Ju-52 ”Kaleva”

Kaleva, registered OH-ALL, was a civilian Junkers Ju 52 passenger and transport plane, belonging to the Finnish carrier Aero O/Y. The aircraft was shot down by two Soviet Ilyushin DB-3 bombers during peacetime between the Soviet Union and Finland on June 14, 1940, while en route from Tallinn to Helsinki, killing all 9 on board.

A few minutes after taking off in Tallinn, Kaleva was joined at close range by two Soviet DB-3T torpedo bombers. The bombers opened fire with their machine guns and badly damaged Kaleva, making it crash into the water a few kilometers northeast of Keri Lighthouse. All nine passengers and crew members on board were killed.

Estonian fishermen had witnessed the attack and crash of the plane. Shortly after the crash the Soviet submarine Shch-301 surfaced and inspected the fishing boats. After confiscating items taken from the wreck by the fishermen, the Soviets picked up diplomatic mail from the wreck and the sea. The future top-scoring Finnish pilot Ilmari Juutilainen was sent to inspect the crash site. After the Soviets spotted the Finnish airplane, the submarine hid its flag.

At the time of the incident Finland was not at war with the Soviet Union. The attack was probably part of the Soviet preparations for the full-scale occupation of Estonia, which took place two days after the Kaleva incident, on 16 June 1940. The occupation was preceded for several days by a Soviet air and naval blockade, which included preventing diplomatic mail from being sent abroad from Estonia. The passengers on the last flight of Kaleva included two German businessmen, two French embassy couriers, one Swede, an American courier, and an Estonian woman. The French couriers had over 120 kilograms of diplomatic mail in the plane. The American courier was reportedly transporting the U.S. military codes to safety from Estonia.

The plane was piloted by Captain Bo von Willebrand, and Tauno Launis was the wireless operator. The American victim was Henry W. Antheil, Jr., younger brother of noted composer George Antheil. Antheil worked as a clerk at the U.S. Legation in Helsinki. In 2007, he was honored for his service in a ceremony at the U.S. Department of State. His name was inscribed on the U.S. Department of State’s Wall of Honor.

The Government of Finland did not send any complaints or questions to the Soviets out of fear of hostile Soviet response, and the true reason for the crash was hidden from the public. This was due to the heavy pressure put upon Finland during the Interim Peace by the Soviets. After the outbreak of the Continuation War, the incident was described in detail by the government.

G. Golderg’s report

The commander of Shch-301 G. Golderg’s report on the incident held in the Russian State Naval Archives starts with the notice of a Finnish airplane on its way from Tallinn to Helsinki on June 14, 1940 at 15.05 PM. According to the report, the airplane was chased by two Soviet Tupolev SB high-speed bombers. At 15.06 PM, the Finnish airplane caught fire and fell into the sea, 5.8 miles from the submarine. At 15.09 PM the submarine took course to the crash site and made it to the location by 15.47 PM. The submarine was met by 3 Estonian fishing boats near the detritus of the airplane. The Estonian fishermen were searched by lieutenants Aladzhanov, Krainov and Shevtshenko. All valuables found from the fishermen and in the sea were brought on board of the submarine: the items included about 100 kg. of diplomatic post, valuables and foreign currencies. At 15.58 a Finnish fighter plane was noticed with the course towards the submarine. The airplane made 3 circles above the site and then flew towards Helsinki. The exact coordinates of the crash site were determined to be at 59°47′1″N 25°01′6″E.

A. Matvejev’s report

Captain A. Matvejev’s report states that on board the Shch-301 noticed an airplane crash on June 14, 1940 at 15.06 on 5.8 miles distance from the submarine. At the crash site 3 Estonian fishing boats and the remains of the airplane were found. At 15.58 PM a Finnish fighter plane made 3 circles above the crash site. By 16.10 PM all items found from the sea and from the hands of the fishermen were brought on board the submarine. The items included about 100 kg of diplomatic mail, and valuables and currencies including: 1) 2 golden medals, 2) 2000 Finnish marks, 3) 10.000 Romanian leus, 4)13.500 French francs, 5) 100 Yugoslav dinars, 6) 90 Italian liras, 7) 75 US dollars, 8) 521 Soviet rubles, 9) 10 Estonian kroons. All items were put on board of patrol boat “Sneg” and sent to Kronstadt.


I thought this article on PANZERGRENADIER TACTICS might prove of some interest, as probably the German Motorised/Panzergrenadier divisions were amongst the most versatile of the War.

Guderian always accepted that tanks could not operate alone effectively. Despite anti-infantry weaponry-usually machine guns-a tank was always vulnerable to small groups or even lone infantrymen if they were determined enough. This vulnerability was increased if the infantry had access to decent anti-tank guns or devices, but even poorly-equipped foot soldiers could prove a real danger if they had the requisite courage. Finnish tank-killing infantry destroyed about 1600 Soviet AFVs/Tanks during the Winter War of 1939-40, mostly using Molotov cocktails or even petrol filled vodka bottles. Tanks proved particularly at risk in broken terrain, such as forests and urban areas and the Finns exploited this.

When Tanks were fighting through defensive lines or moving through landscape that provided the enemy with good cover, they needed accompanying infantry to go in first to clear the way or make a breakthrough in the enemy line so the Tanks could then exploit. Thus the Panzergrenadier might very often have to fight like a conventional infantryman. Conversely, in a fast-moving advance that usually characterised German Blitzkrieg tactics he might find himself carried by a halftrack, lorry or motorcycle, or in extreme circumstances, hanging from the tank itself, ready to dismount and engage anything that slowed the Tank. Whenever tanks bypassed points or ‘pockets’ of stiff enemy resistance, it was the job of the Panzergrenadier to clear up these pockets.

Although the classic image of the Panzergrenadier is intimately associated with the SdKfz 251 half-tracked armoured personnel carrier, there were never enough of these vehicles to equip panzergrenadier formations to full strength. The concept of a carrier-borne attack into the heart of the enemy’s defences accompanying the tanks was the ideal, but the reality was somewhat more mundane. Most Panzergrenadiers were transported in soft-skinned vehicles like trucks and motorcycles. These were very vulnerable and thus caution was required when following tanks. There were no half-tracks available in the Polish campaign, and later in the War very few Pazergrenadier divisions had a full complement of these vehicles. Even within the Panzer divisions, only 1 battalion in 2 would be so equipped.

Therefore instead of driving into the midst of the enemy position, the Panzergrenadiers. normally debussed at a forming-up point or start line away from the enemy’s line of sight. They then attacked in the conventional manner of infantry supporting tanks. The key tactical advantage was that because of their motorisation, they could be brought into battle as soon as they were needed.

It was only at the time of Barbarossa in 1941 that large numbers of SdKfz 251s became widely available and enough to equip full battallions of Panzergrenadiers within a Panzer division. Now, the Germans could experiment with fighting directly from their half-tracks. Although the SdKfz 251 provided decent protection against small arms fire, they only had 13mm of armoured plate. Thus they became vulnerable to even the smallest calibre anti-tank weapon and suffered accordingly. Due to heavy losses suffered amongst half-tracks when accompanying Tanks into the heart of a battle, the Germans fairly quickly resorted to debussing at least 400m or so in front of enemy positions, when using the SD KFZ 251. Nonetheless, under certain tactical conditions, the half-track could provide a useful firing position.

At the lowest level, the basic Panzergrenadier unit was the gruppe or squad, usually about 12 men mounted in a half-track or often a truck. The squad was led by a squad leader, usually a junior NCO eg a corporal, who was armed with a machine pistol and was responsible for the squad to the platoon commander. On the move, he also commanded the vehicle and fired the vehicle mounted machine gun, usually an MG 34/42. His rifle-armed assistant was normally a lance-corporal and could lead the half squad if it was divided. The squad contained 2 light machine-gun teams, each of 2 men, four rifle-armed infantrymen and the driver and co-driver. The driver was also responsible for the care of the vehicle and expected to remain with the transport. A Panzergrenadier platoon was made up of 3 squads, with the platoon HQ in a separate vehicle. The HQ troop consisted of a platoon commander, usually a junior officer but sometimes a sergeant, a driver, a radio-operator, 2 runners, a medic and usually some form of anti-tank gun.

When the squad was transported by a half-track, the vehicle was mounted from the rear. The deputy squad leader was responsible for closing the door, thus he would sit towards the rear of the vehicle and the squad leader would sit at the front.

These vehicles were open-topped, and on the move it was usual for one man to scan the skies constantly for aircraft, whilst others kept a watch on both sides of the vehicle. When a platoon was driving together, close order, for the convoy was usually 5-10m apart in column or even abreast in open country. In combat, however, the gaps were extended to beyond 50m, and ragged lines or chequered formations were used. If the whole battalion was deployed, the preferred formation was often an ‘arrowhead’. On the whole, troop-carrying vehicles rarely averaged more than 30km per hour road speed. Even under ideal conditions, a panzer division was not expected to advance more than 20km in a day.

The SdKfz 251, drivers were prepared to simply ignore or drive through small arms fire, but the presence of enemy artillery or anti-tank guns usually saw them seek cover. The squad’s machine-gunners might well engage targets on the move, as could the rest of the squad if necessary from the sides. Often when advancing, the SdKfz 251s, could utilise a motorised version of fire and movement, advancing, stopping and firing to cover other half-tracks. A halted half-track provided a good firing position but was vulnerable. As a result, it was not recommended to stop for more than 15-20seconds in hostile terrain. The normal dismounting procedure was via the rear of the vehicle. However, in emergencies, the squad might well jump over the side as well as out of the back. This was often performed on the move at slow speeds. Once dismounted, the Panzergrenadiers fought as normal infantry. Improvements in Soviet anti-tank defences as the war advanced meant that the Panzergrenadiers often had to precede the tanks, or a mixed force of tanks and soldiers might move forward to clear enemy defences.

One of the most important German formations developed during the Soviet campaign was the PULK, a contraction of Panzer und lastkraftwagen, meaning tanks and trucks. This was a hollow wedge of tanks inside which moved the mororized infantry. The point of the wedge was formed by the best tanks and the sides by other tanks and self-propelled guns. When the wedge pierced the enemy defences, it widened the gap as it passed through. The Panzergrenadiers were then able to spread out and attack remaining areas of resistance from the flanks and rear. If the enemy’s weakest point had not been identified, the PULK could advance as a blunt quadrangle. Once a weak spot was found, the formation could incline left or right, its corner becoming the ‘point of advance’.

Although the Panzergrenadiers key role was co-operation with Tanks they could fight on their own. The very flexibility was a vital component of their value. They could fight as infantry offensive and defensive actions, assault vital strongpoints, seize bridges and clear urban or wooded areas in which the Tanks were at risk. Essentially the Panzergrenadiers was part of an all-arms team. His role grew out of the German acceptance that the Tank could not win battles alone. To quote Wilhelm Necker in 1943: ‘The Germans at an early stage in the war and even before the war understood the special weakness of the tank: its dependency on terrain and the fact it cannot occupy, but can only strike hard and break through lines. For this reason, the actual tank force was cut down to the minimum and the division reinforced with various other units, the most important being the Panzergrenadier.’

First German vehicle picture I saw as a child.

Fleischer, Wolfgang: “Die motorisierten Schutzen und Panzergrenadiere des deutschen Heeres, 1935-1945. Waffen-Fahrzeuge-Gliederung-Einsatze”, Podzun Pallas Verlag, Wolfersheim, 2000,

Riemann, Horst: “Deutsche Panzergrenadiere”,

Mittler & Sohn Verlag, Herford, 1989,

Scheibert, Horst: “Panzergrenadiere, Kradschutzen und Panzeraufklarer 1935 – 1945”, Podzun Pallas Verlag, Friedberg, ca. 1984,

Lucas/Cooper: “Panzergrenadiere im 2.Weltkrieg”,

Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart, 1.Auflage, 1981,

Redmon/Cuccarese: “Panzergrenadiers in action”, Broschur, Squadron/Signal Publications, (engl.) Carrollton, Texas, USA, 1980,

Senger-Etterlin,F.: “Die Panzergrenadiere, Geschichte und Gestalt der

mechanisierten Infanterie 1930 – 1960″, Lehmanns Verlag, Munchen, 1961

Officers, mid-17th century to early 18th century

During this period-with the notable exceptions of England and the United Provinces-monarchs in Europe increasingly took direct control of military affairs away from powerful noble military families and mercenary captains. As they did, better-supervised and more-professional officer corps slowly took shape on land and at sea. The progress of professionalization displacing mere class origin in selection and advancement of officers varied in terminology employed and historical timing in different kingdoms. In general, however, by the mid-17th century, men holding a commission signed by a king were known as “commission-officers.” By the early 18th century, this terminology shifted slightly to commissioned officers. That referred to any officer appointed by the crown-or the Admiralty in the case of the Royal Navy or one of five states’ admiralties of the Dutch Navy. At sea, commissioned officers included captains, commanders, and lieutenants. On land, this status comprised all ranks of field marshal and general as well as colonels in command of regiments. Below commissioned officers were warrant officers, who held rank by virtue of a warrant rather than a royal commission. These were staff or administrative appointments made by a regiment’s colonel or a ship’s captain. An exception was the small Prussian Army, wherein the “Great Elector” Friedrich-Wilhelm insisted on a veto of all officer choices made by his colonels. Warrant officer rank was most frequently awarded to Army chaplains and surgeons, and sometimes also to corporals and sergeants. Naval warrant officers included the master, quartermaster, boatswain, purser, and master carpenter. Holders of these four offices were also known as standing officers. Royal Navy warrants were issued by one of the naval boards.

