2nd Sinyavino Offensive Operation

The '2nd Sinyavino Offensive Operation' was the Soviet second attempt by forces of General Major Ivan I. Fedyuninsky’s (from 27 October General Leytenant Mikhail S. Khozin’s) Leningrad Front to lift the siege of Leningrad by removing the German forces of Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Heeresgruppe 'Nord' from their lodgement along the south-western shore of Lake Ladoga and thereby reopening overland communication with the beleaguered city (20/28 October 1941).

The '2nd Sinyavino Offensive Operation' began even as the Germans were undertaking their own 'Tichwin' in the same basic area to expand their lodgement to the east by taking Tikhvin, and this significantly complicated the implementation of the original Soviet plan. Although 28 October is seen as the day on which the '2nd Sinyavino Offensive Operation' came to an end, the Soviet forces in fact continued the offensive and, according to the adjusted plan, attempted to break the blockade until December 1941, but did not succeed.

By the beginning of October 1941, Heeresgruppe 'Nord', which was responsible for the German efforts on the northern end of the Eastern Front between the southern coast of Lake Ladoga southward to Lake Ilmen, lacked the strength to attempt the storming of Leningrad and, as a result, the Germans decided to destroy the city with artillery fire and air attacks, and to starve the defenders and residents of the city. In order to complete their blockade of Leningrad, early in October the Germans returned to the preparation of their 'Tichwin' plan for an offensive against Tikhvin in order that they cool link with the Finnish forces on the Svir river.

In this situation, the Soviets began work on the finalisation of its plan for the second operation to break the blockade of the city. Although the Leningrad Front could not rely on the receipt of major reinforcement, on 12 October the Soviet supreme command ordered the immediate organisation of an offensive by General Major Ivan G. Lazarev’s 55th Army, General Leytenant Mikhail S. Khozin’s (from 27 General Major Ivan I. Fedyuninsky’s) 54th Army and General Major Mikhail P. Dukhanov’s Neva Operational Group with the aim of co-ordinated offensive action to retake Mga station and break the blockade.

At the same time, in the opinion of the Soviet supreme command, the restoration of overland communications between Leningrad and the rest of the country was necessary most importantly to open the way for the withdrawal of forces from the Leningrad Front from the encirclement for redeployment onto other sectors of the Eastern Front. On 23 October, General Major (from 28 October General Leytenant) Aleksandr M. Vasilevsky, the deputy chief of the general staff and head of that body’s operations directorate, telephoned Fedyuninsky to pass on the instructions of Iosif Stalin: 'If you do not break through the front within the next few days and do not restore a strong link with the 54th Army, which connects you with the rear of the country, all your troops will be taken prisoner. The restoration of this link is necessary not only in order to supply the troops of the Leningrad Front, but especially in order to give the Leningrad Front’s forces an exit for retreat to the east in order to avoid captivity in the event that necessity forces the surrender of Leningrad. For us, the army is more important.'

The plan specified by the Soviet supreme command in a directive of 14 October ordered the forces of the Leningrad Front to deliver a counter-offensive from three points in the general direction of Sinyavino using the Neva Operational Group, the 55th Army and the 54th Army to encircle and destroy the German forces in the area of Schlüsselburg and Sinyavino. The Leningrad Front’s military council decided to launch the offensive on 20 October with nine infantry divisions, one rifle brigade, four tank brigades and one tank battalion totalling about 70,000 men supported by 97 tanks and 475 pieces of artillery.

The plan assumed that the main blow would be delivered by the 55th Army, which was to advance along the line of the railway linking Leningrad and Mga via Ivanovskoye in the direction of Sinyavino with at least five tank-supported infantry divisions. The 54th Army was to break through the German defences in the area of Tortolovo using the 3rd Guards Division, 4th Guards Division and 310th Division, supported by the 16th Tank Brigade and 122nd Tank Brigade, and then advance in the direction of Sinyavino to link with elements of the 55th Army. The Neva Operational Group, advancing from the bridgehead in the area of Moskovska Dubrovka, was to facilitate the actions of the 55th Army and 54th Army.

