Friday, December 28, 2012


A harsh fate awaited those who had joined the Vlasov Army, a force comprising several divisions of Russian soldiers armed by Germany to fight against the Red Army. The group had been organized by General Andrei Vlasov, the hero of the Battle of Moscow, who had been captured in 1942. Vlasov and several of his chief subordinates were hanged in the Lubyanka in 1946. A picture of the executed men hanging from gallows was found in Joseph Stalin's desk after his death.

If we say that ROA was nothing but armed forces subordinated to the Vlasov’s KONR, you are right saying no ROA units were deployed in the West. The 1. ROA Div (600. Div according the German numbering) was engaged in combat in March and April 1945 in the lower Oder area; the 2. ROA Div. and 3. ROA Div. (being formed) have not even reached the frontline.

If we say that ROA was a general term often used to describe Russian volunteer formations, you are wrong. By late summer 1943 there were around 40 batallions scattered across armies, corpses and divisions from the Finnish border to the Ukraine. Since May 1943, all these units were obliged by the OKW order to wear ROA badges. On Oct 15, following a number of defections which infuriated Hitler, all these units were ordered to be moved to the West. The process was completed by late 1943. According to the OKW order, ROA batallions were to form a third or fourth batallion within a German regiment. Their operations were supervised by the newly-formed „Kommando der Freiwilligenverbande beim Oberbefehlshaber West” in Paris (gen. von Wartenberg, since June 15 gen. von Niedermeyer). These units, still with their ROA badges (have photos!) were engaged in combat in the West. In many allied memoirs from Normandy you might read how surprised the Americans were when discovering that the Germans they had just captured spoke Russian.
The SS recruited Schuma-battalions of militia/police which became often part of the Waffen-SS (15, 19, 20, 29 Divisions). The Tatar Schuma battalions (8 of them) serving in the Crimea were formed into a brigade/waffenverband after they were removed from the Crimea in 1943. There were at one stage 170 Schuma battalions but many were disbanded before they were formed into Waffen-SS divisions. Also present were Schuma-Einzeldienst which served as village/town police forces but were increasingly armed. The total for both battalions and individuals was placed at 300,000 at the end of 1942 by the head of German police Daluege, this including battalions. The Schumas were very important to the SS and helped at the front and in the rear, in Army Group North Schuma battalions serve in the frontline as early as the winter of 1941-2. Munoz details the formation of numerous regiments of Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian police and border guards which served outside the Baltic SS divisions in 1944 and often in the frontline. Some were under the 300th Division Staff at Narva. Kaminski's Brigade was eventually taken into the Waffen-SS for a while but was 12 battalions of militia in 1943 under loose Army control (2nd Panzer Army, then 9th Army), see Munoz' volume on Kaminski (also Axis Europa) for more. There were other interesting small units part of the Abwehr like Sonderverband Bergmann, if you want to learn more read Hoffmann's works.

The actual formation of divisions boiled down to twelve plus four brigades: the 600th Infantry, 650th Infantry, both of the Vlasov ROA army, the 162nd Turkish Infantry, the 300th Division Staff of Estonians, the 1st and 2nd Cossack, the 14th Waffen-Grenadier 'Galicia' Div, the 15th and 19th Latvian SS, the 20th Estonian SS, the 29th and 30th Waffen-Grenadier Divisions (both more like brigades) plus the 599th Russian ROA Infantry Brigade and Cossack 'Plastun' Infantry Brigade, finally the Kalmyk Cavalry Corps (KKK!!!) which reached 4000 men and 4 battalions in late 1943 but sunk in strength after that. Prior to the existence of any of the above there had been the Experimental Formation Center (Versuchsverband Mitte) or RNNA which was broken up into four 600-series Ost Battalions on the order of Field Marshal von Kluge in November 1942. The numbering of those battalions is confused in several sources by historians.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Vlasov's forgotten army

Left to right: Wehrmacht General Rudolf Toussaint, SS General Werner Lorenz and Soviet General Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov in Prague Castle's Spanish Hall Nov. 14, 1944.

Communists buried legacy of Soviet General Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov and his battalion of POWs that helped free Prague from the Nazis.

By Stephen Weeks For The Prague Post
November 11th, 2004

Some six decades ago, Prague Castle hosted one of the most extraordinary events in the city's long history. A conference held Nov. 14, 1944, in the Castle's Spanish Hall brought together Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov, a Soviet General (indeed the "Savior of Moscow," who had stopped the Nazi armies from taking that city three years earlier) and much of the Nazi upper echelon. Vlasov would convince the Nazis to back a plan he had devised -- a last-ditch effort to arm prisoners of war to battle Stalin's forces.

Amidst a hall packed with high-ranking SS and Wehrmacht officers (including SS General Werner Lorenz and General Rudolf Toussaint), sat representatives from all of the Slavic countries overrun by the Nazis and other figures of the Nazi State. Vlasov looked more like a school master than a general. In his youth he thought of becoming a priest.

SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler had sent along his apologies and a message. Adolf Hitler, however, couldn't quite bring himself to do either. Hitler was, in fact, not certain that Vlasov's plan -- to arm a million and a half Russian POWs, mainly Ukrainians, to bring down Stalin and communism -- was such a good idea. He had rejected it outright in 1943, but now Germany had its back to the wall. The Nazis were in full retreat over Eastern Europe and any help the Fuhrer could get from any quarter might salvage part of his wild dreams or simply help to save mainland Germany -- even if these helpers were Untermenschen, or sub-humans. The war was only six months from its end; the noose was gradually tightening.

When Vlasov took the podium he launched into an extraordinary manifesto of his own: of equality and democracy in the new Russia which would be liberated by his army. This must have made some of the SS and others in the hall that day feel rather uncomfortable; the manifesto included the abolition of forced labor and the release of all political prisoners. Most significantly, Vlasov had refused Himmler's demand to include "an unequivocal stand on the Jewish question." In fact not a single word in Vlasov's speech had referred to Hitler or to National Socialism.

After the conference, Vlasov -- who was still a Nazi prisoner -- was taken to the Lucerna Film Club, just off Wenceslas Square, where he partied with Prague film stars, producers and directors. After more than two years in captivity and trying to push his cause, he deserved a little relaxation. At 2 o'clock on the morning of Nov. 15 his special train whisked him to Berlin.

When news that Vlasov had a green light to form this new army circulated via Russian POWs' own newspaper, by the end of the month new recruits were signing up at a rate of up to 60,000 per day.  

'We will defeat Stalin'

Vlasov had been captured by the Germans in July 1942. After six months in captivity he confessed to his captors that he did in fact hate Stalin and the whole Bolshevik state. "Give me your prisoners," Vlasov told them, "and together we will defeat Stalin." How he figured he could then wriggle out of his new commitment to a dictatorship just as evil is not known. But the idea was sound: it would have got 1.5 million POWs in appalling conditions fighting fit again -- and no doubt they would eventually have turned on their new masters. Had the Nazis embraced this idea then, in early 1943, then indeed there would have been a real prospect of success, despite their defeat at Stalingrad.

Vlasov didn't get to meet Himmler until September 1944 -- and despite winning him over, it was still impossible for Hitler to understand the necessity, not until November of that year, by which time the war was well and truly lost.

Between that November and April of 1945, two divisions of "Vlasov's Army," more than 50,000 men, were formed, equipped and trained. Nine officers were Jews, concealed by Vlasov personally. Germany could not afford to equip and provide munitions for more men. This army had its own hospitals, training schools for officers, supply systems and air force. And on April 14, 1945, it was sent not to liberate Russia but to try to halt the Soviet advance across the Oder, only a few hours' drive from Berlin.

Seeing how hopeless, as well as pointless, the situation was for his force, Vlasov turned his men back and decided to march across Bohemia to get to Pilsen -- where he would deliver them as prisoners to the Americans, who were halted there. Stalin had already made it known that if any of Vlasov's men fell into his hands they would receive long and painful deaths.

The army stopped to regroup near Beroun, just a half-hour drive southwest of Prague. By now it was early May. Hitler had already committed suicide. On May 5, members of the Czech National Committee came out from Prague to see Vlasov. Their uprising against the Nazis had begun but the planned British weapons drop had not come. They did not know then that Stalin had stopped Churchill. Stalin's plan, as at Warsaw, was to wait and watch the patriots and the Nazis kill each other and destroy the city.

Erased from history

Eventually Vlasov was persuaded and by May 6 the First Division, 25,000 men with armor, set off in three columns to save the uprising -- and Prague. In 36 hours the Nazis had surrendered and the uprising had succeeded. What followed then was a betrayal by the Czech National Committee of the army that had rescued them, more betrayals by the Americans and the British and then the Soviet Army's arrival in Prague being heralded as the liberators of the city. Stalin saw to it that Vlasov's Army would never make the history books and few Czechs even today really know of its contribution. Even the little street plaques which list those patriots who fell at that spot during the Prague Uprising do not list Vlasov's men. Sometimes the plaques simply say "... and others." That's them.

The dramatic story of Vlasov's Army in the liberation of Prague and their subsequent march to Plzen and the tragic events that unfolded there will be told on their 60th anniversary, next year. For now, the Prague "Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia" conference is an interesting footnote of history. However, it was too little, too late. If only Himmler and his equally satanic master had woken up to the opportunity earlier, the whole postwar story of Czechoslovakia might have been very different indeed.

-- The author is a writer and conservationist. Last year his novel, Daniela, which used the story of Vlasov's Army as its background, was published in the United States. He can be reached at 

It's Too Early To Forgive Vlasov

Vlasov at a German POW camp in 1942.

By Valeria Korchagina and Andrei Zolotov Jr. Staff Writer


MOSCOW - Mention the name Vlasov to an ordinary Russian and one word will pop into mind: traitor.

