The Siege of Leningrad, one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history, began.
Nazi Germany’s Lebensraum foreign policy sought to secure living space for future generations of Germans in the ‘Thousand-Year Reich’. Hitler intended the fertile lands of the western USSR to provide food for his new empire, while the native Slavic population would be destroyed and replaced with ethnic Germans.
Leningrad, which is now known as Saint Petersburg, was a politically significant Soviet city due to its role in the Bolshevik Revolution. Furthermore it was a centre of industrial production, and had military significance as a base for the Baltic Fleet of the Soviet navy. Consequently, when Operation Barbarossa’s invasion of the Soviet Union began on 22 June 1941, the capture of Leningrad was a key strategic goal.
By September, Army Group North under the command of German Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb had reached the southern outskirts of the city whilst the Finnish army had approached from the north. Meanwhile, more than a million people from the civilian population of Leningrad prepared extensive fortifications to assist the approximately 200,000 Red Army defenders.
Although the city’s defences held, by the start of September Leningrad was almost entirely surrounded with its communication lines severed. The Germans attempted a final push but, unable to overcome the defensive fortifications, Hitler ordered that the city be starved into submission.
Over one million civilians died as a result of the ensuing siege that lasted for more than 870 days. The Red Army was eventually able to repel the German forces and lift the siege in January 1944.