"Hercules/C3"-sized operation in the Black Sea?

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daveshoup2MD
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"Hercules/C3"-sized operation in the Black Sea?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 16 Jan 2022 21:07

IF the Turks had joined the Axis in time for the 1942 offensive AND thus allowed the passage of Axis (largely Italian) naval and shipping assets from the Med into the Black Sea, any thoughts on whether the Axis would have considered an amphibious operation aimed at Poti to support the overland offensive into the Caucasus?

They had, after all, something approximating a doctrine by then, given the plans and preparations for SEALION and the various plans for Malta ... and some of the landing craft (built for the purpose, and extemporized, in both cases) would have been available, presumably...

And if so, any guess as to what troops may have been available? Obviously, pretty much everything they had was already on the eastern front, tied down on occupation duties across Europe, or (to a limited degree, in comparison) fighting in Africa; even if the Turks had joined in and the Italian navy and merchant marine could be spared, were there any troops left to the Germans in the summer of 1942 that could have mounted an operation worth trying?

For some details on the opposition, from: "Soviet strategic thinking regarding the "maritime flanks" of the USSR in 1941 and 1942." (thanks to Art):

"It should be added that the HQ of the Transcaucasus Front started to consider the worst case scenario (that is German invasion of Caucasus) in November 1941 and developed a preliminary directive which provided for defense from a land attack from the north and a seaborne attack against the Black Sea coast. The directive ordered the following distribution of forces:
- 44 Army in Dagestan (5 rifle and 1 mountain division) blocking attacks on Baku from the north
- 47 Army along the central Caucasus Mountains (5 rifle and 1 mountain division) blocking routes to Tbilisi
- 46 Army along the Black Sea coast up to Batumi (3 rifle and 2 mountain division) with the triple task to defend the coast in cooperation with the Black Sea Fleet, guard passes of the West Caucasus Mountains, and block advance along the coastal road.
- 45 Army along the Turkish border (5 rifle divisions)
- group of forces in Iran (1 rifle, 2 cavalry division) guarding the Turkish-Iranian border
- front reserve ( 3 rifle divisions, 2 tank brigades)

Further events interfered with this plan and after the fall of the Kerch peninsula a large portion of the Transcaucasus Front was transported to the Taman peninsula and was later employed in the Crimean landing. Still the 46 Army with several divisions continued to defend the coast against possible seaborne attack until August 1942. Retrospectively it is clear that fears of some landing operation on the Black Sea coast were exaggerated."

Presume the Turks would be content to build up the defenses of their southern coast and the land borders with Allied occupied Syria, Iraq, and Iran, as well as the northeastern border with the USSR. Also presume this requires the Axis to remain on the defensive in Africa, so no attack at Gazala, or Malta operation, of course.

Does open the possibility of a successful Axis offensive into the Transcaucasus region from Pito/Batumi to Tiflis, and the impact on the Soviet oil industry at Baku, etc.

Map (courtesy of the USMA):
https://www.westpoint.edu/sites/default ... rope23.pdf

If the naval support and shipping is limited to what the Axis "historically" had in the Black Sea in 1941-42, it's a non-starter - basically, four Romanian destroyers for the covering force, and one doesn't expect the Romanian merchant marine, plus whatever the Germans can move down the Danube, would be anywhere near enough.

However, if the Turks will accept a "not quite neutral but only semi-co-belligerent" role like the Bulgarians, it could get interesting. As examples, IF they look the other way at Italian shipping moving through the Bosporus (suspend the Montreux Convention? The Italians pull a "Souchon" and send a naval squadron and amphibious shipping to the Aegean, swap flags and put their men in fezzes, sail through the Straits, and then become Italians again?), they could get some significant forces in play.

Operation HERCULES OST?

As it was, the Axis were planning to invade Malta with eight light divisions (one German, seven Italian, which included a German airborne division, an Italian airborne division, and an Italian airlanding division); the amphibious element were two reinforced Italian divisions in the first wave, with two more to follow, and a fifth in reserve. Covering forces were supposed to include four battleships, four heavy cruisers, eight light cruisers, and 21 destroyers.

Cut all that in half, even, and it amounts to (roughly) a reinforced German airborne division (four regiments?) and five infantry RCTs/brigade group equivalents by sea. Looking at what the Germans were able to move into North Africa and the Med after TORCH buy before HUSKY, and maybe that's the equivalent of a German armored/motorized division (10th Panzer, presumably) and an infantry division (334th, presumably, which had a mountain element), plus "some" Italians?

