Cutting Off Leningrad

Units of XVI Army had been diverted to assist Army Group Center’s thrust toward Moscow. Difficulties at Nevel and Novorzhev finally being resolved at the end of July 1941, Army Group North expected the return of those forces.

XVIII Army’s thrust through Latvia and Estonia had been quick, so Field Marshal von Leeb, Commander of Army Group North, requested XXXIII Army Corps be diverted east to assist XLI Panzer Corps’ thrust to Sabsk on the Luga River, in the same manner as I Army Corps had been diverted to assist 56 Panzer Corp’s attack on Soltsy at the end of July.

The plan was for XLI Panzer Corps to advance out of the two bridgeheads across the Luga River, which they had captured and held since 14 July, while 56 Panzer Corps attacked toward Luga on the Luga River with the object of following the Luga-Leningrad Road through the forest to take Krasnogvardiesk.

Two issues were considered as these attacks were ordered. Soviet forces fleeing XVIII Army’s thrust toward Narva retreated toward Leningrad, threatening XLI Panzer Corps’ left flank. The other problem was the Soviet 31st Corps blocking 56 Panzer Corps’ crossing of the Luga River.

Both the Soviets and the Germans intended to begin their offensives on the same date: 8 August.

Rain on 8 August canceled Luftwaffe support for the German attacks. As XLI Panzer Corps began the offensive out of their bridgeheads they came under heavy artillery fire. The initial assault was repulsed with heavy losses. After two days of fighting they penetrated the forest belt and broke into open terrain. The panzers turned east heading toward Leningrad while the infantry turned northwest toward Narva to block the Soviets retreating from Estonia.

On 14 August vehicles approaching Soltsy to reinforce 56 Panzer Corps’ thrust were attacked by Soviet aircraft for three hours. 56th Panzer Corps had no success. They were blocked by the Soviet 31st Corps.

On 15 August X Army of XVI Army Corps’ began their drive toward Staraya Russa south of Lake Ilman. This thrust was opposed by the Soviet 11th and 34th Armies supported by 460 sorties by the Soviet Air Force operating against German troops and reserves moving up to the front. Novgorod was taken by the Germans on 16 August, and a bridgehead was established over the River Volkhov. Chudovo fell to the Germans on 20 August. In this sector of Army Group North only the XXVIII Army Corps was making progress, taking Lyuban on 28 August.

The area southeast of Leningrad proved to be difficult terrain. XVIII Motorized Infantry Division secured XVI Army’s right flank on the River Volkhov. XII Panzer Division, XVI Army’s spearhead, reached the outskirts of Leningrad at Ishora on 28 August and XX Motorized Infantry Division extended the right flank to Lake Ladoga.

XLI Panzer Corps’ attack reached the Kasnogvardiesk-Krasnoye Selo line on 20/21 August, at which time they directed IV Panzer Gruppe to turn south to attack the rear of Soviet units north of Luga blocking 56th Panzer Corps. This action cut off supplies to the Soviet 41st Corps which withdrew into the swamps to the east of the Luga-Leningrad Road. The ‘Luga Pocket’ was liquidated in the first fortnight of September.

XVIII Army’s XVI Corps cleared Estonia of Soviet forces by the end of August.

Sources: Drive to Leningrad, Generaloberst 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 & Co., Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973

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