After five weeks the second wave of the German offensive against Russia had spent itself, and a third, so it was reported, was about to be launched. But the Russian armies were still intact, and behind the German lines their guerrilla detachments were very much in action. The stories of guerrilla fighting given below are taken from the "Soviet War News" that remarkable piece of wartime propaganda issued by the Soviet Embassy in London. It was said it had a staff of four, which compared not unfavourably with the 1,801 at Britain’s Ministry of Information.
"One huge horror." This expressive phrase occurs in a letter written by a German soldier, and quoted in a Swiss newspaper. It sums up his experiences of the Russian war in which he is playing the part of a humble pawn. "This is the worst war which Germany has had to fight," he says. "It is a war to win or perish against soldiers who fight with desperate obstinacy, even in hopeless situations."
Another German, Lieut. Soldan, war correspondent of the Berlin newspaper " Voclkischer Beobachter "complains that the German blitzkrieg against Russia has degenerated into a "confused jumble of friend and foe," and goes on to describe how the huge battle is apparently dissolving into individual conflicts. "Nobody has any time; everything is rushing backwards or forwards. The front is everywhere. To the half-right, behind me, 100 miles away, infantry are fighting against the encircled enemy front. German detachments are also fighting farther forward. But there still remain enemy forces between them." He admits that German divisions continually thrust forward," knowing that the gap behind them instantly closes, cutting them off from communications and supplies."
An instructor of the Red Army is giving instruction in the use of hand grenades to guerillas who will work behind the enemy lines.
Another German war correspondent, this time of the "Stuttgarter Kurier," puts the blame on the bad roads for the slowness of the German advance." One mile advance in the war in the east is comparable to roughly 100 miles in the Western war." The German troops, he says, are now forced to construct and repair roads day and night, and an enormous amount of time and material are needed to make it possible for them' to advance in the muddy country.
Then General Liebmann, writing in the Berlin "Boersen Zeitung," makes the significant admission that the Russian resistance is such that "it is necessary to throw into the battle the entire German Army, the majority of which consists of unmotorized infantry and horse-drawn wagons and batteries."
Quite a Different Kind of War
Finally we may quote from a review of the first five weeks fighting in the "Frankfurter Zeitung." "The war in the East has developed into quite a different kind of war from that in the West. It has become the most adventurous war in history. Our tank units are often separated from the infantry, fighting in the confidence that the Luftwaffe and motorized units will come in answer to their desperate need. Although our tank troops realize that, after breaking through the oncoming wave of enemy troops, it will ever and again close behind them, they do not retreat. Everything depends on whether reinforcements arrive in time. Lately the Russian troops have developed the same lactic of deeply penetrating our lines. Therefore it is difficult today to give our exact positions. Actually our front is split into many confused fighting centres." Whereas, he concludes, the French General Staff completely neglected every military idea of offensive warfare, so inducing a sense of moral inferiority among their troops, the Soviet General Staff is determined to oppose the German attack not merely with defensive measures but with its own offensive.
In the fifth week of the campaign in Russia one of the most outstanding features was the guerrilla warfare proceeding along the whole front. Everywhere guerrilla detachments were operating in the rear of the Nazis, in some places 100 or even 200 miles behind the “front.” It is a mistake to think of these guerrilla detachments as being undisciplined mobs of half-armed franc tireurs. True, many of them are composed of armed workers and peasants, who perform isolated deeds of heroic resistance and, in particular, “scorch the earth” against the coming of the invader. But more are regular units formed out of highly-trained and well-armed Soviet troops specially picked and detailed for this work. Some are "battalions of destruction" who, using flame throwers, dynamite and special equipment, such as the machine which rips up railway lines and sleepers and tears open the surface of the track, blow up bridges, destroy public buildings, block roads and railways, and set fire to the forests. Others are squads charged with particular small-scale tasks. Yet others are in fact small armies whose job it is to harass, to delay, and to destroy before being themselves destroyed.
Many are the stories which are told of the guerrillas. One detachment, composed of a number of collective farmers, discovered 20 large German tanks halted in a hollow owing to a shortage of fuel. The guerrillas felled trees across the road, and intercepted two German fuel tanks which ere long made their appearance. Both lorries were blown up, and next morning Soviet dive-bombers smashed the stranded tanks.
Near a small town a guerrilla party attacked an enemy tank group, moving along a forest lane during the night. The leading tank fell into a well-camouflaged trap. The second crashed against the first. Those that followed turned off the road, but they too fell into deep traps. In this way, within a few minutes five tanks were captured by the guerrillas. Then another five were attacked with hand grenades and destroyed.
Russian Armed Bands, some of whom are seen above after they had been rounded up, had caused great havoc behind the German lines. Wherever the Nazis broke through, the Russians before withdrawing their main bodies left strong guerrilla bands to harass enemy-communications, commit acts of sabotage, and carry out an offensive-defensive in depth.
Ambushes in the Forest
In a forest a guerrilla detachment discovered the strongly-guarded headquarters of a German formation. Reinforced by a military unit, the irregulars attacked and destroyed the headquarters. Many soldiers and officers were killed, including a general. The headquarters documents and a group of officers were taken and delivered by the irregulars to the Soviet command.
Here is a report from Major Meltzer, commander of a German tank column, which was captured in a Nazi' whippet tank heading for the headquarters of the German 18th Tank Division. “I have to inform you,” Major Meltzer writes, “that many soldiers in private conversation express dissatisfaction at the shortage of food. It is impossible to carry out your instructions regarding the necessity of getting food on the spot. Counter to all our expectations, the Russian peasants have proved so fanatical that they leave together with the Red Army, and destroy their whole property.
“Within the last six days I have lost a number of picked men who were, sent on trucks to surrounding villages to get food. Only three soldiers returned, out of 23, and even they brought nothing. The rest were apparently killed or taken prisoner by guerrillas, who harass us, day and night. I insistently request the urgent, dispatch of food. It is desirable that the transport be strongly escorted; otherwise it will inevitably fall into guerrilla hands.”
Such incidents as these could be multiplied indefinitely. Every day hundreds of new guerilla detachments are formed, and thousands of attacks are launched by the irregulars, on bridges, communications, transport and warehouses. Peasants who are not actual members of the guerilla detachments help in every possible way as scouts and guides to where the enemy is lying. The fear of the irregulars, it is reported, is making the soldiers nervous. The orderly movement of the columns is upset, and an attack causes panic amongst the Nazi soldiery.