Letter from Lyn: Lessons from the Siege of Leningrad

This is an interesting link. See:  http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/siege_of_leningrad.htm  A city of 2.5 million ( about the same as Philadelphia and immediate suburbs) cut off from food deliveries. One big difference from today was the general patriotism and social order. The magnitude of deaths is ominous for those of us aware of future scenarios disrupting the grid and/or trade. (I was going to write up a historical essay for the contest from a lot of material on this, but alas, too busy. But this link is one good article). – Lyn

When the Germans invaded Russia in June 1941, the population of Leningrad was about 2,500,000. However, as the Germans advanced into Russia, a further 100,000 refugees entered the city. The area that the city authorities controlled produced just 1/3rd of what was needed for grain, 1/3rd of what was needed for coal, 1/12th of what was needed for sugar and half of what was needed with regards to meat – if the supply lines could be kept open. On September 12th, those in charge of the city estimated that they had the following supplies:

Flour for 35 days
Cereals for 30 days
Meat for 33 days
Fats for 45 days
Sugar for 60 days

The nearest rail head outside of the city was about 100 miles to the east at Tikhvin – but this was soon to fall to the Germans on November 9th. By mid-September (two weeks into the siege), Leningrad was effectively surrounded and cut-off from the rest of Russia with minimal food and energy supplies for her population. The siege was to last for 900 days.
While the city had a rail network of sorts, Stalin ordered that all vital goods in the city that could help defend Moscow be moved out of Leningrad and to the capital.
Rationing had been introduced almost immediately. Soldiers and manual workers got the most of what was available, followed by office workers then by non-working dependents and children. The city authorities found it difficult to grasp just how serious their situation was. While certain food was rationed, restaurants continued to serve non-rationed food in their ‘normal’ way. The authorities also failed to inform people in Leningrad just how much food there was – this was probably done so as not to panic people, but if people had known the true situation, they could have planned accordingly. The number of shops handling food was drastically cut to allow for better control – but it also meant that people had to queue for much longer. There is also evidence that money could buy food away from rationing and the black market thrived where it could away from prying eyes.
Winters in Leningrad are invariably extremely cold. The winter of 1941-42 was no exception. Lack of fuel meant that the use of electricity in homes was banned – industry and the military took priority. Kerosene for oil lamps was unobtainable. Wood became the major source of heat in homes with furniture and floor boards being burned in most homes.
The food needed to fight the cold was simply not available. If bread was obtainable, people had to queue in the bitter cold in the hope that some might be left by the time they got to the front of the queue. Dogs and cats were hunted for food and stories emerged of cannibalism – freshly buried bodies were, according to some, dug up in the night. Gangs of people braved German guns to leave the city and dig up potatoes in fields outside of the city. This actually did bring in some food that was not kept by those who ventured out – the potatoes were handed in to the authorities and then distributed equably.
The city authorities ordered that a bread substitute be concocted by those who might have the skill, as they knew that flour was in very short supply. ‘Bread’ baked by bakers even in the first few months of the siege contained only 50% rye flour. To boost the loaf, soya, barley and oats were used. However, the oats were meant to feed horses and malt was used as an alternate substitute. Even cellulose and cottonseed were tried in an effort to produce bread. Both had little nutritional value but there was plenty of both in Leningrad. The city developed ingenious ways to produce ‘food’ – cats and sheep intestines were stewed, flavored with oil of cloves and the resulting liquid became a substitute for milk; seaweed was made into broth and yeast was made into soup. Regardless of all the work done by the experts in Leningrad, food remained in very short supply and people were only getting 10% of the required daily calorific intake – despite the fact that most of their work was labor intensive. One writer in the city, Tikhonov, wrote about workers who ate grease from bearings in factory machines and drank oil from oil cans such was their hunger. People collapsed in factories and on the streets – and died. The city organized mass burials to cope with the number who died. When not enough grave diggers could be found, explosives were used to blow a hole in the ground and the bodies were simply thrown in with the expectation that snow would simply cover them up. Where people died in the street, there was a scramble for their ration card.
” If this happened, there was an immediate scrabbling for the dead one’s ration card – not because anyone wanted to steal it but because everyone realized that a ration card handed in to the authorities meant an infinitesimal portion more food for all. Such were the indignities we suffered.”
” I watched my father and mother die – I knew perfectly well they were starving. But I wanted their bread more than I wanted them to stay alive. And they knew that about me too. That’s what I remember about the blockade: that feeling that you wanted your parents to die because you wanted their bread.”In November 1941, while the siege was in its early stages, 11,000 people died of what the authorities called ‘alimentary dystrophy’ (starvation) – over 350 a day. However, this number greatly increased as the winter took a hold on the city.
The two lifelines Leningrad had were constructing a road out of the city to allow supply trucks to get through and using Lake Lagoda as a means of transport.
Thousands of people assisted in building the road that was meant to link to Zaborie – the next major staging post east of the fallen Tikhvin. The road was more than 200 miles long when it was completed in just 27 days. However, though it was termed a road, in many places it was barely more than a track not wide enough for two lorries to pass. Parts of it were too steep for lorries to cope with and the snow made parts of it impossible to use. On December 6th, the city authorities announced that the road – known by the people as the ‘Road of Life’ – was to be used for the first time. The news was well received in the city but, in truth, the road was not capable of providing all that the city required for survival. Over 300 lorries started out on the first journey but breakdowns and blizzards meant that the most distance traveled in any one day was 20 miles.
On December 9th, the city received news that Tikhvin, with its vital railhead, had been recaptured by the Russians. The Germans who had occupied the town were the victims of Hitler’s belief that the Russian campaign would be over quickly. They had not been issued with winter clothing and became victims of both the weather and a major Russian assault. 7,000 Germans were killed in the attack and they were pushed back 50 miles from Tikhvin. Railway engineers were brought in by the Russians to repair the line and bridges. For one week they ate food supplies left by the Germans in their retreat. As a result, and by the standards of those in Leningrad, they ate well and all the required repairs to the line were finished in just one week. Supplies started to trickle into the beleaguered city.
Another supply route was to use the frozen Lake Lagoda. Ironically, though the weather was extremely cold for the people of Leningrad, it was not cold enough to sufficiently freeze the lake to allow it to cope with the weight of lorries. The lake was frozen enough to stop barges bringing in supplies but the ice had to be 200mm thick to cope with lorries. It only achieved such a thickness at the end of November, and on November 26th, eight lorries left Leningrad, crossed the lake and returned with 33 tons of food. It was a major achievement – but the city needed 1000 tons of food each day to function. Once the ice had proved reliable and safe, more journeys were made and occasionally this mode of transport brought in 100 tons of food a day.
Though the ‘Road of Life’, the rail system and the use of Lake Lagoda brought much needed relief to the city, they could not provide all that was needed and the city’s records show that 52,000 died in December 1941 alone – lack of food and the cold accounted for over 1,600 death a day. However, the figures collected by the city were for those who were known to have died and been buried in some form or another. They do not include people who died at home or on the street and whose bodies were never found. The official death total for the whole 900 day siege is 632,000. However, some believe (such as Alan Wykes) that the figure is likely to be nearer 1 million.

