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Soviet partisans

The Soviet partisans were members of a resistance movement that fought a guerrilla war against the Axis occupation of the Soviet Union during World War II.

The movement was coordinated and controlled by the Soviet government and modeled on that of the Red Army. The primary objective of the guerrilla warfare waged by the Soviet partisan units was the disruption of the Eastern Front's German rear, especially road and rail communications. There were also regular military formations, also called partisans, that were used to conduct long-range reconnaissance patrol missions behind Axis lines from bases within Soviet-held territory.

"Hail the heroic partisans, who destroy the fascists' rear"


  • Formation of anti-German Soviet resistance 1
  • Areas of operations 2
    • Belarus 2.1
      • Vitsyebsk gate and West Belarus 2.1.1
      • 1943–44 2.1.2
    • Ukraine 2.2
    • Russia 2.3
    • Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania 2.4
    • Finland and Karelia 2.5
    • Outside the Soviet Union 2.6
    • Poland 2.7
  • Major operations 3
  • Controversies 4
    • Relations with civilians 4.1
    • German reprisals 4.2
    • Jews and partisans 4.3
    • Fight against independence movements 4.4
      • Relations with Ukrainian nationalists 4.4.1
      • Relations with the locals in Baltic States region 4.4.2
    • Repressions against partisan veterans 4.5
  • Assessment 5
  • List of notable Soviet partisans 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
    • Governmental 8.1
  • Bibliography 9
  • External links 10
    • Pro-partisans 10.1
    • Analysis 10.2

Formation of anti-German Soviet resistance

Partisans, strike the enemy without mercy!

The program of the partisan war was outlined in the Soviet People's Commissaries Council and Communist Party[1] directives issued on July 29, 1941 and in following documents. Partisan detachments and diversionist groups were to be formed in the German-occupied territories, road and telecommunications disrupted, German personnel killed, and valuable resources destroyed. Joseph Stalin, in his radio speech on August 3, 1941, iterated these commands and directives to the people. Adolf Hitler, when referring to that speech on August 16, pointed out that the declared partisan war in the German rear had its advantages, providing the excuse for destroying "anything that opposes [the Germans]".

The first partisan detachments, consisting of Red Army personnel and local inhabitants, and commanded by Red Army officers or local Communist Party activists, were formed in the first days of the war, including the Starasyel'ski detachment of Major Dorodnykh in the Zhabinka district (June 23, 1941) [2] and the Pinsk detachment of Vasily Korzh on June 26, 1941.[3] The first awards of the Hero of the Soviet Union order occurred on August 6, 1941 (detachment commanders Pavlovskiy and Bumazhkov).

In 1941, the core of the social base of the partisan movement were the remains of Red Army units destroyed in the first phases of Operation Barbarossa, personnel of destruction battalions, and the local Communist Party and Komsomol activists. The most common unit of the period was the detachment.

The "seed" partisan detachments, diversionist and organizational groups were formed and parachuted into German-occupied territories in the summer of 1941. Urban underground groups were formed as a force complementing the activities of partisan units, operating in rural areas. The network of underground structures was actively developed on German-occupied territories to control activities, and it received a steady influx of specially chosen party activists. By the end of 1941, more than 2,000 partisan detachments (with more than 90,000 personnel) operated in German-occupied territories.[4][5]

However, the activity of partisan forces were not centrally coordinated and supplied until spring of 1942. In order to coordinate partisan operations the Central Headquarters of the Partisan Movement under liaison networks in the Military Councils of the Fronts and Armies. The territorial Staffs were subsequently created, dealing with the partisan movement in the respective Soviet Republics and in the occupied provinces of the Russian SFSR.[6]

Initially, in Ukraine and Belorussia some of the local population were supportive of the German occupation that they hoped would bring about the end of Stalinist rule.

Later, the intelligence gathering officers were essential members of each group since amateur fighters could not be trusted with these tasks. Some commanders of these special units, such as Dmitry Nikolaevich Medvedev, later became well-known partisan leaders.

Areas of operations


The Soviet authorities considered Belarus to be of importance to the development of the Soviet partisan war from the very beginning. The main factors were its geography, with lots of dense forests and swamps, and its strategic position on communication lines going from Moscow to the West. In fact, Belarusian Communist bodies in the Eastern provinces of Belarus began to organise and facilitate organisation of the partisan units on the day after the first directive was issued (directives No.1 of 1941-07-30 and No.2 of 1941-07-01).

