First Battle of Kharkov
The 1st Battle of Kharkov, so named by Wilhelm Keitel, was the 1941 battle for the city of Kharkov during the final phase of Operation Barbarossa between the German 6th Army of Army Group South and the Soviet Southwestern Front. The Soviet 38th Army was ordered to defend the city while its factories were dismantled for relocation farther east; the German 6th Army needed to take the city in order to close the widening gap to the German 17th Army. By 20 October the Germans had reached the western edge of the city, it was taken by the 57th Infantry Division by 24 October. At that time, most of Kharkov's industrial equipment had been evacuated or rendered useless by the Soviet authorities. In the autumn of 1941, Kharkov was considered one of the Soviets' most important strategic bases for railroad and airline connections, it not only connected the east-west and north-south parts of Ukraine, but several central regions of the USSR including the Crimea, the Caucasus, the Dnieper region, Donbas. Kharkov was one of the largest industrial centers of the Soviet Union.
One of its greatest contributions was the Soviet T-34 tank, both designed and developed at the Kharkov Tractor Factory. It was considered to be the most powerful tank plant in the country. Other factories that were located in the city included the Kharkov Aircraft Plant, Kharkov Plant of the NKVD, the Kharkov Turbine Plant. Military products that were in Kharkov before the battle started included: tanks, Su-2, artillery tractors, 82 mm mortars, sub-machine guns and other military equipment; the main objective for the German troops was to capture the railroad and military factories, thus they tried to keep the industrial area of Kharkov intact. Adolf Hitler himself stressed the importance of those military plants stating: "… The second in importance is south of Russia the Donets Basin, ranging from the Kharkov region. There is the whole basis of Russian economy, it was rated at 901,000 people on 1 May 1941. In September 1941 the population skyrocketed to 1.5 million people, due to numerous evacuees from other cities.
After multiple attacks and many deaths, the population of Kharkov decreased to 180 – 190,000, the size after the liberation of the city in August 1943. After the Battle of Kiev, Army Group Center was ordered to redeploy its forces for the attack on Moscow, so the 2nd Panzer Group turned north towards Bryansk and Kursk. Army Group South, in particular Walther von Reichenau's 6th Army and Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel's 17th Army took the place of the Panzer Divisions; the main offensive formation of Army Group South, Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist's 1st Panzer Group, was in the meantime ordered south for a drive to Rostov-on-Don and the Caucasian oilfields, following Führer Directive No. 35. The burden of processing Kiev's 600,000 prisoners of war fell upon the 6th and 17th Armies, so while the 1st Panzer Group secured the German victory in the Battle of Melitopol, these two armies spent the next three weeks regrouping. Meanwhile,'Stavka', needed to stabilize its southern flank and poured reinforcements into the area between Kursk and Rostov, at the expense of its forces in front of Moscow.
The Southwestern Front, destroyed during the battle of Kiev, was re-established under the command of Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, one of the more capable Red Army commanders. The 6th, 21st, 38th and 40th Armies were reconstituted from scratch. With the Battle of Moscow under way, the Germans had to protect their flanks, on 6 October von Reichenau advanced through Sumy and Okhtyrka in the direction of Belgorod and Kharkov. On the same day, the 17th Army commenced its offensive from Poltava towards Lozova and Izyum to protect the lengthening flank of the 1st Panzer Army; the Southwestern Front's 6th Army and 38th Army failed to conduct a coordinated defense and were beaten back. In the lead up to the Battle of Moscow, the Red Army suffered a catastrophic defeat at Vyazma and Bryansk, suffering 700,000 casualties; the few reserves available were needed to defend the Soviet capital, thus were unavailable to Timoshenko's reconstituted Southwestern Front. With no reserves to plug the breach, the Stavka was forced fall back to Voronezh in order prevent a total collapse of the southern flank.
