Partisan Warfare, Soviet

   In the 1930s, the Soviet Union made preparations to conduct partisan warfare, but Joseph Stalin, who had promised the Soviet people that war would be fought on the enemy’s territory, cancelled plans in 1937–1938 and had a number of experts shot for “defeatism.” Nevertheless, on 26 June 1941, four days after the Nazi invasion, Lavrenty Beria gave orders for the preparation of a nationwide partisan movement and assigned a number of senior security officers to build a partisan organization. The NKVD’s Fourth Directorate had responsibility for partisan operations; its chief was Pavel Sudoplatov.
   For Stalin and Beria, the partisan movement had several aims: maintaining Soviet power behind German lines; the punishment of collaborators; gathering intelligence about the enemy; and sabotaging the enemy’s lines of communications. In 1941 and 1942, progress of the movement was spasmodic, but German atrocities toward Soviet prisoners and civilians drove thousands of Russian, Byelorussian, and Ukrainian peasants into the partisan movement. Many young people in the villages faced a choice of deportation to Germany or escape into the forests to join the partisans. As the war progressed, more and more chose the latter.
   The partisans had their greatest successes in 1942–1944 in both the political and military arenas. Large liberated areas were created in Russian, Byelorussian, and Ukrainian territories. Partisan governments were established. Many of these liberated areas had their own airstrips. More importantly, partisan units became bolder in striking German military targets. Senior German officials were assassinated, and the partisans began a highly successful railroad war against German logistical services. Before the July 1943 German offensive at Kursk, the partisans conducted over 10,000 attacks against German railroads. The attacks on the German lines of communication cut the flow of supplies to the front and forced Berlin to assign troops from the front to protect the rear.
   Intelligence gathering also improved dramatically as the war wore on, and information from partisan groups became increasingly important for military planning. In April 1943, Stalin issued an order expanding the intelligence responsibilities of the partisans, and thousands of GRU and NKVD officers were assigned to partisan detachments to improve the collection of military information for senior Red Army commanders. Smersh also operated in the partisan groups, ensuring that the organizations remained under party control and did not turn into bandit formations. Smersh officers collected information about the local population and the names of collaborators for punishment after victory.
   The partisan war in the east was fought on different fronts. In the Baltic states and Russia, it often involved battles between Jewish and Slavic partisans, and in the Ukraine between nationalists and communist formations. The Nazi policy of genocide drove thousands of young Jews into the partisan movement. In Vilnius and other cities, an urban partisan movement sprang into being. Following the destruction of many ghettos, young Jewish men and women fled to the forests and swamps. Some were absorbed into existing partisan movements, but many were forced to band together and form Jewish partisan detachments. Moscow made some effort to prevent violence between Jewish and Slavic groups, and NKVD and Smersh officers tried to keep the peace between them. In the Ukraine, the situation was more difficult, as nationalists and Soviet formations fought each other and the Germans. This struggle continued into the 1950s. Smersh and NKVD officers in partisan detachments also built contacts with Polish and Slovak partisans in 1944. These contacts produced intelligence for Red Army formation, as well as information about political developments in Slovakia and Poland. In 1945–1947, this information helped the Red Army and its Polish communist allies destroy opposition from anticommunist Ukrainian and Polish forces operating in the region.
   See also Partisan Warfare, Soviet.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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