Letter from Afghanistan Re: SOCOM’s ATVs

Mr. Rawles,
I saw your posts about ATVs and your question about the John Deere Gator. I am a former soldier and work with SOCOM troops in Afghanistan. My experience is they use the Gators only on main bases. The workhorse ATVs in the field are Polaris MV 700s or Sportsman 500s. They are gas powered and very tough. The MV 700 is heavily modified and is bulky and rather heavy, but can haul a lot of gear, etc. The Sportsman 500s have some modifications from the standard version, but are largely the same as you can buy from the showroom. I’ve used them over here with those guys, and based on my personal experience and the good recommendations of the SOCOM guys I know, I bought a 500 when I was home on leave. I can’t say much about the Gator, they may be great, but the actual SOCOM field workhorse is almost always a Polaris machine. – Jeff in Afghanistan

Jim’s Quote of the Day:

“Most people can’t think, most of the remainder won’t think, the small fraction who do think mostly can’t do it very well. The extremely tiny fraction who think regularly,
accurately,  creatively, and without self-delusion- in the long run, these are the only people who count.” – Robert A. Heinlein

Note from JWR:

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From David in Israel Re: An American Ex-Pat Community in Israel, and CONEX House Conversions

Here are some links that you might find of interest, regarding Karnei Shomron. [From the web page: “Atop Ginot Shomron is a charming neighborhood known as “Neve Aliza” that has one of the largest concentrations of North American olim in all of Israel.”] See:



I wish it had pictures of Ramat Gilad it is the three year old hilltop Yeshuv with the caravans (single wide and double wide mobiles) and container houses.

And here is a story with a little history of Ramat Gilad written by a lefty (an anti-settlement type):  http://www.israelblog.org/Articles/The_Unsettlers.html

