In 2013/14, I completed an MA in Military History and Strategic Studies at Maynooth University. My thesis was on the campaign in the Kuban. The thesis can be found here.
In early 1943, as the Battle of Stalingrad reached its conclusion, the German Army Group A was withdrawn from the Caucasus to avoid an even greater catastrophe. However, Hitler insisted that the 17th Army held a bridgehead the Taman Peninsula/Novorossiysk area, so that the port of Novorossiysk would not fall back into the hands of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet and to act as a launch point for a future attack back into the Caucasus, with forces ferried across the Strait of Kerch from Crimea.
Initial frontal assaults failed to make any significant impact on 17th Army’s defences, so STAVKA devised a plan for an amphibious landing behind the main front line at Ozereika Bay, to the southwest of Novorossiysk. A simultaneous diversionary attack was also planned at Cape Myskhako, just to the south of the city. The attacks were launched on the night of February 3/4, 1943. The Ozereika operation was a disaster, and the landing party was almost completely wiped out, but the Myskhako operation, led by Major Cesar L. Kunikov of the naval infantry, succeeded in establishing a beach-head and repulsing attempts to drive them back into the sea.
Realising the situation, the Soviet command transferred reinforcements originally intended for the Ozereika landing to the Myskhako beach-head, and by February 9, over 17,000 men had been put ashore. As in the cement factory district across Tsemess Bay in the northern suburbs of Novorossiysk, the situation settled into something of a stalemate, with neither German attempts to eliminate the bridgehead nor Soviet attempts to expand it into the city succeeding. The area acquired the name Malaya Zemlya (Малая Земля – the Small Land). The stalemate denied the use of the port facilities to both sides and was not broken until Novorossiysk was liberated in a wider attack on September 16 – 225 days after the initial landing.
Kunikov was wounded by a shell splinter on February 12 and died in hospital two days later. He is buried in Heroes’ Square. Future Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev served as a political commissar with the Transcaucasian Front and 18th Army in the region, and he was not shy in exaggerating his exploits in his memoirs. It was during Brezhnev’s leadership that Novorossiysk was awarded the title Hero City, on September 14, 1973.
The memorial complex is centred around a triangular arch, which rises to 22 metres at its highest point and represents the bow of a landing craft that has come ashore on the beach. One side of the “bow” features a 10-metre-tall bronze sculpture of a group of marines disembarking from the ship. The opposite side features bas-relief depictions of the battles. Inside the arch, a staircase, lined with plaques featuring the names of the units that took part in the operation and portraits of the heroes, leads up to the “prow” of the boat, where a niche holds a golden heart-shaped capsule holding the names of those who died in the area. The text of an oath it inscribed on the wall of the niche: “Отвоеванный нами у врага клочок земли под городом Новороссийском мы назвали “Малой землей”. Она хоть и мала, но она наша, советская, она полита нашим потом, нашей кровью, и мы ее никогда и никакому врагу не отдадим.” This translates as “We retook from the enemy a plot of land near the city of Novorossiysk that we called “Little Land.” Although it is small, it is ours, Soviet. We shed our sweat, our blood over it, and we will never give it up to the enemy.”
Beside the main memorial is a small exhibit of military hardware, including several tanks and artillery pieces. A large obelisk marks the entrance to the site from Lenin Avenue, and just beyond this, an Il-2 “Shturmovik” ground attack aircraft that was recovered from the bay and restored is mounted on a pedestal.
The complex was designed by the sculptor Vladimir Efimovich Tsigal and the architects Yakov Borisovich Belopolskiy, Roman Grigorievich Kananin and Vladimir Iosovich Khavin. It was officially opened on September 16, 1982, the 38th anniversary of the city’s liberation. The main memorial is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm every day except Monday, and admission costs just 40 rubles (about €1). The complex can be reached on foot from the centre in about 30 minutes (follow Lieutenant Schmidt Street [ул. Лейтенанта шмидт] and then Lenin Avenue [пр. Ленина]). Bus No. 1 and trolleybus no. 7 both pass right by the memorial, with a ticket costing 12 rubles.