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SIEGE OF ODESSA
Written By: Peter Ayers Wimbrow, III
*Click images below to view larger versions.
SIEGE OF ODESSA
Soviet sniper Lyudmila M. Pavlichenko had nearly 100 kills by the end of the Siege of Odessa, the deadliest woman sniper of all time.
SIEGE OF ODESSA
Lt. Gen. Nicolae Ciuperca, commander Fourth Army until Sept. 9, 1941.
SIEGE OF ODESSA
Lt. Gen. Iosif Iacobici, commander Fourth Army from Sept. 4, 1941.
SIEGE OF ODESSA
Gen. Nicolae Macici convicted for the Odesssa Massacre by The People’s Tribunal in Bucharest, May 1945.
    This week, seventy years ago, the siege of Odessa ended when the Soviet Black Sea Fleet evacuated the garrison, and some civilians, to Sevastopol. The Soviets had decided that the garrison could better be used defending the Crimean port, for if it fell, Odessa could not be supplied. Odessa became the only major European city captured by a non-German Axis Army.  
    Odessa is located on the Black Sea and is currently the fourth largest city in the Ukraine, with a population exceeding 1,000,000. At the beginning of the war, the city had a population of more than 600,000, of which 30 percent  were Jews. By the time of the siege, half the population had fled. Additionally, most of the heavy industry had been dismantled and shipped out.
    The attack on the city began on August 3rd when the Romanian Fourth Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Nicolae Ciuperca crossed the Dniester River. General Ciuperca had served as Romania’s Minister of Defense in 1938. In 1948 he was arrested and died in prison two years later.
    The Romanians hoped to be able to take Odessa on the move - before the Soviets could perfect their defenses. Only 30,000 Soviet soldiers defended it at the time. However, strong defenses had already been prepared consisting of three concentric lines. That, coupled with Rumanian ineptitude, prevented a quick conquest.
    The defense of the city was entrusted to the commander of  the Separate Coastal Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. G. P. Safronov, which had been formed on July 20, 1941. The Army consisted of the 25th and 95th Rifle, and 421st Marine, and the Second Calvary, Divisions, the Fifty-Fourth Rifle and an N.K.V.D., Regiment. The garrison was reinforced by the 175th Rifle Division in September.
    On August 8, 1941, Moscow sent the following message, “The situation on the land front notwithstanding, Odessa is not to be surrendered.” By August 13, the Fourth Army had surrounded the city by land. Four days later, the city’s water reservoirs were captured.
    By August 28th the first line of defense had been breached and the Romanians were preparing to assault the second line. The port was now within range of the Romanian artillery. By then the Fourth Army had suffered 27,307 casualties.  
    On September 3, General Ciuperca submitted a memorandum to the Rumanian General Staff critical of its strategy. He was replaced by the Romanian War Minister, Lt. General Iosif Iacobici on September the 9th, with express instructions to follow the directives of the General Staff. General Iacobici was replaced, as War Minister, on September 22, 1941 by the Romanian Conducator, Marshal Ion Antonescu.  General Iacobici was also arrested, after the war, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 1952.
    The offensive resumed on September 12, but had to be stopped after two days when the artillery units ran low on ammunition. The Rumanians now numbered 200,000, divided into 12 infantry divisions. A German detachment, consisting of two heavy artillery, an infantry and assault pioneer, regiments commanded by Lt.-Gen. René von Courbier arrived. On September 17, the Romanian Army’s Chief-of-Staff, General Alexandru Ionitiu, was killed in an air crash.
    On September 24, the Conducator informed his German allies that his army would have to abandon the siege. By October 1, he had been convinced to continue it, with the promise of further German assistance. But the German reinforcements were not expected until at least October 17.
    General Safronov was replaced by General Ivan Y. Petrov, the 25th Division’s commander, on October 5.
    Just before, what was hoped to be, the final assault on the Soviet City, between October 14th and October 16th, the Soviet Black Sea Fleet successfully evacuated 86,000 of the garrison, 15,000 civilians, 3,625 horses, 1,158 motor vehicles, 462 guns, 19 tanks and armored vehicles and 25,000 tons of cargo. The Black Sea Fleet lost the destroyer Frunze and a gunboat to air attack in the process.
