Siege of Leningrad
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
Date September 8 1941January 27 1944
Location Leningrad, USSR
Result Soviet victory
Flag of Germany 1933 Nazi Germany
22px Spanish Blue Division
Flag of the Soviet Union 1923 Soviet Union
Flag of Germany 1933 Wilhelm von Leeb
Flag of Germany 1933 Georg von Küchler
22px Agustín Muñoz Grandes
Flag of the Soviet Union 1923 Kliment Voroshilov
Flag of the Soviet Union 1923Georgiy Zhukov
725,000 930,000
Unknown Red Army:
332,059 KIA
24,324 non-combat dead
111,142 missing
16,470 civilians
1 million civilians from starvation
Eastern Front
BarbarossaFinlandLeningrad and BalticsCrimea and CaucasusMoscow1st Rzhev-Vyazma2nd KharkovStalingradVelikiye Luki2nd Rzhev-SychevkaKursk2nd SmolenskDnieper2nd KievKorsunHube's PocketBelorussiaLvov-SandomierzBalkansHungaryVistula-OderKönigsbergBerlinPrague

Leningrad and Baltics 1941 - 1944
Toropets-KholmDemyansk PocketSparkPolar StarKrasny BorLeninoNarvaVilniusBaltic

Template:Campaignbox Barbarossa

The Siege of Leningrad, also known as The Leningrad Blockade (Russian: блокада Ленинграда (transliteration: blokada Leningrada)) was the German siege of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) during World War II and was one of the longest sieges of a city in modern history. The German plan was coded as Operation Nordlicht (Operation North Light). The siege lasted from September 8, 1941, until it was lifted on January 27, 1944.

Fortifications and German offensiveEdit

On June 27, 1941 the Council of Deputies of the Leningrad administration decided to mobilize thousands of people for the construction of fortifications. Several defenses were built. One of the fortifications ran from the mouth of the Luga River to Chudovo, Gatchina, Uritsk, Pulkovo and then through the Neva River. The other defense passed through Peterhof
File:Nevsky under fire.jpg
to Gatchina, Pulkovo, Kolpino and Koltushy. During the 1930s, another defense line against the Finns (KaUR) had been built in the northern suburbs of Leningrad, and it was now taken into use. In all, 190 km of timber blockages, 635 km of wire entanglements, 700 km of anti-tank ditches, 5,000 earth-and-timber emplacements and ferro-concrete weapon emplacements and 25,000 km of open trenches were built by civilians. Even the gun of the cruiser Aurora was mounted on the Pulkovskiye Heights to the south of Leningrad. German bombings killed thousands of civilians in Leningrad. However, when Soviet troops of the North-Western Front in the end of June were defeated in the Baltic Soviet Republics, the Wehrmacht had forced its way to Ostrov and Pskov. On July 10, both cities were captured and the Germans reached Kunda and Kingisepp whereupon they advanced to Leningrad from Narva, the Luzhski region, and from the south-east and also to the north and south of the Lake Ilmen in order to isolate Leningrad from the east and to join the Finns at the eastern bank of Lake Ladoga. The last rail connection to Leningrad was severed on August 30, when Germans reached the Neva River. The shelling of Leningrad began on September 4. On September 8, the last land connection to the besieged city was severed when the Germans reached Lake Ladoga at Orekhovets. Bombing on September 8 caused 178 fires. In early October, the Germans refused to assault the city and Hitler's directive on October 7, signed by Alfred Jodl was a reminder not to accept capitulation.

Finnish offensive in KareliaEdit

By August, the Finns had reconquered the Karelian Isthmus, threatening Leningrad from the West, and were advancing through Karelia east of Lake Ladoga, threatening Leningrad from the North. In any event, the Finnish forces halted at the 1939 border. The Finnish headquarters rejected German pleas for aerial attacks against Leningrad and did not advance further south from the River Svir in the occupied East Karelia which they reached at September 7, 160 kilometers north-east of Leningrad. In the south, Germans captured Tikhvin on November 8, but failed to advance further north and connect with Finns at the River Svir. A Soviet counterattack forced Germans to retreat from Tikhvin, on December 9, all the way to the River Volkhov.

File:Battle of Rostov (1941) - Eastern Front 1941 06 to 1941 12.png

On September 4, Jodl came to persuade Mannerheim to continue the Finnish offensive and it is said that Mannerheim refused. After the war, the former Finnish president Ryti said: "On August 24, 1941, I visited the headquarters of Marshal Mannerheim. The Germans aimed us at crossing the old border and at continuation of the offensive to Leningrad. I said that the capture of Leningrad wasn't our goal and that we shouldn't take part in it. Mannerheim and the military minister Walden agreed with me and refused the offers of the Germans. The result was a paradoxical situation: the Germans were not able to approach Leningrad from the north…" Later it was asserted that there was no systematic shelling or bombing out of the Finnish territory.

