Left Behind The Lines, Russian Troops Became Partisans.

by Daniel Russ on November 7, 2011

Russian Partisan Fighters

 

The first six months of Barbarossa was the single most successful modern combat campaign. The Wehrmacht took over three million prisoners and had staged the largest invasion and the largest human event, period. They advanced into an area that was half the size of all Europe in just that time. As they progressed, they surrounded Russian Army corps and took everyone prisoner. The problem was that we are talking about a vast area. The geography of Western Russia varied from forests to mountains to open windy steppes. If a handful of people survived Isandlwana where just 1300 soldiers were overrun, it’s easy to see how tens and even hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers could survive an envelopment on their own turf, where every hiding place and every nook and cranny the knew intimately.

 

 

Many of the Russian units were ragtag, many had surrendered but were left behind in the confusion of thousands standing in line in rain and snow and dark of night. Some just slipped away into the woods and waited. Many of these units were well armed and carried the PPSh-41 that could load the same ammunition used in the German MP-40, the 7.62mm X 25mm. For the moment, bullets were everywhere. The Russians that were left behind the German advance eventually organized and began committing sabotage along German supply routes. They cut telegraph lines and bombed storage depots housing food and medical supplies and robbed caches of weapons when found.

 

Russian Partisan Fighters Hanged By SS

 

Stalin of course was the most paranoid of leaders, willing to commit genocide to stop one bullet from taking his own life. He had already decimated the Russian officer corps once. In fact decimation is the wrong word because he killed or jailed far more than 10% of them. Stalin, like Hitler, felt that surrendering was treason and therefore most repatriated prisoners were shot just for being caught. It has been said that Stalin did not deserve the dedication his troops had for his country. That said, over 100,000 Russian soldiers left behind the German lines organized themselves and began systematic sabotage. Most of them hid in the Pripet Marshes, also known as the Pinsk Marshes, a long stretch of over 38,000 square miles of boggy wetlands from Brest, Belarus to Kiev.

 

 

Konrad Meyer was supposed to lead Hitler’s effort to drain the swamps and deny the partisans refuge. It was killed at the last moment for fear that drying out the swamps would create more dusty conditions which were already spoliating the advance. Stalin was paranoid about the partisans but agreed to set up a command post in the west behind German lines and coordinate with the Russian Politburo. The Partisan Command counted 142,000 Russian partisans working behind the German front. In the Summer of 1943, these forces staged 2,500 attacks on German rail lines. The disruption sent the Germans into a panic and they made the same predictable mistakes. They went into towns and villages near the sabotage and they shot people in public squares and created thousands more partisans as a result. The Germans were also running low on manpower and a guard and patrol force this big would mean at least 25 special divisions and specialized commando battalions.

 

 

The Russians had a lot of help from Polish Partisans. Of course the Russians made no qualms about invading Poland and killing them, or ignoring their pleas for help during the Warsaw uprising, yet the Poles fought shoulder to shoulder with them nonetheless. The Russians claimed that partisans killed 300,000 Germans. That would mean a large partisan corps with no artillery or air force or armor stopped 12 Wehrmacht divisions around the Ukraine and Belarus? This is probably an exaggeration. Nonetheless, a late train can mean death to a regiment that is out of ammo or water. This time though, Russia made hay with the partisans and had 2,000 detachments, trained for urban and rural sabotage at work. It must have been hell for the order obsessed German planners. Some Russians were recognized for the role they played behind the lines and given state medals. In general, the role saboteurs played rarely gets headlines.

 

Russian Partisan Fighters

 

The Ukrainians and the Belorussians who first supported the Nazis turned against them because of their mindless pitiless cruelty. It never occurred to them that if they brutalized people, their friends and neighbors and countrymen would dedicate themselves to revenge. Their fecklessness bit them in the butt.

 

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