Prelude to Disaster


The Soviet Offensive Begins

The "black day" of the Finnish Army was 10 June 1944. After a massive artillery and air preparation on 9 June, accompanied by probing attacks, the Soviet Twenty-first Army on the morning of the 10th centered its attack on the left flank division of Finnish IV Corps holding the western side of the front on the Isthmus of Karelia. In a massive assault three Soviet divisions annihilated one regiment of the Finnish division and before noon had penetrated to a depth of six miles. (Map 26)

At that stage of the war an offensive against the Finnish Army was hardly a military necessity. Its rationale, as far as the Russians have explained it, was that it diverted enemy attention from the offensive build-up in progress opposite Army Group Center in Belorussia and that it fulfilled a sacred obligation to liberate all occupied Soviet territory.1 The offensive appears also to have been motivated by a compulsion to establish Soviet claims as victor or liberator in non-Soviet areas of eastern Europe by actual military operations in some form, and it may have been designed to open the way for a more radical settling of the score with Finland than had been envisioned at Tehran.

Operationally, the campaign against Finland must have appeared a thoroughly routine exercise. The Finns had not in any wise been able to keep abreast of the past three years' advances in the technology of warfare. Relatively modest reinforcement, mostly in infantry and artillery, gave the Leningrad and Karelian Fronts crushing superiority. According to Soviet figures the two fronts had 450,000 troops, 10,000 artillery pieces and heavy mortars, 800 tanks, and 1,547 aircraft against the Finnish Army's 268,000 men, 1,930 artillery pieces, 110 tanks, and 248 aircraft.2

The Finnish High Command was taken by surprise even though it had had warnings of an attack in the making as early as May, and on 1 June Finnish Army Intelligence had predicted that an offensive was to be expected within ten days. Four or five days before the attack the Russians had imposed radio silence--an almost infallible sign. But the Army operations chief was not convinced, and his judgment carried the greatest weight with Mannerheim.3

When the attack began, the two Finnish corps defending the isthmus, III Corps on the left and IV Corps on the right, had three divisions and a brigade in the front,


Map 26
The Soviet Summer Offensive Against Finland
June-July 1944


three more divisions and a brigade in the second line, and the Armored Division stationed east of Vyborg. On the isthmus the Finns had three defense lines. The first--in the van--roughly followed the old Finnish-Soviet border. The second, immediately to the rear, laid out on terrain militarily more advantageous than the first, crossed the isthmus in an almost straight line from Vammelsuu on the Gulf of Finland to Taipali on Lake Ladoga. The third ran from Vyborg to Kuparsaari and along the north bank of the Vuoksi River to Taipali. This line had strong natural advantages but with work not started until November 1943 it was far from completed.4 Between the last isthmus line and the heart of Finland, the so-called Moscow Line followed the 1940 border. It had some concrete emplacements and others were being built, but it had no natural advantages and could only be used for a last-ditch stand.

The Germans had long doubted the Finns' capacity for resistance. In June 1943 Dietl had repeated a prediction he had made in February of that year that the Finnish Army would not be able to withstand a strong Soviet attack. The Finns, he had stated, were superior to the Germans as forest fighters and in dealing with adversities of terrain and climate, but they preferred to avoid pitched battles.5 In July 1944, after the Soviet offensive had passed its peak, an OKW observer concluded that the Finnish setbacks could be blamed, at least in part, on lack of training and neglect of fortifications. He also believed that in June 1944 the Finns no longer expected a Soviet attack and that, until the shock of the Russian breakthrough on 10 June produced a more realistic judgment, they had a tendency, induced by their experiences in the Winter War and in 1941, to underestimate the enemy. From the latter criticism, the Germans extracted a degree of wry satisfaction, since they had long felt that the Finns failed to appreciate fully the nature of Germany's problems on the Eastern Front.6

To achieve and exploit the breakthrough Govorov's Leningrad Front had deployed two army headquarters (Twenty-first and Twenty-third), ten rifle divisions, and the approximate equivalent of three tank divisions. In the main assault area the Soviet artillery reportedly numbered 300 to 400 guns per kilometer of front.7 For striking power Govorov relied on his tremendous superiority in tanks, artillery, and aircraft. His rifle divisions' will to fight declined rapidly after the first few days' combat. The tactics--a tremendous commitment of troops and matériel on a narrow front and, following the penetration, exploitation by several corps abreast--followed the standard pattern of the Eastern Front.8

Immediately after the breakthrough on 10 June, that IV Corps most likely could not hold in front of the second line became clear. Mannerheim gave the corps a division from the reserve and a regiment from III Corps, ordered the Armored Division to move up from Vyborg, began transferring


a division from East Karelia, and recalled the 3d Brigade from Twentieth Mountain Army. By the 12th, IV Corps was in the second line. III Corps, which had not yet been attacked, also fell back. On the same day, Mannerheim ordered a division and a brigade out of East Karelia to the isthmus and asked the OKW to release the weapons and grain that had been meant for Finland but were being held in Germany under Hitler's embargo. The next day Hitler agreed.9

The Finnish High Command was forced to consider radical measures. On 13 June Mannerheim's chief of staff told Dietl that if the second line was lost, the Finns would give up the Svir and Maaselkä Fronts and pull back in East Karelia to a short line northeast of Lake Ladoga, thereby freeing two to three more divisions for the isthmus. Since November 1943, work had been in progress on the so-called U-line, the line of the Uksu River-Loimola Lake-Tolva Lake.

