Anti-partisan operations in World War II

Map of Operation Kugelblitz, an anti-partisan offensive in occupied Yugoslavia

Anti-partisan operations during World War II were counter-insurgency operations against the various partisan resistance movements. During World War II those operations were primarily carried out by the invading and occupying Axis powers, although with changing fortune of the wars, the Soviet Union and the Allied powers also had to deal with partisans.

Resistance movements and corresponding anti-partisan operations by occupying authorities were a common occurrence during the war, particularly in the territories occupied by Nazi Germany. Specifically on the Eastern Front, the term "partisan" was applied by Nazi Germany's security apparatus to Jews and Communist officials (so-called Jewish Bolsheviks), Red Army stragglers and others. Anti-partisan operations of Nazi security warfare were often massacres of innocent civilians.

Overall policyEdit


As most of the war consisted of Axis occupying Allied territories, and not the other way around, much less material exists regarding the Allied anti-partisan operations. In the end, the Axis powers were unable to implement any serious plans for the resistance movement, hence the Allies never needed to devote significant resources to developing and implementing anti-partisan policies.[citation needed]

Allies based much of their anti-partisan policies (often untested) on harsh German policies; for example, in early 1945, Allied policy in the light of a potential German uprising on occupied German territories was to shoot captured German partisans on the spot.[1]

A separate issue involves anti-Soviet resistance in territories occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of the war. Such resistance groups formed in the Baltic states, Poland and Romania. Such groups were active in the first post-war decade and were eventually destroyed by the Soviets and their local communist puppet state-allies.[citation needed]


The forms of resistance varied depending on place and time, and so did the Germans' countermeasures.[2] Both the scale of resistance and the severity of German reprisals were much more limited in the West than in the East.[1][2] While Germans were much more likely to treat the entire local populace as enemies in the East, they were much less ideologically driven in the West, where, for example, women and children were only rarely killed by SS troops (while being a much more common target in the East).[1][2] In the East, some scholars noted that the anti-partisan operations gave Germans a pretext for ideologically motivated ethnic cleansing.[3]

The Germans concentrated on short-term victories against the partisans[1] and were able, in some cases, to defeat the partisans militarily, but on the whole their atrocities against civilians in the East resulted in a continuous flow of volunteers joining the partisan ranks.[1]

The first resistance movements were created as early as in late 1939 in occupied Poland. As the war progressed and the number of Nazi-occupied territories grew, so did the number and strength of resistance movements.

Throughout the war, regular formations of German army, auxiliary police formations (Ordnungspolizei) and their helpers (Schutzmannschaft or Hilfspolizei) would be used in anti-partisan operations.[2]

Overall, the Germans were able to achieve military successes but were never able to end the partisan threat; the struggle of Germans versus the partisans can be described as a stalemate – eventually ended by the German military defeat in the regular war.[1][3] After the war, brutal German tactics used against the partisans were one of the charges presented at the Nuremberg Trials (see legality of the Commando Order and Hostages Trial).

The execution of 56 Polish citizens in Bochnia, near Kraków, during German occupation of Poland, December 18, 1939, in a reprisal for an attack on a German police office two days earlier by the underground organization "White Eagle"

Against the Polish partisansEdit

Historical recreation of battle of Osuchy (one of the largest battle of the Polish partisans); summer 2007

The Polish resistance movement was formed soon after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 and quickly grew in response to the brutal methods of the German occupation. Polish resistance had operatives in the urban areas, as well as in the forests (leśni). Throughout the war, the Polish resistance grew in numbers, and increased the scale of its operations, requiring the Germans to devote an increasing amount of resources (personnel, equipment and time) to deal with the partisan threat.[citation needed]

Polish partisans were particularly active in the Zamość region (see the Zamość Uprising). Sturmwind I and Sturmwind II ("Hurricane") in June 1944 were the largest German operations against the Polish leśni partisans, based on the "cauldron operations" Germans developed to deal with the Soviet partisans (see also battle of Osuchy).[4] German losses in those operations amounted to about 1,300 fatalities and similar amount of wounded; partisan losses were similar.[5] Soon afterwards, the Polish resistance launched a series of major operations against the Germans (Operation Tempest), of which the Warsaw Uprising was the best known. In Operation Tempest, Polish partisans challenged the Germans in a series of open battles for the control of vital strategic areas. The Germans were not prepared for the vast scale of the Polish operation, but had the advantage of numbers and better equipment; further, when the Polish partisans operated without the support of the advancing Red Army, they were significantly less effective. In areas where the Soviets cooperated with the Poles, the Germans were much less able to suppress the partisans, but where the Soviets did not advance to aid the Poles, as was the case with the Warsaw Uprising, the Germans were able to concentrate enough regular army and anti-partisan units to defeat the Polish insurgents.

