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Russian Liberation Army: World War II

MG is a senior air warrior who is an alumnus of the Staff and a voracious writer on military

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Background

The Russian Liberation Army was composed of Russian POWs and men who conscientiously were opposed to the rule of Stalin. The Russian Liberation Army was abbreviated as ROA and was also known as the Vlasov army. By April 1945, the ROA had grown to a strength of about 50,000 but considering the total manpower of the Russian army, this was a minuscule strength. The driving force behind this was Lieutenant General Andrey Vlasov who had otherwise a fairly brilliant career in the Russian army.

It was a collaborationist formation composed of two types of people. Firstly, it was composed of Russian POWs who had been captured by the Germans and were keen to get out of prison and have some freedom. They thought that the best method to escape the rigors of the German prison was to join the Germans as collaborators to fight Stalin. There were a few other groups of people who conscientiously believed that Stalin's rule was bad and they joined the Germans in the hope of removing Stalin.

In hindsight, we can see that at one stage Hitler held all the aces. Unfortunately, he replaced them with Jack's. Hitler never made proper use of the ROA. He had an inherent dislike of the Slavs and that was the reason he never gave any importance to the Russian Liberation army. At one stage he was a little worried that general Vlasov may succeed and replace Stalin and in that case, Hitler would not be able to rule over Russia. The ROA was thus not given any importance and as per his instructions units were sent to the Western front. This was a blow to General Vlasov who had all the time been trying to convince the Germans to let him fight the Russian army so that Stalin could be replaced.

Some people were conscientiously opposed to the rule of Stalin but as per records available in a total force of about 50,000, they were very few. The majority of the force consisted of POWs who were convinced by general Vlasov to join him with an idea to change the power of authority in Russia.

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General Vlasov

Who was General Vlasov? He was born in 1901 during the days when the czar ruled Russia. Not much is known about his early life but after the October revolution in 1917, he joined the Red Army in 1919. He took part in the Russian Civil War which continued till 1921. In 1930 he joined the Russian Communist party and in 1938 was detailed to proceed to China. At that time Joseph Stalin had good relations with the nationalist leader General Chiang Kai Shek. Vlasov was sent as a military adviser to the Chinese leader. This is a bit of a surprise as Chiang Kai Shek was having a running battle with the communists, who were led by Mao Tse Tung.

He returned to Russia after a year in China. At that time many top generals of the Red Army were appreciative of the military genius of General Vlasov. On 22 June 1941, the German army invaded Russia. Vlasov faced the German army and a Russian division that had been encircled outside Kyiv was saved due to his planning. The stock of Vlasov rose up and people began to take notice of him. He was invited to Moscow where he had his first meeting with the Russian dictator Stalin. We do not know what Vlasov was thinking at that time, However, Stalin gave him a task to join up with the Moscow commander General Gregory Zhukov and defend the city against the German assault.

Vlasov's work was much appreciated and he was assigned to Leningrad. He was given command of the Russian 2nd Shock Army. He was required to cut through the German lines and reach Leningrad. There are conflicting reports of what happened then but the fact is that Vlasov was captured by the Germans.

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Formation of the POA

While Vlasov was in captivity he thought of ways and methods to get out of his predicament. He proposed to the commandant that as he was a Lieutenant-General he would be in a position to organize a force to fight the Russian army. At the back of his mind was the fear that he would be executed as a traitor in case he was repatriated back to Russia at any stage. He was aware of many generals who had been executed or sent to Siberia for losing against the Finns. There was also a statement doing the rounds that there are no POWs but only traitors. The purpose of this statement was to stiffen the defence to the German onslaught and it succeeded.

Vlasov's proposal was communicated to Berlin and after much deliberation, the green signal was given. Hitler however had his reservations of this liberation Army. He was not in favor of having a force made up of men from a race he considered inferior. With the battle in the east not going the German way, Himmler was able to convince Hitler to allow the formation of the Russian Liberation Army. Hitler however stipulated that the ROA would not fight in Russia but would be sent to the Western front.

Vlasov was given permission to visit all the POW camps to try and recruit as many soldiers as possible for the liberation Army. His mission was a failure. Out of nearly 2,000,000 prisoners of war, only about 40 to 50,000 agreed to join. The rest of the POWs refused to join and preferred to die of starvation. The hatred for the Germans was so strong. Vlasov thus grossly miscalculated and maybe he realized at that stage his mistake but there was nothing he could do.

The ROA when sent to the west generally fought very poorly and at the first opportunity surrendered to the Americans. Vlasov did not give up and drafted an appeal to the Russian people to overthrow Stalin. Thousands of these leaflets were thrown from the air by the Germans in the towns and villages. These leaflets obviously did not have much of an effect.

Battle

Because of the deep distrust of the Russian Liberation Army, they were not given any important task. In February 1945 they had their only brush with the Soviet army. This was around the Oder River east of Berlin. After three days of fighting the Red Army prevailed and the liberation Army was decimated with thousands killed and or taken prisoner of war. Thus ended the only engagement of the Russian Liberation Army.

Remnants of the ROA retreated towards Prague. They encamped about 40 miles outside the city. Partisans and Communists now began a revolt against the Nazis. They were very lightly armed and in all probability would have been crushed by the German soldiers.

Units of the ROA now decided to switch sides. They asked the permission of general Vlasov to switch sides. At first, he refused but then agreed and the Russian Liberation Army with their weapons came on the side of the partisans against the Germans. By this act, they hoped to find favor with the Americans. The city was liberated and the ROA soldiers surrendered to the Americans.

In hindsight, one can see that the formation of the ROA was without any purpose. The liberation Army did not even scratch the surface of the rule of Stalin. Much of the blame must go to Hitler who could have made better use of the POA.

The end

Unknown to the ROA an agreement between Churchill and Stalin had been signed to handover all ROA soldiers to Russia. All the senior officers and soldiers who had surrendered to the allies were forcibly handed to the Russians. The Allies had no interest in sheltering the ROA. They feared that such an act would harm relations with the USSR. ROA soldiers were tried and sent to prison camps while almost all the officers faced trial and were executed.

Major General Sergei Bunyachenko the Div commander was captured 40 kilometers from Pizen. The driver of Vlasov identified him hiding in a motor car. He was dragged out and driven straight to the Soviet 13th Army HQ and immediately transported to Moscow.

Vlasov was imprisoned in Lubyanka prison. He was interrogated and his trial commenced on 30 July 1945. The presiding officer was a Security official named Victor Abakumov. He passed the sentence of death on Vlasov and 11 senior officers for high treason. Vlasov was hanged on 2 Aug 45. Victor Abakumov was executed in 1954 after the death of Stalin.

Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 30, 2020:

Tom, Vlassov, lost. That's the end. I read somewhere how he was hiding inside a car covered with a blanket. No escape and hanged.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 30, 2020:

Flourish, so wonderful, your comment.

tom on September 30, 2020:

krushchev remembers volume 1 mentions vlassov, zhukovs mentions him in his memoirs 1957,award winning book a general and his army by georgi vladimov

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 29, 2020:

Brutal dispensing of justice here. Interesting regarding the side switching and sending those who surrendered right back to Russia.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 29, 2020:

Thank you, Tom, yes Abakumov paid the price of the system he worked in. The trial and the death sentence of general Vlasov was carried out inside three days. Not the best way to dispense justice.