After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, which marked the beginning of World War II, the Soviet Union invaded the eastern regions of the Second Polish Republic (referred to as the Kresy) and annexed the lands totalling 201,015 square kilometres (77,612 sq mi) with a population of 13,299,000 inhabitants including ethnic Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, Jews, Czechs and others.
The program of the partisan war was outlined in Moscow after the German attack in 1941 against the USSR. Directives issued on July 29, 1941 and in further documents by the Soviet People's Commissaries Council and Communist Party called for the formation of partisan detachments and 'diversionist' groups in the German-occupied territories. Joseph Stalin iterated his commands and directives to the people in his radio speech on 3 July 1941, and appointed himself Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army on 20 July 1941.
In 1941, the core of the partisan movement were the remains of the Red Army units destroyed in the first phase of Operation Barbarossa, personnel of destruction battalions, and the local Communist Party and Komsomol activists who chose to remain in Soviet-occupied prewar Poland. The most common unit of the period was a detachment. The first detachments commanded by Red Army officers and local Communist Party activists were formed in the first days of the war between former allies Germany and the Soviet Union, including the Starasyel'ski detachment of Major Dorodnykh in the Zhabinka district (June 23, 1941) and the Pinsk detachment of Vasily Korzh on June 26, 1941. The first awards of the Hero of the Soviet Union order occurred on August 6, 1941 (detachment commanders Pavlovskiy and Bumazhkov). Some partisan detachments were parachuted into German-occupied territories in the summer of 1941. Urban underground groups were formed as a force complementing the activities of partisan units, operating in rural areas. The network of underground structures developed and received a steady influx of specially chosen party activists. By the end of 1941, more than 2,000 partisan detachments (with more than 90,000 personnel) operated in German-occupied territories.
However, the activity of partisan forces were not centrally coordinated and supplied until spring of 1942. In order to coordinate partisan operations the Central Headquarters of the Partisan Movement under Stavka, headed by Panteleimon Ponomarenko (Chief of Staff) and initially commanded by top Politburo member Kliment Voroshilov, was organized on May 30, 1942. The Staff had its liaison networks in the Military Councils of the Fronts and Armies. The territorial Staffs were subsequently created, dealing with the partisan movement in the respective Soviet Republics and in the occupied provinces of the Russian SFSR.
By Soviet estimates, in August 1941 about 231 detachments were operating already. Units formed and inserted into Belarus totaled 437 by the end of the 1941, comprising more than 7,200 personnel. However, as the front line moved further away, conditions steadily worsened for the partisan units, as resources ran out, and there was no large-scale support from beyond the front until March 1942. One particular difficulty was the lack of radio communication, which was not addressed until April 1942. The partisan unit also lacked the support of local people. For several months, partisan units in Belarus were virtually left to their own devices; especially difficult was the winter of 1941-1942, with severe shortages in ammunition, medicine and supplies. The actions of partisans were generally uncoordinated.
German pacification operations in the summer and autumn 1941 were able to curb the partisan activity significantly. Many units went underground, and generally, in late 1941 to early 1942, the partisan units were not undertaking significant military operations, but limiting themselves to sorting out organizational problems, building up support and establishing an influence over the local people. Although data is incomplete, at the end of 1941, 99 partisan detachments and about 100 partisan groups are known to have operated in Belarus. In Winter 1941-1942, 50 partisan detachments and about 50 underground organisations and groups operated in Belarus. During December 1941, German guard forces in the Army Group Center rear comprised 4 security divisions, 1 SS Infantry Brigade, 2 SS Infantry Brigades, and 260 companies from different branches of service.
The turning point in the development of the Soviet partisan movement came with the opening of the Vitsyebsk gate, a corridor connecting Soviet and German-occupied territories, in February 1942. The partisan units were included in the Soviet strategical developments after that. Centralized organizational and logistical support was organized by the Red Army, with the Gate's existence being an important factor in assisting partisan detachments with weapons on occupied territory. As a result, the partisans were able to effectively undermine German troops and significantly hamper their operations in the region from April 1942 until the end of the year. Some Jews and even lower rank Soviet activists felt more secure in the partisan ranks than in civilian life under the Soviet rule.