The French Navy always found it difficult to recruit officers with seafaring skills. Service at sea was resisted by the aristocratic classes, who sought instead to serve in view of the king in the senior arm, the French Army. The Navy thus had only a small permanent officer corps, numbering fewer than 1,000 even if one counts the more than 600 ensigns. Most French sea officers in this period were either “roturiers” (of non-noble social origin) or “anoblis” (recently ennobled), or their sons. They learned seacraft in merchant ships or as privateers. Officers of more noble social origin acquired seamanship by serving on Mediterranean galleys of the Knights of Malta before commanding French galleys that remained part of the fleet based at Toulon. Some later rose to high rank and command of ships of sail. From the 1670s, French ensigns were trained in companies of Gardes marine set up by Jean-Baptiste Colbert. Many French sea officers switched over, or back, to privateering from 1695 as the Navy abandoned guerre d’escadre in favor of guerre de course. The Navy as a whole was nominally commanded by the “Admiral of France,” an ancient office that was revived in 1669 and given to a succession of the king’s illegitimate sons. Real operational command lay with activeduty admirals and two vice-admirals, one residing in Brest and the other based in Toulon. Below them were “lieutenants-general of the navy” and “chefs d’escadre,” roughly equivalent to the British rank of “commodore.”

From the time of Friedrich-Wilhelm, serfs laboring on Hohenzollern lands were recruited equally into the Prussian Army, while socially and economically privileged Junkers formed the bulk of the officer corps. Rigid social order found expression in a Junker’s desire to serve as an officer, which marked him off as socially superior to all others, and thereby reinforced rather than eroded his noble status. For a half century before 1700, Russian officers were mostly foreigners. This began to change even before Peter I imposed intense and fundamental Army reforms after ruthlessly suppressing the strel’sty. By 1675 there were many experienced Russian officers already serving in the Army; by 1695 Russians served in large numbers at all levels in new-formation units. In 1708 the majority of officers in all the tsar’s regiments were ethnic Russians or came from other of his subjects. Peter insisted on this, but also that no fewer than one third of his officers during the Great Northern War (1700-1721) must be experienced foreigners. Russian officers, too, were by then experienced in war, and were well trained in modern weapons and the new methods of warfare which Peter imported from Great Britain, France, Germany, and the United Provinces. In contrast, 15% of all Polish officers in 1650 were foreign. This number was important, however, since most Polish officers in the “National Contingent” army served a maximum of 10 years, and many did fewer than that. The Austrian Hofkriegsrat faced a much different problem, that of inherited officer commissions. It made some progress in professionalizing the officer corps when it abolished the sale of officer commissions early in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), during the presidency of Prince Eugene of Savoy.

Hereditary promotions and sales of at least some commissions were standard for many middle-ranking officers and for most senior positions in most European armies of this era. Commissions were treated, and traded, as military investments. Some British Army officer commissions remained for sale well into the 19th century, until after the Crimean War. This probably reflected the position and prolonged influence of the Duke of Wellington, a man both rich and talented, who purchased a commission as lieutenant-colonel at age 23. The other problem in England, resolved only by the Glorious Revolution and complete military triumph of Protestantism across all Three Kingdoms in 1691, was the tendency of Charles II and his brother James II to appoint officers from a narrow slice of the population solely on the basis of Catholic loyalties rather than military competence. By 1688 about 10% of English officers were Catholics. Virtually all officers in Ireland under James were Catholic, following a purge of the Irish establishment by the Earl of Tyrconnel. Many Protestant officers deeply resented this assault on the property rights of their purchased commissions and deserted to William III within hours or days of his landing in England. The new king did not readily trust such men, however, and for years afterward, continued to rely on fellow Dutchmen or on German and other mercenaries. He truly trusted only those English and Scots officers who had previously served him in the Anglo-Dutch Brigade. For instance, Marlborough came under deep suspicion of divided loyalty and was imprisoned for a time. This situation changed slowly during the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697). In 1706 a “Board of General Officers” was established to impose penalties or hear courts-martial of delinquent officers. This introduced a fresh element of professionalism to the British Army, even for gentlemen-officers.

The process of professionalization of the officer corps was much further and earlier advanced in France under Louvois and Louis XIV than in any other country of the time. The traditional independence of noble officers in France was severely eroded after the failure of their effort to retain privileges of their class, and the active treason of several senior commanders during the rebellion of the Fronde. Fresh standards were then imposed on even the most senior officers. The most important reform was to partly open the French officer “corps” (the word did not actually yet apply in its modern sense) to entry by men of low birth but real ability, though an old refusal of French nobles to serve under or to obey men who were regarded as social inferiors, even if they were also of noble birth, was slowly overcome. In 1675 Louis issued an “ordre de tableau” setting up a seniority list for French maréchals (of whom 51 were created between 1643 and 1715) to eliminate conflicts of command authority based on social rather than military rank.

This was part of a larger professionalization and reform undertaken by Louis and Louvois that established the modern system of ranks. Nobles still dominated the top commands: only 1 out of every 15 French generals who served under Louis XIV was of non-noble birth. The upper-class origin of most senior officers and many middle ranks was reflected in an aristocratic code of values and conduct that required displays of conspicuous courage under fire, and encouraged frequent dueling in peacetime, a practice that survived multiple royal bans. At its height, the French Army under Louis XIV had over 20,000 officers. Most were drawn from roughly 50,000 noble families of France. Others came from recently ennobled bourgeoisie, who eagerly served in the many new line regiments Louis raised during his long wars. These men paid to equip and support a new regiment in return for the privilege of its colonelcy. This led to extensive patronage networks organized around colonelcies. That trend was reinforced by the king’s insistence on state service by the old nobility, who built their own client networks in the regiments. Even among aristocratic officers, by the end of this period, an emerging professionalism ensured higher levels of political loyalty to the king than in past wars. Enhanced professionalism also cut back on otherwise endemic officer quarrels, dueling, and absenteeism.

Louvois found a way around purchased commissions by introducing two new, non-purchasable appointments (officially, these were not yet considered ranks): major and lieutenant-colonel. Even so, independent wealth remained key to an officer’s rise in station since he was expected to partly equip and maintain his company or regiment. To recover these costs, a colonel or captain fully expected to milk his regiment through creative accounts. Commissions from royal agents were issued to raise, command, and supply troops, partly replacing the system of purchase of companies and regiments by noblemen, though success in this regard was largely confined to the elite Gardes du Corps.

A young officer’s education also changed markedly in this era in France. Before the reforms made by Louvois, all training was received on-the-job, in active duty with one’s regiment. Louvois changed this in several ways. He designated certain musketeer units as training locales for young officers, especially for future staff officers. Thus, in 1679, when an artillery school was founded, it was attached to the “Fusiliers du Roi,” originally a musketeer regiment that was renamed the “Royal-Artillerie” in 1693. This change in the artillery was a vast improvement on civilian contractors hired by the French Army until 1672 to handle the big guns. Contractors had been paid for each cannon they brought into action on a battlefield or during a siege, which was no proper basis for sustaining a professional corps of cannoneers. In 1682 Louvois set up nine training companies for officer-cadets in various frontier towns. These trained young men in arms, drill, and riding, as well as in dancing, fencing, and other social skills deemed crucial (in most armies, into the early 20th century) to officer status. Cadets also studied mathematics, geography, and map reading, and those who chose to do so indulged art, music, and literature. The next year, officers in training for whom very high expectations were held were attached to the Régiment du Roi, and from 1684 to other regiments of Louis’ household (“Maison du Roi”) regiments. Similarly, a “Ritterakademie” was established for officers of the Prussian Army, though its curriculum was not as advanced in this era as in the French academies.


Don Troiani, Artist

Thought to be Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, iconic figure in the US War of Independence, b. 1754, d. 1832

A water bearer to the troops in one of the hardest-fought battles of the American Revolution, a woman nicknamed Molly Pitcher became famous when she took the place of a fallen artillery gunner, her husband, and continued the fight. Her story abounds in vivid detail, including chatting with George Washington, but some historians question its authenticity and doubt that she existed as described.

The woman with whom Molly Pitcher is usually identified, Mary Ludwig, was born to German immigrants in Trenton, New Jersey, on October 13, 1754. She moved to the Pennsylvania town of Carlisle and began her connection with the army at the age of fifteen as a servant to Dr. William Irvine, later a brigadier general in the colonial army. Her first husband, John Hays, enlisted in the First Pennsylvania Artillery in 1775 at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, and she soon joined him in the field with the permission of his regimental commander.

During the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, according to contemporary accounts a broiling hot day, Mary is said to have earned her nickname by returning to the battle lines again and again with pitchers of water for her husband and his fellow artillery gunners, who were dying of heat and thirst. “Molly” was a common form of “Mary,” and “Pitcher” commemorated the number of times the welcome water appeared at the front in her hands. As she watched, Hays, now an artillery sergeant, was knocked unconscious in the bombardment, and the order was given to remove his piece from the field. Without hesitation Molly came forward and seized the rammer staff from her fallen husband’s hands. She kept the cannon firing for the remainder of the battle and continued to fight till the close of day.

Other legends grew up around Molly’s service. While tending the wounded, she is supposed to have carried a crippled soldier “on her strong, young back” out of reach of a furious British charge. Another soldier, Joseph Plumb Martin of Connecticut, told this sexually tinted story of her coolness under fire:

While in the act of reaching for a cartridge, a cannon shot from the enemy passed directly between her legs without doing any other damage than carrying away all the lower part of her petticoat. Looking at it with apparent unconcern, she observed that it was lucky it did not pass a little higher, for in that case it might have carried away something else.

Her bravery was rewarded by George Washington himself, who issued a warrant making her a noncommissioned officer on the spot, resulting in another set of nicknames, “Sergeant” or “Major” Molly. This part of the story has seemingly endless variations, in which Washington’s cameo appearance also involves his presenting her with either a gold coin or, as befitting a magnanimous leader, a hatful of gold.

After the war, Mary and John Hays returned to Carlisle, where he died in 1789. Mary remarried one of her late husband’s comrades-in-arms, a John or George McCauley, but the marriage was not a happy one. McCauley is said to have treated her like a servant, a fate Mary, now known as Molly, had escaped years before. Perhaps it may have come as a relief to her that McCauley also died before too long.

But without a male provider, Mary/Molly may well have struggled financially, and she seems to have petitioned the government for relief. One undisputed fact is that later in life, in 1822, her war service was officially recognized when the state legislators of Pennsylvania awarded her a veteran’s annuity of forty dollars, which she claimed for the next ten years.

“Molly McKolly,” as some sources call her, died in Carlisle on January 22, 1832. Her son by her first husband, John Ludwig Hays, became a soldier and was buried with full military honors when he died in about 1853. At the age of eighty-one, John’s daughter, Polly McCleester of Papertown, Mount Holly Springs, unveiled a monument to her grandmother, which boldly asserts Mary/Molly’s claim to fame:

MOLLY McCauley, Renowned in history as MOLLY PITCHER, The Heroine of Monmouth, died Jan 1833, aged 79 years. Erected by the Citizens of Cumberland County, July 4, 1876.

A wonderful story—but is it true? In Carlisle, the town Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley was born in, left, and returned to after the war, the place where she died among her descendants and where she is buried, there is no doubt. But however proud the local people were of their heroine, they mistook the date of her death. Molly died at least a year earlier than recorded on her monument, as shown by the fact that no application for her pension was made after January 1832.

There are other questions and inconsistencies. For many years it was believed that the real Molly Pitcher was born Mary Ludwig and that she had married John Hays in Carlisle. This identification with Mary Ludwig was later challenged in favor of another Mary, who married another Hays with another extremely common first name, William. Another woman known as Molly Pitcher, described as “the heroine of Fort Washington” and buried along the Hudson, is a different individual, frequently confused with the heroine of the Battle of Monmouth.

The confusion arose because Molly Pitcher was not unique. Mary Ludwig Hays was neither the first nor the only woman to take a gunner’s place on an American battlefield and man a field gun. She was preceded by Margaret Corbin during the defense of Fort Washington in 1776—possibly the heroine of Fort Washington described earlier. Corbin was recorded as staying resolutely at her post in the face of heavy enemy fire, ably acting as a matross (gunner). Other women fought in numerous engagements in the Revolutionary War and Civil War (see Sampson, Deborah, Chapter 3, and Tubman, Harriet, Chapter 4). Historical sources confirm that at least two women fought in the Battle of Monmouth, one at an artillery position and the other in the infantry line. There is no evidence linking either of them to Mary Ludwig Hays. And when she died, there was no mention of a cannon or the Battle of Monmouth in her obituary.

“Molly Pitcher” may therefore be not one woman but a composite. But the legend refuses to die. She remains a cherished character of the American Revolution and since 1876 has been firmly identified with Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley. An unmarked grave believed to be hers was opened during the centenary events of that year, and the remains were reburied with honors under a plaque declaring her the real embodiment of the famous Molly Pitcher.

One fact remains. Whether or not Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley was the real Molly Pitcher, the forty-dollar-a-year payment she was awarded by the state of Pennsylvania was more than the usual war widow’s pension granted to all soldiers’ wives. The citation published in The American Volunteer, February 21, 1822, under the heading “Legislature of Pennsylvania,” makes this plain:

A bill has passed both Houses of the Assembly granting an annuity to Molly McCauley (of Carlisle) for services she rendered during the Revolutionary War. It appeared satisfactorily that this heroine had braved the hardships of the camp and dangers of the field with her husband, who was a soldier of the revolution, and the bill in her favor passed without a dissenting voice.