The German forces of Generaloberst Ernst Busch’s 16th Army, totalling about 54,000 men supported by 450 pieces of artillery, occupied a solid defence in the Schlüsselburg and Sinyavino salient, in which they had constructed many bunkers, pillboxes and other defensive features in wooded and swampy terrain.

Before the start of the operation, the Soviets possessed no significant superiority over the Germans in terms of men and artillery, but by regrouping sand redeploying formations and units, they were able to create a local superiority of 2/1 or even 3/1 in men and equipment in the sectors of the main strikes.

The Leningrad Front hoped to complete the offensive with success and in only a short time, but on 16 October, three corps of the 16th Army launched 'Tichwin', and this jeopardised the Soviet operation. Even so, the Soviet supreme command demanded that the '2nd Sinyavino Offensive Operation' be launched on the specified date.

Immediately after the start of the offensive, the Soviet forces met fierce German resistance and could win any measure if initial success. The advancing infantry units were ill-prepared for crossing the type of water barrier they faced along the Neva river, and for combat in terrain that was wooded and swampy. In the area of Moskovska Dubrovka, fierce battles were fought on the left bank of the Neva river by the 86th Division, 115th Division and 265th Division. On the right bank, significant Soviet strength was concentrated to cross into the bridgehead, the forces including the 123rd Heavy Tank Brigade equipped with KV-1 vehicles. It quickly emerged that there were great problems with the movement of heavy tanks onto the river’s left bank, so it was decided to transfer these tanks to the 55th Army for an offensive along the southern bank of the Neva river from the direction of the village of Ivanovskoye.

The 54th Army’s offensive was also developed with considerable difficulty. Only the 4th Guards Rifle and the 16th Tank Brigade achieved success, although of merely limited nature, in the Tortolovo area. At the same time, by 23 October, the Soviet forces had suffered very heavy losses and could no longer advance: some infantry regiments had been reduced to just 300 men.

On 26 October, at Fedyuninsky’s request, the Soviet supreme command exchanged Fedyuninsky and Khozin so that the latter became commander of the Leningrad Front and the former commander of the 54th Army.

By the end of October it had become clear that the Soviet offensive toward Sinyavino had stalled. Moreover, in the same period the situation in the area of Tikhvin worsened considerably for the Soviets, and this compelled the Leningrad Front to transfer a number of formations, primarily from the 54th Army, toward Sinyavino Based on the situation then existing, however, the decision was taken for a temporary suspension of the operation and and an adjustment of the plan for a further offensive.

On 31 October Khozin, in a report to Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Boris M. Shaposhnikov, the chief of the general staff, presented his plan for a renewed offensive with the same primary objective of lifting the blockade of Leningrad. As the 54th Army’s main strength was at this time involved in the defence of Tikhvin, for the renewed offensive the main and auxiliary roles were assigned to the Neva Operational Group and the 55th Army respectively. In the offensive’s first stage, it was planned that the bridgehead on the left bank of the Neva river be enlarged with five infantry divisions before the main blow was delivered by a grouping reinforced by four infantry divisions and one tank brigade toward Workers' Settlement No. 6 and Sinyavino. After this grouping had linked with the 54th Army, it was planned to complete a regrouping of all the forces and deliver a general blow to Msu from the north. At the same time, on 2 November, an auxiliary blow was to be made by seven infantry divisions and one tank brigade of the 55th Army toward Ivanovskoye and Mga. The start of the operation to break the blockade was planned for a time only a fews days later and for completion by 4 or 5 November.

For the offensive from the bridgehead in the area of Moskovska Dubrovka, the 86th Division, 115th Division, 265th Division, 168th Division, 177th Division and the 20th NKVD Division were assembled, and the supposed success of the operation on the right bank of the Neva river was to be exploited by the 10th Division, 11th Naval Brigade, 4th Naval Brigade and a number of other units.

