- 27 August: at 0210hrs, the Soviet 8th Army begins its attack on the German XXVI AK in the Mga-Siniavino corridor. After an artillery preparation, the 6th Guards Rifle Corps crosses the Chemaya River and attacks near the junction of the 223. and 227. Infanterie- Divisionen boundaries. The 3rd Guards Rifle Division fails to capture the Kruglaya Grove from Oberst Wengler’s Grenadier-Regiment 366, but the 19th Guards Rifle Division manages to overrun Grenadier- Regiment 425’s forward defences and advances four kilometres. The 24th Guards Rifle Division captures Tortolovo.
- 27 August: the 128th Rifle Division launches supporting attacks on Lipki and Workers’ Settlement No. 8 (WS-8).
- 28 August: Oberst Wengler’s Grenadier-Regiment 366 is encircled in the Kruglaya Grove, but the 6th Guards Rifle Corps cannot eliminate this position.
- 28 August: Lindemann rushes up elements of the 28. Jager-, 5. Gebirgsjager- and 170. Infanterie-Divisionen to block the Soviet penetration.
- 30 August: the Soviet advance westwards has lost momentum, so Starikov commits the 4th Guards Rifle Corps to reinforce the main effort, but the German defence of the Siniavino Heights holds.
- 1/2 September: counterattacks by the 28. Jager- and 170. Infanterie- Divisionen stop the 8th Army advance five kilometres from the Neva River.
- 2 September: the 128th Rifle Division succeeds in capturing WS-8, but any further advance is blocked.
- 3 September: the Neva Operational Group tries to assist Starikov’s stalled advance by making another division-sized effort to cross the Neva River near Gorodok but it is easily repulsed.
- 27 August to 3 September: a regimental-sized Kampfgruppe from 12. Panzer-Division remains in reserve west of Siniavino, ready to counterattack any sudden Soviet breakthrough.
Despite the dilatory offensive preparations by Heeresgruppe Nord, the Stavka was aware of Operation Nordlicht from intelligence sources and Stalin was determined to break the siege of Leningrad before the Germans could make their move. After the disastrous Lyuban Offensive, Meretskov was ordered to rebuild 2nd Shock Army, using remnants that had escaped the pocket and new reinforcements. He also began planning for a new offensive to break the siege, using a simpler, more direct approach and a great mass of artillery. With the Stavka’s concurrence, Meretskov and Govorov agreed on a pincer attack, involving near-simultaneous assaults against the west and east sides of the narrowest portion of the German siege lines, around Siniavino. At this point, Meretskov’s forces were only 17km from Govorov’s forces on the Neva River and they calculated that they could attack and achieve a link-up before Kuchler could reinforce the sector.
The east side of the Siniavino sector, already dubbed ‘the corridor of death’ since it was under Soviet artillery fire from both sides, was held by General der Artillerie Albert Wodrig’s XXVI AK, with the 223. and 227. Infanterie-Divisionen. Wodrig had only seven infantry battalions defending a 15km front stretching from Lipki on Lake Ladoga to Mishkino, with five other battalions holding the Neva Line. Owing to the reduction of the infantry divisions from nine to six battalions, Wodrig persuaded Küchler to ‘loan’ him five battalions from the 207. and 285. Sicherungs- Divisionen, but he still had a very weak force to hold the most critical terrain in the siege lines around Leningrad. The XXVI AK front was protected by a combination of fortified strongpoints, minefields, pre-planned artillery barrages and extensive swamps. Wodrig built his defences upon the stoutly built workers’ settlements that had been built in this area before the war, with the key positions being Workers’ Settlement 8 (WS-8), the Kruglaya Grove and the dominant Siniavino Heights. On the west side of the salient, the very experienced SS-Polizei-Division also held part of the Neva River front. Although Wodrig had no reserves, part of Manstein’s AOK 11 was just arriving south of Leningrad for the upcoming Operation Nordlicht.
Once Soviet intelligence learned of the imminent arrival of Manstein’s forces, the Stavka pressed Meretskov and Govorov to launch their offensives immediately, to forestall any possible German success at Leningrad. Govorov dutifully kicked off his part of the offensive by attempting to seize two crossings over the Neva on 19 August, but the SS-Polizei repulsed these efforts with heavy losses. Unlike the winter months, where the Soviets could send tanks and infantry across the frozen Neva, a cross-river attack in the summer was relatively easy for the Germans to defend against. However, Wodrig’s corps was less well prepared for Meretskov’s offensive, which began at 0210hrs on 27 August.
