The 35.5 cm Haubitze M1 was a German siege howitzer. It was developed by Rheinmetall before World War II to meet the German Army’s request for a super-heavy howitzer. Eight were produced between 1939 and 1944. It saw service in the Battle of France and spent the rest of the war on the Eastern Front, participating in Operation Barbarossa, the Siege of Sevastopol, and the Siege of Leningrad and helped to put down the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.
One of the most ferocious and large-scale battles employing the large number of heavy artillery units in the World War II took place in the vicinity of Leningrad, where the German advance was stopped on the outskirts of the city in autumn 1941, with the assistance of numerous coastal artillery of the Soviet navy. In the prolonged period of positional warfare that followed the siege of Leningrad in 1941-1944, artillery played prominent role as well. The first explosions of German artillery shells within the city were registered on September 4, 1941, and in autumn the German command deployed three artillery regiments with the guns of 105-150 mm, reinforced by the two heavy artillery units of the High Command Reserve and several railway artillery platforms. Their positions were situated in the areas of Uritsk and Volodarsky, 8-12 kms from the frontline. The artillery raids took place in the daytime, usually from 10.00 am to 19.00 pm; an intense artillery barrage was followed by methodical shelling for some 2-4 hours a day until the end of 1941. In September 1941 the Germans have fired 5,364 artillery shells, in October–7,950, in November–11,230, and in December-15,610. There were some days when the city was under fire for more than 18 hours: on 15th of September the fire lasted 18 hours 32 minutes, and on 17th of September–18 hours 33 minutes. By the end of 1941 the Germans have deployed their artillery positions in the wooded areas western, south-western and southern of Leningrad in the areas of Uritsk, Finskoe Kojrovo and Pushkin–Slutsk. The road network in these locations was developed so that it enabled rapid maneuvers of artillery hardware, and from the rooftops of the tall building in Uritsk and the nearby ridge the German artillery observers received superb view of the southern and southwestern sectors of Leningrad.
The evaluation of the effectiveness of German artillery in the siege is a rather complicated undertaking since: 1)the reports of the damage caused were kept secret in Soviet era; even today the official Russian point of view is that the royal palaces at Peterhof and Pavlovsk were demolished by the Germans, while in fact they were wiped off by the Soviet 152 mm guns. 2) it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between damages caused by the German air-raids and artillery strikes. The official Soviet data claims that there were some 5000 bombs dropped and 150,000 artillery shells fired at the city, damaging 840 industrial objects, destroying 3,200 stone or concrete houses and further 7,100 damaged heavily.
It is rather easier, however, to judge about the effects of the German artillery barrages on the naval forces of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet. For instance, on the 18th of September, 1941, between 11.47 and 13.37 the Soviet heavy cruiser “Petropavlovsk”(previously known in Kriegsmarine as “Lutzow” before being sold to Soviet Union in 1939) came under fire of the German 210 mm guns of the 768-th Motorized Artillerie Abteilung, receiving up to 12 hits. The cruiser received heavy damage under the water-line, its artillery systems were not functioning, and a fire had erupted; 10 crewmembers were KIA and 20 MIA, while “Petropavlovsk” slowly sank for the depth of some 1-2 metres in the Coal haven of the Leningrad Commercial port. On September 27th, 1941, the German artillery has sunk the cannon boat “Pioner”; on the 7th of October–old coastal defence battleship “Smerch”, decommissioned several decades ago, which was repaired and sunk again in 1942; on the 4th of October the notorious training cruiser “Aurora” was sunk in Oranienbaum after several artillery shells hit its deck; on the 24th of April 1942 the hull of the cruiser “Butakov”, still under construction, was sunk too. All in all, the German artillery alone is responsible for sinking 44 naval units, including, except of those covered above, submarines L-1, M-72 and M-96, torpedo boats N 103 and N 123, trawler N172 and many other.
