Chapter X
The War Behind The Front

The Partisan Movement, Beginnings


The Germans assumed throughout the war in the East that the Soviet leadership had prepared intensively for a partisan campaign well before the war broke out. Partisan warfare, after all, had been important in earlier Russian wars, and Soviet literature had highlighted the activities of the Red partisans in the 1918-1920 civil war. German analyses of the partisan movement made during the war took prior preparation for granted, as is shown in the following statements from the first "Bulletin on Partisan Warfare" put out by the Eastern Branch of Army Intelligence and from a similar Air Force Intelligence series:

The use of partisans is a well known and tested means of warfare in the internal and external conflicts of the Russian people. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Soviet Government prepared for partisan warfare before the outbreak of the war through the use of the NKVD, creation of a plan of organization, recruitment of former partisans, secret courses of instruction, instructions for the responsible officers of all political organizations, and so forth.1

The Soviet authorities very carefully prepared for partisan warfare, even before the war, within the framework of the secret state police of the Soviet Union [NKVD].2

The German documents, however, do not contain any direct evidence to support their conclusions. Erickson states that Stalin stopped "experimentation and limited contingency planning connected with possible partisan operations on Soviet territory" after 1937.3 In addition, the most comprehensive German postwar study states, "Before the war, Stalin repeatedly expressed the conviction that the Soviet Army was prepared to ward off any attack on its territory. . . . Because of this conception, preparations for popular resistance were not undertaken. . . ."4 As Erickson indicates, the theory of "carrying the war to enemy territory" and the possible untoward effects of fostering insurgency would, very likely, have kept the Soviet government from preparing for partisan warfare beforehand.5

Nevertheless, when the war started, the Soviet government immediately undertook to call a partisan movement to life. On 29 June 1941, the Council of People's Commissars and the Central


Committee of the Communist Party ordered all party and government organs in the frontier areas to create partisan detachments and to "kindle partisan warfare all over and everywhere." "For the enemy and his accomplices," the order read, "unbearable conditions must be created in the occupied territories. They must be pursued at every step and destroyed, and their measures must be frustrated."6 In Belorussia, where the Germans were making their deepest advances, the republic central committee, on 30 June, issued its "Directive No. 1 on the Transition of Party Organizations to Underground Work in Enemy Occupation." The directive ordered party organizations to employ partisan detachments "to combat units of the enemy armies, to kindle partisan warfare everywhere, to destroy bridges and roads and telephone and telegraph lines and set fire to supply dumps. . . ."7

On 18 July, the All-Union (national) Central Committee issued an order to all party committees in which it "expanded and concretized [sic]" the 29 June directive.8 The order informed the committees that they would "receive in every town and also in every village willing support from hundreds, even thousands of our brothers and friends" and "demanded" that the committees assign "reliable, leading Party, Soviet, and Komsomol activists" to lead and spread partisan activity. It called to the committees' notice also that "there are still cases in which the leaders of the Party and Soviet organizations of the rayons [counties] threatened by the Fascists shamelessly leave their combat posts and retreat deep into the rear area to safe positions" and that "the Party and the Government will not hesitate to take the most severe measures in regard to those slackers and deserters."9

The central committee order, although it designated partisan warfare as a party function, was supplemented by army instructions on organization, objectives, and tactics.10 These specified that the detachments were to consist of 75 to 150 men, organized into two or three companies, with the companies divided into two or three platoons. Operations, which were to take the form of "attacks on columns and concentrations of motorized infantry, on dumps and ammunition transports, on airfields, and on railroad transports," were to be conducted primarily in company and platoon strengths and "carried out, as a rule, at night or from ambush." The detachments would have to locate in areas with enough forest to provide cover, but each rayon ought to have at least one detachment. The instructions went on to describe methods of laying ambushes, destroying dumps and bridges, and wrecking trains and the precautions to be observed



on the march, in camp, and under pursuit.11

Under the instructions, a first stage in preparing for partisan warfare would be to set up "destruction battalions." These, each consisting of about two hundred men who, because of age or for other reasons, were not eligible for regular military service, were to be organized in threatened areas by the local party and NKVD offices. Their tasks initially would be to fight against enemy parachutists, arrest deserters, hunt down "counterrevolutionaries" and enemy agents, and to employ massed rifle and machine gun fire against enemy aircraft. When occupation became imminent, the "best-trained, most courageous, and most experienced fighters" were to be detailed to fight as partisans.12

The party involvement brought a massive apparatus to bear on the organization of the partisan movement. One line ran from the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party through the central committees of the republics to dozens of provincial (oblast) and hundreds of rayon party committees. At each level, a section "X" (Roman "10"), also designated "Partizanskiye Otryady" ("partisan detachments"), was responsible for creating and directing partisan units. A second line branched off below the All-Union Central Committee to the Main Administration of Political Propaganda of the Army, which also created a chain of tenth sections extending down to the fronts and armies. Alongside these, the NKVD, which had networks of offices in both the civilian and military sectors, projected itself into the partisan movement through its functions related to the destruction battalions. While the party committees were the designated command channel for the partisans, the operational and tactical directives on partisan warfare came mainly from L. Z. Mekhlis, the chief political commissar and head of the Main Administration of Political Propaganda of the Army, and the NKVD, through the destruction battalions, probably supplied the largest single block of recruits to the early partisan movement.13


All three of the organizing agencies worked on the Soviet side of the front, setting up destruction battalions and partisan detachments ahead of the German advance. What they accomplished from place to place depended on the speed with which the front moved, how much central direction could be given under often chaotic conditions, and how such direction was interpreted and applied at the local levels. The organizers, except for some who subsequently became members of underground party committees, were, for the most part, not themselves participants in the movement; consequently, when the front passed over an area, the partisans, who were often recruited or drafted only days before from factories and collective farms, were left to learn from experience, if they could. As a result, the effort, no doubt, was more impressive on the Soviet side of the front than its effects were on the German side.