    Elements of the Romanian Seventh Infantry Division entered Odessa on October 16 at 10:30 a.m. Romanian casualties totaled 17,729 dead, 63,345 wounded and 11,471 missing. Material losses included: 10,250 rifles; 956 light machine guns; 336 heavy machine guns; 115 mortars; 90 guns; 20 planes; and 19 tanks. The Soviets reported 16,578 dead and missing, and 24,691 wounded. The siege had lasted seventy-three days, but the Soviets had left a few surprises for the conquering Axis Forces.
    On October 22nd one of those surprises exploded in the headquarters of the Romanian Army, on Marazli Street, killing 67, including the Romanian 10th Division Commander, Major-General Ion Glogoseanu, 16 other Romanian officers and four German Naval Officers. Not being able to determine the actual responsible party, the Romanians began rounding up the remaining Jews in Odessa and killing them in groups of 30 to 40. After about 5,000 had been killed, Lt. Col. Nicolae Beleanu ordered that the Jews be moved into four large storage buildings where holes were made for machine guns. The doors were then closed and Colonel Beleanu ordered the soldiers to fire into the buildings. After the firing stopped, the buildings were set on fire. More than 22,000 corpses were discovered after the War.
    Another 35,000 to 40,000 Jews were moved into the Ghetto known as Slobodka, where most of the buildings were destroyed and the Jews left outside for ten days between October 25th and November 3rd, where many of them froze to death. By January those Jews that had not died in the Slobodka Ghetto were transported in cattle wagons to Concentration Camps, where almost all died. General Nicolae Macici was convicted by The People’s Tribunal, in Bucharest, in May 1945 for the Odessa Massacre and sentenced to die. His death sentence was commuted by the Rumanian King, Mihai I. General Macici died in Aiud Prison, in Central Transylvania, in 1950. Twenty-eight other members of the Rumanian occupying force received prison sentences ranging from one year to life.
    In December 1942, Odessa became the center for the Rumanian administration of the area Rumania called “Transnistria.”  This meant “across the Dniester.” “Transnistria” was bordered on the west by the Dniester River, on the east by the Bug River, on the south by the Black Sea and on the north by Poland. Its population was approximately 2,500,000, of which 57 percent were Ukrainians, 28 percent Russians and 4.5 percent Rumanians. This is the area where the Romanians murdered many Jews - at least 185,000. The behavior of Rumanian soldiers in “Transnistria” was so bad that the Germans protested!
    The Rumanian administrator for  “Transnistria” was Gheorghe Alexianu. His residence and office were located in the Vorontsov Palace, in Odessa. Before the war, he had been a respected law professor at Cernauti University, located in the city of Cernauti, Northern Bukovina, Romania - now the Ukranian city of Cernivtsi. Rumanians working in the Transnistrian administration were paid thrice what they were paid in Rumania.
    As the Red Army approached, Professor Alexianu was replaced by Major-General Gheorghe Potopeanu on February 1, 1944. The Professor would be executed, with the Conducator, after a brief trial, on June 1,1946. In February, the Red Army crossed the Bug River into “Transnistria.”  On March 16, the Germans assumed total control of “Transnistria.”  In the meantime, the Romanians were carting off everything they could find.
    On April 2, 1944, the Third Ukranian Front, commanded by General Rodion Malinovsky, began the battle to liberate Odessa, now garrisoned by German troops. It was the general’s hometown. The Front included the 6th, 8th Guards, 17th Air, 37th, 46th, & 57th Armies. It would not take the Soviets 73 days to recapture Odessa. The attack was launched in a blizzard by the Eighth Guards and 57th Armies. By April 6, the Soviets had surrounded the city. Thirteen days later, the city capitulated. Its population was down to 230,000.
     On May 1, 1945, Stalin recognized Odessa, Leningrad, Stalingrad and Sevastopol as “Hero Cities.”  The title was made official on May 8, 1965 by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R.  

NEXT WEEK: HERO CITY TULA HOLDS

Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own.
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