German Anti-Partisan Operations in the Russian Theater During WW II
Posted 31 July 2008 - 07:14 PM
By Carroll Payne
On June 22, 1941 Germany launched its massive invasion of Russia. German forces using blitzkrieg tactics rapidly advanced across the Russian plains crushing all Soviet resistance before them. The Soviet partisan movement was initiated behind the German lines immediately after the invasion began. Partisan units were usually composed of cut off Russian soldiers conducting independent operations. Initially ignored by the German Army the partisans were able to conduct many small operations against supply and transportation targets that were of little tactical value but useful for their propaganda value. In 1943, the German defeat at Stalingrad marked the turning point of the war. After the loss at Stalingrad, German force's counter-offensives to successful Soviet attacks were extremely limited. Because of German shortages in manpower, replacements went to critical front line units. German rear area security units eventually were only able to guard and secure critical railroad, communications, and supply locations. Eventually, as the war dragged on, anti-partisan operations could only be effectively conducted by combat units periodically rotated out of the front lines. The anti-partisan operation conducted by the infantry battalion in the Lepel-Borisov sector of Russia, in June 1943, illustrates the principles and difficulties of conducting successful anti-partisan operations.
In the Lepel-Borisov area, an well-organized partisan headquarters was directing partisan attack against German supply lines. German intelligence sources were able to obtain information that the partisan headquarters was located to the south of Lepel, at Daliki. The District Commander was also aware that any move by German forces against the partisan headquarters would be quickly relayed to the partisan headquarters by Soviet sympathizers.
The German District Commander assigned the task of destroying the partisan forces to a bicycle-mounted infantry battalion temporarily withdrawn from the front and reassigned to his sector to conduct anti-partisan operations. Once he had received his mission and conducted his planning, the Battalion Commander issued his operations order to his battalion.
The Battalion Commander instructed his battalion that their mission was to conduct anti-partisan operations in the Berzina Valley, West of Lepel. He directed the battalion, minus C Company, to proceed toward Berezino via Lepal. He ordered billeting parties to depart in advance of the main body to prepare quarters at each of the company objectives near Berezino. He directed each company to conduct their rest plans that night at a different village in the line of march and proceed the next morning to Lepel where the battalion will reunite and push on into Berezino. The battalion executed its march order successfully and was halted at Lepal.
Major Beer, the Battalion Commander, conducted a commander's call at the temporary battalion headquarters. At the battalion headquarters, the Battalion Commander informed his company commanders that their mission was not to conduct anti-partisan operations in the Berzina Valley area. Rather, the mission was to attack, destroy, and if possible capture the partisan commanders reported in the vicinity of Daliki. Major Beer explained that any direct march against Daliki would have resulted in the partisans being warned long before the German forces could engage them. He had also ruled out a night movement and predawn assault for the same reasons as the direct march. Major Beer had instead decided upon an elaborate deception to catch the partisans unaware. He ordered a normal troop movement with a destination of Berezino. To elaborate on the ruse, Major Beer ordered the billeting parties out in advance of the main body as per local standard operating procedures. Major Beer was convinced that the partisan headquarters at Daliki would be aware of the battalion's move against the Berezina Valley almost as soon as the battalion moved out. In order to accomplish the battalion mission, it was critical that the partisan's headquarters be surprised at Daliki with as little warning as possible. Major Beer then ordered his battalion to finish their rest plan and then prepare to move the battalion back along the same roads they had taken to Lepal. The battalion would use three separate roads converging on Daliki. The battalion would move at the fastest possible speed against Daliki. The objective was to arrive at Daliki with as little warning as possible to prevent the partisans from preparing for the German assault.
A likely avenue of escape for the partisans was swamp's to the South and East of the village at Daliki. To prevent the partisans from using these swamps as an escape route, Major Beer ordered C Company to move into a blocking position in the swamps. Partisan forces usually only operated in areas in which they were familiar with the terrain. Also the partisan's usually set up their bases in swamps or deep in the forests where they would be difficult to find. Partisan leaders knew it would be very difficult for enemy forces to approach without their knowledge, and there were many escape routes if needed.