By Soviet estimates, in August 1941 about 231 detachments were operating already. "Seed" units, formed and inserted into Belarus, totaled 437 by the end of the 1941, comprising more than 7,200 personnel.[7] However, as the front line moved further away, conditions steadily worsened for the partisan units, as resources ran out, and there was no large-scale support from beyond the front until March 1942. One particular difficulty was the lack of radio communication, which was not addressed until April 1942. The partisan unit also lacked the support of local people.[8] For several months, partisan units in Belarus were virtually left to their own devices; especially difficult was the winter of 1941-1942, with severe shortages in ammunition, medicine and supplies. The actions of partisans were generally uncoordinated.

German pacification operations in the summer and autumn 1941 were able to curb the partisan activity significantly. Many units went underground, and generally, in late 1941 to early 1942, the partisan units were not undertaking significant military operations, but limiting themselves to sorting out organizational problems, building up support and establishing an influence over the local people.[8] Although data is incomplete, at the end of 1941, 99 partisan detachments and about 100 partisan groups are known to have operated in Belarus.[9] In Winter 1941-1942, 50 partisan detachments and about 50 underground organisations and groups operated in Belarus.[10][11] During December 1941, German guard forces in the Army Group Center rear comprised 4 security divisions, 1 SS Infantry Brigade, 2 SS Infantry Brigades, and 260 companies from different branches of service.[12]

The Battle of Moscow gave partisan morale a boost. However, the real turning point in the development of the partisan movement in Belarus, and on the German-occupied territories in general, came in the course of the Soviet Winter Campaign of 1941–42.

Vitsyebsk gate and West Belarus

The turning point in the development of the Soviet partisan movement came with the opening of the


  • Biography of Braiko
  • Account of Partisan activity in Western Ukraine
  • Famous partisan-miners
  • (English) (Hebrew) :Jewish partisans directory (searchable)
  • (Russian) People with clear conscience – Memoires of Pyotr Petrovich Vershigora
  • (Russian) It happened by Rovno – Memoires of Dmitry Nikolaevich Medvedev


External links

  • Grenkevich, Leonid D., The Soviet partisan movement, 1941–1944 : a critical historiographical analysis, Frank Cass Publishers, 1999 (hardcover ISBN 0-7146-4874-4, paperback ISBN 0-7146-4428-5).
  • Hill, Alexander, The war behind the Eastern Front : the Soviet partisan movement in North-West Russia, 1941–1944. Frank Cass, 2005 (ISBN 0714657115)
  • Jack Kagan, Dov Cohen: Surviving the Holocaust With the Russian Jewish Partisans, 1998, ISBN 0-85303-336-6
  • Slepyan, Kenneth. Stalin's guerrillas : Soviet partisans in World War II. University Press of Kansas, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-7006-1480-X ).
  • Smilovitskii, Leonid: Antisemitism in the Soviet Partisan Movement, 1941–1944: The Case of Belorussia in: Holocaust and Genocide Studies 20, 2006


  • (Russian) Partisan Movement in Belarus – Republic of Belarus Defense Ministry.
  • (Russian) Partisan Movement in Bryansk region 1941–1943 – Bryansk regional government.