At its inception, the partisan movement was what the Germans termed Ortsansaessig, that is, the detachments operated out of fixed bases and over relatively short distances. In most instances, a detachment was identified with one rayon, which was also its primary operating area.14 This remained a predominant characteristic of the World War II Soviet partisan movement throughout its existence.15 Geography, more than anything else, made it possible for fixed detachments to develop and survive. The partisan movement grew up and always was strongest east of the Dnepr-Dvina line, in eastern Belorussia and the western RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic). There an almost unbroken stretch of forest and swamp, reaching from the Pripyat Marshes to north of Lake Ilmen, afforded excellent cover, and the German troops, by preference as well as necessity, stayed close to the roads and railroads. Familiarity with the terrain and contacts with the inhabitants gave added protection.

The Shmyrev Otryad

The Shmyrev Otryad ("detachment"), while not typical, affords the most substantial existing example of an early partisan unit. While much of what happened to it was characteristic of the whole movement, it was not typical because it was, in all likelihood, much more active, better led, and effective than all but a very few of the original detachments. From it would evolve (in 1942) the 1st Belorussian Partisan Brigade, one of the premier partisan units of the war. Its first commander, Mihay Filipovich Shmyrev, would be given the highest Soviet decoration, Hero of the Soviet Union, and under his nom de guerre, "Batya ['papa'] Mihay," would become a legendary figure in the movement. Important at the outset was that Shmyrev had some actual previous


experience in partisan warfare. In the literature of the movement, he is said to have been a partisan during the civil war.16 Actually, his experience apparently came from fighting anti-Soviet partisans, whom the Soviet authorities called "bandits," as the Germans later referred to the Soviet partisans.17 What makes the Shmyrev Otryad a useful example is that it achieved sufficient prominence to be given more than ordinary treatment in the Soviet literature, and the Germans, as well, accumulated considerable information on its operations, primarily from two captured diaries that had been kept by officers in the otryad.18

The Shmyrev Otryad was formed in Surazh rayon, thirty miles northeast of Vitebsk, in eastern Belorussia. Its first recruits were the employees of a small cardboard factory in the village of Pudoti. Tsanava states that the detachment was founded on 9 July when Shmyrev called a meeting of the workers and proposed that they form a partisan unit.19 The two diaries indicate that the process of organization had started on 5 July when the secretary of the rayon party committee and the head of the rayon NKVD office "suggested" to Shmyrev that he start a partisan unit.20 However, their backing stopped with that, and they refused Shmyrev's request for weapons, possibly because they did not have any.

Shmyrev became the commander of the detachment, apparently, because he was the director of the factory, not because of his earlier experience in partisan warfare. His commissar was one R. V. Shkredo, who had been the party secretary at the factory. At the outset, the detachment consisted of twenty-three men, all employees of the factory. From 9 to 13 July, the men worked at preparing a camp in the woods, and on the night of the 13th, they acquired weapons, including a machine gun, and ammunition from retreating Soviet troops, who also told them the Germans were close. The next day, German troops entered Surazh, the rayon center ten miles to the southeast. From then on, the detachment was behind the enemy front and, technically at least, in action. During the day, eight Soviet Army stragglers and two local men joined the detachment. However, there was no prospect of acquiring large numbers of recruits since all the men fit for regular military service had been drafted and sent to Vitebsk during the first week of July. On 17 July, eleven men did show up from a destruction battalion that had been organized in Surazh and had broken up, and on the 18th, six local policemen joined, setting off a dispute over who should have their revolvers, they or the more senior men in the detachment.21

The detachment saw its first action on 25 July when Shmyrev and ten men surprised a party of German cavalry bathing in a river and claimed twenty-five


to thirty casualties with no harm to themselves. The next day, for three-and-a-half hours, twenty of the partisans watched a German column move through Pudoti. They fired on the last four trucks, destroying one and damaging others.22 After these ventures, probably because no more Germans were passing through Pudoti, the detachment, for a month, engaged in looking for enemy collaborators and marauding Soviet stragglers. The Popular Scientific Sketch credits the Shmyrev Otryad with having carried out twenty-seven raids in August and September in which it killed 200 "fascists," destroyed fourteen enemy motor vehicles, and set eighteen tank trucks on fire.23 Neither the diaries nor the German records give evidence of activity on such a scale.

In the first week of September, a dozen Soviet Army men arrived in the camp from the Soviet side of the front. At the same time, the detachment received 4 heavy machine guns with 15,000 rounds of ammunition, a heavy mortar, and a light mortar. With these, the partisans and the soldiers attacked Surazh on 13 September, killing several Germans and collaborators.24 Remarkably, the Soviet Information Bureau in Moscow issued a press release on the attack almost as it was being made.25

The German efforts to get rid of the detachment had been sufficiently haphazard to build the partisans' confidence. At first, the Germans apparently had taken them for army stragglers who were afraid to surrender. During the first week of August, they had found a peasant who had offered to lead them to the camp, but the partisans had gone before they arrived. They had tried also to spread a rumor that Shmyrev had been shot. Their assumption, not always incorrect, had been that the partisan rank and file would disperse if they believed the leaders were out of the way. In August, also, a small German detachment had taken up quarters in Pudoti for a time, and light aircraft had scouted--unsuccessfully--over the forest. The Germans made their biggest effort on 17 September, after the Surazh raid, when 200 troops came into Pudoti, but they only fired into the woods and departed again the same day.26

The Shmyrev Otryad had been one of the most--possibly the most--active and successful original partisan detachments in Belorussia, but the course of its development in 1941, as far as that is known, had not indicated a surge of resistance to the occupation. Although it was situated at the heart of potentially ideal territory for partisan warfare, the detachment only had contacts with three other, much smaller and apparently less active, bands. Out of its own original membership, fourteen men had deserted by the end of July. By the last week in August, the detachment had increased to sixty-eight men, but by then thirty-eight others had



deserted or been expelled for cowardice, and one had been shot. On the last day of September, the latest time for which either of the diaries gives a figure, the strength was eighty men, probably still including the twelve from the regular army.27

