19 February 2014
Non-Repression Deaths of Combatants
G.F. Krivosheyev established Soviet records indicate the "deadweight" losses of the Soviet military in the Soviet-German war amount to 8.69 million dead. It would be erroneous, however, to take the figures indicated by these incomplete records at face value, as synonymous with actual deaths among Soviet military personnel.
To highlight just one problem. Krivosheyev suggests the Germans took 4.06 million Soviet military personnel prisoner of whom 2.96 million survived their ordeal, while the other 1.1 million perished in German custody. In fact, we know that more than 3 million Soviet citizens the Germans had designated prisoners of war died. Even allowing for the fact many of them were not military personnel, but instead civilians and partisans, the number of Soviet Red Army men who perished after they fell into German hands must have been far greater than 1.1 million.
Ellman suggests there are other factors Krivosheyev's figures do not take into account. One is the fact that given peacetime mortality rates among the age groups making up the Red Army personnel there would have been 400,000 deaths among their number even in peacetime. Another that there would have been Soviet soldiers captured by the Germans who were subsequently released or escaped, but who were not reinstated into the Soviet military due to their disability, avoidance of conscription, or age. He estimates their number may have been 300,000.
The first of these points by Ellman is less valuable than the second, particularly as it pertains to the projected 100,000 "natural deaths" among Soviet POWs. If we know the life expectancy of a Soviet prisoner of war taken by the Germans was usually extremely low (in 1941-42 when most were taken it was only a few months) it is the case they simply would not have had the time to die a natural death in captivity, before they died of other causes. It is irrelevant if thousands of Soviet soldiers taken POW would have died anyway in 1941-1945 of other causes, if their life was cut short when they were left to starve in Wehrmacht's POW camps in 1941/42. Ellman's other point is pertinent. The number of POWs who survived captivity must be greater than the sum of POWs who were reinstated into the Red Army before the end of the war, of those who were returned to the Soviet Union at the end of the war, and of those who emigrated.
Krivosheyev figures, however, are nonetheless the best starting point in determining the extent of non-repression deaths among Soviet regulars — that is excluding deaths of Red Army men in German POW camps and at the hands of Soviet military tribunals. According to their records the Red Army and the NKVD sustained 5.23 million killed in action, 1.1 million died of wounds, 270 thousand died of disease, 290 thousand died of remaining causes such as accidents, suicides or were executed after a court martial. Additionally there were 500 thousand Soviet soldiers who went missing, but who Krivosheyev suggests were killed in fighting. Altogether this gives a figure of 7.39 million Red Army and NKDV non-POW dead.
It has been stated Soviet military tribunals sentenced to death nearly 158 thousand Red Army men in the first two years of the war alone. Krivosheyev's archival figures, however, speak about 994 thousands Red Army losses due to repression by military tribunals of whom 436 thousand were imprisoned and 423 thousand were sent to penal battalions. This allows for no more than 135 thousand Red Army men shot after a court martial. It is possible, however, the two figures are not in contradiction if in thousands of cases the death sentences given to soldiers by the military tribunals were not carried out. In this case the non-repression dead for the Soviet armed comes to about 7.25 million.
This figure includes deaths of Soviet soldiers executed by German combat troops immediately upon capture or surrender. From the onset of the German invasion of the Soviet Union the Germans treated any Red Army soldiers who in the course of a retreat found themselves behind their lines as franc-tierurs and especially targeted female soldiers and political officers for execution. Occasionally they massacred captured soldiers deemed to have put up too much of a fight prior to capture. The number of such homicides of captives may very well be significant, and as instances of repression would ideally be subtracted from non-repression deaths, but since there is no way of knowing their number that is not possible.
Most Soviet citizens who carried a rifle in the Soviet-German War fought as regulars in the units of the Red Army or the NKVD. Many others, however, ended up fighting and dying in the various auxiliary and irregular forces. These would include local anti-aircraft defense units, the paramilitary formations of policeman and railwaymen and the istrebitel'nyi militia. By far the biggest of such organisations, however, were the opolchenie militia and the Soviet partisans. Deaths in the ranks of these two forces made a significant portion of deaths among Soviet combatants as a whole.
