This Day In History: The Germans Begin Recruiting Soviet POW’s (1942)


On this day, in 1943 the Germans increasingly concerned at the losses they were suffering on the East Front adopt a new strategy. The Germans offer their millions of Soviet prisoners the opportunity to enlist in the German military in a new army, aimed at the overthrow of communism. They decided to form a special Army under the command of the former communist hero General Andrei Vlasov. He was a captured Soviet general who changed sides and enlisted in the German military.  Vlasov would command this army of renegades.

Vlasov had joined the Red Army in 1919 when he had been conscripted into the army of Lenin. He had fought with distinction in the Russian Civil War and in 1930 he had become a member of the Soviet Communist Party. Later he became a military advisor to the Chinese Nationalist army. He later returned to Moscow and was given command of an armored corps. Vlasov played a very important part in the defense of the Soviet Union after Hitler’s army had invaded in June 1941. He fought bravely in the defense of Kiev and also helped to beat back the Germans from the gates of Moscow.  Vlasov was then sent to the front near Leningrad. The Germans attacked and Vlasov wanted to retreat but was forbidden by Stalin to do so, As a result, Vlasov was forced to fight and he was defeated and later captured, after being betrayed. He was then taken to Germany, he had become disenchanted with Stalin and the Communists. Vlasov was possibly already disillusioned with the communists and he saw it as even more sinister than the Nazis. Soon he was broadcasting anti-Soviet propaganda. He later formed a Committee that was to coordinate opposition to the government if Stalin.  The Smolensk Committee as it became known aimed to topple Stalin and the communist regime.

ADN-ZB II.Weltkrieg 1939-1945 Der russische General Wlassow spricht nach beendeter Felddienstübung zu sowjetischen Kollaborateuren in der Uniform der Naziwehrmacht.
Russian soldiers serving in the German army

Soon Vlasov and the Committee was having success and they had been able to recruit almost 50,000 men. Many of them were eager to leave the POW camps.  Many of the men were from the Ukraine or anti-communist Russians. A large number of Cossacks joined the new army. The army was called the Russian Liberation Divisions and they fought for the Germans, mainly against partisans or the western allies. They also fought against the Soviets.  In early 1945 many men in the Divisions mutinied and fought the SS near Prague. In 1945 the Liberation Army surrendered to the Americans rather than the Soviets as they feared Stalin’s vengeance. Yet under the terms of the Yalta Agreement the Americans had to return all those Soviet citizens who had fought for Hitler. Vlasov and his comrades were handed over to the Soviet army. Stalin had Vlasov and other prominent leaders of the Smolensk Committee hanged in Moscow.