In spring 1942, the concentration of smaller partisan units into brigades began, prompted by the experience of the first year of war. The coordination, numerical buildup, structural reworking and established supply lines all translated into greatly increased partisan capability, which showed in the increased instances of sabotage on the railroads, with hundreds of engines and thousands of cars destroyed by the end of the year.
In 1942, terror campaigns against the territorial administration, staffed by local "collaborators and traitors" was additionally emphasized. This resulted, however, in definite divisions within the local civilian population, resulting in the beginning of the organisation of anti-partisan units with native personnel in 1942. By November 1942, Soviet partisan units in Belarus numbered about 47,000 personnel.
In January 1943, out of 56,000 partisan personnel, 11,000 were operating in western Belarus, 3.5 fewer per 10,000 local people than in the east, and even more so (up to 5-6 factor) if one accounts for much more efficient Soviet evacuation measures in the East during 1941. Smallholders in the west showed "surprising" sympathies to the partisans. There is strong evidence that this was a decision of the central Soviet authorities, who refrained from a larger accumulation of partisan forces in western Belarus, and let Polish underground military structures grow in these lands during 1941-1942, in order to strengthen relations with the Polish government-in-exile of Władysław Sikorski. A certain level of military cooperation, imposed by the command headquarters, was noted between Soviet partisans and Armia Krajowa (AK). People of Polish nationality were, to an extent, avoided during the terror campaigns in 1942. After the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the USSR and the Polish government-in-exile in April 1943 resulting from the discovery of the Katyn massacre deemed Soviet by the Katyn Commission, the situation changed radically. From this moment on, the AK was treated by Moscow as a hostile military force.
The buildup of the Soviet partisan force in western Belarus was ordered and implemented during 1943, with nine brigades, 10 detachments and 15 operational groups transferred from east to west, effectively tripling the partisan force there (reaching 36,000 troops in December 1943). It is estimated that 10–12,000 personnel were transferred, and about same number came from local volunteers. The buildup of the military force was complemented by the intensification of the underground Communist Party structures and propaganda activity.
The Soviet victory at Stalingrad, a certain lessening of the terror campaign (de facto from December 1942, formally permitted in February 1943) and an amnesty promised to collaborators who wished to return to the Soviet camp were significant factors in the 1943 growth of Soviet partisan forces. Desertions from the ranks of the German-controlled police and military formations strengthened units, with sometimes whole detachments coming over to the Soviet camp, including the Volga Tatar battalion (900 personnel, February 1943), and Gil-Rodionov's 1st Russian People's Brigade of the SS (2,500 personnel, August 1943). In all, about 7,000 people of different anti-Soviet formations joined the Soviet partisan force, while about 1,900 specialists and commanders were dropped into occupied Belarus in 1943. However, local people mainly accounted for most increases in the Soviet partisan force.
The first year of the war was devastating for the Soviet partisans of Ukraine. Nevertheless, between August 1941 and the beginning of March 1942, 30,000 partisans had been organised into more than 1,800 detachments; by the beginning of May 1942, there were just 37 detachments, consisting of 1,918 individuals, that were operational and communicating with the Soviet Union.
Partisan activities centred on sabotaging economic targets and communications; engaging the Germans in combat; intelligence gathering; and terrorist activities. The primary partisan targets in 1941–42 were not the German invaders but rather the local police, who were under German direction, and civilian collaborators. The years 1943–44 were the peak of partisan activity within the territory of present-day Ukraine, as the Soviets battled the far-right, nationalistic OUN and the UPA, both of whom collaborated with the Nazis. Reprisal measures for attacks on Soviet partisans or support for Ukrainian nationalists included burning down villages and executions. Whole families were killed, and children, even babies, were sometimes bayoneted or burned alive.