Note the date. In 1822, veterans of the Battle of Monmouth were still alive to dispute the facts, yet her award was unanimously passed. The “services rendered” by Mary/Molly Ludwig Hays McCauley undoubtedly amounted to something above and beyond the ordinary conditions of war. If only we knew what they were.

Reference: Rachel A. Koestler-Grack, Molly Pitcher: Heroine of the War for Independence, 2005.

The Praetorian Guard – Second Century I

The Praetorian Guard had played an enormously important part in the imperial politics of the first century AD. This also coincided with our richest body of written evidence for the Roman Empire. The second century is entirely different. A succession of strong and competent emperors contributed to a period of unprecedented stability for the Roman world. In this context, the praetorians had no opportunity or, it seems, wish to play any part in toppling or appointing emperors. The written canon of evidence also dramatically declines in quantity and quality, leaving us principally with only a series of much later biographies of the emperors, and the epitome of Cassius Dio. The picture that emerges is of a Praetorian Guard that took part in imperial campaigns, such as Trajan’s Dacian wars, and also continued to operate as a police force in Italy.

Domitian’s unpopularity amongst the wider public meant that his assassination caused little or no disquiet. Only the army seems to have been bothered. His use of praetorians to help fight the Dacian war meant that their first response to news of his death was to demand his deification. The only factor that prevented an immediate military uprising in Rome was the lack of any obvious leader. In the event, that position was filled by the prefect Casperius Aelianus in a brief return to the days when the praetorians shaped the course of Roman history, but he took his time before acting.

Marcus Cocceius Nerva’s accession as emperor was clearly a stopgap. In the summer of 96 Nerva was approaching his sixty-fifth birthday and he had no children. There was therefore no question of a new dynasty, though he did have relatives. The ageing new emperor reappointed Casperius Aelianus to the praetorian prefecture, probably to calm down the Guard and the rest of the army. It seems to have worked to begin with. Nerva issued coins in gold, silver and brass, showing two clasped hands grasping a legionary standard with the legend CONCORDIA EXERCITVVM, ‘Harmony of the Armies’.

Nerva emptied the prisons of those accused of treason, condemned informers, returned property that had been appropriated by Domitian, and sought out sound advisers. Despite this, he was still the victim of plots, his age at accession being the main reason for unrest. The first was led by a senator called Calpurnius Crassus. An informer told Nerva what was happening, so Nerva outfaced the plotters by providing them with a chance to kill him, even handing them weapons. This was followed by another, led by Casperius Aelianus, who had whipped up the praetorians to demand the execution of his immediate predecessor, Titus Petronius Secundus, and Domitian’s freedman Parthenius. He next encouraged the praetorians to mutiny. Nerva’s considerable personal courage won out again, this time when he bared his neck and invited them to slit it. He survived, but at the expense of Petronius and Parthenius. Nerva knew he was vulnerable and came up with a solution. He selected a promising soldier, a Spaniard called Marcus Ulpius Traianus (known to us as Trajan), and adopted him as his heir. Trajan had a family connection through being the son of Marcia, sister-in-law of Titus.

The behaviour of the praetorians during this time was strangely muted, despite Aelianus’ efforts. They never successfully avenged Domitian, for all their demands that he be deified. Given the time and effort Domitian had expended on massaging the sensibilities of the army, and the role the praetorians had played in acclaiming him in 81, their relative inertia is a little surprising. On the other hand, the crucial factor was perhaps the one Suetonius had observed: there was no obvious champion they could plant on the throne, like Claudius in 41. Moreover, the actions of Aelianus had made him a marked man along with the praetorian mutineers. Pliny the Younger, writing in his Panegyric of Trajan, referred to the mutiny with unequivocal horror: Nerva’s authority had been ‘snatched’, thanks to the breakdown of military discipline. Nevertheless, this does not explain why Aelianus remained in post. Nerva probably feared risking a further confrontation with the Guard by disposing of him, unless Aelianus was involved in the arrangements to appoint Trajan as Nerva’s heir. Indeed, the appointment of Trajan may have formed part of Aelianus’ demands.

Nerva died on 25 January 98 after a reign of a few days over sixteen months. Trajan, who was still with the frontier armies in Germany, did not actually reach Rome until late 99, apparently preferring to consolidate his hold on the vital Rhine and Danube garrisons. Aelianus and the mutineers were summoned, on the pretext that Trajan had a job for them. This ruse not only removed them from Rome, but was also a trick. Aelianus’ only hope would have been to topple Nerva and replace him with his own choice of emperor. Since that had not happened, Trajan was confronted with a praetorian prefect of suspect loyalty, or at any rate someone associated with an emperor (Domitian) who was now being popularly demonized as part of the establishment of the new regime. Aelianus and the mutineers were ‘put out of the way’, an ambiguous term that might mean they were executed or simply cashiered and dispersed, regardless of whether or not Aelianus had helped facilitate Trajan’s adoption. Trajan replaced Aelianus with Sextus Attius Suburanus Aemilianus. He handed Suburanus his sword of office and told the new prefect to use it on his behalf if he ruled well, and use it to kill him if he ruled badly. Suburanus held the post until c. 101, when he was replaced with Tiberius Claudius Livianus who was sole prefect until possibly as late as c. 112.

Trajan’s first public appearance in Rome in 99 was attended by an enormous crowd. According to Pliny, ‘the soldiers present’, who must have been praetorians given that this was in Rome, were dressed as civilians and consequently indistinguishable from everyone else. This may of course have been relatively normal for praetorians but the point being made by Pliny is surely that the praetorians represented no military threat or presence because there was no need to under an emperor who was completely in control. This of course reflects Pliny’s obsequious relationship with an emperor and benefactor he revered, but there was probably some truth in it. Interestingly, Trajan decided to pay only half the accession donative to the soldiers, whereas the amount promised to civilians was paid in full. The reason appears to have been to make a public gesture that Trajan was not seeking to bribe the soldiers into supporting him, whereas the civilians ‘who could more easily have been refused’ were therefore the more deserving.

The question arises here of whether the equites singulares Augusti, the ‘imperial mounted bodyguard’, belong to this date and even whether Trajan brought them with him to Rome from the frontier. They served with the Praetorian Guard in the same way as mounted auxiliary units did with the legions, forming an elite mounted praetorian wing, and had a base on the Caelian Hill. This does not mean they necessarily got on with the ordinary praetorians. They certainly existed by 118 because an unprovenanced and fragmentary diploma refers to the unit with a consular date for this year, though no veteran soldiers’ names are preserved. It is possible that the unit existed even earlier, on the evidence that some attested soldiers’ names include Flavius, which would suggest a foundation under Domitian. What is not clear is whether the equites pushed the praetorians into a subordinate role or operated in a collaborative function, providing a fast mobile bodyguard for an emperor in the field and freeing up praetorians for fighting. The career of Ulpius Titus, although he lived in the late second or early third century, is of interest here. He was selected for the equites singulares Augusti after having served as a cavalryman in a Thracian auxiliary cavalry wing. Thracian cavalry had served in the Roman army’s auxiliary forces for centuries and provided some of the most experienced and important mounted troops in the whole Roman army.

The praetorians themselves seem also to have increased in number by this time, if not already under Domitian or even as early as Vespasian. A diploma from Vindonissa (Windisch) in Germania Superior dated to the year 100 under Trajan clearly refers to the existence of the X praetorian cohort, which presumably had been added at some point between 76 and 100, most likely by Domitian. This makes it possible there were now ten praetorian cohorts from this date. However, a tenth cohort does not help us by confirming the total number of praetorians, or the size of individual cohorts, now or at any other time. Nevertheless, some authorities have assumed that it does, for example arguing that the Guard was made up of ten milliary cohorts thereafter.

Indeed, the praetorians seem to have enjoyed Trajan’s favour. A fragmentary relief from Puteoli, stylistically attributable to the early second century and probably from an arch of Trajan, depicts two praetorians with shields embellished with scorpions associated with praetorians. This is a stylized representation of the Guard in a symbolic setting, and quite unlike the way praetorians are featured at war on several panels on Trajan’s Column in Rome. The reliefs represent the start of a period when artistic representations of praetorians become more frequent and an impression can be gained of how they might have appeared. Of course, the sculptures also tend to depict the praetorians on campaign. There must have been several reasons for this. Such images flattered the praetorians’ vanity, showing them as the emperor’s right-hand men in action. They also showed the praetorians as a military force, and in this capacity were a useful reminder that the emperor ruled with powerful military backing.

The Trajan’s Column reliefs depict his Dacian wars against Decebalus and show the praetorians taking an active part in the campaigns. This was a trend that continued and become the norm during the second century. In the ‘first battle’, praetorians, identifiable from their wreathed standards, stand in the background behind legionaries. Later, a squad of praetorians accompanies Trajan as he is about to embark on a galley; they are his only accompanying troops. Subsequently he reaches a military base with his praetorians in tow, where they are met by legionaries and auxiliaries. Although it is impossible to tell how many praetorians were involved (our principal source, Dio, provides only a brief account of Trajan’s campaigns), there are some attested examples of individuals. Lucius Aemilius Paternus had a distinguished career as a centurion, serving at one point in the IIII praetorian cohort when he was decorated for his service in Dacia. He went on to fight in Parthia for Trajan too. Gaius Arrius Clemens served as both an infantry and mounted praetorian in the VIIII cohort in the Dacian war. He was also decorated, receiving ‘necklaces, armbands and ornaments’. Clemens was later to rise to be an aide to the praetorian prefects, and subsequently a centurion in the VII cohort under Hadrian, when he was decorated again.

During Trajan’s reign these men served under the prefect Tiberius Claudius Livianus who is attested in Dacia being sent by Trajan to negotiate with Decebalus. These men’s careers, and the depictions on Trajan’s Column, show that the Guard was functioning now really as part of the general Roman army rather than as a distinct and privileged separate unit based in Rome. By the late first century and thereafter, the Praetorian Guard was the only Rome-based military unit to participate alongside conventional troops in the field; the urban cohorts and the vigiles routinely stayed in Rome where of course their services were essential for public order and safety.

Since the purpose of the Guard was to protect the emperor’s person, it was only logical that they would participate in wars in which he was personally involved, but the way they were used does illustrate how the Guard was evolving into a part of the regular army. Lucius Laelius Fuscus expired at the age of sixty-five after forty-two years’ military service. From being an eques in the Praetorian Guard he had progressed through various positions to serve as centurion of the I cohort of the vigiles, centurion of the military police (statores), centurion of the XIIII urban cohort, centurion of the X praetorian cohort and, finally, holding the prestigious position of centurion trecenarius of the VII legion Claudia. The style of the inscription on his marble urn is late first or early second century as far as the reign of Hadrian. The VII legion Claudia participated in Trajan’s Dacian and Parthian wars, raising the possibility that Fuscus had been transferred from the Guard during one of those occasions, though there is nothing to substantiate this.

From hereon there is little mention of the Guard in any other capacity until the reign of Commodus, under whom they seem to have degenerated into institutionalized indolence until they were cashiered by Septimius Severus in June 193. However, evidence from Marcus Aurelius’ reign half a century after Trajan shows the praetorian prefects operating as police in Italy, and it is quite possible that this role was already by then well established as the much earlier evidence from Pompeii before 79 suggests. The single most conspicuous problem with the Praetorian Guard after the reign of Trajan until the reign of Commodus is that it is rarely referred to in the extant sources. For this period we are mainly reliant on what remains of Cassius Dio, which for this era only exists in the form of a later epitome, and the biographies of the emperors known as the Scriptores Historiae Augustae, which were not composed until the fourth century. For the long period of the reigns of Hadrian (117–38) and Antoninus Pius (138–61), the Guard as an organization is virtually ignored. More is known about praetorian prefects, but otherwise the story can only be pieced together from fragments.

Trajan died in Cilicia in 117, suffering from a sickness that was followed by a stroke that left him partly paralysed. His successor Hadrian was the grandson of Trajan’s aunt, Ulpia. Although his side of the family was originally Italian, they had settled in Italica in Spain, where Trajan was from. After his father died when he was ten, Hadrian was placed under the guardianship of Trajan. Hadrian pursued a successful senatorial military and administrative career and early in Trajan’s reign married the emperor’s great-niece, Sabina, becoming a particular favourite of Trajan’s wife Plotina. Hadrian went on to fight in Trajan’s Dacian campaign and proceeded through a number of other posts, including the tribunician power in 105 and then governor of Syria, the post he held when Trajan died. It was an extremely unusual situation. Although Hadrian’s position as heir looks obvious, at the time it was anything but. Other candidates were believed to be favoured by Trajan, such as the famous lawyer Lucius Neratius Priscus. In the end a rumour circulated that Plotina fabricated the claim that Hadrian had been adopted by Trajan on his deathbed. The letter that confirmed this was sent to Hadrian, arriving on 9 August 117, and he was promptly acclaimed emperor by the army in the province, just as Vespasian had been in 69. This equivocal situation made it all the more necessary that Hadrian assert his position extremely quickly. He requested from the senate the deification of Trajan and tactfully apologized on behalf of the troops for acting presumptuously in acclaiming him as emperor.