Strength in 1941

The Short History states, "All Soviet people mounted a monolithic resistance to the enemy forces. At the front and in the rear and in the areas occupied by the fascist oppressors, they did not spare themselves in fighting for the honor, freedom, and independence of their socialist country."28 What this meant in terms of the strength of the partisan movement, however, is uncertain. The Short History gives the number of partisan units formed in 1941 as 3,500.29 The History of the Second World War states that "more than two thousand" were in existence by the end of the year.30 The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (third edition) gives the partisan strengths by months, but only for the period after 1 January 1942, for which it gives a figure of 90,000 men. The History of the Second World War gives about the same overall number and a breakdown by areas which yields figures


of 20,000 partisans behind Army Group North, 40,000 behind Center, and 35,000 behind South. However, these numbers are based on Communist party records, which even for later periods when closer control and more accurate counts were possible, give numbers up to and over twice as high as those of the Central Staff of the Partisan Movement.31 Most likely, what party records show are numbers of partisans recruited. Since no systematic control of the movement as it functioned behind the German lines had existed in 1941, the numbers in operation would have been unknown.

The Underground

Partisan detachments required space and cover; hence, they could not function in urban areas. Their targets were the remote stretches of road and railroad, the out-of-the-way places. The enemy would ordinarily be too strong and too much on his guard in or near towns and cities. There the resistance would have to take another form.

Consequently, the directives of June and July 1941 that established the guidelines for the early partisan movement also called for an "underground" (podpolya) of "diversionist" groups. These would consist of thirty to fifty men each and would carry out their operations in smaller groups of three to five, or at most ten, men. The members of one group would usually not know those of any other, and the organization would exist only to receive and transmit instructions and carry out recruitment. Whereas the partisans would have a combat capability, the diversionists would do their work by stealth. Otherwise, the objectives of the two were much the same: to destroy telegraph and telephone lines, railroad lines, supply dumps, and trucks and other vehicles. The diversionists would also kill individual enemy officers and spread rumors designed to create panic among the enemy.32 The particular advantages of the diversionists would be that they could operate in places where the enemy was strong, stay close to him, and strike from within his midst.

A specialty of the diversionist groups was railroad sabotage, since the railroads were the largest still functioning industry in the occupied territory and the most vital to the Germans. Two diversionists reportedly put the entire Minsk railroad water system out of commission for nearly a month in December 1941.33 A group operating in the railroad yards at Orsha, under one K. S. Zaslonov, is said to have derailed 100 military trains and crippled "almost" 200 locomotives in the months December 1941 through February 1942.34 Other groups were organized in power plants, factories, and among workers in mechanical trades. In Vitebsk, fifty groups, numbering more than seven hundred persons, are said to have been recruited. The diversionist activity probably took its most unusual form in Odessa, where extensive catacombs beneath the city made partisan warfare practicable in an urban setting. The outstanding success


attributed to diversionists in 1941 had been the destruction in one week, beginning on 19 September, of the Kiev railroad freight station, the shops of the Kiev locomotive works, and two factories.35

Under the early directives, control and coordination of both the partisan detachments and the diversionist groups were to be vested in another kind of underground organization, the "illegal" party committees. These, composed of several particularly trustworthy party men and established on the same territorial basis as the legal committees, would stay behind in the occupied areas and assume a leadership role.36 Reportedly, the sections "X" each had a member assigned to them whose identity was kept secret and who would take over as party secretary during the occupation.37 The History of the Great Patriotic War states that in the first months of the war, in the Ukraine alone, 23 oblast ("district") committees, 67 urban rayon committees, 564 rural rayon committees, and 4,316 lesser party committees, with membership totaling 26,500 people, had been formed. However, other figures indicate that in Belorussia, where partisan and underground activity had been much more widespread than in the Ukraine, particularly in the early period of the war, these illegal party committees had existed in only 2 out of 10 oblasts and 15 out of over 170 urban and rural rayons as of December 1941.38

German Rear Area Security

The Germans had expected the Soviet regime to resort to partisan warfare, and Hitler had even anticipated it with a degree of satisfaction. On 16 July 1941, he said, "The Russians have now ordered partisan warfare behind our front. This also has its advantages: it gives us the opportunity to . . . exterminate . . . all who oppose us."39 Two weeks later he embodied this thought in an order to the forces on the Eastern Front stating, "The troops available for security in the conquered territories will not be sufficient if offenders are dealt with by legal means, but [will be sufficient] only if the occupation force inspires sufficient terror among the population to stamp out the will to resist."40 In an infamous "Order Concerning Military Justice in the BARBAROSSA Area," issued before the invasion, he had already given the troops immunity from prosecution for atrocities committed during the campaign.41 For him, partisan warfare was less a provocation than an excuse and pretext for the ruthlessness with which he proposed to conduct the war in the Soviet Union.

Although Hitler was perfectly willing to be merciless in stamping out any kind of resistance in the Soviet Union, he was actually not ready to do so in the vast areas occupied during 1941 except on a hit-or-miss basis. Anticipating a


quick victory, he expected to be in the mopping-up phase before rear area security could become a significant military problem. For that reason, and because he disliked giving the military what he considered to be political authority and also to save on manpower and equipment, the BARBAROSSA forces went into the Soviet Union with a strictly limited capacity for controlling the occupied territory.

The territory the army administered was restricted to the "operations zone," which was adjacent to the front and which moved with it. The operations zone could be extensive--that of Army Group Center, for instance, in December 1941 extended 150 miles west of Smolensk and nearly to Moscow, which was over 200 miles to the east--but it was always temporary and primarily a maneuver and staging area. Within the operations zone a slice, often over 100-miles deep, directly behind the front came under the control of the armies, each of which had appointed a Korueck (Kommandant Rueckwaertiges Armeegebiet), the commandant of an army rear area. The remainder of the operations zone became the army group rear area. As the front moved east, the army group rear area commanders and the Koruecks became the military governors of broad stretches of Soviet territory.42 The Koruecks and the army group rear area commanders were subordinate to their respective army and army group commanders, but they took their direction for the most part from the chief supply and administration officer (Generalquartiermeister) in the OKH. Before the invasion, the OKH had set up nine security divisions, composed mostly of officers and men in the upper-age brackets and equipped with captured French and Czech weapons and vehicles. Each army group rear area command was assigned three of the security divisions.

