Leningrad versus Sevastopol

          Over the years, many historians have debated over why Leningrad did not surrender to the Germans despite their continuous bombardment and shelling of the city after 900 days. With this chapter I attempt to explain why Leningrad failed but, more importantly, why Sevastopol fell. Actually, why Sevastopol fell is a largely unexplored area of Barbarossa.

 

Comparison

 

Leningrad

Sevastopol

Days

900

247

German Commander

Leeb

Manstein

Soviet Commander

Zhukov

Zhukov

Location

Karelian Isthmus

Crimean Peninsula

Population

3,000,000

250,000

 

Rescue Attempts

àLeningrad: Annually 1941-1943. Unsuccessful but stopped German plans

àSevastopol: Once—1942

 

Capture Attempts:

          àLeningrad: Twice in 1942 and 1943.

          àSevastopol: Once in 1942

 

          Thus ends our discussion of the facts. But the question still lingers: Why did Leningrad not fall ‘like a leaf’ (as Hitler claimed) despite 900 continuous days of siege and Sevastopol fall after 247?

          Bravery is not an answer. Both the citizens of Leningrad and Sevastopol participated in the defence of their cities bravely, producing munitions and anti-tank trenches, thus aiding the local garrisons.

          Was Leningrad in a more strategic position than Sevastopol? Definitely not. Sevastopol could be easily supplied via the sea, while trucks going to Leningrad had to cross Lake Ladoga. (Many of them failed to reach their destination).

          Was the decision to attack Sevastopol, the most obvious, the critical factor? No. Keep the siege of Sevastopol on for 300 more days and you will find that the city is in a more desperate situation, probably on the brink of surrender, than Leningrad after 1000 days.

          Is population an answer? A study has shown that 70% of all historical battles were won with the country or coalition with the larger population. Surely this applies with a siege too? No! A larger population means that a larger amount of food has to be supplied!

          Do the commanders make a difference? Yes, Field-Marshal Manstein was one of the most brilliant commanders Germany ever had, but he was still subservient to Hitler’s temperament. (No disrespect to von Leeb—he was a wonderful commander too.)

          What then is the decisive factor? The answer, dear reader, is what the Germans had in mind with the city of Leningrad.

 

QUOTE

…The war was Hitler’s element, not because he had military genius, but because war gave him “carte blanche” to carry out the genocide in the East which he had been planning for twenty years. So long as he was still confident of winning, he had no compunctions about confiding his murderous intentions to his staff; both his dinner table conversation and his instructions to his field commanders were full of dire threats and apocalyptic prophesies. The city of Moscow, to take a notable example, was to be completely extinguished. During the summer of 1941, when the Soviet capital seemed almost within his grasp, he told his generals that

 

‘…no German soldier should set foot in this city. It should be encircled in a white arc. No soldier or civilian, whether man, woman or child, should be permitted to leave it. Every attempt to do so was to be turned back by force of arms. He (Hitler) had made preparations to flood Moscow and its environs my means of gigantic installations, and to submerge it completely. Where Moscow had stood a mighty artificial lake would be created, and the metropolis of the Russian people would be forever removed from the sight of the civilized world…’

 

Leningrad, whose capture seemed imminent, was to be accorded the same treatment, through minus the artificial lake. On 29 September 1941, the Führer’s orders were transmitted to Army Group North -

 

Subject: Future of the City of Peterburg

II. The Führer is determined to remove the city of Petersburg from the face of the earth. After the defeat of Soviet Russia there can be no interest in the continued existence of this large urban areas.

III. It is intended to encircle the town and level it to the ground by means of artillery bombardment using every calibre of weapon, and continual air bombardment.

IV. Requests for surrender resulting from the city’s encirclement will be denied, since the problem of relocating and feeding the population cannot and should not be solved by us. In this war for our very existence, there can be no interest on our part in maintaining even a part of this large urban population.

In other words, the population of Leningrad was to be eradicated.[1]...

 

Therefore I conclude that the siege of Leningrad was a siege unique in history, conducted for the purpose not of forcing a city's surrender, but of wiping that city and its entire population from the face of the earth. German troops had instructions to shoot down any inhabitants of the city who, driven by hunger, tried to leave the encirclement in the direction of the German lines.

 

 

 



[1] Source: Frederic V. Grunfeld, The Hitler File: A Social History of Germany and the Nazis 1918-45, Bonanza Books New York, 1979. Grunfeld is quoting: Max Domarus: “Hitler, Reden und Proklamationen, 1932-1945”, Munich 1965, page 1755.

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