perekop Isthmus. Soviet defenders were finally cleared from the isthmus on October 28.

The 1st Mountain Brigade was ordered to attack through the Salkovo Isthmus and began their assault on October 29. The 8th Cavalry Brigade’s attack was directed towards Genichesk. The Salkovo Isthmus was heavily fortified and quite narrow and the advancing Romanian mountain infantry found the advance hard, despite heavy artillery and air support. The isthmus was a mere 10 kilometres wide, allowing the Romanians to only advance on a two-battalion frontage.

Luckily for the 1st Mountain Brigade the German advance through the Perekop Isthmus had gone well and German troops were threatening to cut off the Soviet defenders of the Salkovo Isthmus from behind. The Soviet troops started to retreat on October 30. The 1st Mountain Brigade quickly followed up the retreating Soviets, but the Soviets were able to escape into the Crimean Peninsular blowing the bridge connections to the Salkovo Isthmus before the Romanians arrived.
Romanian Mountain machine-gunner

On October 31 the 1st Mountain Brigade began to cross to the Crimea, at first in boats and later across a pontoon bridge constructed by German pioneers.

The 8th Cavalry Brigade had less success at Genichesk, and they ended up just holding the Soviets in position with one regiment (4th Rosiori) while the other two regiments (2nd Cãlãraºi and 3rd Cãlãraºi Motorizat) joined the 1st Mountain Brigade to cross into the Crimea via the Salkovo Isthmus, where they came under the German XLII Korps.

Meanwhile the Korne Detachment entered the Crimea with the Germans via the Perekop Isthmus, advancing quickly and cutting off the Semferopol-Yevpatoria highway on October 31.

Romanian Infantry The 1st Mountain Brigade’s next task was to clear the Yaila Mountains of Soviets and by November 5 they had reached the sea at Sudak. They had cleared 180km during their four-day advance and taken 2247 prisoners.

The 8th Cavalry Brigade was attached to the German XLII Korps and took part in the pursuit of the retreating Soviets towards the Kerch Peninsular.

From November 3-10 it was in the frontlines, before clearing the shoreline of Soviets from November 10-12. On November 13 it returned to the command of the Romanian Mountain Corps.
While the German XI Armee prepared for the assault on Sevastopol with the XXX and LIV Korps, the Romanian Mountain Corps was assigned to coastal defence between Sudak and Alushta. The corps was joined by a new unit, the 4th Mountain Brigade on November 26 and they were assigned to anti-partisan work in the Yaila Mountains, taking over from the 1st Mountain Brigade who had been hunting them from November 6-18.
On November 18 the 1st Mountain Brigade was ordered to join the Germans for the assault on Sevastopol. They were assigned to the German XXX Korps. Only part of the Brigade was deployed with the Germans to the south of Sevastopol, the remainder were kept on coastal defence duties.

1st Mountain Brigade Troops assigned to the German 72. Infanteriedivision, XXX Korps:

1st Mountain Group
  2nd Vanatori de Munte Battalion
  3rd Vanatori de Munte Battalion
  14th Vanatori de Munte Battalion
  2nd Mountain Pioneer Battalion
  Mountain Artillery Battalion
  4th Artillery Regiment

Romanian Infantry
On November 23 elements of the 1st Mountain Group (2nd, 3rd, 2nd Pioneers and 4th Artillery, plus 37th anti-tank Company) replaced the German 124. Infanterieregiment in the front line. November Map...

The 1st Mountain Group assaulted the village of Alsu and then stormed the Denkmal Heights, but fierce Soviet resistance halted them before they could completely clear the heights.

Soviet Naval Infantry The original 1st Mountain Group (2nd and 3rd Vanatori de Munte) was replaced by a second group consisting of the 23rd and 24th Vanatori de Munte battalions on December 6. They were quickly under pressure and fought off numerous Soviet attacks from December 8-13.

On December 17 both groups were in the line. An assault was planned and the Brigade’s target was to be Chapel Hill. Due to a miscommunication of the start times only the lead battalion of the second group (23rd Vanatori de Munte) reached and assaulted the objective. The advance was halted by the Soviets at the Karlovka stream.

The Romanians finally organised their assault and it resumed later in the day with both battalions (23rd and 2nd), but flanking fire from the Karlovka village brought a stop to their advance.

For any further advance it was decided that the village forces must be eliminated, and the following day was spent preparing to storm the positions. During the day the Romanian positions came under intense mortar fire and they suffered heavy casualties, losing the commander of the 2nd Vanatori de Munte battalion.