Meretskov’s main effort was launched by General-Major Filipp N. Starikov’s 8th Army in the Gaitolovo sector, near the boundary of the 223. and 227. Infanterie-Divisionen. Starikov’s initial shock group consisted of three divisions of General-Major Sergei T. Biiakov’s 6th Guards Rifle Corps, with the second echelon formed by General-Major Nikolai A. Gagen’s 4th Guards Rifle Corps. Meretskov played by the book: he achieved a 4:1 advantage in infantry in a narrow five-kilometre-wide sector, and provided over 580 army-level howitzers, 120mm mortars and multiple rocket launchers to support the assault. Despite the superior mass and firepower, the 6th Guards Rifle Corps failed to capture the heavily defended Kruglaya Grove, but the 19th Guards Rifle Division was able to push its way three kilometres into the forwards defences of Grenadier- Regiment 425. As usual, by massing a rifle division against a single German battalion, the Soviets made a narrow breach, but the supporting attacks on the flanks were less successful. Starikov was limited to a narrow penetration battle – just as had happened to the 2nd Shock Army in the Lyuban Offensive. Furthermore, Küchler began to commit reserves more quickly than Meretskov had anticipated and Starikov’s advance slowed to a crawl in successive days. Elements of the 5. Gebirgsjager-Division and 28. Jager-Division began to arrive on 28 August, followed by the 170. Infanterie-Division and four Tiger tanks of s.Pz.Abt. 502. Rather than cracking under the Soviet sledgehammer, German resistance was increasing. Even though two German battalions under Oberst Wengler were encircled in the Kruglaya Grove, Starikov’s rifle units had great difficulty reducing this position.
Although the Soviets enjoyed a considerable superiority in artillery, the tactical execution of the offensive was seriously flawed. Rifle units were fed into battle piecemeal and the artillery was unable to identify and destroy the German main line of resistance, concealed in the heavily wooded terrain. Most Soviet artillery barrages were area fires, hindered by morning fog and inexperienced forward observers. Starikov ignored the terrain and sent his 124th Tank Brigade into swamps where 24 of its 27 tanks became mired and were then destroyed by German Panzerjdger. Furthermore, Meretskov failed to provide adequate engineer support to breach minefields and build corduroy roads over swamps, so Starikov’s forces were limited to advancing along a single, narrow axis.
In frustration, Meretskov ordered Starikov to commit the 4th Guards Rifle Corps into the fight, and then gradually committed the 2nd Shock Army piecemeal to keep the advance going. Govorov finally managed to get some infantry across the Neva on 26 August, re-occupying the former ‘five-kopeck bridgehead’ lost in April, but could not advance any further. By 31 August, the 8th Army reached the south-east edge of the Siniavino Heights but was rapidly running out of steam. Counterattacks by the 28. Jager-Division and 170. Infanterie-Division on 1/2 September stopped Starikov’s spearheads five kilometres short of the link-up with the Nevskaya Dubrovka bridgehead. Once again, Meretskov stood to eliminate an entire German corps if he could only complete the encirclement, but Govorov’s forces were unable to break out of their tiny bridgehead and Starikov no longer had the strength to advance. The Soviet offensive had stalled.
Manstein’s counteroffensive, September 1942
At his forward headquarters at Vinnitsa in the Ukraine, Hitler was concerned that the Soviet Siniavino Offensive would succeed in disrupting the execution of Nordlicht, even though it was already apparent that it had failed to raise the siege of Leningrad. Hitler ordered Manstein to take over the battle around Siniavino and crush the Soviet penetration as rapidly as possible. In a rather awkward command arrangement, AOK 11 was put in charge of all German forces already around Siniavino, as well as the reinforcements just arriving from the Crimea, which temporarily reduced Lindemann’s AOK 18 to a rump formation. In his haste to resolve the Soviet penetration quickly, Manstein’s initial improvised effort to cut off the base of the salient was repulsed on 10 September. Manstein decided to wait until all his forces were in place and then launched a powerful pincer attack with four divisions from XXVI and XXX AK on 21 September, which succeeded in linking up near Gaitolovo within four days. The German counterattack succeeded in trapping the bulk of the Soviet 8th Army and part of the 2nd Shock Army in the pocket. Just after Starikov’s forces were encircled, the 55th Army managed to get elements of two rifle divisions across the Neva River on 26 September, but it was too late. Manstein ordered the 12. Panzer-Division, which had 40 tanks, to counterattack and within days the Soviets had lost two of their three bridgeheads. Shortly thereafter, the 55th Army forces withdrew back across the Neva.
Manstein set about methodically reducing the pocket in late September although mopping-up operations in the swamps continued until mid-October At least 12,300 prisoners were taken and Meretskov’s forces had taken another battering for no territorial gains. All told, the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts suffered 113,674 casualties in the offensive – about 59 per cent of their committed forces. Heeresgruppe Nord suffered 25,936 casualties during August-September 1942 and Manstein requested 10,500 replacements before his forces would be ready to execute Nordlicht. Some of the best units slated for Nordlicht were particularly hard hit, such as 5. Gebirgsjager-Division which suffered 2,183 casualties and lost one-quarter of its horses. Although the OKH kept Nordlicht as an option for some time, it was effectively cancelled when Manstein and his AOK 11 staff were sent south to form Heeresgruppe Don in response to the Stalingrad crisis in November. While there is no doubt that the German defence of the Siniavino Heights was a major tactical success, the Soviets succeeded in pre-empting Operation Nordlicht and thereby saved Leningrad.