To improve control, the 'Neva patch' (in Russian Nevsky porosenok or Neva piglet) and the Oranienbaum beach-head were transferred to the 8th Army, commanded by General Leytenant Trifan I. Shevaldin, former commander of the Leningrad South-Western Fortified Region, and who now also controlled the Neva Operational Group.

Fully expecting an offensive in exactly the location selected by the Soviets, the Germans had created a powerful defensive line round their bridgehead: this was based on a number of strongpoints such as the village of Arbuzovo in the south, the Figurnaya wood in the east, and the 1st Gorodok and in 8th State District Power Plant in the north.

The 8th State District Power Plant dominated the river and the 'Neva patch', giving the Germans not only excellent observation points but also the opportunity to create well-protected firing positions in the lowest floors. In the depths of the German position, and more than 1,095 yards (1000 m) of the southern coast of Lake Ladoga, there were two huge slag heaps resulting from the 10-year operation of the 8th State District Power Plant. Soviet reconnaissance in force revealed that the Germans had built concealed machine gun positions into these. Ahead of the mounds were two deep sand pits, and in these the Germans had created firing positions for mortars of several calibres: these positions were not visible and were therefore immune to flat-trajectory direct fire. As a result of the Neva' river’s bend in this area, the river and 'Neva patch' the flanks and rear of any Soviet advance were vulnerable to the fire of artillery and other weapons from the village of Arbuzovo.

The new Soviet offensive was launched on 3 November by elements of the 168th Division, 177th Division and 86th Division, but from the moment it began the offensive was hit by machine gun and mortar fire from several directions and started to sustain very heavy losses. For a number of reasons, including a shortage of ammunition, the Soviet artillery could not suppress the majority of the German firing points. Polkovnik Semyon N. Borshchev, the 168th Division’s chief-of-staff, later recorded that he had requested Polkovnik S. A. Krasnopevtsev, the army’s artillery commander, to suppress the German firing points in the Figurnaya wood and the 8th State District Power Plant but been told that the entire supply of ammunition allocated to the day’s action had already been expended and therefore that nothing could be offered to support the division.

Despite the apparent failure on the offensive’s first day, the Soviets were still confident of success. Shevaldin ordered the commanders of the units fighting in the bridgehead to take the personal lead in attacks. However, neither this measure nor the seven light tanks which had with great difficulty been transported into the bridgehead could bring about the desired success. After several days of incessant attacks, all of the Soviet first-echelon had suffered huge losses and were incapable of further active operations.

On 8 November, Iosif Stalin became so concerned about the slow development of the operation that in a telephone conversation advised Khozin and Aleksei A. Zhdanov, the political member of the Leningrad Front’s military council, to create one or two consolidated regiments of volunteers, hoping that 'consolidated regiments of brave people would pull themselves and the rest of the infantry'. During the day, three 2,750-man communist regiments were formed. The strength of the artillery group under Krasnopevtsev’s command, which was supporting the offensive in the 'Neva patch' area, was increased to 600 pieces of artillery and mortars, and several artillery and mortar units were sent into the bridgehead from Neva right’s the right bank to provide infantry units with direct support.

On the morning of 10 November, after arriving in the bridgehead, the 1st Communist Shock Regiment went on the attack, but was met with a storm of fire, suffered heavy losses and achieved nothing. By the end of the day, the regiment was lost with only about 500 men.

On 11 November, the German positions were attacked by the 2nd Communist Shock Regiment with the support of the significantly thinned 168th Division and 177th Division in order to capture the 1st Gorodok, and on the following day the 3rd Communist Shock Regiment was committed. On the same day Shevaldin ordered all three of the communist shock regiments and the five infantry divisions to advance, but all these formations and unit had already suffered such losses that they totalled less than one full division in number. Inevitably, all the attacks failed.

On 28 November, Shevaldin was dismissed to become the commander of the Arkhangyel’sk Military District, and his replacement was General Major Andrei L. Bondarev. At the same time, the Leningrad Front continued to report to Moscow that it was still 'absolutely convinced of a breakthrough to the east'.

However, despite repeated attacks that continued to the end of December, Soviet formations and units each time suffered heavy losses, and were forced to retreat to their original positions. In the bridgehead, each day cost the Soviet units as many as 1,000 men in constantly fierce battles. At the same time, the losses in men killed and missing accounted for most of the overall losses, largely as a result of the fact that the evacuation of the wounded from the bridgehead was extremely difficult.

By the end of November, 20 KV-1 heavy and 10 T-34 medium tanks had been transported to the bridgehead, but the use of tanks did not significantly change the situation: the infantry formations were unable to advance east beyond the anti-tank ditch in front of the Figurnaya wood 0.93 miles (1.5 km) to the east of Moskovska Dubrovka.

In December, the intensity of the fighting in the 'Neva patch' subsided somewhat and the Soviet formations and units went over to the defensive. Nevertheless, attempts to capture key German strongpoints continued. Thus, on 20 December units of the 86th Division and the 123rd Tank Brigade attacked the Germans in the direction of Arbuzovo and Annenskoye, but failed. Moreover, at the same time, German troops on the bridgehead’s left flank in the area of ​​the 1st Gorodok launched a powerful counterattack and, in order to restore the position and hold the 'Neva patch', the Soviets were compelled to transfer additional forces into the bridgehead.

In total, the 86th Division, 115th Division, 265th Division, 168th Division, 177th Division, 10th Division, 20th NKVD Division , 4th Naval Brigade, 11th Brigade, three communist shock regiments and several artillery and tank units were involved in the '2nd Sinyavino Offensive Operation'. The had been faced in the 'Neva patch' by Generalleutnant Erich Petersen’s 7th Fliegerdivision, Generalleutnant Philipp Kleffel’s 1st Division, Generalleutnant Wolf Schede’s 96th Division, Generalleutnant Friedrich von Scotti’s 227th Division and Generalleutnant Rudolf Lüters’s 223rd Division. The Germans constantly exchanged their front-line units for rest and replenishment, and only then sent them back into the fray, and this gave the Soviets the impression that the Germans were committing forces greater than they were actually committing.

The fighting for the 'Neva patch' was only part of the '2nd Sinyavino Offensive Operation' as, in accordance with the operation’s plan, the 55th Army’s formation were to advance along the southern bank of the Neva river, retake the area of Ust and Tosno, seize the bridges and force the Tosna river before pressing their offensive toward Mga.

Early in November, as planned, the strike group of the 55th Army, comprising the 43rd Division, 85th Division and 123rd Tank Brigade, the last equipped with KV-1 heavy tanks, went over to the offensive. The units of Generalleutnant Martin Wandel’s 121st Division and Generalleutnant Sigfrid Macholz’s (from 8 December Generalleutnant Friedrich Bayer’s) 122nd Division defended in the area of Ust and Tosno, and repelled all the Soviet assaults and held their positions. The later introduction into the battle of the 90th Division, 70th Division, 125th Division and 268th Division, as well as two tank battalions, failed to change the situation in favour of the Soviet forces.

On 11 November, 55th Army’s formations once again attempted to seize Ust and Tosno, but the Germans, who had created strong defences in stone buildings, again repelled the attack. A nocturnal attempt to seize the railway and road bridges on 13 November was also unsuccessful. Along the banks of the Tosna river, the German hd established themselves in powerful defensive fortifications and used artillery and mortar fore to savage the Soviet attackers. Until the end of November, the 55th Army’s formations tried to fulfil their assigned tasks, but failed to achieve even local successes. On 1 December, the Leningrad Front was forced to report to Stalin that 'there is nothing to boast about on the 55th Army’s front'.