Despite the casualties of the previous day the planned assault went ahead. The 2nd and 3rd battalions attacked together, the 3rd battalion attacked and took the northern half of the Karlovka Village, while the 2nd battalion attacked from the south. The 2nd battalion was halted by intense fire from Soviet bunkers, but an air strike from German Stukas allowed the Romanians to continue past these obstacles. The 2nd battalion continued on from the village toward the Chapel Hill.

Meanwhile the second group was fighting alongside the German 105. Infanterieregiment.
Fighting continued until December 20 by which time the Romanian’s and adjacent German units had taken Chorgun village and its surrounding heights. To the west Soviet resistance continued.
Romanian Infantry climb a steep bank
To defeat the Soviets in their concrete pill boxes anti-tank guns were brought up to direct fire on the Soviets. On December 23 the combined forces of the Romanian 1st Mountain Brigade and the German 170. Infanteriedivision finally took the heights of Chapel Hill.

During the fighting in the south the Korne Detachment of motorised cavalry was fighting alongside the German LIV Korps north of Sevastopol. The detachment took position on the extreme right of the German 22. Infanteriedivision, with the coast on their right.

Soviet Crimea Pillbox

They fought their way towards the Kacha valley, reaching it on December 23. Soviet resistance in the area lasted until December 25.

Just as the Axis were preparing their final assault on Sevastopol the Soviets launch a surprising counter-blow. On December 29 the Soviets landed two armies (51st and 44th) on the Crimea at Feodosiya and Kerch during a bitterly cold (-20 degrees C) and windy (gale force 5) morning. Manstein was forced to postpone his final assault on the Sevastopol citadel and divert his troops to contain the new landings.

Part 2, 1942

The German’s became aware of the planned Soviet landings around Feodosiya and Kerch on December 20, 1941 with the capture a Soviet scout group, but despite the warning the scale landings of December 26 and 29 took the Germans by surprise.

The elements of the German 46. Infanteriedivision bore the brunt of the Soviet landing at Kerch on December 26. The Romanian Mountain Corps and the Korne detachment were quickly dispatched towards Kerch.

The 4th Mountain Brigade, 8th Cavalry Brigade and the 3rd Motorised Rosiori Cavalry regiment were detached and headed toward Feodosiya, while the 18th and 29th Battalions of the 4th Mountain Brigade remained to guard the Simferopol-Alushta highway.

Weather conditions were extreme, and the Romanian troops were forced to travel in -30 degree blizzard conditions. On December 29 the Soviets landed further troops at Feodosiya and quickly overwhelmed the German garrison.

Soviet and Axis movements during December 1941 and January 1942.
Romanian Infantry in the Snow

Most of the Romanian troops were already on route to Kerch, the initial orders of the Korne detachment and 8th Cavalry Brigade were rescinded and they were redirected towards Feodosiya. The Romanian units heading towards Feodosiya were all subordinated to the Mountain Corps.

Mountain Corps December 29:
4th Mountain Brigade
8th Cavalry Brigade
3rd Motorised Rosiori Cavalry Regiment
Korne detachment

The Romanian Mountain Corps was set the task of eliminating the Soviet bridgehead at Feodosiya. However by December 30 the 8th Cavalry Brigade had to yet arrive at its destination near Vladislavovka leaving the left of the 4th Mountain Brigade exposed.

The Soviets took advantage of the situation and attacked. The 4th Mountain Brigade was forced to retreat, but they soon rallied and halted the Soviets around Starii Krim.

In the meantime the German XLII Korps had retreated from Kerch and set up a new front along the Parapach Isthmus.

On December 31 the Soviets attacked the 4th Mountain Brigaded positions again but were repulsed. The 4th Mountain Brigade was ordered to hold the Soviets at bay. If the Soviets broke through at Feodosiya they would be behind the positions of the Axis troops holding off the Kerch attack and put the whole defence of the peninsular in question.

The 4th Mountain Brigade continued to hold and withstood another seven Soviet attacks between December 31 and January 14. They tenaciously held a 20km front with an under-strength Brigade. It wasn’t until January 5 that substantial reinforcements arrived, first a German kampfgruppe including the 213. Infanterieregiment, artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft units, they were followed by the arrival of the remainder of the German XXX Korps and the Romanian 18th Infantry Division. The 18th Infantry Division had just arrived in the Crimea with the 10th Infantry Division after a 450km march.
Romanian Infantry dressed for the harsh Russian winter

The 4th Mountain Brigade was subordinated to German XXX Korps and preparations were made to counter-attack and destroy the Soviet bridgehead at Feodosiya. The Romanian 8th Cavalry Brigade and 18th infantry Division joined the German XLII Korps holding the front on the Parapach Isthmus.   