Although the main objectives of the German Army before winter fell were to capture Leningrad and the approaches to the Caucasian oilfields, Kharkov was an important secondary objective. Besides the need to protect the flanks of its motorized spearheads, the OKH, the German Army high command saw the importance of Kharkov as an industrial center and railroad hub. Capturing the city meant that the Southwestern and Southern Front had to fall back on Voronezh and Stalingrad as their major transport hubs. When, in the second week of October, the rainy season of the Rasputitsa and the poor logistics in the area between the Dnepr and the front, caused the offensive to stall. Hitler allocated resources from the 17th Army to the 6th Army to ensure the capture of Kharkov. This, weakened the 17th Army's effort to protect the flank of the 1st Panzer Army and contributed to the German defeat at the Battle of Rostov. After 17 October, night frost improved the roads, but snow storms and the cold started to hamper the Germans, who
Soviet evacuation of Tallinn
The Soviet evacuation of Tallinn called Tallinn disaster or Russian Dunkirk, was a Soviet operation to evacuate the 190 ships of the Baltic Fleet, units of the Red Army, pro-Soviet civilians from the fleet's encircled main base of Tallinn in Soviet-occupied Estonia during August 1941. Soviet forces had occupied Estonia in June 1940. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union began on 22 June 1941, German forces advanced through the Soviet-occupied Baltic states, by the end of August the Estonian capital of Tallinn was surrounded by German forces, while a large part of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet was bottled up in Tallinn harbour. In expectation of a Soviet breakout, the Kriegsmarine and the Finnish Navy had started on 8 August 1941 to lay minefields off Cape Juminda on the Lahemaa coast. While Soviet minesweepers tried to clear a path for convoys through the minefields, German coastal artillery installed a battery of 150 mm guns near Cape Juminda and the Finnish navy gathered their 2nd Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla with patrol boats VMV9, VMV10, VMV11 and VMV17.
At the same time the German 3. Schnellbootflottille with E-boats S-26, S-27, S-39, S-40 and S-101 was concentrated at Suomenlinna outside Helsinki. German Junkers Ju 88 bombers from Kampfgruppe 806 based on airfields in Estonia were put on alert. On 19 August the final German assault on Tallinn began. During the night of 27/28 August 1941 the Soviet 10th Rifle Corps disengaged from the enemy and boarded transports in Tallinn; the embarkation was protected by smoke screens, the mine-sweeping in the days before the evacuation began was ineffective due to bad weather, there were no Soviet aircraft available for protecting the embarkation. This, together with heavy German shelling and aerial bombardment killed at least 1,000 of the evacuees in the harbour. Twenty large transports, eight auxiliary ships, nine small transports, a tanker, a tug, a tender were organized into four convoys, protected by the Soviet cruiser Kirov, with Admiral Vladimir Tributs on board, two flotilla leaders, nine destroyers, three torpedo boats, twelve submarines, ten modern and fifteen obsolete minehunters, 22 minesweepers, 21 submarine chasers, three gun boats, a minelayer, thirteen patrol vessels and eleven torpedo boats.
On 28 August KG 77 and KGr 806 sank the 2,026 grt steamer Vironia, the 2,317 grt Lucerne, the 1,423 grt Atis Kronvalds and the 2,250 grt ice breaker Krisjanis Valdemars. The rest of the Soviet fleet were forced to change course; this took them through a mined area. As a result, 21 Soviet warships, including five destroyers, sank. On 29 August, the Luftwaffe, now reinforced with KG 76, KG 4 and KG 1, accounted for the transport ships Vtoraya Pyatiletka and Leningradsovet sunk. In addition, the ships Ivan Papanin, Saule and the Serp i Molot were damaged by I./KG 4, which sank three more. Some 5,000 Soviet soldiers died; that evening the armada was attacked by Finnish and German torpedo boats, the chaotic situation made organized mine sweeping impossible. Darkness fell at 22:00 and the Soviet armada stopped and anchored at midnight in the mined water. Early on 29 August Ju 88 bombers attacked the remains of the convoys off Suursaari, sinking two transports. Meanwhile, the undamaged ships made best speed to reach the safety of the Kronstadt batteries.