The tactics and policies the Germans developed in Poland would serve as a template for similar operations against the Soviet partisans.[6]

Against the Soviet partisansEdit

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1972-026-43, Minsk, Widerstandskämpfer vor Hinrichtung]] In early 1941 Germans set up special units – Wehrmacht Security Divisions – to deal with securing the rear and carrying out the anti-partisan duties.[2] Those formations would also be involved in the suppression of civilians (including participation in The Holocaust by rounding up Jews).[2]

The policies the Germans employed in the occupied Soviet territories were the extension of the brutal policies they had developed over the past two years in occupied Poland.[6] At first, the Germans tried to cow the local populace with violence.[2] The policies of 1941 were aimed more at a potential than a real threat, as the Soviet partisans were only just organizing in the aftermath of the German invasion of the Soviet Union.[2] It was on the Eastern Front (including the Balkans) that German terror directed against the local populace was the greatest.[2] To a certain degree, it is hard to distinguish pure military anti-partisan operations from ethnic cleansing actions.[2]

On the way to the railway station in Minsk young people from Belarus march past the chairman of the Belarusian Central Council, Professor Radasłaŭ Astroŭski. They are going to be trained in Germany for military action, Minsk, June 1944.

With the German failure to topple the Soviet Union in the first year of the war, the German anti-partisan policy changed, switching from short-term to a more long-term view.[2] Nazi propaganda and similar tactics were employed in order to influence the local populace and make them more friendly towards the Germans (and less towards the partisans).[2] It was at that time that Germans started to support the creation of local auxiliary units that were to be used against the partisans.[2] The anti-partisan operations also became more professional and better organized.[2]

Civilians in Minsk, Byelorussia forced to wear a placard reading "We are Partisans and Have Shot at German Soldiers" before their executions in October 1941

By late 1942, the "hearts and minds" policy had already weakened.[2] Around 1942–1943, large-scale "encirclement operations" were employed, which involved the use of regular army units, detached from the frontline, against the partisans.[2] Such operations often involved the destruction of local settlements (villages) that were seen as potentially supporting the partisans, that meant both the physical destruction of the buildings and the massacres of local inhabitants.[2] Those "encirclement operations" resulted in antagonizing the local populace, contributing to the growth, not shrinking, of the Soviet partisans.[2] Major "encirclement operations" included: Operation München and Operation Bamberg (March–April 1942), Operation Hannover (May–June 1942), Operation Vogelsang (June–July 1942) and Operation Zigeunerbaron ("Gypsy Baron", May–June 1943).

In 1944, a new policy was introduced: the creation of Wehrdoerfer, or fortified villages.[2] This project, seen by Germans as one of the most successful German anti-partisan policies (and later imitated by other armies, for example French in Algiers or United States in Vietnam, (Strategic Hamlet Program)) involved the creation of autonomous and well-armed villages, in collaboration with local Nazi sympathisers.[2] The advance of the Red Army and liberation of the remaining Soviet territories from under the German occupation prevented the full implementation of this policy.[2]

Against the Italian partisansEdit

Italians civilians shot by invading Germans in Barletta, September 12, 1943

Casualties in Italy among the Italian Resistance Movement include 35,828 partisans killed in action or executed, and 21,168 partisans mutilated or left disabled by their wounds.[7] Another 32,000 Italian partisans were killed abroad (in the Balkans and, to a lesser extent, in France).[8] According to other estimates, the Italian resistance lost some 50,000 fighters throughout the conflict.[9] Thousands to tens of thousands of Italian civilians were killed in reprisals by the German and Italian Fascist forces.[10]

Three Italian partisans executed by public hanging in Rimini, August 1944

Armed resistance to the German occupation following the armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces at first included mainly the Italian regular forces, such as the Italian Armed Forces and the Carabinieri military police. Later the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (Committee of National Liberation, or CLN), created by the Italian Communist Party, the Italian Socialist Party, the Partito d'Azione (a republican liberal socialist party), Democrazia Cristiana and other minor parties, took control of the movement.

In their attempts to suppress the Resistance, German and Italian Fascist forces (especially the SS, Gestapo, and paramilitary militias such as Xª MAS and Black Brigades) committed war crimes, including summary executions and systematic reprisals against civilian population. Resistance captives and suspects, as well as random local Italian civilians, were often tortured and raped. Italian Partisans, especially those in the mountainous and rural regions, relied heavily on the local populace for support and supplies. The Nazis tried to punish the populace and discourage civilian support for the Resistance by adopting a reprisal policy of killing 10 Italians for every German killed by the Partisans. Those executed would usually come from the village near where a partisan attack against Nazis took place and sometimes included captive partisan fighters themselves.

