Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ
2nd March, 2016
In October 1941, the 7th Army, under the command of K.A Meretskov, after three months of battles and retreats, stopped the Finns, reinforced by German troops on the Svir river on the Eastern side of Lake Ladoga, not allowing them to connect with German troops and to completely close the encirclement of Leningrad. The plans of the German command were disrupted. The Finns and the Germans weren’t allowed to pass to Vologda from the side of lake Onega.
German troops were unable to crush the Red army and take Leningrad, but the Germans were near. Thus, the connection of the city of Leningrad and the Leningrad front with the country by land was interrupted. Supply across Lake Ladoga was complicated by the fact that a group of German troops crossed the river Volkhov, cut the railway Tikhvin – Volkhov, and on 8th November 1941 captured Tikhvin.
In Leningrad there was a famine. Bread rations, which amounted to approximately 800 grams on average per day, were rapidly declining. On October 1st bread rations decreased for a third time: workers and engineers received 400 grams of bread a day, civilian employees, dependents and children – over 200 grams. On November 20th (5th reduction) the workers were given 250 grams of bread a day. All the rest – 125 grams. Sick and weak people began to die from hunger and cold as the amount of food delivered did not meet the needs of the city residents, despite a significant number of evacuees from the town’s people.
Just from Leningrad, more than half of the prewar population – 1.7 million people – was evacuated. But the supply of the city to Lake Ladoga was relatively briefly interrupted by German troops. On the 9th of December, our troops liberated Tikhvin and drove the Germans across the river Volkhov, sending trains to the Voybokalo metro. A continuous stream of traffic went to Leningrad. From December 25th 1941 quantities of products began to grow.
At the end of December, Red Army troops occupied several bridgeheads on the left bank of the river. As a result of the Tikhvin offensive operation Soviet troops advanced 100–120 kilometers and liberated a large territory.
The successfully conducted military operation allowed the railwaymen by the end of January 1942 to build additional railways tracks to Lake Ladoga, and loads of the wagons began to unloaded directly into the body of trucks which were stood on the frozen ice. Further along the Lake, on the ice of the Lake road, the goods were delivered to Leningrad, which allowed to significantly improve nutrition standards of residents and soldiers of Leningrad front, as well as improve the supplying of troops with arms and ammunition.
From February 1942 supplying the city with food in adequate quantity was established and lasted until the breakthrough of the blockade.
Vasilevsky wrote about the day and night continuous flow in Leningrad of cars loaded with food, medicines, fuel, equipment, ammunition, and return journeys took away women, children, the elderly, wounded and sick.
K.A Meretskov noted that even before the spring thaw (spring 1942) on Lake Ladoga in Leningrad more than 300,000 tons of various cargoes were delivered, and about 500,000 people in need of care and treatment were removed.
The navigation of cargoes continued to be delivered by water transport by the Northwestern river shipping company and the ships of the Ladoga military flotilla.
In my opinion, the riverine contribution in the supply of the city and the Leningrad front are undervalued. Like the car’s drivers in winter, during the navigation time the boatmen around the clock were bringing goods to Leningrad and evacuating people, and from 1942 also.
In the documentary footage, in particular in the film the Unknown war, of Leningrad, people leaving the front, working in factories and cleaning in the spring of 1942 the streets of the city, don’t look as gaunt as, for example, prisoners of German concentration camps.
Some people want to make the hero city of Leningrad appear like the concentration camp of Leningrad. The tendency to transform Soviet heroes into victims is seen in all the liberal papers, and the number of victims of the blockade of Leningrad, published in the media, increases year upon year. In fact, the city worked, fought, children went to school, worked theaters and cinemas.
Leningrad was defended by the Volkhov and Leningrad fronts. The Leningrad front was blockaded; the Volkhov front was on the outside of the ring of the blockade and stretched for 250 kilometers along the Volkhov river. The Volkhov front was grinding down Hitler’s troops, who were thrown on Leningrad and weren’t given a chance to connect with the Finnish forces, which were stopped North of the river Svir.
In this regard, the besieged Leningrad cannot be considered in isolation from the Leningrad front; the position of the front can be reached by tram. Leningrad and the Leningrad front fought together and formed a single fortress.
After evacuation and on the Leningrad front the main number of residents of Leningrad decreased, but they didn’t die of hunger. Fighters and commanders of the Leningrad front, militiamen are buried together with the dead and the deceased residents in the cemeteries of Leningrad.
To consider Leningrad in isolation from the Leningrad front means deliberately making a mistake and arriving at untrue conclusions.
Our troops had carried out three operations to break the blockade, but only the last one was a success. In the period from 7th January – 30th April 1942 the forces of the “Volkhov” front and 54th Army of the Leningrad front held the Luban offensive with a view to liberate Leningrad, but they did not manage to cast aside the Germans from Lake Ladoga.
