Leningrad, Battle of 1941–44

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Leningrad, Battle of (1941–44)


combat actions of the Soviet armed forces between July 10, 1941, and Aug. 10, 1944, to defend Leningrad against the fascist German and Finnish troops and defeat them during the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union of 1941—45. Some Soviet military historians exclude the Vyborg and Svir’-Petrozavodsk operations from the battle of Leningrad, restricting it chronologically to Feb. 28, 1944.

In their attack on the USSR the fascist German command attached exceptional importance to the capture of Leningrad. They planned to use a strike by Army Group North (commanded by Field Marshal W. von Leeb), consisting of the 4th Tank Group and the Eighteenth and Sixteenth armies, from Eastern Prussia in a northeasterly direction and two Finnish armies (the Karelian and Southeastern) from the southeastern part of Finland in a southerly and southeasterly direction. The purpose of the strike was to wipe out the Soviet troops located in the Baltic region, capture Leningrad, and gain the most convenient sea and land lines of communication for supplying their forces and a favorable starting point for an attack in the rear of the Red Army forces covering Moscow.

The advance of the fascist German forces against Leningrad proper began on July 10, 1941, from the Velikaia River. By this time the fascist German and Finnish command had 38 divisions (32 infantry, three tank, and three motorized) and one cavalry and two infantry brigades, supported by powerful aviation, on the distant southwestern and northwestern approaches to Leningrad. The fascist German troops were opposed by the Northern Front (commanded by Lieutenant General M. M. Popov and Corps Commissar N. N. Klement’ev, member of the Military Council), consisting of the Seventh and Twenty-third armies (a total of eight divisions), and the Northwestern Front (commanded by Major General P. P. Sobennikov and Lieutenant General V. N. Bogatkin, member of the Military Council), consisting of the Eighth, Eleventh and Twenty-seventh armies (31 divisions and two brigades), who were defending on a front of 455 km; in 22 divisions losses of personnel and matériel were more than 50 percent.

To strengthen the defense of the southwestern approaches to Leningrad, on July 6 the command of the Northern Front formed the Luga operational group; by the beginning of combat actions just two rifle divisions, one people’s militia division, the personnel of two Leningrad military schools, a detached mountain rifle brigade, a special artillery group, and a few other units from this operational group had arrived. On July 10 the forces of Army Group North enjoyed superiority over the Soviet forces of the Northwestern Front in infantry by a factor of 2.4, in artillery guns by a factor of 4, in mortars by a factor of 5.8, in tanks by a factor of 1.2, and in aircraft by a factor of 9.8.

On July 10, 1941, the State Committee for Defense (SCD) formed the Northwest Axis to coordinate the actions of the fronts (commander in chief was Marshal of the Soviet Union K. E. Voroshilov, member of the Military Council was Secretary of the Central Committee of the ACP [Bolshevik] A. A. Zhdanov, and chief of staff was Major General M. V. Zakharov), putting the forces of the Northern and Northwestern fronts and the Northern and Red Banner Baltic fleets under its command. A system of defense consisting of several belts was created around Leningrad. The Krasnogvardeisk and Slutsk-Kolpino fortified regions were constructed on the near approaches to Leningrad from the south and southwest; to the north of the city the Karelian fortified region was improved. A belt of defensive structures was also erected along the Petergof (Petrodvorets)-Pulkovo line, and defensive structures were built within Leningrad itself. The civilian population gave the troops a great deal of help in building the defensive lines. In a short time ten divisions of people’s militia and dozens of partisan detachments were formed. Children were evacuated from the city and some factory and plant equipment and cultural treasures were taken out. The industry remaining in the city was reorganized to produce and repair weapons.

The defense on the distant and near approaches to Leningrad (July 10-late September 1941). Having overcome the bitter resistance of Soviet forces in the Baltic region, the enemy moved into Leningrad Oblast. On July 5 fascist German troops occupied the city of Ostrov, and on July 9 they took Pskov. On July 10, 1941, the enemy offensive on the southwestern and northern approaches to Leningrad began. The Germans attacked almost simultaneously along the Luga, Novgorod, and Staraia Russa axes, in Estonia, and along the Petrozavodsk and Olonets axes. In the last ten days of July, suffering great losses, the enemy reached the line of the Narva, Luga, and Mshaga rivers, where they were forced to go over to the defensive and regroup.

On July 31, Soviet troops began defensive fighting on the Karelian Isthmus against advancing Finnish troops; by September 1 they had been stopped at the 1939 state border. Along the Olonets, Petrozavodsk, and Svir’ axes ground forces supported by the Ladoga Naval Flotilla (commanded as of August 1941 by Captain First Rank B. V. Khoroshkhin, who was promoted to rear admiral in September, and from October 1941 by Captain First Rank V. S. Cherokov) fought stubbornly from July 10 onward, and by late September they had stopped the enemy at the Svir’ River line. In August fighting began at the near approaches to Leningrad. On August 8 the enemy went on the offensive along the Krasnogvardeisk axis. On August 16, after heavy fighting, Kingisepp was abandoned and by August 21 the enemy had reached the Krasnogvardeisk fortified region; they attempted to envelop it on the southeast and break into Leningrad, but their attacks were repulsed. Between August 22 and September 7 there was intensive fighting on the Oranienbaum axis. The enemy was stopped to the northeast of Kopor’e.

The combat actions of ground forces were developed in close cooperation with the Red Banner Baltic Fleet (commanded by Vice Admiral V. F. Tributs and Division Commissar N. K. Smirnov, member of the Military Council) and the Ladoga Naval Flotilla. In addition to supporting ground forces with naval aviation and heavy guns, the navy carried out independent missions, including defending the approaches to Leningrad, disrupting enemy lines of communication in the Baltic, and carrying on a struggle for the Moonsund Archipelago, Tallinn, the fleet’s main base, and the Hanko Peninsula. During the defense of Leningrad the navy sent more than 100,000 of its personnel to fight on land (two marine brigades, detached rifle battalions, and the like). Long-range naval guns operated successfully against the fascist German troops. All the enemy’s attacks near Luga were repulsed. On the Novgorod-Chudovo axis, where the enemy delivered his main strike, Soviet forces tried to counterattack the troops who were attacking Novgorod, but they did not achieve anything really significant. On August 19 the enemy took Novgorod, and on August 20 the Soviet forces abandoned Chudovo. With the forces that were thus released the fascist German command strengthened the grouping attacking Leningrad and moved the main forces of Army Group North’s aviation there. Leningrad was in danger of encirclement.

On August 23 the headquarters of the Supreme Command divided the northern front into the Karelian Front (commanded by Lieutenant General V. A. Frolov and Corps Commissar A. S. Zheltov, member of the Military Council) and the Leningrad front (commanded by Lieutenant General M. M. Popov, from September 5 by Marshal of the Soviet Union K. E. Voroshilov, from September 12 by General of the Army G. K. Zhukov, from October 10 by Major General I. I. Fediuninskii, and from October 26 by Lieutenant General M. S. Khozin, with A. A. Zhdanov as member of the Military Council). On August 29 the SDC joined the chief command of the Northwest Axis with the command of the Leningrad Front, and the Northwestern Front was made directly subordinate to the headquarters of the Supreme Command. The situation around Leningrad remained extremely tense.

The enemy renewed his offensive with major forces moving along the Moscow-Leningrad highway; on August 25 they took Liuban’, on August 29 Tosno, and on August 30 they reached the Neva and cut off the railroads that connected Leningrad with the rest of the country. Between August 30 and September 9 there was desperate fighting in the Krasnogvardeisk region. The enemy suffered great losses, and his attacks were beaten back. On September 8, however, the fascist German forces broke through at Mga station and reached Shlissel’burg, cutting Leningrad off by land. The blockade of the city had begun. Communication continued only by air and across Lake Ladoga. Deliveries of essential articles for the troops, population, and industry dropped sharply. On Sept. 4, 1941, the enemy began savage artillery bombardment of the city and systematic air raids.

When the enemy reached Krasnogvardeisk and Kolpino the Soviet forces defending in the Luga region were forced to retreat north. On September 9 the fascist forces renewed their attack on Leningrad, delivering the main strike from the region to the west of Krasnogvardeisk. Having concentrated eight divisions (five infantry, two tank, and one motorized), the enemy attempted to take the city by storm. The command of the Leningrad front moved several units from the Karelian Isthmus to the threatened sections of the front, replenished reserve units with detachments of people’s militia, and switched a significant number of sailors from ships to land. The fighting in the Krasnogvardeisk region continued uninterrupted for nine days. Ship guns were especially effective. The enemy was worn down, drained, and by September 18 stopped at the Ligovo-Pulkovo line.

The outcome of the defensive battle at Krasnogvardeisk and Kolpino was influenced by the attack ordered by the Supreme Command against Mga and Siniavino from the Volkhov region. The attack began on September 10 and pinned down significant enemy forces. At the same time the forces of the Neva operational group went on the attack from the right bank of the Neva along the Siniavino-Mga axis. By September 26 they had forced the Neva River and taken a small beachhead in the region of Moskovskaia Dubrovka (the Neva “foothold”). In mid-September the German troops reached the Gulf of Finland in the Strel’na region and cut off the Soviet troops to the west. Thanks to strong naval support, these forces were able to hold the Primorskii (Oranienbaum) base of operations, which later played a large part in the city’s defense. By the end of September the front had finally stabilized on the approaches to Leningrad, and the enemy’s plan to take it by storm had failed.

On October 20 the Siniavino offensive operation by forces of the Leningrad Front began with the objective of breaking the blockade, but the operation could not be completed because the Soviet Supreme Command was forced to move part of the troops to the Tikhvin axis, where the enemy had begun an offensive. On November 8 the enemy was able to take Tikhvin. Although Soviet troops did not permit the enemy to break through to the Svir’, the last railroad (Tikhvin-Volkhov) along which freight was shipped to Lake Ladoga had been cut. In November 1941, Soviet troops went over to the counteroffensive. On November 20 they took Malaia Vishera, and on December 9 they took Tikhvin and drove the enemy back beyond the Volkhov River. But the situation of Leningrad continued to be grave. Stocks of raw materials were very limited, and food and fuel were running out. From November 20 the daily bread ration was 125–250 g. Famine began, and between November 1941 and October 1942, 641,803 persons died of starvation. The party and the Soviet government took steps to deliver food, ammunition, gasoline, and fuel to the city.

The fascist German command attempted to break the resistance of Leningrad’s defenders by aerial bombardment and heavy artillery shelling. Between September and November 1941, 64,-930 incendiary and 3,055 high-explosive aerial bombs were dropped on the city, and between September and December, 30,154 artillery shells were fired into it. But the enemy did not break the spirit of the defenders of the city of Lenin. The ACP(B) city committee (committee secretaries were A. A. Zhdanov, A. A. Kuznetsov, and Ia. F. Kapustin) and the city’s Soviet of Working People’s Deputies (chairman P. S. Popkov) played an exceptional part in the life of Leningrad during the blockade. In the second half of November a motor vehicle road was laid across the ice of Lake Ladoga (it was called the Road of Life), and along it ammunition, weapons, food, medical supplies, and fuel were brought in and sick, wounded, and disabled persons were evacuated (between November 1941 and April 1942, 550,-000 people were evacuated). The route continued its operation regardless of bombing, artillery shelling, or bad weather. The city’s party and soviet organizations took all possible steps to save people from hunger. When the Ladoga route went into operation the bread ration gradually began to increase (after Dec. 25, 1941, it was 200–350 g).

Owing to the shortage of forces and weapons and because of mistakes in organization of the offensive, the attempts to break the blockade of Leningrad in 1942 (the attack on the Liuban’ axis in January-April and on the Siniavino axis in August-September) were unsuccessful, but these aggressive actions by Soviet forces prevented the new assault on the city that was in preparation. The successful strategic counteroffensive by Soviet forces at Stalingrad in the winter of 1942–43 drew off part of the enemy forces from Leningrad and created a favorable situation for breaking the blockade.

