Retreat Back to Poland Summer 1944 II

“The thrust is the best parry”

Worried by the threatening developments the day before on his front and flanks, Model, early on 23 July, predicted that the Russians would strike via L’vov to the San River, thrust past Lublin to Warsaw, encircle Second Army at Brest, advance on East Prussia across the Bialystok-Grodno line and by way of Kaunas, and attack past the army group left flank via Shaulyay to Memel or Riga. During the day Model’s concern, particularly for his south flank, grew to alarm as the Russians moved north rapidly between the Vistula and the Bug toward Siedlce, the main road junction between Warsaw and Brest. In the late afternoon, after several of his reports had gone unanswered, Model called to tell the Operations Branch, OKH, it was “no use sitting on one’s hands, there could be only one decision and that was to retreat to the Vistula-San line.” The branch chief replied that he agreed, but Guderian wanted to set a different objective. Later the army group chief of staff talked to Guderian, who quickly took up a proposal to create a strong tank force around Siedlce but would not hear of giving up any of the most threatened points. “We must take the offensive everywhere!” he demanded, “To retreat any farther is absolutely not tolerable.”

Before daylight the next morning Guderian had completed a directive which was issued over Hitler’s signature. Army Groups North and North Ukraine were to halt where they were and start attacking to close the gaps. Army Group Center was to create a solid front on the line Kaunas-Bialystok-Brest and assemble strong forces on both its flanks. These would strike north and south to restore contact with the neighboring army groups. All three army groups were promised reinforcements. The directive ended with the aphorism “The thrust is the best parry” (der Hieb ist die beste Parade). After reading the directive Model’s chief of staff told the OKH operations chief it would be seven days before the army groups would get any sizable reinforcements—in that time much could happen.

During the last week in the month the Soviet armies rolled west through the shattered German front. On 24 July First Panzer Army still held L’vov and its front to the south, but behind the panzer army’s flank, 50 miles west of L’vov, First Tank Army, Third Guards Tank Army, and the Cavalry-Mechanized Group Baranov had four tank and mechanized corps closing to the San River on the stretch between Jaroslaw and Przemysl. That day Fourth Panzer Army fell back 25 miles to a 40-mile front on the Wieprz River southeast of Lublin; off both its flanks the Russians tore open the front for a distance of 65 miles in the south and 55 miles in the north. Second Army had drawn its three right flank corps back to form a horizontal V with the point at Brest. Behind the army a Second Tank Army spearhead reached the outskirts of Siedlce at nightfall on the 24th, and during the day Forty-seventh and Seventieth Armies had turned in against the south flank.

To defend Siedlce, Warsaw, and the Vistula south to Pulawy, Model, on the 24th, returned Headquarters, Ninth Army, to the front and gave it the Hermann Göring Division, the SS Totenkopf Division, and two infantry divisions, the latter three divisions still in transit. From the long columns coming west across the Vistula, the army began screening out what troops it could. In Warsaw it expected an uprising any day.

The next day Fourth Tank Army crossed the San between Jaroslaw and Przemysl. To try to stop that thrust, Army Group North Ukraine, on orders from the OKH, took two divisions from Fourth Panzer Army and gave the army permission to withdraw to the Vistula. In the Ninth Army sector Rokossovskiy’s armor pierced a thin screening line around the Vistula crossings at Deblin and Pulawy and reached the east bank of the river.

Morning air reconnaissance on the 26th reported 1,400 Soviet trucks and tanks heading north past Deblin on the Warsaw road. At the same time, on the Army Group Center north flank reconnaissance planes located “endless” motorized columns moving west out of Panevezhis behind Third Panzer Army. During the day Second Army declared it could not hold Brest any longer, but Hitler and Guderian refused a decision until after midnight, by which time the corps in and around the city were virtually encircled.

In two more days First Panzer Army lost L’vov and fell back to the southwest toward the Carpathians. Fourth Panzer Army went behind the Vistula and beat off several attempts to carry the pursuit across the river. Ninth Army threw all the forces it could muster east of Warsaw to defend the city, hold Siedlce, and keep open a route to the west for the divisions coming out of Brest. South of Pulawy two Soviet platoons crossed the Vistula and created a bridgehead; Ninth Army noted that the Russians were expert at building on such small beginnings.

In the gap between Army Groups Center and North, Bagramyan’s motorized columns passed through Shaulyay, turned north, covered the fifty miles to Jelgava, and cut the last rail line to Army Group North. In a desperate attempt to slow that advance, Third Panzer Army dispatched one panzer division on a thrust toward Panevezhis. Hitler wanted two more divisions put in, but they could only have come from the front on the Neman, where the army was already losing its struggle to hold Kaunas.

The 29th brought Army Group Center fresh troubles. Nine rifle divisions and two guards tank corps hit the Third Panzer Army right flank on the Neman front south of Kaunas. Rokossovsky’s armor drove north past Warsaw, cutting the road and rail connections between the Ninth and Second Armies and setting the stage for converging attacks on Warsaw from the southeast, east, and north.

On the 30th the Third Panzer Army flank collapsed, the Russians advanced to Mariampol, twenty miles from the East Prussian border, and could have gone even farther had they so desired. Between Mariampol and Kaunas the front was shattered. In Kaunas and in the World War I fortifications east of the city two divisions were in danger of being ground to pieces as the enemy swung in behind them from the south. Model told Reinhardt that the army group could not grant permission to give up the city and it was useless to ask the OKH. Reinhardt replied, “Very well, if that is how things stand, I will save my troops”; at ten minutes after midnight he ordered the corps holding Kaunas to retreat to the Nevayazha River ten miles to the west.

On the Warsaw approaches during the day Second Tank Army came within seven miles of the city on the southeast and took Wolomin eight miles to the northeast. In the city shooting erupted in numerous places. In the San-Vistula triangle First Tank Army stabbed past Fourth Army and headed northwest toward an open stretch of the Vistula on both sides of Baranow. Off the tank army’s south flank the OKH gave the Headquarters, Seventeenth Army, command of two and a half divisions to try to plug the gap between Fourth Army and First Panzer Army.