Dietl urged the Finns to carry out the planned withdrawal but feared that out of reluctance to give up East Karelia they would hesitate too long.10 Later, he recommended to Hitler that the German policy be to tie the Finns to Germany by giving them as much support as possible and, at the same time, by requiring them to make the necessary tactical sacrifices, not allow them to dissipate their strength in an attempt to hang on in East Karelia. On the shorter line, he thought, the Finns might hold out indefinitely; they would then save their country and at the same time spare the Twentieth Mountain Army the necessity of executing Operation BIRKE.11

While Dietl was at Mikkeli the second line on the isthmus was already under attack. It held for a day but on 14 June the Russians brought up their heavy weapons and, since--as a captured map later revealed--they had reconnoitered the second line in detail before the offensive began, were able to attack in force immediately. Overwhelming the Finns again with artillery and tanks, they cracked the second line at the village of Kutersel'ka and by 15 June had smashed the Finnish front on an 8-mile stretch from there to the coast.

By then it was apparent that the Soviet main effort was being directed along the railroad line to Vyborg. The Finns had virtually no hope of stopping the Russians short of the city and were worried that they might reach and close the 17-mile-wide corridor between Vyborg and the Vuoksi River before III Corps and IV Corps could escape. Such a maneuver would in all probability be decisive, for it would end all Finnish chances of holding the Vyborg-Vukosi line, force III Corps and IV Corps to go north across the Vuoksi, and because there was only one bridge across the river, compel them to abandon much of their heavy equipment on the way.

On 16 June, Mannerheim ordered the retreat to the Vyborg-Vuoksi line. On the 10th, after four more days of heavy fighting, IV Corps, the Russians close behind, moved into the line between Vyborg and the river. III Corps established itself on the north bank of the Vuoksi and held a


bridgehead on the south bank across from Vuosalmi. Again the Finnish Army stood in the line where it had stopped the Russians in 1940.

The withdrawal had gone better than might have been expected, chiefly because Govorov, rigidly intent on Vyborg, failed to strike toward the Vyborg-Vuoksi narrows. But the Finns still had no cause for optimism. The Soviet forces on the isthmus had been gradually increased to 20 rifle divisions, 4 tank brigades, 5 to 6 tank regiments, and 4 self-propelled assault gun regiments. Against these Mannerheim, drawing on the last units that could be spared from East Karelia, could assemble no more than 10 divisions and 4 brigades.12

German Aid

The military crisis resulting from loss of the second Isthmus of Karelia line brought a political crisis in its trail. After a secret Cabinet meeting on 18 June, the Finns reestablished contact with the Soviet Government. As another upshot of that meeting, Heinrichs asked the German military representative at Finnish headquarters whether Germany would be willing to provide aid other than weapons, specifically six divisions, to take over the front in East Karelia and release Finnish troops for the isthmus.

In Germany the necessity for extending help to Finland had already been recognized and accepted even though the Germans themselves were by then in trouble in Normandy and expected a new Soviet offensive to erupt any day. On 19 June, six days after Hitler lifted the embargo, German torpedo boats delivered 9,000 Panzerfaust (44-mm. recoilless antitank grenade launchers). Three days later 5,000 Panzerschreck (88-mm antitank rocket launchers) were airlifted to Finland. Germany could not give the six divisions the Finns wanted, but on the 10th the OKW informed Mannerheim that it was ready to give every kind of help if the Finnish Army was genuinely determined to hold the Vyborg-Vuoksi line. Aside from weapons and supplies, the Germans offered the 122d Infantry Division, a self-propelled assault gun brigade (the 303d), and air units (a fighter group and a ground attack close support group [Stukas] plus one squadron). The ground troops were drawn from Army Group North and the planes from Fifth Air Force in northern Finland and First Air Force, attached to Army Group North. The aircraft were transferred immediately and on 21 June flew 940 support missions for a Finnish Army.13

Although the German aid was offered and, in part, delivered without a prior commitment on Finland's part, its price was known to both parties. On 21 June, Mannerheim informed Hitler that Finland was prepared to establish closer bonds with Germany. The next day Ribbentrop flew to Helsinki to conduct the negotiations in person. The Finns, trying to avoid formally tying themselves to Germany, argued that in view of the strong popular sentiment for peace, which had already produced a movement to bring to power a govenment oriented toward the Soviet Union, they could not enter into any sort of agreement


that would have to be ratified by Parliament. Ribbentrop offered to compromise and accept a declaration signed by the President.14 On 23 June the German hand was strengthened when the Soviet Government informed the Finns that it would not discuss an armistice until the President, Ryti, and the Foreign Minister, Ramsay, declared in writing that Finland was ready to capitulate and appealed to the Soviet Union for peace.15

On the 24th Ryti and Ramsay conferred with Mannerheim at Mikkeli. The next day Hitler added pressure. He stated categorically that a public clarification of Finland's attitude was to be secured. If not, support for Finland would stop. Late on the night of 26 June, Ryti called in Ribbentrop and handed him a letter in which he stated that he, as President of Finland, would not make peace with the Soviet Union without the consent of the German Government and would not permit any government appointed by him or any other persons to conduct armistice or peace talks without German consent.16

The Germans got what they demanded, but in the form of an unenforceable contract, which the Finnish Government, the life of the nation at stake, had issued not altogether in good faith. The end result of Ribbentrop's mission was to obscure the obvious generosity of German aid extended at a time when it could scarcely be spared and to arouse, instead, in the minds of the Finns a feeling that they had been blackmailed in their hour of greatest need.