Only 16 miles separated the troops of the Volkhov and Leningrad fronts. To break the siege, these troops had to meet. And on August 19th 1942, troops of the Leningrad front, and on August 27th, troops of the Volkhov front, with the assistance of forces of the Baltic fleet and the Ladoga military flotilla went on the offensive towards each other. The Sinyavino offensive started that also aimed to liberate Leningrad. Our troops were confident of victory.
Meretskov wrote: “Designs to attack the troops gave us in the chosen direction more than three-fold superiority over the enemy in manpower, four – in tanks, double – in artillery and mortars. That’s what we thought being unaware of the arrival of the Manstein division from South”.
As Manstein’s divisions experienced profits near Sevastopol, they came from Sevastopol for the assault of Leningrad. But they failed to take Leningrad by storm. The offensive of our troops tore apart the prepared new German assault on Leningrad. E. Manstein wrote: “And instead of the planned attack on Leningrad the battle unfolded south of Lake Ladoga”.
Outlining the events of the Sinyavino offensive, most historians cite the description of Manstein. But it is Meretskov and not Manstein who described it clearly and honestly. He wrote following about the results of this operation: “The bulk of the troops concluded their exit on the East coast by dawn on September 29th. The remaining units withdrew on the night of September 30th. The active fighting had stopped. Our troops and the enemy troops came back around to the old position. Artillery duels and mutual raids of the aviation as if by inertia continued for a few days, but offensive actions had not been undertaken”.
Neither the Volkhov front commander K.A Meretskov, nor the Chief of the General Staff A.M Vasilevsky never mentioned German or allied troops in the environment of the Sinyavino offensive. The Neva operational group was fighting until 6th October. The Nazi command made many efforts to throw the troops into the water of the Neva river, but brave soldiers of the Leningrad front, thanks to the courage of the soldiers who fired artillery across the river, managed to hold on to two small bridgeheads. That was the end of the Sinyavino offensive. The Volkhov and Leningrad fronts failed to break the siege of Leningrad. However, the calculations of Hitler’s command to storm Leningrad were a complete failure.
The song “Drinking Song of Volkhov Front” has a line about the Sinyavino offensive: “You will be eternally glorified in the legends, under a hail of machine-gun fire, thrust our bayonets on the Sinyavino heights, our regiments fought at Mga”.
Loss of German troops, killed and prisoners, amounted to about 60,000 people, and in technology – 260 aircraft, 200 tanks, 600 guns and mortars. According to testimony of POWs, only 20 people were left in the ranks of a majority of divisions. “Better three times to visit Sevastopol, than to remain here”, – said the prisoners. Fighters and commanders of the Red Army counterattacked and the two major offensives protected the inhabitants of the besieged city. Leningrad continued to live, work and fight.
Goods continued to be supplied to Leningrad all day via a continuous stream by rail and then by road or river transport (depending on the time of year) 25 kilometers across Lake Ladoga.
Supplies not only reached the city but also the whole Leningrad front with arms, projectiles, bombs, ammunition, spare parts and food. On the return journey the railroad wagons and boats transported people, and, from the summer of 1942, products produced by the enterprises of Leningrad.
It should be noted that the degree of risk both in winter and in summer on the route around the lake is exaggerated: the path does not exceed 25 kilometers and was protected from the air and ground forces. There were losses of course, but compared to the number of delivered goods, they are insignificant.
“In the summer Leningrad received the first tons of liquid fuel for the 25-km-long pipeline, laid to supply the city and the front, on the bottom of Lake Ladoga. Later on an underwater cable here began to function with current, partially restoring the Volkhov hydroelectric station. This allowed a number of enterprises to resume production of military products”, – specifies K.A Meretskov.
Thus, in 1941–1942, the Army and the government did everything possible to supply the city and the Leningrad front, protect the residents of Leningrad and break the blockade by land.
On the 28th of December, the Supreme command adopted the third plan of the operations to break the blockade and assigned it the name “Iskra”. “The idea of this operation was to ensure counter-attacks on two fronts – Leningrad and Volkhov – to defeat the enemy group on the Shlisselburg–Sinyavino ledge, to break the blockade and restore the land connection of Central parts of the country with Leningrad.
Our troops near Leningrad had to fight in difficult conditions: in the summer, a huge number of mosquitoes, not giving the soldiers rest day or night, in the winter, severe frosts and snow drifts. All this around forests and swamps, for which walking is difficult, not to mention the movement of vehicles, artillery pieces, tanks and other equipment.
After careful consideration of all options it was decided to break through the German fortifications slightly north of the place where they attempted to break the blockade from 19th August to 10th October 1942 while conducting the Sinyavino offensive. “This area was the most difficult due to the presence of the extremely powerful enemy fortifications, but also the shortest. We had to overcome a 12-kilometer strip between Shlisselburg and Limes, or six miles for each of our two fronts”, – wrote K.A Meretskov.
The Leningrad front was to strike a counter blow only in the place close to the troops of the Volkhov front. There was not the sufficient force for a deeper operation on the Leningrad front, since all the supplies to the front and the city was carried on the Road of life, that is, on the ice of Lake Ladoga.