When the rest of the battalion had moved out towards Berezino, Company C remained behind at Borisov. Later, on the afternoon of June 24, Company C moved by truck to Gorodok where they were billeted for the night. The next morning, they remounted the trucks and departed for, to all appearances, Berezino. However, Major Beer instructed Company C to dismount the trucks into a wooded area East of Daliki. To complete the ruse, MAJ Beer ordered the trucks stopped for no more than thirty seconds to disembark the troops. From Daliki, the trucks then continued onto Berezino, as if they were joining up with the rest of the battalion. Once disembarked East of Daliki, Company C then moved through the woods and advanced into the swamps southeast of Daliki. In the swamps southeast of Daliki, there was a cart road that allowed an avenue of escape and communications for the partisan headquarters. By placing Company C, undetected in the swamp along the access road, Major Beer had blocked a likely avenue of escape for the partisans if they tried to disappear farther into the swamps, once attacked by the main German force.
Major Beer instructed his company commanders to expect the first partisan resistance in the small villages of Liski, Podrussy, Pospach, and Ivan Bor, all of which are located on the outskirts of Daliki. Due the large size and strategic importance of the partisan headquarters group, the Battalion Commander expected that the partisans would have established outlying security posts to warn of any impending attacks. In order to rapidly crush any partisan forces at the outskirts of Daliki, Major Beer detached the antitank guns from Company D and attached them to A and B Companies.
After receiving their new orders, the battalion formed up and moved against Daliki. As Major Beer expected, Companies A and B hit partisan resistance when they entered the villages of Pospach and Podrussy. In order to destroy the Partisan machine gun emplacements opposing them, they were forced to deploy their additional anti-tank guns. Once the machine gun emplacements were destroyed, the partisans tried to fall back towards Ivan Bor but were subsequently killed crossing open ground. Company D was the only German force to enter Daliki according to Major Beer's plan. As Company D cleared the village of Daliki, elements of Company C became heavily engaged as partisans tried to fall back through the swamp East of Daliki. Company A, once it had cleared the partisan machine gun emplacements in Pospach, resumed its advance towards Daliki. However, before they were able to enter Daliki, they were ordered to turn West and assault the village of Ivan Bor. Company A was required to use all of its firepower, including machine-guns, mortars, and anti-tank guns to clear Ivan Bor of partisans.
When Company A initially made contact with the partisans in Pospach, near Daliki, approximately twenty members of the partisan staff tried to withdraw into the swamp. Members of C Company were in place in their blocking positions and ordered the fleeing partisans to surrender. The partisans opened fire with their small arms, and in the subsequent hand to hand fighting, all were killed. Closer to the access road, cutting through the swamp, other members of Company C attempted to stop and question a wagon containing a man and four women coming from Ivan Bor. When the German soldiers tried to stop the wagon, the women opened fire on the German platoon. All occupants of the wagon were killed in the exchange of fire. When the German soldiers searched the wagon, all four women were found to be men; and probably the leaders of the partisan headquarters, although no documentary proof was found on their bodies.
The German attack on the partisan headquarters at Daliki has to be considered an overall success. Essential to the German success was Major Beer's ability to deceive the partisans in where he was going to attack. A partisan headquarters unit can be assumed to have an even better intelligence network than most other partisan units. If the partisans had been able to learn of the impending German attack, they would have most likely withdrawn before the arrival of the German troops. The partisans, if successful in avoiding conventional battles with the German forces, would simply move to a new area and continue operations against German supply lines. An additional reason the German attack was so successful in eliminating the partisan force was the critical emplacement of C Company as a blocking force. C Company was able to move undetected into positions the partisans repeatedly tried to use to fall back from the German attack. German forces had already learned, in previous anti-partisan operations, that large frontal assaults against partisan units usually resulted in the partisans breaking down into groups that were small enough to escape through the lines of the attacking forces. To destroy the physical location of the partisan headquarters would serve little purpose, if a majority of the partisan force were able to withdraw from contact and escape. The German operation could also be considered a success because the entire partisan leadership was killed in the attack. If the partisan leaders had been able to escape, then the German attack would have to been considered a failure no matter how many other partisans were killed. If the partisan leadership survived the attack, they would simply move to new locations and recommence operations against the German forces.