On the other hand, the Soviets didn't know what Ryti and Mannerheim had told the Germans, and no one knows if their words were meant to last forever or only until the anticipated German victory was at hand. In any case, the mere threat of a Finnish attack complicated the Soviet defence of Leningrad. For example, at one point the Front Commander Popov could not transfer certain reserves against the Germans because they were needed to bolster the 23rd Army's defence on the Karelian Isthmus.[1] Mannerheim gave order at August 31 to stop the attack when the straightened line leaning to the 1939 border at the shores of Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga was reached.[2] When the Finns started to reach that line during the first days of September, Popov noticed Finnish lessening pressure quickly and already at September 5 two divisions were transferred to German front.[3]Later, in the summer of 1942, a special Naval Detachment K was formed under the Finnish operative command. Its purpose was to patrol the waters of Lake Ladoga, although it was involved in clashes against Leningrad supply route on southern Ladoga with the assistance of German and Italian naval forces.[4][5]

Supplies Edit

Food Edit

File:Дистрофия алиментарная.jpg
File:Leningrad bread ration stamp.jpg
File:Blokada 01.jpg

On September 2, rations were reduced: manual workers had 600 grams of bread daily; state employees, 400 grams; and children and dependents (other civilians), 300 grams per day.

After the massive Nazi bombings began on September 8, 1941, all main food warehouses were destroyed, so huge amounts of stored food reserves, such as grains, flour and sugar, as well as other stored food, were wiped out in bombings and fires. The fires continued all over the city, because the Nazis were bombing Leningrad non-stop for many months using all kinds of fire-bombs and heavy air-bombs during 1941 and 1942.

In the first days after the siege began, people finished all leftovers in "commercial" restaurants, which used up to 12% of all fats and up to 10% of all meat the city consumed. Soon all restaurants closed, food rationing became the only way to save lives, and money became obsolete.

On September 12, 1941, it was calculated that the provisions both for army and civilians would last as follows:

grain and flour 35 days
groats and macaroni 30 days
meat (also livestock) 33 days
fats 45 days
sugar and confectionery 60 days

On the same day, another food reduction took place: the workers received 500 grams of bread; employees and children, 300 grams; and dependents, 250 grams. Rations of meat and groats were also reduced, but the issue of sugar, confectionery and fats was increased instead. The army and the Baltic Fleet had some emergency rations, but these were not sufficient, and were used up in weeks. The flotilla of lake Ladoga was not well equipped for war, and was almost destroyed in bombings by German aviation. Several barges with grain were sunk in lake Ladoga in September 1941 alone. A significant part of that grain, however, was later lifted out of the waters by divers. This dampened grain was delivered to Leningrad at night, and was used in bread baking. When the city ran out of reserves of malt flour, other substitutes, such as finished cellulose and cotton-cake, were used. Oats meant for horses were also used, while the horses were fed wood leaves.

When 2,000 tons of mutton guts had been found in the seaport, a food grade galantine was made of them. Later, when the meat became unavailable, it was replaced by that galantine and by stinking calf skins, which many survivors remembered till the end of their lives.

During the first year of the siege, the city survived five food reductions: two reductions in September of 1941, one in October 1941, two reductions in November 1941. The latter reduced the daily food consumption to 250 grams daily for manual workers and 125 grams for other civilians. Reports of cannibalism began to appear in the winter of 1941-1942, after all birds, rats and pets were eaten by survivors. Starvation-level food rationing was eased by new vegetable gardens that covered most open ground in the city by 1943.

Power and energyEdit

File:Blokada 02.jpg
Due to a lack of power supplies, many factories were closed down and, in November, all public transportation services became unavailable (in the spring of 1942, some tramway lines were reactivated, but trolleybuses and buses were inoperable until the end of the war). Use of power was forbidden everywhere, except at the General Staff headquarters, Smolny, district committees, air defense bases, and in some other institutions. By the end of September, oil and coal supplies had come to an end. The only energy option left was to fell trees. On October 8, the executive committee of Leningrad (Ленгорисполком) and regional executive committee (облисполком) decided to start cutting timber in the Pargolovo district and also the Vsevolzhskiy district in the north of the city. By October 24, only 1% of the timber cutting plan had been executed.


File:Isaakievskiy Sobor.jpg
File:Klodt 200603.jpg
About 1.3 million people managed to escape from the besieged city of Leningrad in two years between September 1941 and November 1943. Another 1.2 million civilians perished in the city. There were only 0.7 million people left out of 3 million pre-war population. Among those left in the siege were soldiers, workers, surviving children and women. Of those 700,000 surviving people about 300,000 were soldiers who came from other parts of the country to help the besieged city of Leningrad.