The damaged merchant ship Kazakhstan disembarked 2300 men of the 5000 on board before steaming on to Kronstadt. In the following days ships operating from Suursaari rescued 12,160 survivors; the Soviet evacuation of Tallinn succeeded in evacuating 165 ships, 28,000 passengers and 66,000 tons of equipment. At least 12,400 are thought to have drowned in circumstances little known outside the former Soviet Union; the event was long. The evacuation may have been the bloodiest naval disaster since the battle of Lepanto. On 25 August 2001, a memorial was unveiled at Juminda. Latvian Icebreaker Krišjānis Valdemārs Soviet Submarine S 5 - 28 August 1941, Gulf of Finland Soviet Submarine S 6 Soviet Submarine Shch 301 - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda Soviet Destroyer Yakov Sverdlov - 28 August 1941, off Mohni island Soviet Destroyer Kalinin - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda Soviet Destroyer Artem - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda Soviet Destroyer Volodarski - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda Soviet Destroyer Skoryi - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda Patrol vessel Sneg - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda Patrol vessel Tsiklon- 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda Gunboat I-8 - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda Gunboat Amgun Minesweeper No. 71 - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda Minesweeper No. 42 - 28 August 1941, off Cape Juminda Minesweeper T-214, off Cape Juminda Minesweeper T-216, off Cape Juminda Minelayer TTS-56 Minelayer TTS-71 Minelayer TTS-42 Netlayer Vyatka Netlayer Onega Guard ship Saturn Submarine chaser MO 202 Motor torpedo boat TK 103 25 large and 9 smaller merchantmen, including: Estonian transport SS Eestirand - 24 August 1941, off Prangli Island VT -511/ALEV VT-512/TOBOL VT-547/JARVAMAA EVERITA VT-518/LUGA VT-512/KUMARI BALKHASH JANA VT -584/NAISSAAR VT -537/ERGONAUTIS VT -530/ELLA AUSMA Tanker TN-12.
Mines damaged destroyer Minsk, destroyers Gordy and Slavnyi, minesweeper T-205 and other ships. List of shipwrecks in August 1941 Bergstrom, Christer. Barbarossa - The Air Battle: July–December 1941. London: Chevron/Ian Allan. ISBN 978-1-85780-270-2. Mati Õun: Juminda miinilahing 1941 – maailmasündmus meie koduvetes (Juminda sea battle
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, which started on Sunday, 22 June 1941, during World War II. The operation stemmed from Nazi Germany's ideological aims to conquer the western Soviet Union so that it could be repopulated by Germans, to use Slavs as a slave labour force for the Axis war effort, to murder the rest, to acquire the oil reserves of the Caucasus and the agricultural resources of Soviet territories. In the two years leading up to the invasion and the Soviet Union signed political and economic pacts for strategic purposes; the German High Command began planning an invasion of the Soviet Union in July 1940, which Adolf Hitler authorized on 18 December 1940. Over the course of the operation, about three million personnel of the Axis powers – the largest invasion force in the history of warfare – invaded the western Soviet Union along a 2,900-kilometer front. In addition to troops, the Wehrmacht deployed some 600,000 motor vehicles, between 600,000 and 700,000 horses for non-combat operations.
The offensive marked an escalation of World War II, both geographically and in the formation of the Allied coalition. Operationally, German forces achieved major victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union and inflicted, as well as sustained, heavy casualties. Despite these Axis successes, the German offensive stalled in the Battle of Moscow at the end of 1941, the subsequent Soviet winter counteroffensive pushed German troops back; the Red Army absorbed the Wehrmacht's strongest blows and forced the Germans into a war of attrition that they were unprepared for. The Wehrmacht never again mounted a simultaneous offensive along the entire Eastern front; the failure of the operation drove Hitler to demand further operations of limited scope inside the Soviet Union, such as Case Blue in 1942 and Operation Citadel in 1943 – all of which failed. The failure of Operation Barbarossa proved a turning point in the fortunes of the Third Reich. Most the operation opened up the Eastern Front, in which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in world history.
The Eastern Front became the site of some of the largest battles, most horrific atrocities, highest World War II casualties, all of which influenced the course of both World War II and the subsequent history of the 20th century. The German armies captured 5,000,000 Red Army troops, who were denied the protection guaranteed by the Hague Conventions and the 1929 Geneva Convention. A majority of Red Army POWs never returned alive; the Nazis deliberately starved to death, or otherwise killed, 3.3 million prisoners of war, as well as a huge number of civilians. Einsatzgruppen death-squads and gassing operations murdered over a million Soviet Jews as part of the Holocaust; as early as 1925, Adolf Hitler vaguely declared in his political manifesto and autobiography Mein Kampf that he would invade the Soviet Union, asserting that the German people needed to secure Lebensraum to ensure the survival of Germany for generations to come. On 10 February 1939, Hitler told his army commanders that the next war would be "purely a war of Weltanschauungen... a people's war, a racial war".
