*This post was recognized in the Comrades’ Corner (week 7)
Operation Iskra, also known as Operation Spark, was a military operation conducted by the Red Army to break the Leningrad Blockade in 1943.
The Siege of Leningrad began in 1941, as the Germans began surrounding the city and cutting off supply routes for food and goods. Throughout 1942 the Soviets launched multiple offensive attacks to retake Leningrad, but the Germans managed to hold the city. By late 1942, the Soviets were weakening the German fronts during the Battle of Stalingrad. During that same time, plans were drawn up for Operation Iskra, in order to hammer the Germans while they were weak.
The Germans managed to trap thousands of civilians inside the city while they blocked off the supply routes. With hardly enough food to last the upcoming winter, civilians and soldiers began to die of starvation and the harsh winter conditions, “Winter came early, and was one of the coldest winters on record. By November the people were on starvation rations. In December children’s sleds began to appear. But they weren’t carrying kids out having fun . . . ‘The squeak, squeak, squeak of the runners sounded louder than the shelling. It deafened the ears. On the sleds were the ill, the dying, the dead'” (Zimmerman). Some civilians managed to escape and migrate out of the city, but for those that had already lost their lives, their bodies were piled together and burned.
The Red Army launched its operation against the German front on January 12, 1943. It was the Soviet’s third attempt to retake the city, and this time, the Soviets were serious, “At 9:30 am, on January 12, 1943, Govorov and Merestkov opened Operation Spark with the thunder of 4,500 artillery pieces. One gun was positioned for every 20 feet of front line. On top of the artillery, the heavy naval guns of the Red Fleet in Leningrad harbor joined in the bombardment. Bridges, buildings, trenches, and trees exploded and collapsed in showers of steel, earth, and wood” (WHN Staff). The battle lasted until January 30, 1943 with the Soviets making slow but steady advances into the city, day by day.
By January 22, the Soviets began building railroads to connect the city to the rest of the country in order to reestablish supply lines. Within a month, the railroad was complete and the Soviets were able to begin effectively transporting supplies in and out of the city.
“By January 30, it [The Red Army] had reached Leningrad and established a 5 to 6 mile wide corridor along the southern shore of Lake Ladoga. Though supply convoys were within range of German artillery, and the siege had many months yet to go, Leningrad had been saved” (Zimmerman).
Operation Iskra was a success for the Soviet forces. They were able to regain their city and reestablish supply lines for civilian and military personnel, in and outside of the city. Soviet leaders Govorov and Zhukov were both promoted that year following their victory in the operation. While their success with Operation Iskra was crucial, Soviet advances into neighboring cities turned out to be a struggle. The Soviets found themselves only making slow advances with not much to be gained.
Firsthand account of Operation Iskra: