German Army in Crimea breaks through Russian Resistance during bloody fighting

Crimean Capital of Simferopol Falls to German Forces Berlin Says

Push Continues Toward Russian Naval Base at Sevastopol

2 November 1941 by Telephone from Berlin to the New York Times 


In late October and early November of 1941, headlines such as the ones I wrote above, appeared in newspapers throughout the world. I simply reworded the headlines so they would make sense to readers today.

Different peoples have been fighting over the Crimea for a long time. For hundreds of year, it was known as the Crimean Khanate, being under the rule of descendants of Genghis Khan.

In 1265, presumably wanting money and impressed with their trading prowess, the Crimean Khanate sold one of its ports on the Black Sea to the Republic of Genoa. The city in Italy? Yes, But in those days it was more than a city.  Genoa had become the center of an aggressive mercantile and banking empire. And it grabbed territory all over the place, eventually including all the Crimean ports on the Black Sea.

Subsequent to these events, the Crimean Khanate became a vassal state to the Ottoman Empire. After a few hundred years, the Genose control of the ports no longer suited the Ottomans so in the mid-1500s they threw then out.


# ItMAS451

Royal Italian Navy MAS boat or torpedo boat. Such boats were dragged overland from Italy to the Black Sea to fight for the Germans against the Russians in World War Two. This would not have been an unusual sight in the waters off the Crimean coast in 1942 and 1943. 

(Photo by the Royal Italian Navy)


But the Ottoman or Turkish Empire had begun its long decline. The Russian Empire was expanding and they had become more powerful than the Ottomans. But what really annoyed the Russians was the port of Caffa, (now Feodosiya) on the Black Sea coast of Crimea, had become the center of the slave trade for the Ottoman Empire.

Millions and millions of Christians were seized over the centuries throughout Central Europe, the Ukraine and Russia and sold into human slavery in Caffa in a scene of human tragedy and suffering we cannot imagine. In 1783, after a continuing series of slave raids into her territory, Catherine the Great, Empress and Autocrat of All the Russias, ordered the Crimean Khanate annexed and the local rulers put down and as it was ordered so it was done.

The Imperial Russian navy saw what a great location the coast of southern Crimea was to was to dominate the Black Sea. Hence, also in 1783, the naval base of of Sevastopol was first established by that well known native son of Russia, Rear Admiral Thomas Mackenzie. OK, he was from Scotland but Imperial Russia often used foreign officers since they were less likely to lead revolts.

And that is how Sevastopol came to be Russian. Obviously, it underwent a change in government when the Bolsheviks came into power but Russian it remained, and the key port on the Black Sea it remained, which is why in 1941, the Germans wanted it.


posted by historian Charles McCain, author of the World War Two naval epic:  An Honorable German.

Says author Nelson DeMille:

“A truly epic and stirring tale of war, love, and the sea…a remarkable debut novel by a writer who has done his homework so well that it seems he was an eyewitness to the history he portrays in such vivid detail.  An original and surprising look at World War II from the other side.”  


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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: