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.

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