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The Epic Siege of Leningrad : World War II

MG is a senior air warrior who has seen combat and is an alumnus of the Staff College and a writer on military matters.



In western Russia on the Baltic Sea is a city that breaths history. It is the city that heralded the start of the October revolution in 1917. It is the city of Leningrad. Unfortunately, if you look at the map of Russia on the Atlas you will not find this name now. You will find the name of Saint Petersburg. How come this change? During the days of communist rule, the city of St. Petersburg had been renamed as Leningrad, in honor of Vladimir Lenin who led the October revolution.

History is a cycle and that cycle came back to the starting point after the collapse of the Communist regime and the USSR in 1991. The Russian government in one of its first steps after the overthrow of communism renamed the city of Leningrad as St Petersburg which was its original name after the Russian emperor Peter the Great.

On 22 June 1941 Hitler launched his invasion of Russia. Josef Stalin was the leader of Russia but he underestimated the German threat. There are reports that when Stalin was apprised of the Intelligence reports of an impending invasion of Russia he reportedly used a 4 letter for the agent.

The OKW amassed 3 armies for the invasion. It was the greatest invasion in world history, dwarfing even the invasions of Genghis Khan. The Russians under Stalin were unprepared and suffered massive defeats. The German armies made swift progress and by the end 1941 were deep in Russia and were within handshaking distance of Moscow. They had also converged on Leningrad and Hitler expected its imminent fall and capture. Hitler was keen to capture Leningrad, as the city had a fond association with the Russian revolution.


The battle

The German army converged on Leningrad. The commander was Field Marshal Wilhelm von Leeb. He was a very decorated officer of the German army and in 1946 was tried by an American tribunal for crimes. He was awarded three years imprisonment and released. He died in 1956.

During the campaign, he was part of Army Group North. Leeb made good progress during the initial stage of the battle and by ninth August was just 70 miles short of Leningrad. He had crossed the Luga river.

The Finns who had a score to settle with the Russians were the allies of Germany and they also attacked from the north. Leningrad looked like a ripe plum ready to fall. Field Marshal Von Leeb accordingly made his report to Hitler.

Von Leeb had one arm tied behind his back. Though he had surrounded the city the German assault did not take place. This is an example of the capricious thinking of the dictator. The Fuhrer communicated to Leeb that the priority of the German army had changed. He ordered Leeb to allow the transfer of large numbers of Panzers from his force to attack in the south and capture the Caucasus oil fields.

The Russians got breathing space and the Red army commander General Gregory Zhukov visited Leningrad and beefed up the defenses. The Russians prepared for a long siege. The OKW expected Leeb to launch the assault with available forces. When the expected offensive did not take place In march 1942, an exasperated Hitler removed Von Leeb from command.

Leeb was replaced by Field Marshal von Kuchler. After the war, he was tried in the High Command Trial at Nuremberg and on 27 October 1948 was sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment for war crimes. He was released in 1953 and died in 1968( aged 86)

Von Klucher could not do much as the Russians had beefed up their defenses. In the meantime, severe fighting continued in the suburbs of Leningrad. Kuchler advocated a tactical withdrawal and counterattack. Hitler was livid at the idea and replaced Kuchler with Field Marshal Von Manstein.

Despite Manstein being made the commander, the Germans could not make headway against stiffened resistance under command of General Meretskov. He is an honored general of the Red Army and is buried in the Kremlin wall necropolis.

There was a frequent change of areas but the Germans were unable to break into the city. The Russian and German armies fought on the outskirts of the city but inside the city, there was hunger and famine. Over 1 million Russians died of hunger out of a population of 2.6 million. Despite this tragedy, the Russians did not give in and continued to fight.

There was only one supply line across the Ladoga river. This was repeatedly bombed by the Luftwaffe. In September 1942, Meretskov launched an offensive, but Manstein blunted the attack. It was followed by hand to hand fighting. In January 1943, four Russian armies under Marshal Leonid Govorov attacked and in a ferocious battle, the Germans were pushed back.

With the German army having been pushed back the supply position improved. After a long time, oil and fuel were transported to Leningrad. The train line was made operational and the situation improved radically.

The defeat at Stalingrad had an effect and the Russians mounted an offensive and broke the German siege. On 27th January 1944, the rail line from Moscow to Leningrad was recaptured by the Russians, and the siege was officially declared over.


Victory: but so many dead

It was a tremendous battle of wills. The Russians prevailed because they were more resolute and they were the winners. If figures have a meaning then the siege of Leningrad lasted 907 days and is a tribute to the human spirit.

The Leningrad siege is an example of what the human body can achieve. It brings out the spirit of man. The tide had now turned against the Germans and the Wehrmacht went into the retreat. There was no looking back now as the Germans began to dread falling into the hands of the ˜Russians. It was inevitable after the atrocities they had committed on the Russian population and the POWs. During this war, the Russian suffered 20 million dead and the Germans 10 million. What a futile way to die.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 26, 2020:

Great, Tom, I must read this book

tom on September 26, 2020:

famous book 900 days by harrison salisbury ,movie attack on leningrad

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 24, 2020:

Pamela, thank you for commenting

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 24, 2020:

The siege of Leningrad sure lasted a long time and the number dead on both sides is horrible. It seems like such a waste. I appreciate your explanation as to what happened. It is another piece of history, like it or not.

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