Tuesday, August 3, 2021


 Chris Bellamy
Absolute War
New York, Vintage Books, 2007, 388-389

In the Spring [1942], 300,000 survivors of the terrible first winter [in Leningrad] began a massive clearing-up operation. Once the snow and ice thawed, the million tonnes of refuse that had accumulated during the winter would become a health hazard. Enormous efforts were made to restore and maintain morale, and to reintroduce a semblance of normality after a winter in which nearly a million might have died. The Soviet authorities also tried to project an image of normality to the rest of the country, and its allies. To convince the Leningraders, the country, the allies and the Germans that Leningrad was unbowed, they hit upon a wonderfully Russian, superbly flamboyant piece of psychological warfare. To stage and broadcast around the world a performance of Shostakovich’s new Seventh Leningrad Symphony, which had first been staged far away in central Asia. The score was flown into the besieged city in late June. After six weeks of rehearsal, on 9 August, the Leningrad Philharmonic opened for the performance. There were some lights in chandeliers although the windows were all boarded up with plywood. [Soviet] Lt. General of Artillery Govorov, commanding the Leningrad Front, was there in his best uniform, with Kuznetsov, the Party Secretary. Many soldiers and sailors had tickets, and they wore uniform, but everyone else was in their best suit or silk dress. As the chords, like workmen hammering to construct a vast edifice, became louder, in a slow but inexorable build-up of strength and intensity, [German] General Friedrich Ferch, Eighteenth Army’s Chief-of-Staff, started getting reports that his troops were listening on the radio. The performance was being relayed across the Soviet Union and by short-wave radio to the rest of Europe and the United States. The Germans later banned the symphony from being played in any territory they occupied. But for now, Ferch sensed an opportunity. He ordered his long-range artillery to zero in on the Philharmonic.

But Govorov had anticipated him. The siege of Leningrad was very much an artillery battle and the Germans knew the whereabouts of any significant buildings in the city. Their bombardment timetable had always targeted people who might be going to the theatre. However, the Russians had always been very good gunners, and Govorov, a specialist in counter-battery fire—silencing the enemy’s artillery with your own—knew where the German batteries were. As the majestic symphony played on, a massive and precisely targeted Russian artillery strike paralysed the German guns. There is no doubt about this. Ferch ordered the initial German strike, but all the witnesses—and the elite of Leningrad were all there—confirm that no German shells landed anywhere near the concert hall. As the entire orchestra in the Philharmonic joined in, building the volume of the symphony, other parts of the wider ‘orchestra’, Leningrad’s guns, joined in too. Land-based artillery, and the grey Baltic fleet battleships, their fire superbly directed, belched shell at the German positions. The moral and physical components of a nation’s soul and fighting power fused in harmony, and the German guns were silenced...

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