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Miscellaneous Axis Military Formations of WWII (Eastern Europe).


Important!!: Some dates are in a day / month / year format (for instance 03/12/1944).


Cossacks in German Service: As early as the 18-th century there were Cossack troops in the service of Frederick the Great of Brandenburg-Prussia. Much later, during the course of the First World War, the Germans made plans to establish a satellite Don Cossack state in southern Russia; in fact the German Imperial Army even secretly provided arms to a faction of Don Cossacks with the hope of materializing this aim, but this was only a brief episode and nothing came out of this efforts. In 1941 matters looked, for the time being, even more promising to the Germans on the eastern front than they did back in 1917. The German Army Group "South" had just completed its conquest of Ukraine by the end of 1941, and was in a striking distance from the home territory of the Don Cossacks. By 22/07/1942, the Axis captured all of the northern banks of the lower Don River; in the coming days they drove deep to the south, in the direction of Caucasus. By the end of that year the front-line extended along the Caucasus range in the south, where it almost reached the borders of Georgia and the outskirts of the city of Ordzonikidze; the Germans managed to occupy almost the entire homeland of Don Cossacks as well as of Kuban Cossacks. Soon the very first local Cossack volunteers began to offer their services to the Germans, with the obvious hope of restoring the past freedoms and honours assigned to Cossacks during Czardom but unceremoniously abolished by the Bolsheviks. Lieutenant Colonel von Freitag-Loringhoven (the Intelligence Officer of Army Group "South") initiated the recruitment of the first Cossacks in the Cossack homelands, to serve in Cossack units subordinated to the Germans. One of the first such units was formed from willing Don and Kuban Cossack renegades taken prisoner near Millerovo in southern Russia (in the summer of 1942), when a Wehrmacht Captain named Kandutsch (the Intelligence Officer of the 40-th Panzer Corps) suggested that Cossack collaborators might be useful in guarding of Soviet prisoners-of-war whose large volumes made them difficult to handle while the German combat units were more urgently required for combat duties rather than guarding of prisoners. The Cossacks who enlisted were formed into the Cossack Cavalry Squadron 1/82 of the 40-th Panzer Corps, under the leadership of a Cossack Captain named Zagorodnyy (later a recipient of the prestigious Iron Cross First Class). After only a few weeks of P.O.W. guard duties, the squadron underwent a month-long training and subsequently it rejoined the 40-th Panzer Corps on the front-lines. It distinguished itself while fighting in the area of Ishcherskaya in the Caucasus (they not only won the trust of Germans with bravery, but also with loyalty as not a single desertion was reported); after the Germans retreated from that region, it accompanied the 40-th Panzer Corps (in the fighting retreat that followed) all the way to the Romanian border, where the whole squadron was ordered to go to France. While in Normandy, the almost entire squadron was decimated in vicinity of Saint-Lo, during a very intensive Allied air raid that spearheaded the Allied landings in the area.

In spite of anti-Communist sentiments nourished by many Cossacks and the cracking-down on many aspects of Cossack traditions by the communist regime, most analysts believed that the overwhelming majority of Cossacks would remain loyal to the Soviet Union and they were proved to be entirely correct; the number of Cossacks in German service was never too great, and the vast majority of Cossacks living in U.S.S.R. remained wholeheartedly loyal to a government that usually treated them with a certain degree of curtness.

In late 1942, Cossacks of at least a single stanitsa (Cossack outpost - settlement) in southern Russia, revolted against Soviet administration and proceeded to join the advancing Axis. Increasingly more frequently Cossack fugitives and rebellious mountain tribesmen of the Caucasus openly welcomed the intruders as if they were their liberators. On the lower Don river, a renegade Don Cossack leader named Sergei Pavlov proclaimed himself an Ataman (Cossack chief) and lodged himself in the former residence of the Czarish ataman at the town of Novoczerkassk on the lower Don (slightly north-east of Rostov-on-Don); he was also responsible for the establishment of a local collaborationist police force of whose many members were either Don Cossacks or were of Cossack descent. By late 1942, he headed a regional krug (Cossack assembly) which had around 200 representatives whom he recruited from the more prominent local quislings. He also requested permission from the Germans for creation of a Cossack Army to be employed in the struggle against the Bolsheviks, but initially he met with only negative responses.