On 1 September 1941, what was approximately the western two-thirds of the entire German operations zone had passed to two civilian Reich commissariats, the Reichskommissariat Ostland (the Baltic States and Belorussia) and the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. In the Reich commissariats, military security was in the hands of an armed forces commander who came under the OKW and, hence, functioned outside normal OKH Eastern Front command channels.

The SS, which exercised both police and military functions, also operated in the occupied territory, where it installed "higher" SS and police commanders (Hoeherer SS-und Poliziefuehrer) who were loosely affiliated with, but neither attached nor subordinate to, the Reich commissariats and the army group rear area commands. The SS and police commanders had at their disposal various kinds of police ranging from the secret state police (Gestapo) to the SS intelligence service (Sicherheitsdienst, SD) to German civil police and police auxiliaries recruited in the Baltic States.43

In a category by themselves were the SS Einsatzgruppen ("task groups"). They were neither police nor troops, although their personnel were drawn from both: their mission was mass killing,


pure and simple. They consisted of just four groups, designated by the letters "A" through "D," and their combined strength was barely over three thousand. But where they went, and they went nearly everywhere in the occupied territory, thousands died. The Jews were their primary target, but they also did away with communists or any others who might threaten or inconvenience the occupation.44 The latter aspect of their operations may have significantly reduced the number of potential recruits for the underground.

In general, from the German point of view, control of the occupied territory had been adequately organized in 1941. Its main purposes were to subjugate and exploit a conquered population and to keep the front commands' lines of communications open, and those were being accomplished. Consequently, the army group rear area commanders, Koruecks, and SS and police commanders did not stage extensive antipartisan campaigns. During the rapid advance, their other missions were more urgent. The partisans were seen as a temporary annoyance that could be eradicated, in its turn, with minimum effort. The OKW advised, "The appropriate commanders are responsible for keeping order in their areas with the troops assigned to them. Commanders must find means for preserving order, not by demanding more security troops, but by resorting to the necessary Draconian measures."45 Army Group Center believed it could eliminate the partisans in its area after the front settled down for the winter by having each corps provide one motorized company to hunt down the partisans in the army areas and by detaching one division to do the same in the army group rear area.46

The Partisan Movement Established

Soviet Power Resurgent

The winter of 1941-1942 was bound to have been decisive for the partisan movement one way or the other. If the Germans had kept the initiative, the movement would probably have withered. If the Germans had held their own, they could also have kept the partisans in check. But when they could not do either, their latent vulnerability became outright weakness. General Leytenant Sokolovskiy, chief of staff of the West Front, saw the German predicament in the late summer when he remarked, "The enemy strong-points are separated by great stretches of territory. Many districts in his rear have not yet been brought under his control, and his defenses are thus subject to the blows of our partisans."47 The Army Group Center rear area commander saw the danger in the first week of the Moscow counteroffensive and voiced his alarm on 14 December:

As the Russians have become more active on the front, partisan activity has increased.



The troops left to this command are just sufficient to protect the most important installations and, to a certain extent, the railroads and highways. For active anti-partisan operations there are no longer any troops on hand. Therefore, it is expected that soon the partisans will join together into larger bands and carry out attacks on our guard posts. Their increased freedom of movement will also lead to the partisans' spreading terror among the people, who will be forced to stop supporting us and will then no longer carry out the orders of the military government authorities.48

The Moscow counteroffensive and the general offensive pumped new life into the partisan movement and accomplished a physical and psychological transformation so complete as to constitute virtually a whole new beginning. The History of the Second World War concedes as much when it states, "The winter of 1942 initiated the mass participation of Soviet patriots in partisan activity."49 On the scene at the time, the Germans observed the phenomenon and ascribed it to influences other than patriotism. Fourth Army's Korueck reported:

The situation in the army rear area has undergone a fundamental change. As long as we were victorious, the area could be described as nearly pacified and almost free of partisans, and the population without exception stood on our side. Now the people are no longer as convinced as they


Map 15
Partisan Areas
April 1942


were before of our power and strength. New partisan bands have made their way into our territory; and parachutists have been sent in who assume the leadership of bands, assemble the civilians suitable for service along with the partisans who up to now had not been active, the escaped prisoners of war, and the Soviet soldiers who have been released from the military hospitals.50

The Fourth Army Korueck was in a good, though, in that winter, hardly unique, position to watch the partisan upsurge. Situated on the northern arc of the Sukhinichi bulge, with the Kirov gap on its right flank, Soviet cavalry and parachute troops behind its front, and its rear swept clean of security troops that had long ago been thrown into the front, Fourth Army was a prime target for partisan activity. What the Korueck believed it saw was not a mass patriotic uprising but Soviet power reaching into the occupied territory to bring the population back under its control. Through the Kirov gap, trained partisan cadres, under army and NKVD officers, were ranging deep behind the front, drafting the men to fill out their ranks. Their domain covered the entire Smolensk, Roslavl, Vyazma triangle, more than five thousand square miles.51 (Map 15.)

To the south, around Bryansk, where the forest still harbored survivors of the Soviet units destroyed there during the fall, another partisan center had sprung up. From the great bulge Third and Fourth Shock Armies occupied around Toropets, partisan organizers were fanning out to all directions. Since virtually no front existed there, access was open to the deep rear areas of Army Groups North and Center and into the Reichskommissariat Ostland west to the Polish border. In February 1942, Field Marshal Kluge, then the commander of Army Group Center, told General Halder (chief of the General Staff):

The steady increase in the numbers of enemy troops behind our front and the concomitant growth of the partisan movement in the entire rear area are taking such a threatening turn that I am impelled to point out this danger in all seriousness.

