Wednesday 29 January 2014

Leningrad's Planned Fate

The blockade of Leningrad is a controversial topic among some circles. Hundreds of thousands of civilians starved to death within the besieged city. To this day, some insist that these live could have been saved if the city surrendered, but a cursory examination of Army Group North's documents shows this to be false. The following scans have been retrieved from NARA (T311, Roll 51, Roll 53, Roll 54), demonstrating the attitude towards the city and its citizens. German to Russian translations have been provided by Labas. The documents are numerous, so I will only be translating the most relevant tidbits. Provided documents come in chronological order.

"2) The encirclement of Leningrad, as a final goal, may be achieved by means of a ring, coiling tightly around the city, in order to save on manpower. In order to avoid large losses, the city should not be attacked by infantry. After the destruction of enemy AA and fighters, the city should be rid of any ability to sustain life by destroying dams, warehouses, sources of electrical power, military installations, and enemy forces, with artillery fire.
OKH will negotiate with the Finnish army, which will maintain the encirclement from the north and north-east, acting on the same principles"

"In order to cut off all supply routes into Leningrad and starve it to surrender, Schmidt's group must break through to Ladoga through the Mga railroad station."

"The Fuhrer and OKW see no reason why the Leningrad should not be bombed and fired at with artillery."

"Regarding Leningrad, the city should not be taken, just encircled. I gave the opinion that if Leningrad, possibly due to starvation, surrenders, it must be rid of the ability to defend itself. All soldiers and those capable of fighting should be removed from the city, all weapons should be surrendered. Then we can leave a small portion of forces in the city, freeing up the rest."

"Allegedly, Leningrad is full of evacuees from Krasnogvardeysk, Krasnoye Selo, and Kolpino. Bread rations are already decreasing. After regrouping, I see no reason why we could not move swiftly towards Leningrad. What we should do with the city itself, accept its surrender, destroy it with fire, or let it starve is up to the Fuhrer, and his decision, sadly, has not been made."

"When General-Field Marshall Keitel visited, we discussed that the Finns will only move forward when we attack that shore of the Neva. The Fuhrer is keeping the fate of Leningrad in case of surrender to himself."

"Regarding Leningrad, the principles are the same: we enter the city, and we cannot feed it. General-Field Marshal Keitel thinks that he has a plan to move the women and children to the east. Final decisions have not been made."

A memo titled W.Wette/G.Ueberschär "Unternehmen Barbarossa" from L OKW/WFSt from September 21st, 1941, expands on the above.

"Leningrad Memo
  1. Take the city, as we have done with other large Russian cities.
    Declined, as then we would be tasked with feeding the population.
  2. Surround the city with a tight ring, and preferably an electrified fence, which would be guarded by machinegunners.
    Deficiency: of the two million citizens, the weak will die, and the strong will control their supplies, and remain alive. There is a danger of an epidemic that will transfer to our front. Additionally, we do not know if our soldiers are willing to shoot at women and children attempting to break out.
  3. Women, children, and old men should be removed, the rest left to starve in the city.
    1. The expulsion through Volhov and into enemy lines is preferable, but impractical. Who is going to control and direct the hundreds of thousands? Where will the Russian front be then?
    2. If they cannot be expelled past the Russian front, they should be distributed among captured territories.
      In any case, there is the possibility that the survivors will be the bearers of an epidemic and will hold in the city for a long time.
  4. After the Finns advance and encircle the city, retreat past the Neva and transfer all territories to the north of it to the Finns. The Finns unofficially requested tat they would like to have their border at the Neva, and that Leningrad must vanish. This is a good political outcome. However, the Finns cannot solve the issue of the population. We must do that.
Conclusions and recommendations:
  1. We announce to the world that Stalin defends Leningrad as a fortress, and thus we must treat it as a military installation. Nevertheless, we will appear merciful, and allow Roosevelt to supply the imprisoned citizens with food using neutral ships supervised by the Red Cross, which we will provide free transit to. Of course, we will not do so, only announce this from a propaganda standpoint.
  2. Leningrad must be tightly encircled and destroyed with artillery and aircraft (initially available aircraft are insufficient).
  3. When the terror and hunger grips the city, a limited number of unarmed civilians will be released through individual openings, and either deported into the depths of Russia or spread out among captured territories. 
  4. The fortress garrison is left to itself for the winter. We will enter in the spring. If the Finns enter earlier, no objections will be made. Everything in it will be either captured or deported deep into Russia. Leningrad will be levelled with explosives, and the territory north of the Neva given to the Finns."
Things are already looking bleak for Leningrad if it falls, but it only gets worse.

