WORLD WAR II FROM A TO Z

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L

“Leningrad”
A song by Billy Joel

Viktor was born in the spring of ’44
And never saw his father anymore
A child of sacrifice, a child of war
Another son who never had a father after Leningrad

Went off to school and learned to serve the state
Followed the rules and drank his vodka straight
The only way to live was drown the hate
A Russian life was very sad
And such was life in Leningrad

I was born in ’49
A cold war kid in McCarthy time
Stop ’em all at the 38th Parallel
Blast those yellow reds to hell
And cold war kids were hard to kill
Under their desks in an air raid drill
Haven’t they heard we won the war
What do they keep on fighting for?

Viktor was sent to some Red Army town
Served out his time, became a circus clown
The greatest happiness he’d ever found
Was making Russian children glad
And children lived in Leningrad

But children lived in Levittown
And hid in the shelters underground
Until the Soviets turned their ships around
And tore the Cuban missiles down
And in that bright October sun
We knew our childhood days were done
And I watched my friends go off to war
What do they keep on fighting for?

And so my child and I came to this place
To meet him eye to eye and face to face
He made my daughter laugh, then we embraced
We never knew what friends we had
Until we came to Leningrad

  

Leningraders on Nevsky Prospekt during the siege, 1942

Leningraders on Nevsky Prospekt during the siege, 1942

In 1914 Saint Petersburg, the second largest city in Russia was renamed Petrograd.  In 1924, it was changed again to Leningrad.  Today and since 1991, it is Saint Petersburg again.

For 872 days of that history, Leningrad was under siege by the German Army Group North. Finland assisted Germany. A siege is defined as a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling the surrender of those inside.  It is also referred to as a blockade.  The siege started on 8 September 1941 when the last road to the city was severed and didn’t end until 27 January 1944.  It was the  longest and most destructive siege in history and the most costly in terms of casualties.

Casualties and losses
Nazi Germany Army Group North: 1941: 85,371 total casualties (KIA, WIA, MIA)
1942: 267,327 total casualties (KIA, WIA, MIA)
1943: 205,937 total casualties (KIA, WIA, MIA)
1944: 21,350 total casualties (KIA, WIA, MIA)
Total: 579,985 casualtiesKIA – Killed in Action, WIA – Wounded in Action, MIA – Missing in Action.
Soviet Union Northern Front:
1,017,881 killed, captured or missing
2,418,185 wounded and sick
Total: 3,436,066 casualties
Civilians:
642,000 during the siege, 400,000 at evacuations

In Operation Barbarossa (Germany’s code name for its invasion of Russia), the capture of Leningrad was one of Germany’s strategic goals and the main target of the Army Group North.  Leningrad was an industrial center which produced 11% of the Soviet industrial output. There were many rumors about what Hitler planned to do with Leningrad when he finished conquering it but in the end it was apparent that his plans were to destroy the city and its population. (Pure evil).  The following directive was issued to the Army Group North:

“After the defeat of Soviet Russia there can be no interest in the continued existence of this large urban center. […] Following the city’s encirclement, requests for surrender negotiations shall be denied, since the problem of relocating and feeding the population cannot and should not be solved by us. In this war for our very existence, we can have no interest in maintaining even a part of this very large urban population.”

 

"Leningrad Siege May 1942 - January 1943" by Memnon335bc - Own work by uploader, simplified work based on map 28 from the M. M. Minasjan/ M. L. Altgowsen (u.a.): Die Geschichte des Großen Vaterländischen Krieges der Sowjetunion, Bd.2, Deutscher Militärverlag, Berlin (Ost) 1965. (Kartenband). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leningrad_Siege_May_1942_-_January_1943.png#/media/File:Leningrad_Siege_May_1942_-_January_1943.png

“Leningrad Siege May 1942 – January 1943” by Memnon335bc – Own work by uploader, simplified work based on map 28 from the M. M. Minasjan/ M. L. Altgowsen (u.a.): Die Geschichte des Großen Vaterländischen Krieges der Sowjetunion, Bd.2, Deutscher Militärverlag, Berlin (Ost) 1965. (Kartenband). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leningrad_Siege_May_1942_-_January_1943.png# /media/File:Leningrad_Siege_May_1942_-_January_1943.pn

As I started reading material online for this post, I find that there is just too much information for one post.  I was about to chuck it and find a different L word.  I finally found a timeline that would be a concise way of telling the story of the siege supplemented with photographs.