While formerly the partisans limited themselves to disruption of communications lines and attacks on individual vehicles and small installations, now, under the leadership of resolute Soviet officers with plenty of weapons and good organization, they are attempting to bring certain districts under their control and to use those districts as bases from which to launch combat operations on a large scale. With this the initiative has passed into the hands of the enemy in many places where he already controls large areas and denies these areas to the German administration and German economic exploitation.52

While the German and Soviet accounts agree, in general, on what happened to the partisan movement in the winter of 1941-1942, they diverge widely as to why and how. Concerning the impetus for the partisans, the History of the Great Patriotic War asserts:

The victory of the Soviet troops before Moscow had an exceptional significance for the strengthening of the moral-political feeling of the Soviet people who were struggling in the enemy's rear and for the development of the partisan movement. News of the destruction of the Hitlerite armies on the approaches to the capital


quickly spread in the towns and villages of the occupied territory. This notable victory of the Red Army inspired the population of the occupied areas to a still more active struggle with the enemy. The Soviet people, who had suffered under the enemy yoke, strove to aid the Red Army in every way possible in order to expell the aggressors more quickly from the boundaries of our Motherland. They left their homes and went to the partisans. . . .53

The History describes the Soviet intervention as follows: "During the winter, the detachments and formations received new and qualified replacements from the rest of the nation. In the enemy's rear, via the gaps that had formed in the enemy's front and from the air, came radiomen, mine planters, and also party and komsomol workers who were specially trained for carrying out partisan warfare."54

The Partisans of Kardymovo

As was to be expected, the Germans seldom managed to penetrate the inner structure of the partisan network. One of the few instances in which they did occurred in March 1942 when the 10th Panzer Division uncovered a partisan detachment that was being organized near Smolensk. The detachment was distributed among several villages clustered around the railroad fifteen miles east of Smolensk. What was unique was that the Germans were able to capture and interrogate not only rank and file partisans but nearly all of the leaders, a total of fifty-five men and women.

The action began when a civilian in one of the villages, Molokovo, reported one of his neighbors as a partisan. The investigation led to the nearby village of Sokolovo and the arrest of a section leader, his commissar, 2 platoon leaders, 4 liaison men, and 7 partisans. Rigorous interrogations of these people over a three weeks' period turned up leads to some weapons caches, most of which had already been emptied, and to other echelons of the detachment.

One trail led to Shaduby and the arrest of another section leader, who admitted to being an NKVD man who had been sent through the lines to organize partisans but who hanged himself in his cell before more information could be extracted from him. A second trail ended at Kardymovo, which proved to have been the command center for the whole detachment, and there the 10th Panzer Division captured the commander, the commissar, and 38 partisans. The Kardymovo headquarters had consisted of a commander, a commissar, a deputy commissar, 4 liaison persons (women), 8 section leaders (each assigned a village in which he directed the partisan activity), and a number of persons who carried out special assignments.

The commander was a Major Gasparyan, a regular army officer detailed to command the partisans by the Headquarters, West Front. He had kept his subordinates in hand with utter ruthlessness, and those who were captured with him shook with fear even when they faced him in jail. From him the Germans learned nothing, and he was beaten to death during the interrogation. The commissar, who inspired almost as much fear as the commander, did disclose that he had come through the front several months earlier, after having been trained as a partisan


organizer, and that he had worked in Smolensk as a locomotive engineer before joining Gasparyan at Kardymovo.55

Based on interrogations of all the prisoners, among whom were twelve women, the 10th Panzer Division report concluded:

Terror was the most important motivation. Betrayal, hesitation to participate, or failure to fulfill missions were declared to be punishable by death. At the very least, a certain and horrible death was promised after the return of the Soviet forces. It is important for the sovereignty of the German administration that the Russian fears his own 'Red' comrades far more than he fears the German authorities. For example, if a peasant has a cache of weapons in his house, he will not reveal it to the Germans out of fear of the vengeance of his comrades even though he is at the same time threatened with death by the Germans.56

The Movement Remodeled

In late July 1941, the then Central Front set up a school to train partisan commanders, commissars, mine and demolition specialists, and agents and radio operators. Taken over later by West Front, the school turned out over four thousand persons in the last four months of the year. Similar schools, apparently also under military auspices, were run in Kiev, Kharkov, Poltava, and other cities. On orders of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, three schools were established in January 1942: one to instruct party and komsomol members in underground and partisan activity, one to produce partisan leadership personnel, and the third to train radiomen.57

By March 1942, so-called operative groups were formed to work with and work under army commands, particularly in sectors where the lay of the front, or absence of it, gave ready access to the enemy rear. Headed usually by a party functionary, they were composed of party, army, and NKVD personnel who had some form of competence relative to partisan activity. Their functions were to recruit, organize, equip, and control the partisans across the front and make them, in effect, an adjunct of the army to which the operative group was attached.

Among the first and most effective of the operative groups was the one with Fourth Shock Army in the Toropets bulge, where the front practically had dissolved in January 1942. There a twenty-mile-wide gap on the western rim of the bulge, sometimes called the Vitebsk Corridor and other times the "Surazh Gate," spanned the whole of the Usvyaty and Surazh rayons, northeast of Vitebsk. Through the gap, men and horse and wagon columns kept up steady traffic in both directions, carrying in weapons and ammunition for the partisans and taking out supplies for Fourth Shock Army. The partisan units, the former Shmyrev Otryad which, as a brigade, was the most prominent of them, reportedly passed thousands of tons of grain, hay, and potatoes and several thousand head of cattle through the Soviet side. They are said also to have mobilized and delivered


25,000 recruits for the Soviet Army.58 Before the end of March 1942, the operative group with Fourth Shock Army had brought the strength of the partisan units in its area from 500 to almost 7,500, a fifteenfold increase.59

As of December 1941, apparently, few partisan detachments had had strengths of more than fifty, the prescribed minimum. By February 1942, the average for both old and new detachments had been between two and three hundred, and by April, some were over a thousand. Under the increasing army influence, those in the range of one to three thousand members were beginning to be called regiments and brigades and to adopt the organizational features of regular military units. The 1st Smolensk Partisan Division, which operated for a time in conjunction with Belov's I Guards Cavalry Corps, claimed a strength of over five thousand. The operative group with Third Shock Army, on the northern arc of the Toropets bulge, united 7 brigades and 3 otryads to form the I Kalinin Partisan Corps. The operative group with Fourth Shock Army transformed what had been 14 average otryads into 7 brigades, 2 regiments, and 7 independent otryads. The shift to large units also brought into existence the partisan kray (a stretch of territory, sometimes a whole rayon, in which a brigade or several brigades held unchallenged sway). Reportedly, 4 of those were established in Belorussia in the spring of 1942, and 4 in the Smolensk Oblast of the RSFSR.60