On 23 November, once World War II had started, Hitler declared that "racial war has broken out and this war shall determine who shall govern Europe, with it, the world". The racial policy of Nazi Germany portrayed the Soviet Union as populated by non-Aryan Untermenschen, ruled by Jewish Bolshevik conspirators. Hitler claimed in Mein Kampf that Germany's destiny was to "turn to the East" as it did "six hundred years ago". Accordingly, it was stated Nazi policy to kill, deport, or enslave the majority of Russian and other Slavic populations and repopulate the land with Germanic peoples, under the Generalplan Ost; the Germans' belief in their ethnic superiority is evident in official German records and discernible in pseudoscientific articles in German periodicals at the time, which covered topics such as "how to deal with alien populations". While older histories tended to emphasize the notion of a "Clean Wehrmacht", the historian Jürgen Förster notes that "In fact, the military commanders were caught up in the ideological character of the conflict, involved in its implementation as willing participants."
Before and during the invasion of the Soviet Union, German troops were indoctrinated with anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic, anti-Slavic ideology via movies, lectures and leaflets. Likening the Soviets to the forces of Genghis Khan, Hitler told Croatian military leader Slavko Kvaternik that the "Mongolian race" threatened Europe. Following the invasion, Wehrmacht officers told their soldiers to target people who were described as "Jewish Bolshevik subhumans", the "Mongol hordes", the "Asiatic flood", the "Red beast". Nazi propaganda portrayed the war against the Soviet Union as both an ideological war between German National Socialism and Jewish Bolshevism and a racial war between the Germans and the Jewish and Slavic Untermenschen. An'order from the Führer' stated that the Einsatzgruppen were to execute all Soviet functionaries who were "less valuable Asiatics and Jews". Six months into the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen had murdered in excess of 500,000 Soviet Jews, a figure greater than the number of Red Army soldiers killed in combat during that same time frame.
German army command
Operation Iskra was a Soviet military operation during World War II, designed to break the Wehrmacht's Siege of Leningrad. Planning for the operation began shortly after the failure of the Sinyavino Offensive; the German defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad in late 1942 had weakened the German front. By January 1943, Soviet forces were planning or conducting offensive operations across the entire German-Soviet front in southern Russia, Iskra being the northern part of the wider Soviet 1942–1943 winter counter offensive; the operation was conducted by the Red Army's Leningrad Front, Volkhov Front, the Baltic Fleet from 12 to 30 January 1943 with the aim of creating a land connection to Leningrad. Soviet forces linked up on 18 January, by 22 January the front line was stabilised; the operation opened a land corridor 8–10 kilometres wide to the city. A railroad was swiftly built through the corridor which allowed more supplies to reach the city than the Road of Life across the frozen surface of Lake Ladoga reducing the possibility of the capture of the city and a German–Finnish linkup.
The success led to Operation Polyarnaya Zvezda less than two weeks which aimed to decisively defeat Army Group North, lifting the siege altogether. The operation was a failure. Soviet forces made several other attempts in 1943 to renew their offensive and lift the siege, but made only modest gains in each one; the corridor remained within range of German artillery, the siege was not lifted until a year on 27 January 1944. The Siege of Leningrad started in early autumn 1941. By 8 September 1941, German and Finnish forces had surrounded the city, cutting off all supply routes to Leningrad and its suburbs. However, the original drive on the city failed and the city was subjected to a siege. During 1942 several attempts were made to breach the blockade but all failed; the last such attempt was the Sinyavino Offensive. After the defeat of the Sinyavino Offensive, the front line returned to what it was before the offensive and again 16 kilometres separated Leonid Govorov's Leningrad Front in the city from Kirill Meretskov's Volkhov Front.
