Russian Liberation Army – Russian Volunteers Who Fought For Hitler

By Wikiarius – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Russian Liberation Army was split into 3 infantry divisions in addition to several unorganized battalions, these were:

  • 600th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General Sergei Bunyachenko consisting of 20,000 men.
  • 650th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General Grigory Zverev consisting of 12,000 poorly armed men.
  • 700th Infantry Division, commanded by Major-General Mikhail Shapalov, had about 10,000 men but their formation was never completed.

The Russian Liberation Army succeeded in convincing several Soviet pilots and even formed an Airforce, called the KONR Air Force, for a brief period. Two Soviet Aces, Semyon Bychkov, and Romanovich Antilevesky joined the force but didn’t see much action as the Airforce was disbanded in July 1944.

On 9th February 1945, the ROA volunteers from the 1st Division saw their first action against the Red Army. Their fighting was noteworthy as Himmler was closely observing their tactics & behavior. They gained quite a bit of praise and trust between the two sides developed.

On 11th April 1945, the Russian Liberation Army fought in its first and last major combat mission against the Russians. After three days, the outnumbered Division had to retreat. This was also at the insistence of Himmler who wanted to see the reliability of the force.

All in all, the Germans failed to properly use the Liberation Army. Whether it was due to lack of trust or because the war was coming to an end. Maybe if the Nazis paid proper attention to the possibilities of having such a force, they could’ve stopped the Soviets from reaching Berlin. This was possible since several Soviet soldiers defected after reading the leaflets written by General Vlasov.

But the war was lost and to prevent any harsh mistreatment followed, primarily by the Soviets. Vlasov ordered his men to march south to concentrate all the anti-communist forces. He then sent secret delegates to the Allies, negotiating terms of surrender. During the march, the Liberation Army turned against the Germans and at several places supported the locals to fight against the occupation.

The most notable incident was the Prague Uprising on May 5th, 1945 when the ROA aided the Czech insurgents against the Germans. This was quite a major event as the Waffen-SS had been sent to level the entire city! If it wasn’t for them, the city might have been left in ruins.

The ROA then caught up with the US Third Army and tried to surrender to them. However, the Americans had no interest in sheltering these rebels, as it would harm relations with the Soviets. After several failed attempts to surrender, the Soviets finally trapped the ROA and took them into custody.

Mass grave of two generals and 187 unknown ROA soldiers, Olšanské hřbitovy cemetery in Prague - By Dezidor / CC BY-SA 3.0
Mass grave of two generals and 187 unknown ROA soldiers, Olšanské hřbitovy cemetery in Prague – By Dezidor / CC BY-SA 3.0

The US troops aided the Soviets in taking more than a thousand soldiers as prisoners and even sometimes forcefully extradited ones caught in the US’s zones.

Once caught, the Soviets branded the Russian Liberation Army as traitors to the motherland and sent them off to detention in prison camps from which few returned.

The leadership including General Vlasov were separated from the rest and amid significant publicity, hanged on 1st August 1946 in Moscow.