Letter Re: Doing Business in Urban California

Mr. Rawles:
Your book has been highly recommended to me by an acquaintance in another state. He asked if I’d read your book because you and I seem to have the same opinions on being in a large city (like Oakland, California where I live) when any kind of disaster strikes.
These people rioted when The Raiders
[JWR adds: For the benefit of our overseas readers, The Oakland Raiders are the local professional football team] made it to the super bowl and rioted again when they lost.
A good friend of mine lost his thriving auto body business because his insurance would not cover the damages to his business (civil disobedience = no coverage) His equipment was either stolen or destroyed and was sued by several insurance companies for damages and theft of customer cars. He even lost his house. No one had informed him of the [State of California] Homestead clause that would protect a family dwelling in such cases. Can’t do it after the fact. Now he drives a taxi and lives (barely) off cash tips. He had to close his bank account. Wages garnished. You name it.
Until recently, I too was the owner of a successful auto repair shop. I had to close the doors last year because I was being taxed and fee-ed out of business. Though I was grossing nearly six times what I was in 1989, by October 2004, I had slipped hopelessly into debt, so I called it quits. Zoning and various other government restrictions had escalated the rental value of prime auto repair property. My rent was locked by a 10 year lease but, because of the P&L and the high rent the landlord was demanding, no one could negotiate a low enough rent to make a purchase worthwhile. A large specialty chain wanted my location badly. They gave me a lowball offer that was downright insulting. Their “rep” bluntly told me to take the offer because they knew I couldn’t sell the business because of the rent and they could just wait me out. I instead sold all the equipment and got a little more than what they offered. It was not enough to pay my debt but at least I didn’t wait to the point of even having to leave my equipment behind for them. They got my place but they didn’t get my stuff. Small victory, but a victory nonetheless. Now I drive a truck and struggle to pay off my debt and feed my family. My credit is shot and it’s gonna take a long time to get back on my feet.
Anyway, I’d really like to read your book but it’s out of print and used copies are going on eBay for triple digit figures. I just can’t do that. Do you have any copies you can sell or know of any sources that still have affordable copies? The acquaintance who recommended it loaned it out and never saw it again so…It’s probably on eBay now! LOL!|
Thanks, – Joe

JWR Replies:  Your letter is more evidence that my description of California (see my Retreat Locales page) was correct. I lost patience with that Mickey Mouse state many years ago. Just the gun laws alone are enough to drive anyone rational away. Methinks it is best to “vote with your feet.” OBTW, the opening scenes of my screenplay (Pulling Through) take place in Oakland. The screenplay is available for free download. I’m praying that some Hollywood or Indy producer has the guts to make a politically incorrect action-adventure movie.

You are correct that my novel Patriots is no longer in print, but there are still a few dealers that still have case quantities. One good source is Fred’s M14 Stocks. As of this writing, Fred is currently offering a great three book package deal: one copy of my novel Patriots + one copy of Matthew Bracken‘s novel Enemies Foreign and Domestic + one copy of Boston’s Gun Bible, all for $50.

Letter Re: A Flock of Miniature Goats?–Canning Meat

Just wanted to mention…..it really is not too hard to can meat with a pressure cooker. If you stock up now on mason jars and a good pressure cooker ( get an extra gasket) you can raise elephants for meat! Just have a feast for all the neighbors and can the rest. It is nice to have little jars of cooked meat around to dump over rice or throw into a stew. Frankly, it’s easier IMO than plucking or skinning family size animal meals every day, to just cut up one big one and can all day, and then relax for a month. – Lyn

From Dr. November Re: Useful Medical References on the Web

Jim, good point about those two ‘Where There is no…” books.

Here’s another, which I’ve had a small part in:
http://www.aussurvivalist.com/downloads/AM%20Final%202.pdf The download is free. A printed and bound copy is also available for $13.60 at http://www.cafepress.com/austeremed. The cost covers the printing, nobody is making a dime off of it. This is a work in progress, and the April 2005 revision of the original misc.survivalism medical faq. Highly recommended.

Here are a couple of sites that have more medical info on them:
A link to the online 1918 version of Gray’s Anatomy (no, not the insipid TV show) is pretty good. It also has a mirror for the FAQ.
[JWR adds: The 1918 and later editions of Gray’s do make useful references. However, please note the “Classic Edition” reprint edition (of a much earlier edition) often found at book stores and on Amazon.com should NOT be relied upon as an anatomy reference!]

The Navy Corpsman manual ( http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/milmed/index.html) is particularly good for people with the desire to learn basic lab work. Please note though: The SF medical guide is the OLD one, and many of the treatments recommended are out of favor (Choramphenicol, in particular, is one of those ‘lesser of two evil’ drugs these days). Good info on austere public health and veterinary work though. Stay healthy! – Dr. November

Note from JWR:

You will notice that I’ve updated the SurvivalBlog Glossary as well as the Retreat Owners Profiles page. I have added a new profile for “Mr. & Mrs. Victor.” If you’ve never read the Profiles, please take the time to do so. They are very insightful! 

OBTW, I would greatly appreciate reading additional profiles from any SurvivalBlog readers that live overseas, or any of you that live in a severe climate or in unusual circumstances and/or who have retreats/homes with unusual architecture (straw bale, earthbag, Earthship, adobe, underground, et cetera.)  As usual, in addition to editing for spelling and grammar, I will remove all attribution and of course change locales and other potentially revealing details. If you truly “live the life”, please e-mail me your profile.

From the Memsahib: A Flock of Miniature Goats?

The looming spectre of Asian Avian Flu really has me bummed, because I am a big fan of free range poultry. Free range poultry are able to forage for much of their own food from Spring through Fall. Another big advantage is that chickens come in single family serving size. Meaning my family can eat a whole chicken for dinner and there are not a lot of leftovers to worry about. Chickens are a great way of storing family serving sized protein “on the hoof” as it were. But, free range is out of the question for me now. See my post on Tuesday, October 25, 2005. Okay, so instead of free range poultry, say you raise lambs. If you butcher one of your lambs you get lots and lots and lots of meat for future meals. Which is all fine and dandy… until the power goes out. Then all those chops in your chest freezer are in jeopardy. And it doesn’t have to be the power grid that goes down. I’m reminded of a sad tale: A contractor working in our home while we were on vacation UNPLUGGED our chest freezer so that he could use the outlet for his power tools. He forgot to plug the chest freezer power cord back in! We didn’t discover this until after we returned and found that all our elk and venison–about 400 pounds–had spoiled. So you ask “How about rabbits?” They don’t get Asian Avian Flu. They come in family serving size. You can store the meat on the hoof and just them butcher as needed. The drawback is that because rabbits are fantastic diggers, free range does not work very well. Therefore they have to be penned, and you have to provide ALL of their food.

So here is my crazy thought: Replace my free range chicken flock with a flock miniature goats! During Spring, Summer, and Fall goats can forage for their own food (unlike rabbits) . Pygmy and dwarf goats weigh about 2 pounds at birth. Miniature does can breed throughout the year, so if I let the buck and does breed at will, I ought to have a ready supply of family serving sized “chevron” throughout the year. They will be protein food storage on the hoof. Like the chickens they’ll have to be penned up every night to keep them safe from predators. They will also need special field fencing to keep them from escaping our pastures.

The real drawback with this plan is the Cute Factor. Little bucklings are 100 times cuter than any chicken. Our #2 Son is especially susceptible to the Cute Factor. With that in mind, my DH and I are going be more circumspect with the butchering to make certain that our younger children don’t associate dinner with those cute little bucklings cavorting out in the pasture!

Letter Re: Iraqi Artillery, The ARNG/USAR Talent Pool, and a Useful Intelligence

I read your added notes to the discredited letter from the returning Marine’s father and I can add one more detail. The Iraqis did have 155mm artillery in inventory and we found several South African 155 rounds in country. The South Africans had a very well developed arms industry and they made some of the best artillery and rounds available. They have some advanced 155 rounds that have a greater lethality due to the pre-formed fragments included in their design and some of these have been used/recovered in Iraq.

One of the strengths of the Army National Guard (ARNG) and U.S. Army Reserve (USAR) over active duty is that we bring a greater skill set with us when we deploy, both civilian skills and more MOS schools under our belt. I have several to include more than one Intelligence MOS. [JWR adds:  I concur wholeheartedly! The USAR and ARNG soldiers tend to be several years older–sometimes decades older–than their active duty counterparts. Those extra years almost always equate to greater depth and breadth of knowledge/experience/common sense. Many of the military intelligence soldiers that I commanded in the USAR spoke multiple languages and had earned Master’s degrees. The enlisted ranks in the active duty M.I. units just didn’t compare. BTW, I should mention that this was a humbling experience, as a young M.I. officer with just a Bachelor’s degree.]

If you have any direct contact with soldiers in country please recommend to them that they have their intel people take a look at the NGIC (National Ground Intelligence Center) website regularly. Any soldier with access to the SIPRNET [U.S. military data network for handling classified traffic] can find it and it allowed us to stay weeks ahead of emerging Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)s. It was not uncommon to find things through NGIC weeks before higher command got the info to us through regular channels. I also found it useful to look at areas (on the NGIC site) that were outside Iraq but were dealing with Islamic fundamentalists. – Anonymous

Jim’s Quote of the Day:

“And that is called paying the Dane-geld; but we’ve proved it again and again, that if once you have paid him the Dane-geld you never get rid of the Dane.”
– Rudyard Kipling

Notice–Post Removed: From Fernando in Argentina–On Surviving Argentina’s Slow Slide Collapse

A lengthy letter from Fernando in Buenos Aires was originally posted on SurvivalBlog back on November 8th, but I just removed it.  Why?  Because Fernando just confirmed in an e-mail to me that the copyright to his article has been purchased by John, who operates Frugal Squirrel’s Forum. The letter is still available there. (See: http://www.frugalsquirrels.com/cgi-bin/ubb/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=044387;p=0) OBTW, I highly recommend Frugal’s site and forums. Since I have deep respect for copyrights there are no hard feelings on my part. I trust that the folks at Frugal’s will forgive me if I in some way infringed unknowingly by posting what I was sent.