86 major strategic industries were evacuated from the city. Most industrial capacities, engines, power equipment, instruments and tools, were moved by the workers. Some defence industries, such as the LMZ, the Admiralty Shipyard, and the Kirov Plant, among some other industries were left in the city, and were still producing armory and amunition for defenders.

The Nazis cut almost all supplies to Leningrad, so almost all food and catering disappeared, garment industries and retail closed, most schools as well as most public services became obsolete, causing massive exodus of women and children.

Hundreds of buildings, public schools, hospitals and industries were destroyed by the Nazi bombings and air-raids.

Museums and palaces in the suburbs were destroyed, vandalized and looted by the Nazis, while the personnel of museums was trying to save some art. Only parts of art collections from the famous suburban palaces of the Tsars were evacuated in time, while some of the saved art was stored in the basements of the Hermitage until the end of war.

The Road of LifeEdit

Main article: Road of Life

By September 8, the Germans had largely surrounded the city, blocking off all supply routes to Leningrad and its suburbs except for a single corridor across Lake Ladoga. Unable or unwilling to press home their advantage, and facing a hasty defense of the city organized by Marshal Zhukov, the German armies laid siege to the city for 872 days. In the chaos of the first winter of the war, no evacuation plan was available or executed and the city and its suburbs quite literally starved in complete isolation until November 20, 1941 when an ice road over Lake Ladoga was established. The carnage in the city from shelling and starvation (especially in the first winter) was appalling. One of Nikolai I. Vavilov's assistants starved to death surrounded by edible seeds so that the seed bank (with more than 200,000 items) would be available to future generations. This ice road, named the Road of Life (Russian: Дорога жизни), could only be used during the winter, and during the rest of the year ships were used. The road of life was dangerous, often carriages and transports would get stuck in the snow or sink if the ice broke. Also the Road of life became a frequent target for german shelling. Because of the high death toll in the winter, the pathway was also known as the "road of death" However, the lifeline did bring food in, and civilians out, and allowed the city to continue to resist.

Soviet counter-offensiveEdit

File:Leningrad skiers.jpg

The siege continued until January 1944. The encirclement was broken as a result of Operation Spark — a full-scale offensive of troops of the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts. This offensive started in the morning of January 12, 1943. After fierce battles, the Red Army units overcame the powerful German fortifications to the south of Lake Ladoga, and on January 18, 1943 the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts met, opening a land corridor to the still-besieged city. In January 1944, a Soviet offensive drove off the besieging Germans from the southern outskirts of the city, ending the siege. Later, in the summer of 1944, the Finns were pushed back to the other side of the Bay of Vyborg and the Vuoksi River.



Total number of human losses during the 29 months of the siege of Leningrad is estimated as 1.5 million, including both civilians and military. The Soviet records during the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin were incomplete, so the ultimate number of casualties during the siege is disputed, because hundreds of thousands of unregistered people, who lived in the city before the war, had perished in the Nazi siege without any record at all. About 1.3 million civilians escaped by evacuation, mainly by foot. By the end of the siege in WWII, Leningrad became an empty "ghost-city" with thousands of ruined and abandoned homes, and its population was reduced from 3 million to less than 700,000. After the war, The Soviet government reported about 670,000 registered deaths from 1941 to January 1944, mostly from starvation, stress and exposure. Some independent estimates give a much higher death toll of anywhere from 700,000 to 1.5 million, with most estimates around 1.1 million. Most of these victims were buried in the Piskarevskoye Cemetery.

Economic and human losses caused incalculable damage to the city's historic sites and cultural landmarks, much of the damage is still visible today, and some are preserved to commemorate those who gave their lives to save the city of St. Petersburg.

As of 2000, there were still empty lots in St. Petersburg suburbs where buildings stood before the siege.

Leningrad was awarded the title of Hero City in 1945.

Cultural influenceEdit


The siege impressed itself on the psyche of Leningrad's inhabitants for at least one generation after the war. Leningrad had always prided itself on being a cultural city, and the choice of whether to burn a library (or 200-year old furniture) or freeze to death was a stark one. The conditions in the city were appalling and starvation was constantly with the besieged. On the other hand, the city did resist for nearly 3 years, and the pride of the city is unmistakable: "Troy fell, Rome fell, Leningrad did not fall."

The Siege of Leningrad was commemorated in late 1950s by the Green Belt of Glory, a circle of trees and memorials along the historic front line. Warnings to citizens of the city as to which side of the road to walk on to avoid the German shelling can still be seen (they were restored after the war). Russian tour guides at Peterhof, the palaces near St. Petersburg, report that it is still dangerous to go for a stroll in the gardens during a thunderstorm, as German artillery shrapnel embedded in the trees attracts lightning.