"Gebirgs-armee Ost," under Student, I guess, with:
    German 7th Parachute, 10th Panzer, 334th Infantry;
      Italian Folgore Airborne, Livorno Infantry, and Friuli Infantry, all reinforced by various infantry, armor, artillery, engineers, etc.

      With half the Italian surface forces planned for HERCULE/C3, that's (presumably) Andrea Doria and Caio Duilio. four Italian light cruisers, and nine Italian destroyers, plus various escorts, minesweepers, and assorted small craft, along with the Romanian fleet (four destroyers), and - presumably - at least Hermes to represent the KM surface force ... plus various submarines, Italian, German, and Romanian.

      Although the question of transferring Yavuz BACK into German hands as Goeben is an intriguing one... the correlation of the above Axis naval forces with the Soviet Black Sea Fleet would be interesting.

      Air power would have to be transferred from the Med, which would be another reason for Rommel et al to remain on the defensive in Libya, of course. Basing would be Romania, occupied Ukraine, etc.

      As far as landing sites, looking at Google maps, seems like north of Poti would provide decent beaches.

      But other than drawing from the forces that (historically) were in, or went to, the Med in 1942, hard to see any other reservoir of useful troops, shipping, aircraft, and equipment at the time, and of course getting them into the Black Sea requires the Turks to walk right up to the edge of joining the war, if not actually do so ... maybe the deal is the Axis agrees to supply the Turks with oil from Romania. and (presumably) some territorial gains - Azerbaijian or whatever, "postwar." Hard to imagine that being enough, but hey, it's a 'what if' ...

      Definitely unrealistic in terms of diplomacy, but not - for once - in terms of equipment, doctrine, and trained forces. Better than most "Successful SEALION in 1940" or "Japan conquers Oahu in 1941" concepts, and those appear to be running gags.

      Thoughts?

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      Alpini Arditi
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      Re: "Hercules/C3"-sized operation in the Black Sea?

      Post by Alpini Arditi » 16 Jan 2022 21:40

      Interesting scenario. I think the Turks would definitely have waited until the Axis advance deep into the Caucasus, before joining in, either as full allies or co-belligerents. They would've remembered being pushed back into Turkey by the Russians in WW1, and taken no chances. But, yes an amphibious landing could have been discussed amongst the Axis. Hard to see where they could allocate the troops from, though. Perhaps they would have rooted for the Turks to launch a land offensive north, to link up with the Axis divisions pushing south.

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      Re: "Hercules/C3"-sized operation in the Black Sea?

      Post by daveshoup2MD » 16 Jan 2022 22:01

      Alpini Arditi wrote:
      16 Jan 2022 21:40
      Interesting scenario. I think the Turks would definitely have waited until the Axis advance deep into the Caucasus, before joining in, either as full allies or co-belligerents. They would've remembered being pushed back into Turkey by the Russians in WW1, and taken no chances. But, yes an amphibious landing could have been discussed amongst the Axis. Hard to see where they could allocate the troops from, though. Perhaps they would have rooted for the Turks to launch a land offensive north, to link up with the Axis divisions pushing south.
      Thanks. Looking at what forces the Italians and Germans moved into/around the MTO in 1942-43 as evidence, my guess is - maybe - the forces they had in place for HERCULES/C3 and (presumably) a couple of division equivalents of what the Germans were able to send to Tunisia after TORCH, which is where the three Germans divisions, three Italian divisions lad out above came from. Hard to think of much more.

      Any guess on who Student's (presumably) Italian deputy commander would be? Or what Italian flag officer would command a detached naval force of the size suggested above?

      My thought, just to keep it simple, is the Turks do not commit troops per se (other than on their own frontiers), simply allow the necessary Axis shipping passage of the Straits and - maybe - some equipment transfers like Yavuz turned Goeben.

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      Re: "Hercules/C3"-sized operation in the Black Sea?