The shift toward the brigade and territorial forms was accomplished by combining units as well as by expanded recruitment. As a result, the independent detachments, such as the Shmyrev Otryad, had all but disappeared. There were advantages to consolidation both for the partisans and for the Soviet authorities: for the partisans, more security and recognition, and, on the Soviet side, more effective control and surveillance. During the shift, also, the partisan movement became tied to the army and ceased to be more than a token party activity. The regiment and brigade commanders were often still party men, but they had military advisers at their sides, and their orders came through military channels. The units were organized on the regular army model, including the O.O. sections of the NKVD to keep all personnel under political police scrutiny.

From the Soviet standpoint, the partisan movement was a weapon to be exploited with caution as well as enthusiasm. When arms were placed in the hands of the citizenry at large, there was no telling how they might ultimately be used. The winter's recruits, in the majority peasants and soldiers who had been hiding out since the last summer, were, in Soviet terms, far short of being the most reliable elements. And the peasants, who comprised the largest and least voluntary contingent of the partisan rank and file, harbored memories of the forced


collectivization of the 1930s. One example, perhaps from many, of the mixed loyalties of the Soviet population that did not escape the attention of Soviet authorities occurred in the Lokot rayon, south of Bryansk. There, in the heart of partisan territory, an anti-Soviet Russian engineer of Polish extraction, Bronislav Kaminski, had organized a force of nearly fifteen-hundred volunteers who had fought the Soviet partisans throughout the winter under the tsarist emblem, the St. George's Cross. The Kaminski organization also grew and reached a strength of 9,000 by late spring. In the early summer, the Germans, who themselves were able to do little against the partisans in this area, turned the entire rayon over to Kaminski as the Selbstverwaltungsbezirk ("autonomous district") Lokot. The History of the Second World War lists the task of convincing the people to boycott such autonomous areas as being among the priority missions of the party underground.61

While the remodeling and expansion of the partisan movement increased Soviet control of the movement, the effort and material expended were probably not repaid in operating effectiveness. The History of the Second World War maintains that it was "necessary" to combine the smaller units, and the brigade was the "most appropriate" form into which they could be combined.62 The History of the Great Patriotic War, on the other hand, says, " . . it was not expedient to develop large partisan formations."63 The big units lost mobility and tended to become preoccupied with self-defense, naturally enough, since concealment became more difficult. They were also neither heavily enough armed nor sufficiently proficient tactically to challenge the Germans in open combat, and they were too conspicuous to operate covertly against really vital targets. They could establish territorial hegemony, but usually only in areas in which German control would have been superficial anyway. P. K. Ponomarenko, who as first secretary of the Belorussian Communist Party and chief of the Central Staff of the Partisan Movement was closely associated with the partisan activity throughout the war, has said that the trend toward larger units actually played into the hands of the Germans.64

In Ponomarenko's view, the root of the problem had been in the absence of central direction during 1941 and early 1942, which resulted in "a variety of ill-conceived experiments and an outbreak of faulty tendencies."65 The History of the Great Patriotic War and the Short History also mention "errors" and "incorrect . . . forms and methods" in the organization of the movement.66 The History of the Second World War states, "Absence of a single directing organ frequently resulted in duplication and occasionally also led to divergences on organizational questions."67 Committees had been appointed in the


summer of 1941 to guide and organize the partisan activity at the republic and lower levels.68 Ponomarenko says a decision had been made in July 1941 to establish a national "commission" with him, Mekhlis, "and others" as members, but it had "stayed on paper." In November, Stalin had charged Ponomarenko with setting up a central staff that had not materialized, according to Ponomarenko, because Lavrenti Beria, the NKVD chief, had insisted he could manage the movement by himself, "without a special staff."69

Finally, on 30 May 1942, Beria had lost his bid for control, and the State Defense Committee had established the Central Staff of the Partisan Movement, with Ponomarenko as its chief. The State Defense Committee decision also, Ponomarenko indicates, made the central staff a command for the partisan movement, not merely an organ working under party direction. Although Ponomarenko and the chiefs of his subordinate staffs were party men, the directive setting up the central staff shifted the partisan movement closer to the military. Ponomarenko and his staff were attached to the Headquarters of the Supreme Commander, Stalin, and staffs were ordered to be created and attached to Headquarters, Southwestern Theater, and the Bryansk, West Kalinin, Leningrad, and Karelian Fronts.70

The establishment of the central staff also brought about a revision in the estimated strength of the partisan movement. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia gives a party figure of 125,000 persons in the movement on 30 June 1942 and a separate central staff figure of 60,000.71 The History of the Second World War gives a total of 72,000 for "the spring of 1942," distributed as follows: 6,000 behind Army Group North and in Karelia, 56,000 behind Army Group Center, and 10,000 behind Army Group South.72 While it is said that these figures are based on incomplete records, it seems apparent that the numbers given above for the end of 1941 need to be revised downward.73 By how much, may be roughly indicated by the factor of fifteen which the History of the Second World War indicates applied in the area under the Fourth Shock Army operative group's control.

Accomplices Against the Bolshevik System?

The Soviet successes in the winter made it certain that the war would last through another summer--very likely, much longer--and the partisan movement would be a genuine challenge to the Germans' hold on the occupied territory. Certainly a German victory was not going to come easily, if at all. Concentration and economy of effort, always worthwhile, had become absolute necessities, and forces diverted to antipartisan operations would be wasted as far as progress in the war was concerned. An alternative, the only one in fact available to the Germans, was to create an indigenous counterresistance. The obstacle was Hitler's avowed determination not to allow natives of the occupied territory in the



Soviet Union to serve in any military or police capacity.

