- Paperback: 650 pages
- Publisher: Da Capo Press; 2nd edition (September 18, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0306812983
- ISBN-13: 978-0306812989
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 101 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The 900 Days: The Siege Of Leningrad 2nd Edition
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The book also looks at Stalin's utter denial of the situation, even after the situation with Germany knocked upon his door. Ill prepared is one thing, unprepared is tragedy on a large scale. Pay special note of how Stalin respected his experienced Generals.
I read this book as part of my personal journey to understand the incredible Concept of War. Napoleon is next. Then Genghis Khan if I can find a decent history of that time. I need to read much more about WWI as well. Strategy intrigues me, and lack of strategy intrigues me even more. Guess I'm still trying to discover what Vietnam was all about. I'm afraid the answer is "nothing". But that is still so painful to think about.
Well, back to my 900 Days review: I would have liked much better maps. I have better maps of Middle Earth!
There are sections that are very tough to read, detailing what actually took place in Leningrad specially during that first winter of the war. These same sections are what prove that this tragedy can actually dwarf those at Hiroshima and the Warsaw ghetto.
It has given me a much better respect for the Russian people who survived that horrible period - considering both the effort of the Germans to bomb and starve them as well as their own dictator and his cronies who were almost completely inept.
Salisbury began his book an idyllic view of Leningrad in May, 1941. Students finished final examinations. Young lovers strolled the parks arm-in-arm. Parents and children enjoyed the long hours of daylight not knowing what they would face by the end of the year. Joy and happiness were followed by death, famine, fatal illness, and, as mentioned above, bitter cold.
When Hitler & co. started Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, Stalin & co. were caught unprepared even though the signs were obvious. German air force pilots invaded Soviet air space. Some German air force pilots accidentally landed at Soviet airports. Reports of a mass German mobilization close to the USSR were ignored by Stalin. For some reason, Stalin feared Hitler and the Germans. Stalin thought Hitler would honor the Non Aggression Pact of 1939. Those who mentioned possible invasion, and, as Salisbury noted, were charged as saboteurs and provokers and threatened with firing squads. When the Germans began their invasion, Salisbury wrote that Stalin thought that some German commanders were too exuberant and that the invasion was a skirmish even though the Germans were bombing areas deep in Soviet territory.
When Stalin FINALLY realized the serious desperate situation and retreated to his dacha. When Stalin finally regained his nerve, he learned to listen and shut his mouth while listening experienced military commanders. Leningrad was obviously one of the targets of the German invasion along with Moscow and Stalingrad-now Volgograd. The first few days of the German attacks on Leningrad were not very dramatic. However, as Red Army troops retreated and the Germans took control of islands and towns close to Leningrad, the Leningrad situation deteriorated quickly. The worse disaster was the German bombing of the food warehouses in the Badayev region of Leningrad. The Leningraders immediately know the the disaster that struck. Salisbury was clear that the potential for widespread famine was well known in spite of false assurances of some Communist Party bureaucrats and leaders.
Salisbury gave good detailed data as to the reduction of rations which, for many Leningraders was below subsistence levels. Factory workers and Red Army troops got far better rations than other civilians especially the very young and the elderly. As Salisbury wrote, famine led to desperation whereby corn seed, wall paper and other mixtures were concocted for food. Pets, birds, and other animals disappeared for food. Famine led to crime. Forged ration cards were used, and those who printed ration cards forged extras for themselves. Finally the NKVD and NKGB put an end to these forgeries by shooting those guilty. Another type of crime the Soviet secret police faced was the fact that otherwise law abiding citizens murdered to get ration cards. As efficient and thorough as the Soviet secret police were, the latter crimes were much more difficult to solve.
Aside from Soviet unpreparedness at the start of WW II, another problem was the initial command ineptness of the Red Army in 1941. Some commanders were shot. Those politically connected including Kulik and Beria were incompetent but were able to shift blame for their stupidity. While the Red Army troops fought bravely, inept command caused huge casualties. Lack of big guns and ammunition contributed to the woes of Leningrad. The only consolation was that the brave Red Army troops inflicted huge casualties on the German invaders.
What may surprise readers is that the Leningraders "joined the fray." Young Communists, factory workers, musicians, artists, and college students went to the front where many died due to lack of training and not enough arms or ammunition. The great Russian Shostakovich lost many of his musicians due to either privation or in combat when they were not practicing. When the Leningraders knew that the Germans could get into the city, they stored arms, Molotov cocktails, grenades, and planted mine fields to welcome any German intruders. Parts of Leningrad were armed camps.
The section titled Children's Sleds was indicative of the high death rates. Children's sleds were used as hearses to carry the dead to mass graves. Those who were too weak to walked were often transported by stronger people to get to homes and shelters. A photo of two men in a park appeared as someone sitting and one lying in snow. Both men were dead. An angry woman scolded a pharmacist for now not helping a poor soul, and the pharmacist said she was a pharmacist and not a medic. The poor soul was already dead. Salisbury noted that a man dying from famine refused to be helped by a police officer. The doomed man said he just wanted to be left alone and to die in peace.
Again, as noted above, General Winter helped the cause. Lake Ladoga, the largest lake in Europe, froze in 20 to 30 below zero degrees. Soviet physicists calculated the thickness of the ice for transport of troops, food, weapons, ammunition, and fuel into Leningrad. While some of this effort failed, the effort was effective to prevent complete death. Also the bitter cold weather took its toll on German troops who were not supplied with winter gear.
As the siege ended, the Leningraders regained their confidence. These people fully realized what they achieved in defiantly preventing German invasion of the city. The Leningraders argued that Leningrad was afraid of death. However, death now feared Leningrad. The Leningraders were not defending Communist ideology. They were defending the Russian Motherland and more important their city. The people were defending THEIR CITY. They were defending the home of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and other great Russian literary figures. They were defending the residences of famous Russian scientists and and mathematicians.
Tragically,. when WW II was over, Stalin's paranoia led to purges of the surviving Leningrad heroes. Monuments, memorials, and museums praising the heroism of Leningrad were ruined or relocated. Only in 1957 did Khrushchev & co. posthumously rehabilitated Leningrad's heroes and heroines. While museums and memorials were restored on a smaller scale, the fact is that recently larger memorials and tourist museums have been erected to honor Leningrad's heroes.
As previously noted, the people of Leningrad thought of Leningrad as THEIR CITY.. Hitler was so confident that he planned to have a major celebration party in Leningrad. He then planned to raze what was left of the city and turn Leningrad into an artificial lake which the undersigned mentioned in another review. The fact is that Hitler never had his celebration. Hitler is dead, but the memory of the courage of Leningrad is alive as part of history.
James E. Egolf
May 4, 2016
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