4 Soviet partisans who wreaked havoc on the Nazi war machine
There are many reasons Nazi Germany lost on the Eastern Front of World War II. It may have caught the Red Army by surprise in 1941, but despite big advances early on, the Soviet Union was a big place with a large population and a massive workforce. American Lend-Lease Aid was critical in its success too, but a key consideration for Nazi losses was the wreck they left behind.
The German policy toward its conquered populations of Eastern Europe was far from benevolent. The Germans saw the people of Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and other parts of the Soviet Union as subhuman, and treated them as such. This kind of treatment will, at best, spark resentment. At worst, it’s going to cause uprisings against German rule – which is exactly what happened.
Partisan fighting groups popped up all across the vast areas of “conquered” states as the German Army advanced eastward. These partisan fighters began wreaking havoc in their wake, destroying supply lines, killing high-ranking officials, and disrupting the Nazi regime’s ability to wage war.
Here are 4 Soviet partisans who wreaked havoc on the Nazi war machine
Pavlovsky was one of the first leaders to rise up against the Nazis in occupied territory. A Belorussian veteran of past conflicts, he left military life behind to become a civil servant until the Nazis came. Then he took up arms once more in July 1941, calling his partisans “Red October.”
Not content with simply disrupting supply lines, the fighters of Red October began outright attacking German Wehrmacht units and even joining forces with the active Red Army to destroy German targets. Posing as peasants, they moved on German Army headquarters late at night and killed the invaders as they slept. Pavlovsky was an active partisan from 1941 until Belarus was liberated by the Red Army in 1944.
This ironically-named partisan leader waged a war of retribution against the Germans in occupied territory in what is today Russia. Eventually leading a force of more than 2,300 men, his unit killed almost 10,000 Germans between 1941 and 1943, derailed 44 trains, blew up dozens of bridges and was responsible for wiping out 17 enemy occupation garrisons.
In September 1943, the Germans finally caught up to his guerrilla band, surrounding them in the village of Zhitnitsa. After they demanded his surrender, he and his men decided to fight their way out. It might have worked for him had he not been wounded three times in the effort.
Kovpak was 54 years old when Germany invaded the USSR, but no one was more prepared to wage guerrilla warfare than he was. The Ukrainian was already a veteran of World War I and the Russian Civil War, so it’s no wonder he was able to grow a band of 10 partisans into an army of thousands of guerrilla fighters.
Nicknamed “grandad” by other partisans, there was no way Kovpak was letting the old man in. His men embarked on a 2,000-mile trek of destruction, destroying more than a dozen German garrisons, derailing 19 supply trains, more than a hundred bridges and arms depots, and wrecking power stations and oil fields. He had to retire in 1943 due to illness but would earn the Hero of the Soviet Union honor twice before then.
Duka was the leader of the Bryansk Partisan Brigade, which effectively controlled 14,000 square miles of so-called “occupied” territory behind German lines by 1942. His partisan brigade derailed more than 100 trains before they could make it to the Eastern Front, destroyed 500 vehicles, and killed thousands of enemy soldiers while the regular army struggled to kick the Germans out of Stalingrad.
He was so effective in combat that he was transferred to the regular army in 1944, leading the 82nd Guards Rifle Division all the way to Berlin. He ended the war with the rank of Major General.