Thursday, July 16, 2015

Balts and Ukrainians in the Soviet Army

The widespread collaboration with the Nazis in the Baltic did not necessarily mean that the Balts contributed more to the German war effort than to the Soviet one. In 1941–1942, the Soviets raised an Estonian and a Latvian rifle corps and a Lithuanian division from loyalists who had evacuated with the Red Army, those Balts who permanently lived in the Soviet Union and workers of the Baltic labor battalions. While Baltic police battalions raised by Germans with the help of self-administrations engaged mainly in counterinsurgency, the Soviet Baltic divisions were frontline formations from the start. Defections of Baltic soldiers from the Red Army were common in 1941–1942 but stopped later. Most senior officers in these formations were from the disbanded national territorial rifle corps. The 201st Latvian Rifle Division, with volunteers making up 70 percent of its strength, went first in battle in December 1941 and earned a “Guards” title for its outstanding performance in the summer of 1942; the 308th Latvian Rifle Division was awarded a Red Banner Order for the fights in Riga in the fall of 1944. The 16th Soviet Lithuanian Rifle Division was praised for its actions in the battle of Kursk. By March 1945, 99,974 Lithuanians were drafted into the Red Army – almost three times as many as those who served in the German-sponsored police battalions. The 8th Estonian Rifle Corps , with 88.5 percent of Estonians among its personnel, engaged Germans first in December 1942 at Velikie Luki, where it lost half its soldiers owing to battle attrition and defections, but then it fought well against the Germans and Baltic Waffen-SS divisions in 1944 and took Tallinn in September of that year, for which its 249th Rifle Division received a Red Banner Order. About 25,000 Estonians, 5,000 Latvians, and 20,000 Lithuanians died in the ranks of the Red Army and labor battalions.

Many more Ukrainians fought for the Soviets than against them. In 1941– 1945, 3,184,726 Ukrainians enlisted in the Red Army, including 750,000 from the western regions. Twice as many West Ukrainians served in the Red Army as contributed to anti-Soviet resistance in 1944–1950. In addition, tens of thousands of Ukrainians fought as partisans. The number of Belorussians who collaborated with the Germans was negligible compared with those who fought for the Soviets.

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