A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by attrition or assault. Sieges are devastating, both to the population of the besieged fortress and the attacking forces. Disease, hunger, and death were ripe among both forces.

  1. Siege of Leningrad, also known as Leningrad Blockade.-

The Siege of Leningrad on the Eastern Front was the deadliest siege of a city in history, the longest and the most lethal and murderous in World War II. Hitler declared his intention to obliterate the key city of Leningrad: “The Fuhrer has decided to wipe the city of Petersburg from the face of the earth” said a secret directive. But over the course of the siege, the city resisted the Germans pounding at its gates. Its survival contributed to the defeat of Nazism.

Sea defense of Leningrad. Two Soviet machine-gunners in ambush in ice-hummocks of the Gulf of Finland.

It lasted 2 years, 4 months, 2 weeks and 5 days, 872 days in total. It started on 8 September 1941 and finished on 27 January 1944. In the siege were involved four armies: German Army, Finnish Army, Italian Army and Soviet Army.

  • The German Commanders were: Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, commander of Heeresgruppe Nord from the start of Barbarossa until 13 January 1942; Generalfeldmarschall Georg Wilhelm von Kuchler, commander of Heeresgruppe Nord from January 1942 to January 1944; Generaloberst Georg Lindemann, commander of AOK 18 from 16 January 1942 to March 1944; and Oberst Maximilian Wengler.
  • The Soviet Commanders were: General-Lieutenant Markian M. Popov, commanded the Leningrad Front at the start of the war; Marshal Kliment Voroshilov; Leningrad Communist Party chief Andrei Zhdanov; General-Lieutenant Mikhail S. Khozin commanded the Leningrad Front from 23 October 1941 to June 1942; General Kirill Afanasievich Meretskov, who served as commander of the Volkhov Front from December 1941 to February 1944; General-Lieutenant Leonid Aleksandrovich Govorov, commander of Leningrad Front from April 1942 to July 1945; and General-Lieutenant Ivan F. Fediuninskiy, who served in a number of key command roles on the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts in 1941-44.

Soviet anti-aircraft gunners preparing a gun for the battle in Marsovo Pole in Leningrad.

It was the most destructive siege and overwhelmingly the most costly in terms of casualties. Casualties and losses were 579,985 for Army Group North (Axis), 3,436,066 for Northern Front (Red Army) and 642,000 civilians during the siege and 400,000 at evacuations. People primarily died of hunger and cold, but also artillery fire. People city of Leningrad was deprived of almost all supplies of food and fuel. Books were burnt for heat and zoo animals were eaten for meat -- some even resorted to cannibalism.

The Unknown War (Ep.3): "The Siege of Leningrad" 

Economic destruction and human losses in Leningrad on both sides exceeded those of the London Blitz, the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Moscow, or the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Not surprisingly, the city itself was a hollow shell of itself, with over 11,000 buildings destroyed and wreckage strewn everywhere.

In a street of Leningrad after German air raid. The Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.

The most important events during the siege were:

  • By the end of July 1941, German forces had cut the Moscow-Leningrad railway and were penetrating the outer belt of the fortifications around Leningrad.
  • On September 8 1941, German and Finnish troops completed the encirclement of Leningrad, but they were held at bay by Leningrad’s fortifications and its 200,000 Red Army defenders.
  • In October 1941, the Germans launched an offensive to the east and cut off the last highways and rail lines south of the city. Meanwhile, Finnish forces advanced down the Karelian Isthmus and besieged Leningrad from the north.
  • By early November 1941, the city was almost completely encircled, and only across Lake Ladoga was a supply lifeline possible.
  • In the summer 1942, barges and other ships braved German air attack to cross Lake Ladoga to Leningrad with supplies.
  • In January 1943, Red Army soldiers broke through the German line, rupturing the blockade and creating a more efficient supply route along the shores of Lake Ladoga. This euphemistically became known as the Road of Life, but the precarious conditions and the Luftwaffe also left many referring to it as the Road of Death.

US propaganda film showing the Leningrad Road of Life during the siege of the city

  • In January 1943, the siege was broken and Soviet forces opened a narrow land corridor into the city through which vital rations and supplies again flowed. 
  • In early 1944, Soviet forces approached Leningrad, forcing German forces to retreat southward from the city on January 27.

Soviet propagandists — during the siege and afterwards — constructed a heroic story of perseverance and courage as part of a broader mythologizing of the war. That tale has served various social, political, and cultural purposes ever since. In the process, however, the real story was sanitized and simplified, hidden and censored — to the point that even participants often preferred the mythological version (which at any rate was more ennobling than the real story).

900 days The Myth & Reality of the Leningrad blockade (English subtitles)

According to Robert Forczyk (Osprey), Hitler had intended to demolish Leningrad as both a symbol and a centre of Soviet power, but he accomplished neither. Thus in strategic terms, the German effort against Leningrad was a failure. Yet in operational terms, the German siege of Leningrad effectively isolated three Soviet armies for over two years and forced six other armies to conduct repeated costly frontal assaults to try and end the siege.



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