  • Dear I.C.B. The Oxford Companion to World War II. Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • (Russian) Partisan Movement during the Great Patriotic War – V.N. Andrianov Soviet Encyclopaedia entry.
  • Partisan Resistance in Belarus during World War II – Virtual Guide to Belarus.
  1. ^ Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party (Bolshevik).
  2. ^ (HistBel-5) Гісторыя Беларусі: У 6 т. Т. 5. Беларусь у 1917–1945. – Мн.: Экаперспектыва, 2006. – 613 с.; іл. ISBN 985-469-149-7. p. 492.
  3. ^ Nik (2002). "ПИНСК В ГОДЫ ВЕЛИКОЙ ОТЕЧЕСТВЕННОЙ... (Pinsk during the Great Patriotic...)". Istoria Pinska (History of Pinsk) (in Русский). Retrieved 2006-08-24. 
  4. ^ Літвіноўскі І. А. (Litvinowski) Партызанскі рух у Вялікую Айчынную вайну 1941–1945 // Беларуская энцыклапедыя: У 18 т. Т. 12. – Мінск: БелЭн, 2001. – 560 с. p. 134. ISBN 985-11-0198-2 (т.12).
  5. ^ NB: usually the Soviet and post-Soviet writings on the Soviet partisan movement borrow data directly or indirectly from the Ponomarenko (Пономаренко П.К. Партизанское движение в Великой Отечественной войне. М., 1943.) and Volin (Волин Б.М. Всенародная партизанская война. М., 1942.) books, which could be intentionally exaggerating.
  6. ^ pp. 528-541,Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voina
  7. ^ (All-people struggle in Belarus against the German-fascist invaders) Всенародная борьба в Белоруссии против немецко-фашистских захватчиков. Т. 1. С. 84, 112., as cited in (HistB5) Гісторыя Беларусі: У 6 т. Т. 5. Беларусь у 1917–1945. – Мн.: Экаперспектыва, 2006. – 613 с.; іл. ISBN 985-469-149-7. p. 491.
  8. ^ a b Turonek, p. 76.
  9. ^ (All-people struggle...) V.1. p. 107., as cited in (HistB5) p. 493.
  10. ^ (HistB5) p. 493.
  11. ^ At the end of 1941, only in the Minsk area were there were more than 50 partisan groups operational, including more than 2,000 troops.
  12. ^ a b c Turonek, p. 78.
  13. ^ By the German sources. Turonek, p. 79. Also noted is that this result, while in itself impressive, was less relevant than expected, as the German offensive in 1942 came further south.
  14. ^ Mentioned as primary in the report of the HQ of partisan movement on 1942-11-09. Turonek, p. 79.
  15. ^ Turonek, pp. 83, 86.
  16. ^ Turonek, p. 83.
  17. ^ Turonek, p. 84.
  18. ^ To German surprise! Turonek, p. 84.
  19. ^ Turonek, pp. 84, 85.
  20. ^ Partisan Resistance in Belarus during World War II
  21. ^ Guy Sajer, The Forgotten Soldier p. 332
  22. ^ Prusin, Alexander V. (2010). The Lands Between: Conflict in the East European Borderlands, 1870-1992. Oxford University Press. p. 179.  
  23. ^ Statiev, Alexander (2010). The Soviet Counterinsurgency in the Western Borderlands. Cambridge University Press. p. 75.  
  24. ^ a b .Soviet saboteurs in Lithuania (1941-1944) Audronė Janavičienė. (Lithuanian) Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos tyrimo centras. Last accessed on 3 August 2006.
  25. ^ Laine, Antti: Suur-Suomen kahdet kasvot, 1982, ISBN 951-1-06947-0, Otava
  26. ^ Karelian people and other Finnic people stayed in their position and could continue their every day life. However, 24,000 of the local ethnic Russians (almost half of them) were placed in internment and labor camps and 4,000–7,000 of them died.
  27. ^ a b Stepakov, Victor and Frolov, Dmitry: Komandos, 2004, Moscow
  28. ^ "The occupiers set in Karelia the network of concentration, transfer and labor camps where over 20,000 locals were placed. Thousands of them died"
    Равнение на Победу" (Eyes toward Victory), the Republic of Karelia""" (in Russian). the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, National Delphi Council of Russia. Retrieved August 10, 2006. 
  29. ^ a b Eino Viheriävaara, (1982). Partisaanien jäljet 1941-1944, Oulun Kirjateollisuus Oy. ISBN 951-99396-6-0
  30. ^ Veikko Erkkilä, (1999). Vaiettu sota, Arator Oy. ISBN 952-9619-18-9.
  31. ^ Lauri Hannikainen, (1992). Implementing Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts: The Case of Finland, Martinuss Nijoff Publishers, Dordrecht. ISBN 0-7923-1611-8.
  32. ^ Tyyne Martikainen,(1988) "Neuvostoliiton partisaanien tuhoiskut siviilikyliin 1941-1944, PS-paino Värisuora Oy ISBN 951-97949-0-5, Tyyne Martikainen, (2002). Partisaanisodan siviiliuhrit, PS-Paino Värisuora Oy. ISBN 952-91-4327-3, Tyyne Martikaianen, (2002, 2004) "Rauha on ainoa mahdollisuutemme - Partisaanisodan kansainvälinen sovitusseminaari", English summary, Jatkosodan Siviiliveteraanit ry ISBN 951-98964-4-9.
  33. ^
  34. ^ a b
  35. ^ various authors; P.L. Bobylev (1985). ]"Great Patriotic War"; questions and answers"Великая Отечественная война." Вопросы и ответы. [ (in Русский). Moscow: Politizdat. 
  36. ^ Yohanan Cohen (1989). """The "London Government. Small Nations in Times of Crisis and Confrontation. New York:  
  37. ^ Tadeusz Piotrowski, Poland's Holocaust, McFarland & Company, 1997, ISBN 0-7864-0371-3. Google Print, p. 88, p. 89, p. 90
  38. ^ Piotrowski, Poland's Holocaust, p. 98
  39. ^,8,14;journal,3,5;linkingpublicationresults,1:110515,1
  40. ^ Sowjetische Partisanen in WeißrußlandReview of by Bogdan Musial, by Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, in Sarmatian Review, April 2006
  41. ^ [Bogdan Musiał "Memorandum Pantelejmona Ponomarienki z 20 stycznia 1943 r.:"O zachowaniu się Polaków i niektórych naszych zadaniach" Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość, Pismo Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej, Warszawa, 1.09.2006, ISSN 1427-7476, s. 379-380]
  42. ^ [3]
  43. ^ [4]
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^ a b c d Sowjetische Partisanen in Weißrußland
  47. ^ Martin Gilbert, 'The Holocaust' (1986), p. 515.
  48. ^ Orest Subtelny, Ukraine: a history, p. 476, University of Toronto Press (2000), ISBN 0802083900
  49. ^ . [[Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos tyrimo centrasBakaloriškių sunaikinimas Rimantas Zizas. (Lithuanian), 2004. Last accessed on 3 August 2006.]
  50. ^ Marc Elie (2007). Les anciens détenus du Goulag: libérations massives et réhabilitations dans l’URSS poststalinienne, 1953-1964 (in French). Paris: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences socilaes (PhD thesis). 
  51. ^


