The Siege and Battle for Leningrad (September 1941 to December 1944), was a microcosm of the War on the Eastern Front itself–its significance lost in the tragic and desperate history of the Second World War’s greatest confrontation. Leningrad’s impact was extraordinary for both the Soviet Union and Germany—with implications for both after 1943. Historian and author Anna Reid, in Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944, addresses scant attention paid the siege, writing that “Military historians have concentrated on the battles for Stalingrad and Moscow, despite the fact that Leningrad was the first city that Hitler failed to take, and that its fall would have given him the Soviet Union’s biggest arms manufacturies, shipyards and steelworks, linked his armies with Finland’s, and allowed him to cut the railway lines carrying Allied aid from the Arctic ports of Archangel and Murmansk.” It is suggested that the lack of Soviet military history on the Leningrad battle is owed to the Soviet deference for the recording and remembrance of victory only—and disregard for losses.
Leningrad, Hitler’s initial primary objective, was the northern target in 1941’s Operation Barbarossa. His strategy was to clear his Baltic flank and link up with Finnish troops—while downplaying the importance of Moscow, much to the chagrin of his Army Command. Army Group North’s goal at the start of Barbarossa was encirclement (but not capture) and blockade, starvation, and final destruction and leveling of the city. Hitler later ordered the city’s capture on 5 April 1942.
For the Soviet Union, the Great Patriotic War was as considerable a victory by the Soviet People as it was for the Red Army. While the Battle for Leningrad was not militarily decisive towards the war’s outcome, it was a pivot-point for Soviet victory following the failed German offensive at Kursk in August 1943.
For Germany’s need for additional troops, Leningrad became a hindrance to the strength of Army Group Center at Moscow and Army Group South in the Ukraine. Troops from German Army Group Center were redeployed northward later in the siege to bolster what had become a defensive effort outside of Leningrad.
The destruction of Leningrad represented the death of Bolshevism in Hitler’s mind; for him, the Jews and Bolsheviks would undermine his nationalist goals. Richard Bidlack and Nikita Lomagin write that “Hitler’s desire for Leningrad went beyond its military and industrial power. To him the city symbolized the intrusion of Slavdom onto the Baltic seacoast, that former Germanic domain of the Teutonic Knights and the Hansa, and the cradle of revolutionary communism.” Hitler chose to go after economic targets and resources in the south and west as opposed to the key military target of Moscow—the preferred target of his generals. German troops were detached from Army Group Center to bolster the push to Leningrad. Stalin’s Bolshevik ideology was perceived by the Fuhrer as the main threat to western civilization and enemy number one. It was this blind ideological hatred which clouded his military strategy; the irony of Hitler’s failed strategy to destroy the birthplace of his hated Bolshevism is evident.
The success of Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa was predicated on a quick “lightning strike” victory in 1941—Leningrad changed that. His early fixation on the beleaguered city cost him the Eastern Front, while the resolve shown by the defenders of Leningrad helped to unify the Soviet Union. This paper will illustrate the contribution the Siege and Battle of Leningrad played in Germany’s defeat on the Eastern Front through qualitative and quantitative analysis.
‘Blitzkrieg’ had worked for Germany in both 1939 and again in 1940—a strategy which Hitler chose against for Leningrad and Moscow. Blitzkrieg, by definition: “… the concentrated employment of armor and air forces to confuse the enemy with surprise and speed to encircle him, after a successful breakthrough, by means of far-reaching thrusts. The objective is to defeat the enemy quickly in a decision-seeking operation.”  B.H. Liddell Hart highlights this error in Strategy:
Whether concentration on economic objectives would have been more decisive remains an open question. But in reflection some of the ablest of the German generals consider that the best chance of defeating Soviet Russia was lost by aiming to win battles in the ‘classical’ way, instead of driving through as fast as possible to the moral-cum-economic objectives offered by Moscow and Leningrad—as Guderian, the leading exponent of the new school of mechanical mobile warfare, wished to do. On this key question Hitler had sided with the orthodox school.
This point by Liddell Hart is essential—had German Army Group North embraced a Blitzkrieg strategy as opposed to encirclement and blockade, the decision might have been different. Although Germany’s early Blitzkrieg victories in Poland, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France were far more limited in size and duration, this strategy would have met with far greater success than the result.
There can be no doubt that there were numerous factors which led to Soviet victory and Nazi Germany’s defeat on the Eastern Front. The scope of this paper will illustrate and discuss the role played by Leningrad in the former’s victory and the stumbling block in the latter’s downfall after August 1943.
Hitler’s strategy for Army Group North at Leningrad was to encircle and cut off the city and its inhabitants on 30 July 1941. Hitler’s decree dated 29 September 1941 read:
The Fuehrer has decided to have St. Petersburg [Leningrad] wiped off the face of the earth. The further existence of this large city is of no interest once Soviet Russia is overthrown . . . The intention is to close in on the city and raze it to the ground by artillery and by continuous air attack . . . Requests that the city be taken over will be turned down, for the problem of the survival of the population and of supplying it with food is one which cannot and should not be solved by us. In this war for existence we have no interest in keeping even part of this great city’s population.
