As the German military besieged the city of Leningrad, millions of Soviet soldiers and civilians were trapped. The ensuing siege would last 29 months and lead to the deaths of over one million Soviet soldiers and civilians. The city would experience one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history. To avoid an absolute catastrophe in the city, the Soviet government established a supply route over Lake Ladoga to bring food, arms, and equipment to those trapped in the siege. Known as the Road of Life, this transport route would save the lives of many in the city.
Lake Ladoga is a large freshwater lake that borders the eastern part of the Karelian Isthmus. While the lake regularly freezes over during winter months, there was concern among Soviet officials if an ice road could be constructed to bring supplies into the city. To traverse the lake, the ice needed to be a minimum of eight inches thick for trucks carrying one ton of cargo to travel. Luckily, in the winter of 1941-1942 the ice averaged three-to-five feet thick. Using snow plows, the Soviets were able to construct a road over the southern inlet of Lake Ladoga.
In November 1941, the Soviets were able to transport 1,500 tons of food into the city. The numbers increased dramatically in the following months, with over 253,000 tons of food being transported over the ice road. Accompanying the food was over 32,000 tons of military supplies and 37,000 tons of fuel. While food and goods were being transported into the city, the Soviets also evacuated civilians from Leningrad. Using the Road of Life, 1.3 million women and children were rescued. As spring approached and the ice melted, the Soviets began using transport vessels to supply the city, as well as constructing an 18-mile long pipeline (known as the Artery of Life) that carried oil into the city.
The Soviets continued to use the Road of Life in the following winters. On 27 January 1944, the siege of Leningrad was lifted. While the loss of life was tremendous, the people of Leningrad persevered. On 1 May 1945 Stalin named Leningrad (along with Stalingrad, Sevastopol, and Odessa) one of the hero cities of the war. Celebrating the importance of the Road of Life, the United Nations made it a World Heritage Site in 1990.
Look for more information regarding the siege of Leningrad in the upcoming World at War issue #49 with the article “Starvation Winter” and join the conversation on Facebook!