Strelna-Peterhof Offensive Operation

The 'Strelna-Peterhof Offensive Operation' was a Soviet undertaking by elements of the Leningrad Front and the Baltic Fleet during the defensive stage of the battle for Leningrad (5/10 October 1941).

On 16 September, the forces of Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Heeresgruppe 'Nord' had broken through from Krasnoye Selo to the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland to the west of Leningrad, thereby cutting off the city of Oranienbaum and General Major Vladimir I. Pshennikov’s 8th Army, which was holding the area, from Leningrad, which was defended in this sector by General Major Ivan I. Fedyuninsky’s 42nd Army. On the following day, the Germans took Strelna and on 26 September Peterhof, and thus there emerged the very real possibility that the Germans might attempt to land on and take the island of Kronstadt, the main base of Vitse Admiral Vladimir F. Tributs’s Baltic Fleet. Suffering very severe losses, the 8th Army managed with great difficulty to stabilise the front along the line between the Troitsky river and the Gostilitsk road. Parts of the 42nd Army took up defensive positions to the east of Uritsk.

On 1 October, General Georgi K. Zhukov, the commander of the Leningrad Front, ordered the 8th Army and 42nd Army to go over to the offensive, destroy the German forces in the area of Strelna and Peterhof, and thus restore the overland link between Leningrad and the Oranienbaum lodgement. To support these two armies, at Zhukov’s recommendation, it was also planned to land two amphibious assault forces in the Strelna area and in the lower park area of Peterhof. Both armies, with the assistance of the fleet, were to defeat the German forces in the area of Strelna and Peterhof with strikes on Novy Peterhof and Strelna, and to drive back parts of Generaloberst Georg von Küchler’s 18th Army beyond the Ropsa road, while the task of the landings was to cut the coastal salient held by German troops, to draw the Germans' attention to themselves and to assist the two armies' coastal elements in breaking through the German defences with attacks on their rear areas.

The operation was entrusted to a force of three of the 8th Army’s infantry divisions, all battered in previous fighting, under the command of General Leytenant Trifon I. Shevaldin, head of the 8th Army since 24 September. Undertaking the main blow from the area of the Angliysky Prud and the Sts Peter and Paul Church was General Major Nikolai A. Sokolov’s 11th Division reinforced with one tank regiment, while the auxiliary frontal strike from the line of the Troitsky river was General Major Mikhail P. Dukhanov’s 10th Division reinforced with the Latvian Infantry Regiment, and to the Granilnaya factory and the Grand Palace were two battalions of the 2nd Marine Brigade. From the south, these divisions were supported by the 191st Division, which was to deliver an attack on the Yegerskaya Sloboda and further along the railway to the east. In total, three rifle divisions and the 2nd Tank Regiment were involved in the operation in the 8th Army’s sector with some 3,000 infantrymen and 28 tanks, of which five were T-34 medium and KV-2 heavy tanks, the rest being obsolete T-26 and BT types.

Peterhof was defended by Generalleutnant Kurt Herzog’s reinforced 291st Division of the 18th Army. Numerically, it was slightly inferior to the relevant elements of the 8th Army. The German advantage lay in the fact that during the course of the preceding three weeks the German division had managed to prepare a strong defence to a depth of 1.25 miles (2 km) with well-planned firing positions, ditches and trenches, covered by barbed wire entanglements and minefields. A major shortage of artillery and ammunition left the Soviet troops with little or no chance of breaking through this defence.

The situation was similar in the area in which the 42nd Army was to attack. In this sector, moreover, the Germans were forewarned of the Soviet intention by their discovery of a landing on 3 October of a reconnaissance assault force near the PishMash factory, which attracted the Germans' attention to the area of the intended operation.

At 05.00 on 5 October, a short Soviet artillery preparation was followed by the 8th Army’s attack. Attacking continuously under artillery, mortar and machine gun fire, by the end of the day the 11th Division had penetrated into the German defences in the area to the south of the Oranienbaum road, seized the lower building of the Granilny factory on the near approaches to the Lower Park of Peterhof. Further offensive attempts were repulsed by powerful German fire, which inflicted heavy losses. Parts of the 42nd Army went on the offensive at the same time as the 8th Army, but managed still less on the way of positive results.

At the same time, at the break of day on 5 October, boats of the Baltic Fleet launched the Peterhof and Strelna landings. The landed troops fought with great determination, but their small number, insufficient weapons and inconsistencies in the army and navy command meant that they could provide no support to the advance of the ground units as they were halted even as they landed. The force at Peterhof was completely destroyed, losing all its men by 7 October, and at Strelna the men of the assault force managed to fight their way back, albeit with extremely heavy losses.

Between 6 and 9 October, none of the 8th Army’s and 42nd Army’s numerous attacks met with any measure of success, and there was no useful progress in the operation. The Germans hastily strengthened their defences, creating new obstacles, and from 8 October committed additional units. An attempt by a tank unit to break through the German defensive zone in the 42nd Army’s sector ended in the complete destruction of the tank regiment sent into the attack. On 10 October Fedyuninsky, who had just been appointed acting commander of the Leningrad Front, ordered an end to the operation.

The reasons for this combined army and navy operation are typical of the Soviet failures at this stage of the 'Great Patriotic War'. Firstly, there was the lack of a well-developed plan, the existing plan being limited essentially to the seizure of fixed points. The advancing divisions had no experience in breaking through fixed defences, so the attacks were carried out frontally. No co-operation of the troops' arms was established. Secondly, there was the acute lack of time allocated to the preparation of the operation: this was just four days between 1 and 4 October. Thirdly, the lack of strength in men (the total number in the 8th Army’s three divisions was less than than that of a full-strength division), in artillery (both armies had 111 field guns), and in ammunition. Fourthly, the co-operation between the army and the navy was very poor: the powerful artillery of the Kronstadt fortress and the ships based on it fired only sporadically, and then without any reconnaissance or spotting, and therefore struck not the forward edges of the German defences but at their rear. After they had come ashore, the landing forces were not supported by the actions of the fleet. Fifthly, air support was extremely weak. And sixthly, the Soviets had underestimated the German forces and, as a consequence, their was an obvious mismatch of the landing forces and the demands of the tasks assigned to them.

The 'Strelna-Peterhof Offensive Operation' and its associated landings were thus a total Soviet failure. No accurate figure for the Soviet losses was ever compiled, but it is cleat that they were significantly greater than those of the Germans. Nevertheless, in the opinion of the Soviet high command the operation forced the Germans into a hasty reinforcement of this sector to the detriment of the forces facing the Oranienbaum lodgement. So it is feasibly to consider that it was this which persuaded the Germans to abandon their offensive to eliminate the lodgement.