“Spark” of Life & Hope: How the Blockade of Leningrad was Broken

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard





On January 18th, 1943, at around 14.00 over a belltower in Shlisselburg the red flag was hoisted — it was installed by the soldier of the 86th rifle division of the Leningrad front Gubanov. A couple of hours before, at 11:45, troops of Volkhov and Leningrad met, having overcome the last few kilometers of the German defense. Operation “Spark”, which begun on January 12th, ended with the breakthrough of the Blockade of Leningrad.

And though the siege of the city will be completely lifted only a year later, in January of 1944, the narrow corridor recaptured these days will give the city the chance to breathe: in a record 17 days, the 30-kilometer railroad will be built by which the first train will come from the “Continent” to Leningrad. The bread ration by cards will gradually increase to averages near the country norms, and the factory of Nadezhda Krupskaya will produce several tons of popular pre-war candies “Bear in the North”.

To save Leningrad

By the beginning of winter of 1942, the situation around Leningrad was critical — by Autumn, from the city that had a pre-war population of about 3 million, one million people were evacuated. Last winter every day in the city some thousands of people were dying — total number of the victims of  the blockade, according to different data, will range from 600,000 to 800,000 people, however the peak of death will coincide with the first blockade winter. Several attempts (just for the spring and summer of 1942 two big operations took place) two large operations to breakthrough were unsuccessful. The Road of Life opened in November, 1941, allowed to facilitate the fate of inhabitants, but it was obvious that its resources weren’t enough to save the city. In anticipation of a new winter blockade, command started to develop an operation for the rescue of Leningrad.

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From a “Spark” the flame ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​will ignite

It was originally planned to carry out it in two steps — on the first one, which had to be completed by the end of 1942, the troops of the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts had to seize a so-called Shlisselburg and Sinyavinsky ledge, where the distance between them was the shortest; on the second one, in February, 1943 — the Oranienbaum base. The Stavka decided to go with the first step, but to postpone the beginning of operation to January. According to legends, the name of the operation was named by Stalin at a discussion — having remembered about the previous unsuccessful attempts, and expecting that at this time the soldiers of two fronts will manage to break through towards each other and later develop this success, Stalin allegedly said: “And let a ‘spark’ ignite the flame”.

Three operations of the 2nd shock army

In the spring of the 1942, near Leningrad, the Lyubansk operation was performed, which, however, was unsuccessful. The operation ended with the death of the 2nd shock army — then, trying to liberate Leningrad, in the marshy woods around the city nearly 30,000 soldiers went missing. The commander of the army General Vlasov was taken prisoner and subsequently begun to cooperate with the Wehrmacht, while the 2nd shock army was rebuilt — and till the victorious end tore through the blockade ring.

Restored in July of 1942 in the area of Putilovo, it took part in the following Sinyavinsk operation, but then once again failed to break the resistance of German troops. In January 1943, being included in the troops of the Volkhov front, the army struck a major blow in the direction of working settlement No. 1 and working settlement No. 5 and the same Sinyavin to connect with the Leningrad front.

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The last volley of the Shlisselburg fortress

The 2nd shock army went on the offensive on the morning of 12th January, 1943, along with five other armies (one more, 14th air division, provided air support). The troops involved in the operation had to cross the Neva river under enemy fire and overcome the resistance in the fortified swampy area Shlisselburg-Sinyavin ledge. But by January 18th, between the two fronts was only a few kilometers, and soon the Volkhov and Leningrad fronts met in the area of the working settlement No. 5. Located in the famous Shlisselburg fortress, artillery battery gave its last volley, and by the evening of the same day to the meeting place came engineering groups for the construction of the railroad to the city.

By “Corridor of death” for life

The railway to Leningrad, named Victory Road, with a length of almost 30 km, was built over 17 days: during this time the builders, led by the head of Leningrad metro building Ivan Georgievich Zubkov, paved a highway through lying in the path forests and swamps and brought across the river a low-water bridge with a length of 1300m. The width of the conquered by troops corridor ranged from 8 to 11 km and some sections of the road passed by 3-4 km from the German artillery positions. Very soon it was nicknamed the “Corridor of death”. But the besieged city was waiting for assistance, and railway workers launched their trains in the “Corridor of death” — for life.

Cat landing

One of the first trains that arrived in Leningrad after the breakthrough of the blockade was the special composition of Yaroslavl with four wagons of cats. Not only people were dying in the besieged city – by the end of the first blockade winter in the city almost all Pets were gone. But in huge numbers rats bred: they ate the last food stocks, invaded gardens organized by the residents, and threatened Leningrad with epidemics. Special brigades were created to combat this, however, to cope with the rodent invasion using human forces was almost impossible, and as soon as the ring was broken, Leningrad appealed to Yaroslavl for help. Local residents responded to the call: someone brought caught on the street smoky-colored cats, who were considered as good rat catchers, others even handed over their Pets.

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Almost all the city came to meet the “cat echelon” in Leningrad. Those who didn’t receive a Pet later bought kittens on the market — for one kitten it was sometimes offered up to 500 rubles, while a kilogram of bread on the black market was sold for 50 rubles.

However, most cats were killed in the besieged city, and at the end of the war one-more echelon came to Leningrad – this time a Siberian one. And in 2000, on Bolshaya Sadovaya street, the grateful city erected a monument to the Blockade cats – to male Yelisey and female Vasilisa.

Fireworks in the Blockade of Leningrad

After, when late in the evening of 18th January, the Soviet Information Bureau broadcasted an extraordinary message about breaking the blockade, in a weary town came the fireworks. The streets, covered with traces of shells and bombs, were decorated with flags. Passers-by who passed through together with the city two terrible winters, on the streets that remained under fire, congratulated each other on the victory, to which Leningrad itself was more than a year away from. The blockade will be fully lifted on 27th January, 1944.

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