On the last day of the month elements of a guards mechanized corps reached the Gulf of Riga west of Riga. Forty miles south of Warsaw Eighth Guards Army took a small bridgehead near Magnuszew. Between the Fourth and Seventeenth Armies, First Tank Army began taking its armor across the Vistula at Baranow. That day, too, for the first time, the offensive faltered: Bagramyan did not move to expand his handhold on the Baltic; apparently short of gasoline, the tanks attacking toward Warsaw suddenly slowed almost to a stop; a German counterattack west from Siedlce began to make progress; and General Ivan Danilovich Chernyakovsky did not take advantage of the opening between Mariampol and Kaunas.

At midnight on 31 July Hitler reviewed the total German situation in a long, erratic, monologue delivered to Jodl and a handful of other officers. The news from the West was also grim: there the Allies were breaking out of the Cotentin Peninsula, and on the 31st U.S. First Army had passed Avranches. Nevertheless, the most immediate danger, Hitler said, was in the East, because if the fighting reached into Upper Silesia or East Prussia, the psychological effects in Germany would be severe. As it was, the retreat was arousing apprehension in Finland and the Balkan countries, and Turkey was on the verge of abandoning its neutrality. What was needed was to stabilize the front and, possibly, win a battle or two to restore German prestige.

The deeper problem, as Hitler saw it, was “this human, this moral crisis,” in other words, the recently revealed officers’ conspiracy against him; he went on:

“In the final analysis, what can we expect of a front . . . . if one now sees that in the rear the most important posts were occupied by downright destructionists, not defeatists but destructionists. One does not even know how long they have been conspiring with the enemy or with those people over there [Seydlitz’s League of German Officers]. In a year or two the Russians have not become that much better; we have become worse because we have that outfit over there constantly spreading poison by means of the General Staff, the Quartermaster General, the Chief of Communications, and so on. If we overcome this moral crisis . . . in my opinion we will be able to set things right in the East.”

Fifteen new grenadier divisions and ten panzer brigades being set up, he predicted, would be enough to stabilize the Eastern Front. Being pushed into a relatively narrow space, he thought, was not entirely bad; it reduced the Army’s need for manpower-consuming service and support organizations.

The Recovery

In predicting that the front could be stabilized, Hitler came close to the mark. In fact, even his expressed wish for a victory or two was about to be partially gratified. Model was keeping his forces in hand, and he was gradually gaining strength. Having advanced, in some instances more than 150 miles, the Soviet armies were again getting ahead of their supplies. The flood had reached its crest. It would do more damage; but in places it could also be dammed and diverted.

Crosscurrents

On 1 August Third Panzer Army, not yet recovered from the beating it had taken between Kaunas and Mariampol, shifted the right half of its front into the East Prussia defense position. Third Belorussian Front, following close, cut through this last line forward of German territory in three places and took Vilkavishkis, ten miles east of the border. The general commanding the corps in the weakened sector warned that the Russians could be in East Prussia in another day.

The panzer army staff, set up in Schlossberg on the west side of the border, found being in an “orderly little German city almost incomprehensible after three years on Soviet soil.” But Reinhardt was shaken, almost horrified, when he discovered that the Gauleiter of East Prussia, Erich Koch, who was also civil defense commissioner for East Prussia, had not so much as established a plan for evacuating women and children from the areas closest to the front. The army group chief of staff said that he had been protesting daily and had been ignored; apparently Koch was carrying out a Führer directive.

In Warsaw on 1 August the Polish Armia Krajowa (Home Army), under General Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski, staged an insurrection. The Poles were trained and well-armed. They moved quickly to take over the heart of the city and the through streets, but the key points the insurgents needed to establish contact with the Russians, the four Vistula bridges and Praga, the suburb on the east bank, stayed in German hands. Worse yet for the insurgents, south of Wolomin the Hermann Göring Division, 19th Panzer Division, and SS Wiking Division closed in behind the III Tank Corps, which after sweeping north past Warsaw had slowed to a near stop on 31 July. In the next two or three days, while the German divisions set about destroying III Tank Corps, Second Tank Army shifted its effort away from Warsaw and began to concentrate on enlarging the bridgehead at Magnuszew, thirty-five miles to the south.

Stalin was obviously not interested in helping the insurgents achieve their objectives: a share in liberating the Polish capital and, based on that, a claim to a stronger voice in the post-war settlement for Premier Stanislaw Mikolajczyk’s British-and-American-supported exile government. On 22 July the Soviet Union had established in Lublin the hand-picked Polish Committee of National Liberation, which as one of its first official acts came out wholeheartedly in favor of the Soviet-proposed border on the old Curzon Line, the main point of contention between the Soviet Union and the Mikolajczyk government. That Mikolajczyk was then in Moscow (he had arrived on 30 July) negotiating for a free and independent Poland added urgency to the revolt but at the same time reduced the insurgents in Soviet eyes to the status of inconvenient political pawns.

Army Group North Ukraine on 1 August was in the second day of a counterattack, which had originally aimed at clearing the entire San-Vistula triangle, but which had been reduced before it started to an attempt to cut off the First Tank Army elements that had crossed the Vistula at Baranow. Although Seventeenth Army and Fourth Panzer Army both gained ground, they did not slow or, for that matter, much disturb Konev’s thrust across the Vistula. A dozen large pontoon ferries, capable of floating up to sixty tons, were transporting troops, tanks, equipment, and supplies of Third Guards Tank and Thirteenth Armies across the river. By the end of the day Fourth Panzer Army had gone as far as it could. The next afternoon the army group had to call a halt altogether. The divisions were needed west of the river where First Tank Army, backed by Third Guards Tank Army and Thirteenth Army, had forces strong enough to strike, if it chose, north toward Radom or southwest toward Krakow.