Ask whether history should smile down on Lieutenant General Andrei Vlasov, the Soviet commander who defected to the Germans in World War II, and the ground would be laid for hours of heated debate. Several generations of young Soviet students were taught to hate Vlasov as a traitor who turned his back on the fatherland at a time when defenders were most needed.

These days, the line is growing blurred as evidence mounts that Vlasov may have changed sides in a bid to give his countrymen a better life than the one they had under Stalin.

But the story is apparently not far enough in the past to forgive and forget the man whose life and deeds are still largely seen through a cloud of political agendas and historical cover-ups.

The country's top military court refused Thursday to rehabilitate Vlasov, who was convicted of state treason and hanged in 1946 after being turned over by the Allies a year earlier.

The appeal of the original conviction was launched by the small monarchist group For Faith and Fatherland.

"Vlasov was a patriot who spent much time re-evaluating his service in the Red Army and the essence of Stalin's regime before agreeing to collaborate with the Germans," one of the group's leaders, suspended Orthodox priest Nikon Belavenets, was quoted as saying in the Gazeta newspaper.

But judges at the Military Collegium were less supportive of Vlasov's methods of combating oppression at home.

"The truth is that although some argue that he was fighting against the Soviet regime and, thus, should not be seen as a traitor, by doing so he also fought against the state and the people. And this is treason," said Nikolai Petukhov, chairperson of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court and deputy chairperson of the Supreme Court.

Vlasov was born in 1900 in the Vladimir Region. The son of a wealthy peasant, he was drafted into the Red Army in 1919 and became a career officer. He joined the Communist Party in 1930.

From 1941 until his defection to German Army in July 1942, Vlasov was a key commander in defending Kiev and Moscow. It is unclear whether he was captured, as Western history books say, or surrendered, as Soviet books say.

In any case, he agreed to cooperate with Nazi Germany.

Vlasov was one of millions of Russians who ended up in Germany voluntarily or as POWs during the war. They found themselves caught in a tragic situation - they were suddenly free of Stalin's totalitarianism but were looked upon as Untermenschen by the Nazis.

Vlasov maintained that he underwent a profound change of heart that left him a dedicated anti-Communist during the days before he went with the Germans. Those days were spent on the Volkhov front after he and his troops were surrounded by Nazis.

Once in Berlin and surrounded by SS officers, Vlasov presented himself as a Russian patriot and refused to wear a German uniform. He wanted to lead an armed Russian force into the Soviet Union, apparently to start a revolt against the Stalin regime and create an independent Russia.

While the Nazi leadership eagerly used Vlasov as a key tool in a propaganda war, they didn't risk forming an armed Russian force until the end of the war. In the summer of 1943, Vlasov was taken on a tour through occupied northwestern Russia and was welcomed so enthusiastically that the Nazis cut the trip short, sent him back to Berlin and put him under de facto house arrest.

In November 1944, the Germans finally allowed Vlasov to inaugurate his Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia, which proclaimed among its goals "the overthrow of Stalin's tyranny," civil rights, private property and "honorable peace with Germany."

However, sufficient proof exists to indicate that military formations under Vlasov's command were involved in training spies and saboteurs for territories controlled by the Red Army, Petukhov of the Military Collegium said in a telephone interview.

Finding himself at the crossroads of history, Vlasov thought he could become a third force in the battle of totalitarian giants.

Vlasov's army is viewed by Nobel Prize-winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn and some historians as an episode of Russia's Civil War removed in time by a quarter of a century.

"These people who have felt with their own skin 24 years of Communist happiness knew already in 1941 what no one else in the world yet knew: that on the whole planet and in all history there has never been a regime more evil, bloody and at the same time wily and shifty than Bolshevism," Solzhenitsyn wrote in "The Gulag Archipelago."

The memoirs of Vlasov followers, known as Vlasovites, suggest that the general was convinced that if he had a full army, Soviet generals would join him and the Communist regime would fall.

"I will end the war by telephone with [Marshal Georgy] Zhukov," Vlasov was quoted as saying on several occasions. Zhukov was one of the top Soviet commanders.

But even in the last weeks of the war, when the Soviet Army was already at the German border, only two incomplete divisions led by Vlasov were armed. One of them helped liberate Prague when a popular uprising took place in the city in May 1945. But the Vlasovites left to give way to the Soviet Army.

"Looking into the events surrounding the liberation of Prague in May 1945, when Vlasov's forces turned against the Germans, we found that the switch was not prompted by orders but came as the decision of ordinary soldiers," Petukhov said.

The judges, however, did decide Thursday to strike one point from the original verdict - the charge under which Vlasov was found guilty of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. This charge was used frequently during Stalinist repressions. Under current laws, the charge is automatically removed from all convictions made during the 80 years of Soviet rule.

The hearing on Thursday also addressed the cases of 11 of Vlasov's subordinates in his Russia Liberation Army. They were all denied rehabilitation.