      Post by Alpini Arditi » 16 Jan 2022 23:06

      As Student's deputy, I would think that the commander of the Italian Folgore Division, General Enrico Frattini, would have been a prime candidate, if he and his force would not have been at El Alamein.
      generale-enrico-frattini-1.jpg
      As for the Italian Naval commander, perhaps Admiral Giuseppe Fioravanzo. He was responsible for the Navy Department of Special Studies for a time, which included pre-war planning for the invasion of Malta, and although by autumn 1942 was in a sea command, he would've been very suitable for the task of co-ordinating a sea-borne element landing operation.
      Giuseppe_Fioravanzo.jpg
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      Re: "Hercules/C3"-sized operation in the Black Sea?

      Post by daveshoup2MD » 17 Jan 2022 00:42

      Alpini Arditi wrote:
      16 Jan 2022 23:06
      As Student's deputy, I would think that the commander of the Italian Folgore Division, General Enrico Frattini, would have been a prime candidate, if he and his force would not have been at El Alamein.
      generale-enrico-frattini-1.jpg
      As for the Italian Naval commander, perhaps Admiral Giuseppe Fioravanzo. He was responsible for the Navy Department of Special Studies for a time, which included pre-war planning for the invasion of Malta, and although by autumn 1942 was in a sea command, he would've been very suitable for the task of co-ordinating a sea-borne element landing operation.
      Giuseppe_Fioravanzo.jpg
      Many thanks. Both make sense, although if Frattini moves up to (essentially) as deputy army commander, is there a parachute/airborne-qualified general officer who could/would replace him as the CG for a reinforced Folgore? Maybe Pizzolato, the CG of La Spezia division, since it was assigned to the airlanding role in C3? And he had been an attache in the USSR, and had experience in armor, cavalry, and artillery...

      Fioravanzo certainly seems a good choice, given his varied career and, it seems, he was pretty well-regarded, in assignments both ashore and afloat; and his leadership of the cruiser sortie during HUSKY suggests he understood the principal of calculated risk... ;)

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      Re: "Hercules/C3"-sized operation in the Black Sea?

      Post by Frollo » 17 Jan 2022 12:30

      Vittorio Tur was the commander of the Special Naval Force for most of the war, which was specifically tasked with supporting landing operations. He was its commander for the (cancelled) assault on Corfu in October 1940, during the (bloodless) occupation of the Ionian Islands in April 1941, for the (cancelled) assault on Malta in 1942, and during the (bloodless) occupation of Corsica in November 1942. I therefore suppose he would have been in charge also in the event of this hypothetical operation. He also outranked Fioravanzo.

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      Re: "Hercules/C3"-sized operation in the Black Sea?

      Post by daveshoup2MD » 17 Jan 2022 19:55

      Frollo wrote:
      17 Jan 2022 12:30
      Vittorio Tur was the commander of the Special Naval Force for most of the war, which was specifically tasked with supporting landing operations. He was its commander for the (cancelled) assault on Corfu in October 1940, during the (bloodless) occupation of the Ionian Islands in April 1941, for the (cancelled) assault on Malta in 1942, and during the (bloodless) occupation of Corsica in November 1942. I therefore suppose he would have been in charge also in the event of this hypothetical operation. He also outranked Fioravanzo.
      Thanks. Very interesting candidate. Also interesting that for the Corfu assault, his largest warships were the two ex-German light cruisers ...

      So, if the Axis set up a "Black Sea Fleet Command," perhaps:

      Axis Naval C-in-C - Tur
      Chief of Staff - Presumably a German?
      Naval surface force commander - Fioravanzo
      Transport forces commander - TBD; presumably an Italian?
      Submarines - Presumably a German?

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      Re: "Hercules/C3"-sized operation in the Black Sea?

      Post by daveshoup2MD » 17 Jan 2022 20:52

      Interesting analysis posted by Thaddeus on the "What if" page along these lines:

      https://www.jstor.org/stable/44641609?s ... b_contents

      Very interesting read; kind of surprising, that after all the effort the Germans put into their amphibious force and planning in 1940, and the efforts underway with the Italians toward an actual combined operation against Malta in 1942, no one made the leap that the same resources - move, if possible, into the Black Sea - could have had a huge impact, and against an enemy that - unlike the British - were much less capable of organizing a substantial joint (air-sea-land) defense of the potentially threatened coast.

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      Re: "Hercules/C3"-sized operation in the Black Sea?

      Post by Peter89 » 18 Jan 2022 09:52

      This is a fundamentally flawed idea.