On the night of 3 August Model sent Hitler a cautiously optimistic report. Army Group Center, he said, had set up a continuous front from south of Shaulyay to the right boundary on the Vistula near Pulawy. It was thin—on the 420 miles of front thirty-nine German divisions and brigades faced an estimated third of the total Soviet strength—but it seemed that the time had come when the army group could hold its own, react deliberately, and start planning to take the initiative itself. Model proposed to take the 19th Panzer Division and the Hermann Göring Division behind the Vistula to seal off the Magnuszew bridgehead, to move a panzer division into the Tilsit area to support the Army Group North flank, and to use the Grossdeutschland Division, coming from Army Group South Ukraine, to counterattack at Vilkavishkis. He planned to free two panzer divisions by letting Second Army and the right flank of Fourth Army withdraw toward the Narew River. With luck, he thought, these missions could be completed by 15 August. After that, he could assemble six panzer divisions on the north flank and attack to regain contact with Army Group North.

For a change, fortune half-favored the Germans. The Hermann Göring Division and the 15th Panzer Division boxed in the Magnuszew bridgehead. Against the promise of a replacement in a week or so, Model gave up the panzer division he had expected to station near Tilsit. The division went to Army Group North Ukraine where Konev, after relinquishing the left half of his front to the reconstituted Headquarters, Fourth Ukrainian Front, under General Polkovnik Ivan Y. Petrov, was now also pushing Fourth Tank Army into the Baranow bridgehead. The bridgehead continued to expand like a growing boil but not as rapidly as might have been expected considering the inequality of the opposing forces.

In the second week of the month three grenadier divisions and two panzer brigades arrived at Army Group Center. On 9 August the Grossdeutschland Division attacked south of Vilkavishkis. Through their agents the Russians were forewarned. They were ready with heavy air support and two fresh divisions. This opposition blunted the German attack somewhat, but the Grossdeutschland Division took Vilkavishkis, even though it could not completely eliminate the salient north of the town before it was taken out and sent north on 10 August.

A Corridor to Army Group North

In the first week of August the most urgent question was whether help could be brought to Army Group North before it collapsed completely. On 6 August Schörner told Hitler that his front would hold until Army Group Center had restored contact, provided “not too much time elapsed” in the interval; his troops were exhausted, and the Russians were relentlessly driving them back by pouring in troops, often 14-year-old boys and old men, at every weak point on the long, thickly forested front. To Guderian he said that if Army Group Center could not attack soon, all that was left was to retreat south and go back to a line Riga-Shaulyay-Kaunas, and even that was becoming more difficult every day.

On 10 August Third Baltic and Second Baltic Fronts launched massive air and artillery-supported assaults against Eighteenth Army below Pskov Lake and north of the Dvina. They broke through in both places on the first day. Having no reserves worth mentioning, Schörner applied his talent for wringing the last drop of effort out of the troops. To one of the division commanders he sent the message: “Generalleutnant Charles de Beaulieu is to be told that he is to restore his own and his division’s honor by a courageous deed or I will chase him out in disgrace. Furthermore, he is to report by 2100 which commanders he has had shot or is having shot for cowardice.” From the Commanding General, Eighteenth Army, he demanded “Draconian intervention” and “ruthlessness to the point of brutality.”

To boost morale in Schörner’s command, the Air Force sent the Stuka squadron commanded by Major Hans Rudel, the famous Panzerknacker (tank cracker), who a few days before had chalked up his 300th Soviet tank destroyed by dive bombing. Hitler sent word on the 12th that Army Group Center would attack two days earlier than planned. From Königsberg the OKH had a grenadier division airlifted to Eighteenth Army.

Army Group Center began the relief operation on 16 August. Two panzer corps, neither fully assembled, jumped off west and north of Shaulyay. Simultaneously, Third Belorussian Front threw the Fifth, Thirty-third, and Eleventh Guards Armies against Third Panzer Army’s right flank and retook Vilkavishkis. During the day Model received an order appointing him to command the Western Theater. Reinhardt, the senior army commander, took command of the army group, and Generaloberst Erhard Raus replaced him as Commanding General, Third Panzer Army.

The next day, while the offensive on the north flank rolled ahead, Chernyakovsky’s thrust reached the East Prussian border northwest of Vilkavishkis. One platoon, wiped out before the day’s end, crossed the border and for the first time carried the war to German soil. In the next two days the Russians came perilously close to breaking into East Prussia.

On the extreme north flank of Third Panzer Army two panzer brigades, with artillery support from the cruiser Prinz Eugen standing offshore in the Gulf of Riga, on the 10th took Tukums and made contact with Army Group North. On orders from the OKH, the brigades were immediately put aboard trains in Riga and dispatched to the front below Lake Peipus. The next day Third Panzer Army took a firmer foothold along the coast from Tukums east and dispatched a truck column with supplies for Army Group North. On the East Prussian border the army’s front was weak and beginning to waver, but the Russians were by then concentrating entirely on the north and did not make the bid to enter German territory. Reinhardt told Guderian during the day that to expand the corridor and get control of the railroad to Army Group North through Jelgava would take too long. He recommended evacuating Army Group North. Guderian replied that he himself agreed but that Hitler refused on political grounds. The offensive continued through 27 August, when Hitler ordered a panzer division transferred to Army Group North.

At the end, the contact with Army Group North was still restricted to an 18-mile-wide coastal corridor. For the time being that was enough. On the last day of the month the Second and Third Baltic Fronts suddenly went over to the defensive.

The Battle Subsides

Throughout the zones of Army Groups Center and North Ukraine, the Soviet offensive, as the month ended, trailed off into random swirls and eddies. After taking Sandomierz on 18 August First Ukrainian Front gradually shifted to the defensive even though it had four full armies, three of them tank armies, jammed into its Vistula bridgehead. North of Warsaw First Belorussian Front had harried Second Army mercilessly as it withdrew toward the Narew, and in the first week of September, when the army went behind the river, took sizable bridgeheads at Serock and Rozan. But for more than two weeks Rokossovsky evinced no interest in the bridgehead around Warsaw, which Ninth Army was left holding after Second Army withdrew.