See also

List of notable Soviet partisans

The partisans were an important and numerous force of the war. According to Soviet sources, from 90,000 partisans (including underground) by the end of 1941 it grew to 220,000 in 1942, and to more than 550,000 in 1943.[34] Soviet partisans inflicted thousands of casualties on Axis forces. According to Soviet propaganda (Great Soviet Encyclopedia) in Belarus alone the partisans claimed to have killed, injured and taken prisoner some 500,000 German soldiers.[51]

In the second half of the war, major partisan operations were coordinated with Soviet offensives. Upon liberation of parts of the Soviet territory, the corresponding partisan detachments usually joined the regular Army.

The partisans' activities included disrupting the railroad communications, intelligence gathering and, typically, small hit and run operations. With the German supply lines already over extended, the partisan operations in the rear of the front lines were able to severely disrupt the flow of supplies to the army that acted deep into the Soviet territory.

German soldiers halted before a partisan-occupied zone


Some historians assert that the Soviet reactions to returning partisans were not better than for Soviet POWs. In 1955, a pardon was given to all returned prisoners of war and Nazi collaborators.[50]

Operating thousands of kilometres from the front lines, with little central authority, some fighters developed their own ideas that in many cases challenged the Soviet system. The Soviet Union viewed these actions with extreme hostility, and after the liberation of the territory, all partisan fighters had to pass through NKVD interrogation. Although the local population rarely came under any political pressure, some, particularly officers, were arrested on various grounds, with a number ending in labor camps.

Repressions against partisan veterans

In eastern and south-eastern Lithuania, Soviet partisans constantly clashed with Polish Armia Krajowa (Home Army) partisans; AK did not recognise any territorial changes after 1939 and considered this region as a legal part of Poland, while the Soviets planned to annex it into the Soviet Union after the war. Only in April 1944 did Polish and Soviet partisans start coordinating their actions against the Germans.[24]

Soviet partisans had very little support from the Baltic countries' populations. Their involvement in controversial actions that affected the civilian population (for example, the killing of the Polish civilians in Kaniūkai, in an event that has come to be called the Koniuchy massacre, and the destruction of the village of Bakaloriškės).[49] The anti-Soviet resistance movements in the Baltic states, known as the Latvian or Lithuanian partisans, (established just before the Soviet re-occupation in 1944), and local self-defence units often came into conflict with Soviet partisan groups. In Estonia and Latvia, almost all the Soviet partisan units, dropped by air, were either destroyed by the German forces or the local self-defense units.

Relations with the locals in Baltic States region

Ukrainian nationalist resistance to Soviet rule continued into the mid-late 1950s.

Later, UPA and Soviet partisan leaders tried to negotiate a temporary alliance, but Moscow NKVD Headquarters began harshly suppressing such moves by its local commanders. With two sides becoming established enemies, the Ukrainian civil population was primarily concerned with the survival.[48]

The Polish resistance. UPA initially attempted to find a common anti-Soviet ground with Nazi occupiers against the USSR, it soon was driven underground as it became apparent that the Germans' intentions for Ukraine were to establish a German colony with a subjugated local population, not an independent country as the UPA hoped for. As such, the UPA was driven underground and fought both the Nazi occupiers and the Soviet forces (including partisans) at the same time.

Relations with Ukrainian nationalists

Soviet partisans are therefore a controversial issue in those countries. In Latvia, some former Soviet partisans, such as Vasiliy Kononov, have been prosecuted for alleged war crimes against locals during Soviet partisan activity.

