1 – Siege of Leningrad (8 September 1941 – 27 January 1944)
The siege of Leningrad is quite simply one of the deadliest sieges in history and lasted for over 2 years and 4 months. The first German shell landed on the city on 1 September and the siege began a week later when the last road to the city was cut off. The city was one of the prime targets of the huge German invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa). Hitler was supremely confident of success and believed Leningrad would “fall like a leaf”.
As it turned out, the citizens of Leningrad were in no mood to surrender and bravely fought to keep the invading forces at bay. They built antitank fortifications which helped create a stable defence of the city. However, a lack of access to other Soviet towns and cities began to take its toll. Throughout 1942 it s estimated that around 650,000 Leningrad citizens died from disease, starvation, and injuries from enemy fire.
Although the Soviets succeeded in creating a 200-mile pathway to Zaborie (the road of life) and still had rail access of sorts, they were unable to bring in anywhere near the level of supplies needed to feed the estimated 3 million residents of the city and its suburbs. The Soviets did manage to evacuate 1.7 million people between June 1941 and March 1943 but a strict rationing system had to be implemented to survive.
While the Germans continued to lay siege to the city, they could never gain a foothold. On 27 August 1942, the Soviets launched the Sinyavino Offensive but it was soon halted. However, it did cause the Germans to abandon their own planned offensive so the stalemate continued until 12 January 1943. On this day, the Soviets began Operation Iskra which opened a small corridor and provided some relief to the residents of Leningrad.
The siege was ultimately lifted on 27 January 1944 when yet another Soviet offensive finally pushed the Germans away from the city. The retreating Germans proceeded to loot and destroy a number of palaces including the Catherine Palace. At least 1.5 million people died during the siege of Leningrad, many of them were citizens who succumbed to starvation and the harsh Russian winters.