The partisans dramatically overstated, by an order of magnitude, their effectiveness in their reports. These inflated figures were passed back up the chain of command to Stalin, even finding their way into Soviet history books.
A medical camp in Torforazrabotki (vicinity of Deptovka, Dmitrievka rayon, Chernigov oblast) was commanded by Naum Aronovich and affiliated with Kovpak detachment in Putivl area. This camp was accepting wounded partisans until they could be evacuated to Bolshaya Zemlya by aircraft. The camp had one doctor (Natalia Buseva) and several nurses.
In the Bryansk region, Soviet partisans controlled large areas behind the German lines. In the summer of 1942 they effectively held more than 14,000 square kilometers (5,405 square miles) with a population of over 200,000 people. Soviet partisans in the region were led by Oleksiy Fedorov, Alexander Saburov and others and numbered over 60,000 men. The Belgorod, Oryol, Kursk, Novgorod, Leningrad, Pskov and Smolensk regions also had significant partisan activity during the occupation period. In the Oryol and Smolensk regions partisans were led by Dmitry Medvedev.
In 1943, after the Red Army started to liberate western Russia and north-east Ukraine, many partisans, including units led by Fedorov, Medvedev and Saburov, were ordered to re-locate their operations into central and western Ukraine still occupied by Nazis.
While Soviet sources claim that thousands of partisans were operating in the Baltic region, in fact they only operated in the Latgale region of Latvia and the Vilnius district. Thus Estonia remained partisan free throughout most of the war, by 1944 only 234 partisans were fighting in Estonia and none were native volunteers, all being either NKVD or Red Army personnel parachuted in from the Soviet-controlled territories. In Latvia, they were first under Russian and Belarusian command, and from January 1943, directly subordinated to the central Headquarters in Moscow, under the leadership of Arturs Sproģis.
In 1941, the Soviet partisan movement in Lithuania began with the actions of a small number of Red Army soldiers left behind enemy lines, much like the beginning of partisan movements in Ukraine and Belarus. The movement grew throughout 1942, and in the summer of that year the Lithuanian Soviet partisan movement began receiving material aid as well as specialists and instructors in guerrilla warfare from Soviet-held territory. On 26 November 1942, the Command of the Lithuanian Partisan Movement (Lietuvos partizaninio judėjimo štabas) was created in Moscow, headed by the First Secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party Antanas Sniečkus, who fled to Moscow in the wake of the German invasion in 1941. Although the Soviet partisans in Lithuania were nominally under the control of the Command of the Lithuanian Partisan Movement, the guerrilla warfare specialists and instructors sent by it reported directly to the Central Command of the Partisan Movement. Modern Lithuanian historians estimate that about half of the Soviet partisans in Lithuania were escapees from POW and concentration camps, Soviet activists and Red Army soldiers left behind the quickly advancing front line, while the other half was made up of airdropped special operations experts. It is estimated that in total, about 5,000 people engaged in pro-Soviet underground activities in Lithuania during the war. In general, the role of Soviet dissident groups in Lithuania in Second World War was minimal.
During the Finnish control of Eastern Karelia, many ethnic Russians and some Karelians supported the partisan attacks. Approximately 5,000 partisans altogether fought in the region, although the typical strength of the force was 1,500–2,300. Peculiarities of this front were that partisan units were not created inside occupied territory, but their personnel came from all over the Soviet Union and that they mainly operated from the Soviet side of the front line.
The only major Soviet Partisan operation ended with failure when the 1st Partisan Brigade was destroyed at the beginning of August 1942 at Lake Seesjärvi. Most operations at the southern part of the front consisted only of a few individuals, but in the roadless northern part, units of 40–100 partisans were not uncommon. Partisans distributed propaganda newspapers, "Truth" in the Finnish language and "Lenin's Banner" in the Russian language. One of the more notable leaders of the partisan movement in Finland and Karelia was the future leader of the USSR, Yuri Andropov.