1941

  • April: Hitler intends to occupy and then destroy Leningrad, according to plan Barbarossa (Germany’s code name for the invasion of the Soviet Union) and Generalplan Ost (Secret Nazi plan for the colonization of Central and Eastern Europe).
  • 22 June: The Axis powers’ invasion of Soviet Union begins with Operation Barbarossa.
Soviet children during a German air raid in the first days of the war, June 1941, by RIA Novosti archive

Soviet children during a German air raid in the first days of the war, June 1941, by RIA Novosti archive

  • 23 June: Leningrad commander M. Popov, sends his second in command to reconnoitre defensive positions south of Leningrad.
  • 29 June: Construction of the Luga defence fortifications begins together with evacuation of children and women.
  • June–July: Over 300,000 civilian refugees from Pskov and Novgorod escaping from the advancing Germans come to Leningrad for shelter. The armies of the North-Western Front join the front lines at Leningrad. Total military strength with reserves and volunteers reaches 2 million men involved on all sides of the emerging battle.
  • 19–23 July: First attack on Leningrad by Army Group North is stopped 100 km (62 mi) south of the city.
  • 27 July: Hitler visits Army Group North, angry at the delay. He orders Field Marshal von Leeb to take Leningrad by December.
  • 31 July: Finns attack the Soviet 23rd Army at the Karelian Isthmus, eventually reaching northern pre-Winter War Finnish-Soviet border.
  • 20 August – 8 September: Artillery bombardments of Leningrad hit industries, schools, hospitals and civilian houses.
  • 21 August: Hitler’s Directive No.34 orders “Encirclement of Leningrad in conjunction with the Finns.”
  • 20–27 August: Evacuation of civilians is blocked by attacks on railways and other exits from Leningrad.
  • 31 August: Finnish forces go on the defensive and straighten their front line. This involves crossing the 1939 pre-Winter War border and occupation of municipalities of Kirjasalo and Beloostrov.
  • 6 September: German High Command’s Alfred Jodl fails to persuade Finns to continue offensive against Leningrad.
  • 2–9 September: Finns capture the Beloostrov and Kirjasalo salients and conduct defensive preparations.
  • 8 September: Land encirclement of Leningrad is completed when the German forces reach the shores of Lake Ladoga.
  • 10 September: Joseph Stalin appoints General Zhukov to replace Marshal Voroshilov as Leningrad Front commander.
  • 12 September: The largest food depot in Leningrad, the Badajevski General Store, is destroyed by a German bomb.
  • 15 September: von Leeb has to remove the 4th Panzer Group from the front lines and transfer it to Army Group Center for the Moscow offensive.
  • 19 September: German troops are stopped 10 km (6.2 mi) from Leningrad. Citizens join the fighting at the defence lines.
  • 22 September: Hitler directs that “Leningrad must be erased from the face of the Earth”.
  • 22 September: Hitler declares, “….we have no interest in saving lives of the civilian population.”
  • 8 November: Hitler states in a speech at Munich: “Leningrad must die of starvation.”
The diary of Tanya Savicheva, a girl of 11, her notes about starvation and deaths of her sister, then grandmother, then brother, then uncle, then another uncle, then mother. The last three notes say "Savichevs died", "Everyone died" and "Only Tanya is left." She died of progressive dystrophy shortly after the siege. Her diary was shown at the Nuremberg trials.

