As Regards Partisans

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

From von Mellenthin’s description, the partisans (guerrillas) weren’t a problem everywhere on the eastern front

I deem myself lucky not to have had too intimate an acquaintance with the partisans, who rarely operated in the immediate vicinity of the front. Nor were the open plains of the Ukraine suitable for partisan operations, whereas the densely wooded areas of central and northern Russia were ideal for the purpose. As regards partisans, we soldiers adopted a principle which in my opinion is recognized by every army, namely, that no means are too hard if they serve their purpose in protecting the troops against partisans, guerrillas or franctireurs.

(See for example General Eisenhower’s draconian “Ordinance No. 1 of Military Government,” directed against potential partisan activity in Western Germany.)

The rules and conventions of warfare have been carefully built up since the seventeenth century; they cannot be applied to partisan activity, and a heavy responsibility rests with those governments who deliberately organzie and support thsi terrible form of war. In the Soviet Union the partisan forces had been thoroughly trained and organized in peacetime. They depended for their success, however, on the sympathy of the local population, which they certainly did not get in the Ukraine.

What’s it like to be rescued from the Communists by the Nazis?

During the spring of 1943 I saw with my own eyes that German soldiers were welcomed as friends by Ukrainians and White Russians. Churches were reopened. The peasants who had been degraded to kolkhoz workers were hoping to get their farms back. The population was relieved to have got rid of the Secret Police and to be free of the constant fear of being sent to forced-labor camps in Siberia.

Indeed, the peasants no longer feared being sent to forced-labor camps in Siberia:

Instead of being sent to Siberia, thousands of Russian men and women were sent to Germany and called Ostarbeiter (workers from the east). They were virtually slaves.

This was a terrible mistake on Hitler’s part, von Mellenthin says, and played right into Stalin’s hands, giving him powerful propaganda material and driving the people to join the partisans.

With some amusement, von Mellenthin notes that the Communists brought back all the old Tsarist military traditions in the struggle between “Little Mother Russia” and the “Fatherland”:

Soon we had to face Guards divisions and Guards brigades. Officers proudly displayed their shining epaulettes, which veteran Communists had branded as symbols of reaction. Terms were even made with the Church.

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