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Russian Volunteers in the German Wehrmacht in WorldWar II

by Lt. Gen. Władysław Anders and Antonio Muňoz [ed.]


During 1943 the number of volunteers in the eastern formations increased allegedly to some 800,000 [Soviet Opposition to Stalin, p. 45.]. In September of that year, a new blow fell upon these formations [Wen Sie Verdeben Wollen, pp. 283-285]. According to exaggerated comments on German reports, Soviet troops broke through German lines chiefly because of the "treacherous" behavior of the Russian volunteer formations. Hitler flew into a rage; He ordered that all eastern formations be immediately disbanded, and that 80,000 of them, as first contingent, immediately be sent to France as coal-diggers. 

He also demanded that the progress of the disbanding was to be reported to him every 48 hours. The Chief of the General Staff was also furious and at first did not want to hear of any delay in carrying out the order. However, when he was finally convinced that the facts were greatly exaggerated, and that it was impossible to withdraw from the front more than 3-5 thousand men, he decided to intervene. After three days Hitler modified his order; Only formations from the broken sector of the front were disbanded. 

According to a statement of the General of Eastern Troops, seemingly made at that time, there were then on the entire Russian Front 427,000 ex-Soviet soldiers serving in the eastern formations, who would have to be replaced by German soldiers in case they were disbanded [Soviet Opposition to Stalin, p. 45.]. This figure did not include over 100,000 "Hiwi" who were not recognized as soldiers, nor Latvian, Estonian and Ukrainian formations. A few days later, when Hitler seemed appeased, he issued a new order: the Eastern Troops were to be withdrawn from the Russian Front and sent to other theaters of operation. Thus, in the autumn of 1943, some 70 to 80% of the Eastern troops were gradually withdrawn from the Russian front and moved to Poland, France, Italy, the Balkans, etc. In this way Hitler deprived the eastern formations of their essential reason for existence- the fight against the Soviets.

At the end of April, 1943 the formation of the Ukrainian Division began. This deviation from Hitler's policy was the result of the deterioration of the general situation on the Eastern Front, and the appearance of Soviet partisans in the southeastern territories of Poland. The decision to form the Ukrainian Division did not meet with the general approval of the Ukrainian population which, discouraged by the German administration, was divided into two camps. The leaders of the underground movement were against the recruitment, but one main consideration turned the scales in its favor: the fear that if the venture was boycotted, the Ukrainian youth would be deported to Germany as laborers or enrolled in German auxiliary formations [According to a German officer in the Division (Wolf-Dietrich Heike), the Division absorbed the 4th-8th "Galician" (Ukrainian) Police Regiments. - the editor.].

The Germans, on their part, did not grant special concessions to the Ukrainians. The formation was called the 14th SS Grenadier Division (Galician No.1), which meant that it was under Himmler's control and formally deprived of its national character. However, the Ukrainians received an assurance that the division would be used only on the Soviet front. In June, 1944 the division was engaged, was encircled, and suffered heavy losses fighting its way out. Voluntary enlistment was later replaced by conscription [According to the author's R. J. Bender & H. P. Taylor, the initial batch of Ukrainian volunteers for the division turned out to be around 80,000 men, out of which only the fittest 13,000 were chosen. - Uniforms, Organization And History of the Waffen-SS, Vol. IV. R. James Bender Publishing: San Jose, 1975; p. 22.].

In the autumn of 1944, the Germans at last agreed to change the name of the formation to "1st Ukrainian Division," and in March, 1945 it became a part of the Ukrainian Army [Prawda o Ukrainskiej Dywizji.]. At the end of 1943, a small Ukrainian Legion was organized, which a year later was disbanded by the Germans for refusing to fight the Polish Home Army. The Commander of the Legion was shot by the Germans [Ukraińcy a Likwidacja Powstania Warszawskiego, p. 85.].

Among the eastern formations may also be classed the "Russian Defense Corps" of Serbia, composed of volunteers from among old Russian immigrants living in Yugoslavia. 

The corps' strength [at its peak- the editor] was about 15,000 men. It had quite a different character from the majority of the eastern formations which were mainly composed of Soviet citizens. The creation of the corps was preceded by long endeavors, because Hitler was opposed to the participation of old Russian [ex-Czarist] immigrants in the fight against the USSR. He limited the activities of the corps to operations against the local partisans in Yugoslavia, which of course deprived the corps of its raison d'etre. 

The enforced captivity of the Russian National Committee, and of General Vlasov, continued in spite of many efforts on the part of the German sympathizers of the anti- Soviet movement [This initially included most of the staff of "Fremde Heer Ost" (Foreign Armies East) headed by Reinhard Gehlen, but including officers that were 200% committed to realizing a Russian Liberation Army, like Captains Wilfried Strik-Strikfeldt, Sven Steenberg, and Egon Peterson (among the more "active" elements), but later included most of the higher ranking generals on the Russian Front, as well as officers within the SS organization and within the Nazi political leadership. - The Editor.]. An attempt to influence Hitler was made by the "Gaulieter" of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach, who had been won over to the idea of the Liberation Army. Hitler left Schirach's written interpolation without a reply. In the autumn of 1943, the order appeared which directed the eastern formations from the Russian Front to other theaters of operations; General Vlasov was asked to publish an open letter to the Russian volunteers in which he was to explain that the withdrawal from the eastern front was a temporary measure, dictated by the necessity of giving them repose and time for reorganization. When General Vlasov refused his signature, the "letter" was printed and distributed without his knowledge. 

To sum up, by the middle of 1944 the situation of the anti-Soviet movement was as follows: ROA, the Russian Army of Liberation, was not a formation in the sense of a military organization. Units which bore its name were mostly commanded by German officers, and were dispersed all over Europe; General Vlasov and the Russian National Committee had no influence whatsoever, and were not recognized by the German government; But the soldiers of the ROA saw in them their leaders. 

Russian National CommitteeCommittee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia









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