No siege of Leningrad? (9-13-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 13, 1941)

Background of news –
By editorial research reports

Millions of leaflets, dropped on Leningrad from German planes, have warned the defenders to surrender, lest the fifth largest city of Europe suffer the same fate of Warsaw – that is, to be bombed by land and from the air into helplessness. If the Germans make good their threat, they will have abandoned the intention earlier ascribed to them, of taking Leningrad by a siege in which starvation would be an important factor.

The instruments of modern warfare have made the old-fashioned siege almost a thing of the past. In the older sieges, time was not pressing and you could leisurely camp before the city until starvation had rendered its inhabitants desperate. If they then made sorties, these were doomed to failure unless the besiegers were taken by surprise or were outnumbered. Conversely, the besiegers were expected to outnumber the defenders by something like three to one if the besiegers were to force their way into the city over desperate resistance.

The essence of a siege is that the objective be completely surrounded, so that reinforcements and supplies cannot be sent to it. So the German attack of many on Verdun in 1916 was not really a siege, but when the German armies got behind as well as in front of the Maginot Line in 1940, the Line was actually in a state of siege. Its defenders cited the impossibility of getting supplies as the chief reason for their surrender.

Of the largest cities of the world, the geographical position of London, New York and Chicago, Tokyo and Osaka, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, has so far preserved them from sieges. The Prussian and then the German armies have kept Berlin from being besieged. Moscow wasn’t besieged in 1812 because the Russian forces abandoned it to Napoleon after setting it on fire.

In fact, the long Napoleonic Wars were marked by absence of sieges, except in Spain and Portugal, and there the sieges were protracted chiefly because the attacking forces were sort of military supplies. The Franco-German War of 1870-71 was marked by several notable sieges, notably at Metz, Strasbourg, and Belfort, but the German military superiority was so pronounced that these were short. The siege of Paris in 1871 was by the official French armies against the revolutionary Commune which had taken over control of the French capital; and the German troops were inactive, though observant, while Frenchman fought Frenchman. Starvation played a large part in the ultimate surrender of the city.

The outstanding siege of recent times has been that of Madrid in 1938-39. The Japanese captured Shanghai in 1937 after a siege of only one month. The successful attack on Warsaw in 1939 was too brief to be really called a siege.

Some of the outstanding sieges of modern times have been of posts notable as military positions rather than as great cities – Gibraltar in 1779, Sevastopol in 1854-55, Plevna in 1877, Ladysmith and Kimberley in the Boer War, Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese War. The advent of the modern long-range gun led to the construction of forts outside cities which might be subject to siege, but the great fortresses of Belgium held out for only a few days in 1914 and for even fewer in 1940. And now bombing planes are most decidedly in the picture.

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