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The Presidential Library recalls the legendary Road of Life

22 November 2019

78 years ago the Road of Life as the only ice route connecting the besieged Leningrad with the Big Land, turned into a real highway. The head of the rear of the Leningrad Front F. N. Lagunov on November 13, 1941 issued an order “On the organization of the construction of an ice road along the waterway of Cape Osinovets - Kareji Lighthouse”. On November 19, the commander of the Leningrad Front M. S. Khozin, ordered to organize a tractor road through Lake Ladoga, and on November 22 the first trucks went along the highway. Officially, it was called Military Highway № 101, unofficially - “Ice Road of Life”.

The Presidential Library’s portal presents the electronic collection The Defence and Siege of Leningrad, which contains such materials as copies of official documents, periodicals, memoirs of Leningrad residents, food cards, photographs and newsreels devoted to the war and the siege.

Among the historical evidence, the wartime Leningradskaya Pravda newspaper is of particular interest, which details about who built the ice track, how it was repaired, what difficulties drivers on the Road of Life faced. Together, we “flip through” the faded pages of Leningradskaya Pravda digitally preserved by the Presidential Library.

Only a narrow path, not marked on any map, connected the city with the country

The Nazis seriously miscalculated. “On the lake, thousands of people built an ice road, cleared the way for the city to live. Frost and snowstorm were not taken into account. In the first days, the ice road could not yet satisfy the needs of the big city and its front, which had been cut to the limit. It was possible and necessary to transport more goods along the icy road”.

"And then a kind of competition began, which was reminded of the numerous slogans stuck in houses, dugouts and villages along the highway: "Driver, remember! Every two travels provide 10 thousand Leningrad residents! Fight for two travels!"  

Details of the operation of the route were thought out to the smallest detail. The road was divided into sections, repair crews were created, special dugouts appeared in the forests and villages, where drivers at any time of the day or night could warm up water and oil for refueling cars. Some volunteers assigned to designated areas controlled the traffic: they helped drivers, prevented traffic jams, significantly reduced machine downtime...

When it was getting dark, the lights were lit on the lake to show the way for the cars. The fairway of flashing light bulbs stretched for many kilometers, allowing drivers to increase speed.

The successful use of the ice road had several requirements. Firstly, its width should have been at least 10 meters for two-way traffic. Secondly, a prerequisite was the presence of separate lanes for pedestrians, horse-drawn and road vehicles. Thirdly, it was important to quickly change the direction of the route depending on changes in ice thickness, wind speed and direction. Thus, the pairing movement of cars became widespread, which, if necessary, provided mutual assistance and towing.

More information about the ice road is provided in the 1981 album “The Red Banner Ladoga Flotilla in the Battle of Leningrad on the Road of Life 1941-1944” in the centers of remote access to the resources of the Presidential Library.

The article “People of the ice route” in the issue of Leningradskaya Pravda № 126 dated May 29, 1942, reports that the Leningrad writer Evgeny Fedorov finished the essay book about this road, and the editors began to print excerpts from it, telling about the exploits of people who used the unusual route.

For example, about this case: “A blizzard raged. Loads were stuck on the road, and meanwhile, Leningraders were waiting for them. The driver Bolotin recognized this, and he fearlessly, at night, in a blizzard, drove his car along the lake. Burning frosty windswept huge snowdrifts. Blizzard furiously stormed the road. But the truck burst into the snowy shafts, crushed them, overcome the wind - rushed forward".

“At some point, the lights faded on the highway, and a whirlwind swept out the identification marks. The car stalled, and the driver entered into a battle with the elements. He knew that on the south side of the road there was an island, and there was a dugout, there were people. Falling with fatigue, he wandered in their direction and walked for many hours until he reached his goal".

Tons, grams, kilometers...

The Road of Life included a land plot along the Karelian Isthmus with access to the shore of Lake Ladoga. On ice, it stretched from the village of Osinovets on the southwestern shore of the lake to the port of Kobona on the southeast, at a distance of 20–25 kilometers from the coast occupied by the enemy. The further route from Kobona to Novaya Ladoga by car and to Voybokalo by rail was also under constant bombardment of the Nazis. Nevertheless, thousands of tons of cargo were transported on the road every day.

During the first siege winter of 1941-1942, the ice road lasted 152 days. 360 thousand tons of cargo were delivered to Leningrad, and almost 550 thousand people were evacuated.

Thanks to this route, on December 25, 1941, it was possible to increase the minimum food standards for the besieged Leningrad from 125 grams of bread to 200 grams, in the winter of 1942 they rose twice more: first to 250 grams and then 300 grams.

After the Germans captured Tikhvin, communication on the Tikhvin-Volkhov railroad, along which goods went to Lake Ladoga, was interrupted. There was a threat of a complete siege of Leningrad. But as a result of the Tikhvin strategic offensive operation in December 1941, the railway connection was restored, as reported in the New Year’s issue by Leningradskaya Pravda.

The second navigation in Ladoga began at the end of May 1942, and from mid-December 1942 until the end of March 1943 the highway again worked. To supply fuel to the city, an additional Ladoga oil pipeline was laid along the bottom of the lake.

As a result, the number of goods transported to Leningrad by the Road of Life for the entire period of its operation amounted to over 1.6 million tons, and more than a million people were evacuated along the highway in 500 days of the blockade.

On January 18, 1943 Soviet troops captured Shlisselburg, and the Leningrad siege was finally broken. A railway was laid along the southern coast of Lake Ladoga to the Polyana station, later called the “Victory Road” but the Ladoga road continued to operate for some time. For the besieged Leningrad, it became a symbol of hope, and its defenders, workers and drivers remained forever in the grateful memory of their descendants.

Boris Grebenshchikov’s grandfather

This material was prepared as part of a joint campaign to preserve the memory of the siege of Leningrad, initiated at the end of last year by the Presidential Library, the newspaper Petersburg Diary and Radio Rossiya - St. Petersburg. Many of those whose documents were brought to the library left the city along this road.

By the way, a few months ago the Presidential Library’s portal posted a publication about Alexander Grebenshchikov (1894–1954), who headed the Balttekhflot during the Great Patriotic War and was directly involved in the creation of the Road of Life. The Presidential Library’s electronic collections contain the poster “The Road of Life of Alexander Grebenshchikov”, which is a collage using photographs from the archive of his family, the most famous representative of which today is Boris Grebenshchikov's grandson (famous BG).

Balttekhflot, under the leadership of its tireless chief Alexander Grebenshchikov under enemy bombing, deepens the fairways and approaches to the berths”, - noted Vice Admiral Viktor Cherokov, commander of the Ladoga military flotilla.

Prior to this, there was almost no serious shipping at all in Ladoga, so it was necessary to urgently carry out dredging. They were carried out by Balttekhflot. Its own ships were the first to open and the last to complete navigation on Ladoga, delivering the most necessary from the mainland.

It’s worth adding that the Presidential Library’s portal provides the following expositions such as a series of Road of Life badges, photographs of the Life Road memorial site in the Osinovets village, photographs of a steam locomotive delivering cargo, photographs from the Road of Life Museum.

The author of most of the photographs is a wonderful local historian and photographer Valery Gulyakin.