Publius Acilius Attianus had been praetorian prefect for about five years by 117 and was with Trajan when he died. As far back as 86 Attianus had been the guardian of the ten-year-old Publius Aelius Hadrianus (Hadrian), along with Hadrian’s cousin, Trajan. He seems to have shared the prefecture since around 112 with Servius Sulpicius Similis, a modest man who had taken the post reluctantly after he had been prefect of Egypt; earlier in his career he had risen to the heights of primus pilus. When he was still only a centurion Similis was once summoned by Trajan ahead of the prefects. The deferential Similis said ‘it was a shame’ for him to be called in while prefects waited outside. Sent ahead by Hadrian, Attianus returned to Rome with Trajan’s ashes, which were to be placed at the base of his column in the forum, accompanied by Plotina and her niece Matidia (the mother of Hadrian’s wife, Sabina). Attianus seems to have written to Hadrian with the advice that he should order the execution of Baebius Macer, prefect of Rome, on the grounds that there was reason to believe he might object to Hadrian being emperor. Perhaps Macer was known to prefer Neratius Maximus. Other potential objectors were cited by Attianus. Whatever the truth, the outcome is unknown, though Macer was probably at least removed from post.

A senatorial plot to murder Hadrian soon after his accession was thwarted, but it resulted in the senate ordering the execution of four senators. Hadrian denied that he had wanted this, but it marred the beginning of his principate and had implications for the praetorian prefecture. Hadrian hurried to Rome, arriving there on 9 July 118, and offered a large handout to the people in order to offset the unpopularity the executions had caused, and made a number of other conciliatory gestures such as remitting private debt owed to the state. Attianus was awarded the honorific promotion to senatorial status of consular rank in 119. Hadrian appears to have had an ulterior motive. He allegedly believed that Attianus had been behind the execution of the four senators, and resented his power, which of course included the potential power of the praetorians themselves. Supposedly reluctant to be associated with any more executions and also wishing to transfer all the blame for the senatorial executions, Hadrian coerced Attianus into resigning. It is equally possible that Attianus was a loyalist who had carried out Hadrian’s secret wishes and been prepared to take the blame on the emperor’s behalf. If so, it would have made him a good example of how useful the position of praetorian prefect could be to an emperor in a way that had nothing to do with commanding the Guard. The position with Similis is harder to understand. Hadrian’s biographer implies that Similis was another victim of what is described as Hadrian’s plan to remove the men who had smoothed his path to power. Dio, however, suggests that this unassuming man had some trouble in persuading Hadrian to release him. Similis went on to enjoy seven years of retirement, regarding these as the only years he had enjoyed life; all the years of his career he dismissed as being no more than merely existing. This was recorded on his tombstone.

Attianus and Similis were replaced as prefects in or around 119 by Gaius Septicius Clarus and Quintus Marcius Turbo. Turbo, who had a very significant military reputation, seems to have had a longer personal association with Hadrian. As a young man Hadrian served as tribune of the II legion Adiutrix while it was stationed in the province of Pannonia Inferior. Turbo, at some point in his career, was a centurion with II Adiutrix since the tombstone found at Aquincum (within Budapest) of a soldier called Gaius Castricius Victor states that he was in Turbo’s century. There is no certainty that Turbo’s time in II Adiutrix coincided with Hadrian’s, or even that this is the same man. But they might have served with the legion simultaneously, and if so then they might have come into contact and the future emperor been impressed by Turbo, though a personal connection may have played a more important part in Hadrian’s decision.

Turbo was to have a remarkable military career both before and after his appointment as praetorian prefect. He made some of the previous incumbents seem like dilettantes. By 114 Turbo was commanding the imperial fleet at Misenum. Next under Trajan he seems to have been sent to lead an assault on Jewish rebels in Egypt and Cyrene, leading a naval force and one of combined infantry and cavalry. The action was successful and involved the death of a large number of rebels. Soon after Trajan’s death, Hadrian sent Turbo to crush a rebellion in Mauretania. This was evidently also so successful that Hadrian, exceptionally, appointed Turbo temporarily to be an equestrian prefect governor of the important frontier garrison provinces of Pannonia and Dacia. This was so unusual that it must reflect Turbo’s remarkable skills. The only major governorship normally allocated to an equestrian prefect was Egypt, reflecting that province’s nature as the personal property of the emperor; indeed, as governor of Dacia Turbo was considered to hold a rank equivalent in prestige to being prefect of Egypt. The appointment came rapidly after the execution of the four senators and will have involved Hadrian dismissing the consular governor, Lucius Minucius Natalis. The practical effect was to place his own man in charge of an important component of the army. Perhaps Hadrian had in mind Maecenas’ advice to Augustus around 150 years previously on the advantages of distributing patronage amongst the equestrians. Turbo rearranged Dacia into two provinces. Dacia Superior was demoted to the status of requiring only a governor of praetorian, not consular, rank, and Dacia Inferior was to be governed by an equestrian procurator.

Turbo took his new post of praetorian prefect extremely seriously. He lived like an ordinary citizen and passed the day in the vicinity of the palace, even punctiliously checking up on everything late at night. He transferred his morning salutation (salutatio) to the late evening, greeting his friends and clients then, rather than during the day when he was far busier doing his job. Accordingly, the lawyer Cornelius Fronto dropped in to pay his respects after a dinner party, paradoxically greeting Turbo with the evening departure vale (‘farewell’), rather than the morning salve (‘good health’). Turbo was said to have operated on the principle that as prefect he ‘should die on his feet’.

The prefect Gaius Septicius Clarus had been a friend and correspondent of Pliny the Younger. He also had a senator for a nephew. Clarus had urged Pliny to publish his letters and was rewarded by having the collection dedicated to him. Suetonius also dedicated part of his Lives of the Caesars to him. Although Clarus’ earlier career is completely unknown to us, he had probably served in some capacity as an equestrian commanding officer, perhaps commanding an auxiliary infantry unit. His personal tastes and interests were more literary. This probably formed the basis of Hadrian’s decision to appoint him to serve as a convivial and interesting companion rather than as a military official. Hadrian set out for the northern frontier in 121, accompanied by Clarus, presumably with part of the Guard too, as well as Suetonius, his imperial secretary.

Hadrian was away until 125. During this time he paid particular attention to military discipline. While we have no specific information that this was applied to the Guard it must have done, especially with Turbo in charge of those left in Rome. The choice of Septicius Clarus and Suetonius as travelling companions seems to have backfired. Around 122 Hadrian visited Britain where he initiated construction of the wall that bears his name ‘to separate the barbarians from the Romans’. At this point in his biography we are told he dismissed both Septicius Clarus and Suetonius, along with several other unnamed people, for being too familiar with Sabina. He was even tempted to divorce Sabina but stopped himself on the basis of the dignity of his office. It is clear from the structure of the biography that this event is placed during Hadrian’s stay in Britain, but since the biographies of this period are notoriously confused in detail in some places, the actual sequence of events may have been different. Quite what had happened is unclear, but there was a suggestion of sexual impropriety, even if it amounted to no more than indiscreet flirting. Aurelius Victor includes a reference to Sabina’s claim that she had deliberately avoided becoming pregnant by Hadrian because she considered him so ‘inhuman’ that she wished to save the human race from any of his offspring. Hadrian had clearly found out about the carryings-on from his spies, the frumentarii, whom he used for all sorts of private investigations in his household and circle of friends. Septicius Clarus had been added to Attianus and others whom Hadrian had once trusted and now regarded as enemies.

An occasional instance of a military career that included a spell in the Guard is available at around this time. Titus Pontius Sabinus was a career legionary who, as primus pilus of the III legion Augusta, was placed in charge of detachments of the VII Gemina, VIII Augusta and XXII Primigenia sent on ‘the British expedition’ around this time, perhaps accompanying Hadrian. The province had been in considerable difficulties since around the end of Trajan’s reign. After this foray into the wilds of Britain, Sabinus was promoted to be tribune of the III cohort of the vigiles, tribune of the XIIII urban cohort, and then tribune of the II praetorian cohort, before becoming primus pilus once again and finishing up as procurator of the province of Gallia Narbonensis. This shows how much experience was considered necessary for a man to hold the tribunate in the Praetorian Guard. His time as tribune of the II praetorian cohort probably occurred under the latter part of the reign of Hadrian. A praetorian denied the chance to accumulate any experience at all was Lucius Marius Vitalis. He joined the Guard when he was around sixteen or seventeen years old during the reign of Hadrian. He left Rome with the Guard, headed for some unknown destination, perhaps with Hadrian, but died aged seventeen years and fifty-five days. Marius Vitalis illustrates how the original Republican tradition of hiring praetorians from experienced soldiers had been at least partly replaced by recruiting very young men. Men of Pontius Sabinus’ calibre therefore found themselves knocking into shape youths with little or no experience at all of soldiering, and who would have taken some time to turn into praetorians with the right skills to serve the emperor either in Rome or in the field. This goes some way to explaining the rationale behind the decision over half a century later in 193 to cashier the Guard and replace it entirely with legionaries who had considerably more to offer in the way of experience.

Meanwhile, the man who replaced Septicius Clarus and continued to command any members of the Guard in Hadrian’s retinue is unknown. That Turbo had remained in Rome is only likely, and not an attested fact. The most obvious choice to replace Clarus would have been the former prefect of Egypt (117–19), Quintus Rammius Martialis; however, not only is there no information to that effect, but unless he was with Hadrian already there would have been something of a delay before he could either fill the post or join him. Hadrian was to remain abroad until 125, finishing up in Sicily by way of Greece before returning to Rome.

For all his skills and experience, Turbo also fell foul of Hadrian’s capricious inclination to turn against those he had trusted, even though Turbo, like Similis, had been honoured with a statue. He was said, along with others, to have been ‘persecuted’, though what that means, or its consequences, is unknown to us. This may not have occurred until Hadrian returned to Rome in 134. The same applies to the Praetorian Guard at this time. We seem to know a remarkable amount about Turbo’s career before he became praetorian prefect and the manner in which he conducted himself in the post, but little or nothing about the praetorians themselves or how he led them. We can only assume that praetorians accompanied Hadrian on his journey between 121 and 125 because Clarus went with him. In 128 Hadrian visited North Africa, returned to Rome and then headed off to the eastern provinces, including Greece, Syria, Arabia and Egypt. We can do no more than speculate on how the praetorians regarded being removed from the privileged comforts of the Castra Praetoria in Rome. If Septicius Clarus had not been replaced, which is quite possible, then Turbo may have been out of Rome with Hadrian on some of his later travels serving as sole prefect; equally, he may have remained in the city with the prefect of Rome, Annius Verus, with a tribune instead commanding a detachment of the Guard accompanying the emperor.

The Praetorian Guard – Second Century II

The governor of Britain, like any provincial governor, enjoyed the prestige of having his own military staff, singulares, drawn from soldiers in the provincial garrison, including the auxilia, and serving on detachment. These men were known as beneficiarii, literally because they benefited from the privileges and status afforded by the job, and carried out the governor’s orders. They were not praetorians but they were the governor’s equivalent. Just as the praetorians amplified the status of the emperor, so the governor’s bodyguard enhanced and advertised his status and made it possible for him to allocate soldiers from his guard to other deserving officials. While governor of Bithynia and Pontus, Pliny the Younger was asked by a visiting imperial freedman procurator for an escort of six soldiers on a corn-procuring mission, to which Pliny added two mounted soldiers.

Under Hadrian, if not before, additional barracks were built in Rome. In 2015 during work on a new metro line a substantial and well-appointed barrack block of Hadrianic date was discovered around half a kilometre south-east of the Colosseum in the vicinity of four other barrack blocks, together with associated burials. It was clearly a dedicated military zone. It is difficult to imagine who the occupants might have been other than some of the praetorians, and in this case it was probably the equites singulares Augusti. The remains uncovered included a corridor around 100 metres long with thirty-nine rooms opening off it. Some of the floors had mosaics that had existed long enough to be patched and repaired. Such decoration was not typical of legionary fortresses and reflects the higher standard of living to which praetorians were accustomed. These facilities were roughly half the distance from the centre of Rome compared to the Castra Praetoria, making them much more convenient and also made a quicker response in a crisis possible. We know so little about the internal layout of the Castra Praetoria that there is every possibility it was not fully used at this time.

It is therefore interesting that around the same time, by c. 120 or not long after, a fort to accommodate the governor of Britannia’s guard was built in the north-west part of the settled area of London, perhaps connected with Hadrian’s visit to the province and to ensure his protection. The location and purpose of the Cripplegate fort resembled those of the Castra Praetoria in the sense that it was a freestanding military base on the outskirts of what was otherwise a civilian and administrative settlement. London, although tiny compared to Rome, was still the largest city in the province of Britannia. The new fort, which may have replaced an earlier timber one, covered 4.5 hectares and was thus far smaller than a legionary fortress, but it was more than twice the size of most ordinary forts. It was large enough to accommodate the equivalent of a milliary infantry cohort, probably with a cavalry component. The location of known gates, defences, and fragmentary traces of barracks suggest that unlike the Castra Praetoria it was conventional in plan, resembling other forts. Evidence from tombstone inscriptions in London indicates that soldiers were detached from all three legions to serve on the governor’s bodyguard, for example Flavius Agricola of the VI legion, which only arrived in Britain under Hadrian, who died in London aged forty-two. The London fort was by no means typical. Roman forts in a civilian context are very unusual, Carthage being an exception. It survived long enough to be absorbed into London’s later Roman walls, just as the Castra Praetoria was absorbed into the Aurelian Walls of Rome in the late third century. All provincial governors had bodyguard units, so far as we know, for obvious reasons of security and prestige. London’s fort suggests that special conditions prevailed in Britain, necessitating a fortified headquarters in the manner of a provincial castra praetoria, but in this case requiring full military defences because of the residual instability in the province.