For the Finns the June negotiations had one purpose--to get help in stopping the Soviet offensive. The Ryti letter achieved that purpose, but the aid that came was less than the Finns expected. It was, in fact, less than the Germans had meant to give, because, in the meantime, the Soviet offensive against Army Group Center, which began on 22 June, had imposed a nearly overwhelming drain on German resources.

The 303d Self-propelled Assault Gun Brigade reached Finland on 23 June, and the 122d Infantry Division arrived five days later. But a second assault gun brigade for Finland had to be diverted to Army Group Center at the last minute, and a corps headquarters to command the German units in Finland, although withdrawn from Army Group North, was never sent.17 German weapons and supplies, including some tanks and heavy equipment, continued to flow to Finland. The Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck greatly increased the Finns' ability to withstand tank attacks and played a major role in restoring the confidence of the Finnish Army.

The Last Phase

On 21 June the Russians occupied Vyborg. The Finns had evacuated it the day before. Although the Army had not planned to defend the old city, its loss was a blow to Finnish morale. Between Vyborg and the Vuoksi, the Russians deployed for another breakthrough; and on 25 June Twenty-first Army attacked the front near Repola with ten divisions reinforced by assault artillery, penetrating the line to a depth of some two and a half miles. In


four days' heavy fighting the Finns succeeded in sealing off the breakthrough but could not regain their former front. The Russians kept the salient, which was the more dangerous in that it brought them close to good tank terrain.18

On 16 June Mannerheim had issued orders to give up East Karelia. He intended to withdraw gradually from the Svir and Maaselkä Fronts to the general line Uksu River-Suo Lake-Poros Lake.19 At the last minute, as the withdrawal was starting, the OKW tried in vain to persuade him not to sacrifice East Karelia.20 In thus going directly against the advice Dietl had given a few days earlier, the OKW was probably influenced by several considerations. The first, most likely, was Hitler's well-known aversion to giving ground voluntarily. More pertinent was the knowledge that in giving up East Karelia the Finns would lose their principal war gain, their last lever for bargaining with the Soviet Union and, consequently, their last tangible motive for staying in the war. The OKW reasoning had much to recommend it from the German point of view, but the Finns had no taste for desperate gambles--nor, for that matter, although they seemed to be acting in agreement with Dietl's advice, did they have any enthusiasm for last stands in the Goetterdaemmerung vein.

In the Maaselkä and Aunus (Svir) Fronts, the Finns had 4 divisions and 2 brigades. Opposite them stood 11 divisions and 6 brigades of Meretskov's Karelian Front. By evacuating the large bridgehead south of the Svir on 18 June the Finns escaped an attack that began the following day, but thereafter the withdrawal went less smoothly than they had expected. Seventh Army kept up an aggressive pursuit and, by crossing the Svir on either side of Lodeynoye Pole and staging a landing on the Ladoga shore between Tuloksa and Vidlitsa, threatened to push the Finnish divisions into the wilderness on the eastern side of the Isthmus of Olonets. The Finns evacuated Petrozavodsk on 30 June and two days later, Salmi.

By 10 July the Finnish divisions were in the U-line. The Finns were by no means certain they could hold the U-line and began work on another between Yanis Lake and Lake Ladoga. They also considered going back to the Moscow Line.21

In the first days of July the Finns were given a short respite, at least on the Isthmus of Karelia. On the 4th Fifty-ninth Army, after taking over the extreme western sector of the isthmus in late June, occupied the islands in Vyborg Bay and attempted a landing on the north shore.22 There it was repulsed by the 122d Infantry Division, which had just arrived. At the same time, Twenty-third Army struck at the Finnish bridgehead south of Vuosalmi, but otherwise Leningrad Front confined itself to local assaults and regrouping, giving the Finns time to strengthen their defenses.

In the Finnish High Command concern


for the future was growing, particularly with respect to manpower. At the end of June casualties had reached 18,000, of which no more than 12,000 had been replaced. On 1 July Mannerheim asked for a second German division and more self-propelled assault gun brigades. When Hitler responded with nothing but a promise to build up the assault gun battalion of the 122d Infantry Division to brigade strength, Mannerheim protested that in advising his government to accept the German terms he had assumed a heavy responsibility--if the units were not forthcoming, not only would the military situation deteriorate, but his personal prestige and influence in the country would be destroyed. Hitler replied with an offer of one self-propelled assault gun brigade before 10 July, another to be sent later, and tanks, assault guns, antitank guns, and artillery.23

