German Troops Inspect Soviet Trenches Along the Volkhov River

German soldiers of Army Group North examine trenches captured from the Red Army during the Tikhvin Offensive. Wilhelm Ritter (translated as Knight, a title) von Leeb (September 5, 1876 - April 29, 1956) wad ordered to move part of his mechanized divisions to Army Group Center for Operation Typhoon, the offensive against Moscow. EVen with reduced forces, Reichskanzler (Reichchancellor) Adolf Hitler still expected von Leeb to take Leningrad. In the wake of mass surrenders at Kiev, Rostov, and other Soviet bastions, Hitler ordered von Leeb to rush his forces toward Tikhvin, a city on the Volkhov River that was a link in the rail line supplying Leningrad, expecting an easy advance on Leningrad. General Rudolf Schmidt (1886-1957) commanding XXXIX Corps, composed of the 126th Infantry Division, 21st Infantry Division, 18th Motorized Division, 20th motorized Division, 8th Panzer Division, and 12th Panzer Division, were reinforced by the 250th Infantry Division (the Spanish volunteer Blue Division) and other units for the offensive. The XXXIX Corps attacked on October 16, 1941. Initially Schmidt struck at the junction of the lines of the Soviet 52nd and 4th Armies, effecting total surprise and overrunning the Red Army positions. As this photo was taken, the Russian "General Mud" began to take effect, as the Rasputitsa (Quagmire Season) began with the first snow of the year. The same day, elements of the 250th established a bridgehead and occupied Smeiko, Sitno, Tigoda, Dubrowka, Nitikino and Otenski as part of an offensive to link up with Finnish troops east of Lagoda Lake in order to complete the encirclement and the siege of Leningrad. Within weeks the Germans were soon enveloped in mud, causing the panzer crews to abandon their mired tanks. The rains and mud prevented resupply as trucks and even tractors could not move off paved roads, and even "corduroy" roads of felled trees sank into the muck. Still, the Germans took Tikhvin on November 8. Small unit counterattacks and reorganization of the Red Army forces into the Volkhov Front stopped the Germans from advancing to Leningrad. 45,000 Germans were killed, wounded, or captured, causing Army Group Centre to send reinforcements. On December 10, General Kirill Meretskov (June 7, 1897 - December 30, 1968), who was released from NKVD custody in September 1941 after accusations of treason and appointed to command the 4th Army, launched a counteroffensive that drove Army Group North out of Tikhvin and back to their initial positions by December 30th. This was the first time the Blitzkrieg tactics had been blunted. Meretskov was appointed to command the Volkhov Front and helped to break the blockade of Leningrad in 1943.
Caption Written By: 
Jason McDonald
Combined Arms Research Library
Archival Identifier: 
Date Photographed: 
Thursday, October 16, 1941
Volkhov River
Leningrad Oblast
Soviet Union