During the worst of the winter, Army Group Center did, finally, get permission to experiment with some local police, who were called Ordnungsdienst ("order service") and not police, and to recruit a few Cossack and Ukrainian detachments from prisoner-of-war camps and form them into what were called Hundertschaften ("hundreds") to give them only the most nebulous military character. Both had one asset, they had men who knew the language, and the Ordnungsdienst men usually knew the local countryside and its people, often including the partisans.

What they did not have was a cause, and the Soviet effort had become too pervasive to be mastered by mercenaries and collaborators. Under the strain of the winter, the German Army saw that. In evaluating the Ordnungsdienst, the Army Group Center rear area commander stated, "One condition for the successful organization of the Ordnungsdienst is that the population be kept [sic] friendly to the Germans by a distribution of land and by the recognition of certain national aspirations."74

When Field Marshal Bock took command of Army Group South from Field Marshal Reichenau, he found in Reichenau's papers the draft of a letter to Hitler proposing an alliance with the Russian people. Bock forwarded it to the OKH with his endorsement.75 Later talking to a representative of the Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Areas, Bock urged making the Russian people "accomplices against the Bolshevik system" by giving them land and restoring religion. Only then, he contended, would the population have an interest in preventing the return of the Soviet regime.76 Like Bock, most German observers believed that even after the winter, the peasants' longing for land of their own could still be exploited to draw them into an alliance against the Soviet regime. (The Germans had not abolished the collective farms because they found them a convenient means of economic exploitation.) For the commands in the East, such an alliance appeared to be worth the price and more. The Third Panzer Army counterintelligence chief observed, "An effective anti-partisan campaign is conceivable only if it includes


the assistance of dependable elements of the population."77

Hitler, however, was not to be persuaded. During the worst of the winter, he was saying, "We'll get our hands on the finest [Soviet] land. . . . We'll know how to keep the population in order. There won't be any question of our arriving there with kid gloves and dancing masters."78 In April, he declared, "The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to bear arms. So let's not have any native militia or police. German troops alone will bear the sole responsibility for the maintenance of law and order throughout the occupied Russian territories."79


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (IX) * Next Chapter (XI)


1. OKH, GenStdH, FHQ, Nachrichten ueber Bandenkrieg Nr. 1, 1.5.43, H3/738.

2. OKL, Ic, FLO, Einzelnachrichten des Ic Dienstes Ost der Luftwaffe, Nr. 29, 2.8.42, OKL/254.

3. Erickson, Road to Stalingrad, p. 240.

4. Erich Hesse, Der sowjetrussische Partisanenkrieg, 1941 bis 1944 (Goettingen: Musterschmidt, 1969), p. 41.

5. Erickson, Road to Stalingrad, p. 240f.

6. IVMV, vol. IV, p. 52.

7. A. A. Kuznyaev, Podpolnye partiynye organy kompartii belorussii v gody velikoy otechestvennoy voyny (Minsk: Izdatelstvo "Belarus," 1975), p. 6.

8. V. Andrianov, "Rukovodstvo kommunisticheskoy partii vsenarodnoy borboy v tylu vraga," Voyenno-istoricheskiy Zhurnal, 10 (1977), 61.

9. The 18 July order is often cited in Soviet publications, but its content is not given. The full text of a copy found in German records is printed in John A. Armstrong, ed., The Soviet Partisans in World War II (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1964), pp. 653-55.

10. The "Instruction Concerning the Organization and Activity of Partisan Detachments and Diversionist Groups" issued by Northwest Front on 20 July 1941 is printed in Armstrong, Soviet Partisans, pp. 655-62.

11. Ibid., pp. 656-61.

12. Earl Ziemke, The Soviet Partisan Movement in 1941 (Washington, D.C.: Air Research and Development Command, 1954), p. 11.

13. Ibid., pp. 11-13. See also OKH, GenStdH, GenQu, Abt. K-Verw., "Erfahrungen ueber Aufbau, Aufgaben, Auftreten und Bekaempfung der Partisanenabteilungen," 15 Jan 42, Wi/ID 2.217 file.

14. See Kuznyaev, Podpolnye, which gives the partisan units associated with the rayons of Belorussia. See p. 215.

15. The Soviet accounts also describe roving and raiding types of partisan units. Outside of Karelia, however, where the partisan bases were located on the Soviet side of the front, those did not come into existence until the summer of 1942. Even then, expeditions by roving detachments, such as those of S. A. Kovpak and A. N. Saburov, were apparently staged primarily to cultivate local partisan activity in areas in which it had hitherto been weak or nonexistent, the Ukraine, in particular. See Armstrong, Soviet Partisans, pp. 114-16; IVMV, vol. V, p. 292; and A. Bryukhanov, "Geroicheskaya borba sovetskikh parlizani v gody Velikoy Otechestvennoy Voyny," Voyenno-istoricheskiy Zhurnal, 3(1965), 36-42.

16. Tsanava, Vsenarodnaya partizanskaya voyna v Belorussii protiv fashistskikh zakhvachnikov (Minsk: Gosizdat, 1949-1951), vol. I, p. 168.

17. See Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, 3d ed., 1978, vol. 29, p. 446.

18. See Earl Ziemke and Ralph Mavrogordato, History of the First Belorussian Partisan Brigade (Washington, D.C.: Air Research and Development Command, 1954), p. 2.

19. Tsanava, Vsenarodnaya partizanskaya voyna, p. 169.

20. II. SS Kav. Regt., "Partisanen-Tagebuch Nr. 1," 5 Jul-5 Oct 41 and "Partisanen-Tagebuch Nr. 2," 5 Jul-17 Aug 42, Waffen SS, I. and II. SS Kav. Regts., 78037/196 file.

21. Ibid., 9-18 Jul 42.

22. Ibid., 25 Jul 42; "Partisanen-Tagebuch Nr. 1" and "Nr. 2," 26 Jul 42, Waffen SS, I. and II. SS Kav. Regts., 78037/196 file. See also Tsanava, Vsenarodnaya partizanskaya voyna, p. 169.