In the second week of July the Finns relinquished the right bank of the Vuoksi south of Vousalmi. The Russians followed up by taking a bridgehead on the north bank. Too weak to eliminate the bridgehead, the Finns tried to contain it. Despite this dangerous development and the continued heavy fighting, which brought the number of Finnish casualties to 32,000 by the 11th, the fronts on both sides of Lake Ladoga were beginning to stabilize. By 15 July the Finns had detected signs--confirmed several days later--that, although the Soviet strength on the isthmus had risen to 26 rifle divisions and 12 to 14 tank brigades, the better units were being relieved and replaced with garrison troops. The tempo of the offensive could be expected to diminish.24

Partisan Warfare at Its Height

In 1943 and 1944 the Soviet partisan movement was firmly established. Its strength had leveled off at about 250,000 men, but its influence on the lives and attitudes of millions in the occupied territory, from the Pripyat Marshes north, grew as the German prospects of victory dimmed. The movement, mainly through efforts from the Soviet side of the front, had become a tightly organized, closely controlled, and centrally directed military and political instrument.


By early 1943, the partisans had been put on a thoroughgoing military footing. The Chief of Staff of the Central Staff of the Partisan Movement, General Leytenant Pantileimon K. Ponomarenko, was attached to the Soviet Army General Staff. The partisan units operating close to the front were directly under the staffs of the Soviet Army commands opposite them, those deeper in German territory being controlled from the headquarters in Moscow. Regular officers and enlisted men were detailed to the partisan units as training cadres and specialists. Partisan staffs, often manned by officers who had held Party or government posts in the occupied territory, were attached to the front and army headquarters; they maintained contact with the partisan units, controlled supplies for the units, represented the central partisan headquarters in organizational matters, and transmitted


tactical directives from the military commands.

In late 1942 or early 1943, after the military reorganization was in full effect, a certain amount of Party control had been reimposed, probably to save appearances, since partisan activity was in theory preeminently a Party function. The principal result of the change was that subsequently many of the existing partisan staffs were also assigned territorial (political) designations. At the top, Ponomarenko, who was a political general and the prewar First Secretary of the Belorussian Communist Party, became chief of the partisan movement in the Belorussian S.S.R. As chief of the whole partisan movement he also headed the movement in the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, which did not have a separate territorial command.25

The signal feature of the partisan movement in the occupied territory during the years 1943 and 1944 was the emergence of the so-called complexes, aggregations of brigades concentrated in specific areas under unified commands. The process attained its fullest development in Belorussia, where a dozen or more complexes appeared, one totaling 15,000 men in Rossono Rayon north of Polotsk; another of 14,000-18,000 men along the Ushach River between Borisov and Lepel; one almost as large in the swamps along the Beresina River between Borisov and Lepel; more, of 8,000, 9,000, and 14,000 men, near Minsk, Senno, and Vitebsk. By mid-1943 at least three-fourths of the partisan strength was concentrated in such centers. The number of partisans in Belorussia as of June 1944, according to Soviet figures, was 150,000 in 150 brigades and 49 detachments.26

The dominant trend in the partisan movement since 1941 had been toward concentration, first into brigades, then into complexes--frequently also called divisions or corps (under the Party terminology, operative groups and operative centers). The immense forests and swamps of Belorussia and northwestern Great Russia fostered the tendency, and the Soviet Command promoted it partly because it simplified logistics, control, and surveillance, partly because it afforded the means for keeping in hand sizable stretches of territory and large numbers of people, and partly in the mistaken belief that strong partisan units could successfully undertake tactical missions against regular forces.

Militarily, the partisan complexes rarely justified the manpower, effort, and equipment expended to support them. Ostensibly, they denied the Germans access to vast areas; actually, most of them were established in areas the Germans had bypassed in 1941 and never brought fully under their military control. The centers served as fixed bases from which small detachments could be dispatched for attacks on the German lines of communications, but for such missions the number of men available probably exceeded by ten times the number who could be effectively employed within a complex's operating radius. The centers superficially formed nodes of strength; they were, however, islands. (A comparison could be drawn with the Japanese on the Pacific islands.) Lacking mobility, they did not constitute



striking forces in the tactical sense, nor could one center deploy its forces to aid another under attack. No complex successfully withstood an attack by regular troops.

From the standpoint of military effectiveness, the trend toward consolidation was, moreover, a dubious psychological and sociological phenomenon. Unlike a regular army, a partisan force is not ordinarily expected to win a war, only to contribute to the victory. What constitutes an adequate contribution is difficult to resolve even in a tightly controlled movement such as that in the Soviet Union. The average partisan did not engage in a single-minded pursuit of a heroic demise; he was more inclined to be preoccupied with staying alive. Finding himself in a service that was by definition dangerous, he engaged in a constant effort to reduce his personal risks. The same was true of the whole partisan movement; it was dedicated to its own preservation--not to self-destruction. Those attitudes were persistent and, in the long run perhaps, irresistible. The complexes offered security. Once they reached strengths of 5,000, 10,000, or more men, they became immune to small police actions, and since the Germans could rarely spare enough troops for large-scale counteroperations, they could exist relatively undisturbed for months, even years. The complexes also promoted morale, discipline, and--always important from the Soviet viewpoint--political orthodoxy, but at a considerable



cost in efficiency and effectiveness.


The partisan movement drew its manpower predominantly from the peasantry and the Soviet Army men left after the 1941 battles. In the years 1943 and 1944 those two groups in about equal numbers accounted for 80 percent of the total partisan strength.

