Russian Volunteers in
the German Wehrmacht in WorldWar II
Lt. Gen. Władysław Anders and Antonio Muňoz [ed.]
When in the summer of 1942 the front in the south was moving fast toward the
Caucasus and the Volga, the German armies entered territories inhabited by the
Cossacks. Composed of many tribes, these had during the civil war in Russia in
1917-1920 formed six federated republics: the Cossacks of the Don, of the Kuban,
of Terek, of Orenburg, of the Ural, and of Astrakhan. The republics had been
liquidated by the Bolsheviks with extreme cruelty.
The Cossacks, therefore, greeted the Germans as liberators. The entire
population of towns, villages and settlements went out to meet the German troops
with flowers and gifts of all kinds, singing their national anthems. Cossack
formations of the Red Army were coming over to the Germans in a body, new
formations were springing up, apparently from nowhere, in traditional uniform
and armed with swords, pistols, daggers, and rifles that had been buried for
One of the old and well-known atamans (Cossack leaders), Kulakov, who since 1919
had been believed dead, came out of hiding and, accompanied by hundreds of
Cossacks in resplendent dress and on magnificent horses, made a triumphant drive
into Poltava. Thousands of Cossacks in POW. camps offered their services in the
first against the Soviets. Even the remnants of the Kalmuk tribe, estimated at
some 60 to 80 thousand people, formed and equipped 16 cavalry squadrons which
cleared the steppes of the remaining Soviet units, showing no mercy. General
Koestring, who knew Russia well and in August 1942 became Governor of the
Caucasus, thought he was dreaming or watching a great historical film [Ibid., pp. 118-119.].
was the Cossacks' revenge for years of terror at the hands of the NKVD.
The recruiting of Cossacks for the fight against the Soviets was patronized by
the Cossack National Movement of Liberation, whose aim was the rebuilding of an
independent Cossack state. In the summer of 1943, the 1st Cossack Division was
formed under the command of General von Pannwitz. It had six cavalry regiments.
Shortly afterwards the division was expanded into the XVth SS Cossack Cavalry
Corps, which numbered some 50,000 men. Further, two Cossack brigades and 12
Cossack reserve regiments were formed, and a number of smaller units were
attached to German formations. In all, Cossack troops on the German side
numbered about 250,000 men [Steenberg, Sven: Vlasov. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1970. Page 21.
According to Sven Steenberg, a former German officer intimately involved in the
Russian Liberation Army, General Vlasov was appointed acting commander in chief
of the entire Northwest Front on March 6, 1942.].
It should be explained here that the granting of the SS status to the Cossack
Corps was Himmler's device, quite often applied, for barring the Wehrmacht's
influence in political concerns of the foreign formations. The Germans used the
Cossacks to fight Soviet partisans, to cover the rear of their armies, and
sometimes for action on the front. Later on, some Cossack formations were moved
to France and Yugoslavia. The Cossack command objected, on the ground that the
Cossacks should fight only against the Soviets, but in vain.
Meanwhile, a small group of German officers and civil servants, in spite of many
failures and difficulties, continued their effort to create a Russian Liberation
Army out of the hundreds of thousands of Russian volunteers who wanted to fight
against the Soviets. Their hopes were revived when at last a Russian "de Gaulle"
was found: the Soviet General Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov, former commander of the
Thirty-seventh and Twentieth Soviet Armies, and later Deputy Commander of the
front on the river Volkhov.
General Vlasov was the son of a Russian peasant from the Nizhni Novgorod
district who, although far from rich, had been classed by the Bolsheviks as
"kulak" and treated accordingly. The young Vlasov finished school with the
financial aid of his brother, and began to study first theology and later at the
Agricultural College of the University at Nizhni Novgorod. In the spring of 1919
he was called into the Red Army. After a few weeks in a regiment, Vlasov was
posted to an officers school and finished a four-month course, gaining a
commission. As a second lieutenant he was sent to the front to fight against the
He did not join the Communist Party until 1930, but from then on his career was
swift, since he no doubt had great ability. In 1938, already a major-general,
Vlasov acted as Soviet Military Advisor to Chiang Kai-Shek in China. In December
1939, he returned to Russia and was given command of a division. During the war
with Germany he commanded in turn a tank corps and an army, taking part in the
battle of Kiev and in the defense of Moscow. In March, 1942 he became Deputy
Commander of the Volkhov Front. In mid-June of 1942, the Soviet forces operating
on the Volkhov River were surrounded in the woods and marshes, without food and
supplies, and by the end of the month surrendered to the Germans. General Vlasov
became a prisoner of war [General Vlasov's personal history is quoted here mainly from
Opposition to Stalin, pp. 26-32.].
The IV Propaganda Section of the Wehrmacht, WPrIV, realizing that Vlasov was one
of the outstanding officers of the Red Army, took immediate interest in him. He
was transferred to a special, comfortable camp for important prisoners, where he
was subjected to a subtle propaganda which played on his aversion to the Soviet
system. Soon the German supporters of collaboration with the anti-Soviet
movement were convinced that their prisoner was the man they were looking for.
His personal charm, his effective manner of speaking, his manners and abilities,
and particularly his gift of inspiring confidence as well as his last important
position in the Red Army, clearly predestined him to stand at the head of the
Liberation Movement and Army, which in spite of Hitler's strict orders was
coming into being. In September, 1942, still in the POW. camp, General Vlasov
wrote a leaflet calling on the officers of the Red Army and the Russian
intelligentsia to overthrow the Soviet regime of Stalin whom he accused of being
guilty of all the disasters which had befallen Russia. However, the leaflet also
contained some Nazi propaganda, included without Vlasov's knowledge [Vlasovskoye Dvizhenye v Svieti
Dokumentov, p. 78.].
This leaflet was dropped by the Luftwaffe in thousands of copies. The German
protectors of General Vlasov attached great hopes to it. They expected that the
results of this appeal would finally force Hitler to agree to the formation of
the Liberation Army, and the results were indeed great. Day after day, the
German Supreme Command received reports from all army groups that thousands of
deserters from the Red Army who were coming over to the Germans, were asking for
General Vlasov, and wanted to fight against the Soviets.
But these reports infuriated Hitler; on his orders, Field-Marshal Keitel forbade
everybody, not excluding the General Staff, to present any kind of memorandum or
report on the subject of General Vlasov and Russian formations [Wen Sie Verderben
Wollen, p. 173-174.]. This failure
did not discourage the German supporters of the anti-Soviet movement. They
decided to take what constituted a very unusual step under Hitler's regime.
Without official authorization they brought into being in December, 1942 the
Russian National Committee, with General Vlasov as chairman.