Back in Rome, by the end of Hadrian’s reign or shortly after the accession of Antoninus Pius in 138 two new praetorian prefects were appointed: Marcus Gavius Maximus and Marcus Petronius Mamertinus. The reign of Antoninus Pius is even less well known than Hadrian’s since Dio’s account is more or less completely lost, leaving us only with the Historia Augusta. It is both conceivable and probable that praetorians participated in wars during the reign of Antoninus Pius, but there is nothing to confirm that.

Hadrian’s original intention had been to be succeeded by Lucius Ceionius Commodus, adopted by the childless emperor in 136 and renamed Lucius Aelius Caesar. The occasion of his adoption was accompanied by the distribution of 300 million sestertii amongst the soldiers. This must have included the praetorians, and at a preferential rate compared to the rest of the army. Aelius, in the event, predeceased Hadrian, dying on 1 January 138. His demise occasioned a crisis for the ailing Hadrian, who selected Antoninus Pius, a highly regarded senator whose wife Faustina was the great-granddaughter of Trajan’s sister, Marciana. Antoninus and Faustina adopted Aelius’ son, Lucius Verus, along with Marcus Aurelius, the husband of their daughter, Faustina Junior, providing a cash handout to the soldiers on the occasion of that marriage in 145. This complicated web of relationships successfully created a dynasty but for the most part had relied on selecting suitable men rather than on a direct bloodline. Hadrian had even initially considered Marcus Aurelius as his heir, but rejected him on the grounds that at eighteen he was too young.

The principal praetorian prefect of the new reign was Marcus Gavius Maximus, who in or around 158 was said to have served in the position for twenty years, so therefore must have been appointed either by Hadrian in early 138 or by Antoninus soon afterwards. With one exception Antoninus Pius kept men in the posts in which they had been placed by Hadrian until they died. The other prefect, Marcus Petronius Mamertinus, died around 143, after which Gavius Maximus held the sole prefecture for the rest of his life. The two men are cited on an inscription of 1 March 139 recording the honourable discharge of thirty-nine equites singulares Augusti. The inclusion of the names of both praetorian prefects suggests a closer link between the office of the prefecture and the emperor’s mounted bodyguard than might otherwise have been obvious.46 In the same year a mosaic floor was installed in the Castra Praetoria with an inscription that commemorated the vicennalia (twentieth anniversary of the accession) of Antoninus Pius. It was an appropriate recognition of the mutual dependence of emperor and his bodyguard.

Little is known about Marcus Petronius Mamertinus. His tenure as praetorian prefect is otherwise only known from a letter of Marcus Cornelius Fronto. He may have previously been prefect of Egypt. After his praetorian prefecture he was awarded honorary consular status by 150, leaving only Gavius Maximus in post. Marcus Gavius Maximus was apparently ‘a very stern man’. He also seems to have been extremely rich. A fragmentary inscription from the port town at Ostia, and another one in the Vatican Museum, suggest that Gavius Maximus had paid for the lavish Forum Baths, which remain one of the most conspicuous and largest ruins at the site today. The structure is imaginatively designed so that the bath chambers, which all face south-west, received sun throughout the middle of the day and afternoon, reflecting the most popular time of the day to visit the baths. Although the building, like all such structures at Ostia, is built largely of brick, it was expensively faced throughout with marble, much of which has since been robbed away. It is difficult to know what to make of this. Gavius Maximus may have paid for the baths at his own expense, but it is also possible that Antoninus Pius subsidized the costs on his prefect’s behalf. Why Gavius Maximus would have wanted or needed to pay for the baths, or indeed how he became wealthy enough to fund them, is unknown. Civic munificence was virtually ubiquitous in the Roman world but we know of no particular connection that Gavius Maximus had with the port town; perhaps he had come from there or his father had made his name in the thriving commerce of the settlement. Either way, there is no obvious connection with the praetorians themselves. Instead we have an image of the praetorian prefect as a member of the imperial court rather than as a military commanding officer, and encouraging public popularity through his gifts to the community. Whether or not he is representative of the praetorian prefects at this date cannot be said. This was certainly what the office had evolved into when the Guard was disbanded in 312.

Marcus Gavius Maximus was succeeded briefly in 158 as praetorian prefect by Gaius Tattius Maximus, who had been prefect of the vigiles since 156. The prefecture was then once again restored to a joint position, with Sextus Cornelius Repentinus and Titus Furius Victorinus being appointed. Cornelius Repentinus’ promotion from his position as imperial secretary did not last long. His reputation was destroyed in 158 when a rumour emerged that he had been appointed with the assistance of Galeria Lysistrata, one of Faustina’s freedwomen and mistress of Antoninus Pius. It should be noted in the emperor’s defence that Faustina, highly esteemed though she was, had died in 141.

One inscription from this era gives us an example of a praetorian operating in the broader community in an official capacity as a surveyor. Blesius Taurinus was a praetorian land surveyor (mensor agrarius) serving with the VI praetorian cohort during the reign of Antoninus Pius. Taurinus was sent on imperial authority to Ardea, 22 miles (35 km) south of Rome, where he determined the boundaries of the settlement. With that done, Tuscenius Felix, serving for the second time as primus pilus of an unspecified unit, delivered a decision (what it was is unknown). As so often in the Roman world, military personnel exhibited the greatest concentration of professional expertise available. In this case Antoninus Pius had used these men to resolve something that had been brought to his attention, perhaps a property dispute. The army was the most convenient, and perhaps the only source of the necessary skills and manpower the emperor could call on.

Antoninus Pius was succeeded in 161 by Marcus Aurelius, who since 145 had been his son-in-law and earmarked as his heir by awarding him the tribunician power at the same time. As he lay dying, Antoninus Pius called together all his friends and prefects, who must have included Titus Furius Victorinus, and told them that Aurelius would be succeeding him. When he assumed power, Marcus Aurelius immediately appointed Lucius Verus, the son of Hadrian’s originally intended successor Aelius, as his co-emperor and had him marry his daughter Lucilla. The reasons were both dynastic and practical. Verus was younger and more interested in participating in the frontier wars that were to be increasingly a characteristic of this reign, and was soon dispatched to fight the Parthians in the east.

The joint emperors’ first act was to head for the Castra Praetoria where they allegedly offered the soldiers 20,000 sestertii each, and proportionately more to the centurions and tribunes. This figure is generally regarded as an obvious exaggeration – though it matched the amount awarded on discharge as far back as Augustus’ time so there is no overwhelming reason to assume it is wrong.53 In 162 the praetorian prefect Titus Furius Victorinus accompanied Lucius Verus to the Parthian war, where he was to die either by fighting or from plague in 167. He was commemorated in the forum at Rome by a statue with an inscription that recorded his exploits and how he had been awarded honorary consular status. Furius Victorinus must have commanded several cohorts drawn from the Praetorian Guard, presumably another occasion when praetorians were now routinely forming part of imperial armies in the field when necessary. This war was to be successful. Verus returned to Rome in 166 where his inclination to luxurious and indulgent living annoyed Marcus Aurelius.

In January 168 veteran praetorians were offered improved support for starting families. In order to help these men acquire wives, any sons born of the marriage would count for their fathers-in-law when it came to seeking a claim for intestate property or claiming exemption from tutela (legal guardianship). In other words, the boys’ maternal grandfathers would now be able to use their grandsons by their daughters (so long as these daughters married a praetorian veteran) in the same ways, legally, as they would have done their grandsons by their sons. Praetorians, like all other soldiers, were not allowed by law to marry while in service and this had been the position from the inception of the Guard under Augustus. In practice, unofficial unions did take place and it is apparent from a number of sources that during the second century such arrangements were sometimes accepted by the authorities, right up to and including the emperor. This was far from guaranteed. In 117 the prefect of Egypt, Marcus Rutilius Rufus, denied a wife the right to a claim on the estate of her deceased soldier husband on the simple grounds that ‘a soldier is not permitted to marry’.

Whatever the legality and unofficial liaisons, praetorians do not appear to have embarked on such relationships to anything like the same degree as ordinary soldiers. On the evidence of funerary epitaphs and who dedicated them, only 3 per cent of praetorians in the first century had unofficial wives; the majority of deceased praetorians were commemorated by fellow soldiers. This rises to over 10 per cent in the second century and to over 25 per cent in the third century. By comparison, a third of the legionaries on the Danube in the second century were likely to be commemorated by a wife – three times as many as a praetorian of the same period. The praetorians may have been subjected to sterner discipline because of their location and involvement in imperial security, but it is no less possible that frontier legionaries found that acquiring unofficial wives was the easiest way of securing female company, whereas praetorians, being based in Rome, had more casual opportunities.

There is some suggestion that the Praetorian Guard also evolved its own distinctive traditions of a more formal military presentation and terminology in which, perhaps, publicly acknowledging the existence of an unofficial wife was less ‘the done thing’ than it might have been amongst legionaries. Praetorians were much more likely to describe themselves as the commanipularis, ‘comrade of the same maniple’, of a colleague than legionaries were. For example, Marcus Paccius Avitus of the V praetorian cohort died at the age of thirty after five years’ service. His tombstone was erected by his commanipularis, Lucius Valerius. Whether this is really evidence of a fundamentally different culture or merely different style is a moot point. Legionaries were more likely to call each other commilito, ‘co-soldier’, or contubernalis, ‘tent-party comrade’, which seems more a matter of style than evidence of different levels of formal military culture. Unless a praetorian had a wife whose name is mentioned on his tombstone, we cannot assume that more praetorians had wives who were excluded from the epigraphic tradition and that therefore, for whatever reason, praetorians were less likely to form unofficial unions while the law remained in force. Moreover, Paccius Avitus had died young and this seems to be common to many of the praetorians we happen to know about. Praetorians of the second century were also more likely to be discharged early than legionaries. Up to 58 per cent had been discharged within seventeen years, whereas legionaries had served ‘much longer periods of time’ before being discharged at this rate. Various factors might explain this, including a possibly higher rate of loss in combat and disease in Rome.

Those who lived long enough to benefit from the shorter terms of service were likely to be awarded an honourable discharge and then move on to prestigious civic jobs such as municipal magistracies in their home towns. Gaius Com[. . .] Secundus, a veteran of the V praetorian cohort, returned to what was probably his home town of the colony of Minturnae (Minterno) where he served his community as an aedile, a magistracy that would have entitled him thereafter to a seat on the town council (ordo) as a decurion (councillor). Gaius Arrius Clemens, who had served with distinction in Dacia under Trajan while with the VIIII praetorian cohort, proceeded to a series of posts as centurion before ending up as a duumvir (one of the two senior magistrates) in the town of Matilica (Matelica) in Umbria, and as patron of the community. Such men were primarily memorialized in their prestigious positions of later life, their service as ordinary praetorians being brushed over if mentioned at all. They would have been more likely to marry during this later time in their lives, having both the money and legal opportunity, as well as having age on their side, unlike legionaries. This would also explain why praetorians received discharge certificates which noted their right now to marry, an essential document if they were to marry non-citizen wives.

The outbreak of war on the Danube frontier, when the Germanic tribal confederation known as the Marcomanni invaded in 168, caused Verus and Aurelius to head out to fight, but Verus died in 169 during their return to Rome. Marcus Aurelius carried on as sole emperor until 177 when his son, Commodus, was elevated from the position of Caesar that he had held since 175, to joint Augustus with his father. During that period, between the years 169 and 172, there is clear evidence of praetorian prefects serving in a capacity we would most easily recognize as commissioners of police. An imperial freedman called Cosmus wrote to the praetorian prefects Bassaeus Rufus and Macrinius Vindex, who had succeeded the deceased Furius Victorinus in or around 167, with Vindex probably being appointed a little later. Bassaeus Rufus came from modest origins and reached the praetorian prefecture via the prefecture of Egypt, but Macrinius Vindex’s earlier career is unknown. The purpose of the letter was to appeal to the prefects for their help in stopping the magistrates at the cities of Saepinum (Attilia) and Bovianum (Boiano), and stationarii, from troubling lessees of sheep flocks on an imperial estate. The stationarii were armed police installed in specific locations, and had been established by Augustus. It is not clear in this instance if praetorians were being used as stationarii, though some inscriptions show that praetorians could be used in this role and sometimes far beyond Italy. Titus Valerius Secundus of the VII praetorian cohort, for example, was a stationarius at Ephesus where he died in service at the age of twenty-six.

Cosmus alleged that the magistrates and stationarii had been accusing the lessees of being runaway slaves, and appropriating the sheep accordingly. This meant that the magistrates and stationarii were stealing imperial property. Rufus and Vindex obliged. They wrote to the magistrates, attaching a copy of Cosmus’ letter, and it is the text of this that has survived. It was a warning to the magistrates and other suspects to desist, on pain of further investigation and punishment. Although the outcome is not known, the document is one of the most specific records of the praetorian prefects operating in a way more akin to a civilian police force, though urban cohorts seem to have been included as well.

In the meantime, the Marcomannic War continued. For all their responsibilities in homeland policing, the praetorian prefects also continued to serve as military commanders in the field. Both Bassaeus Rufus and Macrinius Vindex travelled with Marcus Aurelius on campaign in the early 170s, though we do not know how often or the numbers of praetorians involved. Since both prefects were participating it is possible that a large proportion of the Guard had accompanied them, the remainder perhaps being left under the command of a tribune in Rome, apart of course from those dispersed on various duties around the Empire. In the event Macrinius Vindex was to die leading in battle in or around 172.

