Interrogation of Colonel-General E. G. Jaenecke, Commander German 17th Army
Evacuation of the Kuban
22 November 1947
Interrogation beginning at 2330 hours
Interrogation ending at 0345 hours
Question: When and what positions did Field Marshal von Kleist occupy in the German Army on the Eastern Front in the war against the Soviet Union?
Answer: As far as I know, in 1941 Field Marshal von Kleist commanded a panzer army - which one I do not recall. He and his army operated somewhere in the south, but I cannot state the specific area of operations.
In the fall of 1942, Manstein was recalled from the Crimea and sent to the Leningrad front. Von Kleist assumed command of the southern group of German armies in his place. His operational area covered the Crimea, the Kuban and some of the southern regions of the Ukraine.
Appointed commander of the 17th Army on 5 July 1943, I arrived in the Kuban and took up command of the army, coming into direct subordination to Field Marshal von Kleist. Prior to assuming command, I had had a meeting with von Kleist in Simferopol', during which von Kleist placed before me the task of bringing order into the army, which had become disorganized in connection with the combat operations of the Soviet armies against the southern group of German forces.
Question: When did the situation become threatening for the the German 17th Army in the Kuban and what orders in connection with this did you receive from von Kleist?
Answer: At the beginning of August 1943, Soviet forces broke through near Krymskaya Station, while Soviet landing operations became active near Novorossiysk – both of which created a difficult situation for the 17th Army under my command. At that time, a Soviet offensive had begun near Melitopol', which created a threat to the 17th Army, which found itself thrust far forward. As a result of the unfolding situation, I received orders from von Kleist to prepare withdrawing from the Kuban. This was in August 1943.
Question: What was envisioned by this order?
Answer: By this order, the commander of the southern group of forces, Field Marshal von Kleist, proposed withdrawing the forces of the German 17th Army and carrying out a total economic cleansing of the Kuban.
Question: What was meant by an “economic cleansing” of the Kuban?
Answer: Regarding the matter of the economic cleansing of the Kuban, von Kleist's order envisioned: the removal from the Kuban of all food stores, cattle, grain, butter, wine and all other agricultural products, industrial materials and equipment. The order also envisioned the removal of railway equipment, while everything that could not be removed was to be subject to demolition and destruction. In this same order, von Kleist proposed the forcible removal of the entire population of the Kuban capable of either working or bearing arms. This order had some sort of code name, but what it was exactly I no longer recall. I carried out von Kleist's order completely, as I reported in detail during the preceding interrogations.
Question: How did von Kleist evaluate the operation you conducted regarding the economic cleansing of the Kuban?
Answer: When I met von Kleist in the town of Simferopol on 11 October 1943, I reported to him the results of carrying out his order for the economic cleansing of the Kuban. He gave the operation high marks in execution and was left completely satisfied in the measures undertaken in regards the economic cleansing of the Kuban, in particular: the evacuation of the population and the removal of food stores, industrial equipment and railways, as well as the demolition and destruction of those installations which we could not remove. At his army group headquarters, Kleist was kept continually informed about the progress of the “economic cleansing” of the Kuban through a special transit staff he had set up and stationed in the town of Kerch, headed by General Forster. This staff managed the reception of all material assets and persons, evacuated by me from the Kuban to the Crimea. The Soviet citizens evacuated from the Kuban we made use of in the construction of defensive installations and for agricultural labour. Where this staff subsequently sent these material assets and people, I do not know.
Question: What tasks did von Kleist assign to you upon the arrival of your army in the Crimea and in connection with the military situation created there?
Answer: Upon arriving in the Crimea, I received the following orders from von Kleist: to organise the defense of the Crimea by all forces at my disposal and to eliminate the two centers of the partisan movement in the Crimea – one around the Kerch quarries and the other in the vicinity of the Yayla mountains.
I should mention, that in crossing over from the Kuban to the Crimea, I had 10 German and between 6 and 7 Rumanian divisions under my command. Of these, I was ordered by von Kleist to hand over 9 German divisions to the German 6th Army, which was operating near Melitopol and which was also under the overall direction of von Kleist. The 6th Army was retreating at that time under the pressure of Soviet forces, the latter which reached the Perekop and cut off the Crimea on 28 October 1943.
In connection with the Soviet advance to the Perekop and the unfolding threat of isolation for the German forces grouped in the Crimea, von Kleist issued an order in October 1943 for the evacuation of the Crimea through the Perekop. This order envisioned the removal of prisoners of war as well as the destruction of all installations and equipment.
Despite issuing this order, von Kleist was ordered to rescind it 24 hours later by Hitler's headquarters. Still, individual groups of soldiers from my army carried out the demolition of the coal mines at Bishu and burned down the warehouses in Kerch.
Question: Provide us with details about the orders you received from von Kleist regarding the elimination of the partisan movement centers at the Kerch quarries and in the Yayla mountains.
Answer: Kleist's order indicated that the paramount task of the 17th Army in the Crimea was the suppression the partisan movement. According to this order, I was to work out the required measures myself as commander of the army. I have already indicated during the preceding interrogations those measures which my army undertook, in particular, the creation of a “dead zone” and other operations.
Question: Did you inform von Kleist that in carrying out his order you were creating a “dead zone” in which settlements were burned down, the population driven out and their property confiscated?
Answer: I reported to von Kleist daily through the army combat reports and informed him about the progress in creating a “dead zone” as well as the other operations taking place at the Kerch quarries. In addition, orders involving the 17th Army were sent to von Kleist everyday, which shed light on the progress of operations involved in the creation of the “dead zone”. Thus, von Kleist was continually informed about the measures being conducted by the 17th Army regarding the “dead zone”. In these reports, von Kleist was informed about the number of burned settlements and other results of each operation after they were carried out.
Question: When did you report to von Kleist about the arrival in the Crimea of the special commando from the High Command of the German Armed Forces for the employment of gas at the Kerch quarries against the partisans and civilians who were hiding there?
Answer: I do not recall precisely when this was reported to von Kleist, but a special report was sent to Kleist's headquarters at Army Group South regarding the arrival of the special commando and the operations carried out by them at the Kerch quarries. The existence of such gas and the preparation for its use should have been known by von Kleist even earlier as asphyxiating gas was to be used in 1940 against the Maginot Line, where von Kleist commanded a German panzer group in the vicinity of Sedan.
Question: What do you know about von Kleist's orders during the time he commanded the 1st and 6th Panzer Armies?
Answer: I know nothings about this. I was not under his command at that time and never spoke to him about this
Chief of Operations Group MVD USSR Lieutenant- Colonel KARLIN
Assistant of Operations Group MVD USSR Major NAZAROV
Translation conducted by the translator VOITENKO