Thursday, April 28, 2011

Za Rus! The SS Druzhina Brigade Story

Druzhina Brigade came into being when the SD undertook an operation known as ‘Zeppelin', an attempt to raise large units for special operations behind Soviet lines. Under promises of a modicum of freedom and better conditions, SD recruited thousands volunteers among Red Army prisoners from POW camps in occupied Russian territory. However, when the original purpose of ‘Zeppelin’, the deployment of large units in the Soviet rear, had been thwarted due to lack of sufficient aircraft, the SD decided to employ the majority of the personnel for anti-partisan duties.

A combat unit was formed and given the title "Druzhina" (Detachment). The unit's commander was a Kuban Cossack and former Chief of Staff of the Red Army’s 229th Infantry Division, Lieutenant Colonel Vassily.V. Rodinov, also known by his alias of "Gil". The unit's motto was "Za Rus" (For Russia). Theirs participation in anti-partisan operations was to serve as a valuable training exercise and as a test of the Russians' loyalty to the Germans.

Initially, the unit proved exemplary in combat against the Belarusian partisans. A second group was founded on 11 December, 1942, when 135 turncoats were recruited in Stalag 319A by Major Blazhevicz with the help of two camp leaders named Alelekov and Makarenko. This second unit was dispatched to Gajdow in vicinity of Lublin in south-eastern Poland. In March of 1943 both units were moved to the Glubokoye area in Belorussia, where they were combined into a single larger unit, consisting possibly of four battalions and a headquarters, which became known as the "SS Druzhina Brigade".

In February of 1943 the Germans selected a group of 50 of these Russian renegades and send them on an indoctrination trip to Germany. However, this trip proved to be counter-productive as the Russians learned from their fellow countrymen held at the Oranienburg Concentration Camp as well as from Russian slave workers, of the brutal treatment they endured at the hands of the Germans. As a result many of the 50 Russians began to question the very logic of collaborating with the Germans. These doubts about the genuine intentions of the Germans helped give rise to a patriotic anti-Nazi cell within the SD brigade. This cell was led by Gil-Rodionov, who was so fed up with all the German atrocities committed on his fellow compatriots that he arranged a meeting with the Zhelezniak Partisan Brigade.

The Soviet partisans, conducted the negotiations with the permission of the Soviet government, promised Gil-Rodionov that no retribution will be undertaken against all those Russian SD-men who decide to join them, provided that they will go over with all their weapons, join in the struggle against the Germans, and hand-over pro-Nazi officers in the unit like ex-Red Army general Bogdanov and a certain émigré captain named Count Mirski. Gil-Rodionov decided to agree to these terms.

On 13 August, in what would appear to have been a prearranged encounter, the Zhelezniak Partisan Brigade ambushed the brigade and demanded its surrender. Gil-Rodionov then threatened to shoot anyone unwilling to change side. All the German liaison staff were killed. Despite this, some 30 officers and 500 other ranks refused to go over to the partisans and fought their way out of the encirclement to return to the German lines. They were later incorporated into the ROA unit.

The defectors later were transformed into the Soviet First Anti-Fascist Brigade, and Gil-Rodionov was awarded by Stalin the Order of the Red Star. The brigade went on to fight numerous engagements against the Axis, some of which involved fighting what remained of the SS "Druzhina" Brigade. During the German anti-partisan operation ‘Spring Feast’ in April 1944, a group of 300 defectors (including Gil-Rodionov) was encircled and destroyed by SS Kampfgruppe von Gottberg in vicinity of the Zyabki Railway Station.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

1. SS-Sonder-Regiment "Väreger”

Formed as a battalion size in Belgrade, Serbia, in March 1942, the unit consist 600 ex-Red Army. They were lead by a White-Russian officer, Captain Mikhail Alexandrovich Semenov. Initially, the Germans have a plan to train them as an anti-partisan and saboteurs unit under the Zeppelin Kommando, but the plan never realized. The SS-Jäger Battalion, known informally as "Väreger” (Varjagov), later served as an anti-partisan unit in Yugoslavia until the end of the war.

In 1943, Semenov handed over his command and left to Germany, where he participated to form Vlasov Army. In early 1944, the battalion, lead by SS-Haupsturmführer A. Orlov, was send to Slovenia to fought Tito’s partisan. In November 1944, the battalion expanded to regiment sized and known as 1. SS-Sonder-Regiment "Väreger”.
"Väreger” participated in some anti-partisan operations in Slovenia, including in "Frühlingsanfang" and "Winterende" actions under Kampgruppe Dippelhofer between end March to early April 1945. They were also participated in last large German anti-partisan operation in Slovenia from 9-15 April 1945 along the road Kočevje-Stari Log-Dvor-Soteska.

After Germany collapsed, the regiment surrendered to British army and its members were put into POWs camp near Taranto, Italy. Some soldiers and officers were extradited to the USSR and Yugoslavia. Only a very small group that joined the Russian Guard Corps during the last days of war evaded the common fate.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ostbataillon Huber

An ad hoc formation, Ost-Bataillon Huber comprised of various eastern volunteer units, mainly Russians and Ukrainians, from a training facility at Quetquidan in Brittany. During the Normandy campaign, they were put under LXXXIV Armeekorps, AOK 7, and was intended to be sent to Normandy. But it had not arrived during June 1944.

In Normandy, the battalion were put as a part of German defence against the American First Army’s drive toward St-Lo. Unlike other Osttruppen formations in Normandy, Ostbataillon Huber fought hard during the campaign, where they lost 80 percent in casualties when defending la Haye-du-Puitsand and was overrun. The bad conduct of this (non-German) unit was blamed for the day’s loss in ground, described as a “deep penetration.”