Monday, 25 April 2016

Blood and Iron: The German Conquest of Sevastopol - C.G. Sweeting

Title: Blood and Iron: The German Conquest of Sevastopol
Author: C.G. Sweeting
ISBN: 978-1-57488-7976
Publisher: Potomac Books
Year: 2004
Pages: 200
Photographs/Maps: 99 b/w//4

The conquest of the Crimean peninsula and the capture of the fortress city of Sevastopol marked the culmination of months of preparation and intricate planning led by the brilliant general Field Marshall von Manstein. For the Axis forces this victory represented both the waning days of their offensive power and their excellence in the tactical and operational art of war; for the Soviets, their dogged resilience and capacity to continuously bounce back from crushing losses that would have crippled other nations.

Sweeting’s book commences with a very broad brush overview of Operation Barbarossa  thus far before narrowing down to focus upon an analysis of the capabilities of the Soviet, German and Romanian forces destined to clash in this campaign. Part in parcel of this examination is a detailed review of the German commander von Manstein and his strengths as both planner and combat commander. The authors overall approach is balanced, fair and comprehensive despite the shortness of the narrative.

The battle is tracked from the initial thrust of the Germans across the Crimean Perekop Isthmus and their subsequent drive to the gates of Sevastopol and the capture of Kerch on the Sea of Azov. The lessons derived from this section of the book include the advantages of close air support for the Germans, the continued challenges derived from the delta between the German and Romanian allies in terms of both capability and strategic goals, the shortfalls in Axis naval capacity (and the inability to prevent Soviet reinforcement by sea) and the continued dominance of the German forces over the Soviet. Additionally, an operational limitation for the Germans in terms of the use of paratroopers as a force projection option (they had never recovered both in terms of personnel and transport from the Crete campaign) is highlighted.

This section is followed by a review of the Soviet response through seaborne landings behind those Axis forces extended forward into the Kerch region. The resulting successful 100 mile retreat to the Feodosiya narrows highlighted the continued operational expertise of the Germans as well as the growing proficiency of the Soviets in joint operations. Von Manstein’s ability to quickly realign his forces to meet and eradicate this threat (despite being heavily outnumbered) while maintaining the siege of the Sevastopol was indicative of his operational brilliance. The losses sustained by the Soviets during these counterattacks exceeded 170,000 prisoners with untold thousands of dead and wounded.

The final section of the narrative covers the final assault and capture of Sevastopol itself. Sweeting does a commendable job with this review highlighting the role of the siege artillery brought forward specifically for this task (including the massive ‘Dora’ 81 mm cannon with her specially designed shells that could penetrate 5-6 meters of steel reinforced concrete). Sweetings writing captures for the reader the absolute brutal nature of the fighting associated with the capture of this fortress.

He closes his book with a series of annexes/appendices on the types and capabilities of the weapons utilized by both sides during this campaign. Moreover, he provides two detailed sections on the siege artillery of the Germans: the Karl and Dora weapons. These appendices are excellent in facilitating an appreciation of the unique nature of siege warfare.

Overall, this is a rather short but informative study of the Crimean campaign with a special emphasis upon the siege and capture of the fortress of Sevastopol. It is well written and flows well, however, the maps included were not adequate. Sweetings narrative style is technical where needed while not sacrificing the ‘human’ element of the fighting. As a start point for someone interested in this campaign I would not hesitate to recommend this book.

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