Macrinius Vindex was not replaced immediately. Marcus Aurelius was said to have had a particular favourite candidate in the senator Publius Helvius Pertinax, praising him both in the senate and also at military assemblies, but regretted that as Pertinax was a senator he would have to pass him over. Of course, given the appointment of Titus as commander of the Guard by Vespasian, this was a technicality which could have been overlooked had Marcus Aurelius really wanted to. Bassaeus Rufus continued in post in the meantime, possibly as sole prefect. He attended the trial of Herodes Atticus before Marcus Aurelius at Sirmium in 173 or 174. Herodes had been accused of tyranny by the Athenians. During the trial Bassaeus Rufus, described as being praetorian prefect by Philostratus, said it was clear Herodes wished to die. Herodes retorted by saying that at his age there was very little he feared. Bassaeus was still in post in July 177, but probably for not much longer, after which he received honorary consular status. His name is recorded in this capacity. Publius Tarrutenius Paternus became praetorian prefect in or around 179, having been a former imperial secretary. He led a force against the Marcomanni in 179 so he must have been in post by then, but is not specifically attested in it until after the death of Marcus Aurelius when in c. 182 he participated in a plot to kill Commodus. The only other possible evidence we have for the Guard in action at this date is the sculpture on the Column of Marcus Aurelius in Rome depicting the Marcomannic War. Unlike Trajan’s Column, the identification is a good deal more tenuous and depends on the belief that scale armour is the distinguishing factor. There is some verification for this in Dio who refers to this feature of praetorian equipment when describing the Guard under Macrinius in 218. Other scenes on the column also show the equites singulares Augusti with Marcus Aurelius on campaign.

This single example highlights the central issue when it comes to dealing with the Praetorian Guard between the accession of Trajan in 98 and the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180. These eighty-two years were more than long enough for no one to have any living memory of the power the Guard could choose to exert as emperor-breakers and makers. The reality was that none of the emperors in that period was deficient in any of the key qualities required. Their successions were largely undisputed, their judgement was respected, and their personal qualities for the most part sufficient to ensure that they stayed in power and died in their beds. The Avidius Cassius episode in Egypt in 175 was a rare exception. The state was thus not vulnerable and in these circumstances there was no opportunity or need for the praetorians to try and influence events. They took part in wars, and their prefects served the emperors as advisers, chiefs of police or generals as and when needed. It must have been for the most part an easy, complacent and privileged lifestyle. This was to change dramatically under Commodus who was the first ruler for almost a century to exhibit serious shortcomings in his ability either to rule or to choose suitable men for key commands, amongst which was of course the praetorian prefecture. This was to result in the revival of a badly led and dysfunctional Praetorian Guard which would culminate in one of the most degenerate episodes in its history.

Partisan Warfare in Russia

The legendary First World War and Russian Civil War partisan cavalry unit known as ‘Shkuro’s Wolves’, pictured in 1919 during a lull in anti-Bolshevik operations. Recruited from Kuban Cossacks, the Wolves were named after their wolf-skin standard and papakhas (hat).

Locally recruited Basmachi guerrillas pose with their Soviet commissar and advisor. During the 1920s elements of the native populations of the Soviet Union’s central Asian provinces waged an unsuccessful war against their Russian masters.

The German military had experience of partisan/guerrilla warfare from its days as the colonial power in German East Africa (present-day Tanzania) when local uprisings were put down with ruthless brutality. These bandsmen are members of the German colonial forces. Indeed, a nephew of the German commander in this region when they suffered their greatest defeat rose to become head of Germany’s anti-bandit (partisan) warfare on the Eastern Front.

Partisan and guerrilla warfare can be loosely defined and differentiated in the following manner. Partisan troops are those members or affiliated members of the armed forces that are operating behind enemy lines, whereas guerrillas are generally civilians fighting against an occupying force. However, both terms are often used indiscriminately. In addition, the situation is not helped by the Axis use of the umbrella term partisans only to replace it with bandits to highlight the illegal and outlaw nature of the fighters.

In fact, partisans/guerrillas have a long and honourable lineage in Russian and Soviet military history stretching back to the Napoleonic Wars, when partisan units of Cossack and other mounted troops waged war on the Grand Army’s supply lines and rear before and during the retreat from Moscow. During the First World War partisan operations were undertaken by Cossacks and regular cavalry, groups of which infiltrated behind German and Austrian lines to carry out disruptive missions such as blowing up railway lines, intelligence gathering and kidnapping. Specialist units were established in the Cossack formations by order of the Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovitch, the Ataman of Cossack forces at the front during 1915, but reports on their achievements were such that the majority were disbanded. Nevertheless, some units, such as Shkuro’s Wolves, acquitted themselves well. Following the revolution of March 1917, Russia’s armed forces began to go into gradual decline and as that fateful year drew to a close the Bolshevik coup of November led to open civil war that spread across the empire now turned republic. Over the next four years partisan and guerrilla formations of all shapes, sizes and levels of effectiveness flashed across the vastness of Russia from the mountains of the Caucasus, across the steppes of Ukraine, the tundra and forests of Siberia to the coastlines of the Pacific Ocean. As the Soviet government emerged from the civil war victorious and extended its somewhat tenuous grip across the provinces, names such as that of Chapayev became known to the public of the USSR as one of the partisan leaders who had contributed to the destruction of ‘interventionists and counter revolutionaries’. Indeed, the lauding of partisan leaders and groups formed almost a staple of Soviet popular culture into the mid-1930s. Furthermore, the value of partisan warfare was seriously studied by the higher echelons of the Soviet military.

In parallel, Soviet military theory during the 1920s and into the 1930s included the use of partisan formations to disrupt invaders’ lines of supply, communications and reinforcement.

Plans were laid for the establishment of secret bases along anticipated invasion routes to supply partisan groups who would train in the use of ‘captured weapons and equipment’. Local forces would be supported by specialists, such as radio operators and demolition experts, who would be parachuted in. Some work and training was under taken by the Ukrainian Military District in the years leading up to 1936. However, Stalin, increasingly suspicious of the armed forces, was, like Hitler, a military theorist and a firm believer in the offensive as the ultimate strategy. Furthermore, any thoughts that a war would be fought on Soviet territory were anathema to him. Equally unappealing was the prospect of encouraging and arming elements of the populace in the very areas where famine, disease and starvation stalked the land in the wake of his disastrous agricultural policy of forced collectivisation. Training such victims in the ways of partisan and guerilla warfare was not to be encouraged. Consequently, as the infamous purges of the armed forces decimated the officer corps, thoughts of any war waged on Soviet land was replaced by offensive operations beyond the frontiers and the partisan bases already built were allowed to revert to their natural condition whilst the plans mouldered on shelves in the archives. Another major aspect of partisan warfare that Stalin wished actively to eliminate was the very set of characteristics that made for effective leadership in partisan groups: the ability to think and plan independently beyond the control of Moscow; the capacity to adapt to local circumstances as required; and the charisma to hold together such a group in times of danger and low morale. Lumped together, these characteristics were known disparagingly as Partisanshchina–a trait not to be encouraged in a totalitarian regime.

It was the shock of the Axis invasion that would regenerate the need for partisan warfare on a scale unimaginable only a few years before as the people, not only the armed forces, would be called upon to fight a ruthless invader.

Minsk race course witnessed the partisans’ grand parade on 17 July 1944. As one participant recalled, ‘They were met with enthusiasm, they marched proudly with medals on (their) chests! They were the winners!’ Dozens of units were represented and hundreds of fighters marched past the podium where Ponomarenko took the salute alongside other Party luminaries. The final order to the partisans was to, ‘start preparations for (their) disbandment.

Often overlooked, due to the scale of partisan operations behind AGC, the partisan formations to the rear of AGN were to take centre stage as 1944 dawned. During 1942 there had been little activity in the north but the Leningrad Partisan HQ had worked hard to increase the number and efficiency of the units it oversaw. Consolidation of small bands into larger ones and a ruthless review of the qualities of the leaders resulted, by the summer of 1943, in a considerably more effective force. As the area under the control of the LPHQ was smaller than that of, for example, Belarus communications, control and co-ordination were simpler. By the end of 1943 10 partisan brigades, numbering ‘35,000 active fighters and thousands of auxiliaries’ were in place. During October 1943 Fifth Partisan Brigade captured the town of Plijusa on the Luga–Pskov rail line to prevent the deportation of the civilian population. This action was replicated by other formations across the rear of AGN. Indeed, it was the groundswell of popular disaffection that was to lead to Hitler’s decision to withdraw to the Panther Line when the Red Army offensive was gaining momentum four months later.

The Soviets intended to drive AGN away from the Leningrad district into the Baltic States and began their attack on 14 January 1944. Partisan attacks did not begin until virtually all the security troops had been committed to the front line. It was on the evening of 16 January that the partisans began to interfere with the railways by destroying Tolmachevo station. The following night a more general series of attacks on security posts and the track itself were carried out. By 20 January the railway situation was described as ‘tense’ and in some areas as ‘completely paralysed’. Supply and troop transports ground to a halt as partisan attacks increased ‘tremendously’. The 8th Jaeger Division took four days to move and then only partially into position, three days later than anticipated due to the mining of both road and railway. As the Germans withdrew, NKVD personnel were parachuted into Estonia and Latvia to organise partisan groups. By mid-February the Eighth Leningrad Partisan Brigade was identified heading for Latvia. Active measures by the HSSPF Ostland had drafted thousands of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Schuma troops to deal with this threat–they succeeded, intercepting the partisans in a series of running fights. The majority of the partisans from the Leningrad region had been enrolled in the Red Army but the surviving infiltrators behind AGN confined their activities to propaganda and intelligence work due to the general antipathy of the locals to the prospect of Soviet liberation.

Far to the south in Ukraine Medvedev and Kovpak’s units still continued their combat and propaganda missions. The Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian Partisan Movement, Colonel General Strokach, was, by late 1943, closely connected with the regular army and expanding his role to look beyond the borders of the USSR. Rather than just sending partisan units behind Axis lines, where the fighting with nationalists was increasing and with much of Ukraine back under Soviet control, Strokach’s staff began to train pro-Soviet partisans for operations in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Whatever motives were announced for these activities during the winter of 1943–1944, the long-term aim was to lay the foundations for future Communist regimes in those countries. Czechoslovakia, of which only Slovakia nominally existed, and Poland both had governments in exile in Britain, of which Stalin fundamentally disapproved. However, both had partisan movements and those of Poland were mainly anti-Soviet. The Polish Home Army (the AK) was a large, active and well-organised force that operated in both German and Soviet-claimed Poland. The AK wanted a return to Poland’s pre-1939 frontiers which effectively put it at odds with the USSR’s claims to western Ukraine and Belarus. The Ukrainian Partisan Staff was, therefore, to bend its efforts to create a pro-Soviet, Communist partisan force to match the AK in those areas. By January 1944 the Red Army had crossed into pre-war Polish territory into land Moscow coveted. The Polish government in exile had ordered the AK to support Soviet operations, but Polish partisans could not be mobilised into the Soviet-sponsored Polish Army. In western Ukraine and Galicia NKVD partisan units, such as those of Medvedev, and those organised by Strokach operated regardless of international boundaries. When a frontier was crossed the unit commander would open his sealed orders that generally read that he should ‘act according to the existing conditions’. Fighting promptly broke out with the AK when the Soviets began to bring the tiny GL (Guardija Ludowa) into play. The GL was a Polish Communist Party partisan group. Members of the GL were flown to a Ukrainian Partisan Staff’s training camp where they had prepared for operations in Poland. In April 1944 the Polish Staff for the Partisan Movement was set up in Rovno, overseen by Strokach, to control the GL units that were now operating against the Germans, the AK and the Ukrainian nationalists. At the same time the Czechoslovak Communist Party appealed to Moscow for help in waging a partisan war. Once again a training cadre was taken in by Strokach’s staff. During the spring and summer of 1944 bases were established, particularly in Slovakia, and covert recruitment of local partisans began. Their situation was helped by the Red Air Force that flew in supplies almost at will due to the Luftwaffe’s weakness over Eastern Europe.

Finally, on 28 August 1944 the Slovaks rose up against their pro-Nazi government, but the country was, during the course of the next week, overrun by a motley collection of German troops. A Soviet attempt to alleviate the situation, by elements of First Ukrainian Front battling its way through the Carpathian Mountains, failed. By the end of October the Slovakian Uprising was over, but, nevertheless, some stragglers fought on in the mountains. The Soviet effort in Slovakia was certainly greater than that made to support the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944. When that tragic event ended in the defeat of the AK there were many stragglers who made their way east. With the AK apparently a broken force, Stalin directed the NKVD to round-up any units found in Soviet territory. Interestingly, such partisans were referred to in NKVD reports as, ‘illegal formations, rebels or bandits’. Indeed, round-ups of AK fighters had been going on for months prior to the Warsaw Uprising. One unit, answering the call to go to Warsaw in July to reinforce the forthcoming uprising, had arrived east of the city at the same time as the Red Army. Having liberated several villages in the wake of the retreating Germans, they suddenly radioed a message, un-coded, that was intercepted in Britain, ‘they [Red Army] are approaching us . . . they are disarming us’. The foundations were being laid for the Soviet liberation of Poland.

For the Soviet partisans the stage for its most impressive operation had been set several months before. During the winter of 1943–1944 the Soviet fronts facing AGC had been relatively quiet. Hitler, convinced that the next series of Soviet offensives would continue to push against AGS, had split that front into two, Army Group South Ukraine (AGSU) and Army Group North Ukraine (AGNU). The latter was expected to be the target and, therefore, was the strongest in terms of armour. The southern flank of AGC ran south-west from Bobruisk just below the Pripet Marshes to a point west of Lutsk and the AGNU and AGSU took over with fronts that sloped eastwards to the Black Sea west of Odessa.