23. VOV, p. 329.

24. "Partisanen-Tagebuch Nr. 1," 31 Aug and 1, 13-14 Sep 42, Waffen SS, I. and II. SS Kav. Regts., 78037/196 file.

25. Tsanava, Vsenarodnaya partizanskaya voyna, p. 170.

26. "Partisanen-Tagebuch Nr. 2," 3, 13, 20 Aug and 17 Sep 42, Waffen SS, I. and II. SS Kav. Regts., 78037/196 file.

27. "Partisanen-Tagebuch Nr. 1" and "Nr. 2," 29 Jul-30 Sep 42, Waffen SS, I. and II. SS Kav. Regts., 78037/196 file.

28. VOV (Kratkaya Istoriya), p. 113.

29. Ibid., p. 110.

30. IVOVSS, vol. IV, p. 127.

31. Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, 3d ed., 1978, vol. 19, p. 235; IVMV, vol. IV, p. 127. See p. 217.

32. Armstrong, Soviet Partisans, p. 656.

33. V. Ye. Bystrov, ed., Geroi podpolya (Moscow: Izdatelstvo Politicheskoy Literatury, 1970), p. 38f.

34. VOV, p. 336.

35. Bystrov, Geroi podpolya, pp. 73-75, 297-303; IVMV, vol. IV, p. 126.

36. See Armstrong, Soviet Partisans, p. 654.

37. GFP Gr. 725, "Partisanen Erfahrungsbericht," 22.1.42, H. Geb. 30910/37 file.

38. IVOVSS, vol. VI, p. 275; Kuznyaev, Podpolnye, p. 243.

39. Reichsleiter Bormann, Aktenvermerk ueber eine Besprechung mit Reichsleiter Rosenberg, Reichsminister Lammers, Feldmarschall Keitel, und mit dem Reichsmarschall Goering, 16.7.41, NMT 221-L/USA-544 file.

40. OKW, WFSt/L (1 Op.), Ergaenzung zur Weisung 33, 23.7.41, NMT C-52/GB-485 file.

41. Der Fuehrer, Erlass ueber die Kriegsgerichtsbarkeit im Gebiet "Barbarossa" und ueber besondere Massnahmen der Truppe, 13.5.41, NMT C-50 file.

42. AOK 4, O.Qu., Qu.2, Besondere Anordnungen fuer das Operationsgebiet, 8.6.41, AOK 4 11193/9 file.

43. Befh. d. Rueckw. H. Geb. Mitte, Ia Hoeherer SS-und Polizeifuehrer, Stand vom 1.8.42, H. Geb. 14684/2 file.

44. See Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1961), pp. 182-90 and George H. Stein, The Waffen SS (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1966), p. 263.

45. OKW, WFSt/L (I Op.), Ergaenzung zur Weisung 33, 23.7.41, NMT C-52/GB-485 file.

46. H. Gr. Mitte, Ia Richtlinien fuer Kampffuehrung im Winter and Besonderheiten des Winterkrieges in Russland, 10.11.41, Pz. AOK 3 15415/42 file; AOK 9, Ic/AO, O.Qu. 2, Partisanenbekaempfung, 18.8.41, AOK 9 14008/9 file.

47. AOK 16, Ic, AO, Feindnachrichtenblatt Nr. 51, 15.8.41, AOK 16 75873 file.

48. Befh. d. Rueckw. H. Geb. Mitte, Ia, Zufuehrung weiterer Sicherungskraefte, 14.12.41, H. Geb. 14684/file.

49. IVMV, vol. IV, p. 347.

50. Korueck 559, Abt. Qu., Lage im rueckwaertigen Armeegebiet, 25.2.42, Korueck 29236/5 file.

51. Ibid.

52. Ob. d.H. Gr. Mitte, an den Herrn Chef des Generalstabes des Heeres, 24.2.42, Pz. AOK 3 20736/6 file.

53. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 355.

54. Ibid., p. 349.

55. 10. Pz. Div., 7 Pz. Rgt., Pz. Werkstattkompanie, Partisanenbekaempfung, 11.3.42, 10 Pz. Div. 23245 file.

56. Ibid.

57. IVMV, vol. V, p. 418f.

58. Although it appears to have been Soviet practice to do more detailed quantitative bookkeeping on the achievements of the partisans and the underground than on almost any other aspect of the war, the figures on these activities tend to vary from place to place. See A. I. Zalesskiy, Geroicheskiy podvig millionov v tylu vraga (Minsk: Izdatelstvo "Belarus," 1970), p. 141 and P. Vershigora, Lyudi s chistoi sovestyu (Moscow: Sovetskiy pisatel, 1951), p. 394.

59. IVMV, vol. IV, p. 346.

60. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 351; IVMV, vol. V, p. 347; Ibid., vol. IV, p. 353.

61. Edgar M. Howell, The Soviet Partisan Movement, 1941-1944 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1956), p. 89; IVMV, vol. IV, p. 354.

62. IVMV, vol. V, p. 286.

63. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 361.

64. See E. Ponomarenko, "Borba sovetskogo naroda v tylu vraga," Voyenno-istoricheskiy Zhurnal, 4(1965), 35.

65. Ibid., p. 35.

66. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 349; VOV (Kratkaya Istoriya), p. 84.

67. IVMV, vol. V, p. 284.

68. Andrianov, "Rukovodstvo," p. 61.

69. Ponomarenko, "Borba," p. 34.

70. Ibid., p. 34f; IVMV, vol. V, p. 284.

71. Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya, 3d ed., 1978, vol. 19, p. 235.

72. IVMV, vol. V, p. 342.

73. See p. 205f.

74. Befh. d. Rueckw. H. Geb. Mitte, Vorschlaege zur Vernichtung der Partisanen im Rueckw. H. Geb. und den rueckw. Armeegebieten, 1.3.42, H. Geb. 24693/2 file.

75. Bock Diary, Osten II, 24 Jan 42.

76. Ibid., 5 Mar 42.

77. Pz. AOK 3, Ic/AO, Abwehrnachrichtenblatt, 19.3.42, Pz. AOK 3 20839/2 file.

78. Secret Conversations, p. 265.

79. Ibid., p. 345.

Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation