World War II in Europe. From Warsaw to Berlin. Part 3-The Siege of Leningrad

A heroic story, of surrounded city and its people.



The memorial sign in St. Peterburg on the Nevsky Avenue "Citizens! During shelling, this side of the street is the most dangerous.". The white part is saying: "In memory of the heroism and courage of Leningrad citizens in the days of the 900-day blockade of the city this inscription is preserved".

Please read “World War 2 in Europe: From Warsaw, to Berlin. Part 1, European front; 1938-1940” and “World War 2 in Europe: From Warsaw to Berlin. Part 2, the Moscow crash of Hitler”. You might want to know how everything started.

Many heroic events happened before the start of the Siege. Like this: one Russian tanker’s crew destroyed 22 German tanks. Their tank was hit 157 times, but it wasn’t broken! The name of that tanker was Zinoviy Kolobanov. His tank’s model was KV-1, and it was made on Leningrad’s Kirov Plant (factory).

But nothing could stop Germans from coming to Leningrad.

On September 8th, 1941, there were 5 million people in Leningrad, including refugees from captured towns, cities and villages. This city was the main Soviet city of on the Baltic Sea. All the others (except Kronstadt and Oranienbaum) had been already captured by Hitler’s army. Kronstadt and Leningrad were the main base of the Soviet Baltic Fleet. But exactly on that date-9/8/1941,- Leningrad got surrounded by the enemy.

From the north, there was Finland, which already was helping the Germans attack Russia in the far North. From the South, there was Hitler. Leningrad, Kronstadt and Oranienbaum weren’t ready for it: there was enough food in Leningrad… for 1 month! People could get only 500 grams of bread per day. On top of that, every day Germans were bombing and firing at the residential quarters. Luckily, they weren’t bombing the most precious attractions of the city.

Map of the Siege
The Red Army tried to break the blockade on a small area where Germans were controlling the territory between Volkhov (Volchov) and Leningrad Fronts.

In September, Germans destroyed the wooden Badayevsky warehouses. After that, the situation became even worse! The sugar and flour that had burnt in those warehouses could be used for a WEEK!

At the front the situation was bad too. The Commander of the Leningrad front Kliment Voroshilov decided to hand Leningrad over to Hitler! That would mean a loss of the production and the fleet center, the Baltic Sea and maybe even the independence! But then, a miracle occurred: General Zhukov was sent to Leningrad after Yelninsky operation, the first big victory of the Red Army over Nazis.

Zhukov examining the situation at the Leningrad Front.

Voroshilov was suspended from the front. Zhukov was the Commander only for two weeks there, but in this short time he managed to reorganize the defense entirely and to save Leningrad. After that Zhukov was sent from Leningrad to defend Moscow.

Things at the Leningrad front hadn’t changed, but the situation with food was getting worse day by day.

By November, people couldn’t get more than 250 grams of bread per day, and children had only 125 grams per day! There were big problems with water too.

How did the Siege looked.
To get water, people had to go to the frozen river of Neva and wait for their turn to scoop up water from an ice hole.

People could get water only from ships that were sent to Leningrad from Ladoga lake, and planes. But that wasn’t enough! There was another serious problem. Before the war supplies had been coming to the city by the Ladoga Channel, connecting Volkhov and Neva rivers (and that enabled the ships to escape severe storms on the open Ladoga waters), but the Germans took control of the Ladoga Channel.

Hopes grew when the lake froze: now the cars could drive on ice, and the situation with food got better.   But Ladoga lake never freezes completely. Open water was breaking ice, and some cars, unfortunately, sank. When a safe route was finally built, the situation started to improve, but it was only in the 2nd half of January. Before that, hundreds of thousands of citizens died from starvation, cold and disease. One officer even made an experiment to see how long his soldiers can walk with their guns. He found out that some could walk only 400 meters (it’s around the distance between Morningside and Cushman school)!

But after the road started to function to its “full strength”, thousands (if not millions) of lives were saved! This road was called “The Road of Life “.

The road of life.
In the period between November and December, 152 cars sank in Ladoga. Drivers were riding with an open door to jump out of the car in case the ice would break under it.

In February, people finally got meat and more bread. The food situation in Leningrad was drastically changed. In 1942, General Vlasov – the commander of the 2nd Shock Army – tried to break the Siege of Leningrad. But his army was surrounded, and General Vlasov surrendered to the Germans, and since then he and his army were fighting on Hitler’s side against the USSR.

In 1945 he was taken prisoner by the Soviet troops, and then sentenced to capital punishment!

Between January 12 and 30, 1943, Generals Meretskov and Govorov planned an “Operation Iskra” or “Operation Spark”. This operation should have created a “passage” along Ladoga Channel between the Leningrad and Volchov Fronts, and in the process broken the blockade! The operation was a big success!

The combat map of Operation Iskra

But it was too early to talk about the complete ending of the Siege. The Soviet Army finally stopped the Siege of Leningrad, Oranienbaum and Kronstadt, but it happened only on January 24, 1944. This is a great memorable date in Russia today.

The Siege of Leningrad continued for 2 years, 4 months, 2 weeks and 5 days. 5 million people were living in Leningrad on 9/8/1941. During the Siege, thousands died or were evacuated to “the main land” along the Road of Life. By the end of the blockade, there were only 525,000 citizens left in Leningrad. Only 3% of the people, who had died during the blockade, perished from bombing and firing. The other 97% died from starvation, cold and disease.

At the time, when the danger of the Leningrad Siege was only “flying in the air”, the danger in the South was already very clear. During those days the war against the Nazis started to acquire the name of “Patriotic war”. Those were the days of fighting for Kiev.

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