Nearly one million Leningraders within the city died during the blockade—many during the winter’s epic cold of 1941-42. To include those Red Army soldiers who died in battles surrounding the city during the 872-day blockade is even more staggering —the total estimate between 1.6 and 2.0 million Soviet citizens. Richard Bidlack and Nikita Lomagin place the former statistic into historical perspective: “The lowest range of this estimate exceeds the total number of Americans, both military personnel and civilians, who have perished in all armed conflicts from 1776 through the current war in Afghanistan.” Putting the event in qualitative perspective, Bidlack and Lomagin suggest that after the Holocaust, the 872-day siege at Leningrad was the second-worst genocidal episode in history.
In addition to the deaths attributed to starvation, the elements and bombardments, Leningraders lost their lives working in defense of the city—building fortifications and digging anti-tank trenches outside of the city: “The Leningrad battlefront, with its entrenchments, wire, fortification, fixed defenses, emplacements and all the gear of positional warfare, looked like something from the First World War.” 98% of the Moscow section (in Leningrad) volunteered for the regular Soviet army in defense of their city; likewise, Leningrad’s economy converted to military production. Despite the devastation to the city, the few factory workers who remained continued to work and live at their jobs; in doing so, they were provided greater shelter and rations. The literature suggests that without the work of the city’s inhabitants, the Red Army would not have been able to stop the German Army Group’s destruction of Leningrad.
Historian David M. Glantz, in The Battle for Leningrad, 1941-1944, cites the long-range significance of Leningrad for Nazi Germany’s conquest of the Soviet Union:
The Germans’ unexpected failure to capture Leningrad in September and October 1941 had far-reaching strategic consequences. First, at Leningrad the concept of blitzkrieg failed for the first time in the Second World War, reinforcing what had begun to occur in July and August at Smolensk and anticipating what would occur at Moscow in December. Second, Army Group North’s failure to capture Leningrad forced Hitler to alter his Barbarossa strategy significantly. Instead of capturing Leningrad by a coup de main and then shifting forces to other axes, the desperate Soviet defense of Leningrad from July through December 1941 forced the Wehrmacht to reinforce Army Group North with 16 divisions and 2 brigades, including 7 divisions from Army Group Center. This weakened the main German drive on Moscow, perhaps fatally. During this most critical period of the war, 32 percent of the Wehrmacht’s forces operating north of the Pripiat’ Marshes, including almost two full panzer groups, were tied down in combat along or adjacent to the northwestern axis.
Army Group Center was ultimately defeated in 1944 following the lifting of the siege and defeat of Army Group North at Leningrad. Hitler was so fixated on Leningrad, that he had forsaken Moscow and Stalingrad; through the transfer of seven divisions from Army Group Center operating at Moscow, and the dispatch of Manstein’s Eleventh Army needed at Stalingrad, both objectives were weakened in favor of Leningrad.
1943: The Turning Point
On the Besieged Home Front
‘Operation Iskra’ or ‘Spark’ was ordered by Stalin and carried out at the beginning of 1943. The mission was carried out by the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts along with the Baltic Fleet in order to create a land connection to Leningrad.
After August 1943, the Soviet Union had achieved two crushing defeats of the Wehrmacht at Stalingrad and Kursk. The ‘Dnieper Line’ or the Dnieper River was the next north-south front for the Soviet advance. For Leningrad, a city of 3.2 million people at the start of the war, the population was down to 637,000 in 1943. This remaining twenty-percent of the original pre-war population would slowly begin in rebuilding their lives, with the blockade now broken, albeit through continued German air and artillery attacks.
The Red Army recaptured Smolensk at the end of September, which was followed by the liberation of Kiev on the 6th of November. Plans for the final liberation (January 1944) were nearly completed.
An Effective Defense
At Leningrad, the defensive infrastructure was holding, save for the continued air and artillery attacks from Army Group North. Despite this capability to hit targets within the city, the German Army group was weakened and no longer able to sustain an offensive. Glantz offers that Leningrad was the first city in the 20th Century which was able to withstand and halt an invasion:
Leningrad’s defenses set new standards of sophistication for the defense of a modem major city. Operating skillfully under the most trying of circumstances, the Northern and Leningrad Fronts erected complex and deeply echeloned defenses along the most critical southern and southwestern approaches to the city that incorporated the entire depth of the blockaded region and the city itself. For the first time during the war on the Soviet-German front, the defenses consisted of multiple fortified defensive lines, incorporating continuous trench lines, defensive regions, positions, and lines, and fortified regions, which while durable, also permitted forces to maneuver. The defense incorporated trenches, fortifications (pillboxes, bunkers, etc.), extensive obstacles, overhead cover for troops, and antiartillery, antitank, and antiaircraft defenses in the city itself.
This elaborate defensive network as articulated by Glantz enabled the continuation of food deliveries over Lake Ladoga’s “Ice Road” late in 1943. Lifelines to the city increased with the addition of a rail line through the Schlissel’burg corridor in the same year.
Former SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, the newly appointed commander-in-chief of Army Group Upper Rhine, gave praise to the rugged defense of Leningrad in 1944. Erickson, in detailing Himmler’s frustration with the German officers under his new command, who he referred to as ‘the people who belong to the officers’ clique’,” submits: “For this last-ditch defence Himmler drew upon Soviet experience, extolling Soviet methods and singling out the defence of Leningrad as a model that his officers should study and emulate.” Himmler’s frustration at the resilience exemplified by the Soviets after the lifting of the siege was not lost on his commanders in the field.