From the spring of 1944 onwards Moscow had received a stream of intelligence reports that detailed AGC’s order of battle and defensive preparations. More and more partisan and NKVD intelligence-gathering operations were carried out. Before this the NKVD had tended to act alone due to a lack of trust in partisans other than their own units. The reason for this was simple: the NKVD was afraid of its agents falling into the hands of German-run ‘mock partisan’ bands who operated in the hope of flushing out the real thing and bandit sympathisers. However, the orders under which the partisans now operated did not come from the CHQPM, as that body had been wound up on 13 January 1944.

The responsibility for the partisans now rested with the Communist Party of the appropriate republic and its local regional hierarchy. The partisans were directed, by the Belorussian Communist Party’s Central Committee, to cease operations behind AGC to encourage the Germans to reinforce their belief that the offensive was aimed at AGNU. Then, on 20 June, they unleashed another Operation Rail War. This time the targets were the one heavy capacity, double-tracked line and the five lower capacity lines on which AGC depended. The few-surviving German records are slim but indicate almost two-thirds of the 4,000 demolition attempts succeeded, ‘the lines Minsk–Orsha and Mogilev–Vitebsk were especially hard hit and almost completely paralysed for several days’. The Soviets calculated that ‘the partisan bands blew up 40,000 rails and derailed 147 trains’. Roads were mined and convoys attacked.

Operation Bagration burst across the lines of AGC in a series of waves from 22 June 1944, three years to the day after Operation Barbarossa had provoked the Great Patriotic War, as the Soviets termed it. However, as the Red Army advanced up to 50km per day, AGC began to collapse, the partisans came out into the open. Several units had been ordered to ambush and mount delaying attacks on retreating German forces and to try and secure river crossings. The latter efforts were generally unsuccessful but the former were not. As German units, escaping from cities such as Vitebsk, disintegrated under air and artillery fire, the partisans, eager for revenge, struck. With no facilities for and probably less inclination to take prisoners, the partisans, their numbers augmented by any civilians inclined to pick up a gun, wreaked a fearful toll. No figures are available but it is estimated that up to 20,000 German troops died trying to escape from the Vitebsk encirclement. Similar episodes occurred throughout Belarus during the last week of June and into July. Within a week the Red Army had reached and crossed the Berezina River and on 3 July entered Minsk, capital of Belarus. AGC had dissolved in less than a month.

Across Belarus thousands of partisans were drafted into the regular army, whilst others took the opportunity to go ‘Fritz hunting’ alongside special army units tasked with flushing out German stragglers, of which there were thousands wandering amidst the marshes and forests.

The partisan parade in Minsk effectively signalled the end of the ‘amateur’ partisan.

Now it was the time for the NKVD, the ‘professionals’, such as Vershigora’s 1st Ukrainian Partisan Division, to head west to continue with their old and new tasks. A partisan medal, in two classes, was struck and issued liberally. In the Baltic States and Ukraine nationalist partisans fought on against Soviet rule for over a decade. Simultaneously, the Soviet partisan movement rapidly became enshrined in many, somewhat embellished, official histories, films and other media forms.

Whilst there is no doubting the vileness of German rule in the occupied territories, there are grounds for doubting some of the tales of the partisans’ achievements, but such histories are always written by the victors. Nevertheless, for the ordinary men and women who lived and fought against the invader it was a time in their lives of which they have every right to be justly proud. There is no doubt that they made a definite contribution to the victory over the Third Reich by their very defiance.

Partisan Warfare in the Rear of Eastern German Army Groups I

A group of partisans stand by the remains of a supply train. They are wearing what appear to be paratrooper jump suits. NKVD and army partisan formations wore as much uniform clothing as they could to help distinguish themselves from the civilian population; it was also a matter of pride in their appearance.

Formation and Composition

Partisan warfare—an old Russian method of combat—has always played a major part in the domestic and foreign conflicts of the Russian people. The Communist state long recognized the importance of employing partisans in the wide-open, sparsely-populated Russian spaces. Soviet leadership, therefore, made partisan warfare an important combat arm, centrally controlled from Moscow. Basing their planning on the extensive experience obtained in the civil war (1918–21), the Russians, prior to the Second World War, made certain preparations which linked partisan organization to the framework of the secret police. During this same period they carried these preparations a step further by publishing service regulations on partisan warfare.

The extensive pre-military training of Russian youths of both sexes, and the control exercised over factory labor forces, facilitated the formation of partisan units. The number of men and women thus trained was so great that at the beginning of World War II—even after mobilization and evacuation of entire labor force—there were still sufficient numbers of trained civilians left in the theater of operations to form the nuclei of partisan units. Soldiers who had lost their units during the initial engagements, as well as entire combat units that had escaped capture during the major battles of encirclement in 1941, joined partisan units or formed new ones. Even completely untrained persons were enrolled in the partisan units, either voluntarily or by force. The winter of 1941–42 marked the beginning of a large-scale organization, although small bands were active before that time.

During the course of the war the partisan units grew to such an extent that they could be considered elements of the Red Army. Staff officers, specialists, agents, radiomen, and other important key personnel were brought to the partisan units either through gaps in the frontline or by air. The mission of these units was to disrupt the German supply system and to harass the German combat forces by attacks from the rear in order to facilitate the combat operations of the regular Russian forces.

Personal initiative played an important part in partisan warfare, and the individual partisan leaders were given unusually extensive authority. Highly centralized control of the partisan units was considered undesirable. Wherever a person suitable for leading a partisan unit stayed behind after the withdrawal of the Red Army, a band would form. It was mainly the capabilities of these leaders which determined the strength and combat effectiveness of the partisan units and their organization, rather than the available manpower, local conditions, or the equipment that could be found.

The organization and strength of the many partisan units varied greatly. There were bands of a few men adjacent to units numbering several thousands. The designations given to some of the units were no indication of their strength. The preferred designation of “brigade” was used even for small bands of platoon strength. Small units with less than 50 men needed no special organization. Normally, they assembled for a specific operation, after which they dispersed and continued with their everyday chores or disappeared from sight. Mobile, large, combat-effective partisan units of from 50 to 1,000 men were organized according to military principles. Only these large units or well-camouflaged small bands could afford to operate on a continuous basis.

Weapons and Ammunition

The partisan groups that formed in 1941–42 gathered their initial supply of weapons and ammunition from the battlefields where great quantities were scattered. Large partisan units even had heavy infantry weapons which they recovered in quantity from the battlefields. Because of their rapid advance, the Germans had been unable to recover or destroy this matériel. The partisans were also able to recover some of the Russian weapons and ammunition used for pre-military training in peacetime, which had been distributed all over the country in many small, well-hidden dumps at the beginning of the war. During their withdrawal the regular Russian forces had often hidden weapons, ammunition, and equipment for the use of the partisans. In one instance, the 11th Kalinin Partisan Brigade even had several tanks, which had been dug in and hidden in the Idritsa forests [east of the Latvian border] by regular Soviet troop units. Russian mines that had been employed in great quantities and had not been disarmed by the Germans during their rapid advance, were removed by the partisans and reused. They also improvised mines from duds and explosives.

When the partisans left their territory, they hid weapons, ammunition, and in fact everything they were unable to take along. Such hidden depots, containing large quantities of weapons and ammunition, were uncovered quite frequently.

The steadily increasing need and consumption of weapons, ammunition, and explosives could not possibly, however, be satisfied for any length of time by thefts from German supply installations and by raids on German troops, supply columns, and supply trains. Such items had to be resupplied regularly. In addition to such small arms as rifles, especially automatic rifles and rifles with silencers, light machine guns, pistols, submachine guns, and daggers, the partisans needed heavy infantry weapons, such as mortars, light antitank guns, and dismounted guns, as well as ammunition and weapons spare parts. They also had a very great need for mines and explosives used in sabotage operations.

Without air transport, it would have been impossible for the Russians to supply the partisans with weapons, ammunition, mines, and explosives. Airlifting these items over the battle front was the primary mission of the air transport supply system.


Since there was no general shortage of manpower in the partisan-dominated areas, only partisan command and staff personnel, specialists and agents had to be brought in by air. Regular troops were, however, continually being moved in by airlift to raise the combat efficiency of the partisans. They had been trained as lower-echelon commanders, indoctrinated as communists, and possessed special qualifications. In addition, regular training cadres were assigned to partisan units from among the officers and NCO’s of the Red Army. This strengthened the units and put their training under partial control of the Red Army. Other replacements sent to the units included sabotage and reconnaissance detachments. Such specialists as radio operators, technicians, doctors, and nurses were also airlifted to the partisans.

Rotation of personnel also took place by airlift. Highly successful partisans were brought to the zone of interior for rest and recreation as well as to receive decorations. In addition, propaganda officers and top-echelon officials were flown on brief visits to the partisans to strengthen their morale in general and to decorate deserving personnel. (Other areas of morale-building were not neglected, for even psychological warfare pamphlets, political writings and propaganda movies were airlifted to the partisan areas. The delivery of mail to the partisans was most important for morale purposes. This function was accomplished by the army postal organization of the Red Army, and all mail was strictly censored.)

Another major airlift mission was to deliver airborne troops to partisan-held airfields and to maintain the flow of supplies to the airlanded forces. Messengers and agents were flown between Moscow and the partisans, carrying orders and directives and taking back reports and information.

On return flights the supply transports served as personnel carriers. They transported wounded partisans, Russian prisoners of war who had escaped from German camps, Russian flying crews who had bailed out and reached the partisans, important German prisoners who were taken to higher Russian headquarters for questioning, and draftees for the Red Army.

Missions, Combat Methods, Command Functions

The overall mission of the partisans was to combat the Germans with every means and wherever possible without getting involved in any action that would reduce their own strength.

Their sphere of activity was behind the German front. They concentrated on destruction by demolition and mining (mainly railroads, roads, bridges, and other construction works, plants of any kind, airfields, communications installations, ammunition, POL, and supply dumps of all types, and billets), poisoning wells, attacks on individual soldiers and small units, transport columns, motor vehicle convoys, etc., as well as all types of sabotage and espionage. In addition to destructive activities, the partisans were charged with the preparation of landing fields for supply aircraft and airborne troops.

Whereas at the beginning of partisan activities the relationship of such operations behind the German lines to the strategic objectives of the Red Army was not obvious (each band attacking wherever it had an opportunity to do so), this relationship became clearly recognizable during the winter of 1941–42, when German Army Group Center was forced to withdraw. At that time the partisan operations carried out in the rear of the German combat zone to prevent the flow of replacements and supplies to the front obviously fitted into the overall Red Army strategy. In addition, major strategic tasks were assigned to the large partisan units, which had to liberate or control entire areas behind the German lines so that the Red Army could use such territories for unimpeded thrusts. Indeed, the actions of the partisans often permitted the Germans to draw conclusions regarding the Russian plan of operations.

The areas in which the partisans remained and operated had not been prearranged according to a military plan. Rather, the availability of personnel was the determining factor. But particular local conditions also were of great significance since the partisans needed hideouts, preferably in inaccessible terrain such as deep forests and swamps. (Eventually, many bands were transferred from the areas where they had been organized to other areas where they were to be committed; in some instances bands moved away on their own.) Within their camp areas the partisans usually built well-camouflaged shelters, posted guards, and sent out reconnaissance patrols. To be able to escape unnoticed if necessary, they prepared new paths that were kept secret from the civilian population. However, even in densely populated areas partisan bands were able to maintain themselves if they were protected by the civilian population. Ruins of bombed cities were good hideouts. During daylight hours, the partisans remained in their hideouts, almost all movements being carried out at night. Indeed, so mobile were these groups that the Germans repeatedly found instances where they had traveled as much as 44 miles in one night.

Partisan units attempted for the most part to avoid combat. Inferior German forces that came too close to them, however, were usually assaulted from ambush. If the partisans were faced by superior forces, they rarely put up a serious defense, even if their camp had been prepared for sustained defense. By the stubborn defense of a few well-camouflaged centers of resistance they attempted to fight a delaying action in order that the bulk of the unit might have an opportunity to escape. Breakout was attempted either by strong forces concentrating in a small area or by individual partisans slipping through the ring of encirclement.

Radio equipment was essential for the maintenance of communications, especially with the central command staff at Moscow. Radiomen who had been specially trained, and equipped with special sets, were flown into the partisan infested areas. Female partisans were preferred as personal messengers: dressed as innocent peasant women they often covered long distances cross-country and, if necessary, even crossed the two frontlines.

The conduct of partisan forces in combat corresponded closely to infantry tactics. Typical characteristics were the use of ruse and deception, skill in camouflage, extreme mobility in every situation, and the exploitation of all terrain features. The frugality and kinship with nature of the average partisan were great advantages. The combat effectiveness of a small partisan group usually equalled that of a strong reconnaissance squad. Major units were equal to an infantry battalion or even a regiment equipped with heavy weapons.

The exercise of command functions within partisan units was very strict. The leaders, who operated independently, exercised their functions without restrictions and with brutal force. Even the smallest infraction was almost invariably punished by death, if such an infraction was contrary to the interests of the group or if it resulted from internal intrigues or insubordination. Whoever was under the slightest suspicion of treason was simply eliminated, and joint family liability was an accepted fact. In this manner the leader maintained close control over the members of his group and assured secrecy. The groups were not correlated and regional chains of command were not introduced, probably because any such action would have harmed the prestige of the individual partisan leaders.

The central command staff—the partisan warfare command staff—was located in Moscow. At first, it was commanded by an important political leader, later on Marshal Voroshilov was appointed chief of staff of the partisan movement. Under his leadership guerrilla warfare was developed according to a planned program and became a centrally organized means of combat.