The peasants, for the most part, were drafted. As partisans they were characterized by a fatalistic indifference to the war. Their class interests led them to regard partisan operations primarily as contributing to economic disruption, which reduced the profits from agriculture. At longer range, they viewed the Soviet and German systems as nearly identical evils, the chief difference being that the Soviet Union seemed more likely to win the war. To a minor degree, since the German system offered no compensatory attractions, they were also influenced by a sense of obligation to the Soviet regime as the legal and indigenous political authority.

The stragglers were somewhat more positively motivated. The "business as usual" desires of the peasantry meant nothing to the soldiers, and their espousal of the Soviet cause represented a choice of the lesser of two evils. As soldiers they had clear obligations to the Soviet state, and as stragglers they were already, in the Soviet view, deserters. Partisan activity offered


them the opportunity to honor their obligations and, possibly, restore themselves to the good graces of the regime. German policy enhanced the advantages of partisan activity as far as the stragglers were concerned. Outside the partisan nnovement they had three choices: to live illegally, subject to arrest at any time and cut off from legitimate employment; to surrender and endure the hardships of the German prison camps; or to add treason to the counts already against them by joining collaborator police and military units. Even so, the majority of the stragglers dissociated themselves from the war as long as possible, not joining the partisan movement until after 1941, and then mostly out of the fear of punishment aroused by the approach of the Soviet Army.

After 1941 the percentage of Communist Party members in the partisan movement had gone down rapidly. In 1941 Party members comprised as much as 80 percent of some individual units, and units in which Party members averaged from 25 to 40 percent were not unusual. In the later years the Party contingent rarely accounted for more than 10 percent of the unit strengths. The shift was important because it reflected a basic change in the Soviet concept of partisan warfare--from the idea of a relatively limited, elite movement that would rely on Party men, to a mass movement utilizing all available sources of manpower and substituting for political loyalty as the motivating force, the ability of the regime to extend its authority and coercive power into the occupied territory. From 1942 on the Party contingent in the partisan movement was important chiefly as one of the elements of Soviet control. The Party and Soviet state interests in the partisan movement were further upheld by rigid adherence to the commissar system and by the NKVD O.O. (Osobyi Otdel, after 1943 Smersh), special countersubversion and counterintelligence sections that kept the partisan units under surveillance.


In 1943 and 1944 the partisan units were well, even elegantly, equipped by guerrilla warfare standards. The Germans could do little to interfere with the low-altitude night supply flights across the front, and the complexes usually controlled enough territory to provide landing strips capable of accommodating planes as large as C-47's. In some places ground traffic back and forth through the front was possible, at times even for columns of men with horses and wagons.

Nevertheless, achieving reasonable combat worthiness in the partisan units remained a problem to the end. The large contingent of inexperienced officers and high percentage of low-caliber recruits posed a constant danger of the movement's sinking into various kinds of erratic activity, losing its military usefulness, and, possibly, becoming a political liability. The rigorous external controls acted as a check on the tendency toward internal disintegration, and the infusion into the partisan detachments of regular Army officers and Soviet-trained personnel raised combat effectiveness. By early 1943 every brigade had some partisan warfare specialists or Army officers to oversee training and discipline.

The missions of the partisan movement were military, economic, and political-psychological. The military objectives were: (1) to reduce German mobility and interdict German logistical support; (2) to gather intelligence; and (3) to destroy and


tie down German military manpower. The first, in Soviet parlance "the war of the rails," was the one on which the partisans expended the greatest amount of effort. Ordinarily, in 1943 and the first half of 1944, the daily rate of demolitions on roads and railroads in the occupied territory ran into the hundreds, and occasionally, before Soviet offensives, it mounted into the thousands. Always a nuisance, the partisan attacks could and sometimes did badly snarl German communications at awkward moments. As sources of intelligence the partisan units were effective, though probably less so than the thousands of agents the Army and NKVD intelligence organs employed directly. In actually engaging and tying down or destroying German military forces the partisans were least successful. The Germans rarely diverted first-class troops to fight partisans for whom even the second- and third-rate German security and police units were always more than a match.

The partisan movement, though a big inconvenience, remained on the whole a limited instrument of economic warfare, mostly because it was confined to the poor, relatively unproductive areas of northern Russia. In the south, which lacked the forest cover needed for concealment, partisan activity did not interfere seriously with German economic exploitation. But even in the north, in one of the least productive agricultural areas of the Soviet Union, Army Group North managed to live entirely off the land through 1943. Ultimately, the most severe economic effects fell on the peasants, who frequently found themselves in an intolerable squeeze between the partisans and the Germans.

In the political and psychological spheres, of course, the existence of a partisan movement was by itself a considerable accomplishment. The movement was, if nothing else, a means for sequestering a large segment of the manpower of the occupied territory. It could, further, intimidate or inspire to various forms of resistance other elements of the population. For the German soldier, the partisan movement injected into the war added uncertainty and terror.

