- Hardcover: 512 pages
- Publisher: Walker Books; 1 edition (August 30, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 080271594X
- ISBN-13: 978-0802715944
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 133 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944 Hardcover – August 30, 2011
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About the Author
Anna Reid is the author of The Shaman's Coat: A Native History of Siberia and Borderland: A Journey Through the History of the Ukraine. She holds a master degree in Russian history and reform economics from the University of London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies. She was Ukraine correspondent for The Economist and the Daily Telegraph from 1993-1995, and from 2003-2007 she ran the foreign affairs program at the think-tank Policy Exchange
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Similar to Salisbury's book, Reid began her book with the German invasion called Operation Barbarossa (June 22, 1941) when the Germans shocked the Soviets plus Stalin & co. and led the disastrous defeats of the Red Army with considerable loss of life. The Germans' three main targets were Moscow, Stalingrad, and, last but certainly not least, Leningrad. As Reid wrote, the Leningraders thought they were safe and had no awareness what they would suffer by the end of the year and well into the year 1943. In fact, the loss of life would soon make the Leningraders almost immune to death which became the norm until 1944.
Many Leningraders knew the death Knell sounded when the Bayadev food warehouse fire wiped out the city's food supply. The Germans used incendiary bombs to firebomb the warehouse and thought "General Famine" would encourage the Leningrad citizens surrender the city. In spite of military incompetent leadership, bureaucratic and political blundering, and dishonesty, the Leningraders DID NOT SURRENDER. The Germans underestimated Russian resolve and mental toughness.
In re blundering, the political leaders did not take advantage of the early enthusiasm of volunteers to fight the Germans. The organization of these enthusiasts was poor. The men were poorly trained and armed and died in droves vs. German artillery and tanks. Commanders lost communications with each other, and, as Reid wrote, these men did not know "what the hell was taking place." The German advance was much more rapid than expected. While the Red Army troops fought bravely, they were routed. Only when Marshall Zukhov (1896-1974) arrived did the German advance slow. As one historian noted, Zhukov did not break the German noose around Leningrad, he helped loosen it enough for the Leningrad to survive.
The siege caused severe famine, fuel shortages, lack of fuel, and accompanying tragedy. The rations reached below subsistence levels, and the food shortages led to the obvious disparate efforts to get food. For example, Reid mentioned "granny robbers" who robbed elderly women of their ration cards, The Soviet Secret police got involved with their usual persecution complexes. Some of the folks arrested were elderly woman. Innocent suspects were arrested to give the appearance "of doing something." The police encountered another depressing crime-cannibalism. As Reid cryptically wrote, the term dystrophy was substituted for the terms of famine and hungry. Reid's careful description of the dying and the eventual casual acceptance of death gives readers a good look at the desperation of Leningrad. The situation was so bad that employers refused to hire anyone suffering from dystrophy, and those affected were given even more reduced rations because these people were seen as drain and were going to die regardless.
Given the arrests during Stalin's purges (1934-1940), this police action was to be expected. Yet, the Leningraders were more resentful of the Germans who caused so much misery and suffering. As the undersigned mentioned in a previous monograph, the Leningraders were more loyal to "Holy Mother Russia" and the city of Leningrad rather loyalty to Stalin and Communist ideology. As an aside, Stalin should have directed more resources to Leningrad which was a heavily industrialized city whose workers produced tanks, ammunition, and artillery.
The section titled "The Ice Road" was dramatic. The Soviets tried to get food and supplies into Leningrad via a frozen Lake Ladoga. The physicists miscalculated the ice thickness causing trucks and wagons to fall through the ice to watery grave of thousands of brave souls. Eventually the ice was thick enough which, Reid noted, helped lift the siege and eventually helped defeat the Germans and force on them similar conditions that the Leningraders previously suffered.
The section titled THE LENINGRAD SYMPHONY was interesting. Shostkovich's symphony was so effective that German troops who listened to the music from Soviet loudspeakers realized that Russia was too big to conquer and Leningrad was invincible. This may reflect von Ribbentrop's remark when he negotiated with Molotov that Molotov tell Stalin that Ribbentrop was sorry for the failed negotiations.
Part Hitler's defeat laid at the ruins of Leningrad. Anna Reid's book is a vivid remember of how horrible war is and that those who cheer for war do not know what they are supporting. Machiavelli (1469-1527) is alleged that leaders know how to start wars but do not know how they end. Reid's book gave the impression that the Leningraders did not know how the siege would end. Neither did the German invaders.
Jame E. Egolf
May 14, 2016
Since Russia in 1969 was still a totalitarian state where the ruling Communists had a vested interest in perpetuating the myth of their heroic leadership in the struggle against the cruel invader, Salisbury deserves enormous credit for getting out the basics of the story. His narration is as compelling as that of any great novel and he makes an excellent case of how close The USSR came to losing the war thanks to the incompetence of Kremlin military leadership.
His biggest failure, and Reid's biggest strength, is the starvation winter phase of the struggle. From 1941 to 1943, Leningrad had neither road nor rail contact with the rest of unoccupied Russia except for the tenuous links provided by Lake Ladoga. Between 750,000 and two million people perished over that period. Salisbury suggested that this tragedy was at least semi inevitable. Reid makes a convincing, and damning, case that a combination of monumental incompetence and the corruption of the city's Communist leaders made a bad situation far worse than it had to be.
The difficulties that face a would be historian of this tragic period are underlined by the ongoing debate over precisely how many people died over the course of the siege. Official, Communist, claims of between 600,000 and 700,000 almost certainly understate the toll. Salisbury's guesstimate of a million and a half souls is probably closer to the truth although critics of the supposed road to life over Lake Ladoga suggest that the wildly inflated claims of successful civilian evacuations over the ice make a toll of two million (or two thirds of the city's refugee swollen population) not beyond the realm of possibility.
Anyone who has a compelling interest in the period would do well to read both Salisbury and Reid (although the food distribution issue is by no means Salisbury's only error).
Someone who's looking for a readable and accurate account of Saint Petersburg's greatest ordeal can safely stick to the current work, however.
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