On August 22 of 1941, while covering the retreat of Red Army in eastern Belarus, a Don Cossack Major in the Red Army named Kononov (a graduate of Frunze Military Academy, a veteran of the Winter War with Finland, a party member since 1927, and a holder of the Order of the Red Banner) deserted its ranks and went-over to the Axis with his entire regiment of riflemen (the 436-th Infantry Regiment of the 155-th Soviet Infantry Division), after convincing his regiment of the necessity of overthrowing Stalinism (apparently the only incident of a whole Soviet regiment going-over to the Axis during the entire course of the Great Patriotic War). He was permitted by the local German commanders to establish a squadron of Cossack troopers composed of deserters and volunteers from among the prisoners-of-war, to be used for front-line raiding and reconaissance operations. With encouragement from General Schenkendorff (his new superior), eight days following his defection, Kononov visited a P.O.W. camp in Mogilev (eastern Belarus). The visit yielded over 4 000 volunteers who positively responded to the promises of liberation from Stalin's oppression with the aid of their newly founded German "allies", and who were ready to immediately join Kononov's enterprise. However only 500 of them (80% of whom were Cossacks) were actually drafted into the renegade formation, while the rest had to "wait". Afterwards Kononov paid similar visits to P.O.W. camps in Bobruisk, Orsha, Smolensk, Propoisk and Gomel, everywhere with similar results. The Germans appointed a Wehrmacht Lieutenant named Count Rittberg to be the unit's liaison officer, in which capacity he served for the remainder of the conflict. By September 19 of 1941, the Cossack regiment contained 77 officers and 1 799 men (by now only 60% of the unit's personnel were Cossacks, mostly Don Cossacks to be more precise). It also received the designation as the 120-th Don Cossack Regiment. On January 27 of 1943, it was renamed as the 600-th Don Cossack Battalion, despite of the fact that its numerical strength stood at about 2 000 and it was scheduled to receive a further 1 000 more new members in the following month. The new volunteers were employed in the establishment of a new special Cossack armoured unit that became known as the 17-th Cossack Armoured Battalion, which after its formation was integrated into the German 3-rd Army and was frequently employed in front-line operations. Kononov's Don Cossack-led unit immediately acquired a very anti-Communist character and many of its members were sincerely devoted to the cause of eradicating Communism from Russia. The Cossack formation was not idle and it did perform numerous venturesome raids behind Soviet lines where it preoccupied itself with extermination of Stalinist commissars and collection of their tongues as "war trophies"; it was also involved in several skirmishes with Soviet cavalry detachments. On one occasion, in vicinity of Velikyie Luki (north-western Russia), 120 of Kononov's infiltrators dressed in Red Army uniforms managed to penetrate the Soviet lines. Subsequently, while operating on enemy territory, they took prisoner an entire military tribunal of five judges accompanied by 21 guards, and freed 41 soldiers that were about to be executed, also capturing valuable documents in the process. Kononov's unit was active in propaganda warfare too, mainly in the form of spreading pamphlets at and behind the front-lines in addition to resorting to loudspeakers in order to get their message to the Soviet soldiers, officers, and civilians alike; all of this measures proved to be largely ineffective as only a trickle of new volunteers decided to join the turncoats. Kononov's propaganda was based primarily on promises of abolishment of the collectives accompanied by introduction of numerous personal freedoms that would result from the destruction of Stalinist tyranny, but the sheer behavior of the Germans in occupied territories of Soviet Union made certain that all such endeavours were viewed with tremendous suspicion, scepticism, and lack of conviction. In spite of that, Kononov's fighters continued to loyally serve their German "liberators", and were active on the front-lines of the German Army Group "South", after being transferred there from their previous sector of operations in north-western Russia. They experienced plenty of combat in this new sector for much of the second half of 1942 (especially in the vicinity of Mozdok and Achikulak).

In April of 1942, Hitler personally gave his official consent for the establishment of Cossack units within the Wehrmacht and subsequently a number of such units were soon in existence. In October of 1942, German General Wagner permitted the creation, under strict German control, of a small, autonomous Cossack district in the Kuban, where the old Cossack customs were to be re-introduced while collective farms were to be disbanded (this was either an experimental enterprise or a tricky propaganda move to buy the hearts and souls of the region's Cossack population). For the time being (at least) the Cossack military formations serving in the Wehrmacht experienced hardly anything that resembled any sort of autonomy; the majority of officers in such units were not Cossacks but Germans who usually were very ignorant of the Cossack aspirations for self-government and freedom, and on most occasions the Cossack units were attached to German security divisions that conducted anti-partisan operations.

A former Czarist emigre General named Krasnov, worked hard back in Berlin to considerably broaden the possibilities for Cossacks in the Nazi "New Order". He advocated the groundless idea that Cossacks were not Russians and therefore should receive better treatment from the Germans. In order to achieve these ends, he (with Hitler's blessing) backed the foundation (in German-occupied Prague) of a Cossack Nationalist Party by Cossack exiles who fled abroad after the "White" defeat in the Civil War. The party members sweared unwavering allegiance to the Fuhrer as "Supreme Dictator of the Cossack Nation"; simultaneously a "Central Cossack Office" was established in Berlin to manage and direct the German-sponsored party. Nevertheless, not all Cossack emigres supported the Axis, like the Paris-based Don Guardsmen who refused to collaborate with Germans. On the other hand, many of the more hardcore "White" Cossack exiles gave their unquestionable support to the cause of founding Cossack units to fight alongside the Axis against U.S.S.R.; the more important members of this category included former prominent Czarish Cossack generals like Krasnov, Andrei Shkuro, and V. Naumenko (the latter was now a German-appointed "Ataman" of the Kuban). The primary objective of these renegades was the materialization of a "Greater Cossackia"; a Cossack-ruled German protectorate extending from eastern Ukraine in the west to the Samara river in the east.

In order to placate the progressively more dissatisfied Cossacks, Germans agreed to enlarge the hitherto existing autonomous Cossack district in the Kuban, and to enroll additional Cossacks into the ranks of the Wehrmacht; however, the Axis were already retreating following the disaster at Stalingrad, before it was possible to realize these monstrous plans. Due to the sudden military reverses suffered by the Axis in southern Russia, many Cossack collaborators were forced to join them in the retreat in order to escape reprisals from the now returning Soviet authorities. In February of 1943, the Germans withdrew from Novoczerkassk and their vassal "Ataman" Pavlov accompanied by a column of ~ 15 000 of his Cossack followers (half of them armed) did likewise. He was able to temporarily re-establish his headquarters at Krivoi Rog (central Ukraine) in spring of 1943, and shortly afterwards was granted by the Wehrmacht the very thing he was previously so notoriously denied: an order to create his own Cossack military formation. Numerous Don, Kuban, and Terek Cossack collaborators-refugees from his as well as other refugee columns were called-up, but a significant percentage of them turned out to be unsuitable for combat duties and were instead placed to work on local farms. Soon the horde of Cossack refugees was on the move again, eventually ending-up camping at Kamieniec-Podolski (north-western Ukraine), from there they were transferred to Sandomierz in south-eastern Poland. Eventually they were posted to Novogrudek in western Belarus, where five rickety Cossack regiments were dispatched to the nearby countryside to operate against Soviet and Polish partisans. Since by that time much of Belarus was controlled by the partisans, this turned out to be a difficult assignment and even Pavlov himself was slained in combat. Domanov was appointed as his immediate successor. As a result of a large-scale successful Soviet offensive in Belarus and the Baltics undertaken in the summer of 1944, the Cossack column was once again forced to evacuate, this time westwards to the vicinity of Warsaw. In imitation of pro-German Ukrainian formations they "...paid their farewells to the Soviet soil with a trail of looting, rape, and murder". From north-eastern Poland they were transported across Germany to the foothills of the Italian Alps where they would form the nucleus of a future autonomous Cossack state under German tutelage (more details on that subject will be mentioned below).

Due to the rapid deterioration of the situation in the East, the German High Command deemed it appropriate to create a Cossack Division under the leadership of Colonel von Pannwitz. The division was to be molded together at a recently established Cossack military camp located at Mlawa in north-eastern Poland, out of Kononov's unit and a regiment of Cossack refugees from southern Russia that was assembled together in the Poltava region of north-central Ukraine (the latter unit's German Commander was Lieutenant Colonel von Wolff). Following its formation (in the summer of 1943), the 1-st Cossack Division was composed of seven regiments (two regiments of Don Cossacks, two regiments of Kuban Cossacks, one regiment of Terek Cossacks, one regiment of Siberian Cossacks, and one mixed reserve regiment). A side-effect of that integration was that majority of Cossack officers were replaced by their German counterparts, with the sole exception of the most notable Cossack commanders who retained their posts (with Kononov being one of them). German equipment / uniforms also began to supplement their (by now worn-out) Cossack counterparts, and increasingly only a badge identified the Division's personnel as Cossacks. The new German officers and NCO's mistreated the Cossacks, who retributed by beating-up and even killing some of the more arrogant perpetrators. In September of 1943, the Division was transported to France to assist in the guarding of the Atlantic Wall; since this assignment did not yet involved combat, the Cossacks requested to be given real front-line responsibilities and to be re-assigned elsewhere. The German High Command reacted to this situation by transferring the Division to Jugoslavia for anti-partisan duties; a small element of the Division was left behind, and it assisted in the defence of the "Omaha" Sector during the Allied invasion of Normandy. In Jugoslavia, there was already present a 15 000 strong "Russian Security Corps" made up exclusively of Russian emigres of the post-revolutionary period who offered their services to the Germans in the anti-Bolshevik struggle on the eastern front, but were sent to fight Jugoslav partisans instead. This formation was commanded by General Steifon and therefore it was sometimes referred to as the "Steifon Corps"; it did include a sizable number of Cossacks or people of Cossack background.

