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Siege of Leningrad

The Siege of Leningrad was the German siege of the city of Leningrad, from September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944. In total, the siege lasted 900 days. The operation ended with the failure of Army Group North to capture the city and a Soviet victory.


After Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, Leningrad was besieged. The city's loss would have devastated Soviet morale, and the 872-day siege came to symbolize the Soviet people's determination.


Despite the city's importance, little was done to prepare for a siege until the last minute because no one believed that the Germans would progress so far. When action was taken, the city's defenses were prioritized. Hundreds of thousands of citizens, including schoolchildren, were mobilized to dig 547 km of antitank ditches and two 575 km of trenches. The German encirclement began on 8 September 1941 when the 20th Motorized Infantry Division and supporting units captured Shlisselburg, isolating Leningrad. In August, German forces reached the city’s outskirts and the shores of Lake Ladoga, cutting off the the city from the Russian Army. The Germans were unable to push their tanks into the city despite having cut off the city's land communications. Instead, they decided to starve the city into surrender. The Soviets were caught off-guard. Nobody had the mind to order stockpiling food - there were only grain reserves for five days left in the city - and the women, children and the elderly had not been evacuated. In November, Russian forces repelled a strong German attack and held firm along the tenuous resupply routes across the frozen Lake Ladoga.

As winter set in, the population begin to die of starvation. When Lake Ladoga froze over, it proved possible to build the so-called "road of life": a road across the lake which was used to transport supplies. The city survived thanks to the patriotism instilled in the young and old. British War Correspondent Alexander Worth visiting the Kirov Works plant reported seeing a young woman whose eyes showed "great weariness'' and a "tough of almost animal terror", but when he asked another girl whether she wanted to be transferred to a less exposed factory, he was told, "No, I am a Kirov girl and my father was a Putilov man."[1]

In 1942, huge battles were fought as the Red Army attempted to break the encirclement. However, the siege was only briefly lifted the following January. The siege itself was only broken after a year of continuous bombardment.

Shortly after this temporary Russian success, the Bolshoi Drama Theatre ensemble was ordered back to Leningrad. Their arrival and shows starting in March 1943 greatly helped the morale of the civilians and soldiers and sailors on leave that would stand for hours at the entrance of the theatre in order to get a ticket.[2]

Leningrad never again suffered the terrible famine of the first winter; it had endured the hardest part of the bloodiest siege in history.

Nevertheless, life in the city during the remainder of siege was dreadful. The citizens were badly starved and malnourished, the lack of heating meant that many would die of the winter cold. One common practice to gain extra rations was to hide the dead and use their ration cards. Cannibalism on corpses was also practiced.[N 1] Anybody who looked well-fed was viewed with deep suspicion.

One witness account was of a doctor's, who visited a family. He described what he saw:

On 14 January 1944, the Russian Army attacked the German defences outside Oranienbaum, Volkhov and Novgorod. Between 19 and 26  January, the Russians captured Krasnoe Selo, Pushkin, Slutsk, Mga, Gatchina and Krasnogvardeisk, forcing the Germans to abandon the siege, leaving behind their heavy artillery guns in the process. The city celebrated that night with fireworks, music and army rations.

On 26 January 1945, Stalin's government awarded the survivors the Medal for Defense of Leningrad.



  1. During the course of the seige, 226 people were arrested for this offence.[3]


  1. Frozen Tears: The Blockade and Battle of Leningrad, Albert Jan Pleysier, p. 146 , University Press of America, 2008
  2. Frozen Tears: The Blockade and Battle of Leningrad, Albert Jan Pleysier, p. 145, University Press of America, 2008
  3. Roberts, Andrew. The Storm of War - A new history of the Second World War. Penguin Books. ISBN 978 0 141 02928 3. (2010). Page 172