The formations of the 54th Army , which until 9 November tried to advance in the direction of Sinyavino, achieved nothing of note. Of its three infantry divisions, one infantry brigade and one tank brigade fighting on the line between Lipka and Lodva line, only the 286th Division was capable of active hostilities, and the other formation and units remained on the defensive and were forced to repel the attacks of Lüters’s 223rd Division.

The attempts of the Neva Operational Group, the 54th Army and the 55th Army in November and December 1941 are not formally encompassed in the '2nd Sinyavino Offensive Operation' as the date of the latter’s end is agreed as 28 October, which is the date on which the Soviets were forced to end their offensive as a result of the dangers that had emerged during 'Tichwin'. By 31 October, however, Khozin’s Leningrad Front, had submitted to the Soviet supreme command an adjusted plan for a farther offensive, which the plan suggested was 'a decision on headquarters directive No. 002984 of 14 October 1941'. It was in this Soviet supreme command directive that the initial plan and tasks of the operation 'to connect the 54th Army with the troops of the Leningrad Front' had been outlined. Thus, the Leningrad Front only suspended the operation and, after some change in the original plan, the Soviet troops continued their offensive at the beginning of November.

All of the Soviet attempts to break the blockade of Leningrad Front in the period from October to December thus failed and resulted in the loss of very significant numbers of Soviet troops. Since the supply of the city at that time was possible only by air or along the 'Road of Life' (the winter-only ice road across the frozen Lake Ladoga between Lednevo in the east and Osinovets in the west), the situation of the city’s defenders and residents became catastrophic. The famine that began in the autumn of 1941 had a dire effect on the combat capability of the Leningrad Front’s formations and units: on 1 December 1941, for example, 6,061 men of the Leningrad Front’s first-line strength were suffering from a severe form of dystrophy, but by 1 January 1942 this figure had increased to 12,604 men.

The Soviet problems were aggravated by the fact that exhausted and poorly trained Soviet forces were often compelled to attack without proper support from artillery, aircraft and tanks. As reported by General Polkovnik Nikolai N. Voronov, a high command representative with the Leningrad Front, 'the experience of battles in the first half of November 1941 revealed typical mistakes in the actions of our artillery: poorly placed artillery reconnaissance, weak communication with infantry units, ineptly planned fire, insufficiently accurate adjustment…and enthusiasm for area bombardment'.

All this, as well as the constant demands of the Soviet supreme command to accelerate the offensive, numerous exchanges in the command staff of the front and armies, lack of combat experience among commanders and troops, poor organisation of co-operation and control, lack of reliable information about the [German] defence predetermined the failure of attempts to break through the blockade of Leningrad between October and December.

The only relative success was that the Leningrad Front’s forces by their active action contributed to the victory of the Soviet troops in the 'Tikhvin Offensive Operation'.

The losses of the Leningrad Front’s 54th Army and Neva Operational Group in the '2nd Sinyavino Offensive Operation' between 10 September and 28 October was 54,979 men, of whom 22,211 were killed, missing or taken prisoner. At the same time, in these figures no differentiation was made between the '1st Sinyavino Offensive Operation' and '2nd Sinyavino Offensive Operation'. These data are incomplete, however, as they do not take into account the losses of the 55th Army, whose offensive was part of the plan to break the blockade of Leningrad. In addition, the study from which the figures are derived does not show the Soviet losses after 28 October.

According to another assessment, the Leningrad Front’s total losses during operations to break the blockade between September and December amounted to about 100,000 men: 54,000 to 68,000 men in the Neva Operational Group, 23,000 to 25,000 men in the 54th Army and 10,000 to 12,500 men in the 55th Army.

The main German forces in the autumn of 1941 were fighting in the Tikhvin area, but a significant part of the losses incurred by the German army between September and December fell on the repulse of Soviet offensives in the Sinyavino region. According to the 16th Army's summary reports, in the period from 1 September to 30 November, the army lost 1, 514 officers and 12,319 non-commissioned officers and men killed.