April 15, 2015

1943. Breaking the Encirclement of Leningrad

Operation Iskra
Red Army soldiers attacking near Leningrad in the weeks before Operation Iskra, January 1, 1943 (RIA Novostisource)
The parentheses indicate text hat did not pass Soviet censors for military security or propaganda reasons.

(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports.)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

January 24, 1943

The army newspaper, Red Star, said this morning that "the basis for the complete routing of the enemy has been established." The newspaper then revealed the future plans of the Red Army offensive. "It is now necessary to give the army no rest," the newspaper said. ("We now have the enormous advantage of the initiative. The enemy is now tossing about, trying vainly to fill up one hole after another in his defense.") "The German fascist invaders still possess forces and will attempt to launch new adventures...but we must not slow down our operations."

(The Soviet plan of attack has been "hit 'em hard, hit 'em fast, and hit 'em all the time." That's what is going on now.) The capture of Armavir has placed the Soviet troops only some 170 miles southwest of Rostov. The Germans at the Maikop oil fields have now been cut off. Another Russian army is moving westward up the Maniych river valley towards Rostov and is only 80 miles away.

North of Rostov, still another Russian army is moving westward, taking highways and railroad lines which form the only means of communication between isolated Axis forces. Over 64,000 enemy soldiers—mostly Italians, Hungarians, and Romanians—have surrendered since this offensive south of Voronezh began. Still more prisoners were being collected last night. In the past nine days alone, the Red Army has routed 17 infantry divisions (which are fleeing for their lives along snow-covered roads and railroad right-of-ways. These included four German infantry divisions.)

However, Red Star's military analyst also warns that Hitler still is not crushed. It printed a description of the Leningrad defenses, which graphically describes just what the Red Army is up against in the way of German opposition.

During their sixteen month encirclement of Leningrad, the Germans built a three-to-five mile zone of concentrated Siegfried Line. It was a military nightmare.

First there was row after row of coiled barbed wire. Then came the minefields. Red Army sappers on one small slope approaching an important height defused over 3,000 mines. Every height was protected this way.

There were special traps for ski-troops (consisting of perpendicular ditches through which skiers could not slide.) On top of the heights, the Germans built concrete fences a yard apart and filled the space in between with snow and earth. Over this they poured water, which made an ice bulwark.

And behind all of this, they constructed pillboxes and blockhouses (with apertures for their guns and artillery.)

The German troops around Leningrad lived almost an underground life. They didn't dare stick their heads above ground for fear of getting them shot off.

The Germans even dug great trench roads—roads many feet deep so they could move their ammunition and equipment safely. Horses and trucks used these defenses.

The German circle around Leningrad was probably the toughest line of fortifications ever devised. The breaking of this circle by a courageous and determined army should banish forever what is called "Maginot-thinking."

The broken segment of these defenses now looks like an earthquake had struck them. Bits of German bodies are mixed with the bits of pillboxes. Soviet units found whole cellars full of German bodies stacked to the ceiling awaiting burial. The Russian attack was so terrible that captured prisoners were completely unnerved. Many of the Germans were half-mad.

A nineteen-year-old Moscow youth who was once a lathe-worker has been decorated on the Leningrad battlefield. He was one of the three men from the Volkhov army that first met the Leningrad army in the big breakthrough. His two companions were a Siberian wood chopper and a foundry worker from the Urals.

These men are typical of the kind of stuff of which the Red Army is made up.