In East Karelia, most partisans attacked Finnish military supply and communication targets, but inside Finland proper, almost two-thirds of the attacks targeted civilians, killing 200 and injuring 50, mostly women, children and elderly. On one occasion in the small village the partisans murdered all civilians, leaving no witnesses to the atrocities. One such incident was the attack of Lämsänkylä Kuusamo on July 18, 1943, in which the partisans attacked a lonely house and killed all of the seven civilians there, including a six-month-old baby and a three-year-old child, before fleeing.
Partisan operations against Finns were estimated as being highly ineffectual. The partisans did not have sufficient strength to attack military targets, and would often falsely report their raids to higher command, claiming attacks on German or Finnish military targets even if the victims were civilians. Already in the autumn of 1941 the report of Komissariat of Interior Affairs was highly critical, and it became only worse, as stated in the counter-intelligence agency's report of April 1944. The main explanations given for the operations' failures were the isolated headquarters at Belomorsk, which did not know what operative units were doing, personnel who had no local knowledge and were partly made up of criminals (10-20% of all personnel were conscripted from prisons) without knowledge of how to operate in harsh terrain and climate, efficient Finnish counter-partisan patrolling (more than two-thirds of the infiltrating small partisan groups were completely destroyed) and Finnish internment of the ethnic Russian civilian population in concentration camps from those regions with active partisan operations. Internees were released to secure areas, preventing partisans from receiving local supplies. In addition, many Soviet Karelians reported to the Finns the movements of the partisans and did not support the Soviet Partisans.
Some formations calling themselves Soviet partisans operated a long way outside Soviet territory - usually organized by former Soviet citizens who had escaped from Nazi camps. One such formation, Rodina (Motherland), acted in France.
In 1944 Soviet partisans provided "proletarian internationalist" help to the people of German-occupied Central Europe, with seven united formations and 26 larger detachments operating in Poland, and 20 united formations and detachments operating in Czechoslovakia.
In the former eastern territories of the Second Polish Republic, attached to the Ukrainian and Belarusian Soviet Republics after the Soviet invasion of Poland, the organization and operation of Soviet partisans were similar to that in Ukrainian and Belarusian territories. However, there were notable differences in the interaction of partisans with Polish national forces and the local population.
After an initial period of wary collaboration with the Polish resistance, the conflicts between these groups intensified, especially as Poles were principally the victims of Soviet terror between 1939 and 1941, and Soviet diplomatic relations with the Polish exile government in London continued to worsen and were broken off completely by Soviet government in the aftermath of the discovery of the Katyn Massacre in 1943. In addition to sabotage aimed at the German war machine, Soviet partisans started extensive operations against both the Polish underground and the civilian population of the areas seized by the Soviets in 1939. The campaign of terror resulted in reports to London of horrifying looting, rape and murder. This made many local AK commanders consider the Soviets as just another enemy and eventually on June 22, 1943 Soviets partisans were ordered by Moscow to take on the Polish units as well. The study by German-Polish historian Bogdan Musial states that Soviet partisans, instead of engaging German military and police targets, targeted the poorly armed and trained Belarusian and Polish self-defense forces. In addition, the Soviet partisans were instructed to collaborate with the Nazis by providing the German forces intelligence on Polish anti-Nazi resistance formation. The Soviet partisans were involved in several massacres of Polish civilians, including at Naliboki, on May 8, 1943.Vasily Korzh raid, Autumn 1941-March 23, 1942. 1,000 km (620 mi) raid of a partisan formation in the Minsk and Pinsk Oblasts of Belarus.
Battle of Bryansk forests, May 1942. Partisan battle against the Nazi punitive expedition that included five infantry divisions, military police, 120 tanks and aviation.
Raid of Sydir Kovpak, October 26-November 29, 1942. Raid in Bryansk forests and Eastern Ukraine.
Battle of Bryansk forests, May–June 1943. Partisan battle in the Bryansk forests with German punitive expeditions.
