Special Report

The Siege of Leningrad Was by Far the Deadliest Battle in Recent History

It should not be a surprise that the deadliest battle of the 20th century took place in Russia. The attempted German invasion of this geographically huge country killed what is estimated to be over 20 million people – approximately the population of Florida today. Many of the fatalities were civilians. (These are the countries that suffered the most civilian casualties during WWII.)

The battle with the most casualties was the siege of Leningrad, during which an estimated 1.5 million people (some sources say as many as 2 million) died, and there were 5.5 million casualties in all – including those killed, wounded, missing, or taken as prisoners of war. It is one of the 10 deadliest battles in world history.

Leningrad, which has now reverted to its old name of St. Petersburg, is northeast of what is presently Estonia and south of FInland. In the winter months, the temperature is often below 20ºF, and can plunge substantially lower. The German siege of the city lasted through some of the coldest weather, running from September 1941, when the Wehrmacht blocked all access to the city, until the Red Army was able to lift the siege in January 1944. (It does not, however, count as one of the 15 longest sieges in military history.)

One effect of the siege was that Russia could not get food into the city. Consequently, several hundred thousand residents died of starvation. Fortunately, over the period that Leningrad was under siege, about 1.4 million people were successfully evacuated.

While Leningrad’s numbers dwarf those of other battles, both World Wars killed millions of people. World War II ranks as the deadliest conflict in history. While an exact number is hard to pin down, some estimates have estimated total military and civilian deaths at up to 80 million, with millions more wounded, captured, or otherwise displaced.

The First World War, which had its own share of deadly battles and massive destruction. Over 9 million soldiers died, with another 21 million more wounded. Civilian casualties reached close to 10 million.

See 24/7 Tempo’s list of the most devastating battles in recent history

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