In addition to fighting the Nazis, Soviet partisans fought against organizations which sought to establish independent non-communist states of Poland,[46] Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine. Most of the resistance groups in the Baltic States and Poland sought to re-establish independent states free of Soviet domination.[46]

Fight against independence movements

Soviet partisans were not in a position to ensure protection to the Jews in the Holocaust. Able-bodied male Jews were usually welcomed by the partisans (sometimes only if they brought their own weapons). More than 10% of the Soviet partisan movement were Jews; in the Rowne Brigade, Alexander Abugov, commander of the reconnaissance unit, and Dr Ehrlich, commander of the medical services were Jews.[47] Jewish women, children, and the elderly were usually not welcome. Eventually, however, separate Jewish groups, both guerrilla units and mixed family groups of refugees (like the Bielski partisans), were subordinated to the communist partisan leadership and considered as Soviet assets.[46]

Jews and partisans

Activity and its effect on local civilians was a permanent issue of controversy among partisans.

According to Soviet sources, the partisans tried ways to limit hostage executions or other murders in retaliation for their actions, like targeting uninhabited areas, developing their own forest agriculture and evacuating the whole population of the villages at risk. However, some historians believe that such attempts were of little effect.

Partisans are often accused of provoking brutal countermeasures from the Nazi occupiers. Trying to limit partisan activities, German command employed mass killings of hostages among the residents of areas supporting partisan forces. In the case of partisan attack or sabotage, a number of locals would be executed. Such hostage operations happened in the form of preliminary arrests, post-attack retaliation actions, and/or compulsory "watch-groups" deployed on vulnerable sites and killed if they did not avert the attack. In Belarus alone, according to historian Christian Gerlach, German anti-partisan actions killed an estimated 345,000 people, mostly civilians.

While the partisan movement in some regions greatly contributed to the outcome of the Eastern Front, some historians argue that the price for this was too high.

Partisan's Mother, the 1943 painting by Sergey Gerasimov

German reprisals

Among the targets of Soviet partisans were not only Axis military and their collaboration units, but also civilians accused of being collaborators or sometimes even those who were considered not to support the partisans strongly enough.[46]

To survive, resistance fighters largely relied on the civilian population. This included access to food, clothing and other supplies. However, in the areas they controlled, there was limited opportunity to operate their own agriculture. As is typical in guerrilla warfare, Soviet partisans requisitioned food, livestock and clothes from local peasants; in some cases the supply was voluntary, in others coerced. The results of such requisitioning were made more severe by the fact that Axis occupation forces had been already carrying out their own requisitions. This led to conflicts with partisans in areas hostile to Soviet power, mostly in territories annexed by the Soviet Union during 1939–1941.

Execution of partisans by German soldiers, September 1941
Alleged Soviet partisans hanged by German forces in January 1943

Relations with civilians


  • Vasily Korzh raid, Autumn 1941-March 23, 1942. 1,000 km (620 mi) raid of a partisan formation in the Minsk and Pinsk Oblasts of Belarus.
  • Battle of Bryansk forests, May 1942. Partisan battle against the Nazi punitive expedition that included five infantry divisions, military police, 120 tanks and aviation.
  • Raid of Sydir Kovpak, October 26-November 29, 1942. Raid in Bryansk forests and Eastern Ukraine.
  • Battle of Bryansk forests, May–June 1943. Partisan battle in the Bryansk forests with German punitive expeditions.
  • Operation Rails War, August 3-September 15, 1943. A major operation of partisan formations against the railroad communications intended to disrupt the German reinforcements and supplies for the Battle of Kursk and later the Battle of Smolensk.[42][43] It involved concentrated actions by more than 100,000 partisan fighters from Belarus, the Leningrad Oblast, the Kalinin Oblast, the Smolensk Oblast, the Oryol Oblast and Ukraine within an area 1,000 km (620 mi) along the front and 750 km (470 mi) wide. Reportedly, more than 230,000 rails were destroyed, along with many bridges, trains and other railroad infrastructure. The operation seriously incapacitated German logistics and was instrumental in the Soviet victory in Kursk battle.
  • Operation Concerto, September 19-November 1, 1943. "Concerto"[44][45] was a major operation of partisan formations against the railroad communications intended to disrupt the German reinforcements and supplies for the Battle of the Dnieper and on the direction of the Soviet offensive in the Smolensk and Gomel directions. Partisans from Belarus, Karelia, the Kalinin Oblast, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Crimea participated in the operations. The area of the operation was 900 km (560 mi) along the front (excluding Karelia and Crimea) and 400 km (250 mi) wide. Despite bad weather that only permitted the airlift of less than 50% of the planned supplies, the operation lead to a 35-40% decrease in the railroad capacity in the area of operations. This was critical for the success of Soviet military operations in the autumn of 1943. In Belarus alone, the partisans claimed the destruction of more than 90,000 rails along with 1,061 trains, 72 railroad bridges and 58 Axis garrisons. According to the Soviet historiography, Axis losses totalled more than 53,000 soldiers.
  • Battle of Polotsk-Leppel, April 1944. Major battle between Belarusian partisans and German punitive expeditions.
  • Battle of Borisovsk-Begoml, April 22-May 15, 1944. Major battle between Belarusian partisans and German punitive expeditions.
  • Operation Bagration, June 22-August 19, 1944. Belarusian partisans took major part in the Operation Bagration. They were often considered the fifth front (along with the 1st Baltic Front, 1st Belorussian Front, 2nd Belorussian Front and 3rd Belorussian Front). Upwards of 300,000 partisans took part in the operation.
Partisans take on the village to drive away a German punitive expedition.