Military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) wrote that “We maintain unequivocally that the form of warfare that we call defense not only offers greater probability of victory than attack, but that its victories can attain the same proportions and results.” This was the case at Leningrad—the stout defense of the city, combined with the Red Army effort eventually wore down the German Eighteenth and Sixteenth Armies. Clausewitz’ aforementioned statement on defense, although oversimplified in On War, is supported by the exceptional standard set at Leningrad. That the city’s defenders in support of Red Army troops were able to hold off a formidable enemy is extraordinary in military history.
Soviet Offensives Weaken Army Group North
By late 1943 the siege was beginning to lessen in severity for the inhabitants of Leningrad while the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts’ attempts to envelop and destroy German forces in the Mga, Siniavino, and Tosno regions and significantly widen the Shhssel’burg corridor failed after only limited gains, they did tie down significant German forces and seriously weakened Army Group North. These fierce, costly, but largely ineffective offensives so weakened the German army group that by fall 1943 it was clearly no longer capable of withstanding another major Red Army offensive.
The weakening in troop strength and resources for Army Group North (Eighteenth and Sixteenth Armies) from 1943 onward was dramatic; and which, led to their 1944 retreat to the Panther Line and encirclement and surrender in 1945 at Latvia’s Courland Peninsula against numerically superior Russian forces. Historian Steven H. Newton, in Retreat from Leningrad: Army Group North 1944/1945 added statistical analysis to the troop and resource strengths of both German Army Group North and the Soviet Red Army and Air Force. He states that the numerical strength favored the Soviets in both July and October 1943, as revealed in Table One below. The most striking statistic from both Table One and Table Two (below) is the advantage possessed by the Red Army in Armored Fighting Vehicles in July and October 1943 (It may be statistically inferred that there was a linear decrease in Soviet Armored Fighting Vehicles in both August and September) and again in January 1944.
The Allied Lend Lease program had an extraordinary influence for the Soviet Red Army against Army Group North as noted in Table One, below. The Soviet build-up along the entire Eastern Front began in 1943’s push westward. The American-built jeeps, trucks and Lorries enabled the continued Soviet offensives to Berlin: “Without the trucks, each Soviet offensive during 1944-1945 would have come to a halt after a shallower penetration, allowing the Germans time to reconstruct their defenses and force the Red Army to conduct yet another deliberate assault.” The fighting around Leningrad was further hampered by problems with troop transportation for both the Wehrmacht and Red Army. The Red Army had the good fortune of American-built trucks made possible through Lend-Lease. It was through the use of these four-wheel drive trucks that the Red Army was able to push west through bad terrain and weather—the same weather and terrain that hampered movement for the Wehrmacht.
Lowered production of Soviet-made armaments and armored vehicles in the fall of 1943 led to a lower Artillery value and Armored Fighting Vehicle value in October 1943, as exhibited in Table One below:
Relative odds against Army Group North
Soviet Forces opposite Army Group North: July, October 1943
|Men||1.7 – 1||1.6 – 1|
|Artillery||1.9 – 1||1.5 – 1|
|Armored Fighting Vehicles||11.8 – 1||4.5 – 1|
Value positions: Soviets – Army Group North
An opposing viewpoint on the effects of Lend-Lease and the war at Leningrad during the latter half of 1943 is offered by historian Adam Tooze in The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy. In his ‘Albert Speer’ chapter, Tooze writes that US Lend-Lease did not affect the Eastern Front until 1943. Soviet successes prior to this are attributed to the “extraordinary concentration of Soviet production on a limited number of weapons produced in a handful of giant factories, permitting the fullest possible realization of economies of mass production.” Tooze completes this thought by adding this success came at a very high price—the starvation of millions of citizens due to the war effort. Labor roles of farm workers were greatly diminished in favor of factory work; only those who produced were given adequate rations.
A group Hitler referred to as “bandits,” the partisans were effective as an independent fighting force for the Soviet Union—operating in unison with Red Army leadership and strategies. Primarily tasked with destroying rail lines, communication infrastructure, bridges, vehicles and other targets, their efforts greatly impeded and demoralized the Wehrmacht throughout the war. In September 1943 Hitler’s generals at Leningrad pressed for a withdrawal; knowing that their firepower had been reduced in favor of operations at Smolensk and Kiev—after the realization in the futility of continued attempts at completing and maintaining the encirclement. Wehrmacht soldiers, who were exposed as a result of troop-withdrawals to the south, became the frequent target of partisan attacks. Anna Reid writes that “The head of the regional partisan organization claimed, in a memo to Stalin of 25 September, that his five thousand-odd men had blown up 673 road and railway bridges, destroyed 7,992 freight wagons and flatbeds and burned 220 warehouses, 2,307 lorries and cars, 91 planes and 152 tanks.”
1944: The Siege and Battle
On the Home Front and Battlefront
With the increased shipments of supplies across Lake Ladoga’s “Ice Road,” by mid-1943 the last of the city’s population that had survived the first two winters began to make an impact on the armaments industry—long awaited by not only by troops near and around Leningrad but along the Eastern Front to Moscow. With factories once again producing armaments to supply Red Army troops from Leningrad to Moscow, the timing was right for the final “Breakout Offensive” in January1944.
