Russian Liberation Army – Russian Volunteers Who Fought For Hitler

General Vlasov and soldiers of the ROA - Bundesarchiv / CC-BY-SA 3.0

It was 1st September 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland under a false pretext, officially kicking off WWII. The tensions in Europe had already reached a boiling point, and a small nudge was all that was required. Soon, Britain and France joined in to support the Poles, and soon the war escalated. Initially, there was an agreement between the Soviets and the Germans and both invaded Poland under a secret treaty.

On paper, the relations between the two great powers, Soviet Union and Germany were good, however secretly Hitler was never a fan of Communism and ordered his Generals to secretly mass forces against the Communist nation. On 22nd, June 1941 Germany launched Operation Barbarossa and began a full-scale offensive against the Soviet Union. Hitler’s goals were not only limited to taking terrain but also to exterminate Communism from the region.

ROA troops with shoulder patches visible, 1944. - Bundesarchiv / CC-BY-SA 3.0
ROA troops with shoulder patches visible, 1944. – Bundesarchiv / CC-BY-SA 3.0

While the Soviet Union fought bravely, there were several serving officers as well as civilians who weren’t that happy with their leadership, particularly Stalin. General Andrey Vlasov became the central figure among all this. He was a former Soviet General, who had actively fought the invading Nazi, but after being completely surrounded by a German Army he was captured on July 12th, 1942.

While in captivity, no one truly knows why, but Vlasov started making statements against Stalin and his policies. He was often very critical and proposed an army consisting of Russians that was strong enough to challenge Stalin himself.

Adolf Hitler allowed the idea of the Russian Liberation Army to circulate in propaganda literature so long as no real formations of the sort were permitted. As a result, some Red Army soldiers surrendered or defected in hopes of joining an army that did not yet exist. Many Soviet prisoners of war volunteered to serve under the German command just in order to get out from Nazi POW camps which were notorious for starving Soviet prisoners to death.

Vlasov, along with his German and Russian allies, was desperately lobbying the German high command, hoping that a green light would be given for the formation of a real armed force that would be exclusively under Russian control.

Vlasov and General Georgi Zhilenkov (center) meeting Joseph Goebbels (February 1945) – Bundesarchiv  / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Vlasov was taken to Berlin by the Wehrmacht’s Propaganda Machine, and plans were drafted for the creation of a Russian provincial government that was to be under the influence of Nazi Germany. Vlasov was put in charge of the Russian Liberation Committee in hopes of recruiting as many anti-Stalinists as possible.

The new army was called the Russian Liberation Army or ROA. Vlasov’s main way of recruitment was offering a democratic government to imprisoned Soviet officers as well as the general public. The Germans even dropped anti-Bolshevik leaflets over Soviet cities, trying to convince the general public to turn against the government.

The movement started out in 1942 and was only a small group, consisting of 3500 – 4000 personnel. But with the passage of time the ranks swelled and at one point even stood at 200,000 volunteers.

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