Our trip to Phoenix was good, though it ended quickly. While I don’t much like to fly (and I’ve made no secret of that), the flights were quite smooth. Our son is doing well…we got to see his apartment for the first time, and it’s pretty nice. I really like the stark beauty of the Arizona desert, but the city is so large and busy that it’s hard to really do anything on our own (much less really enjoy the area) until we’ve spent a little more time there. We’ll go back again, but for now, it was good to see him.
Let’s touch on a bit of history to get back into the swing of things.
As August of 1941 prepared to roll into September, it was hard to characterize Operation Barbarossa as anything other than a smashing success for the Germans. One by one, the cities of western Russia fell to the forces of the Wehrmacht. We’ve dedicated time to the capture of Vitebsk, Minsk, and Smolensk in the course of all our discussions, and made mention of a couple others, like Kiev and Kharkov. So those of you that are regular readers are well aware that the early months of this massive German “gamble in the east” were heady ones for the invaders.
In the north, Army Group North was bearing down on Leningrad. Situated on the Gulf of Finland, this city of 4 million people was much more than a large Russian seaport. As the place where the Revolution of 1905 began, it was also considered the cradle of the Communist movement. And those two things made it a doubly important target for Adolf Hitler’s legions.
And even as the German Panzers approached the outskirts of the city, there was some doubt as to the next steps. In his book The Siege of Leningrad (now approaching 40 years since publication), Leon Goure writes, “The stage was thus set for the final assault on the city. But at that time it was by no means certain that such an assault would be made, because Hitler was unable to decide what to do with Leningrad once it was captured.”
Some of Hitler’s generals agreed, desiring that Moscow be the primary target and that Leningrad be left to wither in an encirclement. Goure goes on to write that Hitler really wanted to avoid a direct attack on the city for a couple of reasons. First, he believed the Soviet propoganda promising a bloody house-to-house defense. He had already seen a teaser of that kind of warfare in places like Kiev, Smolensk, and Tallin, and it was costly in both men and equipment. But second, the German dictator wasn’t really sure what to do with the city’s 4 million people. He suggested forcing them from the city and allowing them to travel further east, but the Generals knew that was impractical.
As the Generals debated, the Army successes continued. On August 30, 1941, the Germans cut the Leningrad-Ovinichi rail line and had advanced as far as the Neva River at Ivanovskoe. The railroad was the last one out of Leningrad. If people were going to get out of the city, it would likely be on foot.
For all intents and purposes, Leningrad was now surrounded. The only open area was directly east of the city, towards Lake Ladoga, and the Germans were trying (thus far unsuccessfully) to get Mannerheim and his Finnish troops to take that area. The Siege of Leningrad was about to begin.
Recommended Reading: The Siege of Leningrad – There are numerous worthy books on the Siege. This happens to be the “grandfather” in my collection, so it gets the nod today.