In Warsaw at the turn of the month the uprising seemed to be nearing its end. One reason why the insurgents had held out as long as they did was that the Germans had been unable and unwilling to employ regular troops in the house-to-house fighting. They had brought up various remote-controlled demolition vehicles, rocket projectors, and artillery—including a 24-inch howitzer—and had turned the operations against the insurgents over to General von dem Bach-Zelewski and SS-Gruppenführer Heinz Reinefarth. The units engaged were mostly SS and police and included such oddments as the Kaminski Brigade and the Dirlewanger Brigade. As a consequence, the fighting was carried on at an unprecedented level of viciousness without commensurate tactical results.

On 2 September Polish resistance in the city center collapsed and 50,000 civilians passed through the German lines. On the 9th Bor-Komorowski sent out two officer parliamentaries, and the Germans offered prisoner of war treatment for the members of the Armia Krajowa. The next day, in a lukewarm effort to keep the uprising alive, the Soviet Forty-seventh Army attacked the Warsaw bridgehead, and the Poles did not reply to the German offer. Under the attack, the 73d Infantry Division, a hastily rebuilt Crimea division, collapsed and in another two days Ninth Army had to give up the bridgehead, evacuate Praga, and destroy the Vistula bridges. The success apparently was bigger than the Stavka had wanted; on the 14th, even though 100 U.S. 4-motored bombers flew a support mission for the insurgents, the fighting subsided. Until 10 September the Soviet Government had refused to open its airfields to American planes flying supplies to the insurgents. On 18 September American planes flew a shuttle mission, but the areas under insurgent control were by then too small for accurate drops and a second planned mission had to be canceled.

During the night of 16-17 September Polish First Army, its Soviet support limited to artillery fire from the east bank, staged crossings into Warsaw. The Soviet account claims that half a dozen battalions of a planned three-division force were put across. The German estimates put the strength at no more than a few companies, and Ninth Army observed that the whole operation became dormant on the second day. The Poles who had crossed were evacuated on 23 September. On the 26th Bor-Komorowski sent parliamentaries a second time, and on 2 October his representatives signed the capitulation.

The psychological reverberations of the summer’s disasters continued after the battles died down. In September Reinhardt wrote Guderian that rumors in Germany concerning Busch’s alleged disgrace, demotion, suicide, and even desertion were undermining the nation’s confidence in Army Group Center. He asked that Busch be given some sort of public token of the Führer’s continuing esteem. In the first week of October, Busch was permitted to give an address at the funeral of Hitler’s chief adjutant, Schmundt, who had died of wounds he received on 20 July. If that restored public confidence, it was certainly no mark of Hitler’s renewed faith either in Busch or in the generals as a class. He had already placed Busch on the select list of generals who were not to be considered for future assignments as army or army group commanders. After most of the eighteen generals captured by the Russians during the retreat joined the Soviet-sponsored League of German Officers, Hitler also decreed that henceforth none of the higher decorations were to be awarded to Army Group Center officers.

Where Hitler saw treason in high places, others saw more widespread, more virulent, more disabling maladies: the fear of being encircled and captured and the fear of being wounded and abandoned. The German soldier was being pursued by the specters of Stalingrad, Cherkassy, and the Crimea. Once, he could not even imagine the ultimate disaster—now he expected it.

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Skorostnoi Bombardirovshik SB

On October 1936 the Republican Spanish Air Force received an infusion of about 50 Russian aircraft. SB[SD-2] Katuska bombers began operations before the month was out.

The well known workhorse of the Spanish Civil War and 1939-40 Russo-Finnish “Talvisota” (winter-war),  the Tupolev SB, which certainly fits the stated engine and armament criteria you proposed. The SB was obsolete by the outbreak of Barbarossa in June 1941, and many were shot-up on the ground by the Luftwaffe during the first hours and days of the attack. However, enough survived until at least early 1942 to have been employed as night attack aircraft, which was in fact, the only role they were actually suited for because of their vulnerability to German day fighters. In this role, the remaining SB’s reportedly did well, until phased into rear-area transport and target-tug duties.

The SB was driven by twin 850-horsepower M100 V-12 piston engines to a top speed of 255 miles per hour and a service ceiling of 27,885 feet. Its range was a modest 746 miles. Wingspan was 66 feet 8 ½ inches, and defensive armament consisted of two 0.3-inch machine guns in a nose turret, one in a dorsal turret, and one in the ventral position. Bomb capacity was 2,205 pounds, and the plane was crewed by three.

The two ANT-40 light bomber prototypes of Andrei N. Tupolev’s design bureau were years ahead of their time when they first flew in October 1934: the all-metal construction, enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear were then comparatively novel features. Indeed the ANT-40’s maximum speed of 325 km/h (202 mph) at operating height was faster than the biplane interceptor fighters that equipped most of the peacetime air forces. The initial production version as selected for export and service with the VVS was based on the second prototype, and was known as the Tupolev SB (skorostnoi bombardirovshchik, or fast bomber); the engines were two 830-hp (619-kW) licence-built Hispano-Suiza 12Ybr engines, termed M-100 by Soviet industry, and initially these were fitted with two-bladed fixed pitch propellers. The first SBs were passed to the VVS’s bomber aviation regiments in February 1936, and in October of that year the first of 210 were transferred with Soviet crews to Spain to fight on the side of the Republican air force against the insurgent Nationalists.

The theory that fast, well-armed bombers would survive (particularly if flying in tight formations protected by interlocking fire from their machine- guns) held water at first – but only because the fighters of 1936 lacked the speed to reach them and the, armament to do serious damage. For example, a Russian Tupolev SB [SB-2] twin-engine monoplane with a speed of 255 mph was a difficult target to intercept by an Italian biplane Fiat CR32 with a top speed of 233 mph – although on occasion this feat was performed. Evidence of this sort underlined the widespread opinion of those, such as the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, that `the bomber will always get through’. It was assumed that this technical imbalance would persist and that, in any case, fighter actions would be impossible if their speeds increased much beyond the extant 220-mph mark. A natural reaction was to build bigger, faster and heavily-defended bombers in the pious hope that their existence would deter an aggressor from using his bombers – in much the same way as it was hoped that the possession of gas would deter its use.

Familiarly called the Katyusha, the Tupolev SB was first flown on October 7, 1933. Intended as a high-speed bomber, it was at the time one of the Tupolev organization’s most advanced designs, based on a heavy fighter airframe rather than a bomber. Construction was all metal and, in service during the Spanish civil war, its 255-mile-per-hour speed outflew many enemy fighters-until the appearance of the German Bf- 109 fighter. A total of 6,656 SBs were built up to 1940, and some remained in service until 1943, despite heavy losses to the Bf-109s.

Fast-flying SBs were among the world’s best bombers when they appeared in 1936. They enjoyed a distinguished career in Spain, Mongolia, and Finland before suffering heavy losses in World War II.

In 1933 the Soviet government announced specifications for an entirely new light bomber, one so fast that it could operate without escort fighters. The Tupolev design bureau finessed the problem with great skill, and in 1934 it built two prototypes with radial and in-line engines respectively. The new SB was Russia’s first stressed-skin aircraft, a midwing, all-metal monoplane bomber. It was modern in every respect to Western contemporaries and possessed such advanced features as retractable landing gear and flush-riveting. A crew of four was comfortably housed, and the plane flew faster than any fighter or bomber then in service, including the highly touted Bristol Blenheim. In 1936 the in-line engine prototype entered production as the SB, and nearly 7,000 were produced. These modern, capable craft formed the bulk of Soviet tactical aviation over the next five years and played a major role in modernizing and revitalizing the Soviet bomber forces.

SBs were bloodied in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), where they proved impervious to slower Nationalist fighters. They also enjoyed similar success in Mongolia against the Japanese and were exported to China in quantity. Several new versions were also introduced with more powerful engines, but this robust design was growing obsolete in light of developments elsewhere. SBs again fought well against Finland during 1939-1940, but when Germany invaded Russia the following year they lost their speed advantage. The SB’s record as a day bomber came to an abrupt end during the fierce fighting following the German invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941. Those that were not destroyed on the ground ventured into the air on numerous and gallantly-flown missions over the front line and paid a heavy price to the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Bf 109F fighters. Thereafter the SB and SBbis bombers were relegated to night work with the VVS and the Soviet naval air arm. They did so in a wide variety of roles, including that of night intruder and torpedo-bomber. By the time SBs withdrew in 1943, they had sustained the heaviest losses of any Russian aircraft in World War II. Production amounted to 6,967 of all marks.

Specifications (SB 2M-103)

General characteristics

Crew: 3

Length: 12.57 m (41 ft 2¾ in)

Wingspan: 20.33 m (66 ft 8 in)

Height: 3.60 m (11 ft 9¾ in)

Wing area: 56.7 m² (610.3 ft2)

Empty weight: 4,768 kg (10,512 lb)

Loaded weight: 6,308 kg (14,065 lb)

Max. takeoff weight: 7,880 kg (17,370 lb)

Powerplant: 2 × Klimov M-103 liquid-cooled V12 engine, 716 kW (960 hp) each

Performance

Maximum speed: 450 km/h (243 knots, 280 mph) at 4,100 m (13,450 ft)

Range: 2,300 km (1,243 nmi, 1,429 mi)

Service ceiling: 9,300 m (30,510 ft)

Climb to 1,000 m (3,280 ft): 1.8 min

Climb to 9,000 m (29,500 ft): 32 min

Armament

Guns: 4 × 7.62 mm ShKAS machine guns (two in nose, one in dorsal and one in ventral position)

Bombs: 6 × 100 kg (220 lb) or six 50 kg (110 lb) bombs in bomb-bay, 2 × 250 kg (550 lb) bombs on wing racks

Note

Index SB of Arkhangelsky’s high-velocity bomber comes from plain meaning:

“Skorostnoi Bombardirovshik”.

skorostnOi = high velocity

bombardirOvshik = bomber

Actual index must be like below

SB 2RTs

SB 2IS

SB 2M-100

SB 2M-100A

SB 2M-103

etc.

the index reads “SB with TWO engines <namely>”.

I don’t know why west took TWO as a part of plane’s name.

It is not SECOND bomber or SECOND design.

All articles related to the Tupolev SB still carry the misnomer of SB-2 [including this one for familiarity]. It may well be that the Germans started this incorrect nomenclature.

ISU-122/152 GUNS

The success of the SU-152, coupled with the development of the IS (losef Stalin) heavy tank hull, led the NKTP to order design teams at Chelyabinsk, in cooperation the Mechanized Artillery Bureau (BAS) and General F. Petrov, to design two new heavy assault guns based on the IS-2 tank’s hull and chassis. The initial vehicle, designated Object 241, or ISU- 249, was similar to the SU-152, except for a higher superstructure and more rectangular with less sloped side armour.

Thicker frontal and side armour (90mm/3.54in compared to 60mm/2.36in on the SU-152) meant that the internal area of both vehicles was the same, with storage for only 20 rounds each for the 152mm (5.98in) ML-20 howitzer gun. The main difference between the SU-152 and ISU series of vehicles was a lower suspension and a new, heavy two-piece gun mantlet bolted onto the right-hand side of the hull. Re-classified as ISU-152, production began at the end of 1943.

