Sep 10, 2021
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How besieged Leningrad became a symbol of resilience in the fight against Nazism

The blockade of Leningrad by Nazi troops and their allies began 80 years ago. It lasted almost 900 days and claimed the lives, according to various estimates, from 640 thousand to 1 million inhabitants of the city. Courageous resistance to the enemy from the Red Army and the city militia stopped the advance of the Nazis, preventing them from capturing Leningrad. According to experts, the heroism of the defenders of the city saved the lives of most of its population and fettered large forces of Nazi troops, and Leningrad itself became one of the symbols of resistance to the enemy by the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War.

On September 8, 1941, the Nazis closed the encirclement ring around Leningrad, completely blocking the city from the land side. The blockade lasted almost 900 days. During the battles for Leningrad, as well as from hunger and hardship, from 640 thousand to 1 million city residents died. About 980 thousand soldiers of the Red Army fell defending the city. According to historians, the actions of the defenders of Leningrad fettered large forces of the Nazis and their allies, significantly affecting the situation on the Soviet-German front as a whole.

Defense of Leningrad

As historians note, the offensive of the Nazi troops in the direction of Leningrad began on July 10, 1941.

According to military historian Sergei Perelygin, in the summer of 1941, Nazi forces in the Leningrad direction were detained by the courageous resistance of the defenders of the Luga defensive line. But already in August, the Nazis reached the approaches to Leningrad and were able to seize the railway lines connecting the city with the rest of the USSR.

As the associate professor of GAUGN, candidate of historical sciences Dmitry Surzhik noted, Hitler set before his troops the task of not just capturing, but destroying Leningrad along with its population.

“The goal was to destroy the city with systematic artillery shelling, bombing, and its population by starvation. This plan was carried out by the German troops of Army Group North and their Finnish allies, “Surzhik emphasized in a conversation with RT.

On the approaches to Leningrad in the summer of 1941, the Nazis concentrated 38 divisions and three brigades with a total number of about 810 thousand people, 440 tanks and self-propelled guns, 5.3 thousand guns and mortars, and 1.2 thousand aircraft. They were opposed by about 540 thousand Soviet servicemen. The Red Army soldiers and residents of the city erected about 900 km of defensive lines. Ten divisions of the people’s militia with a total number of about 160 thousand people and dozens of partisan detachments were formed from Leningraders and the population of the nearest settlements. According to the military historian Maksim Sinitsyn, the militias served as a reserve for the cadre units of the Red Army, having played an important role in the defense of the city at a decisive moment.

The Great Patriotic War 1941-1945 Leningrad blockade. General military training (Vsevobuch) of residents on the square near the Alexandrinsky Theater, October 1941 / RIA Novosti

Despite the desperate resistance of the Soviet troops and Leningraders, the Nazis on September 7-8, 1941 were able to break through the Mga station to Shlisselburg, completely blocking Leningrad from the land side. The advanced outpost of the Soviet forces in the Shlisselburg area, which hindered the further advance of the Nazis, was the Oreshek fortress, founded in the XIV century, which was defended by the soldiers of the 1st division of the NKVD troops. Its garrison resisted the enemy for almost 500 days.

On September 9, the Nazis broke through the defenses of the Soviet troops in the area of ​​Krasnoe Selo and pushed the Red Army soldiers to the southwestern outskirts of Leningrad. Against the backdrop of heavy fighting on the outskirts of the city, Georgy Zhukov was appointed commander of the Leningrad Front. On September 17, the military council of the front issued an order that read: “Not a step back from the occupied line.”

Soviet anti-aircraft gunners are preparing a gun for battle on the Field of Mars in Leningrad / RIA Novosti

Significant Nazi forces were shackled in September 1941 by the Soviet offensive from the Volkhov. And at the end of the month, the troops of the Neva operational group crossed the Neva and seized a bridgehead in the area of ​​Moscow Dubrovka, which later became known as “Nevsky Pyatachok”. Attempts by the Nazis to break through to a meeting with their Finnish allies or to advance along the Moscow-Leningrad highway were thwarted by Soviet troops. The front line has stabilized.

“The Nazis got bogged down in the battles near Leningrad,” stated military historian Grigory Popov.

The Nazis subjected Leningrad to fierce shelling and bombing. The fires caused by them burned down the Badayev warehouses, where a significant part of the food in the city was stored. There are only 30-60 days of food left in Leningrad. On September 22, 1941, Hitler’s headquarters issued a directive emphasizing that the Fuhrer was not interested in “preserving at least part of the population” of Leningrad. During the blockade, about 150 thousand shells were fired around the city, about 107 thousand incendiary and high-explosive bombs were dropped on it.

The Great Patriotic War 1941-1945 On the street of besieged Leningrad after the shelling / RIA Novosti

Since October 1941, Soviet troops have made unsuccessful attempts to unblock the city. The norms for the distribution of foodstuffs in Leningrad were declining. Since November 20, workers have received 250 grams of bread a day, and all other categories of city residents – 125 grams each. At the same time, about 2.5 million people remained in besieged Leningrad, including 400 thousand children.