By 1943, German forces had learned that partisan camps could be well protected with defenses in depth. It was not unusual for partisan defenses to include strengthened bunkers, barbed wire, and land mines. In previous anti-partisan operations, German forces had learned that forces capable of rapid movement and supplied with heavy weapons were best suited for anti-partisan warfare. The infantry battalion selected to assault the partisan headquarters unit at Daliki consisted of three companies of infantry, mounted on bicycles and equipped with small arms, twelve light machineguns, and six light mortars each. The heavy weapons-company was motorized and equipped with twelve heavy machineguns and six anti-tank guns. The battalion also had a motorized supply section, an attached signal platoon and a battalion headquarters section. Using the highly mobile and heavily armed infantry battalion in the attack against the partisan headquarters in Daliki, utilized the principals of mobility, and concentrated firepower, the Germans had learned in previous anti-partisan operations.
The partisan headquarters was a critical target that once destroyed would result in reduced partisan attacks against German supply lines in the area. Additionally, destruction of the partisan headquarters would leave a leadership gap in the local partisan forces, thereby reducing the effectiveness of other partisan groups operations in the surrounding areas. However, German security forces were often inadequate to move against and destroy the partisan forces. Manpower shortages had forced the reassignment of many security units from rear area protection to filling the gaps in front line forces caused by the Soviet counter offensives. Rear area security forces were usually lacking motorized vehicles. Additionally, shortages of gasoline and spare parts for vehicles effected motorized units. First priority in the German supply chain was for the front line units. In addition, the soldiers usually assigned to the rear area security units were older soldiers not suited for front line duty and quite often not physically suited for anti-partisan operations. Those rear area security forces not pulled for duty at the front were used to provide security for railroad bridges and critical railroad lines used to transport troops and supplies. The shortages in available rear area security personnel, adequate heavy weapons, lack of mobility, and experience in combat assault operations required the German District Commander to assign the mission to the combat experienced infantry battalion.
Keeping impending anti-partisan operations secret from targeted partisan forces was one of the greatest challenges to conducting successful anti-partisan operations. Due to manpower shortages, the German occupation army was forced to hire many local civilians to work in German troop areas and on military installations. With very little effort, these civilian workers could observe German troop movements, storage of critical supplies, and defensive layouts. The compromising of operational security in anti-partisan operations far outweighed the advantages of hiring civilian workers to free German military personnel for combat operations. Additionally, the losses the German army had suffered in the previous year had destroyed the concept of German invincibility that the successful blitzkrieg in 1941 had installed in many Soviet soldiers and citizens. Other reasons include the intense German exploitation of the Russian economy. As a result of the German exploitation of the Russian economy large parts of the civilian population were reduced to less than subsistence levels and suffered from widespread starvation. The overall effect of the deaths of thousands of Russian prisoners of war due to illness, starvation, and general mistreatment of Soviet citizens by Germans increased resistance to the German occupation. The negative German occupation policy actually had the effect of increasing support for the partisans. Another result of partisan attacks and increased passive support by Soviet civilians was the discouraging of collaboration with German authorities. By 1943 Russian propaganda became more effective as it continued to emphasis the past glories of Russia, the defeat of Napoleon's invasion in 1812, and Russian nationalism. Therefore, by 1943, German attempts at surprising the partisans and forcing them into a conventional battle was difficult to achieve due to the excellent Russian intelligence network.
The anti-partisan operation conducted by the infantry battalion in the Lepel-Borisov sector of Russia, in June 1943, illustrates the basic principals of any successful anti-partisan operation. Overwhelming force used by experienced front line troops must be brought against the partisan force. Operational security during planning and at the troop assembly area is critical to any anti-partisan operation. Strong blocking forces must be deployed along likely partisan avenues of escape. The partisan force must be surprised at the target area so they do not have the opportunity to escape and evade the assaulting force. Finally, the most effective anti-partisan operations are those that target and destroy partisan forces before they gain local citizen support and tie up front line troops in static guard duty or further anti-partisan operations.
For the first time I have seen "History" at close quarters,and I know that its actual process is very different from what is presented to Posterity. - WWI General Max Hoffman.