The planned breakout offensive entailed a three-pronged offensive. 52,000 Red Army troops were moved to the ‘Oranienbaum pocket’. The strategic area, or pocket, was south of Leningrad towards Peterhof and Pulkovo; and west of the Volkhov near Novgorod. Zhdanov had twice as many troops as his German counterpart—1.24 million compared to von Kuchler’s 741,000 men. Bidlack writes that “By the start of 1944, the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts greatly outnumbered Army Group North in troops, tanks, aircraft, and artillery. According to one historian, the Leningrad Front deployed more artillery for the offensive than the entire Russian Army had possessed in 1915.” At the beginning of Operation Barbarossa and shortly thereafter, Hitler was redeploying troops to the Leningrad Front—now however, he had weakened Army Group North by the redeployment of troops southward. The Red Army was not to be denied this breakout victory in January 1944.
1944 finally realized Leningrad’s blockade completely lifted—Glantz writes: “Along the northwestern axis, by 1 January 1944, the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts restored communications to Leningrad, removed any chance of a future German offensive against the city, and created conditions suitable for the utter defeat of German Army Group North.”
For those who remained in the city, fragments of their pre-blockaded lives were beginning to return. By summertime, Leningrad’s evacuees began returning and more than doubled the population in twelve months. Dimitri Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, broadcast worldwide via Leningrad radio, became classical music’s requiem for the besieged city in 1942—symbolic for the people throughout Russia. It was cultural icons such as Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony which steeled the resolve of the Leningraders in their return and 1944’s slow rebuild of the city. The city’s rebuild was subordinated however to the recommencing industrial capacity for military production. Anna Reid notes that “Slowest to return were surviving POWs. Of the approximately 4.5 million Soviet servicemen taken prisoner in total during the war, about 1.8 million were still alive at its end, the remainder having been executed (if Jewish or Party members), or killed by starvation and disease.”
Numbers on the Battlefield
The late Harrison E. Salisbury notes the crucial event, the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts’ restoration, in The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad: “The first meeting of Soviet troops came in the morning near Workers’ Settlement No. 1, about five miles southeast of Shlisselburg. There at 9:30 A.M. Simonyak’s 123rd Rifle Brigade met a unit of the 1240th Regiment of the 372nd Division from the Volkhov front.” For the Soviet military, the Red Army had twice the number of troops than the German army and complete air superiority (see the data in Table Two below) over the battlefield.
Relative odds against Army Group North at the beginning of Soviet Offensives, 1944
Soviet Forces opposite Army Group North: January 1944
|Men||2.1 – 1|
|Artillery||2.0 – 1|
|Armored Fighting Vehicles||10 – 1|
|Aircraft||3.7 – 1|
Value Positions: Soviets – Army Group North
Historian David M. Glantz offers a concise view of German Army Group North from the beginning of 1944 onward:
Because it understood how weak Army Group North was, and because raising the Leningrad blockade was still a high priority objective, the Stavka began its 1944 winter campaign in the Leningrad region before expanding it to the entire Soviet-German front. In January the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts, joined later by the 2d Baltic Front, began large-scale offensive operations that ultimately endured through the summer. From mid-January through February, the Leningrad, Volkhov, and 2d Baltic Fronts defeated Army Group North, raised the Leningrad blockade, and liberated the southern half of the Leningrad region. By doing so, they paved the way for the liberation of the Baltic region and the defeat of Army Group Center in BeloRussia in the summer of 1944.
To Glantz’s point—citing “Army Group Weakness,” there is an alternative interpretation of Army Group North’s strength for 1944. Newton writes, by factoring-in the number of division headquarters against the combat strength of an army or army group, a more accurate picture is attained. The data-set derived from this formula is a value known as ‘Division Slice’. The Division Slice is attained by “dividing the combat strength of an army or army group by the number of division headquarters in the organization. This method has the advantage of averaging out the strength of non-divisional combat units into the fighting divisions.” This is germane to this paper for the following reason: Army Group North was regarded as one of the better tactical forces in the Wehrmacht: “On a tactical level, Army Group North was the most successful higher headquarters on the Eastern Front, and perhaps in the entire German Army during the last half of the war—its only serious competition for this honor being Army Group C in Italy. Despite being outnumbered by 3-1 in divisions, 3-1 in artillery, and 6-1 in tanks, assault guns, and aircraft, the Eighteenth Army avoided encirclement and destruction in January-February 1944 …” As this data shows, they were a strong fighting force in their retreat. That Leningrad’s inhabitants in support of diluted Red Army units were capable of both halting the capture of their city and forcing the retreat is significant.
From the figures in Table Three below, Newton’s computation illustrates the combat strength of Army Group North from mid-1943 until the end of the war. While the number of divisions peaked at 43 in March 1944 (row 3, column 3), and reached a low of 34 December 1944, the Division Slice data-figure remained fairly constant—excluding the May 1945 figure (row 7, column 3), whose low value is owed to the end of the war.
“Division Slice,” Army Group North, 1944-1945
|Date||Total Strength||Divisions||Division slice|
|1 January 1944||602,583||39||15,451|
|1 March 1944||567,147||43||13,189|
|1 June 1944||617,677||38||16,254|
|1 September 1944||510,000||40||12,750|
|1 December 1944||505,586||34||14,870|
|7 May 1945||200,000||20||10,000|
Table Three note: The mean, or average, for the Division Slice is 14,502. This number omits the 7 May 1945 number of 10,000. It is interesting that the highest number for Army Group North was in June 1944—a fact Hitler would not have been delighted to know.