With the hope of raising the collapsing morale of the Cossacks who understandably sought to return to their homeland but were effectively barred from such a possibility by a military situation that only grew more to their disadvantage with every passing day, the Germans yielded to the demands for the uniforms of Cossacks in German service to become more Cossack-looking, and they also send a number of Cossack youths to a cavalry school in Germany. Promises by Rosenberg and Keitel were also made in November of 1943, that assured the Cossacks that they will repossess their traditional lands. Since the contemporary situation made such promises unobtainable and unrealistic, arrangements were made to set up a "Cossackia" outside of the original Cossack regions (Eastern Europe was initially one of the alternative locations, eventually the foothills of Carnic Alps in north-eastern Italy were selected for the purpose of providing the homeless Cossacks with a new home). In March of 1944, an organizational-administrative committee was appointed for the purpose of synchronizing the activities of all Cossack formations under Third Reich's jurisdiction. This "Directorate of Cossack Forces" included Naumenko, Pavlov (soon replaced by Domanov), and Colonel Kulakov of von Pannwitz's Cossack Division. Krasnov was nominated as the Chief Director, who would assume the responsibilities of representing Cossack interests to the German High Command. This new body became also increasingly preoccupied with the establishment of the vicarious "Cossackia" in-exile and all its indispensable state institutions, such as a bank and a tribunal court, among others.

In June of 1944, von Pannwitz's 1-st Cossack Division was elevated to the status of a corps and bacame known as the 15-th Cossack Corps; by now its membership stood at some 21 000 personnel. The following month, the corps was formally incorporated into the framework of the Waffen-SS (a move that enabled the corps to receive greater quantities of weapons and other equipment, as well as to effectively bypass notoriously uncooperative local police and civil dignitaries). However, the Cossack uniforms and Wehrmacht officers remained unchanged. A replacement-training division of 10 000 - 15 000 members was also founded in Mochowo (located south-west of Mlawa), and it was placed under Shkuro's command; this division supplemented all the menpower losses suffered by the 1-st Cossack Division (later renamed as the 15-th Cossack Corps) in Jugoslavia, where it partook in operations against partisans.

On December 26 of 1944, in vicinity of Pitomaca (near the Croatian-Hungarian border), members of the 15-th S.S. Cossack Cavalry Corps (as it became known after its inclusion into the Waffen-SS) went into action against Soviet forces for the first time since 1943, and destroyed a Soviet bridgehead taking numerous prisoners in the process... UNDER CONSTRUCTION.

Vlasov and his army: UNDER CONSTRUCTION.

Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA): A fascist Ukrainian military and terrorist organization formed from Bandera's right-wing "revolutionary" faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN, it was known as UNO in Ukrainian). OUN itself was founded in 1929, as a terrorist organization to promote the cause of Ukrainian nationalism by any possible means, including: diversion, sabotage, terrorism, clandestine assassinations (in 1936 it assassinated Poland's Minister of Internal Affairs B. Pieracki), and cooperation with the German secret intelligence (both before and during the German aggressions on Poland and Soviet Union). The overwhelming majority of UPA's members also belonged to OUN, and both of these organizations were very strongly interconnected. UPA's main powerbase lay in the Ukrainian regions that until 1939 were still under Polish rule, with Ukrainian Catholics forming the bulk of the organization's members (a number of pro-Ukrainian Rusins from Trans-Carpathian Rus and eastern Polish Carpathians also joined UPA, in fact they were the formation's only non-Ukrainian members); attempts were made to recruit new members from among the Ukrainians of the Orthodox religious denomination in order to materialize an all-Ukrainian independence movement. Shortly before the outbrake of war in 1939, OUN established the clandestine Ukrainian Military Organization which served as a forerunner of UPA. Members of OUN launched numerous attacks on Polish soldiers and civilians in September of 1939, commiting their first gruesome atrocities in their bloody campaign to eradicate the Slavs from Ukraine.

