I’ve been away from the keyboard for a couple of days…not lost in the Bermuda Triangle or anything, but just busy with “life” kind of things. I feel like the last couple months have been rather scatter-shot around here, but the good news is the calendar has lots of stuff coming up. In fact, between now and the end of the year, only 3 days are blank in the spreadsheet. We’ll see how I do…in the meantime…
As the bitter cold of 1941’s December descended, the picture was pretty bleak for Russian citizens. Leningrad was basically surrounded while the German armies pounded the city and waited for its inhabitants to starve. The spires of Moscow were in the sights of the Wehrmacht, and the encirclement of the capital was halted only by exhaustion, the need for fresh troops and supplies, and the afore-mentioned bitter cold.
And on the 5th, the Soviets struck hard, launching a massive counterattack aimed at relieving pressure on Moscow. Simultaneously, Red Army forces struck around Leningrad, hoping the stop the strangulation of that city as well. It was there that the Germans were trying to finish cutting off the eastern approaches to the city. If that could be done, then even a frozen Lake Ladoga would be of no use to the Russians.
Russian troops made for Tikhvin, which was located little more than one hundred miles southeast of Leningrad and had been taken by the Germans in mid-November. Two days later, Tikhvin was largely surrounded. Hitler had promised to deliver 100 tanks and more than 20,000 troops, but what the Russians actually encountered were a half-dozen tanks and exhausted men that were freezing. In the face of impossible odds and with 7,000 casualties already lost, German Field Marshal Ritter von Leeb was left with little choice but to abandon Tikhvin to the home country. On December 9, 1941, Red Army forces recaptured the town.
If light of how precarious the overall situation was for Russia, it seems a rather insignificant victory…it’s one town. But it also reopened a major railhead and reduced the road route to Lake Ladoga from nearly 200 miles to just 60. Trucking supplies over the frozen lake had now moved from the realm of “near suicidal” to “feasible”.
For the time being, the victory saved Leningrad. Dmitry Pavlov, Leningrad’s food chief, later wrote, “Without exaggeration, the defeat of the German Fascist forces at Tikhvin and the recapture of the northern railway line up to Mga station saved thousands of people from starvation.”
In his book Absolute War, Chris Bellamy writes, “More than that, the counteroffensive which retook the vital junction at Tikhvin on 9 December 1941 was the first major successful counteroffensive against the Wehrmacht by any combatant in the Second World War.”
The fight for Tikhvin displayed the first chink in the armor of German superiority, and that made the battle a big deal.