Major operations

After an initial period of wary collaboration with the Polish resistance, the conflicts between these groups intensified, especially as Poles were principally the victims of Soviet terror between 1939 and 1941, and Soviet diplomatic relations with the Polish exile government in London continued to worsen and were broken off completely by Soviet government in the aftermath of the discovery of the Katyn Massacre in 1943. In addition to sabotage aimed at the German war machine, Soviet partisans started extensive operations against both the Polish underground and the civilian population of the areas seized by the Soviets in 1939. The campaign of terror resulted in reports to London of horrifying looting, rape and murder.[36] This made many local AK commanders consider the Soviets as just another enemy[37] and eventually on June 22, 1943 Soviets partisans were ordered by Moscow to take on the Polish units as well.[38] The study by German-Polish historian [39] Bogdan Musial states that Soviet partisans, instead of engaging German military and police targets, targeted the poorly armed and trained Belarusian and Polish self-defense forces.[40] In addition, the Soviet partisans were instructed to collaborate with the Nazis by providing the German forces intelligence on Polish anti-Nazi resistance formation.[41] The Soviet partisans were involved in several massacres of Polish civilians, including at Naliboki, on May 8, 1943.

In the former eastern territories of the Second Polish Republic, attached to the Ukrainian and Belarusian Soviet Republics after the Soviet invasion of Poland, the organization and operation of Soviet partisans were similar to that in Ukrainian and Belarusian territories. However, there were notable differences in the interaction of partisans with Polish national forces and the local population.

1939-1945 border changes. The orange line depicts the extent of areas occupied by Soviet Union in 1939-1941 when it was allied with Nazi Germany


In 1944 Soviet partisans provided "proletarian internationalist" help to the people of German-occupied Central Europe, with seven united formations and 26 larger detachments operating in Poland, and 20 united formations and detachments operating in Czechoslovakia.[35]

Some formations calling themselves Soviet partisans operated a long way outside Soviet territory - usually organized by former Soviet citizens who had escaped from Nazi camps. One such formation, Rodina (Motherland), acted in France.[33][34]

Outside the Soviet Union

Partisan operations against Finns were estimated as being highly ineffectual. The partisans did not have sufficient strength to attack military targets, and would often falsely report their raids to higher command, claiming attacks on German or Finnish military targets even if the victims were civilians. Already in the autumn of 1941 the report of Komissariat of Interior Affairs was highly critical, and it became only worse, as stated in the counter-intelligence agency's report of April 1944. The main explanations given for the operations' failures were the isolated headquarters at Belomorsk, which did not know what operative units were doing, personnel who had no local knowledge and were partly made up of criminals (10-20% of all personnel were conscripted from prisons) without knowledge of how to operate in harsh terrain and climate, efficient Finnish counter-partisan patrolling (more than two-thirds of the infiltrating small partisan groups were completely destroyed) and Finnish internment of the ethnic Russian civilian population in concentration camps from those regions with active partisan operations. Internees were released to secure areas, preventing partisans from receiving local supplies. In addition, many Soviet Karelians reported to the Finns the movements of the partisans and did not support the Soviet Partisans.[27]

Two Finnish boys executed by Soviet partisans at Seitajärvi, July 1942.

In East Karelia, most partisans attacked Finnish military supply and communication targets, but inside Finland proper, almost two-thirds of the attacks targeted civilians,[29] killing 200 and injuring 50, mostly women, children and elderly.[30][31][32] On one occasion in the small village the partisans murdered all civilians, leaving no witnesses to the atrocities. One such incident was the attack of Lämsänkylä Kuusamo on July 18, 1943, in which the partisans attacked a lonely house and killed all of the seven civilians there, including a six-month-old baby and a three-year-old child, before fleeing.[29]

The only major Soviet Partisan operation ended with failure when the 1st Partisan Brigade was destroyed at the beginning of August 1942 at Lake Seesjärvi. Most operations at the southern part of the front consisted only of a few individuals, but in the roadless northern part, units of 40–100 partisans were not uncommon. Partisans distributed propaganda newspapers, "Truth" in the Finnish language and "Lenin's Banner" in the Russian language. One of the more notable leaders of the partisan movement in Finland and Karelia was the future leader of the USSR, Yuri Andropov.[28]

Approximately 5,000 partisans altogether fought in the region, although the typical strength of the force was 1,500–2,300. Peculiarities of this front were that partisan units were not created inside occupied territory, but their personnel came from all over the Soviet Union and that they mainly operated from the Soviet side of the front line.[27]

During the Finnish control of Eastern Karelia, many ethnic Russians and some Karelians supported the partisan attacks.[25][26]

Village of Viiangi after the Soviet partisan raid, July 1943

Finland and Karelia

In 1941, the Soviet partisan movement in Lithuania began with the actions of a small number of Red Army soldiers left behind enemy lines, much like the beginning of partisan movements in Ukraine and Belarus. The movement grew throughout 1942, and in the summer of that year the Lithuanian Soviet partisan movement began receiving material aid as well as specialists and instructors in guerrilla warfare from Soviet-held territory. On 26 November 1942, the Command of the Lithuanian Partisan Movement (Lietuvos partizaninio judėjimo štabas) was created in Moscow, headed by the First Secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party Antanas Sniečkus, who fled to Moscow in the wake of the German invasion in 1941. Although the Soviet partisans in Lithuania were nominally under the control of the Command of the Lithuanian Partisan Movement, the guerrilla warfare specialists and instructors sent by it reported directly to the Central Command of the Partisan Movement. Modern Lithuanian historians estimate that about half of the Soviet partisans in Lithuania were escapees from POW and concentration camps, Soviet activists and Red Army soldiers left behind the quickly advancing front line, while the other half was made up of airdropped special operations experts. It is estimated that in total, about 5,000 people engaged in pro-Soviet underground activities in Lithuania during the war. In general, the role of Soviet dissident groups in Lithuania in Second World War was minimal.[24]

While Soviet sources claim that thousands of partisans were operating in the Baltic region, in fact they only operated in the Latgale region of Latvia and the Vilnius district.[22] Thus Estonia remained partisan free throughout most of the war, by 1944 only 234 partisans were fighting in Estonia and none were native volunteers, all being either NKVD or Red Army personnel parachuted in from the Soviet-controlled territories.[23] In Latvia, they were first under Russian and Belarusian command, and from January 1943, directly subordinated to the central Headquarters in Moscow, under the leadership of Arturs Sproģis. Another prominent commander was the historian Vilis Samsons. His 3,000 man unit is credited with the destruction of nearly 130 German trains; however, this seems to be a fabrication. There is no mention at all of this kind of action in the RVD Riga documents nor any mention by the Latvian and Estonian railway workers who were on the payroll of RVD Riga in 1941-1944.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

In 1943, after the Red Army started to liberate western Russia and north-east Ukraine, many partisans, including units led by Fedorov, Medvedev and Saburov, were ordered to re-locate their operations into central and western Ukraine still occupied by Nazis.

In the Bryansk region, Soviet partisans controlled large areas behind the German lines. In the summer of 1942 they effectively held more than 14,000 square kilometers (5,405 square miles) with a population of over 200,000 people. Soviet partisans in the region were led by Oleksiy Fedorov, Alexander Saburov and others and numbered over 60,000 men. The Belgorod, Oryol, Kursk, Novgorod, Leningrad, Pskov and Smolensk regions also had significant partisan activity during the occupation period. In the Oryol and Smolensk regions partisans were led by Dmitry Medvedev.

Interrogation of a Soviet partisan by Wehrmacht Luftwaffe Fallschirmjäger Paratroopers, Russia 1942


Although the Soviet partisan leadership was officially hostile to the independent nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), local partisan commanders sometimes established neutral relations with its groups. However, during 1941–42 and after 1943, both sides set out to destroy the other. Soviet partisans also targeted families, assistants and supporters of the Ukrainian members of the Waffen-SS Division Galizien (Galicia). A medical camp in Torforazrabotki (vicinity of Deptovka, Dmitrievka rayon, Chernigov oblast) was commanded by Naum Aronovich and affiliated with Kovpak detachment in Putivl area. This camp was accepting wounded partisans until they could be evacuated to Bolshaya Zemlya by aircraft. The camp had 1 doctor (Natalia Buseva) and several nurses.

Anti-Soviet Russian "partisan hunters", 1942

The first Soviet partisan detachments in Ukraine appeared in the Chernihiv and Sumy regions. They developed out of Mykola Popudrenko's and Sydir Kovpak's underground groups, and became a formidable force in 1943. At this stage, they were controlled and supported by the Ukrainian Partisan Movement Headquarters in Moscow, operating throughout occupied Ukraine (especially in the northeastern part) and numbered over 150,000 fighters. In 1944, partisans led by Kovpak and Vershigora were even able to raid enemy Axis forces in Romania, Slovakia and Poland.

