Colonel General Erich Hoepner, Commander Panzer Group 4 led the advance to Leningrad 1941
Colonel Walter Chales de Beaulieu, Chief of Staff, Panzer Group 4 wrote his account of the attack on Leningrad June to September 1941, in 1961, when the Cold war between NATO and Warsaw Pact troops could have benefited from Germany's war on the OstFront . Hoepner's inner sense of duty ensured he he was bound to do what was right for the troops under his command which led to his dismissal, executed August 8 1944, for his participation in the July 20 plot.
The initial war aims of capturing Leningrad on terrain suitable for panzers by Army Group North and then turning south to secure Moscow with Army Group Centre was based on sound principles of mobile warfare and should have been adhered to!
Army Group North, comprising 2 infantry armies (16th and 18th Armies) and one panzer group, (Panzer Group 4), commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb was tasked, June 1941, to annihilate enemy forces in the Baltic region, in conjunction with the Finnish Army, to finally eliminate any resistance in northern Russia so as to guarantee freedom of movement for further operations. Leningrad, the operational objective of Army Group North was 800km to the northeast. A wedge was due to be driven through Soviet forces near Dunaburg, see map, and then swing to the west to eliminate Soviet forces in Latvia and Estonia. Early on in the campaign Lithuanian troops, on ridding themselves of Russian officers and Commissars, surrendered in large numbers. When Vilnius (Vilna) was liberated the Lithuanians sought independence, the Germans refused and this set the tone of the German occupation, a forceful, repressive occupation.
The rush to the Western Dvina near Riga, August 1941, ensured Soviet forces were compelled to retreat from Latvia and Estonia. A major tank battle at Rossinie, west of Kowno, with 350 Russian tanks was contained, eventually, capturing 180 tanks and destroying the remainder.
The terrain to the east of Narva, the advance towards Leningrad and the difficulty in maintaining the bridgeheads at the Luga river gave some warning that the terrain mostly marsh, lake and sandy ground was not suitable for armoured units or for vital supplies to get through to the fighting echelons.
The delay at the Luga river allowed the Soviets to organise and maintain a long term defence in depth near Leningrad with a steady supply of troops and volunteers. Further, the tank factories at Kolpino produced and crewed the KV1 and KV2 Stalin tanks which German armoured forces could not deal with. The crucial Russian attack at Starya-Russa, August 15, diverted German forces to the north and west of Leningrad, ensuring the rapid advance on Leningrad from the Luga bridgeheads was abandoned. The Germans played into the hands of the enemy. The 16th Army was required to reinforce Army Group Centre, Moscow became the priority, so that, the capture of Leningrad was downgraded to a 900 day siege. Leningrad could have been captured. Army Group North remained in static defence from September 1941 until attacked by Soviet forces June 1944.
The capture of Leningrad could have interdicted American lend lease supplies to Murmansk, Northern Russia, ensuring the early capture of all of Northern Russia, facilitating the intended capture of Moscow and the inevitable surrender of Soviet forces to German occupying forces. This did not happen, Germany did not favour the long term view in planning.
Source: Leningrad, The Advance of Panzer Group 4, 1941, Die Wehrmacht im Kampf, Casemate, 2020, Colonel Walter Chales de Beaulieu.