The Germans tried to cut the Road of life, but the Dry Islands were split. Because of the position of the Leningrad front and the difficulty of moving equipment in a swampy area, they had to plan the attack on the Shlisselburg–Sinyavino ledge area fortified by the Germans. The Germans density of troops in this area twice exceeded the age envisaged in their charters.
But the Stavka could provide for each kilometer of the front, on average, 160 guns and mortars. This allowed our troops to create an extremely high density of fire, enough to break the German fortifications. All of the front-line aviation of the 14th air army Major-General I.P Zhuravlev was re-deployed to the site of the approach. The operation also involved the long-range aviation of Colonel-General A.E Golovanov. The Baltic fleet and the Ladoga military flotilla supported the offensive of our troops.
On the 12th of January 1943, aviation and artillery preparation began. Our artillery destroyed the German lines for about two hours. Tens of tons of metal thrown at the enemy destroyed the German positions and suppressed their many gun emplacements. Our troops went on the offensive.
The maximum resistance of the enemy had made in the area of Round grove. All day there was fighting, which repeatedly turned into fistfights. By the evening the specified node of the resistance was taken. The 327th division, after this perfect feat, was renamed as guards. On the 13th and 14th January Lipki and Workers Settlement No. 8 were isolated and cut off. All attempts of fresh Germans troops to reach them at Mga were without success.
Only the two most severe kilometers remained on the fronts to break through the blockade. And they were passed. On the 18th of January 1943, troops of the Volkhov and Leningrad fronts met. The siege of Leningrad, which lasted 500 days and nights (1 year 4 months and 10 days), was broken; the city’s relationship with the country by land had been restored.
It is the millions of heroic deeds of the Soviet people at the front and in the rear that gave us victory. The history of the great Patriotic war has many great examples of mass displays of heroism. No country and no army in the world knew of such heroism.
“When units of the Volkhov and Leningrad fronts in late January 1943, was turned to the South, occupying positions along the Sinyavino front, the rear was already in full swing: in the corridor North of Sinyavino a railway to Leningrad was being built. The advancing troops moved in front of the railroad crews. They come to the assistance of the local population, and then a number of military units from the fronts were allocated for the construction of tracks… A temporary ice-timber bridge was erected on the Neva, which connected to a branch of the track from the Chernaya River to the village named after Morozov.
Already February 2nd, as soon as the structurally repaired railcars were lowered and secured on the last rail, a structure test was passed, and after four days freight trains raced past in succession on the 36-kilometer line. The road to victory was the result of two weeks of heroic work that was put into operation”, – wrote the Volkhov front commander K.A Meretskov. Parallel to the railways were the roads cars.
The Germans began to bombard the constructed railways, but another branch to another railway line was laid in a safer place, and with heavy artillery on both fronts and guns taken from ships of the Baltic fleet, they destroyed a German battery, and they fell silent.
For nearly 12 months the front’s troops’ involvement in the fighting became more or less inflamed, in the direction of Mga station, trying to broaden the band of liberated territory and not allowing the Germans to take back the already conquered soil. But our armies did not have the forces sufficient to break through the German defenses. And the Stavka could not allocate additional troops because the main reserves were left in Stalingrad and Kursk, which decided the fate of the war.
After breaking the siege in battle on 18th January 1943, Soviet artillery and aircraft harassed the Germans. A.E Golovanov wrote that German troops in the area of Sinyavino were bombarded by large groups of amassed planes, which gave more visible results. So, in eleven raids on the area only 1,299 long-range bomber aircraft participated. The front’s aviation massively bombed the German troops.
It is known that when during the attack on Leningrad, the siege of the city and the retreat, not only ours, but also the German military units suffered huge losses. But our historians and politicians are silent on this, thus representing unjustified losses near Leningrad.
Some even write that there was no need to protect the city, and it was necessary to hand it over to the enemy, and then Leningrad residents would have avoided hunger, and soldiers – bloody fights. People write and talk about it, knowing that Hitler promised to destroy all the inhabitants of Leningrad.
I think they understand that the fall of Leningrad would have meant the destruction of a huge number of the population of the Northwestern part of the USSR and the loss of tremendous quantities of material and cultural values.
In addition, the released German and Finnish troops could have been deployed to Moscow and to other areas of the Soviet-German front, which in turn could have led to the victory of Germany and the destruction of the entire population of the European part of the Soviet Union.
Only haters of Russia are sorry that Leningrad was not handed over to the enemy. Hitler was going to take Leningrad in four weeks, by July 21 1941, and free up troops to be sent to the assault on Moscow, but he could not take the city by January 1944.
Hitler ordered to offer the surrender of the city in exchange for the German troops not taking and erasing the city from the face of the earth, but actually, in January 1944, the German divisions stationed near Leningrad were erased from the face of the earth by the troops of the Volkhov and Leningrad fronts.
Hitler stated that Leningrad will be the first major city captured by the Germans in the Soviet Union, and spared no effort for its capture, but he did not consider that he was fighting not in Europe but in Soviet Russia. He did not take into account the courage of Leningrad and the strength of our weapons.
To be continued…