The XXX Korps assault started on January 15 with the 4th Mountain Brigade on the right flank, covering the flank of the German 170. Infanteriedivision. During the first day’s fighting they infiltrated two companies behind the positions of the Soviet troops attacking the Germans forcing the Soviets to retreat. The following day they continued to advance and encountered fierce resistance from the enemy, but progress continued.

Soviets land in the Crimea

On the night of January 15/16 the Soviets landed yet another force at Sudak. The 13th Battalion of the 4th Mountain Brigade was immediately dispatched to help with defence. The Romanian company of Capitan Tomescu, who had repulsed the first attempted landing on January 13, held Sudak. The were however grossly out numbered by this second landing of two Soviet mountain regiments, and were forced to withdraw from their positions.

Later on January 16 the reinforcements arrived, including he 13th Mountain Battalion, a battalion of the 4th Artillery Regiment, a German Infantry battalion, anti-aircraft company and artillery battalion. The force was placed under the command of German Kampfgruppe Rusker.

Meanwhile at Feodosiya the remains of the 4th Mountain Brigade advanced onwards the sea and reached Pavlovka in January 17. The XXX Korps soon took Feodosiya and one Soviet incursion had been repulsed.

The Kampfgruppe Rusker counter-attack at Sudak took the eastern side of the village of Traktash on January 17, and it took the remainder of the village the following day. An immediate Soviet counter-attack retook the western side of the village. On January 18 another kampfgruppe was formed to defend the Sudak-Otusi highway, It was made up of:

Kampfgruppe Otusi
4th Mountain Pioneer Battalion
1 Squadron, 3rd Motorised Rosiori Regiment
Machine-gun Platoon
2 Infantry Companies
Anti-aircraft Company

The attack towards the Sudak bridgehead continued on January 20, with Kampfgruppe Otusi making the only substantial progress. Partisans had become a hindrance in the area so before any further operations were launched in the area it was decided to eliminate them. Fighting against the Partisans lasted from January 21-23. Finally on January 24, with the support of aircraft and artillery, the village of Traktash was taken.

The Romanian 17th Mountain Battalion was added to the Sudak forces and a final push was made to retake the city on January 27-28. After the battle Oberst Rusker praised the audacious actions of the Romanian Vanatori du Munte in their role in the retaking of Sudak.

All had not been quite on the Parpach Isthmus as gathering Soviet forces attempted to break out of the Kerch Peninsular.

A Soviet Sailor plants the flag at Kerch

In the sector around Seit Asan the Romanian 18th Infantry Division and 8th Cavalry Brigade took part in attacks and on achieving their objectives were forced to repulse several Soviet counter-attacks. The 18th Infantry Division inflicted over 600 Soviet killed and destroyed 16 tanks.

Soviet Sailors

With the Feodosiya and Sudak bridgeheads cleared it was decided to stabilise the Parpach Isthmus front before organising any counter-attacks to clear the peninsular. 

Axis dispositions late January 1942:

Besieging Sevastopol: German XIV Korps
Parpach Isthmus: German XXX Korps, XLII Korps. 6th Romanian Corps (18th Infantry Division, 8th Cavalry Division).
Anti-Partisan and Coastal Defence duties: Romanian Mountain Corps ( 4th Mountain Brigade, Kampfgruppe Schroder)

The Romanian Army in 1944…

Return to the Crimea 1944...


http://www.worldwar2.ro Victor Nitu’s excellent articles on the Romanians during Crimean Campaign.

Erickson, John, The Road to Stalingrad, Cassell Military Paperbacks, ISBN 0-304-36541-6. A great book covering the Soviet Red Army’s campaigns and struggles to rebuild after the disaster of Barbarossa.

Axworthy, Mark, Third Axis, Fourth Ally, Romanian Armed Forces in teh European War, 1941-1945, Hailer Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9776155-3-7.

Axworthy, Mark, The Romanian Army in World War II, Men-at-Arms 246, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 1-85532-169-6.

Filipescu, Mihai Tone, Reluctant Axis: The Romanian Army in Russia, 1941 - 1944, FTM, s.a.

Last Updated On Wednesday, May 4, 2011 by Wayne at Battlefront