Tuesday, May 26, 2015


At the start of FALL WEISS (1939), the still mobilizing Polish Army had 280,000 men on active duty and three million in reserve. Pressed by the entire strength of the Wehrmacht in the west, and then by massive forces of the Red Army in the east from September 17, the Poles fought hard and valiantly, but not well and in vain. Following Poland’s surrender many thousands of officers were murdered by the NKVD at Katyn, Kharkov, and Tver. Others were killed by the Germans. Nearly 100,000 Polish soldiers went into foreign exile. Over 40,000 found a way through the Balkans to France, where they were joined by 40,000 more in time to fight the Germans in the west in FALL GELB in 1940. One unit of 6,000 moved to Palestine upon the French defeat, where they joined the Free French as the “Carpathian Brigade,” a force later expanded into the 3rd Carpathian Division with fresh arrivals. It fought in Italy as part of Polish 2nd Corps. However, Polish 2nd Rifle Division was trapped by the fighting in France in 1940 and was forced to seek refuge in Switzerland, where its men were interned. Other Poles made it to the Middle East or evacuated to Britain, where they were armed and fought alongside British and Commonwealth forces for the rest of the war in Africa, Italy, France, and then into Germany in 1945. Poles also fought alongside or as part of Royal Navy and other Allied naval forces. Some 20,000 served with Allied air forces, notably as fighter pilots in France and during the Battle of Britain . By the end of the war hundreds of thousands of Poles were serving alongside or as integral parts of Western Allied armies.

Inside occupied Poland the “Armia Krajowa” or Home Army formed. Originally known as the “Union for Armed Struggle,” it represented a broad coalition of resisters to German occupation. Armia Krajowa membership peaked at over 380,000 in 1944, including 35,000–40,000 women, many of whom were active fighters in close and deadly combat. During the second half of 1941, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, General Wladyslaw Anders was appointed to command Polish ground forces reconstituted from 1.5 million Polish prisoners released by the Soviets. It was also agreed that Polish naval and air personnel would be released to the British. In August, Moscow agreed with London that the Poles should be armed by the Red Army, with some assistance from Lend-Lease, and count in the Soviet order of battle. By October, 25,000 Poles had enlisted. Their equipment and training was minimal, given Joseph Stalin’s distrust of Poles as well as the desperate circumstances facing the Red Army that fall. Already, political relations began to sour over a deepening mystery of missing Polish officers needed for the new divisions. They were already dead, buried in mass graves in the Katyn Forest and outside Tver and Kharkov. Untrusted by their Soviet hosts and untrusting of them, the Poles were moved to Central Asia and to Far East bases in early 1942. Other problems arose when Moscow forbade recruitment of ethnic Poles it identified for political reasons as Belorussian, Jewish, or Ukrainian. Anders refused to send his underarmed and poorly supplied divisions into combat. Even so, he raised six understrength divisions of 11,000–12,000 men each, with more men in reserve. This armed force deep inside his territory made Joseph Stalin profoundly suspicious. He ordered it cut from 72,000 men to just 44,000 and constricted supply. That freed over 30,000 Polish troops to be transferred to British control. They left the Soviet Union across the Caspian, thence via Iran to Iraq. With supply and recruitment problems continuing in Russia, Anders soon followed with the remaining 44,000 men and their dependents.

Once in the Middle East these Polish eager troops were incorporated into the 2nd Polish Corps under the umbrella of Britain’s Persia and Iraq Force (PAIForce). They spent the first half of 1943 training and protecting oil fields in Iraq against possible German invasion and seizure. In August they were moved to Palestine. While there, some Jewish soldiers deserted. A few joined local Zionist militia opposed to British rule. Four months later 2nd Corps moved to Egypt, bringing over 50,000 well-trained and highly motivated troops closer to action against the Axis. In early 1944 the Poles corps finally went into combat against the hated Germans, alongside Allied troops in the invasion of Italy. Anders led 2nd Polish Corps into combat, so it became popularly known to Western Allied troops as “Anders’ Army.” Polish 2nd Corps saw heavy fighting at Monte Cassino, storming the rubble and overwhelming the last German defenders while suffering great casualties. It subsequently fought sharp actions along the Gothic Line and at the Argenta Gap (1945). Left by the untidy end of the war without a country to which most felt they could return, many veterans of 2nd Corps and other Polish units spent the rest of their lives in embittered exile in Britain, Canada, France, or the United States. Altogether, some 250,000 Poles serving with the British were offered a chance to join the “Polish Resettlement Corps” for two years postwar service, preparatory to final settlement in the UK or overseas.