The diary of Tanya Savicheva, a girl of 11, her notes about starvation and deaths of her sister, then grandmother, then brother, then uncle, then another uncle, then mother. The last three notes say “Savichevs died”, “Everyone died” and “Only Tanya is left.” She died of progressive dystrophy shortly after the siege. Her diary was shown at the Nuremberg trials.

  • 10 November: Soviet counter-attack begins, forcing Germans to retreat from Tikhvin back to the Volkhov River by 30 December, preventing them from joining Finnish forces stationed at the Svir River east of Leningrad.
  • December: Winston Churchill wrote in his diary “Leningrad is encircled, but not taken.”
  • 6 December: Great Britain declared war on Finland. This was followed by declaration of war from Canada, Australia, India and New Zealand.

1942

Three men burying victims of Leningrad's siege in 1942

Three men burying victims of Leningrad’s siege in 1942

  • 7 January: Soviet Lyuban Offensive Operation is launched; it lasts 16 weeks and is unsuccessful, resulting in the loss of the 2nd Shock Army.
  • January: Soviets launch battle for the Nevsky Pyatachok bridgehead in an attempt to break the siege. This battle lasts until May 1943, but is only partially successful. Very heavy casualties are experienced by both sides.
  • 4–30 April: Luftwaffe operation Eis Stoß (ice impact) fails to sink Baltic Fleet ships iced in at Leningrad.
  • June–September: New German railway-mounted artillery bombards Leningrad with 800 kg (1,800 lb) shells.
  • August: The Spanish Blue Division (División Azul) transferred to Leningrad.
  • 14 August – 27 October: Naval Detachment K clashes with Leningrad supply route on Lake Ladoga.
  • 19 August: Soviets begin an eight-week-long Sinyavino Offensive, which fails to lift the siege, but thwarts German offensive plans (Nordlicht).

1943

By the beginning of 1943 the situation surrounded by German troops of Leningrad remained very difficult. The troops of the Leningrad Front and Baltic Fleet ...

By the beginning of 1943 the situation surrounded by German troops of Leningrad remained very difficult. The troops of the Leningrad Front and Baltic Fleet …

  • January–December: Increased artillery bombardments of Leningrad.
  • 12–30 January: Operation Iskra penetrates the siege by opening a land corridor along the coast of Lake Ladoga into the city. The blockade is broken.
  • 10 February – 1 April: The unsuccessful Operation Polyarnaya Zvezda attempts to lift the siege.

1944

  • 14 January – 1 March: Several Soviet offensive operations begin, aimed at ending the siege.
  • 27 January: Siege of Leningrad ends. Germans forces pushed 60–100 km away from the city.
  • January: Before retreating the German armies loot and destroy the historical Palaces of the Tsars, such as the Catherine Palace, Peterhof Palace, the Gatchina and the Strelna. Many other historic landmarks and homes in the suburbs of St. Petersburg are looted and then destroyed, and a large number of valuable art collections are moved to Nazi Germany.
Nazi storage of looted objects

Nazi storage of looted objects

  • During the siege, 3,200 residential buildings, 9,000 wooden houses (burned), 840 factories and plants were destroyed in Leningrad and suburbs
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9 responses

  1. a gray says:

    It would be very informative to superimpose the German line of investiture on a map of an American city. Without that, it is difficult to comprehend just how closely surrounded Leningrad was.

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  2. kristin says:

    How horrible. War… I sometimes just have to wonder about humans.

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  3. Birgit says:

    This is one of the worst sieges to a city that it defies belief. I watched an excellent documentary on this. To see how many people were dead on the streets. People too ill to carry them away plus the one winter was so brutally cold. The famous cats at Catherine the great’s palace disappeared and yes cannibalism. The great amber room was taken by the Nazi’s and hopefully it will one day be found. They were “lucky” that the German soldiers could not deal with the bitter winters. They were so, so close

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  4. rolandclarke says:

    A horrendous siege. I always feel that the Russian people suffered so much to stop the Nazi invasion – always think of Stalingrad as well. Why did Hitler forget that the Russian winter was Napoleon’s undoing as well – plus the will of the people.

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