General Andrei A . Vlasov at Leningrad

At Leningrad, neither side succeeded in its designs for the isolated city. The German armies could not crack the stub- born Soviet defenses ringing Leningrad’s southern outskirts, and, in fact, the line of battle changed very little. Soviet efforts to break through to the city were all but doomed by the plight of the Second Shock Army, whose 130,000 men had been cut off in the nearby Volkhov swamps since mid- March; rescue attempts diverted several Red Army divisions from their offensive assignments. At the end of March, a Soviet relief column managed to pierce the German lines and rush some supplies into the pocket. But the narrow corridor soon collapsed under German counterattack.

The Second Shock Army’s prospects were bleak indeed, and its best hope seemed to be its new commander, Lieut . General Andrei A . Vlasov, a brilliant leader and popular hero who had flown in to take over on March 21. Vlasov had sprung to prominence during the disaster at Kiev, when his strong handling of an army made up of shattered divisions had been instrumental in preventing even greater losses. Then he had served with distinction in the winter counter- offensive in front of Moscow, and as soon as he arrived on the Volkhov front, he had shown his mettle by attacking two German divisions and advancing eight miles-to within 15 miles of Leningrad. It was true that his drive then petered out, but Moscow was still confident that if anyone could extricate the Second Shock Army, it was Vlasov.

 

But in April, Vlasov worked no miracles; his troops and tanks were immobilized by mud when the frozen swamps melted, and they could neither attack nor defend them- selves. The crisis deepened in May, and two other armies in Vlasov’s group launched another desperate drive to open an exit route through the surrounding German lines. Finally, they succeeded in driving a 400-yard-wide corridor through to the Second Shock Army. Many of Vlasov’s wounded were evacuated through the gap, and a large number of troops rushed out in wild disarray. The corridor remained open only for a short time, until German artillery and Luftwaffe dive bombers closed it.

In June, the men of the Second Shock Army were sick, starving, almost out of ammunition and under constant, heavy German fire. German forces kept closing in, reducing the pocket. Many a time Vlasov radioed for help, but each time the Leningrad front headquarters in charge of the Vlokhov area told him to keep on pressing the attack. At one point, headquarters sent a plane to get him out, but he refused to leave his men.

Finally, in late June, the pitiful remnants of the Second Shock Army made their last attempt to break out. The men punched two small holes in the German lines. Vlasov, having done all he could, ordered his survivors to destroy whatever heavy equipment remained, then break up into small groups to try to escape. Some men filtered out, but German troops swarmed over those still in the pocket. About 32,000 Russians survived to surrender; all the rest lay dead or dying in the putrid swamp. The debacle had cost the Red Army nearly 100,000 men.

As for Vlasov, his story took a weird turn. German soldiers came upon the hero general in a farmhouse and took him prisoner. When the Russians next heard of Vlasov, they were bewildered and mortified to find out that he had turned traitor and was leading an army of Soviet defectors against their homeland. What had gone wrong with Vlasov? Soviet propagandists lamely suggested that he had been a German agent from the start and had deliberately led his army to destruction. Actually, Vlasov’s harrowing experience convinced him that he had to undertake a patriotic war to liberate his countrymen from the ruinous clutches of Stalinism. But he paid the price for treason in full. In the last days of the War, when Vlasov and his anti-Communist Russians were stationed in Czechoslovakia, the turncoat general surrendered to American forces. He was sent back to the Soviet Union, where he was formally tried for treason, condemned and executed.

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