      There was nothing that Turkey could gain from an Axis alliance in 1942, but it could not afford a war against the Soviet Union, the USA and the British Empire, not to mention others.

      The Germans could also gain little by a Turkish alliance in 1942: by that time, they could barely build up a few schwerpunkts and even those only with excessive help of their allies. If Turkey joins the Axis in 1942, it could not defend its borders effectively, not to mention of their airspace. And for what exactly? In order to launch an amphibious operation into the Caucasus?

      This of course made no sense, because ultimately the supply would fall on the hands of the already overburdened railroad system - the meager Axis shipping capacity in the Black Sea was already taken by the AGS. The Mediterraneum was closed at Gibraltar so there was no additional shipping in the Med either. (The transfer of merchant ships were not prohibited anyway.) The staging areas you recommended (Romania, Ukraine) were very far from your target beach at Poti, the closest points in Ukraine about 5 times, in Romania about 10 times farther than the Sicily-Malta distance. Air superiority would be, of course, out of the question. NGFS, not that the Italians had any proficiency in it, was also very much unlikely because the Italians would not deploy their precious battleships outside of the Central Mediterraneum.

      Not to mention other reasons.
      “And while I am talking to you, mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I shall say it again, and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." - FDR, October 1940

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      Re: "Hercules/C3"-sized operation in the Black Sea?

      Post by daveshoup2MD » 18 Jan 2022 20:29

      Peter89 wrote:
      18 Jan 2022 09:52
      This is a fundamentally flawed idea.

      There was nothing that Turkey could gain from an Axis alliance in 1942, but it could not afford a war against the Soviet Union, the USA and the British Empire, not to mention others.

      The Germans could also gain little by a Turkish alliance in 1942: by that time, they could barely build up a few schwerpunkts and even those only with excessive help of their allies. If Turkey joins the Axis in 1942, it could not defend its borders effectively, not to mention of their airspace. And for what exactly? In order to launch an amphibious operation into the Caucasus?

      This of course made no sense, because ultimately the supply would fall on the hands of the already overburdened railroad system - the meager Axis shipping capacity in the Black Sea was already taken by the AGS. The Mediterraneum was closed at Gibraltar so there was no additional shipping in the Med either. (The transfer of merchant ships were not prohibited anyway.) The staging areas you recommended (Romania, Ukraine) were very far from your target beach at Poti, the closest points in Ukraine about 5 times, in Romania about 10 times farther than the Sicily-Malta distance. Air superiority would be, of course, out of the question. NGFS, not that the Italians had any proficiency in it, was also very much unlikely because the Italians would not deploy their precious battleships outside of the Central Mediterraneum.

      Not to mention other reasons.
      Did say in the OP that the diplomatic side of it was a huge "IF," but given the alternatives in the greater MTO-SW Asia-SE Russia region for the Axis were - basically - a) losing in Egypt while not attempting Malta; b) holding on in North Africa while attempting Malta; c) retreating in North Africa while attempting something in support of the invasion of the Caucasus, which given the reality of the impact taking control of the Caucasus/Transcaucasia would have had on the USSR's POL supply, it seems like c is at least worth kicking around.

      Obviously, the Axis did not have any "good" options in 1942, but at least trying to bring the Turks into a "Bulgarian" level of co-belligerancy and trying a strategy - an amphibious assault in support of an overland offensive - the Axis had not tried before (and yet, after 1940-41, they at least had some resources for) in an effort at an economic target that actually mattered, perhaps it would be less bad than what the did try and do in 1942, which was - essentially - lose everywhere.

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      Re: "Hercules/C3"-sized operation in the Black Sea?

      Post by Peter89 » 19 Jan 2022 11:25

      daveshoup2MD wrote:
      18 Jan 2022 20:29

      Did say in the OP that the diplomatic side of it was a huge "IF," but given the alternatives in the greater MTO-SW Asia-SE Russia region for the Axis were - basically - a) losing in Egypt while not attempting Malta; b) holding on in North Africa while attempting Malta; c) retreating in North Africa while attempting something in support of the invasion of the Caucasus, which given the reality of the impact taking control of the Caucasus/Transcaucasia would have had on the USSR's POL supply, it seems like c is at least worth kicking around.