The abbreviation UPA itself stands for "Ukrainska Powstancza Armia" (literally meaning: Ukrainian Raising Army, however, usually translated as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army). It was a fiercely pro-German and anti-Communist armed formation of the OUN, whose leader was Stepan Bandera (1908-1959). UPA, as well as OUN, conducted its activities in support of Germany and against Poland and Soviet Union. Its chief aim was the establishment of an "independent Ukraine" under the protege of Nazi Germany. It mainly operated in north-western Ukraine and parts of south-eastern Poland. The first terrorist UPA detachment was formed on 14/10/1942, in the north-western Ukrainian region of Volhynia. The greatest organizational development of UPA (in headquarters, staffs, and detachments) took place in the second half of 1943, when numerous thousands of Ukrainian policemen voluntarily enlisted in its ranks. In September of 1943, the General Headquarters of UPA were founded in the vicinity of Lviv. The General Headquarters of UPA consisted of six sections (organizational-mobilizational, reconnaissance, economic, training, propaganda, and political-educational). R. Szuchewycz (alias "Taras Czuprynka") was nominated as UPA's Commander-in-Chief. Four operational groups were subordinated to UPA's General Headquarters near Lviv, and these were as follows: Operational Group "North" (encompassed north-western Ukrainian regions of Volhynia and Polesie), Operational Group "West" (encompassed north-western Ukrainian region of Galicia, as well as Trans-Carpathian Rus and south-eastern Poland), and still undergoing the development stage (in 1943), Operational Group "South" (encompassed southern Ukraine), and Operational Group "East" (encompassed north-central and eastern Ukraine). Every operational group was subdivided into military districts, which in turn were composed of tactical sectors. By early 1944, both Operational Group "North" and Operational Group "South" contained two military districts, whereas, Operational Group "West" was made up of six military districts (I have no data on the number of such military districts in the Operational Group "East"). Each operational group, military district, and tactical sector had its own commander and headquarters. All military districts also had their own NCO training schools.

The fundamental combat unit of UPA was a kuren (each contained 400-800 members), which was made up of 3-4 sotnias (companies), each sotnia contained 3-4 czotas (platoons), each czota was assembled from 3 roys (each roy had 10-12 members). Every roy was usually equipped with one light machine gun, two to three automatic weapons, and at least seven rifles. Although a few small artillery and cavalry units were established, UPA predominantly consisted of second-rate (on German standards) infantry which served "security" (read mass murder) functions for the German administration / occupation apparatus. Those members of the OUN who did not join UPA, served as its auxiliary militia, called upon in times of need or emergency to support regular UPA detachments. UPA unquestionably served the German administration as loyal para-military levies that permanently tied their faith to that of Third Reich. Largely thanks to UPA/OUN, the General Governorship's District of Galicia was made into a Nazi-UPA condominium.

Both UPA and OUN supported and participated in the creation of Ukrainian legions that were organized to fight against Soviet Union. The most famous such formation was the 14-th Waffen-SS Infantry Division "Galizien" ("Halyczyna" in Ukrainian, at the beginning it was known as the Galician Police Division), which contained numerous members of both OUN and UPA, and was co-founded by both organizations. See below for a list of other German-sponsored WWII Ukrainian formations.

During the German occupation of Poland and western Soviet Union, UPA actively collaborated with the Germans, it fought against Polish and Soviet partisans, it launched a programme of extermination of Poles (killing an estimated 70 000 - 110 000 of them in the regions of Galicia, Volhynia, Polesie, and parts of south-eastern Poland). It was also hostile towards many non-Ukrainian Soviet citizens such as Slavs, Jews, and members of other races. Despite its claims, UPA never fought against the Germans or any other Axis. UPA's imaginery attacks on Germans never took place; after WWII UPA claimed to have conducted anti-German actions which never happened.

On 29/02/1944 members of UPA ambushed and mortally wounded the Commander of the 1-st Ukrainian Front General Nikolay Vatutin (1901-1944), who died of wounds over two months later... UNDER CONSTRUCTION.

Other Ukrainian Axis formations:

Ukrainian Schuma

Police Rifle Regiments

Galician S.S. Volunteer Regiments (Police)

Ukrainian National Selfdefence

Ukrainian Liberation Army

Ukrainian National Army

Ukrainian Civil Police

In addition many Ukrainians also served as Hiwis (Wehrmacht Auxiliaries), and as concentration/death camp guards. Others served in Einsatzkommando, and Werkschutz units, and as Flak Helpers. Some Ukrainians served in few other SS units, aside from the 14-th Waffen-SS Infantry Division "Galizien".


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