Following the Stalingrad encirclement, and the loss of the 6th Armee, the Russian offensive continued into the Donets basin forcing the Germans to abandon their position at Rostov.
This created a break in the frontline which up until then linked the Donets basin to the Kuban in the Caucasus.
The Russians landed at Novorossisk which cut-off the Kuban from Crimea. This meant that the Kuban had become another encircled area.Approximately 400,000 men were within the Kuban Bridgehead
Supplies were available in the Kuban for the immediate future, but an adequate reserve was required in order to maintain the Army's fighting power and mobility.
The transporting of supplies by air to the 17th Armee in the Kuban Bridgehead commenced on 4 Feb 1943.
KGrzbV 200 was a special transport unit that had been created specifically for the Stalingrad airlift. It was made up of aircraft and crews from KG 40. Following the conclusion of the Stalingrad airlift Grossadmiral Doenitz recalled KGrzbV 200 for operations over the Atlantic. However, due to the situation now being encountered in the Kuban these orders were temporarily countermanded as the unit was needed for short-term combat and supply missions for Luftflotte 4 to the Kuban.
In the operational period covered by KGrzbV 200 the gruppe flew in 254 tonnes of supplies and returned with 1887 men and 12 tonnes of copper.
Also involved were a number of glider-tow aircraft and gliders from I., II. and III./LLG 1, He 111 tow airecraft and Go 242 gliders from LLG 2 and a Gruppe of Me 321 gliders and their He 111Z tow aircraft.
The Transport units flew up to 3 sorties per day bringing into the bridgehead 5418 tonnes of supplies and flying out 15500 men.
With the coming of the spring thaw normal operations became more difficult, so some Ju 52/3ms were converted to floatplanes and a number of Do 24 ASR aircraft were drafted in to perform transport tasks.
The final thaw arrived at the end of March allowing the 17th Armee to be supplied by sea. This enabled the majority of the transport units to withdraw to germany for a much needed refit. Howver, KGrzbV 172 and a number of He 111 units remained in the area to fulfill any ongoing air transport requirements.
German Airforce Airlift Operations - Fritz Morzik (USAF Historical Studies No 167 ARNO Press NY)
German Airforce vs Russia 1943 – Herman Plocher (USAF Historical Studies No 155)
Transporter (v1) - Luftwaffe Transport Units 1939-43 - Martin Pegg (Classic Colours)
Eagle in Flames - E.R.Hooton (Brockhampton Press)
Ju 52 (Aircraft and Legend) - Heinz Nowarra (Haynes)