Posted 04 August 2008 - 10:53 AM
The partisan war remains the most unknown element of the WWII puzzle-mostly because the Russian government still keeps the official files on their end locked down. So what really happened? Well we have mostly German accounts to rely upon and the Germans did estimate that they would have needed twice the strength they possessed to have crushed the partizani. Would have even massive sweeps have worked to have crushed the "partisan wolves in the NAZI rear"? The Nicolai Obryn'ba account has a secret partisan bunker holding hiding Partizani even as the Germans walked right on top of it. How extensively secret hideaways were used is uncertain, but German records seem to indicate that it was mostly civilians who were suffering during the sweeps. Bad policy, and for certain German policies were for the most part counterproductive and it has been said that the whole episode reads something like "how NOT to conduct an occupation", a huge understatement! There is a new movie coming out on the subject and we can only hope that Hollywood doesn't muck it up too badly;
During the GPW the partisans were the darlings of the Red Media? Well afterwards they seem to have been relegated to the back pages-perhaps this had something to do with the Post WWII guerrilla wars the USSR was prosecuting in it's new empire? There are some more recent Russian sources on the subject though...from an earlier post;
The best English translation on the subject I have found was the Leonid I. Grenkevich book (out of print now);
The Soviet Partisan Movement, 1941-1945: Critical Analysis of Historiography by Leonid Grenkevich, Grenkevich Leon, David M Glantz (Editor) (Used, New, Out-of-Print) - Alibris
Then there was the more recent Kenneth Slepyan book focusing on the social aspects;
> > > Kenneth Slepyan: People's Avengers or Enemies of the People? (Zeitgeschichte. Heft 2/1998)
Then there was the Nicolai Obryn'ba personal account "Red Partisan," (which seems rather embellished);
The RUssian Battlefield Site has some veteran's tales from the Partisan War which have yet to be translated into English;
Then there is a Partisan Song and slideshow on You TUbe;
And another Youtube slideshow set to the Al Stewart tune "Road to Moscow"; YouTube - ROADS TO MOSCOW
So of what value was the Partisan movement to the overall Soviet War effort? Most of the files on the subject have remained sealed-at least as of the Grenkevich writing of about 6 years ago. Grenkevich points out several fields where the Partisan warriors made significant contributions-denying the enemy access to resources, attenuating supply, tying down significant enemy forces, guiding friendly conventional forces, killing a still undetermined number of Axis troops, running spy networks, attacking communications, running sabatodge operations, controlling the peoples of the occuppied territories, but the contribution he seems to give the wink to as the most significant was INTELLIGENCE. It does seem that the Germans had almost no operational secrecy while in the Russias and that the USSR had almost total operational secrecy. It would make sense that the thousands of eyes and hundreds of radio sets behind the German lines might have played a part.
During Operation Overlord Eisenhower credited the efforts of the French Guerrillas behind the Axis lines as "being worth fifteen frontline divisions." So how many full time warriors were in the French Resistance? 10,000? It would seem that behind the lines warriors are worth much more militarily than their conventional brothers in arms (though IKE's valuation may have been a bit overstated for political reasons). How many full time guerrilla warriors were in the Red Partisans? The numbers go as high as "300,000 in Belarus alone". So of what value was the Partisan War to the overall Soviet War effort? An open question, and one the Russians themselves seem unwilling to address.
Edited by JeffinMNUSA, 05 August 2008 - 02:41 PM.
Posted 25 April 2009 - 12:44 AM
Posted 30 October 2011 - 03:18 AM
Posted 30 October 2011 - 10:13 AM
Tooz; You might contact the Belarussian government archivists on this subject, Belarusian Resistance | Archives of Belarus
I am currently researching the Anti-partisan operations "Lenz-Nord and Lenz-Sud that took place near Borisov in March 1943. I need info on what armor BOTH sides had and whether or not the Dirlewanger Brigade, Schumas and Police units attached had MG 34s and 42s. What I have found is that all units used a myriad collection of captured MGs from conquered nations plus obsolete WW1 leftovers. Obscure stuff for sure but I am coming up empty oin most cases. Thanks in advance!
Posted 27 January 2012 - 03:46 AM
Posted 18 June 2013 - 01:02 AM
Weren't the surviving Russian partisans arrested and sent to the Gulag after the war? Supposedly because they were traitors or something like that - they should have died in battle instead of escaping to fight another day went the paranoid thinking of Stalin.
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