Despite the failures of earlier operations, lifting the siege of Leningrad was a high priority, so new offensive preparations began in November 1942. In December, the operation was approved by the Stavka and received the codename "Iskra"; the operation was due to begin in January 1943. By January 1943, conditions were improving for the Soviets; the German defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad had weakened the German front. The Soviet forces were planning or conducting offensive operations across the entire front in southwestern Russia. Amidst these conditions, Operation Iskra was to become the first of several offensive operations aimed at inflicting a decisive defeat on Germany's Army Group North; the area south of Lake Ladoga is a forested area with many wetlands close to the lake. The forest shielded both sides from visual observation. Both factors hindered the mobility of artillery and vehicles in the area, providing a considerable advantage to the defending forces; the Sinyavino heights were a key location, with terrain 150 meters higher than the surrounding flat terrain.
Because the front line had changed little since the blockade was established, German forces had built an extensive network of interconnected trenches and obstacles, interlocking artillery and mortar fire. The Neva River was frozen, allowing infantry to cross; the Germans were well aware that breaking the blockade was important for the Soviet side. However, due to the reverse at Stalingrad and the Soviet offensive at Velikiye Luki to the south of Leningrad, Army Group North was ordered to go on the defensive and was stripped of many troops; the 11th Army, to lead the assault on Leningrad in September 1942, which had thwarted the last Soviet offensive, was transferred to Army Group Center in October. Nine other divisions were reassigned to other sectors. At the start of the Soviet offensive, the German 18th Army, led by Georg Lindemann consisted of 26 divisions spread across a 450 kilometres wide front; the army was stretched thin and as a result had no division-level reserves. Instead, each division had a tactical reserve of one or two battalions, the army reserves consisted of portions of the 96th Infantry Division and the 5th Mountain Division.
The 1st Air Fleet provided the air support for the army. Five divisions and part of another one were guarding the narrow corridor which separated the Soviet Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts; the corridor was only 16 kilometres wide and was called the "bottleneck". The German divisions were well fortified in this area, where the front line had been unchanged since September 1941, hoping to repel the Soviet offensive; the plan for Operation Iskra was approved in December. With the combined efforts of the Volkhov and Leningrad Fronts, defeat the enemy in the area of Lipka, Dubrovka and thus penetrate the Leningrad blockade. Finish the operation by the end of January 1943; this meant opening a 10 kilometres corridor to Leningrad. After that, the two fronts were to rest for 10 days and resume the offensive southward in further operations; the biggest difference from the earlier Sinyavino Offensive was the location of the main attack. In September 1942 the Soviet forces were attacking south of the town of Siniavino, which allowed them to encircle several German divisions, but left the army open to flanking attacks from the north, it was this which caused the offensive to fa
Battle of the Kerch Peninsula
The Battle of the Kerch Peninsula, which commenced with the Soviet Kerch-Feodosia landing operation and ended with the German Operation Bustard Hunt, was a World War II battle between Erich von Manstein's German and Romanian 11th Army and the Soviet Crimean Front forces in the Kerch Peninsula, in the eastern part of the Crimea. It began on 26 December 1941 with an amphibious landing operation by two Soviet armies intended to break the Siege of Sevastopol. Axis forces first contained the Soviet beachhead throughout the winter and interdicted its naval supply lines through aerial bombing. From January through April, the Crimean Front launched repeated offensives against the 11th Army, all of which failed with heavy losses; the Red Army lost 352,000 men in the attacks. Superior German artillery firepower was responsible for the Soviet debacle. On 8 May 1942, the Axis struck with great force in a major counteroffensive codenamed Trappenjagd which concluded by around 19 May 1942 with the liquidation of the Soviet defending forces.
Manstein used a large concentration of airpower armed infantry divisions, concentrated artillery bombardments and amphibious assaults to break through the Soviet front in its southern portion in 210 minutes, swing north with the 22nd Panzer Division to encircle the Soviet 51st Army on 10 May and annihilate it on 11 May. The remnants of the 44th and 47th Armies were pursued to Kerch, where the last pockets of organized Soviet resistance were eradicated through German aerial and artillery firepower by 19 May; the decisive element in the German victory was the campaign of airstrikes against the Crimean Front by Wolfram von Richthofen's 800 aircraft-strong VIII. Fliegerkorps, which flew an average of 1,500 sorties per day in support of Trappenjagd and attacked Soviet field positions, armored units, troop columns, evacuation ships and supply lines. German bombers used up to 6,000 canisters of SD-2 anti-personnel cluster munitions to kill masses of fleeing Soviet infantrymen. Manstein's outnumbered 11th Army suffered 7,588 casualties, while the Crimean Front lost 176,566 men, 258 tanks, 1,133 artillery pieces and 315 aircraft in three armies comprising twenty-one divisions.
