Army Group North Strikes For Leningrad

The attack aiming for Leningrad began when German troops entered Lithuania on 22 June, 1941. Finding little resistance initially, 56th Panzer Corps advanced nearly 60 kilometers on the first day, supported by the First Air Fleet. Soviet air opposition consisted of North Air Army, and Northwest Air Army. Their attacks began on day one. Bombers and ground attack aircraft in groups of 10 to 18 machines struck at German tanks at Tilsit, Taurage and Palukne, and at the Niemen River crossings. During that first day more than 2000 sorties were flown and 20 enemy aircraft were claimed destroyed.

Soviet ground forces advanced from Wilno to oppose the Germans at Raseynyay, where they were then surrounded. Front Air Force used all available aircraft to support counter attacks toward Sauliai and Tilsit from 23 June to 25 June. Bombers struck at railroad lines and stations, and destroyed tanks and troops moving toward the front. Although they flew 2100 sorties, the attacks were not well coordinated due to lack of communication with Soviet troops on the ground.

On 25 June Northern Front Air Army launched attacks on 19 Finnish and northern Norwegian airfields from which 5th Air Fleet operated in support of German ground attacks toward Leningrad. The Soviet force of 236 bombers and 224 fighters caught the enemy unprepared, destroying 41 German aircraft with no losses.

56th Panzer Corps took Daugavpils (Dvinsk) on the Dvina River on 26 June. Yekabpils, to the north, and also on the Dvina River, was taken on 30 June by IV Panzer Gruppe and XLI Panzer Corp.

North and Northwest Front Air Armies remained active during the early days of July. Air attacks against Finnish ports on the Gulf of Bothnia, and bridges, dams, power plants and railroads took place over six days, from 1 July through 5 July. Second Composite Air Division flew 530 sorties and dropped 250 tons of bombs. During the first 18 days of the war Northern Front Air Army flew 10,000 sorties. By 10 July only 837 aircraft remained to them. During the same period the Long-range Air Force flew 2112 sorties.

By this point, on this front, the Soviets possessed 1300 outdated aircraft, while the German First and Fifth Air fleets possessed 1900 machines.

On the left flank of the main thrust for Leningrad was the XVIII Army, while XVI Army guarded the right flank.

I Panzer Division captured Ostrov on 4 July. VI Panzer Division broke through the ‘Stalin Line’ 29 kilometers south of Ostrov. 56th Panzer Corp crossed the old Russian/Latvian border on the same day.

Soviet counterattacks against 56th Panzer Corp in the neighborhood of Pskov on 5 July were brushed aside. But the way ahead for 56th Panzer Corp consisted of swampy, wooded terrain for which they were not equipped.

By 10 July the Germans had advanced 500 kilometers toward Leningrad and Pskov. Here their plan began to come undone. XVI Army was ordered to provide two infantry divisions to Army Group Center to support them in a battle near Nevel. This required Army Group North to deflect X Corps south-east to assist XXVIII Corps in the surrounding of Soviet forces near Novorzhev.

Sources: ‘Drive to Leningrad’, Generalleutnant Walther Chales de Beaulieu, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

The Soviet Air Force in World War II, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Company Inc., Garden City, NY, 1973

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