Principal Partisan Areas

Army Group Center. Whereas the territory of Army Group South (Ukraine) and Army Group North (Baltic States) offered no very favorable conditions for partisan warfare, Army Group Center was very soon forced to engage in anti-partisan warfare, since it entered White Russian territory immediately after crossing the Polish-Russian border.8 Typical of partisan activities at the beginning of the campaign was an action which occurred along the northern flank of Army Group Center. On the first day of the offensive against Russia, 22 June 1941, a partisan group appeared in the rear of advancing German forces in Lithuania. The spearhead division of the German V Corps invaded Russia from the area east and north-east of the pre-war Polish city of Suwalki, (1) which had been occupied by the Germans after the Polish campaign. The division broke through the Russian border positions, and by evening German elements formed a bridgehead across the Niemen River [15 miles south of Alytus], near Kristoniai, Suddenly, armed civilians appeared to the rear, at the village of Seirijai—six miles west of the bridgehead—ambushed a German bridge column, and fired from houses in the village on passing German troops. A reinforced regiment had to be committed against this partisan group that was apparently hiding in a forest near Seirijai. It took an entire day to flush the forest, and even so the 400 to 500 men belonging to the unit were not completely annihilated since some 25 percent escaped. After the fighting was over, the Germans found that while the majority of the force consisted of Russian civilians of the upper class who had settled in the area after the U.S.S.R. had occupied Lithuania, the nucleus of the force was formed by Russian soldiers who had been cut off by the German breakthrough and had put on civilian clothes.

After the Germans had consolidated their situation during the winter of 1941–42, the Russians massed strong partisan units in German rear areas in order to cause a decisive disruption of the German build-up and supply system. The principal partisan areas were the forests of Uzda (2), those areas north, north-east and east of Slutsk (3), the area east and south-east of Minsk (4), and the forests astride the Minsk-Bobruysk railroad (5). These partisan groups were at that time in the formative stage and rarely operated at strengths above 100 to 300 men. They disrupted railroads, without however blowing up bridges or raiding German strong points along the tracks. They did not blow up road bridges, but they did mine roadbeds by night and ambush isolated motor vehicles.

Major partisan centers, where several thousands of men were operating, existed in the forest areas south of the Bryansk-Vigonishi line (6), and in the forests around Kletnya (7), where groups of one thousand men or more were hiding. These strong groups were very active, blowing up railroad tracks, firing at trains, and attacking German strong points along the tracks. The partisans built airfields west of Kletnya and along the northern fringe of the forest area east of Zhukovka (8). Other partisan airfields were situated at the point about half-way between Bryansk and Roslavl where the rail-line crosses the Desna River (8), in the area west of Karachev (6), and about ten miles south of there.

One of these very active partisan groups—the so-called Force Ruda, composed of some 500 men—led by a particularly audacious man, operated mainly west of Bryansk, attacking the Bryansk-Gomel railway and highway. Several German attempts to eliminate Force Ruda failed. The base camp of the force was located deep in a forest surrounded by swamps in an area west of Bryansk. Finally, in December 1942 the base camp was captured. Although Ruda was killed, some of the force escaped after heavy losses. An extensive camp with tons of ammunition, quantities of small arms and equipment of all kinds, and sufficient rations for several months were captured.

From January to March 1942, during the withdrawal from the outskirts of Moscow, the German armies lost contact with one another at several points. Russian troops streamed through the large gaps in an effort to outflank the Germans and get into their rear areas. These Russian forces, in conjunction with the partisan groups in German rear areas, attempted to cut the few remaining lines of communication. By airlifting regular troops and supplies, the Russians reinforced these partisans, who were particularly active in the west and south-west of Vyazma (9, 10) in the extensive forests of Bogoroditsk (11), and in the Yelnya (12) area. They were probably part of the major partisan force operating in conjunction with the Russian I Cavalry Corps (Corps Belov) that fought in the Yelnya-Dorogobuzh-Yartsevo (12) area in the rear of the German Fourth Army.

Part of the large concentration of partisans in the area south-west of Rzev near Olenino (13) was probably the Grishin force which later moved into the area south-west of Smolensk (14). This group, numbering from 1,000 to 2,000 men, was pursued throughout the entire army area from north to south and then again to the north, during which time the force apparently split up. But the Grishin force, after it had suffered losses and had been exhausted by extended periods of fighting, always had access to the large, almost inaccessible and well-equipped partisan camps located in the Mamayevka forest north of Pocher (15), in the forests south-west of Mogilev (16), north-east of Bobruysk(17), and in the Tschetschessk (18) area north-west of Gomel. In these refuges the partisans could rest and re-equip themselves without being disturbed. The Grishin force operated in the Orsha (19) area until the end of 1942, conducting above all demolition raids along the Smolensk-Vitebsk-Polotsk (20) railroad, attacking strong points, and raiding villages. Strong German countermeasures eventually led Grishin to move to the area south of Smolensk (21). The partisan group probably split up in the process, with one element remaining in the Smolensk area while the other moved to the south-east. This latter group was believed to have reorganized its forces in the Mamayevka forest, where shelter and supplies were available and where German troops found access difficult. At least two partisan airfields were identified in this general area, one being located south-west of Rzev near Olenino (13) and the other south-east of Smolensk.

In January 1943 a strong and well-equipped partisan group traveling on sleds—this was the Grishin force again—crossed the Iput river and, advancing from the north-east, raided the German strong points along the Surazh-Klimovichi (22) railroad. The partisans were repelled, but succeeded in breaking through to the west. They were traced to west of Gordeyevka (23), where they had stopped to recruit among the hitherto fairly quiet population of this area. A battalion of German security troops, that had been specially equipped for winter commitment and issued sleds, finally tracked down the partisans, numbering about 1,000 men, in deep snow near Isavinka, north-east of Gomel (24). Forced to fight, the partisans suffered heavy losses before they were able to escape to the south.

Soon afterward the Grishin force was identified in the swamps south to south-east of Zlynka (25). This time the partisans were flushed from their hideout, leaving behind their sick and wounded, their equipment and personal belongings. They escaped southward and disappeared from the Army Group Center area for the time being, remaining for several months in the Sozh-Dnepr triangle (26) without being active. An increasing number of incidents in the area between Bobruysk and Mogilev, especially demolitions along the Rogachev-Mogilev railroad (16a), brought the Grishin group once more to the attention of the Germans. Grishin and his men were identified in the almost inaccessible swamps north-east of Bobruysk (17), appearing once again in great strength and fully equipped. It was not until August 1943 that very strong German troop units succeeded in encircling the Grishin force and in inflicting very heavy losses. But Grishin and combat effective elements of his group broke the ring of encirclement and escaped eastward across the Dnepr. The considerably weakened group reassembled north of Propoysk [70 miles north of Gomel] in the Pronja swamps. In the following month, however, the Grishin force was again active in its new location north of Propoysk and east of the Pronja river. Attacks were made on 30 miles of highway between Krichev and Propoysk. The partisans were encircled and pinned down in a narrow area where most of the group was destroyed, although Grishin and some of his men escaped westward across the Dnepr.

In the early summer of 1943 the Germans obtained information that the partisan staff planning the attacks against the rail line near Borisov (28) had its headquarters at Daliki, in the forests and swamps 10 miles south of Lepel (29). This staff was destroyed during a well-prepared operation.

The large forest area south of Bryansk (6) was also a jump-off area for partisan raids. During the spring of 1943, when the Germans assembled forces for the Kursk offensive and moved many trains along the Smolensk-Bryansk and Minsk-Gomel-Bryansk lines, the partisans continuously disrupted transports by blowing up tracks. In even more effective raids, they overcame the German guards and blew up the two railroad bridges across the Desna river close to Bryansk in March and demolished the Besed river bridge along the Krichev-Unecha line (22) in April. The attacks on secondary rail lines in the Kursk area continued even after the German offensive on Kursk had failed in the summer of 1943, when German reinforcements had to be moved up to stem the Russian assaults against the Orel salient. The large partisan units operating along the Minsk-Gomel and Orsha-Mogilev tracks also resumed their activities.

There was evidence that large partisan bands were located two hundred miles to the west during the winter of 1943–1944. These groups had even built airfields near Mozyr, south of Bobruysk, and north of Slutsk.

During the first six months of 1944, partisan attacks against troop transports and supplies moving up to stop the Russian offensive on both flanks of Army Group Center increased from month to month as the weather improved. The points of main partisan effort were the rail lines Brest-Kovel in January, Brest-Minsk-Orsha in March, and the area around Lepel (29) in May. On the night of 19/20 June a tremendous number of demolitions were carried out along the lines Pinsk-Luninets, Borisov-Orsha, and Molodechno-Polotsk  in preparation for the major Russian offensive against Army Group Center. These attacks resulted in an almost complete stoppage of railroad traffic along the crucial lines leading to the army group area. And at the end of June, strong partisan units interfered with the withdrawal of the German Fourth Army from the Dnepr on both sides of Mogilev. These groups operated out of the extensive forests and swamps of the Pripyat, in the triangle of Minsk-Bobruysk-Mogilev which during three years had been dominated by strong partisan units and had never been cleared, let alone occupied, by German troops. Operating in conjunction with regular Red Army units, the partisans obstructed the German withdrawal across the Pripyat swamps toward Minsk.

Army Group Center—Anti-partisan Warfare

Army Group South.

As early as 1941, shortly after the capture of the Crimean peninsula, partisan units appeared in the Yaila Mountains (36). During 1943–44 the Russians organized very strong partisan units in the Crimea and supplied them by airlift. Even though the Germans employed several divisions, they were unable to capture the partisans. Indeed, the Germans never established firm control over the Yaila Mountains area before they withdrew from the Crimea, and motor vehicles could cross these mountains only under convoy protection. Vehicles driving to and from the south coast were attacked in very skillfully staged surprise raids during which the partisans used all types of small arms and, after 1943, mortars of various calibers.

In 1944, after the Crimea had been cut off from the mainland and the Russians had secured a foothold on the Kerch peninsula (36a), partisans became active in this hitherto quiet area. They attacked motor vehicles and isolated soldiers in broad daylight along the Kerch-Feodosiya road. After several unsuccessful attempts to find their hideout, the partisans were found to be located in several underground quarries south-west, west, and north of Kerch. Only after all exits had been blocked and several determined breakouts had been frustrated, was it possible to exterminate the group by starvation following a final breakout attempt during which the majority of the partisans were killed.

In September 1943, partisans were active on the northern wing of Army Group South.30 In the Dnepr bend south of Pereyaslav-Khmel ‘Nitskiy (37) a partisan unit that had existed there for some time suddenly made its presence felt while the northernmost units of the German Eighth Army, withdrawing westward, were crossing the Dnepr about 75 miles south-east of Kiev near Kanev. These partisan groups, which maintained constant signal and messenger communications with the approaching Red Army units, received the Russian paratroopers who were dropped on 24 September west of the Dnepr Bend and north-west and south-west of Kanev in order to form an enlarged bridgehead in conjunction with the Russian attacks out of the Dnepr Bend. Another partisan unit operating in the primeval-like forests west of Cherkassy (38) was also supposed to receive airborne troops at the same time. These troops, however, were not committed, probably because of the failure of the paratroop operation. The partisan-infested area west of Cherkassy was an open sore in the German lines of communication. It often became acute and could never be completely eliminated by the Germans, who lacked the necessary forces.

In addition to the partisans operating in the Dnepr area from Kanev to Cherkassy, the southernmost reaches of the river were also infested. Indeed, centers of partisan resistance existed all along the western bank of the Dnepr in the extensive forests up to the Kremenchug (39) area.

Army Group North.

During the indecisive fighting of the second half of the winter of 1941–42, confusion reigned along the northernmost sector of the German front (Sixteenth and Eighteenth Armies). Terrain conditions were ideal for partisan activities. From the German lines south of Lake Ilmen there was a narrow passage to the Demyansk pocket, in which the Russians had encircled German troops some 50 miles south-east of Lake Ilmen. Behind the pocket a thinly occupied line of strong points led southward to Kholm (41) which was also encircled. Behind that line sparsely settled swamp land covered some 30 square miles and extended westward to the railroad hub of Dno, the main railhead of Sixteenth Army. This no-man’s-land was absolutely dominated by the partisans around Kholm who, when the snow melted in the spring of 1942, directed part of their efforts against the Dno railhead. Most of their activity, however, was concentrated against the rear area of the weak German strong points, the only line of communication from Staraya Russa, just below the southern shore of Lake Ilmen, to Kholm. Because of a chronic shortage of troops the Germans, despite all their efforts, never succeeded in exterminating the partisans. In the late summer of 1942 a reinforced infantry regiment, on a two-week expedition, attempted to capture the supposed main supply dump—so designated by deceptive partisan messages—but the guerrillas evaded the trap and moved northward to the forests of Luga (42). The Sixteenth Army was rid of its partisans, who then became the worry of Eighteenth Army. But by the following autumn Sixteenth Army had them back again.

During their withdrawal from the Leningrad area at the beginning of 1944, the German forces moving across the Luga area encountered strong and unexpected resistance from partisan units. Indeed, not only the areas around Luga, but also those of Pskov (43) and Nevel-Bezhanitsy-Idritsa (44) were infested with partisans until the Germans evacuated these areas in February 1944. German anti-partisan operations in these areas were never more than temporarily successful.

As the examples on the past few pages so clearly demonstrate, the scope and effectiveness of partisan warfare were such that it became a major factor in the campaign in the East. Without airlift, however, the logistical difficulties of the partisans would have been insurmountable.