Operation Rails War, August 3-September 15, 1943. A major operation of partisan formations against the railroad communications intended to disrupt the German reinforcements and supplies for the Battle of Kursk and later the Battle of Smolensk. It involved concentrated actions by more than 100,000 partisan fighters from Belarus, the Leningrad Oblast, the Kalinin Oblast, the Smolensk Oblast, the Oryol Oblast and Ukraine within an area 1,000 km (620 mi) along the front and 750 km (470 mi) wide. Reportedly, more than 230,000 rails were destroyed, along with many bridges, trains and other railroad infrastructure. The operation seriously incapacitated German logistics and was instrumental in the Soviet victory in Kursk battle.
Operation Concerto, September 19-November 1, 1943. "Concerto" was a major operation of partisan formations against the railroad communications intended to disrupt the German reinforcements and supplies for the Battle of the Dnieper and on the direction of the Soviet offensive in the Smolensk and Gomel directions. Partisans from Belarus, Karelia, the Kalinin Oblast, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Crimea participated in the operations. The area of the operation was 900 km (560 mi) along the front (excluding Karelia and Crimea) and 400 km (250 mi) wide. Despite bad weather that only permitted the airlift of less than 50% of the planned supplies, the operation lead to a 35-40% decrease in the railroad capacity in the area of operations. This was critical for the success of Soviet military operations in the autumn of 1943. In Belarus alone, the partisans claimed the destruction of more than 90,000 rails along with 1,061 trains, 72 railroad bridges and 58 Axis garrisons. According to the Soviet historiography, Axis losses totalled more than 53,000 soldiers.
Battle of Polotsk-Leppel, April 1944. Major battle between Belarusian partisans and German punitive expeditions.
Battle of Borisovsk-Begoml, April 22-May 15, 1944. Major battle between Belarusian partisans and German punitive expeditions.
Operation Bagration, June 22-August 19, 1944. Belarusian partisans took major part in the Operation Bagration. They were often considered the fifth front (along with the 1st Baltic Front, 1st Belorussian Front, 2nd Belorussian Front and 3rd Belorussian Front). Upwards of 300,000 partisans took part in the operation.
From the very beginning of its existence, the partisan intelligence had been aimed chiefly at serving the Red Army operational purposes. It had frequently been asked to provide detailed information on enemy’s whereabouts, strengths, armaments, movements and intentions. Yet, the partisans’ ability to meet the expectations of military consumers was limited. In 1941-1942, they relied chiefly on field intelligence – foot patrols, observation and questioning of local population – and only from late 1942 onwards succeeded in developing human intelligence capabilities. Unfortunately, the majority of their agents and collaborators were illiterate farmers and laborers unprepared for intelligence work. Technological means of collection such as communications interceptors and night vision devices were used by the partisans only on rare occasions. Besides, the wide scale deployment and high efficiency of the German security services limited the partisans’ gathering capabilities in the military field to the rural areas, almost completely preventing their access to the Wehrmacht’s bases and decision making centers.
Partisan intelligence's contribution to the political leadership of the Soviet Union and its intelligence community appears to have been more significant, especially in collecting information on conditions in the occupied territories, as well as on the structure of the occupation administration, its everyday behavior, local collaborators and sympathizers. This contribution allowed the Soviet regime to maintain its authority and control behind the German lines and reinforced its anti-Nazi propaganda effort in the occupied territories and in the West. The Soviet intelligence and security services used the information obtained by the partisans for improving their operational capabilities in the German-controlled territories and preparing the measures for reoccupation of Eastern Poland and the Baltic States.
The partisan propaganda means had developed over the occupation period. In its early stage, the partisan messages were mainly short and unsophisticated and used simple spreading channels, such as verbal communication and leaflets. Consequently, some of the big-sized and mighty partisan detachments succeeded in establishing their own print houses that published periodic ‘partisan newspapers’ based on the propaganda broadcasts from Moscow and local reality.