Problems with the availability of the 152mm (5.98in) gun type because of a lack of available manufacturing capacity in Soviet artillery factories led to orders to the TsKB-2 team to explore the possibility of mounting the more abundant 122mm (4.8in) A-19 gun on the ISU hull. This proved a relatively easy task, because both calibres of gun had the same gun carriage, meaning that no radical re-design of the hull or vehicle interior was required. The new assault gun entered service in December 1943 as the ISU-122. In 1944 its firepower was improved with the introduction of the 122mm (4.8in) D-25S gun designed for the IS-2 tank. This modified design, termed ISU-122-2, also had an new gun mantlet and improved crew space. In external appearance both gun types were identical, except for the ISU-152 ‘s shorter gun barrel with a muzzle brake.

The appearance of the immensely powerful Panzerkampjwagen Vlb Royal Tiger in fighting south of Warsaw in August 1944 led to a number of plans to up-gun both types of ISU with the new 122mm (4.8in) BR-7 and 152mm (5.98in) BR-8 long-barrelled guns, but the realization that the Germans could not deploy the Royal Tiger in significant numbers caused production of these prototypes to be abandoned. Another reason was the conclusion of Soviet technicians, based on combat results, that the IS-2 tank could deal with this new threat.

Post-war changes were made to the final production run of ISU-152Ks by using the IS-2m chassis and the IS-3 engine deck. A total of 4075 ISU-152s were produced during the war, and a further 2450 manufactured between 1945 and 1955, when production ceased. Despite a brief break in manufacture between 1945 and 1947,3130 ISU-122s were produced up to 1952. The chassis of many of these vehicles were adapted for special purposes in the 1960s. The Oka was armed with a 406mm (15.98in) gun designed to fire tactical nuclear shells to break up NATO front-line and reserve units. The ISU mounted the first FROG medium-range missiles, armed with either conventional, chemical, or nuclear warheads. Outside of these special roles in the Warsaw Pact armed forces, the ISU-152 saw service in its original role with the Egyptian Army in the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars.

In Service

The ISU-122 and ISU-152 were used in Independent Heavy Self-Propelled Artillery Regiments, which were awarded the Guards honorific after December 1944. By the end of the war there were 56 such units. Generally attached to the tank corps, they were deployed in the second echelon of an assault, providing long-range direct, and on occasion indirect, fire support to tanks in the first echelon, targeting German strongpoints and armoured vehicles. They were also vital in providing defensive antitank and artillery support for infantry.

Production history
No. built1,150 (all types)
Specifications
Mass45.5 tonnes (50.2 short tons; 44.8 long tons)
Length9.85 m (32 ft 4 in)
Width3.07 m (10 ft 1 in)
Height2.48 m (8 ft 2 in)
Crew4 or 5
Armorfront 90 mm (3.5 in)
gun shield 120 mm (4.7 in)
side 90 mm (3.5 in)
Main
armament
A-19S 122 mm gun, with 30 rounds
Secondary
armament
12.7 mm DShK AA machine gun, with 250 rounds
Engine12-cyl. 4-stroke diesel model V-2IS
520 hp (382 kW)
Power/weight11 hp/tonne
Suspensiontorsion bar
Operational
range
220 km (140 mi)
Speed37 km/h (23 mph)

Tupolev Tu-95 Bear

A Russian Tupolev Tu-95 Bear parting the clouds.
RAF Tornados escorting Tu-95MS ’20’ to IAT Fairford, 23 July 1993.

The Tu-4 Grows Up

By the end of the 1940s, the development of turbine engines had marked the closing of the piston era. Initially, the new turbojets were small, and were not of any use for long-range bombers, but by the early 1950s they had started to develop. So had turboprops.

In the West, the turboprop was confined mainly to commercial aircraft the Bristol Britannia, Vickers Viscount and Lockheed Electra helped to bridge a gap between the piston and jet ages. Some military transports would use turboprops. Particularly well-known is the Lockheed Hercules, and a few mainly carrier-borne strike aircraft such as the Fairey Gannet. But little thought was given to the possibility of using turboprops to power strategic bombers by anyone except Tupolev and his team.

In 1949, he set up a team headed by Nikolai Bazenkov to develop the Tu-85 and make use of the new developments in Soviet turboprops, specifically Nikolai Kuznetsov’s new NK-12, due to be available in 1953, which offered a power of up to 15,000 shaft horsepower (shp). Pending their availability, development work began using TV-2 and TV-12 engines of 12,000shpeach.

Two prototypes were constructed in factory N156 beside the design offices, using, as usual, the design bureau’s specialist engineers working alongside Bazenkov and his team, with Tupolev visiting the works almost every day as was the norm. Although substantially based on the Tu-85, a considerable amount of work was needed to adapt the design for the much higher speeds targeted for the Tu-95. Most important was the wing; the Tu-85 had a maximum speed of 563kph/350mph, but the -95 was expected to achieve 900 to 950kph/559 to 590mph, almost sixty to seventy per cent faster. In an effort to achieve this, Bazenkov developed a wing which measured 51m/167.33 feet from tip to tip, despite a 35° angle of sweep. The 6m/l 9.7-foot-long engines were installed in large nacelles on the wings, with the inner ones having a pod which extended eight metres to the rear into which the four-wheeled undercarriage legs retracted rearwards.

The cabin was pressurised, which improved crew conditions on long-distance flights — cruising at 750kph/466mph, patrols could last up to twenty hours. One thing missing was ejection seats. Although normal equipment in most high-performance military aircraft since the late 1940s, the Tu-95 did not have them. The crew in the forward section had to evacuate by using an emergency lift which would bring them from the cockpit and drop them through a hatch near the nosewheel door while those in the aircraft’s tail exited through escape hatches.

The prototype Tu-95 (called Tu-95/1) was completed by September 1952, and was brought by road to Zhukovski. After reassembly, it began its ground trials early in November; on 12 November, with Aleksei Pereliot in command, the first flight took place. As mentioned earlier, its engines were the 12,000shp TV-2FS. In state tests, they exceeded 900kph/559mph, something considered impossible by many aerodynamic specialists for propeller aircraft. Tupolev gave particular credit for the excellent performance to the design and production of Konstantin Zhdanov’s propeller and gearbox developed at Stupino, near Moscow.