The breakthrough of the blockade of Leningrad (1943). In the period from Jan. 12 to Jan. 30, 1943, forces of the Sixty-seventh Army of the Leningrad Front (commanded as of June 1942 by Lieutenant General, later Marshal of the Soviet Union, L. A. Govorov), the Second Shock Army, and part of the Eighth Army of the Volkhov Front (formed on Dec. 17, 1941, commanded by General of the Army K. A. Meretskov), with support from longrange aviation and the Baltic Fleet’s artillery and aviation, broke the ring of the blockade by converging attacks in the narrow salient between Shlissel’burg and Siniavino (to the south of Lake Ladoga) and restored Leningrad’s land connection with the country. In 17 days a railroad and a motor vehicle road were laid through the corridor that was formed (8–10 km wide), but the problem of supplying the city was still not fully resolved.

An important point on the Leningrad-Volkhov railroad, Mga station, remained in enemy hands, and the roads in the liberated zone were under constant bombardment by enemy artillery. Attempts to broaden the land lines of communication (the offensive in February-March 1943 against Mga and Siniavino) did not achieve their objective. In July and August, Soviet troops inflicted a major defeat on the forces of the German Eighteenth Army in the Mga salient and prevented the enemy from moving his troops to other fronts.

The Soviet offensive at Leningrad and Novgorod in 1944 and the lifting of the Leningrad blockade. As a result of the victories of the Soviet armed forces in the battles at Stalingrad, Kursk, Smolensk, the Left-bank Ukraine, the Donbas, and the Dnieper in late 1943 and early 1944, favorable conditions were brought about for a major offensive operation at Leningrad and Novgorod. At this time Army Group North, consisting of the Eighteenth and Sixteenth armies (from January 1942 to January 1944 commanded by Field Marshal G. von Küchler, from the end of January until early July 1944 by Colonel General H. Lindemann, in July 1944 by Infantry General H. Friesner, and from July 23, 1944, by Colonel General F. Schörner), had 741,000 officers and men, 10,070 artillery guns and mortars, 385 tanks and assault guns, and 370 aircraft. Its mission was to prevent a breakthrough of the positions it occupied, which were important for covering the approaches to the Baltic region, holding Finland as an ally, and ensuring freedom of action for the German Navy in the Baltic Sea. By early 1944 the enemy had created a deeply echeloned defense with reinforced-concrete and wood-and-earth structures guarded by minefields and wire obstacles.

The Soviet command organized an offensive with forces of the Second Shock, Forty-second and Sixty-seventh armies of the Leningrad Front; the Fifty-ninth, Eighth, and Fifty-fourth armies of the Volkhov Front; the First Shock and Twenty-second armies of the Second Baltic Front (commanded by General of the Army M. M. Popov); and the Red Banner Baltic Fleet. Long-range aviation (commanded by Marshal of Aviation A. E. Golovanov) and partisan detachments and brigades were also enlisted. In all, the fronts had 1,241,000 officers and men, 21,600 artillery guns and mortars, 1,475 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 1,500 aircraft. The objective of the operation was to crush the flank groupings of the Eighteenth Army and then, by actions on the Kingisepp and Luga axes, complete the route of its main forces and reach the Luga River line. Then, operating on the Narva, Pskov, and Idritsa axes, they were to defeat the Sixteenth Army, complete the liberation of Leningrad Oblast, and create conditions for the liberation of the Baltic region. During preparation for the operation ships of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet carried more than 52,000 men and about 14,000 tons of cargo across the Gulf of Finland to the Primorskii beachhead.

On January 14, Soviet forces went over to the offensive, attacking Ropsha from the Primorskii beachhead and, on January 15, attacking Krasnoe Selo from Leningrad. On January 20, after hard fighting, Soviet forces joined in the Ropsha region and eliminated the trapped Petergof-Strel’na enemy grouping. At the same time on January 14, Soviet forces went over to the offensive in the Novgorod region and on January 16 in the Liuban’ sector. On January 20, Novgorod was liberated. Thus, between January 14 and January 20 the enemy’s defense was broken through and the flank groupings of the Eighteenth Army were crushed. Fearing encirclement, its center forces began to retreat from the Mga-Tosno region on January 21. On Jan. 27, 1944, a salute was fired in Leningrad to mark the final lifting of the blockade.