The effect of the partisan psychological warfare is hard to evaluate. Nevertheless, it appears that at least a part of the defections from the Wehrmacht and other Axis troops, that occurred on the Eastern front in 1942-1944, might be attributed to the partisan propaganda effort, as well as the relatively high number of the local volunteers to the Soviet guerrilla detachments starting from the summer of 1943. Furthermore, in many occupied areas the very presence of anti-German irregulars emphasized the continued presence of ‘Kremlin’s watchful eye’, unnerved occupying forces and their collaborators and thus undermined the enemy’s attempt to ‘pacify’ the local populace.
To survive, resistance fighters largely relied on the civilian population. This included access to food, clothing and other supplies. However, in the areas they controlled, there was limited opportunity to operate their own farms. As is typical in guerrilla warfare, Soviet partisans requisitioned food, livestock and clothes from local peasants; in some cases the supply was voluntary, in others coerced. The results of such requisitioning were made more severe by the fact that Axis occupation forces had been already carrying out their own requisitions. This led to conflicts with partisans in areas hostile to Soviet power, mostly in territories annexed by the Soviet Union during 1939–1941.
Among the targets of Soviet partisans were not only Axis military and their collaboration units, but also civilians accused of being collaborators or sometimes even those who were considered not to support the partisans strongly enough.
Partisans are often accused of provoking brutal countermeasures from the Nazi occupiers. Trying to limit partisan activities, German command employed mass killings of hostages among the residents of areas supporting partisan forces. In the case of partisan attack or sabotage, a number of locals would be executed. Such hostage operations happened in the form of preliminary arrests, post-attack retaliation actions, and/or compulsory "watch-groups" deployed on vulnerable sites and killed if they did not avert the attack. In Belarus alone, according to historian Christian Gerlach, German anti-partisan actions killed an estimated 345,000 people, mostly civilians.
Able-bodied male Jews were usually welcomed by the partisans (sometimes only if they brought their own weapons). More than 10% of the Soviet partisan movement were Jews; in the Rowne Brigade, Alexander Abugov, commander of the reconnaissance unit, and Dr Ehrlich, commander of the medical services were Jews. Jewish women, children, and the elderly were usually not welcome. Eventually, however, separate Jewish groups, both guerrilla units and mixed family groups of refugees (like the Bielski partisans), were subordinated to the communist partisan leadership and considered as Soviet assets.
The Soviet Ukrainian partisans achieved some success only in Slovakia, a nominally independent country under German tutelage. The Slovakian countryside and mountains became a ‘hotbed’ for the Soviet guerrillas in the second half of 1944. Dozens of the partisan detachments that came from Soviet Ukraine and formerly Soviet-occupied Poland conducted sabotage acts against German communication lines, harassed the local German community and finally took an active part in the anti-Axis Slovak National Uprising that was launched by the Slovak resistance movement on 29 August 1944. Initially, it seemed to have been a successful enterprise. The insurgents established their headquarters in the central-Slovakian town Banská Bystrica, conducted contacts with the Allied powers, managed to hold out for two months against the German and the Slovak collaborationist troops, and even dispatched sabotage and intelligence units to Hungary and Moravia.
However, due to the Red Army's inability or possibly unwillingness to support the rebels, many of whom were loyal to the pro-Western Czechoslovakian government in exile, the Slovak National Uprising was brutally oppressed in late October 1944. The attempt of the Soviet Ukrainian partisans to continue the guerrilla war in the Carpathian Mountains during the winter of 1944-1945 had little effect on the Germans but led to severe losses among the irregulars themselves. Most of them returned to the Soviet-controlled territory without being able to assist the Red Army war effort. Nonetheless, the remnants of the Soviet Ukrainian partisan networks remained active in Slovakia and Moravia, mostly in the intelligence field, until early May 1945.
In addition to fighting the Nazis, Soviet partisans fought against organizations which sought to establish independent non-communist states of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine. Most of the resistance groups in the Baltic States and Poland sought to re-establish independent states free of Soviet domination.