Total Soviet casualties during the five month-long battle amounted to 570,000 men, while Axis losses were 38,000. Trappenjagd was one of the battles preceding the German summer offensive, its successful conclusion allowed the Axis to concentrate their forces on Sevastopol, conquered within six weeks. The Kerch Peninsula was used a launching pad by German forces to cross the Kerch Strait on 2 September 1942 during Operation Blücher II, a part of the German drive to capture the Caucasus oilfields. On 8 December 1941, the Soviet supreme command, ordered General-Lieutenant Dmitry Timofeyevich Kozlov's Transcaucasian Front to begin planning for a major operation to cross the Kerch Strait and link up with the Soviet Separate Coastal Army holed up in Sevastopol, thereby liberating the Crimea from the Germans; the ambitious operation, the first major amphibious operation in Soviet history, was founded upon Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's belief in the German Wehrmacht's imminent collapse. The plan was drawn up by the Transcaucasian Front's chief of staff General-Major Fyodor Tolbukhin.
Tolbukhin's plan was too complicated for Soviet Navy's abilities. It was based on multiple small landings at separate locations at separate times instead of one large, simultaneous landing. Five transport groups from Rear-Admiral Sergey Gorshkov's Azov Flotilla would land 7,500 soldiers from the 224th Rifle Division and 302nd Mountain Rifle Division of the 51st Army on eight isolated beaches north and south of Kerch. After the Germans were distracted by this, the 44th Army would land at Feodosiya in the German rear. Naval gunfire support would be provided by the Black Sea Fleet; the Soviet Air Forces, would contribute air cover from the Taman Peninsula. The Soviets had the men and troop transports on hand but were compelled to use fishing trawlers for the actual landings due to the lack of landing craft, had little experience with large-scale joint operations and were impeded by the stormy winter weather. A German Messerschmitt Bf 110 reconnaissance aircraft noted the buildup of Soviet naval forces and reported it to Lieutenant General Hans Graf von Sponeck's XXXXII Army Corps headquarters.
Sponeck issued a general alert for enemy amphibious landings in the Kerch Peninsula. The mass of Sponeck's units had been transferred for the assault on Sevastopol and he had only the 46th Infantry Division under Lieutenant General Kurt Himer who had assumed his command on 17 December, two coastal artillery battalions equipped with obsolete World War I artillery pieces, a combat engineer regiment and a Luftwaffe anti-aircraft battalion; the 46th Infantry Division up to strength, was woefully overextended holding down the entire Kerch Peninsula against potential Soviet landings. Sponeck's only backup was the Romanian 8th Cavalry Brigade near Alushta. On the evening of 25 December 1941, the 224th Rifle Division and 83rd Naval Infantry Brigade were packed into small craft on the Taman Peninsula and began to pass the Kerch Strait. Group 2 disembarked at Cape Khroni to the northeast of Kerch, it consisted of the gunboat Don, the transports Krasny Flot and Pyenay, a tugboat, two motor barges that carried three T-26 light tanks and a few artillery pieces, 16 fishing trawlers.
Whaleboats were substituted for landing craft, resulting in tediously slow landings and the drowning of men and equipment. 697 men from the 2nd Battalion of the 160th Rifle Regiment landed at Cape
Siege of Leningrad
The Siege of Leningrad was a prolonged military blockade undertaken from the south by the Army Group North of Nazi Germany against the Soviet city of Leningrad on the Eastern Front in World War II. The Finnish army invaded from the north, co-operating with the Germans until they had recaptured territory lost in the recent Winter War, but refused to make further approaches to the city; the siege started on 8 September 1941. Although the Soviet forces managed to open a narrow land corridor to the city on 18 January 1943, the siege was not lifted until 27 January 1944, 872 days after it began, it was one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history, the costliest in casualties suffered. Some historians classify it as genocide. Leningrad's capture was one of three strategic goals in the German Operation Barbarossa and the main target of Army Group North; the strategy was motivated by Leningrad's political status as the former capital of Russia and the symbolic capital of the Russian Revolution, its military importance as a main base of the Soviet Baltic Fleet, its industrial strength, housing numerous arms factories.