By the end of January the cities of Pushkin, Krasnogvardeisk, Tosno, Liuban’, Chudovo, and Novosokol’niki had been liberated. The enemy attempted to hold the Luga River line, but despite stubborn resistance, Soviet forces cooperating with partisans liberated Luga on February 12 and by February 15 had completely overcome the enemy’s defense line on the Luga River. The Volkhov Front was disbanded, and the troops of the Leningrad and Second Baltic fronts continued pursuing remnants of the crushed units of the Eighteenth Army and left flank of the Sixteenth Army on the Pskov and Staraia Russa axes. The base of operations on the Narva River was expanded, and Staraia Russa, Kholm, Dno, and other cities were liberated. By the end of February, Soviet forces had reached the approaches to the Latvian SSR border. As a result of this operation a major defeat was inflicted on Army Group North, the enemy was driven back 220–280 km from Leningrad, and virtually all of Leningrad Oblast and a part of Kalinin Oblast were liberated. The partisans of Leningrad Oblast (about 3,000 at the end of 1942 and about 35,000 in January 1944) gave the troops a great deal of assistance in the battle of Leningrad. They conducted fights for populated points and liberated cities and whole regions. During 32 months of struggle in the enemy rear the partisans killed about 114,000 enemy officers and men, blew up and burned a large amount of military equipment, destroyed bridges and communications lines, and sabotaged enemy storage dumps.

During June-August 1944, with the support of the ships and aviation of the Baltic Fleet, Soviet forces carried out the Vyborg and Svir’-Petrozavodsk operations. On June 20 the city of Vyborg was liberated, and on June 28, Petrozavodsk became free.

The battle of Leningrad was enormously important politically and strategically. During the fighting for Leningrad, Soviet forces there drew off up to 15–20 percent of enemy forces on the Eastern Front, as well as the entire Finnish Army, and they crushed up to 50 German divisions. The fighting men and inhabitants of the city were models of heroism and selfless devotion to their native land. Many units that took part in the battle of Leningrad were given the honorary guards title or were awarded orders. Hundreds of thousands of fighting men were given state awards and hundreds received the title Hero of the Soviet Union. Five of them were given this title twice: A. E. Mazurenko, P. A. Pokryshev, V. I. Rakov, N. G. Stepanian, and N. V. Chelnokov. The daily concern of the party Central Committee and Soviet government and the support of the entire country were inexhaustible sources of strength by which the inhabitants of Leningrad surmounted the trials and hardships of a 900-day blockade. On Dec. 22, 1942, the Soviet government instituted the medal “For the Defense of Leningrad.” On Jan. 26, 1945, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR awarded the city of Leningrad the Order of Lenin, and on May 8, 1965, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Soviet people’s victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941—45, the city of Leningrad was awarded the honorary title “Hero City.”


The Green Belt of Glory. On the initiative of Komsomol members and young people in Leningrad the Green Belt of Glory was constructed on the former lines of the heroic defense of Leningrad (1964–67; overall plan designed by architects G. N. Buldakov, V. L. Gaikovich, and M. A. Sementovskaia). It includes approximately 60 monuments and memorial ensembles (including those built earlier), which are united by their location into four large groups: the Oranienbaum base of operations, the Pulkovo line and the Neva “foothold,” the Road of Life, and the Karelian Isthmus.

THE ORANIENBAUM BASE OF OPERATIONS. Monuments of the Oranienbaum base of operations include the Primorskii Beachhead on the 32nd kilometer of the Petergof highway (1961–71, granite and concrete; architects A. A. Baidalinova, T. N. Voronikhina, M. K. Melikova, O. I. Sokolova, Z. I. Solov’eva, and V. N. Shcherbin; engineer L. Borisova); the January Thunderstorm stela on the 19th kilometer of the Gostilitsy highway near the village of Porozhki (concrete, 1967; sculptor G. V. Beliaev; architects N. V. Ustinovich and A. E. Rivkin); the obelisk To the Guards Troops of the 30th Corps in the village of Russko-Vysotskoe (stone, 1944; architects K. L. Iogansen and V. A. Petrov); the Far Line column near the village of Sheremet’evo (granite, 1966; architect T. Kozyreva); and the Coast of the Courageous stela (1967; architects A. E. Rivkin and N. V. Ustinovich; sculptors M. R. Gabe and P. A. Iakimovich).