      Obviously, the Axis did not have any "good" options in 1942, but at least trying to bring the Turks into a "Bulgarian" level of co-belligerancy and trying a strategy - an amphibious assault in support of an overland offensive - the Axis had not tried before (and yet, after 1940-41, they at least had some resources for) in an effort at an economic target that actually mattered, perhaps it would be less bad than what the did try and do in 1942, which was - essentially - lose everywhere.
      For the diplomatic thought: there was literally 0 chance for additional nations joining the Axis in 1942, especially the Turks, who displayed a shrewd and proficient diplomacy during the war. What you wrote about the "return of the Goeben" makes me question that you are actually familiar with the basics of Turkish diplomacy in this period.

      There is also a question of the broader strategy, in which you seem to underestimate how depleted the Ostheer had become by the spring of 1942. The German force generation was completely inadequate to cover the losses in men an matériel after the winter of 1941/1942. To start a new flank was a bad idea on its own, and to start it with the forces assembled for Herkules - through Turkey! - is completely out of the way of reality.

      But if we put all that aside, that such operation could, would or should not materialize ever, there are still multiple, tactical level problems with your idea. You don't seem to realize that the attack on Malta from Sicily is not the same as an attack through the Black sea. Romania is out of the question as a base of operations, so forget about that. Eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula was a base of operations - ground operations. In order to have any chance at all in an opposed landing, by 1942 the Axis realized that they need air superiority and naval cover to support the ships. There was of course an operational range of aircraft, landing crafts, etc. so they could not operate down until Poti, and by the way, they'd be subjected to aerial attacks as well. Also the Soviet Black Sea Fleet would fight, meaning that the cover should not be below the better part of the Italian fleet, which in turn would render the African convoys defenseless against serious surface interdictions.
      etc etc etc.
      “And while I am talking to you, mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I shall say it again, and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." - FDR, October 1940

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      Re: "Hercules/C3"-sized operation in the Black Sea?

      Post by daveshoup2MD » 19 Jan 2022 22:12

      Peter89 wrote:
      19 Jan 2022 11:25
      daveshoup2MD wrote:
      18 Jan 2022 20:29

      Did say in the OP that the diplomatic side of it was a huge "IF," but given the alternatives in the greater MTO-SW Asia-SE Russia region for the Axis were - basically - a) losing in Egypt while not attempting Malta; b) holding on in North Africa while attempting Malta; c) retreating in North Africa while attempting something in support of the invasion of the Caucasus, which given the reality of the impact taking control of the Caucasus/Transcaucasia would have had on the USSR's POL supply, it seems like c is at least worth kicking around.

      Obviously, the Axis did not have any "good" options in 1942, but at least trying to bring the Turks into a "Bulgarian" level of co-belligerancy and trying a strategy - an amphibious assault in support of an overland offensive - the Axis had not tried before (and yet, after 1940-41, they at least had some resources for) in an effort at an economic target that actually mattered, perhaps it would be less bad than what the did try and do in 1942, which was - essentially - lose everywhere.
      For the diplomatic thought: there was literally 0 chance for additional nations joining the Axis in 1942, especially the Turks, who displayed a shrewd and proficient diplomacy during the war. What you wrote about the "return of the Goeben" makes me question that you are actually familiar with the basics of Turkish diplomacy in this period.

      There is also a question of the broader strategy, in which you seem to underestimate how depleted the Ostheer had become by the spring of 1942. The German force generation was completely inadequate to cover the losses in men an matériel after the winter of 1941/1942. To start a new flank was a bad idea on its own, and to start it with the forces assembled for Herkules - through Turkey! - is completely out of the way of reality.

      But if we put all that aside, that such operation could, would or should not materialize ever, there are still multiple, tactical level problems with your idea. You don't seem to realize that the attack on Malta from Sicily is not the same as an attack through the Black sea. Romania is out of the question as a base of operations, so forget about that. Eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula was a base of operations - ground operations. In order to have any chance at all in an opposed landing, by 1942 the Axis realized that they need air superiority and naval cover to support the ships. There was of course an operational range of aircraft, landing crafts, etc. so they could not operate down until Poti, and by the way, they'd be subjected to aerial attacks as well. Also the Soviet Black Sea Fleet would fight, meaning that the cover should not be below the better part of the Italian fleet, which in turn would render the African convoys defenseless against serious surface interdictions.
      etc etc etc.
      And the comment is appreciated; this started as a "what if" but given how most of these pages seem fairly siloed, posted over here. Thanks.

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