By 1939, the city was responsible for 11% of all Soviet industrial output. It has been reported that Adolf Hitler was so confident of capturing Leningrad that he had invitations printed to the victory celebrations to be held in the city's Hotel Astoria. Although various theories have been put forward about Germany's plans for Leningrad, including renaming the city Adolfsburg and making it the capital of the new Ingermanland province of the Reich in Generalplan Ost, it is clear Hitler's intention was to utterly destroy the city and its population. According to a directive sent to Army Group North on 29 September, "After the defeat of Soviet Russia there can be no interest in the continued existence of this large urban centre. Following the city's encirclement, requests for surrender negotiations shall be denied, since the problem of relocating and feeding the population cannot and should not be solved by us. In this war for our existence, we can have no interest in maintaining a part of this large urban population."Hitler's ultimate plan was to raze Leningrad to the ground and give areas north of the River Neva to the Finns.
Army Group North under Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb advanced to Leningrad, its primary objective. Von Leeb's plan called for capturing the city on the move, but due to Hitler's recall of 4th Panzer Group, von Leeb had to lay the city under siege indefinitely after reaching the shores of Lake Ladoga, while trying to complete the encirclement and reaching the Finnish Army under Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim waiting at the Svir River, east of Leningrad. Finnish military forces were north of Leningrad, while German forces occupied territories to the south. Both German and Finnish forces had the goal of encircling Leningrad and maintaining the blockade perimeter, thus cutting off all communication with the city and preventing the defenders from receiving any supplies – although Finnish participation in the blockade consisted of recapture of lands lost in the Winter War. Thus, it is argued that much of the Finns participation was defensive; the Germans planned on lack of food being their chief weapon against the citizens.
On Friday, 27 June 1941, the Council of Deputies of the Leningrad administration organised "First response groups" of civilians. In the next days, Leningrad's civilian population was informed of the danger and over a million citizens were mobilised for the construction of fortifications. Several lines of defences were built along the city's perimeter to repulse hostile forces approaching from north and south by means of civilian resistance. In the south, the fortified line ran from the mouth of the Luga River to Chudovo, Uritsk and through the Neva River. Another line of defence passed through Peterhof to Gatchina, Pulkovo and Koltushy. In the north the defensive line against the Finns, the Karelian Fortified Region, had been maintained in Leningrad's northern suburbs since the 1930s, was now returned to service. A total of 306 km of timber barricades, 635 km of wire entanglements, 700 km of anti-tank ditches, 5,000 earth-and-timber emplacements and reinforced concrete weapon emplacements and 25,000 km of open trenches were constructed or excavated by civilians.
The guns from the cruiser Aurora were moved inland to the Pulkovo Heights to the south of Leningrad. The 4th Panzer Group from East Prussia took Pskov following a swift advance and managed to reach Novgorod by 16 August; the Soviet defenders fought to the death, despite the German discovery of the Soviet defence plans on an officer's corpse. After the capture of Novgorod, General Hoepner's 4th Panzer Group continued its progress towards Leningrad. However, the 18th Army – despite some 350,000 men lagging behind – forced its way to Ostrov and Pskov after the Soviet troops of the Northwestern Front retreated towards Leningrad. On 10 July, both Ostrov and Pskov were captured and the 18th Army reached Narva and Kingisepp, from where advance toward Leningrad continued from the Luga River line; this had the effect of creating siege positions from the Gulf of Finland to Lake Ladoga, with the eventual aim of isolating Leningrad from all directions. The Finnish Army was expected to advance along the eastern shore of Lake Ladoga.