On the basis of German records researcher Christian Gerlacht has established that major German anti-partisan operations on the territory of Belarus killed at most some 9,500 Soviet partisans, at the cost of about 1,500 German and auxiliary troops. As is to be expected the enemy was usually able to inflict several times greater losses on the relatively poorly equipped guerillas. Altogether Gerlach estimates the Germans suffered between 6,000 and 7,000 dead against the partisans in Belarus. Gerlacht also accepts as reliable the work of Pjotr Kalinin according to whom the partisan formations in Belarus reported the loss of 37,800 dead and missing.
Meanwhile it has been estimated that across the USSR some 15 to 20 thousand German troops were killed fighting the Soviet partisans. Presuming the ratio of German to partisan losses of 1:6 that held true in Belarus also held elsewhere in the occupied Soviet Union this would mean formations of Soviet partisans would have sustained about 100 thousand deaths in combat. Accounting for deaths from disease and deprivation and unreported deaths there may have been up to 150,000 partisan deaths in total.
About two million men, mainly volunteers from the Soviet urban centers, served in the battalions and divisions of the opolchenie militia in 1941 and 1942. These units were hastily assembled directly by the Communist Party apparatus rather than the military and were normally terribly under-equipped. When employed on the front they often suffered grievous losses with numerous captured and killed. Several of people's militia divisions suffered annihilation or near-annihilation, particularly in the Vyazma cauldron, as well as did numerous opolchenie battalions in the Kiev encirclement.
Total opolchenie losses may number in the low hundreds of thousands, but since so many of its losses came in enemy encirclement operations probably more than one half of militiamen who died in the war perished later on in German POW camps rather than in combat. On the whole some 100 thousand opolchenie militiamen may have died on the front in 1941 and 1942.
Taken together various Soviet irregulars and auxiliaries probably suffered somewhere about 250 thousand non-PWO deaths in the war.
Many other Soviet citizens (1946 borders) were combatants and died frontline deaths in the period of the Soviet-German war, but not as part of Soviet forces. The most numerically significant of these were the deaths among Soviet citizens in German service. They would also include a small number of members of the Polish resistance, and of anti-Soviet partisans in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1944/45, as well as a larger number of UPA fighters in Western Ukraine.
During the war up to one million Soviet citizens entered into German service. They served in the Waffen-SS, the Wehrmacht and the Auxiliary Police. For many the motivating factor was local nationalism from which stemmed a principled opposition to rule from Moscow. For many others it was a matter of basic survival. Entering into German service meant escape from starvation rations, access to sometime badly-needed medical care, or a shot at winning the release of a relative in German captivity. For numerous people carrying a rifle for the Germans was not a matter of politics, but the difference between life and death of disease or malnutrition in captivity or under the occupation. In any case it has been estimated some 215,000 Soviet citizens in German service lost their lives in battles against Soviet forces.
The guerrillas of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) fought a war somewhat similar to that of Soviet partisans, but were geographically contained to Western Ukraine and were by an order of magnitude smaller movement overall. Given their size until May 1945 they may have lost up to 20,000 dead to disease, the Soviets, the Poles and, to a lesser extent, the Germans.
In all about 7.5 million Soviet citizens perished as combatants for the Soviet side, whether as regular soldiers, militiamen or partisans. About a quarter of a million Soviet citizens simultaneously perished as part of various non-Soviet fighting forces.
Table of Contents
8. The 158 thousand figure is mentioned by Roger R. Reese, Why Stalin's Soldiers Fought: The Red Army's Military Effectiveness in World War II (University Press of Kansas, 2011) 171. citing Review by Evan Mawdsley, War in History 4, 2 (1997): 230. G. F. Krivosheev, Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century (Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books 1997): 91-92.
9. Christian Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde: Die deutsche Wirtschafts-und Vernichtungspolitik in Weissrussland 1941 bis 1944 (Hamburger Edition, 2000).
10. Matthew Cooper, The Phantom War: The German struggle against Soviet partisans 1941-1944 (London: Macdonald and Jane’s Publishers Limited, 1979).
11. Generally speaking in 1941 considerably more Soviet fighters were captured by the enemy than were killed. The regular army reports indicate 0.8 million killed, but over 2.3 million captured.
12. Krivosheev, Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century, 278.