Novorossiysk is the largest port on Russia’s Black Sea coast and is important both commercially and as a base for the Black Sea Fleet. During the war, its importance increased after the Axis capture of Odessa in October 1941 and even more so when Sevastopol was finally taken on July 4, 1942. As the German Army Group A drove south from Rostov-on-Don in late July and early August, it was split in two, and the 17th Army under Richard Ruoff was given the task of destroying the Soviet Coastal Group, which was commanded by Yakov Cherevichenko and included 18th, 47th and 56th Armies. It was then to secure passes through the Caucasus Mountains and the whole of the eastern Black Sea Coast.
On September 6, the 17th Army captured the city centre and port, against determined resistance from the defending 47th Army. After finally securing the city, 17th Army planned to strike out along the coastal road running from Novorossiysk as far as the Turkish border, thus taking the final available ports for the Black Sea Fleet at Tuapse and Batumi and threatening Baku and the Caspian oilfields from the west. The Germans also hoped that Turkey could be persuaded to enter the war against the Soviet Union. The attack was launched on 23 September, but almost immediately ran into strong Red Army positions based around the “Октябрь” (October) cement factory. The front solidified in this area, with neither side able to make any significant progress through the autumn.
On December 28, with the whole of Army Group A threatened with encirclement after the Soviet counter-offensive at Stalingrad, Hitler authorised its withdrawal, but insisted that a bridgehead be maintained in the Kuban region around Novorossiysk. The skilfully conducted withdrawal was completed by early February 1943, leaving the 17th Army holding a line from Novorossiysk to Krasnodar and relying on supplies arriving across the Kerch Strait from the Crimea. It withstood a series of attacks through the spring and summer, until it was finally given permission to withdraw over the Kerch Strait in September. Novorossiysk fell to the Soviet 18th Army on September 16, and by the end of the month, the last of 17th Army’s forces had left the Kuban to the Crimea. Within a month, they had become isolated again, as the Soviet 28th Army pushed the German 6th Army (a reformed army following the loss of the original at Stalingrad) westwards, severing the land connection between the Crimea and the mainland.
Novorossiysk was awarded Hero City status in 1973. The Defence Line memorial was officially opened on September 15, 1978, and is one of three major monuments commemorating the Russian Civil War and the Great Patriotic War. The symbolism of the memorial is not difficult to see, with a huge granite beam crossing the road and four hands grasping PPSh sub-machine guns. The reverse side features a map of the fighting around the city, the Gold Star medal signifying Novorossiysk’s status as a Hero City and the orders of Lenin and the Patriotic War.
The names of the units that participated in the fighting are engraved on the support pillars. The shell of a railway carriage that was recovered from the battlefield stands alongside.
About half a mile from the main memorial, a T-34 tank stands on a pedestal in front of the ruins of the Cement Workers Palace of Culture, which was left untouched following the fighting.
Novorossiysk is only about 30 miles from Anapa, one of the biggest Russian Black Sea resorts. Anapa’s airport is well served by flights from Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major cities, particularly during the summer season. Minibuses shuttle between the airport and Anapa’s bus station, from where buses leave for Novorossiysk several times every hour. The journey takes about 45 minutes and a single ticket costs about €1.50-2. From the city centre, bus no. 3 and trolleybus nos. 3, 4 and 10 stop close to the memorial (the stop is called НовороЭС). The fare is just 12 rubles.