Army Group North 18th Army (v
Battles of Rzhev
The Battles of Rzhev were a series of Soviet operations in World War II between January 8, 1942 and March 31, 1943. Due to the high losses suffered by the Red Army, the campaign became known by veterans and historians as the "Rzhev Meat Grinder"; the operations took place in the general area of Rzhev, Sychyovka in Sychyovsky District, Vyazma against German forces. The major operations that were executed in this area of the front were: Rzhev–Vyazma Strategic Offensive Operation of the Kalinin Front, Western Front, Bryansk Front, Northwestern Front Sychyovsky–Vyazma offensive operation of the Kalinin Front Mozhaysk–Vyazma offensive operation of the Western Front Toropets–Kholm Offensive Operation of the Northwestern Front and reassigned to the Kalinin Front from 22 January 1942 Vyazma airborne operation of the Western Front Rzhev operation Operation Seydlitz and the Soviet defensive battles around Bely and Kholm-Zhirkovsky launched by 9th Army of Germany to eliminate the salient in the vicinity between Bely and Kholm–Zhirkovsky and annihilate the 39th Army and 11th Cavalry Corps of the Kalinin Front First Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation by forces of the Kalinin Front and Western Front Second Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation by the forces of the Kalinin Front and Western Front Battle for Velikiye Luki by 3rd Shock Army of the Kalinin Front Third Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation by the forces of the Kalinin Front and Western Front, at the same time, the southern flank offensive operations on the Bryansk Front.
These were operations that occurred during the planned German retreat from the salient known as Operation Büffel During the Soviet winter counter-offensive of 1941, the Rzhev-Vyazma Strategic Offensive Operation, German forces were pushed back from Moscow. As a result, a salient was formed along the front line in the direction of the capital, which became known as the Rzhev-Vyazma Salient, it was strategically important for the German Army Group Centre due to the threat it posed to Moscow, was therefore fortified and defended. Initial Soviet forces committed by the Kalinin and Western Front included the 22nd, 29th, 30th, 31st, 39th of the former, the 1st Shock, 5th, 10th, 16th, 20th, 33rd, 43rd, 49th, 50th armies and three cavalry corps for the latter; the intent was for the 22nd Army, 29th Army and 39th Armies supported by the 11th Cavalry Corps to attack West of Rzhev, penetrate deep into the western flank of Army Group Centre's 9th Army. This was achieved in January, by the end of the month the cavalry corps found itself 110 km in the depth of the German flank.
To eliminate this threat to the rear of the Army Group Centre's 9th Army, the Germans had started Operation Seydlitz by 2 July. However, due to the nature of the terrain the supply route of the troops of the Soviet 22nd Army, 29th Army and 39th Armies which attempted to enlarge the penetration became difficult, they were encircled; the cutting of a major highway to Rzhev by the cavalry signalled the commencement of the Toropets–Kholm Offensive. The offensive was conducted in late 1942; this offensive was conducted across the northern part of the Western Front against the Wehrmacht's 4th Panzer Army and the 4th Army. A Soviet airborne operation, conducted by the 4th Airborne Corps in seven separate landing zones, five of them intended to cut major road and rail line of communication to the Wehrmacht's 9th Army. In the aftermath of the Soviet winter counteroffensive of 1941–42, substantial Soviet forces remained in the rear of the German Ninth Army; these forces maintained a hold on the primitive forested swamp region between Bely.
On July 2, 1942, Ninth Army under General Model launched Operation Seydlitz to clear the Soviet forces out. The Germans first blocked the natural breakout route through the Obsha valley and split the Soviet forces into two isolated pockets; the battle ended with the elimination of the encircled Soviet forces. The next Rzhev-Sychyovka Offensive codenamed Operation Mars; the operation consisted of several incremental offensive phases: Sychyovka Offensive Operation 24 November 1942 – 14 December 1942 Belyi Offensive Operation 25 November 1942 – 16 December 1942 Luchesa Offensive Operation 25 November 1942 – 11 December 1942 Molodoi Tud Offensive Operation 25 November 1942 – 23 December 1942 Velikie-Luki Offensive Operation 24 November 1942 – 20 January 1943This operation was nearly as heavy in losses for the Red Army as the first offensive, failed to reach desired objectives, but the Red Army tied down German forces which may have otherw