"The Fuhrer decided that the surrender of Leningrad will not be accepted. The moral reasons for this are known to the whole world. Time bombs in Kiev represent a great danger to our forces, and Leningrad will likely contain those in much greater numbers. The fact that Leningrad is wired to blow and will be defended to the last man was announced on Soviet-Russian radio. Large scale epidemics are expected. 
Not one German soldier must enter the city. Anyone that wishes to leave through our lines must be fired upon and driven back. Small openings should be left in the lines to allow the population to drain deeper into Russia. For this and all other cities, the rule is in effect that they must be destroyed by fire and bombs before an assault, and the population forced to flee. It is irresponsible to put the lives of German soldiers at risk to save Russian cities and feed their people at the cost of Germany. This will increase the chaos in Russia, and make controlling and exploiting occupied territories easier as more and more Soviet-Russian people flee deeper into Russia. This decree of the Fuhrer should be communicated to all commanders. 
OKH comment: in order to ease the implementation of this plan, current encirclement of Leningrad must be narrowed where tactically necessary."

"A decision came from OKW today regarding Leningrad, dictating that a surrender cannot be accepted. The Army Group asked OKH if Russian forces should be imprisoned in this case. If they are not, the Russians will continue their struggle and cause casualties, likely heavy, on our side.

"2) All visited units asked the question of what to do if Leningrad surrenders, and how to treat the streams of hungry citizens that will leave the city. The impression was that the soldiers are bothered by this. The commander of the 58th infantry division mentioned that he passed on an order from above to his division that matches existing orders, namely that anyone trying to break through should be shot, in order to nip any problems in the bud. According to him, his division will carry out the order, but he doubts that it will maintain self control when forced to kill women, children, and defenseless elders. The overall situation in his flank at Uritsk is worsening, but he is still not as concerned about it as about the civilian issue. This is not only his outlook, but also that of his subordinates. The soldiers know that we cannot feed the millions in Leningrad without an impact for our own country. Because of this, the German soldier must prevent any breakthrough attempts, with weapons if necessary. This may easily lead to the soldier continuing such atrocities after the end of the war. The commanders are trying to find an acceptable solution, but none has been found.
3) All civilians from Kronstadt and the regions of the encirclement are being evacuated. This is necessary, as the population cannot be fed there. The population is being transferred to the rear and spread out among the villages there. A large portion of the population went south to find themselves housing and means of survival. Thousands are moving on the Krasnogvardeysk-Pskov highway, mostly women, children, old men. Where they are going and what they are eating is impossible to determine. There is an impression that these people will, sooner or later, die of hunger. These images have a depressing effect on German soldiers performing construction along the road. 
18th army command reports that leaflets calling to desertion are still being dropped on Leningrad. This is incompatible with the order that deserters are no longer being accepted. They still are (100-120 per day), but these leaflets should be changed."

"The supreme commander is concerned with the issue of Leningrad and its civilian population. The land forces command suggested laying minefields in front of our lines, so that the soldiers do not have to engage the civilians directly. If Red forces at Leningrad and Kronstadt surrender, lay down their arms, and will be extracted into camps, the commander no longer sees a need to maintain the siege of the city. The forces will be transferred to accommodation areas. The majority of the population will die, but at least not in front of our eyes. The possibility of extracting a portion of the population through the road at Volhovstroy should be considered."

The excuse of bombs in Kiev is given, but Hitler has already expressed his desire to level Moscow and Leningrad long before then.

Numerous other statements litter both civilian political and military sources, like Hitler's directive #1601 from September 22nd, Die Zukunft der Stadt Petersburg.

"4. It is proposed to surround the city with a tight ring, and, by means of nonstop fire from artillery of all calibers and bombs, level it with the ground. If, as a result, there will be requests of surrender, decline them, as the issue of the city's population and its supplies cannot be, and should not be, solved by us. In this war, a war for the right to exist, we are not interested in preserving any amount of the population."

So there you have it, whether killed directly in the city, or starved during forced marches eastward or westward (keep in mind that this is written during fall and winter, along routes that aren't easy for even a non-starving traveller), all or most of Leningrad's civilian population would have ended up dead if the city surrendered. Thankfully, Leningrad held out. 1.5 million citizens were evacuated through the Road of Life, and many more survived inside the city.


  1. It's interesting to note, that the rhetoric in the first documents is rather questioning, and only really giving thought to the military part of the operation. The first note is really describing the ways to stop military and civilian resistance with the goal of surrender and thus military success. In the later notes, rather suddenly, the whole selection of words changes towards a "How could we possibly spend ressources on these Soviets? We need to wait till they die."
    As a "native reader" it really sends a chill down my spine...

  2. Jukka Juutinen11 June 2016 at 11:41

    Siege warfare is one of the oldest forms of warfare. And second one must ask that how about evacuating the population entirely? But then, when the average citizen was in hunger, Bolshevik bosses made sure that the prime Bolshevik Zhdanov was supplied with chocolate confetti.