Antipartisan Warfare

In the spring of 1944 the Germans conducted three large-scale antipartisan operations--the last of the war, as it turned out--against partisan complexes that in the Soviet view had reached the highest stage in their evolution: the stage at which they could engage regular forces on something like equal terms. The Army Group Center left flank behind the Third Panzer and Fourth Army sectors had been the area on the Eastern Front most heavily infested with partisans since the winter battles of 1941-42. There, in 1944, First Baltic Front wanted to employ the partisan complexes as a second front against which it would one day smash the two German armies. The strongest complex, the so-called Ushachi Partisan Republic, controlled a 40-mile stretch of territory between Lepel and Polotsk. It was under the command of Col. Vladimir Lobanok, a former commissar and experienced brigade commander. Other complexes nearly as strong held territory east of Lepel to Senno and to the south between Lepel and Borisov. The 18,000 Ushachi partisans had been given lavish air supply and intensive training. In the spring of 1944 they received orders to fortify their area and hold it against any German attempts to take it.


Beginning on 11 April, 20,000 Third Panzer Army troops aimed two related operations, REGENSCHAUER and FRUEHLINGSFEST, against the Ushachi complex. The partisans offered dogged but uneven resistance. Although they had air support, extensive mine fields, and field fortifications in depth, they could not prevent the Germans' pressing relentlessly in on them. Many of the partisans, sometimes whole brigades, were green troops who had not been under fire before. Captured orders signed by Lobanok revealed the partisans' shortcomings: some brigades gave way under the first attack; others, staffs and all, panicked. Because of wide variations in performance, the brigades were frequently unable to conduct a co-ordinated defense or an organized retreat. Some of the partisans plundered the civilians.27 Advancing at a deliberately slow pace to keep a tight line and prevent the partisans from slipping through, the Third Panzer Army troops by mid-May completely smashed the Ushachi complex. Partisan losses amounted to an estimated 7,000 dead and over 7,000 captured.

On 22 May Third Panzer Army began a large operation, KORMORAN, against several complexes in the area bounded by Lepel, Senno, Borisov, Minsk, and Molodechno. Again the defense was loose and unco-ordinated. Driving in from all sides, the Germans forced the partisans into an ever-narrowing pocket and set about systematically cutting them to pieces. KORMORAN had to be called off when the Soviet summer offensive started, but by then it had inflicted a reported 13,000 casualties on the partisans.

During July and August 1944, as the German armies retreated from Soviet territory, the partisan movement went out of existence. For most individual partisans the sequel was a profound disappointment. During the period of the great Soviet advance, German agents reported that partisan units overtaken by the Soviet Army, instead of receiving the preferential treatment they expected, were granted short leaves and thrown into front-line units. Given the intensely suspicious nature of the Soviet regime and the heterogeneous partisan make-up, it is likely that even the dedicated partisans, after their return to Soviet control, counted themselves lucky if they avoided being remanded to Army punishment battalions. The trusted Party men in command no doubt benefited from their service. Those fortunate rank-and-file partisans who survived the political screenings probably managed at best to bask modestly in the glory of the continued favorable publicity given the movement as a whole in Soviet newspapers and magazines and in the published memoirs of the prominent commanders.28

The West and the East

In the spring of 1944, German strategy faced its supreme challenge, that of a full-fledged two-front war. This grim test had become as inevitable as the passage of time itself. Like the approach of death, it had cast a long shadow and since Stalingrad had clouded every major German decision. For the Germans the second front existed before it was a reality. It divided their


armed forces and split their command, the latter perhaps more deeply than if there had actually been a second front.

Zeitzler's attempt on 30 March 1944 to seize the OKW's 1st Mountain Division had brought to a head the long-standing conflict between the OKW and the OKH over the deployment of the German ground forces. Hitler, shortly thereafter, directed Jodl to work out a strategic survey, to be distributed to the Chief of Staff, OKH, and the army group commands, showing clearly that the deployment was justified by the total German situation. By 13 April Jodl had completed the survey. He opened with the familiar argument that certain persons in the higher command echelons on the Eastern Front had out of ignorance of the total situation drawn false and even "dangerously critical" conclusions. They had, he said, contributed to the spread of such subversive witticisms as: "Fifty-three percent of the Army is fighting in Russia for the existence of the German people, and the other forty-seven percent is sitting in western Europe waiting for an invasion that doesn't come," or, "Germany lost World War I because of the Navy in being and will lose this one because of the Army in being." What those critics did not realize, he went on, giving history a severe wrench, was that Germany had been forced to take advanced footholds in Finland, Norway, Denmark, France, the Low Countries, Italy, and the Balkans to create the military and economic prerequisites for a long war against Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Anyway, he added, to give up any of those places would bring Allied air bases closer to Germany and would lengthen rather than shorten the front. Therefore, he concluded, the only point in doubt was whether divisions could still be spared for the Eastern Front.

There he was on firmer ground. Of 131 divisions in the OKW theaters, 41 had the arms and equipment to make them suitable for employment on the Eastern Front, but of these 32 were already engaged, as in Italy and Finland, or defending the coasts. The remaining 9 represented about one-third of the reserves needed in the OKW theaters.29

In April 1944 few would still have contended that the OKW theaters could be stripped for the benefit of the Eastern Front. On the other hand, Jodl's survey no doubt rang hollow to those who had argued since Stalingrad that Germany could not fight a war with two sets of armed forces, one committed in the East, the other for the most part tied down in a sterile so-called strategic defensive.

In its tone the Jodl survey was symptomatic of a psychological attitude that chronically afflicted Hitler and his personal entourage, namely, that Hitler made no mistakes; if things were going wrong the blame belonged elsewhere. By the same reasoning, those who thought differently were subversives and the defeats in Russia were there to prove it. The source of all current troubles seemed to be lack of faith, and at Fuehrer headquarters faith meant not only telling Hitler what he wanted to hear but believing it oneself.

The ultimate result was that the inner circle at Fuehrer headquarters had become dedicated to preserving its own--and above all Hitler's--illusions. In March Hitler's


chief adjutant, Schmundt, observed that letters from Seydlitz, the ranking member of the Soviet-sponsored League of German Officers, to the generals in the Cherkassy pocket had aroused Hitler's mistrust of all generals. To soothe the Fuehrer, Schmundt persuaded the field marshals to sign a declaration denouncing Seydlitz. On 19 March, in the presence of the other marshals, Rundstedt, the senior officer of the Army, read the document aloud to Hitler and then formally presented it to him.30 In April Hitler addressed the generals and told them every officer had to identify himself with the "ideas" of national socialism; there could be no such thing as an apolitical officer. In May, Guderian, who had convinced himself that his tanks, used the way he thought they should be used, could still win the war, wrote a letter intended for Hitler's eyes in which he characterized the Army General Staff as a body of weak kneed defeatists. When Zeitzler demanded that Hitler either reject the charge or accept his resignation as Chief of Staff, OKH, Hitler said only that in view of the situation at the moment he would not make a decision. Toward the end of the month Schmundt toured the Eastern Front and returned with the impression that the changes in command of the two southern army groups "had produced especially favorable results."31

In April and May 1944 it seemed, in fact, that destiny might yet bow to the Fuehrer's will. If the invasion could be defeated, Germany could turn its full strength east. The prospects of a victory in the West appeared good. By the end of April new panzer divisions had filled the gap in the western defenses created when II SS Panzer Corps was transferred east.32 The southern half of the Eastern Front was a jerrybuilt nightmare, but in the center, 290 miles west of Moscow, between Vitebsk and Orsha, the gateway to the Soviet capital was still in German hands. At the closest point, the Russians were still 550 miles from Berlin. In May the Russians occupied themselves with extensive troop movements, but gave no sign that they would do anything to make the Allies' landing easier. The Soviet May Day proclamation, which could, of course, be variously interpreted, set the liberation of all Soviet territory, "including the entire boundary from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea," as the first Soviet objective and appeared to put the drive toward Germany distinctly into second place.33 Had they known, the Germans could probably also have drawn encouragement from the Stavka's directives issued to all the fronts in the first week of May ordering them to set up training programs, maintain general reconnaissance against the enemy, and clear a 25-km. strip behind their own lines to preserve security; in other words, to establish the routines that went with a long or at least indefinite period of inactivity.34

Although in the spring German Army strength on the Eastern Front reached a new low (2,242,649 men) and that of the Soviet Army another high (6,077,000 men), in other respects German strength


was actually in an upswing.35 Industrial output was rising. The Air Force total complement stood at 5,585 planes in January 1944 as against 3,955 the year before. Synthetic oil production reached its peak in April 1944, and stocks of aviation fuel were larger than at any time since 1941. The Jaeger Stab (Fighter Staff), organized in early 1944 to rationalize the aircraft industry, performed so effectively that fighter plane production rose every month between March and September 1944 even though the British and American Air Forces resumed daylight bombing in March.36 Enough tanks and weapons to equip new divisions for the Western Front and replace some of the losses in Russia were coming off the assembly lines. The best equipped, if militarily not always the most effective, segment of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS, reached a strength of 400,000 men in late March.37 All in all, it appeared that Germany could await the next roll of the dice with confidence.

By mid-June the dice had been rolled and Germany had lost. Beginning in April and continuing through May and into June the United States and British Air Forces staged raids that knocked out, if in part only temporarily, more than 40 percent of the Rumanian oil production and 90 percent of the German synthetic oil capacity.38 On 6 June United States and British troops landed in Normandy, and in the next several days the strategy, carefully nurtured since Fuehrer Directive 51 was issued in November 1943, collapsed. The "powerful counterattack" Hitler had envisioned did not materialize. Because he expected a second landing north of the Seine, Hitler failed to take enough troops from Fifteenth Army, which was closest to the beachhead, and decided instead to call in reinforcements from more remote areas. The German armies in Normandy were forced to the defensive. In the East the Russians were ready to march.


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (XIII) * Next Chapter (XV)


1. IVOV (R), IV, 113.

2. Ibid., IV, 137-38.

3. General der Infanterie a. D. Waldemar Erfurth, Comments on Earl Ziemke, The German Northern Theater of Operations, 1940-1945, Jun 57, OCMH.

4. Mannerheim, Erinnerungen, pp. 501, 507.

5. OKW, WFSt, Op. (H) Nr. 003072/43, Bericht ueber die Reise des Majors d.G. Jordan nach Finnland vom 7. bis 23.6.43, OKW/56 file.

6. OKW, WFSt, Op. (H) Nr. 007561/44, Reisebericht ueber Frontbesuch in Suedfinnland, 13.7.44, OKW/56 file.

7. OKW, WFSt, Ic/II Nr. 04451/44. Notiz zur Feindlage Finnland und (Geb.) AOK 20, 17.6.44, OKW/1559 file; Mannerheim, Erinnerungen, p. 507.

