Why breaking the Leningrad blockade in November 1941 failed
September 8, 1941 is not only a tragic day in the whole history of the Russian city of Leningrad (now St.Petersburg) when a 900-day blockade was imposed and which tragedy and heroism shocked the world. This day is one more reason to revive in memory the events of those days.
Today, historians often put the question if the price the people of Leningrad paid for the blockade was inevitable. Was the blockade itself inevitable? Why was it so that within about two years all attempts to run the blockade failed?
Nowadays, when we have access to the documents that used to be inaccessible before, we can have a look at the events from a different angle.
There are documents provided by the central state archives of the Ministry of Defense that had been classified long ago. These documents throw light on one of the little known episodes of the Leningrad battle, an attempt to run the blockade in November 1941. As it often happened in the days of the war, people guilty of the failure were sentenced to execution by shooting.
In 16 years, under Soviet Leader Nikita Khruschev, those people were rehabilitated. However, the official ideology of the Soviet Union couldn't allow even a slight shadow to be cast on the heroic aspect of the Leningrad Battle. That is why the case of Division Commander Frolov was put to the archives as classified. Some people wanted to conceal the facts of incredible injustice from historians.
The matter of the fact was as follows: commander of the 80th rifle division Ivan Frolov and Division Commissar Konstantin Ivanov refused to execute the order to break the blockade on one sector of the Leningrad front. The order was issued on November 21, 1941. The refusal was an unprecedented event on the Leningrad front.
Frolov and Ivanov were in command of the 80th division since its very first days. The division was formed in July 1941 and consisted of home guards of the Volodarsky (now Nevsky) district of Leningrad. It was engaged on July 12, 1941 near the place called Volosovo. Then it participated in severe fighting near Leningrad and finally found itself pressed close to the Gulf of Finland.
In November 1941, the men of the division were shipped to Leningrad and then the people went on foot to the western shore of Ladoga. That was a really hard march as many soldiers died of hunger and emaciation. The division needed more ammunition and forage; in general, the whole of the division consisted of two rifle regiments only before November 12. Within the five days on November 19-24, the division changed four concentration regions; the people were exhausted and horses died because of lack of forage.
The division was posed the task to deliver a blow against the German positions from the side of the Road of Life, to seize the 1st and 2nd working settlements and move ahead toward Sinyavinskie Gate.
The command of the 80th division was perfectly aware of the situation in the division and understood that it would suffer senseless losses in case it started attacks. That it why Division Commander Frolov told head of the front headquarters General Gusev that "the division was not ready to execute the task it was posed."
But the headquarters of the front resolved that the order must be executed at any price. Division Commander Frolov and Commissar Ivanov were dismissed and new commanders started execution of the order in the night of November 26, 1941. Under conditions of disorder and lack of organization the soldiers of the 80th division were five hours late to reach the Ladoga shores and had no notion where the enemy or the Soviet forces stood. That was rather strange but some subunits had no cartridges at all.
Veterans say that soldiers boarded military trucks and then landed 6-8 kilometers before the German positions. Then, having no artillery and mortar backing they attacked enemy's weapon emplacements and were fired by Germans two kilometers from the shores. There was no shelter for the Soviet soldiers in the open vast of Ladoga. The division suffered huge and senseless losses.
It was necessary to shift the responsibility for the obvious failure of the attack onto somebody. On December 2, 1941 former Division Commander Frolov and former Division Commissar Ivanov were arrested. The same day they appeared before the military tribunal of the Leningrad front. The two men were declared guilty of the refusal to carry out the order, of "cowardice and criminal negligence that resulted in failure of the operation." Both former commanders were executed by shooting the next day.
The trial on the commanders of the 80th division was a demonstrative one; next day newspapers of Leningrad reported about it. The initiative of the trial was suggested by Andrey Zhdanov, the first secretary of the Leningrad regional and city communist party committee who told it to Stalin in a personal telephone conversation. Joseph Stalin liked the suggestion of the Leningrad party leader as it was his habitual manner to find the guilty and give them short shrift.
Veterans tell that the execution of the division commander and commissar seriously marred the reputation of the 80th division. For a very long period soldiers and commanders of the division were not put forward for decoration, even despite of the fact that the division bravely defended Leningrad within all the 900 days of the blockade. In 1944, the division was named after Ljuban since it participated in taking of the city; later it participated in the battle to liberate Poland.
In July 1957, the Military Collegium of the Soviet Supreme Court considered materials of the case and allowed the protest of the prosecutor. It was decided to cancel the sentence of the Leningrad front's military tribunal of December 2, 1941 concerning Ivan Frolov and Konstantin Ivanov. It was declared that the case must be stopped for the absence of corpus delicti.
In addition to the military issue of the problem, there is also a moral one. From the point of view of the war service regulations, Frolov must execute the order of the higher command. But let's consider the case from a humane point of view. Who is a bigger patriot: that one who refused to sacrifice the lives of soldiers for the sake of a senseless plan or that one who executed the order blindfold and lost many soldiers?