Newton offers that the German Army Group was able to maintain its strength due to the German replacement system; of which, a disproportionate were allocated to Army Group North over the rest of the front—they suffered 13.5% of the casualties and received 22.3% of the replacements—as the data in Table Four shows (row 2, columns 3 and 5) below. This is noteworthy on two levels: Newton advises that neither Hitler nor successive Chiefs of the Army General Staff were aware of the excessive numbers of replacements funneled to Army Group North—now considered a secondary front in 1943. The German replacement system was an outdated system—a holdover from the Prussian Wars of Unification. Secondly, the 40,000 replacement soldiers sent to the Leningrad front might have made a difference at Kursk in 1943. It then might be considered, had these replacements deployed to Army Group Center, could the siege and battle of Leningrad have ended sooner with Army Group North forced to retreat at an earlier date? Furthermore, might Kursk have turned in favor of Germany with these additional 40,000 soldiers? While these questions are intriguing, both are beyond the scope of this paper, but highlight the importance of Leningrad—even if the 40,000 replacement troops were at Leningrad in-error.
German Replacements in Russia
December 1942-August 1943
|Army Group||Losses||% of Total Losses||Replacements||% of Total Losses||Net|
Table Four: Army Group North suffered 13.5% of the casualties and received 22.3% of the replacements
Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation: 14 January 1944 – 1 March 1944
Lifting of the siege on 27 January 1944 was made possible by Red Army victory in the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation; of which, involved three fronts: Leningrad, Volkhov and Second Baltic, plus the Baltic Fleet. Naval guns, in the Baltic and Gulf of Finland, fell under the command and direction of Red Army commanders on the ground, and were effective at destroying Wehrmacht targets inland. At the beginning of the Offensive, German forces were just ten kilometers from Leningrad—a Red Army triumph was urgent. Russian strength consisted of 822,000 troops supported by 10,070 Russian guns, 385 tanks and 370 planes. As shown in Table One above, the Red Army enjoyed a 10 to 1-odds advantage in Armored Fighting Vehicles and 3.7 to 1-odds advantage over Army Group North during this operation. After the Offensive had ended, Army Group North was pushed over one-hundred kilometers south and south-west from Leningrad and eighty kilometers west of Novgorod.
Partisans at the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation
In January 1944, the Leningrad Partisan Movement figured prominently in the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation. Glantz notes, that in preparation for the Offensive
Partisan brigades, regiments, detachments, and small groups conducted extensive reconnaissance and diversionary work during the pre-preparatory period. For example, the Leningrad Headquarters of the Partisan Movement reported that 22,000 partisans in Leningrad region killed 21,556 Germans and destroyed 58,563 rails, 51 railroad and 247 road bridges, 136 trains, 509 kilometers of telegraph lines, 1,620 vehicles, 811 carts, 28 warehouses, 33 tanks, and 4 aircraft from 14 January through 1 March 1944.
That the War on the Eastern Front was made more difficult by the lack of an adequate rail system throughout the Soviet Union, along with the difference in rail-system gauges, the partisans’ sabotage and destruction of rails, railroad bridges, and trains were of immeasurable value for the Leningrad cause. Along their eastward assault through the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht had to change out rails to match the gauge commonly used throughout Germany. The existing rail system throughout the Soviet Union was purposely left under-developed by Stalin, following the First World War, as a defense against an invader. This “rail defense” and the work of the partisans proved effective in disrupting German troop movement and equipment transportation which was vital for success at Leningrad and the Eastern Front.
In what has been called a “poor man’s war,” battles along the Eastern Front became a war of numbers, measured in extremes of distance and temperature—and in deaths. In pitting the largely agrarian Soviet Union against the industrialized by economically desperate Germany, it became an economic struggle—could the Soviets aided by Lend-Lease, outlast an over-extended and broke Wehrmacht? By the numbers, the Red Army had more troops than the Wehrmacht by two-to-one. The Partisans, operating throughout the Eastern Front, did not factor-in to Soviet troop strength; while statistically insignificant, their sheer numbers when “multiplied” by their harassment and destructiveness was of indeterminate value in defeating the German Eighteenth and Sixteenth Armies at Leningrad.
Former Wehrmacht officer William Lubbeck, who served with Army Group North during the war, writes that the partisans’ effectiveness had succeeded in disrupting transportation operations for Germany’s Leningrad front: “They eventually grew so powerful that the German Army deployed whole divisions behind the lines to conduct counterinsurgency operations to secure the rail links to our army at the front. Even with these efforts, the partisans frequently succeeded in disrupting our rail network and impeding the movement of troops and supplies.” It can be stated that much of the Soviet success in the Leningrad area can be attributed to the sabotage performed by the partisans.
Support for the partisans’ mission grew in those occupied countries over the tyranny induced on local populations at the hands of the Generalkommissariat (Nazi political officials). Lubbeck writes that most of his fellow German soldiers resented this treatment of Soviet citizens: “Most of the German soldiers around me felt a deep bitterness at the suffering that these Goldfasanen [Goldfinches] intentionally and unnecessarily inflicted on the Soviet civilian population. This ideologically inspired cruelty led many of the occupied peoples that had once welcomed us as liberators to shift their support to the partisans working for a Communist victory.” This “ideologically-inspired cruelty” was just one component of the structural failure-mechanism for Nazi Germany at Leningrad and for their entire war. The Wehrmacht may have had strategic and possibly tactical successes by embracing local populations as opposed to rape and their “scorched-earth” policy.
This two-fold mission of the partisans—garnering local support and harassment of the enemy— while not easily quantifiable based on currently available records beyond the fighting in 1942, was significant towards the Soviet struggle at Leningrad. The number of enrolled partisan fighters grew from 2,993 on 1 January 1943 to 14,358 on 1 November. The Partisan forces and movement’s evolution took time to develop and strengthen; their relevance might have been negated had Hitler employed Blitzkrieg tactics early at Leningrad as opposed to a static blockade—a strategy they could not economically win.
The Siege and Battle for Leningrad came at great costs for both Germany and the Soviet Union. As shown in Table Five below (row 5, column 3), the Red Army’s staggering loss of 775,000 men eclipsed that of the total strength of Army Group North—an overwhelming statistic. The ratio of troops lost from January to March at the height of the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation in 1944 was 3:1—in favor of Germany. When the Division Slice value (Table Three) is factored in for Army Group North during this period, we are right at the median value of 14,320—which is just 182 points below the median value for the January through December 1944 time-period—statistically insignificant. To Clausewitz’s earlier principle on defense, it does apply in this example, save for the victory, and the proportions held true.
Soviet & German Losses in the Liberation of Leningrad: The Leningrad Front
July 1943-April 1944
|Aggressor||Period||Casualties||Killed or Missing|
|Soviet Union||July to December 1943||260,000||67,000|
|Soviet Union||January to March 1944||314,000||77,000|
|Soviet Union||March to April 1944||200,000|
|Soviet Union||July 1943 through April 1944 totals||775,000|
|Germany||January to March 1944||100,000||29,000|
The combined loss of 414,000 soldiers from both the Soviet Union and Germany is attributed to the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation, which occurred January to March 1944.
As shown in Table Seven below, the total Soviet casualty figure of 227,440 out of an initial strength of 417,600 (row 2, columns 2 and 5) at the Leningrad Front during the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation is just over 54%—a startling statistic that addresses the significance of this operation. From Chris Bellamy’s research in Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War, the author submits that the Russians had deployed more fighting power at the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts than was deployed for the counteroffensive at Stalingrad: “By the time the operation started, on 14 January, the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts between them had 21,600 guns, 15,000 Katyusha multiple rocket-launchers, 1,475 tanks and self-propelled guns and 1,500 planes.”
Table Six below, with data from the research by David M. Glantz and Jonathan House, shows the Soviet strength at the beginning of the Battle of Stalingrad in September 1942. Row 8, Column 8, in Table Six aggregates troop strength at Stalingrad.
Soviet Strength at the Stalingrad Front
3 September 1942
|Unit||Rifle Divisions||Destroyer Brigades||Motorized Rifle Brigades||Tank Corps||Tank Brigade||Tank Battalion||Total Men|
|4th Tank Army||5||1||1||40,000|
|1st Guards Army||8||3||80,000|
Soviet Red Army troop-strength was greater for the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation in January 1944 (417,600) than for the Stalingrad front in September 1942 (335,000) These numbers do not include partisans.
To remain unbiased in this comparative synthesis of Leningrad, the literature does not provide a quantitative analysis of armament production as it relates to their ultimate destinations—whether they were the Leningrad fronts through 1943 through 1945, or for Stalingrad from 1941 through 1943. Thus, while the Red Army advance in the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation had more firepower than that at Stalingrad, it cannot be stated that it was due to increases in armament production—merely that there was more firepower.
The German Eighteenth and Sixteenth Armies were the first units to see a reversal of Hitler’s “No retreat” policy—a long-standing course of action in effect along the entire front and Leningrad since 1941. The overwhelming Soviet strength succeeded in driving German forces rearward past the Panther Line and into the Courland Pocket.
Soviet Military Casualties
Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation
14 January 1944-1 March 1944
|Operation||Initial Strength||KIA, MIA, Captured||WIA, Sick||Total|
|Leningrad Front (minus 23rd Army)||417,600||56,564||170,876||227,440|
|1st Shock Army (2d Baltic Front) (14.1-10.2.44)||54,900||1,283||3,759||5,042|
|2d Baltic Front (10.2-1.3.44)||–||6,659||23,051||29,710|
The percentage of total Soviet casualties sustained at the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation was a disconcerting 54.4% of the Leningrad Front’s initial strength. These numbers do not include partisans.
Army Group North was weakened in mid-1943, from non-decisive battles, it had lost all initiative. Glantz summarizes the outlook for Soviet victory at Leningrad in relation to the overall war-effort along the Eastern Front: “Because it understood how weak Army Group North was, and because raising the Leningrad blockade was still a high priority objective, the Stavka began its 1944 winter campaign in the Leningrad region before expanding it to the entire Soviet-German front.” Leningrad, as the northwestern component of the three Soviet axes, is placed in perspective by Glantz:
However, despite the heavy fighting, for a variety of political, geographical, and military reasons, the Stavka did not consider the northwestern axis the most vital strategic axis in the war. That honor belonged to the vital western (Moscow-Minsk-Warsaw-Berlin) and, at times, the southwestern (Kiev-Khar’kov-Stalingrad) strategic axes, where, like the Germans, the Stavka well understood that it had to achieve victory if it were to prevail in the war. Therefore, both the Wehrmacht and the Red Army consistently concentrated their most important offensive and defensive efforts along these axes. However, this shared appreciation also made it impossible for either side to win along the western axis unless they won elsewhere. In short, the Germans could not capture Moscow in 1941, 1942, and 1943 unless and until they weakened Soviet defenses along the Moscow axis by operating successfully along other axes. Conversely, after defeating Army Group Center at Moscow in 1941 and 1942 and at Rzhev in late 1942, the Red Army appreciated that it could not win along the western axis unless it achieved victory elsewhere.
Could the Soviet Union have won their war had the northwestern axes of Leningrad been lost? This question is answered by Glantz, above; the Red Army could not have won the Eastern Front without winning at Leningrad. His assertion is open to a dual-interpretation: To win the Eastern Front, all three axes must be taken. Explanations for Stavka choosing to begin along the northwestern Leningrad axes might be explained as 1) Alleviate the suffering of the formerly besieged city and 2) Army Group North represented a more quickly winnable objective. Glantz, in noting the “domino effect” earlier battles for the Soviets had on victories elsewhere: “Likewise, the Red Army’s victory at Leningrad in early 1944 paved the way for Soviet victory in Belorussia and western Ukraine in the summer of 1944 by weakening the Wehrmacht overall and by releasing fresh large reserves for employment along other critical axes.” The enormity and complexity of the War in the Eastern Front for Hitler’s Nazi Germany was clearly beyond the scope of victory—both economically and strategically. Hitler’s deadly miscalculation of Soviet strength and capabilities brought Nazi Germany’s downfall.
The victory at Leningrad was truly a two-part chronicle—a victory-struggle for the citizen-civilians who sacrificed for their city and their lives, as well as a battlefield victory for the Red Army which suffered disproportionate casualties. One story cannot be told without the other.
The Battle for Leningrad was not the most decisive battle of the war on the Eastern Front—that distinction may well be granted to Stalingrad, Kursk or Moscow. Lifting of the siege however, represented an extraordinary victory for the Red Army and the city’s surviving civilians, given the duress from famine and extreme winters. In no other city, in any theater, did citizens join forces with their military to successfully repel and defeat an invader as they had at Leningrad. Militarily, the triumph in driving the Eighteenth and Sixteenth Armies back during the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation boosted the morale for the Soviet Union at a critical stage in their war. This victory along the northwestern-third of the three Soviet axes was essential in the Soviet campaign to Berlin.
For Germany, Leningrad was a failure on two levels: Firstly, it was a strategic miscalculation. The city, originally the prime objective of Hitler’s eastward conquest for Lebensraum and symbolic defeat of Bolshevism, represented a failure for Nazi Germany by abandoning Blitzkrieg warfare in favor of a static encirclement—a long-term strategy the Wehrmacht and Nazi Germany was not equipped to win. Germany had not mobilized its economy for war; as such, Army Group North did not have the requisite logistics and mobility to complete the encirclement—much of their logistical chain and infantry was equine-powered. Had the Eighteenth and Sixteenth Armies pushed through Leningrad employing their previously successful Blitzkrieg-style approach, before the Soviet construction of defensive fortifications, the outcome would have been different—even still with the continued reliance on horses. The Red Army, in disarray after the ‘Winter War’ with Finland, was incapable of winning or resisting a serious assault of Leningrad. Glantz describes the state of the Red Army’s ability to defend Leningrad in 1941:
… [As] required by Soviet war plans, Leningrad Military District’s forces were clearly adequate to defend the Leningrad region against any Finnish attack, Popov’s forces were not prepared to deal with aggression by the Wehrmacht, which in 1941 was the most formidable and accomplished military force in Europe. Like the Red Army as a whole, district forces were in serious disarray in June 1941, conceptually, organizationally, and with regard to the competence of its leaders and the effectiveness of its command and control organs. Conceptually, the Red Army’s overall military strategy as expressed in Defense Plan 1941 was clearly defensive in nature. As such, it was wholly incompatible with the offensive tactical and operational concepts of deep battle and deep operation, which the Red Army had developed in the 1930s and which still dominated Soviet military thought on the eve of war.
Provided the lack of readiness and state of the Red Army at Leningrad in 1941, a blitzkrieg assault through the city would have succeeded, and as a result the operations at Moscow would have taken a different tone—for both Germany and Soviet Union. Secondly, Leningrad was a strategic collapse for Germany by way of the static defensive posture. This approach afforded the Red Army time to react and strategize, benefitted by numerical superiority in troops, armored vehicles, tanks and aircraft in 1943 and beyond.
By defeating Army Group North and lifting the siege, the Red Army turned the flank and the war itself in June 1944. Leningrad victory was essential for the westward drive to Berlin from the three Soviet axes as determined by Glantz: “… the Red Army’s victory at Leningrad in early 1944 paved the way for Soviet victory in Belorussia and western Ukraine in the summer of 1944 by weakening the Wehrmacht overall and by releasing fresh large reserves for employment along other critical axes.” Had the German Eighteenth and Sixteenth Armies conquered Leningrad by blitzkrieg or encirclement, the Wehrmacht would have joined forces with their apprehensive and reticent ally Finland, and provided a formidable northern-force stabilizing future operations southward: “If Leningrad had fallen or surrendered in September , Army Group North might have swung south to tip the scales in the encirclement of Moscow.” The Gulf of Finland and North Sea would have been completely Nazi-controlled, following the Baltic Fleet’s defeat. Soviet armaments factories such as Kirov, Izhora, Frunze, and Bol’shevik would have been completely shut-off, providing additional munitions to the Germans and crippling the Soviet war effort between Leningrad and Moscow. The Soviet T-34 tank—the workhorse of the Red Army, was produced at the Kirov Tank Factory which had been moved to Chelyabinsk. This factory had sixty-four production lines—to have lost this capacity early in the war to Nazi Germany would have been disastrous for the Red Army.
In closing, Max Hastings’ powerful summarization of the Siege and Battle for Leningrad, while replete with euphemism and rhetoric, is a haunting assessment of the costs paid by both dictators: “Both Hitler and Stalin displayed obsessive stubbornness about Leningrad. That of Stalin was finally rewarded, amid a mountain of corpses. A people who could endure such things displayed qualities the Western Allies lacked, which were indispensable to the destruction of Nazism. In the auction of cruelty and sacrifice, the Soviet dictator proved the higher bidder.” Leningrad’s contribution to victory on the Eastern Front is undeniable; the city’s war was won by soldiers, citizens and partisans alike.
Bellamy, Chris. Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War. New York: Vintage Books, 2008.
Bidlack, Richard and Nikita Lomagin. The Leningrad Blockade, 1941-1944: A New Documentary History from the Soviet Archives. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.
Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin: Stalin’s War with Germany. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983. Page references are to the 1999 edition.
———. The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin’s War with Germany. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.
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Frieser, Karl-Heinz. The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2005.
Fritz, Stephen G. Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2011.
Glantz, David M. The Battle for Leningrad 1941-1944. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002.
———. To the Gates of Stalingrad: Soviet-German Combat Operations, April-August 1942. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2009.
Glantz, David M. and Jonathan House. Armageddon at Stalingrad: September-November 1942. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2009.
———. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1995.
Hastings, Max. Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
Howard, Michael and Peter Paret, eds. Carl Von Clausewitz: On War. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.
Liddell Hart, B.H. Strategy. New York: Meridian, 1954. Page references are to the 1991 edition.
Lubbeck, William and David Hurt. At Leningrad’s Gates: The Combat Memoirs of a Soldier with Army Group North. Philadelphia: Casemate, 2006.
Overy, Richard. The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia. Old Saybrook, CT: Konecky & Konecky, 2004. Page references are to the 2006 edition.
Reid, Anna. Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944. New York: Walker & Company, 2011.
Salisbury, Harrison E. The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1985. Page references are to the 2003 edition.
Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1959. Page references are to the 1990 edition.
Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy. New York: Viking, 2007
 Anna Reid, Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944 (New York: Walker & Company, 2011) 4.
 B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy (New York: Meridian, 1991) 240.
 Richard Bidlack and Nikita Lomagin, chronology to The Leningrad Blockade, 1941-1944: A New Documentary History From the Soviet Archives (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012)
 Ibid., 32.
 Richard Overy, The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006) 441, 488.
 Karl-Heinz Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2005) 6.
 B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy (New York: Meridian, 1991) 348.
 William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 1990) 854.
 Richard Bidlack and Nikita Lomagin, The Leningrad Blockade, 1941-1944: A New Documentary History from the Soviet Archives (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012) 1-2.
 John Erickson, The Road to Berlin: Stalin’s War with Germany (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999) 167.
 David M. Glantz, The Battle for Leningrad, 1941-1944 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002) 459-460.
 Harrison E. Salisbury, The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2003) 546.
 Anna Reid, Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944 (New York: Walker & Company, 2011) 383.
 David M. Glantz, The Battle for Leningrad, 1941-1944 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002) 463.
 John Erickson, The Road to Berlin: Stalin’s War with Germany (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999) 398.
 Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Carl von Clausewitz: On War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989) 392.
 David M. Glantz, The Battle for Leningrad, 1941-1944 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002) 461.
 David M. Glantz and Jonathan House, When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1995) 150.
 Steven H. Newton, Retreat from Leningrad: Army Group North 1944/1945 (Atglen, PA: Shiffer Military History, 1995) 296.
 Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (New York: Viking, 2007) 589.
 Anna Reid, Leningrad: The epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944 (New York: Walker & Company, 2011) 382.
 Ibid., 383.
 Richard Bidlack and Nikita Lomagin, The Leningrad Blockade: A New Documentary History from the Soviet Archives (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012) 66.
 David M. Glantz, The Battle for Leningrad, 1941-1944 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002) 327-328.
 Anna Reid, Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944 (New York: Walker & Company, 2011) 392.
 Harrison E. Salisbury, The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad (New York: Da Capo Press, 2003) 548.
 Steven H. Newton, Retreat from Leningrad: Army Group North 1944/1945 (Atglen, PA: Shiffer Military History, 1995) 296.
 Ibid., 300.
 Ibid., 295.
 Ibid, 300.
 Ibid., 300-301.
 Ibid., 301.
 Chris Bellamy, Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War (New York: Vintage Books, 2008) 405.
 Ibid., 406.
 David M. Glantz, The Battle for Leningrad, 1941-1944 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002) 412.
 William Lubbeck and David B. Hurt, At Leningrad’s Gates: The Story of a Soldier with Army Group North (Philadelphia: Casemate, 2006) Kindle Edition.
 Stephen G. Fritz, Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2011) 386-387.
 Chris Bellamy, Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War (New York: Vintage Books, 2008) 405.
 David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House, Armageddon in Stalingrad: September-November 1942 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2009) 30.
 David M. Glantz, The Battle for Leningrad, 1941-1944 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002) 544.
 Ibid., 461.
 Ibid., 462.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., 462.
 Richard Overy, Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 1998) 112.
 John Erickson, The Road to Berlin: Stalin’s War with Germany (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999) 78.
 Max Hastings, Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) 307-308.