Lyuban Offensive Operation

(Russian town)

This was a Soviet attempt to relieve Leningrad (7 January/30 April 1942).

The Soviet offensive of the worst winter months of 1941/42 against Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock’s (from 19 December Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge’s) Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ in front of Moscow, formally known as the 'Moscow Strategic Offensive Operation' (5 December 1941/7 January 1942) and comprising six sub-operations, was supported by other offensives in the Leningrad area to the north-west, and also in Ukraine and Crimea to the south.

In the area of the Baltic and Lake Ladoga, Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’, totalling 30 German divisions and one Spanish division, covered a front stretching from Oranienbaum on the south coast of the Gulf of Finland to the army group’s junction with Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ near Ostashkov. Within Heeresgruppe 'Nord', Generaloberst George von Küchler’s 18th Army was on the left, with General Albert Wodrig’s XXVI Corps enclosing the besieged defenders of the Oranienbaum logdement, and General Mauritz von Wiktorin’s XXVIII Corps and General Georg Lindemann’s L Corps covering the southern approaches to Leningrad and the line of the Neva river.

Leningrad was still cut off by land, as the Germans held the narrow strip of land, barely 10 miles (16 km) wide, to the key fortress of Petrokrepost (Schlüsselburg) on the southern shore of Lake Ladoga. The ice road across this lake was open, however, and along it nearly 500,000 of Leningrad’s population were being evacuated. Farther to the east, von Leeb’s forces had been forced out of Tikhvin on 9 December and fallen back to the Volkhov river between Kirishi and Novgorod, a line held by General Kuno von Both’s I Corps and General Friedrich-Wilhelm von Chappuis’s XXXVIII Corps.

To the south of Lake Ilmen, Generaloberst Ernst Busch’s 16th Army held the area between Staraya Russa and Ostashkov with General Christian Hansen’s X Corps, General Walter Graf von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt’s II Corps and, on the extreme right, General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim’s armour-strong XXXIX Corps. The Germans had no reserves worthy of the name.

On the Soviet side, the Oranienbaum lodgement was commanded by a group headquarters known as a coastal command, while on the Leningrad isthmus General Major Aleksandr I. Cherepanov’s 23rd Army faced the Finns to the north, and the 42nd Army and General Leytenant Vladimir P. Sviridov’s 55th Army, supplemented by the Neva Operational Group, faced the 18th Army to the south. All these Soviet armies were controlled by Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Kliment Ye. Voroshilov’s Leningrad Front, which also controlled General Major Ivan I. Fedyuninsky’s detached 54th Army covering the area to the south of Lake Ladoga between Schlüsselburg (Petrokrepost in Russian) and Kirishi on the Volkhov river. On the line of this river from Kirishi to Novgorod, General Major Piotr A. Ivanov’s 4th Army, General Leytenant Nikolai K. Klykov’s 52nd Army, General Major Ivan V. Galanin’s 59th Army and General Leytenant Grigori G. Sokolov’s (later General Major Andrei A. Vlasov’s) 2nd Shock Army had been regrouped on 17 December to form General Kirill A. Meretskov’s Volkhov Front.

To the south of Lake Ilmen, General Polkovnik Pavel A. Kurochkin’s North-West Front had General Leytenant Vasili I. Morozov’s 11th Army, General Major Nikolai Ye. Berzarin’s 34th Army, General Leytenant Maksim A. Purkayev’s 3rd Shock Army and General Leytenant Andrei I. Eremenko’s 4th Shock Army, which covered the front’s line from Staraya Russa to Ostashkov, where it met General Polkovnik Ivan S. Konev’s Kalinin Front.

On 7 January the Volkhov Front began an offensive across the frozen river, immediately to the north of Novgorod, with the object of cutting through the communications zone of the 18th Army and then moving to the north in the direction of Leningrad. Meretskov’s offensive by Sokolov’s 2nd Shock Army, which consisted of six infantry divisions and six brigades, was supported on its flanks by Klykov’s 52nd and Galanin’s 59th Armies, and started with probing attacks from 7 January; the main assault fell six days later on von Chappuis’s XXXVIII Corps between Gruzino and Novgorod.

The fighting took place in swamp and forest in waist-deep snow under bitter conditions. The 2nd Shock Army moved forward only very slowly and in the course of the next month penetrated to a depth of 40 miles (65 km), until it had covered nearly half the distance to Leningrad. In the second week in March Fedyuninsky’s 54th Army started to thrust from the area to the west of Kirishi in order to meet the 2nd Shock Army, which was now under the command of Vlasov, and reached a point not 15 miles (25 km) distant, placing the I Corps in imminent danger of being cut off.

The 18th Army’s position was serious, and its commander was forced to resort to a number of improvisations and patchwork moves: battalions and companies hastily formed from personnel returning from leave personnel, as well as SS, Latvian and Flemish volunteers were committed to plug gaps, and formations and units became almost inextricably mixed.

The 18th Army reversed the position, however, by counterattacking the shoulders of the Soviet penetration with General Alfred Wünnenberg’s SS-Polizeidivision of the I Corps from the north, and formations of the XXXVIII Corps, including elements of Generalleutnant Karl von Graffen’s 58th Division, Generalleutnant Paul Laux’s 126th Division and General de división Agustin Muñoz Grande’s Spanish División Azul (known to the Germans as the 250th Division) from the south.

The other Soviet forces (4th, 52nd, and 59th Armies, XIII Cavalry Corps, and IV and VI Guards Corps of the Volkhov Front), however, failed to provide the required support, and on 19 March Vlasov’s army became stranded. Permission to retreat was refused, leaving 130,000 men trapped in the Volkhov pocket. Meretskov succeeded at the end of March in driving a small corridor through the German envelopment, but this was too narrow and was open for too short a time to afford Vlasov’s army any relief. With the counter-offensive in May 1942, the 2nd Shock Army was finally allowed to retreat, but by now it was too weak to do so and was virtually annihilated during the final break-out effort at Myasnoi Bor.

In June the remnants of the 2nd Shock Army were routed, and the Germans captured 33,000 prisoners (including Vlasov), 600 guns and 170 tanks.