8. (Geb.) AOK 20, Ia Nr. 2624/44, Fuehrungsanordnungen Nr. 18, 21.7.44, AOK 20 65635/3 file.

9. Waldemar Erfurth, Der Finnische Krieg, 19441-1944 (Wiesbaden, 1950), p. 231; Mannerheim, Erinnerungen, p. 508.

10. (Geb.) AOK 20, Ia Nr. 229/44, an OKW, WFSt, Herrn Generaloberst Jodl, 14.6.44, AOK 20 58629/10 file.

11. (Geb.) AOK 20, Ia Nr. 231/44, Notizen fuer Vortrag beim Fuehrer, 16.1.44, AOK 20 58629/10 file.

12. Mannerheim, Erinnerungen, p. 511; OKW WFSt, K.T.B. Ausarbeitung, der noerdliche Kriegsschauplatz, 1.4.-31.12.44, pp. 18-22, IMT Doc 1795-PS.

13. OKW, WFSt, K.T.B. Ausarbeitung, Der noerdliche Kriegsschauplatz, 1.4.-31.12.44, pp. 22, 27-29, IMT Doc 1795-PS.

14. Bluecher, Gesandter zwischen Diktatur and Demokratie, p. 371.

15. Mannerheim, Erinnerungen, p. 513.

16. Bluecher, Gesandter zwischen Diktatur and Demokratie, p. 372.

17. OKW, WFSt, K.T.B. Ausarbeitung, Der noerdliche Kriegsschauplatz, 1.4.-31.12.44, pp. 19-30, IMT Doc 1795-PS.

18. Mannerheim, Erinnerungen, p. 515; OKW WFSt, K.T.B. Ausarbeitung, Der noerdliche Kriegsschauplatz, 1.4.-31.12.44, p. 31, IMT Doc 1795-PS.

19. (Geb.) AOK 20, Ia Nr. 234/44, 17.6.44, AOK 20 58629/10 file.

20. OKW, WFSt, K.T.B. Ausarbeitung, Der noerdliche Kriegsschauplatz, 1.4.-31.12.44, p. 30, IMT Doc 1795-PS.

21. Mannerheim, Erinnerungen, p. 518; Erfurth, Der Finnische Krieg, 1941-44, pp. 238, 241, 253; OKW, WFSt, Op. (H), Nr. 007561/44, Reisebericht ueber Frontbesuch in Suedfinnland, 13.7.44, OKW/56 file.

22. IVOV (R), IV, 143.

23. OKW, WFSt, K.T.B. Ausarbeitung, Der noerdliche Kriegsschauplatz, 1.4.-31.12.44, pp. 31ff, IMT Doc 1795-PS.

24. Ibid., pp. 32-34.

25. Ralph Mavrogordato and Earl Ziemke, The Partisan Movement in the Polotsk Lowland (Technical Research Report 24, vol. 4), Air Research and Development Command, Human Resources Research Institute, Maxwell AFB, Ala., pp. 40-44.

26. IVOV (R), IV, 153.

27. Pz. AOK c, Ic/A.O., "Entwicklung der Bandenlage im Bereich der 3. Panzer-armee," 28.4.44, Anlage 62, Pz. AOK 3 62587/12 file.

28. Ziemke, Composition and Morale of the Partisan Movement, pp. 1, 9, 13, 31, 33f., 41f; Mavrogordato and Ziemke, The Partisan Movement in the Polotsk Lowland, pp. 21, 45.

29. OKW, WFSt, Op. Nr. 7710098/44, Strategischer Ueberblick und Verteilung der Gesamtstreitkraefte des deutschen Heeres, 13.4.44, OCMH files; OKW, WFSt, K.T.B. Die OKW Kriegschauplaetze im Rahmen der Gesamtkriegsfuehrung, 1.1.-31.3.44, pp. 55-58, OCMH files.

30. Taetigkeitsbericht des Chefs des Heeresperssonalamts, 3, 19 Mar 44, H 4/12 file.

31. Ibid., 26 Apr, 9, 19-24 May 44.

32. OKW, WFSt, K.T.B., Die Entwieklung im Westen, 1.1.-31.3.44, p. 38, OCMH files.

33. IVOV (R), IV, 126.

34. Ibid., IV, 127.

35. The army group strengths were as follows: Army Group North, 540,965; Army Group Center, 792,196; Army Group North Ukraine, 400,542; and Army Group South Ukraine, 508,946. OKH, GenStdH, Org. Abt. (I) Nr. 1/17245/44, Iststaerke des Feldheeres Stand 1.4.44, 26.5.44, H 1/562 file. The Soviet figure is that given in Istoriya Velikoy Otechestvennoy Voyny, volume IV, page 125.

36. Air Ministry (British) Pamphlet 248, Rise and Fall of the German Air Force, pp. 301-90, 348.

37. OKH, GenStdH, Org. Abt., Kriegstagebuch, 25.6.43-31.3.44, 24 Mar 44, H 1/204 file.

38. Air Ministry (British) Pamphlet 248, Rise and Fall of the German Air Force, p. 349.

Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation