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From the Presidential Library collections: how Hitler's plan "to level Leningrad to the ground" was frustrated at the first stage of the blockade

10 July 2018

July 10, 2018 marks 77 years since the start of the battle for Leningrad - one of the most fierce and protracted during the Great Patriotic War. The unprecedented confrontation between the Soviet army and the German invaders is illustrated in the materials from the Presidential Library's collections, which are included in the large-scale electronic collection "Memory of the Great Victory".  

Military historiographers conditionally subdivide the battle for Leningrad into four stages: battles on the outskirts of the city, active defence in the conditions of the fascist blockade, the breaking of a blockade and the final rout of the enemy. The first stage was for our army and city residents the most bitter and painful trial, because we retreated…

July 10, 1941 the Nazi troops went on the attack on the entire front from Pskov to Idritsa. The fighting on the approaches to Leningrad began almost simultaneously on the Luga, Novgorod and Starorussky, Petrozavodsk and Olonets directions, as well as in Estonia. It was difficult, but the 11th and 177th infantry divisions of the North-Western Front managed to provide organized resistance to enemy tank attacks and infantry. All the Germans' attempts to break through the defences at the border of the Plyussa River failed. The battles took a protracted nature.

Electronic copies of the Presidential Library's rare books, which can be read in its electronic reading room, explain why the military-political leadership of fascist Germany defined Leningrad as one of the primary targets of its aggression. In the study of G. Shigin in 2004 "The Battle for Leningrad: Major Operations, "White Spots", Losses", we read: "Hitler regarded the capture of Leningrad politically as a blow to the "nest of Bolshevism". From military and economic positions, mastery of the city provided Germany with control over the whole Baltic Sea, guaranteed the safety of bringing high-quality iron ore from Sweden, nickel, chromium and other metals from Finland (without which it was impossible to produce high-quality weapons). The loss of Leningrad significantly crippled the economy of the USSR, and also predetermined the circumventing Moscow from the north". And further in the book of Shigin the following data are given: "In terms of the value of the gross output of industrial products, the city was in second place in 1940 after Moscow, it was the flagship of shipbuilding. In Leningrad, 30 percent of military production was fixed". 

Hitler wrote in his diary: "To level Moscow and Leningrad to the ground in order to completely get rid of the population of these cities, which otherwise we (Germany) will later have to feed during the winter. The task of destroying cities must be carried out by aviation. For this, tanks should not be used". It would be, according to Hitler, "a national disaster that will deprive the centers of not only Bolshevism, but also the Russians in general". This is a quotation from the book of the authors' team edited by S. P. Platonov "The Battle for Leningrad, 1941-1944" of the 1964 issue, which has been already digitized in the Presidential Library.  

"Taking into account the value of Leningrad in the life of the Soviet state", the authors continue, - "the German fascist command, in the plans for an aggressive war against the USSR, designated it as the primary object of its aggression. "Hitler's strategic goals", - writes former fascist Field Marshal Manstein, "rested primarily on political and military-economic considerations. This was primarily the capture of Leningrad, which he saw as the cradle of Bolshevism, which was supposed to bring him both a connection with the Finns and domination of the Baltic states". This idea was clearly expressed by the German High Command in Directive №21 of the Barbarossa plan".

One of the three strategic groupings of the Wehrmacht - Army Group North, commanded by the representative of the old guard of career officers, 65-year-old Field Marshal Wilhelm von Leib: behind him stood 29 selected divisions, the newest weapons, had to capture the city.

By July 10, the troops of the North group, preparing an offensive against Leningrad, were numerically superior to the forces of the North-Western Front: 2.4 times for infantry, 4 times for guns, 5.8 times for mortars, 1,2 times for tanks. To support the advance of Army Group “North” was to be the 1st air fleet numbering 1,070 aircraft, while the North-Western Front had only 102 serviceable aircraft, such data are quoted in the above-mentioned book by I. Barbashin.

The electronic copy of V. Zubakov's 1960 book "The Neva Stronghold. The Battle for Leningrad during the Great Patriotic War (1941-1944)" tells about the heroic resistance of the Northern capital, which fell into the ring of the blockade: "The struggle of Soviet troops on the far approaches to Leningrad allowed the residents of the city and the soldiers of the Northern Front (the former Leningrad Military District) to strengthen their neighbors approaches to Leningrad and rebuild the entire life of the city in a military way. On June 27, 1941, the executive committee of the Leningrad City Soviet of Working People's Deputies adopted a decision to involve the inhabitants of Leningrad into labor service. Thousands of Leningraders with pickaxes, crowbars, shovels went out of town every day, building dots, bunkers and other defensive structures, digging trenches and anti-tank ditches. The Leningradians displayed genuine labor heroism in these works. "Okopniki," as they were called in those days, were daily mortally threatened. Enemy aircraft dropped bombs on them, fired from machine guns. Sometimes peaceful townspeople had to take rifles in their hands and beat off the attacks of the Hitlerites". The invaders could not break off these works: a powerful defence ring was created around the city. The total length of trenches, communications routes, shelters for infantry reached thousands of kilometers. To help the Red Army in Leningrad they started to create divisions of the people's militia, which were put into battle on the far approaches to the city.

At the end of August 1941, German troops still managed to block the October Railway, on September 8 they stormed Petrokrepost. Enemy troops closed Leningrad in a ring for 900 long and painful days. The front approached the outskirts of the city, from the Putilov Plant it was possible to reach the front line of the defence by tram. The enemy bombers destroyed the Badayev warehouses, which accounted for the bulk of Leningrad's food supplies - and its inhabitants were threatened with starvation. The supply of food sharply declined with the advent of winter, when it became impossible to navigate the Ladoga Lake. Hunger, cold, lack of water in the houses because of constant bombings have put the inhabitants of Leningrad on the brink of survival.

But even in this challenging time, Leningrad courageously lived, worked and fought. The enterprises that supplied the military equipment and ammunition to the front did not stop producing defence products. Great moral support for the blockade was provided by the creative intelligentsia of Leningrad, which, despite everything, continued to create masterpieces in painting, music, and literature. The Presidential Library has an electronic "filing" of the “Leningrad” magazine during the period under review, when Nikolay Tikhonov, Alexander Prokofiev, Vsevolod Azarov, Mikhail Dudin and other Leningrad writers were published there. In this series, special attention is paid to the "Ode to the New 1942", written by Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, a magnificent artist with a world-wide reputation who before the war returned from exile to his homeland and became a professor at the Academy of Arts. Somehow he was asked if he was sorry if he left France. He replied that "it is better to die in your native city than to wander luxuriously around a foreign land".

In this courage of residents and the courage of the Soviet soldiers, the fascist troops, contrary to the forecasts of the Wehrmacht, were stopped. The city-warrior suffered 900 days of blockade, and the victory was at last ours. The incredible price, which it got, is told by the materials of the collection of the Presidential Library "Memory of the Great Victory". Exciting research analytics contain the author's abstracts of dissertations of military historians, such as, for example, the work of N. Oleynik "The Battle for Leningrad: An Investigation of Events and Analysis of Losses in the Luban Offensive Operation" (2006): "The longest in the history of the Great Patriotic War, a bloody and heroic battle for Leningrad went down in the history of the Second World War as a unique phenomenon, still causing unflagging interest among Russian and foreign researchers".