The German Siege of Leningrad, 1941–1944

Published on
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Ian Baxter
ISBN
9781399064668
MSRP
$26.95
Company: Pen & Sword - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Casemate Publishers - Website: Visit Site
Cover

From the About the Author section,

Ian Baxter is a military historian who specializes in German twentieth-century military history. He has written more than fifty books. He has also reviewed numerous military studies for publication, supplied thousands of photographs and important documents to various publishers and film production companies worldwide, and lectures to various schools, colleges and universities throughout the United Kingdom and Southern Ireland.

In short, Ian Baxter is a respected historian and an author I actively seek out for his insight and amazing photographs for World War II. This book continues its amazing legacy, does not disappoint, and is worth the price for the photographs alone.

Following the familiar Pen & Sword Images of War series is the story of The German Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1944. Each chapter starts with a brief history of the topic covered, followed by a lot of photographs to complement the text.

This book is composed of the following:

  • About the Author
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Objective Leningrad, 1941
  • Chapter Two: Leningrad Defences
  • Chapter Three: The Siege
  • Chapter Four: The ‘Ice Road’
  • Chapter Five: The Turning-Point
  • Epilogue
  • Appendix I: German Order of Battle
  • Appendix II: Red Army Order of Battle

The Introduction is succinct and summarizes the book well,

The siege of Leningrad was a prolonged military blockade undertaken by the German war machine, Army Group North, on the Eastern Front. Drawing on superb collection of rare and unpublished photographs together with detailed captions and text, this dramatic book describes the 872-day siege that began in earnest on 8 September 1941 and did not lift until 27 January 1944. It shows the Wehrmacht forces that surrounded Leningrad, including the various artillery units that constantly bombarded the city.

During the course of the siege, it details the various attempts by the Red Army to break the blockade and shows German forces together with their Spanish and Finnish allies doggedly resisting the attacks.Eventually, due to overwhelming enemy pressure, the Germans were forced to retreat, but not before looting and destroying a number of historical palaces and landmarks and stealing a large number of valuable art collections.

The German siege became one the longest and most destructive blockades in military history, which not only saw thousands of soldiers killed during fighting to resist and unblock the city but also saw the systematic starvation of the population trapped inside and the intentional destruction of its buildings.

This book is a not a thorough, scholarly analysis of the Siege of Leningrad. And the reader is better for it. This is a succinct history with lots of photographs to convey its message in ways words cannot. The history that unfolded against Russia at dawn on 22 June 1941 was immense and transcended every invasion before and since.

Three million German soldiers attacked along an 1,800-mile front. Army Group North consisted of 500,000 men in almost thirty divisions (six were armored and motorized), 1,500 tanks and 12,000 heavy weapons, plus over 1,000 aircraft in support. Army Group North swept through the Baltic States and focused on Leningrad. The rapid advance showcased German tactics, but slowed down as Russian resistance was rushed in to stem the tide, German supply lines grew longer, and German men and horses grew more tired.

As Leningrad was reinforced and the summer drew on, the decision was made on 17 September 1941 that the Moscow front was to be the priority and the 41st Panzer Corps, the unit designated to “sledgehammer” their way into Leningrad, was shifted to Army Front Center. Without a major armored component, the destruction of Leningrad became a siege. It also explains the lack of tank photographs in this heavy infantry and artillery siege.

Despite the Russians absorbing huge losses, a German commander noted,

The German military leadership is constantly amazed by the toughness and stubbornness of the Russians as well as their ability to form new troop units… Although the combat value and morale of the ‘improvised’ units is low, the Red Army soldiers and Leningrad workers fight as before with stolid persistence. Without changing anything in the desperate situation of Leningrad (the Russians) nevertheless are tying down ten German divisions in the encirclement and preventing their use in other sectors of the front.

The oncoming of snow in the autumn completed the encircled misery of Leningrad. The freezing conditions and lack of coal, food and other necessities made the misery even more acute. “Deaths peaked between January and February 1942 at the rate of 100,000 per month, mostly from starvation.” These are enormous losses, especially given that Leningrad had almost seven million inhabitants. Casualties in Leningrad exceeded those in both the Battles Moscow and Stalingrad. The Luftwaffe’s contribution during the Battle of Leningrad included 75,000 bombs dropped throughout the siege, killing 50,000 civilians, destroying thousands of buildings, and disrupting vital supply lines.

The small, tenuous lifeline was ingeniously created in November 1941 when Lake Ladoga froze, enabling supplies to be moved by wheeled vehicles. This “ice road”, or as the Russians called it, the “life road” was built up with feeder roads, railroads, and other traffic control to broaden the lifeline to Leningrad. Lieutenant General Zakhar Kondratyev of the Red Army Road Transport and Road Service wrote, “More than 300 traffic controllers, mostly women, stood along the ‘Road of Life’, dressed all in white with flags and flashlights. These ‘White Angels’, as they were called, were highly visible not only to Soviet drivers, but also to enemy snipers and pilots.”

This ice road kept the city alive throughout the winter. In total, some 356,000 tons of supplies were transported, including 271,000 tons of food, 32,000 tons of military supplies and 37,000 tons of fuel.” The Russian State Defence Committee also ordered the construction of a pipeline, that was completed in less than two months, that was 30 miles long and eight miles deep and delivered 295 tons of fuel per day. Electricity was also restored using underwater cables.

The Germans did their utmost to stop the ice road and complete their strangulation of Leningrad. The spring thaw closed the ice road, but the Russians had amassed reserves. 1942 and 1943 continued the brutal siege that was finally lifted in January 1944 when a Russian offensive effectively pushed out the German and Spanish forces, liberating Leningrad. The author continues,

The German withdrawal from Leningrad had consequently caused a chain reaction of defeats for German Army Group North, from which they were never to recover. Many of the German divisions had spent more than two years dug in around the city and had not been given additional reinforcements with which to defend themselves against a potential large-scale enemy offensive. Much of their time had been spent in bombing Leningrad and preventing Soviet forces supplying the starving city.

The Siege of Leningrad lasted 872 days at the cost of over one million people. Ian Baxter wrote, “The siege of Leningrad was one of the most barbaric sieges in world history. It was undoubtedly a racially-motivated starvation policy by Hitler that was an integral part of his aim to exterminate the population of the Soviet Union.”

This is another great book by Ian Baxter, replete with amazing photographs sure to inspire modelers, particularly of artillery and soldiers. There are a few photographs of tanks and some inspirational ice road vignettes and dioramas involving tank recovery. I found only one page with mismatched captions, and the only suggestion I would make would be for maps showing the locations mentioned in the text and captions.That noted, this is an excellent book and well worth the price.

Profuse thanks to Casemate and IPMS/USA for providing the review sample.

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