Many Soviet naval vessels were heavily damaged by the German artillery fire in 1941-1942. The battleship “Marat”, which was ostensibly “sunk” by Hans-Ulrich Rudel on September 23, 1941, but soon repaired so that turrets N3 and N4 became active again, was hit by 5 shells on 15.09.1941, piercing the decks and blowing up the engine, on 12.12.1941 it suffered 3 more hits of the 203 mm shells and on 28.12.1941 3 direct hits and several German shells exploding near the battleship. The deck was reinforced by the granite plates of the Neva embankment, and yet the ship was targeted again successfully on 25.10.1942 with 3 305 mm shells, one 203 mm shell on 06.11.1942 and one 203 mm shell on 08.10.1943. The repeatedly battered vessel was decommissioned in 1953.
On the other hand, the Soviet battleship “October Revolution” was hit by German artillery fire on several occasions(6 direct hits on 8-10.10.1941, one hit on 14.12.1941, two hits on 23.03.1942, several hits on 16 and 18 April 1942), and as a result of these episodes the vessel was significantly damaged, as probably any other Soviet ship based in Leningrad or Kronschtadt. The reason they eventually survived was the Germans usually employed 105-210 mm artillery systems not capable of sinking a heavily armoured cruiser or battleship, but causing enough damage to make the vessels inactive for long periods of time. Moreover, the crews often performed remarkably in salvaging their vessels after direct hits and resulting fires.
The other target of German artillery attacks was the Scientific Research Artillery Range near the railway station of Rzhevka, where Soviet artillery systems were tested and large stocks of ammunition were stored. On the 29th of March, 1942, a Luftwaffe reconnaissance plane detected a large number of railway freight-cars, and between 17.00 and 19.00 the German artillery pounded the spotted targets ferociously, mounting the barrage on the following morning. Eventually a load of ammonal explosive was detonated, causing chain reaction of the Soviet ammunition echelon, killing several hundreds of people.
The Soviet command attempted to decrease the immense pressure on civilian morale by conducting precise artillery attacks on the enemy positions, in order to suppress relentless and accurate German fire. Already in 1941 the Baltic Fleet donated 360 heavy artillery pieces, 130 mm and above, while the Red Army deployed 137 guns (37*122 mm, 90 152 mm howitzers, 9*152 mm and 220 mm mortar). However, in general the German artillery positions were quite well disguised and in case of heavy Soviet fire the guns were quickly moved to reserve positions. For instance, on 30-31.07.1943 the Soviet 130 mm guns fired 886 shells at the spotted German 180 mm artillery piece, which renewed fire exactly 5 hours after the assault. All in all, the Soviets have succeeded in destroying three German 105 mm guns and two 170 mm systems in the third quarter of 1943 with coastal artillery, whereas the other targets appearing destroyed displayed activity some 7 days after the carefully prepared Soviet artillery strike. Apparently the Soviet artillery assaults also caused casualties among German artillery personnel, even when the guns remained intact or insignificantly damaged.
Order of the Commander-in-Chief of the Northwestern Strategic Direction Concerning the Employment of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet and Coastal Artillery for the Defence of Leningrad
30 August 1941
To Shaposhnikov, Kuznetsov
Since the current naval assets, employed at the defence of Leningrad and Kronschtadt, are not sufficiently co-ordinated, and in order to employ all available resources of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet directly for the defence of the city, I hereby order:
- Concerning the naval vessels.
It should be henceforth considered that the main goal of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet is the active defence of the approaches to the city from the seaside and the prevention of enemy naval breakthroughs of the Red Army flanks on the southern and northern shores of the Gulf of Finland. These goals should be achieved by the deployment of the light naval forces, torpedo boats, submarines, air force and the minelaying activities.
All heavily armoured vessels and a proportion of destroyers should be used in order to reinforce the artillery positions defending the Leningrad Fortified Area(UR); therefore, the following must be deployed:
battleships: “Marat” and “October Revolution”
cruisers: “Kirov”, “Maxim Gorky” and “Petropavlovsk”
destroyers: “Opytnyj”, “Strogij” and “Strojnyj”
Moreover, should the necessity appear, the artillery defence of Leningrad will be reinforced by the additional number of destroyers and cannon boats.
- Regarding the employment of naval artillery.