Work proceeded on the second prototype relatively slowly, but late in 1953 the first aircraft crashed due to an engine fire which resulted in the engine falling off. Three people died: Pereliot, a flight engineer and a research scientist; nine escaped by evacuating the aircraft by parachute. The second was completed only in July 1954. Delays in engine production meant that it did not receive its TV-12s until the end of the year. Early in 1955, the Tu-95/2 was rolled out at Zhukovski for its pre-flight trials, including engine runs and taxying tests. It made its first flight on 16 February, flown by Mikhail Nukhtikov.

Meanwhile, serial production of the Tu-20, as the VVS designated it, had been set up at Kuibyshev factory N18 under General Director Mitrofan Yevshin. Work started in January 1955 and the first two production aircraft were completed in October and began state tests. They were powered by the first production examples of Kuznetsov’s NK-12, which gave 12,000shp. As was usual in the Soviet system, production examples were not built to the same standards as the virtually hand-made prototypes, and Soviet designers made allowances for this. The production Tu-95, with lower powered engines and higher weight, was measured to have a performance of 882kph/548mph in speed, a range with a five tonne payload of 15,040km/9,346 miles, and a service ceiling of 11,300m/37,075 feet – not quite up to VVS requirements. The second production aircraft was fitted with the NK-12M, a higher powered version which gave 15,000sph and a lower fuel consumption. With these, performance improved to a maximum speed of 905kph/562mph, range to 16,750km/10,408 miles, and ceiling to 12,150m/39,864 feet. These figures met the requirements.

The Tu-95 was first shown to the public at the 1955 Aviation Day air show at Tushino, in Moscow’s north-west, in August, when the second prototype made a flypast. The VVS accepted delivery of its first Tu-95s in August 1957, and it went into service as a long-range strategic bomber. It was armed with six pairs of AM-23 cannons, providing almost complete coverage: one pair was in the nose, two above the fuselage, just behind the cockpit and forward of the tail, one was in a tail turret and the others under the fuselage. Some of these could be remotely operated by a gunner who sat between two glazed blisters in the rear fuselage. The bomb load varied from a maximum range version with five tonnes to fifteen tonnes with a fall off in range; it was possible to carry two nuclear bombs, or conventional warheads.

An accident in March 1957, when the failure of one engine plus a problem in propeller feathering caused the loss of the aircraft and the death of the crew, resulted in the installation of NK-12MVs, modified versions of the engine with automatic and manual systems of feathering. Production of the Tu-95 continued until 1959, in several different versions listed below.

Production totalled 173 aircraft plus the two prototypes. All these were strategic aircraft. While most of them continued in service until the late 1980s/early 1990s, the effects of the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) caused many of them to be cut up in the 1990s. Some of the Tu-95s – or, to give them their worthy NATO codename, Bear – were modified after their withdrawal from front-line bomber units to carry missiles or for reconnaissance roles. Two Tu-95s were removed from the production line in 1958 and were completed as Tu-116s. By the mid-1990s all Tu-95s were grounded or scrapped.

Later, the Tu-95 would appear again as the nonstrategic Tu-142. Although differing mainly in equipment from the Tu-95, the -142 was not a bomber, and so did not come under the auspices of the SALT treaty. Its story is related later.

A Tu-95 was modified as a Tu-95LAL (=Letavshaia Atomnaia Laboratoriya = Flying Atomic laboratory). Although no engine power was generated from atomic sources, the aircraft carried a VVR-100 reactor, and made 42 flights to test ecological problems; after these tests, the decision was taken not to proceed with the Tu-119 which remained a paper project.

Variants

Tu-95/1

    The first prototype powered by Kuznetsov 2TV-2F coupled turboprop engines.

Tu-95/2

    The second prototype powered by Kuznetsov NK-12 turboprops.

Tu-95

    Basic variant of the long-range strategic bomber and the only model of the aircraft never fitted with a nose refuelling probe. Known to NATO as the Bear-A.

Tu-95K

    Experimental version for air-dropping a MiG-19 SM-20 jet aircraft.

Tu-95K22

    Conversions of the older Bear bombers, reconfigured to carry the Raduga Kh-22 missile and incorporating modern avionics. Known to NATO as the Bear-G.

Tu-95K/Tu-95KD

    Designed to carry the Kh-20 air-to-surface missile. The Tu-95KD aircraft were the first to be outfitted with nose probes. Known to NATO as the Bear-B.

Tu-95KM

    Modified and upgraded versions of the Tu-95K, most notable for their enhanced reconnaissance systems. These were in turn converted into the Bear-G configuration. Known to NATO as the Bear-C.

Tu-95LAL

    Experimental nuclear-powered aircraft project.

Tu-95M

    Modification of the serial Tu-95 with the NK-12M engines. 19 were built.

Tu-95M-55

    Missile carrier.

Tu-95MR

    Bear-A modified for photo-reconnaissance and produced for Naval Aviation. Known to NATO as the Bear-E.

Tu-95MS/Tu-95MS6/Tu-95MS16

    Completely new cruise missile carrier platform based on the Tu-142 airframe. This variant became the launch platform of the Raduga Kh-55 cruise missile and put into serial production in 1981. Known to NATO as the Bear-H and was referred to by the U.S. military as a Tu-142 for some time in the 1980s before its true designation became known.

Tu-95MS6

    Capable of carrying six Kh-55, Kh-55SM or Kh-555 cruise missiles on a rotary launcher in the aircraft’s weapons bay. 32 were built.

Tu-95MS16

    Fitted with four underwing pylons in addition to the rotary launcher in the fuselage, giving a maximum load of 16 Kh-55s or 14 Kh-55SMs. 56 were built.

