Kingisepp-Luga Defensive Operation

The 'Kingisepp-Luga Defensive Operation' was the Soviet first of the five sub-operations constituting the 'Leningrad Strategic Defensive Operation' in the area to the south of Leningrad after the start of 'Barbarossa' (10 July/23 September 1941).

The other sub-operations within the 'Leningrad Strategic Defensive Operation' were the 'Tallinn Defensive Operation' (10 July/10 August, the 'Kingisepp-Luga Defensive Operation' (10 July/23 September), the 'Staraya-Russa Offensive Operation' (8/23 August), the 'Demyansk Defensive Operation' (6/26 September), the '1st Sinyavino Offensive Operation' (10/26 September) and the '2nd Sinyavino Offensive Operation' (20/28 October).

The German offensive in this northern sector of the Eastern Front was the responsibility of Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Heeresgruppe 'Nord', which deployed Generaloberst Ernst Busch’s 16th Army on its right and Generaloberst Georg von Küchler’s 18th Army on its left, with Generaloberst Erich Hoepner’s 4th Panzergruppe between them. von Leeb had decided by the end of July to wait for the arrival of the bulk of the infantry formations of the 18th Army from the northern part of Estonia and of the 16th Army from the eastern part of Latvia before launching the offensive against Leningrad. In overall terms, the 4th Panzergruppe advanced toward Luga, bypassing Leningrad to its north, and eventually breaking through the Soviet positions to the south of Kingisepp and Krasnogvardeysk to reach the Pulkovo heights to the south-west of the USSR’s second city. On 15 September the corps' main strength began to redeploy from the Leningrad axis to the Moscow axis.

On 8 August General Erich von Manstein’s LVI Corps (mot.) attacked in the area of Luga but failed to advance against strong Soviet defensive positions. At the same time, General Georg-Hans Reinhardt’s XLI Corps (mot.) attacked in the Kingisepp area and gained greater success. Generalleutnant Erich Brandenberger’s 8th Panzerdivision was added to the corps and, after defeating the Soviet 1st Tank Division at Moloskovitchi, the divisions of the XLI Corps (mot.) gained the line of the road linking Kingisepp and Gatchina on 16 August. On the following day, the infantry of Generalmajor Dr Friedrich Altrichter’s 1st Division took Kingisepp, while Narva fell to Generalleutnant Kurt Herzog’s 291st Division of General Albert Wodrig’s XXVI Corps within the 18th Army from the west and Generalleutnant Iwan Heunert’s 58th Division of General Friedrich-Wilhelm von Chappuis’s XXXVIII Corps within the 4th Panzergruppe from the south. At much the same time, the German armour began to bypass the city of Luga on country and forest roads, and reached the Luga river in an area some 12.5 to 15.5 miles (20 to 25 km) south-east of Kingisepp. The XXXVIII Corps thus threatened to deny General Major Piotr P. Sobennikov’s 8th Army of General Leytenant Markian M. Popov’s North Front any chance of withdrawal to Leningrad from the east, and this Soviet formation then withdrew onto the Koporskoye plateau on 18 August.

Farther to the east, the 16th Army had launched its attack towards Novgorod on 10 August. Preceded by intense air attacks by the warplanes of General Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen’s VIII Fliegerkorps, part of Generaloberst Alfred Keller’s Luftflotte I, General Kuno-Hans von Both’s I Corps of the 16th Army attacked Novgorod directly with Generalleutnant Herbert von Böckmann’s 11th Division and Generalleutnant Otto Sponheimer’s 21st Division. The Soviet defensive positions were breached, and on 14 August the 21st Division advanced toward the main road linking Novgorod and Luga while the 11th Division approached this road from the same direction. This threatened the rear lines of communication nourishing the Soviet troops on the Luga line, and while the German initial attack on 15 August failed, the Soviet resistance was broken by dive-bomber attacks which set Novgorod on fire in many places. In the evening the 21st Division was able to penetrate the city, at the same time as the 424th Infanterieregiment of Generalleutnant Paul Laux’s 126th Division. On the morning of 16 August, Novgorod was completely in German hands, and the remaining regiments of the 21st Division began to attack Chudovo.

General Leytenant Stepan D. Akimov’s 48th Army launched a counterattack to retake Novgorod, and the battle for the eastern part of Novgorod lasted to 19 August, and German success was ultimately secured by potent air support. During this battle, the I Corps' left wing advanced to Chudovo, and the 11th Division now secured the corps' right flank on the Volkhov section and the 21st Division took Chudovo on 20 August, severing railway communications in that area. On the following day, several Soviet counterattacks fell on units of the I Corps but were repelled. By this time the 16th Army had gained all of its targets.

The attack by General Mauritz von Wiktorin’s XXVIII Corps of the 16th Army finally unlocked the left flank of General Major Andrei N. Astanin’s 'Luga Operational Group'. SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Walter Krüger’s SS Polizei-Division of General Georg Lindemann’s L Corps had by this time been moved 46 miles 74 km) to the north onto the eastern bank of the Luga river, and on 24 August stormed the city of Luga from the south-east. On 22 August, Astanin had received the order to pull his units back behind the railway to Gatchina, but it was too late for the 'Luga Operational Group' based on the XLI Corps: thus the 70th, 90th, 111th, 177th and 235th Divisions, the 1st and 3rd Militia Divisions and the 24th Tank Division were trapped in the 'Luga pocket'. The encirclement was completed in the north by the XLI Corps (mot.), in the south by the L Corps and in the east by the XXVIII Corps. The struggle in the 'Luga pocket' continued into the middle of September, and some units were able to break out to the east.