January 12

This Day in History

World War II

Jan 12, 1943:

Soviet forces penetrate the siege of Leningrad

On this day, Soviet troops create a breach in the German siege of Leningrad, which had lasted for a year and a half. The Soviet forces punched a hole in the siege, which ruptured the German encirclement and allowed for more supplies to come in along Lake Ladoga.

Upon invading the Soviet Union in June 1941, German troops made a beeline for Leningrad, the second-largest city in the USSR. In August, German forces, approaching from the west and south, surrounded the city and rendered the Leningrad-Moscow railway useless. A German offensive attempted to occupy the city but failed; in light of this, Hitler decided to impose a siege, allowing nothing to enter or leave the former capital of Old Russia. Hitler intended to wait the Soviets out, then raze the city to the ground and hand the territory over to Germany's Finnish allies, who were advancing on the city from the north. (Finland would stop short of Leningrad, though, happy with regaining territory lost to the USSR in 1939.)

The siege began officially on September 8, 1941. The people of Leningrad began building antitank fortifications and succeeded in creating a stable defense of the city, but they were also cut off from all access to vital resources in the Soviet interior. In 1942, 650,000 Leningrad citizens died from starvation, disease, exposure, and injuries suffered from the siege and the continual German bombardment with artillery. Barges offered occasional relief in the summer and ice-borne sleds were able to do the same in the winter. A million sick, elderly, or especially young residents of Leningrad were slowly and stealthily evacuated, leaving about 2 million people to ration available food and use all open ground to plant vegetables.

A Soviet counteroffensive pushed the Germans westward on January 27, 1944, bringing the siege to an end. It had lasted for 872 days.

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