Meanwhile, Joseph Stalin authorized formation of a pro-Communist Polish division within the Red Army in 1943. It was led by Zygmunt Berling. He was a former chief of staff to Wladyslaw Anders, but abandoned Anders in 1942 on the eve of departure from the Soviet Union. The new division was deficient in officers, a recurring consequence of the Katyn massacre. A second Communist division was established thereafter, joining the 1st to form a Polish Corps. With additional divisions added in 1944, this formation became the Polish Army in the Soviet Union, sometimes called “Berling’s Army.” By 1945 it comprised six divisions. It saw extensive fighting in Ukraine in 1944, then moved north to eastern Poland later in the year. Serving under Konstantin Rokossovsky, Berling made forward contact with the Home Army near Warsaw on September 15. Desperate efforts to cross the Vistula late in the Warsaw Uprising were denied by higher Soviet strategic imperatives and the difficulty of the crossing. After Warsaw was liberated during the Vistula-Oder operation in early 1945, the NKVD eliminated as many Home Army personnel as it could locate. In the interim, Soviet-sponsored 1st Polish Army overcame bitter Waffen-SS resistance along the Pomeranian Wall in late April 1945, then participated in the fierce battles around Berlin. Its commander in those operations was General S. Poplawski. A second Polish–Communist army of five divisions fought in the south, deep into Czechoslovakia during March—May, 1945. Many of these Communist troops formed the core of the Polish national army set up by the Soviet Union in eastern Poland to back the claims of the Lublin Poles. After the war, elements of the force became the national Polish Army in time, but one from which Anders’ men and other exiled patriots were excluded.


Hungarian Arrow Cross militia and a German Tiger II tank in Budapest, October 1944.

Hungary fought in World War I as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which lost the war and became extinct in late October 1918. In the wake of that defeat, Hungarian Communist leader Béla Kun briefly set up a “soviet” republic in 1919. This was quickly overthrown in favor of an independent kingdom, which served as a front for the personal dictatorship of the Regent Miklós Horthy from 1920 to 1944. Hungary was subject to strictures of the Treaty of Trianon imposed on it by the Allied Powers at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. As in Germany, there was much bitterness over terms, especially territory lost to several surrounding Balkan states. In the 1920s Hungary came under Italian fascist influence, but the lure of old ties to Germany was much stronger. Some Hungarians shared extreme Nazi views about Jews, while a significant percentage of the officer corps was ethnically volksdeutsch . Hungary thus drifted into the Nazi orbit, confirming that it wanted a place in Adolf Hitler’s New Order in Europe but balking at the prospect of war. That hesitation contributed to Hitler’s back down at the Munich Conference in September 1938. Budapest also refused to participate in FALL WEISS (1939) and allowed many Poles to escape across its territory. However, Hungary collaborated in dismemberment of Czechoslovakia under terms of the Vienna Awards, receiving part of southern Slovakia and Ruthenia on November 2, 1939. The second Vienna Award was made on August 30, 1940, when Hitler compelled Rumania to cede northern Transylvania to Hungary. By then Hungary had signed the Anti-Comintern Pact. Still, it was the territorial acquisitions that firmly committed Budapest to Berlin, as a final German victory was thereafter the only outcome that would assure that Hungary kept its new territories. Horthy therefore brought nine million Hungarians formally into the Axis alliance on November 20, 1940.

German forces took up attack positions in Hungary in April 1941, preparatory to launching BARBAROSSA. Before that attack began, Hungary gained the Banat region from the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia. The Hungarians sent only a token force into the Soviet Union in 1941 (the “Mobile Corps” or “Rapid Corps”) after declaring war on June 27. At the end of the year, however, the Wehrmacht was in crisis in the snow in front of Moscow. Horthy bent to the behest of a German Führer desperate for more men. The Hungarians had only about 220,000 regular troops and most were poorly equipped and trained. The Army had fewer than 200 wholly outmoded tanks, and the Air Force almost no modern aircraft. Horthy nevertheless agreed to raise and send Hungarian 2nd Army to the Eastern Front. It comprised 250,000 men, partly armed by Germany but lacking organic transport or sufficient modern weapons. It fought mainly in Ukraine during Operation BLAU in the summer of 1942. The commitment in the east left Hungary feeling vulnerable to attack by Rumania, an Axis ally but traditional enemy. Hungary therefore created a home guard of over 200,000 men. By May 1943, most of those would be needed in the east as well because the Hungarian Army was destroyed in heavy fighting around Stalingrad over the winter of 1942–1943, where the nation lost perhaps 150,000 men. After that catastrophe Budapest kept back its Army as best it could, under German pressure to replace Wehrmacht losses with Hungarian troops. Berlin noticed and began to plan a change of government in Hungary.