Tu-95MSM

    Modernized version of MS16 with advanced radio-radar equipment as well as a target-acquiring/navigation system based on GLONASS. Four underwing pylons for up to 8 Kh-101/102 stealth cruise missiles. 19 aircraft have been modernized as of late December 2018. Its combat debut was made on 17 November 2016 in Syria.

Tu-95N

    Experimental version for air-dropping an RS ramjet powered aircraft.

Tu-95RT

    Variant of the basic Bear-A configuration, redesigned for maritime reconnaissance and targeting as well as electronic intelligence for service in the Soviet Naval Aviation. Known to NATO as the Bear-D.

Tu-95U

    Training variant, modified from surviving Bear-As but now all have been retired. Known to NATO as the Bear-T.

Tu-95V

    Special carrier aircraft to test-drop the largest thermonuclear weapon ever designed, the Tsar Bomba.

Tu-96

    Long-range intercontinental high-altitude strategic bomber prototype, designed to climb up to 16,000-17,000 m. It was a high-altitude version of the Tupolev Tu-95 aircraft with high-altitude augmented turboprop TV-16 engines and with a new, enlarged-area wing. Plant tests of the aircraft were performed with non-high altitude TV-12 engines in 1955–1956.

KrAZ-255B

In the mid-1960s the Kremenchug automobile plant manufactured the KrAZ-214B truck in large quantities, playing a very important role in the structure of the motorized forces of the Soviet Army. This truck was assigned the role of a transporter of various auxiliary engineering installations, as well as of fuel, missile systems, etc. Considering the operating conditions of the KrAZ-214B in the territory of the USSR where normal paved roads are absent by definition in most areas (and especially where its secret military units were dispersed and as a rule they didn’t exist at all), the military authorities demanded improvement in the cross-country ability of the vehicle. For this purpose the Bureau SKB-1 designers developed a new type of wheel in 1966, the VI-3. Unlike the narrow wheels of all other types then existing for Soviet vehicles, the VI-3 had a wide profile, and also could be pumped up with air while moving – thus changing the pressure in the tire which offered crucial advantages in altering the area of surface contact of the truck’s wheels. The centralized tire pressure control system, managed by the driver, also had one more essential advantage in a military vehicle – in case of gunfire holing a tire, the driver could strengthen the wheel’s air pressure and, thus, the truck could drive on notwithstanding a degree of damage.

The KrAZ with its new wheels looked like a bear – the car became visually more massive although externally, except for the wheels, and also its headlights and a new form of fuel tank, it didn’t differ greatly from its predecessor. However another essential difference of the new truck, designated the KrAZ-255B, was hidden inside, under the hood. The KrAZ-255 received a new, more powerful ‘heart’ – the powerful V8 YaMZ-238 engine. Its capacity increased to 240 horsepower which significantly affected the dynamics and traction of the truck. In comparison with the KrAZ-214 the top speed of the KrAZ-255 increased from 55 km/h to 70 km/h, and loading capacity from 7 to 7.5 tons.

The first production trucks rolled off the assembly lines in 1967. The machine justified the wildest hopes of the military, so orders for the KrAZ-255 was enormous. Outside the USSR, the KrAZ-255 was delivered to the armies of ‘brotherly countries’ of the Warsaw Pact, and it was also widely exported around the continents of the world, to where at that time many countries were determining their choice of the socialist way of development. The KrAZ-255B went to Cuba, to many countries in Africa (Angola, Ghana, Egypt, etc.) and the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, etc.), and to several countries of Latin America (Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Bolivia). Later, as a result of local conflicts, and also after the mass sale of the remains of the former armies of the Warsaw Pact, individual KrAZ-255’s even found their way to the USA, Canada, England, and the Netherlands – generally into private collections and museums of military equipment.

In the Soviet Army the KrAZ-255, like its predecessor the KrAZ-214, found a vast range of uses. Engineering units received the PMP pontoon truck, the TMM mechanized bridge layer, the FM truck-mounted crane, the

5T99 crane, and the E-305BV and EOV-4421 excavators. For the Strategic Rocket forces the TC-8 and AKTs-4 fuel carriers were provided; while logistic support units received water tanker and desalination vehicles; and the air defense army, the PRV-16 radar on the KrAZ-255 chassis.

The KrAZ-255 was used not only by the military, but extensively in civilian life as well. Mastery of the infinite spaces of the USSR, construction of the BAM railroad, and the gas pipelines from Siberia to the western border of the country, are all closely associated with this great truck. More than 29,000 KrAZ-255L timber carrying trucks were made, and a considerable number of them were rebuilt as transporters of wide diameter pipes. For exploration parties, drilling machines and equipment for wells were constructed and special logging buses.

In 1993, 25 years after the beginning of series construction, when the Soviet Union had ceased to exist, the last KrAZ-255B came off the production line of the automobile plant in Kremenchug. However, orders for the vehicle still continued to arrive: at that time more than 195,000 of all variants of the KrAZ-255 had been built. It seemed that time had not diminished this majestic mastodon whose roots lay in the era of the post-war years. But in 1993, despite all the complexity of the economic conditions of the first few years of Ukraine’s independence, the plant finally started production of the KrAZ-260 trucks which, although differing externally with a new type of cabin, in fact structurally remained a descendant of the KrAZ-255.

The KrAZ-255 displays healthy vigor in its old age and to this day remains in the ranks of armies of Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, the countries of the former Yugoslavia, and Cuba. Civilian vehicles, still frequently seen on city roads, always attract the eye – potent with the elegance and massiveness of this machine, reminding us that a former huge nation may have gone, but its automotive industry continues to achieve success.

Performance

Length 86450mm

Width 2750mm

Height with an empty cover 2940mm

Track 2160mm

Base 5300mm

Base bogie 1400mm

Ground clearance 360mm

Wheel 6×6

Engine YMZ-238

Volume 14866cc

Power 240hp

Empty weight 11700kg

Payload 7000kg

Maximum speed 70km/h

The KrAZ-255B Truck Celebrates its 50th Anniversary!

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.

Personnel

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.