In order to support the garrisons of the Fortified Areas(URs) with the fire of heavy naval artillery, apart from deployed warships, the following should be used for the defence of Leningrad:
4-gun 180-mm railway battery N.19
4-gun 180-mm stationary battery nearby Ivanov rapids (operative readiness by 15.9.1941)
Naval testing range assets: 1 – 406-mm, 1 – 356-mm, 2 – 305-mm, 5 – 180-mm, 1 – 152-mm, 4 – 130-mm è 4 – 100-mm artillery pieces.
Moreover, the following units should be transferred directly to the Fortified Areas:
stationary batteries: 2*130-mm – 19 systems
railway artillery platforms: 10*130-mm – 20 systems
stationary batteries: 2*152-mm – 4 systems
railway batteries: 2*152-mm – 4 systems
For similar purposes at the flanking positions of the Leningrad Fortified Area (Kovashin sector) the following stationary pieces should be used against ground targets:
2 batteries of 8*305-mm “Krasnaya Gorka” Fort
1 battery of 3*152-mm “Krasnaya Gorka” Fort
1 battery of 4*203-mm “Pulkovo” Fort
1 battery of 3*152-mm “Grey Horse” Fort
- 138 battery of 4*120-mm “Grey Horse” Fort
1 battery of 3*100-mm near village Ustye
1 battery of 3*356-mm (¹ 11);
1 battery of 4*180-mm (¹ 18).
For similar purposes on the northern approaches to the city the following should be used:
1 railway battery of 4*180-mm (Seywisto) and artillery of the Kronschtadt forts
For similar purposes in the eastern sector of the Karelian direction in the area of Schlusselburg:
2 batteries of 3*100-mm stationary guns on cape Koshkin, cape Sosnovets
1 battery of 2*130-mm stationary guns on cape Koshkin
1 battery of 2*76-mm stationary guns at village Sheremetjevka
On this direction, moreover, all artillery pieces of the Naval Testing Ground and the destroyers currently deployed in the Neva river (“Stojkij” and “Strogij”) should be used.
- Organization of the naval artillery command.
All artillery based on the sea, railway artillery and stationary artillery (except of those transferred to the Red Army), should be brought together under the leadership of the chief artillery officer of Leningrad naval defence, who will be responsible for the formation, training and supply of the artillery batteries and for the organization of communication networks between batteries and naval vessels on the one hand, and the system of Fortified Areas (URs) and Red Army units. The artillery commanders of the Fortified Areas shall have the right to call artillery support and plot the targets. All artillery, involved in the defence of the Kovashin position, should be brought together under the leadership of the Izhorsky Fortified Area commander.
- Concerning the naval formations designated for ground combat
Apart from 4 naval infantry brigades already raised for frontline service since the beginning of the war, the follwong contingencies should be drafted:
- a) evacuated coastal defence personnel from the Tallinn base (up to 3000 men), evacuated anti-aircraft defence personnel from the Tallinn base (up to 3500 men), evacuated air force and supply personnel from the Tallinn base (up to 1500 men).
- b) the crews of the decommissioned unfinished vessels (up to 1500 men)
- c) partially employ the crews of combat vessels, which have limited tasks to fulfill (up to 2000 men)
The naval personnel thus drafted should be employed for:
1) reinforcement of the 10th Rifle Corps—16th and 22nd Rifle Divisions—up to 10,000 men
2) reinforcement of the 1st naval infantry Brigade—up to 1500 men
The reinforcement and rearmament of the 10th Rifle Corps should be carried out by the commanders of the Leningrad Front, who will take charge of the 10,000 men donated by the Red-banner Baltic Fleet Military Council.
The reinforcement of the 1st Naval infantry Brigade should be carried out by the Military Council of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet
Henceforth all future excess manpower resources of the Fleet should be employed for:
- a) reinforcement of the 5 naval infantry brigades
- b) formation of the special striking marine battalions for the rifle divisions
- Organizational issues.
In order to achieve the unity of all resources and assets employed for the naval defence of Leningrad, the commander of the naval defence should be subordinated to the Military Council of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet.
Voroshilov—Member of the Northwestern Strategic Direction Military Council
Zhdanov—Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Soviet Communist Party(b)
Order of the Stavka of High Command concerning the counter-battery tactics against the enemy artillery deployed near Leningrad.
