Saint Petersburg (Leningrad)
Saint Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia. It is politically incorporated as a federal subject (a federal city). It is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. In 1914 the name of the city was changed from Saint Petersburg to Petrograd, in 1924 to Leningrad, and in 1991, back to Saint Petersburg.
The city of Leningrad saw what is regarded as one of the greatest human tragedies of the entire war. Leningrad, one of the cities with a large amount of classical and baroque architecture on the Baltic Sea, was a city with a pre-war population of three million inhabitants. By August 1941, the Germans had reached the city's southern outskirts. Finnish forces had meanwhile recaptured the Karelian Isthmus northwest of the city, which they had lost after the Winter War in 1940.
The city was completely cut off from all land access on 8 September 1941. As the Gulf of Finland was blocked as well, Leningrad's only contact with the outer world was a vulnerable waterway across Lake Ladoga, as Finnish command didn't agree to German requests to advance beyond the River Svir and to conquer the rest of the Lake's coastline. Since taking the city seemed too costly to the Germans, in the light of bitter Soviet resistance, they instead began the Siege of Leningrad in order to starve the city to death. Soon, electricity, water and heating for civilian housing had to be shut down. All public transportation stopped in 1941-42 winter, but in 1942 city tramcars were relaunched (trolleys and buses were inoperable until end of the war).
Thousands of Leningrad citizens froze or starved to death in the first winter of the siege alone, dying at home in their beds or collapsing from exhaustion in the streets. Meanwhile, German artillery continued to bombard the city. Although the siege lasted for 872 days, the city did not surrender. When Lake Ladoga froze in the winter, the Road of Life was opened to the Soviet-held southern shore, with a long trail of trucks bringing food and supplies to the besieged city and evacuating citizens on their way back. Both the food and the civilian transports were constantly attacked by the Germans with artillery shelling and air raids.
When Soviet forces eventually lifted the siege in January 1944, over one million inhabitants of Leningrad had died from starvation, exposure and German shelling. 300,000 soldiers had perished in the defence and relief of Leningrad. Leningrad was awarded the title Hero City in 1945, being the first city to receive that distinction.