Hitler and the OKH were determined to hold Hungary within the Axis. Hitler was personally fixated on the oil fields at Nagykanizsa, and he was in any case committed to a Haltebefehl strategy in the east in 1944. Operation MARGARETHE thus brought German forces into Hungary on March 19, while the Red Army was still advancing through Ukraine. The main results of this operation were to bring Hungary’s 400,000 Jews within reach of the Schutzstaffel (SS) and to ensure that Hungary would become a battleground that fall and over the next winter. Adolf Eichmann personally led a new Einsatzgruppen that entered the country and began deporting Jews to Auschwitz . As the Red Army approached Budapest, Eichmann hoarded transport and men to ship Hungarian Jews to the great death camp in Poland. When that ceased to be possible, he took tens of thousands on death marches into western Hungary. Meanwhile, another Hungarian Army was destroyed during Operation BAGRATION in June–August, 1944. As the center of the Eastern Front collapsed and the Red Army moved into Rumania and Bulgaria that summer and fall, Hungary sought unsuccessfully to negotiate a separate peace with Moscow. In the “Debrecen offensive operation,” Soviet forces penetrated to the Pustyna plain starting on October 6, 1944. The Red Army penetrated nearly 80 miles in two weeks, against strong opposition. On the 11th a secret ceasefire was agreed. Horthy announced publicly on the 15th that he was seeking a permanent armistice with Moscow. That provoked a coup by the domestic fascist organization Arrow Cross, which was supported by German Special Forces. The internal conflict briefly threatened to split apart the 25-division strong Hungarian Army. One commander went over to the Soviet side, but his officers did not follow. Most Hungarian troops continued to fight alongside the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS against the Red Army. In part, loyalty to the Axis was sustained by the fact that an ancient enemy, the Rumanian Army, had already switched sides and sent troops into Hungary in the company of the Soviets.

A hard and bitter winter of fighting resulted, lasting into late March 1945. The Soviets struck out for Budapest on October 28, 1944, but were blocked. Two more tries in December were also stymied, for Hitler unaccountably strongly reinforced the Hungarian Army and Army Group South with 2nd Panzer Army, and with the third (and weakest) incarnation of German 6th Army. He even ordered a counterattack in force in January 1945, reinforced with more Panzer divisions moved in from Belgium after his Ardennes offensive failed. Joseph Stalin and the Stavka more sensibly regarded Hungary as a theater useful to draw German reserves away from their main line of advance to Berlin. Budapest was encircled by Christmas, but Hitler issued a Haltebefehl order that the city must be held. 

Because the Hungarian capital bestrode the main avenues of advance into Austria and Bohemia, the Red Army could not circumvent it as it had done in other deep battle operations around Smolensk, Minsk, Warsaw, and other major cities. An advance bombardment by massed artillery and bombers announced the start of a siege. A dramatic relief effort by 4th Panzer Corps—Operation KONRAD —began on January 1, 1945. But KONRAD’s 4th Panzer Corps failed to break in, while the garrison failed to break out. Pest fell in the middle of January. Buda was taken on February 13, after seven weeks of siege. Meanwhile, the Vistula-Oder operation benefited by the loss of German combat power to the Hungarian theater, as Soviet tank columns hurtled across Poland at astonishing speed. 

Official Russian histories claim 49,000 enemy dead in the siege of Budapest, and 110,000 prisoners. Hitler then ordered the last Wehrmacht offensive of the war: FRÜHLINGSERWACHEN (“Spring Awakening”) from March 6–15, 1945. It failed, but raised total Soviet losses in five months of fighting in Hungary to 100,000 dead. Moscow oversaw installation of a coalition provisional government in Budapest that summer. During 1946–1947, coalition partners of the Communist Party were forced out in rigged elections. Hungary was firmly within the “Soviet bloc” by the end of 1948, and underwent a thorough Stalinization.