Members of the Sydir Kovpak partisan detachment

Alongside Belarus, Ukraine was the first and hardest hit by the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer and autumn of 1941. The consequences for the area and for the population that remained under the occupation were devastating. The Nazi regime made little effort to exploit the anti-Soviet sentiments among the Ukrainians that developed from the years of Stalinist rule. Despite the fact that some Western Ukrainians initially welcomed the Germans, the Nazi leadership chose to take a hard line, preserving the collective-farm system, systematically deporting the local population to Greater Germany as a slave labour force and carrying out the Holocaust on Ukrainian territory. Under these circumstances most of the population resisted the Nazi onslaught and the partisan movement spread over the occupied territory.[21]


During the 1941–44 period, the total Soviet partisan force in Belarus reached a strength of 374,000 personnel, with about another 70,000 in the urban underground, and about 400,000 in the reserves. Among Soviet partisans in Belarus were people of 45 different nationalities and 4,000 non-Soviet citizens (including 3,000 Poles, 400 Czechs and Slovaks, 300 Yugoslavians, etc.). Around 65% of Belarusian partisans were local people.

During the battles for the liberation of Belarus, partisans comprised the fourth Belorussian front. After the liberation of the Belarusian SSR, about 180,000 partisans joined the Soviet Army in 1944.

In autumn 1943, the partisan force in the Belarusian SSR numbered about 153,000, and by the end of 1943 numbers reached about 122,000, with about 30,000 put behind the front line in the course of the liberation of the eastern parts of the Belarusian SSR (end 1943). The partisan movement was so strong that by 1943–44 there were entire regions in occupied Belarus where Soviet authority was re-established deep inside the German held territories. There were even partisan kolkhozes raising crops and livestock to produce food for the partisans.[20]

The Soviet victory at Stalingrad, a certain lessening of the terror campaign (de facto from December 1942, formally permitted in February 1943) and an amnesty promised to collaborators who wished to return to the Soviet camp were significant factors in the 1943 growth of Soviet partisan forces. Desertions from the ranks of the German-controlled police and military formations strengthened units, with sometimes whole detachments coming over to the Soviet camp, including the Volga Tatar battalion (900 personnel, February 1943), and Gil-Rodionov's 1st Russian People's Brigade of the SS (2,500 personnel, August 1943). In all, about 7,000 people of different anti-Soviet formations joined the Soviet partisan force, while about 1,900 specialists and commanders were dropped into occupied Belarus in 1943. However, local people mainly accounted for most increases in the Soviet partisan force.

The buildup of the Soviet partisan force in western Belarus was ordered and implemented during 1943, with nine brigades, 10 detachments and 15 operational groups transferred from east to west, effectively tripling the partisan force there (reaching 36,000 troops in December 1943). It is estimated that 10–12,000 personnel were transferred, and about same number came from local volunteers. The buildup of the military force was complemented by the intensification of the underground Communist Party structures and propaganda activity.[19]

Soviet partisans on the road in Belarus, 1944.
Byelorussian partisans in the forest near Polotsk, Byelorussian SSR, September 1943.


In January 1943, out of 56,000 partisan personnel, 11,000 were operating in western Belarus, 3.5 fewer per 10,000 local people than in the east, and even more so (up to 5-6 factor) if one accounts for much more efficient Soviet evacuation measures in the East during 1941.[15] Smallholders in the west showed "surprising" sympathies to the partisans.[16] There is strong evidence that this was a decision of the central Soviet authorities, who refrained from a larger accumulation of partisan forces in western Belarus, and let Polish underground military structures grow in these lands during 1941-1942, in order to strengthen relations with the Polish government-in-exile of Władysław Sikorski.[17] A certain level of military cooperation, imposed by the command headquarters, was noted between Soviet partisans and Armia Krajowa (AK). People of Polish nationality were, to an extent, avoided during the terror campaigns in 1942.[18] After the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the USSR and the Polish government in exile in April 1943, the situation changed radically. From this moment on, the AK was treated as a hostile military force.

In 1942, terror campaigns against the territorial administration, staffed by local "collaborators and traitors" was additionally emphasized.[14] This resulted, however, in definite divisions within the local civilian population, resulting in the beginning of the organisation of anti-partisan units with native personnel in 1942. By November 1942, Soviet partisan units in Belarus numbered about 47,000 personnel.[12]

In spring 1942, the concentration of smaller partisan units into brigades began, prompted by the experience of the first year of war. The coordination, numerical buildup, structural reworking and established supply lines all translated into greatly increased partisan capability, which showed in the increased instances of sabotage on the railroads, with hundreds of engines and thousands of cars destroyed by the end of the year.[13]


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