The Siege in musicEdit

  • Dmitri Shostakovich wrote the Seventh Symphony, some of which was written under siege conditions, for the Leningrad Symphony. According to Solomon Volkov, whose testimony is disputed, Shostakovich said "it's not about Leningrad under siege, it's about the Leningrad that Stalin destroyed and that Hitler nearly finished off".
  • American singer Billy Joel wrote a song called "Leningrad" that referenced the famous siege. The song is partially about a young Russian boy, Viktor, who lost his father in the siege.
  • The Decemberists wrote a song called "When the War Came" about the heroism of civilian scientists during warfare . The lyrics state: "We made our oath to Vavilov/We'd not betray the solanum/The acres of asteraceae/To our own pangs of starvation". Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov was a Russian botanist whose laboratory, a seedbank containing 200 000 types of plant seeds, many of them edible, was preserved throughout the siege.
  • Italian melodic death metal band Dark Lunacy's 2006 album 'The Diarist' is about the siege.
  • A line in the song 'Scared', by the Canadian band 'The Tragically Hip', references Russian efforts to save paintings during the Siege of Leningrad. "You're in Russia...and more than a million works of art...are whisked out to the woods...When the Nazis find the whole place dark...they'd think God's left the museum for good."

The Siege in literatureEdit

  • American author Debra Dean The Madonnas of Leningrad tells the story of staff of the Hermitage Museum who saved the art collection during the Siege of Leningrad.
  • American author Elise Blackwell published "Hunger" (2003), an acclaimed historical dramatization of events surrounding the siege.
  • British author Helen Dunmore wrote an award-winning novel, The Siege (2001). Although fictitious, it traces key events in this siege, and shows how it affected those who weren't directly involved in the resistance.
  • In 1981 Daniil Granin and Ales Adamovich published The Blockade Book which was based on hundreds of interviews and diaries of people who were trapped in the besieged city. The book was heavily censored by Soviet authorities due to its portrayal of human suffering contrasting with the "official" image of heroism.
  • The Arab-Israeli author Emil Habibi also mentioned the siege in his short story "The Love in my Heart" (الحب في قلبي), part of his collection Sextet of the Six Days (سداسية الايام الستة). Habiby's character visits a graveyard containing the siege's victims and is struck by the power of a display he sees commemorating the children who died, and it inspires him to write some letters in the voice of a Palestinian girl detained in an Israeli prison.

The Siege in other art formsEdit

  • Auteur film director Andrey Tarkovsky included multiple scenes and references to the siege in his semi-autobiographical film The Mirror.
  • At the time of his death in 1989, Sergio Leone was working on a film about the siege. It drew heavily on Harrison Salisbury's "The 900 Days", and was a week away from going into production when Leone died of heart failure.

See alsoEdit


  1. Glantz, David. The Siege of Leningrad 1941-44, MBI Publishing Company 2001, pp.33-34
  2. National Defence College. Jatkosodan historia 2, Porvoo 1994. ISBN 951-0-15332-X
  3. Platonov S.P. ed. Bitva za Leningrad, Voenizdat Ministerstva oborony SSSR, Moscow 1964
  4. Juutilainen, Antti - Leskinen, Jari: Jatkosodan pikkujättiläinen, Helsinki 2005, pp.662-672
  5. Ekman, P-O: Tysk-italiensk gästspel på Ladoga 1942, Tidskrift i Sjöväsendet 1973 Jan.-Feb., pp.5-46


  • Goure, Leon. "The Siege of Leningrad". Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1981 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8047-0115-6).
  • Glantz, David. The Siege of Leningrad 1941–44: 900 Days of Terror. Osceola, WI: Zenith Press, 2001 (hardcover, ISBN 0-7603-0941-8); Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK: Gardners Books, 2001 (hardcover, ISBN 1-86227-124-0); London: Cassell, 2004 (paperback, ISBN 0-304-36672-2).
  • Kirschenbaum, Lisa. The Legacy of the Siege of Leningrad, 1941–1995: Myth, Memories, and Monuments. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006 (hardback, ISBN 0-521-86326-0).
  • Life and Death in Besieged Leningrad, 1941–44 (Studies in Russian and Eastern European History), edited by John Barber and Andrei Dzeniskevich. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005 (hardcover, ISBN 1-4039-0142-2).
  • Lubbeck, William; Hurt, David B. At Leningrad's Gates: The Story of a Soldier with Army Group North. Philadelphia, PA: Casemate, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 1-932033-55-6).
  • Salisbury, Harrison Evans. The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2003 (paperback, ISBN 0-306-81298-3).

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