THE PULKOVO LINE AND THE NEVA “FOOTHOLD.” Monuments on the Pulkovo line and the Neva “foothold” include the column in the Kirov Rampart ensemble on the 14th kilometer of the Petergof highway (granite, concrete, and bronze, 1967; architects S. G. Maiofis and A. Eksner; sculptors Iu. S. Zhmaev and A. N. Kolodin); the Pulkovo Line ensemble on the 20th kilometer of the Kiev highway (concrete and mosaic, 1967; architect la. N. Lukin; sculptor L. L. Mikhailenok; mural painter A. P. Ol’khovich); the concrete People’s Militia wall on the 11th kilometer of the Pushkin highway near the village of Kuz’mino (concrete, 1966; architects V. P. Boitsov, F. A. Enikeev, V. A. Neverov, and V. A. Sidorov; sculptors I. A. Syroezhkin and E. V. Cherkasov); the obelisk To the Troops of the Fifty-fifth Army at the 27th-28th kilometer of the Moscow highway (granite, 1957; architect M. K. Melikova); the stela To the Soldiers of Leningrad (the Assault) in the settlement of Iam-Izhora (stone and bronze, 1944; architect la. M. Zelenyi); the stela To the Heroes of Izhora (the Izhora Ram) in Kolpino (granite and bronze, 1959 and 1967; architects M. A. Shepilevskii and Iu. V. Komarov); the stela beam To the Fighting Men of the Leningrad Front (Threshold of the Neva) in the village of Ust’-Tosno (concrete, 1944 and 1967; architects K. L. Iogansen, V. A. Petrov, and F. K. Romanovskii; sculptor A. G. Dema); the Hill of Glory (Nameless Hill) in the village of Ivanovskoe (bronze and concrete, 1968; architect L. I. Kopylovskii; sculptors V. G. Kozeniuk, G. D. Iastrebenetskii, and E. I. Rotanov); the obelisk To the Heroes of the Breakthrough of the Blockade at the Neva “Foothold” near the village of Mar’ino (granite, 1952; architect A. I. Lapirov; sculptor G. P. Iakimova); the memorial ensemble To the Heroes of the Neva Beachhead (the Bound Stone) in Kirovsk (bronze and granite, 1971; architects O. S. Romanov and M. L. Khidekel’; sculptor E. Kh. Nasibulin).

THE ROAD OF LIFE. Monuments on the Road of Life include the stela To the Heroes of the Road of Life on Lake Ladoga near the village of Kobona (granite, 1964; architect M. N. Meisel’); the architectural-sculptural composition named the Broken Ring on Lake Ladoga near the Vaganovskii descent (concrete, granite, and bronze, 1966; architect V. G. Filippov; sculptors K. M. Simun and V. T. Dugonets; engineer I. A. Rybin); Katiusha, near the village of Kornevo (concrete and bronze, five H-beams, 1966; architects P. I. Mel’nikov, A. D. Levenkov, and L. V. Chulkevich; engineers L. V. Iz”iurov and G. P. Ivanov); the Rumbolov Hill ensemble in Vsevolozhsk (concrete, 1967; architects P. F. Kozlov and V. N. Polukhin; engineer F. Fedorov); the Flower of Life composition in the village of Kovalevo (concrete, 1968; architects P. I. Mel’nikov and A. D. Levenkov); the Road of Life (45 concrete pillars, 1966; architect M. N. Meisel’).

THE KARELIAN ISTHMUS.> Monuments on the Karelian Isthmus include the sculptural composition named the Lembolovo Strongpoint on the 31st kilometer of the Priozerskoe highway (concrete, 1967; architects A. I. Gutov and Iu. M. Tsarikovskii; sculptor B. A. Svinin; engineer N. I. Sedov); the Garden of Peace stela on the 38th kilometer of the Verkhnevyborgskoe highway (granite and concrete, 1967; architects Iu. A. D’iakonov and V. A. Gavrilov).



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