The Midwife Bayonet Charge of Leningrad (1943)

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Anna Petrova (1910-2000) related this story to a Russian friend of mine, who has asked me to write a short piece about it. Anna Petrova was from Leningrad, and in 1930, she trained as a Midwife. During September, 1941, Leningrad had far more Midwives than was usual, because a Midwifery Conference was being held in that city. This involved probably around 100 Midwives gathered from hundreds of miles around to attend special lectures regarding the latest Soviet science related to conception, pregnancy and childbirth. There was also lectures about the psychological well-being of both men and women during times of child production. These Midwives were effectively ‘trapped’ in the city between September 1941 and January 1944 (together with millions of ordinary citizens) following the Nazi German siege.  This siege would become one of the bloodiest battles of the entire ‘Great Patriotic War’ (1941-1945), with Soviet died and wounded amounting to around 4 million (including military and civilian figures). As the Nazi Germans encircled the city, supplies of food and medical supplies were meagre or non-existent, and starvation was common place. The Midwives carried-on delivering babies and caring for women – but the circumstances were appalling and the mortality rate was distressingly high. Midwives were being killed by enemy action, disease and starvation. By 1943, there were only 60 of the Midwives left, with only 40 still able-bodied. These Midwives had been seconded into the defending garrison of the Red Army and effectively ‘militarised’. They received slightly better rations, and were trained in the use of the rifle and bayonet. In early January, 1943, the commander of Midwives was asked to gather together a voluntary force that was to stage a bayonet charge West of the city – to an area where medicines and baby food was thought to have been placed for collection. All 40 of the able-bodied Midwives volunteered, and on the given date, the bayonet charge was initiated at dusk across no-man’s land. The Nazi Germans sent-up flares and unleashed a vicious bombardment, but the Red Army did its best to protect the Midwife Force. Around 20 Midwives survived the charge and located the supplies which they loaded upon their backs before making the hazardous journey back to the their own lines. By the end of the action, 18 Midwives carrying heavy supplies made it back to the relative safety of Leningrad. Their sacrifice meant that a number of Soviet children (and their mothers) would survive the siege and would go on to live a long and happy life following the war. Anna Petrova was one of those surviving Midwives. Each Midwife received the ‘Order of Lenin’ for their bravery (as did the Midwives who died in the action). Hurrah for the Soviet Midwives!

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