The most difficult period of the blockade was the fall-winter of 1941-1942. From hunger and cold, people died in thousands. There was a catastrophic lack of food, public transport stood still, Leningraders heated their homes with furniture and demolished wooden buildings. At the same time, industrial enterprises, administrative structures and even cultural institutions continued to work. The teenagers replaced their fathers and older brothers who had gone to the front at the workplace. The city’s enterprises manufactured and repaired about 2 thousand tanks, 1.5 thousand aircraft, 4.6 thousand guns, 225 thousand machine guns. Work continued to strengthen Leningrad. In total, 4,100 bunkers and bunkers were erected on the territory of the city, 22 thousand firing points were equipped.

A card for bread during the siege of Leningrad. December 1941 / © Wikimedia Commons

The Road of Life turned out to be saving for many residents of Leningrad – a transport highway between the besieged city and the rest of the USSR, laid through Lake Ladoga (on water in warm weather and on ice in winter). Civilians were evacuated from Leningrad to the rear along it. And under Nazi air and artillery strikes, food, ammunition, fuel and soldiers were sent to the besieged city along the Road of Life to replenish the group defending Leningrad.

During the entire blockade along the Road of Life, 1615 thousand tons of cargo and 300 thousand military personnel were delivered to the city, almost 1.4 million civilians were evacuated. According to Sergei Perelygin, first of all, they tried to evacuate children from the city. From the end of December 1941, food distribution rates began to rise slowly.

During the blockade in Leningrad, from 640 thousand to 1 million citizens died from hunger, cold, disease, shelling and bombing.

During the siege of Leningrad (September 8, 1941 – January 27, 1944). Inhabitants of besieged Leningrad: a woman carries her husband weakened from hunger on a sled. The Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 / RIA Novosti

“Having blockaded Leningrad, the Nazis proceeded from their own racial theories. They did not perceive the residents of the city as people, ”said Maksim Sinitsyn.

Irrecoverable losses of the Red Army in the battles near Leningrad amounted to about 980 thousand people, sanitary losses – 1.95 million.

“In inhumanly difficult conditions, the defenders of Leningrad did not flinch. They made no attempt to surrender. The actions of the Nazis against Leningrad are a concrete example of genocide, confirmed by numerous facts, including the Nazi plans themselves, “Dmitry Surzhik emphasized.

Bridgehead “Nevsky Pyatachok” after the battle. April 27, 1942 / © Wikimedia Commons

Salvation of Leningrad

Despite numerous attempts to break the blockade ring, the Soviet command managed to achieve success in this direction only against the background of the Battle of Stalingrad, when the Nazis were forced to take part of the troops from Leningrad. In January 1943, counter-strikes by the troops of the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts made it possible to breach the Nazi defense south of Lake Ladoga and restore land communication between the besieged city and the rest of the country. Through a corridor with a width of only 8-11 km, railways and a motorway were laid in a short time.

The blockade was completely lifted at the beginning of 1944, when Soviet troops defeated Army Group North and drove the Nazis 60-100 km away from Leningrad. The blockade lasted from September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944.

According to historians, the heroic defense of Leningrad significantly influenced the entire course of the Great Patriotic War.

As Sergei Perelygin noted, the city bearing the name of the creator of the Soviet state was an important ideological symbol. The Nazi leadership believed that its destruction would undermine the stability of the Soviet system and the belief in the victory of the inhabitants of the USSR. However, Leningrad survived, and this became a serious moral victory for the Soviet people.

As Dmitry Surzhik noted, in addition to its political and moral significance, Leningrad also played a huge military and economic role.

Siege Leningrad. The seamen of the Baltic Fleet talk with the girl Lyusya. She and other children are taken out of the besieged city. The girl was left an orphan – her parents died of hunger / RIA Novosti

“After the loss of the Ukrainian industrial region, Leningrad was very, very important to keep the front with the supply of weapons and ammunition. And of course, the loss of Leningrad, releasing huge Nazi forces, would have sharply aggravated the situation on the Soviet-German front, including the position of Moscow, ”the expert said.

As historians note, the battles near Leningrad pinned down about 30 Nazi divisions, which the Germans could not use at such decisive moments of the war as the Battle of Kursk.

Jubilant Leningrad. The blockade was lifted / © Wikimedia Commons

“We must pay tribute to the courage of the defenders of Leningrad, who stood up to the last, did not break and showed lofty examples of dedication to duty. We know about the baker who died of hunger at his workplace, about the employees of the Research Institute of Crop Production who died, but kept the seed fund. The way Leningraders stood up is a lofty and vivid example of courage, will to fight and patriotism, ”concluded Dmitry Surzhik.

Svyatoslav Knyazev, Maxim Lobanov

Cover photo: Battles for Leningrad / Siege bread rate / RIA Novosti

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