A volunteer division of Rumanian prisoners of war recruited into the Red Army. It saw extensive fighting in 1944–1945.

The 1st Romanian Volunteer Division Tudor Vladimirescu was created on 2 October 1943 after much pleading made by the Romanian Communists exiled in the USSR, led by Ana Pauker. The men were recruited from the POWs in the Soviet camps. The prospect of a better life than that enjoyed in the camps and of the promised return home meant that there were enough soldiers willing to join it. Obviously books published in Romania during the 1948-1989 period underlined the soldiers' "desire to fight fascism and free the country of Antonescu's dictatorship", the main motivation was more related to survival and longing for home than to "Communist ideals". The main problem of the recruiters was the lack of officers willing to join the division. Thus sergeants and NCOs had to receive a quick officer course by 1 February 1944 in order ensure the necessary staff. As political officers were used 500 Communists of Romanian citizenship, exiled in the USSR previous to the war.

The first Commanding Officer was Colonel Nicolae Cambrea, the former chief of staff of the 5th Infantry Division, captured at Serafimovich on 22 November 1942. He was released from the Suzdal camp and took over the Tudor Vladimirescu division on 15 November 1943 and began organizing it.

The Order of Battle was that of a Soviet rifle division:
- 1st, 2nd and 3rd Panduri Regiments (the panduri were a volunteer corps commanded by Tudor Vladimirescu, which served in the Russian Army during the 1806-1812 Russo-Turkish War); each regiment had 3 rifle battalions (3 rifle companies, one machine-gun company and one 82 mm mortar company each), one AT rifle company (36 pieces), one 120 mm mortar battery (6 pieces), one 76.2 mm gun battery (6 pieces), one 45 mm AT gun battery (6 pieces)
- 1st Artillery Regiment: two battalions of 76.2 mm guns (24 pieces) and one 122 mm howitzers battalion (12 pieces)
-AT Battalion
-Pioneer Battalion
-Recon Company
-Communications Company
The weapons and equipment were Soviet, but the rank insignias were Romanian.

Because the Red Army was approaching Romanian territory, the preparations were hurried up. It took the oath on 30 March 1944 and the following day it was sent to the front and subordinated to Marshal Malinovsky's 2nd Ukrainian Front. The division arrived at Vapniarka on 23 April, but since the Soviet offensive had run out of steam and the front stabilized, it didn't get to see any action and was put in reserve and the political officers started a propaganda campaign on the Romanian territory (the northeastern corner of the country) under Red Army control.

After the Jassy-Kishinev Operation began, the Tudor Vladimirescu division was ordered to occupy Iasi on 21 August and Romania's capitulation two days later avoided the undesirable situation of a Romanian-Romanian conflict. On 28 August, 150 vehicles were assigned to it in order to get to Bucharest as fast as possible. Malinovsky probably counted on the propaganda potential it had. Thus, the advanced echelon saw its first combat action against a small German force at Bulbocea, near Vaslui. The rest of the division engaged another German unit on 31 August, on the Ciunta Hill, near Deleni. The motorized detachment entered Bucharest on 31 August 1944. But because the order was secured by the Romanian Government and the division could not be used in this role, it was sent to the front in Transylvania.

Combat losses were heavy; by March 1945 the strength of the division had sunk to 4,436 men.

In March 1945 the division was pulled out of the front lines, but remained under the operational control of the 2nd Ukrainian Front until August 15, 1945.

Relentlessly politicized by their communist leaders, the Tudor Vladimirescu Division became a politically reliable military formation of the Romanian communists. Along with another Romanian communist unit, the Horia, Cloşca şi Crişan Division, and backed by tens of thousands of Red Army troops, the Tudor Vladimirescu Division played a key role in imposing communist rule in Romania after the war. The two communist divisions were integrated into the Romanian Army on August 22, 1945. The Tudor Vladimirescu Division was converted into an armored division by 1947 while the regular Romanian army was reduced to four divisions[4] with no tanks, thus providing the Romanian communists the trump cards of mobility and firepower had a conflict with anti-communist elements in the Romanian Army taken place.