Soviet partisans are therefore a controversial issue in those countries. In Latvia, some former Soviet partisans, such as Vasiliy Kononov, have been prosecuted for alleged war crimes against locals during Soviet partisan activity.
The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) formed in 1942 as a military arm of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists engaged in armed conflicts with Soviet partisans and the Polish resistance. While the UPA initially attempted to find a common anti-Soviet ground with Nazi Germany against the USSR, it soon was driven underground as it became apparent that the Germans' intentions for Ukraine were to establish a German colony with a subjugated local population, not an independent country as the UPA hoped for. As such, the UPA was driven underground and fought both the Nazi occupiers and the Soviet forces (including partisans) at the same time.
Later, the UPA and Soviet partisan leaders tried to negotiate a temporary alliance, but Moscow's NKVD Headquarters began harshly suppressing such moves by its local commanders. With both sides becoming established enemies, the Ukrainian civil population was primarily concerned with their survival. Ukrainian nationalist resistance to Soviet rule continued into the mid-late 1940s..
Soviet partisans had very little support from the Baltic countries' populations. Their involvement in controversial actions that affected the civilian population (for example, the killing of the Polish civilians in Kaniūkai, in an event that has come to be called the Koniuchy massacre, and the destruction of the village of Bakaloriškės). The anti-Soviet resistance movements in the Baltic states, known as the Latvian or Lithuanian partisans, (established just before the Soviet re-occupation in 1944), and local self-defence units often came into conflict with Soviet partisan groups. In Estonia and Latvia, almost all the Soviet partisan units, dropped by air, were either destroyed by the German forces or the local self-defense units.
In eastern and south-eastern Lithuania, Soviet partisans constantly clashed with Polish Armia Krajowa (Home Army) partisans; AK did not recognise any territorial changes after 1939 and considered this region as a legal part of Poland, while the Soviets planned to annex it into the Soviet Union after the war. Only in April 1944 did Polish and Soviet partisans start coordinating their actions against the Germans.
Some historians assert that the Soviet reactions to returning partisans were not better than for Soviet POWs. However most of the partisans were included in soviet regular forces. A lot of former POWs avoided repressions because of joining the partisan units after the escape. In 1955, a pardon was given to all returned prisoners of war and Nazi collaborators.
With the German supply lines already over-extended, the partisan operations in the rear of the front lines were able to severely disrupt the flow of supplies to the army that acted deep into the Soviet territory. In the second half of the war, major partisan operations were coordinated with Soviet offensives. Upon liberation of parts of the Soviet territory, the corresponding partisan detachments usually joined the regular Army. According to Soviet sources, the partisans were a vital force of the war. From 90,000 men and women by the end of 1941 (including underground) they grew to 220,000 in 1942, and to more than 550,000 in 1943. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia informs that Soviet partisans inflicted thousands of casualties on Axis forces. In Belarus alone, according to Soviet propaganda, the partisans claimed to have killed, injured and taken prisoner some 500,000 German soldiers.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the previously unavailable Soviet archives have been re-examined by independent scholars from Poland, Germany, and elsewhere, and the conclusions drawn from them were strikingly different from the official Soviet line, maintained during the Cold War for several decades:
The Soviet-allied guerrillas routinely engaged in plundering peasants. Documents show that partisan activity often amounted to banditry, rape, pillage, and murder. Occasionally individual transgressors were punished. On the whole, however, the leadership of the Soviet irregular forces considered robbery to be a legitimate modus operandi. Since they largely lacked popular support, the Soviet guerrillas raided villages and manors for supplies. As a top Soviet commander put it, “Most partisan units feed, clothe, and arm themselves at the expense of the local population and not by capturing booty in the struggle against fascism. That arouses in the people a feeling of hostility, and they say, ‘The Germans take everything away and one must also give something to the partisans’” (48). However, this aspect of the Soviet partisan movement has been eliminated from the standard Soviet narrative about them.