- 0419 16 September 1943
The enemy forces conduct routine attacks of the city of Leningrad employing long-range heavy artillery, inflicting heavy damage to the population of the city, industrial complexes and cultural establishments.
The measures, taken by the Military Council of the Leningrad front, proved insufficient due to the following reasons:
- Artillery and air force of the Leningrad front and Red-banner Baltic Fleet are not employed effectively and are not co-ordinated by a single commanding officer responsible for counter-battery actions.
- The existing cooperation between the front artillery and coastal artillery of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet is appalling and does not fulfill the needs of supporting the efforts for enemy artillery elimination.
- The fire against enemy batteries is not directed according to the most accurate modern techniques of aiming, and it is especially characteristic of the 101st brigade of the coastal defence of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet.
- The deployment of fighter escort aircraft for the reconnaissance plane is followed by considerable frictions, therefore the reconnaissance planes are not employed at the possible scale.
In order to improve the effectiveness of the counter-battery operations against enemy artillery shelling Leningrad the Stavka of High Command hereby orders:
- For the most effective employment of the artillery assets of the Leningrad front and the Red-banner Baltic Fleet against German artillery positions shelling Leningrad, the Leningrad Counter-battery Artillery Corps should be deployed, consisting of the following units:
51st Artillery Brigade–36*152mm guns (1937 model)
12th Guards Artillery Regiment–24*152mm guns (1937 model)
14th Guards Artillery Regiment–18*152 mm guns (1937 model)
73rd Artillery Regiment–16*122 mm guns (1931 model)
126th Artillery Regiment–12*152 mm guns (1937 model)
129th Artillery Regiment–16*122 mm (1931 model)
409th Separate Heavy Artillery Unit–6*152 mm guns on the BR-2 transporters
101st–Coastal Artillery Brigade of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet–58 guns of 130-356 mm
12th and 52nd separate air squadrons of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet
3rd and 4th Guards Separate Reconnaissance Artillery units and battery of the acoustic reconnaissance of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet
1st balloon unit of aerial reconnaissance
Total–168 artillery pieces
- Colonel com. Zhdanov is appointed the Commander of the Corps.
- The Corps Headquarters should be formed according to the TO&E table N 08/516, the Signal Battalion according to the TO&E table N 08/517 of the Artillery Corps of High Command Reserve employing the existing manpower reserves of the Leningrad Front.
- The Leningrad Counter-battery Artillery Corps shall be subordinated directly to the Front Military Council as the separate formation.
- The Military Council of the Leningrad Front should.
à) Revise the existing deployment of the Corps batteries in order to employ the widest possible range of the guns
b)Arrange training sessions for the Corps personnel in order to master the effective techniques of artillery fire with aerial correction and reconnaissance and all assets of instrumental artillery reconnaissance.
c)In order to provide the environment for the uninterrupted activity of the reconnaissance aerial units of the Leningrad Counter-battery Artillery Corps the Red Army Air force Commander, Marshal Novikov should raise two fighter squadrons of 12 aircraft each and transfer them to the frontline before September 30, 1943 at the disposal of the Leningrad Counter-battery Artillery Corps commander.
d)The Military Council of the Leningrad front should direct main efforts of bomber and ground-assault aerial formations at the assistance and cooperation with the Artillery Corps in order to accomplish the suppression of German artillery.
- The 101st Coastal Artillery Brigade of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet is operatively subordinated to the commander of the Leningrad Counter-battery Artillery Corps, while regarding the special naval training activities, supply and maintenance, it is supervised by the Military Council of the Red-banner Baltic Fleet.
- The formation of the Corps should be completed by the 20th of September, 1943.
- The execution procedure of this order should be reported by 20th of September, 1943.
Stavka of High Command
Eventually the endless artillery duels came to an abrupt end in January 1944, when the German siege was lifted, while “the troops of 2nd Striking and 42th Armies between 14 and 20 January 1944 have captured 265 German guns, of which 85 represented heavy calibers–152–406 mm systems”, the biggest Soviet trophy becoming the French 520 mm railway howitzer.