The "Cimmerian Bosphorus" of antiquity, shown on a map printed in London
, c. 1770
The straits are about 35 kilometers (22 mi) long and are 3.1 kilometers (1.9 mi) wide at the narrowest and separate an eastern extension of Crimea from Taman, the westernmost extension of the Caucasus Mountains. In antiquity, there seem to have been a group of islands intersected by arms of the Kuban River (Hypanis) and various sounds which have since silted up. The Romans knew the strait as the Cimmerian Bosporus (Cimmerianus Bosporus) from its Greek name, the Cimmerian Strait (Κιμμέριος Βόσπορος, Kimmérios Bosporos), which honored the Cimmerians, nearby steppe nomads. In ancient times the low-lying land near the Strait was known as the Maeotic Swamp.
During the Second World War, the Kerch Peninsula became the scene of much desperate combat between forces of the Soviet Red Army and Nazi Germany. Fighting frequency intensified in the coldest months of year when the strait froze over, allowing the movement of troops over the ice.
After the Eastern Front stabilized in early 1943, Hitler ordered the construction of a 4.8-kilometre (3.0 mi) road-and-rail bridge across the Strait of Kerch in the spring of 1943 to support his desire for a renewed offensive to the Caucasus. The cable railway (aerial tramway), which went into operation on 14 June 1943 with a daily capacity of one thousand tons, was only adequate for the defensive needs of the Seventeenth Army in the Kuban bridgehead. Because of frequent earth tremors, this bridge would have required vast quantities of extra-strength steel girders, and their transport would have curtailed shipments of military material to the Crimea. The bridge was never completed, and the Wehrmacht finished evacuating the Kuban bridgehead in September 1943.
In 1944 the Soviets built a "provisional" railway bridge (
Kerch railroad bridge
) across the strait. Construction made use of supplies captured from the Germans. The bridge went into operation in November 1944, but moving ice floes destroyed it in February 1945; reconstruction was not attempted.
A territorial dispute between Russia and Ukraine in 2003 centred on Tuzla Island in the Strait of Kerch. Ukraine and Russia agreed to treat the strait and the Azov Sea as shared internal waters.
Storm of November 2007
On Sunday 11 November 2007 news agencies reported a very strong storm on the Black Sea. Four ships sank, six ran aground on a sandbank, and two tankers were damaged, resulting in a major oil spill and the death of 23 sailors.
The Russian-flagged oil tanker Volgoneft-139 encountered trouble in the Kerch Strait where it sought shelter from the above storm. During the storm the tanker split in half, releasing more than 2000 tonnes of fuel oil. Four other boats sank in the storm, resulting in the release of sulphur cargo. The storm hampered efforts to rescue crew members.
Another victim of the storm, the Russian cargo ship Volnogorsk, loaded with sulfur, sank at Port Kavkaz on the same day.
Kerch Strait. View from the Crimean coast