German troops and Italian collaborators round up Italian civilians after the partisan bombing in Rome on 23 March 1944, shortly before the Ardeatine massacre

Some of the most notorious mass atrocities included the Ardeatine massacre (335 Italian Jewish civilians and Italian political prisoners executed in a reprisal operation after a resistance bomb attack in Rome), the Sant'Anna di Stazzema massacre (about 560 random Italian villagers brutally killed in an anti-partisan operation in the central mountains), the Marzabotto massacre (about 770 Italian civilians killed in similar circumstances) and the Salussola massacre (20 Italian partisan murdered after being tortured). In all, an estimated 15,000 Italian civilians were deliberately killed, including many women and children.[11]

German troops round up Italian civilians in front of the Palazzo Barberini, Rome, in March 1944, shortly before the Ardeatine massacre

In addition, following the Italian armistice, the Germans blanketly rounded up and interned Italian soldiers, even those not actively involved in the Resistance. Italian soldiers captured by the Germans numbered around 650,000-700,000 (some 45,000 others were killed in combat, executed, or died during transport), of whom between 40,000 and 50,000 later died in the camps. After disarmament by the Germans, the Italian soldiers and officers were confronted with the choice to continue fighting as allies of the Nazi German army (either in the armed forces of the Italian Social Republic, the German puppet regime in northern Italy, or in Italian "volunteer" units in the German armed forces) or, otherwise, be sent to detention camps in Germany. Only 10 percent agreed to cooperate with the Third Reich, with the remainder refusing to enroll or continue fighting for Germany and were instead interned under terrible conditions. The Nazis designated the interned Italians soldiers as Italienische Militär-Internierte ("Italian military internees") to deny them prisoner of war status and the rights granted by the Geneva Convention. The actions of the Italian soldiers who refused to further cooperate with the Nazis were eventually recognized as an act of unarmed resistance.[12]

Against the Yugoslav partisansEdit

After the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav resistance forces consisted of the Partisans The Partisans were a communist-led movement propagating pan-Yugoslav tolerance ("brotherhood and unity") and incorporating republican, left-wing, and liberal elements of Yugoslav politics. The Partisans organized after the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union[citation needed] and were initially supported by the Soviets. The Partisans received universal Allied recognition in place of the Chetniks after the Tehran conference in 1943. By the time of this conference, the degree of Chetnik-Axis collaboration was indicated to have increased greatly.

During the war, the Axis forces mounted a number of operations against the partisans. Former Yugoslav historiography recognized seven major offensives, of which the fourth and the fifth came close to defeating the partisan forces, and the seventh almost captured their headquarters.

Against the French ResistanceEdit

In France, as in the rest of occupied Western Europe, Germans used different, milder policies than in the East. Part of that reason was that the scale of resistance facing German authorities was much smaller.[1] A large part of France remained under autonomous Vichy regime.[1] Hence from the very beginning of the occupation, much of the police duties were carried out by local (French) forces.[1]

Around 1943, as the French Resistance grew in size (due to the Vichy regime accepting the deportation of Frenchmen for forced labor in Germany), German anti-partisan operations in France became more serious.[1] In response, Germans deployed military units against the resistance groups.[1] Further, Germans managed to create a large and successful counter-network of covert collaborators, which succeeded in infiltrating many cells of the French resistance.[1] The first major German military operation against the French Resistance took place in early 1944 in the mountainous region of the French Alps and French Jura.[1] The French resistance forces went to ground and reorganized soon after the German operation ended.[1] Soon afterward, another operation where the French Resistance challenged the Germans to a battle at Plateau de Glieres in Savoy ended in a German victory.[1] Despite this defeat and London's advice to avoid head-on confrontation, in the aftermath of the Allied invasion of France (D-Day) the French Resistance openly challenged German forces in several areas.[1] After several early Resistance successes, German countermeasures became particularly harsh.[1] Once seriously threatened, German forces resorted to brutality and terror that had been mostly unheard of previously in the Western front (but commonplace on the Eastern).[1] The largest atrocity occurred in Oradour-sur-Glane, where the Germans massacred 642 local inhabitants and burned the village.[1] German terror tactics proved successful in the short term, as the shocked Resistance pulled back.[1]

Around July and August, Germans launched their largest operations against the French partisans (Maquis du Vercors).[1] Similar to the "cauldron operations" employed in the Soviet Union, 10,000 German troops encircled and destroyed a 4,000 strong local partisan force, also committing atrocities against the local civilian population, in order to terrorize the locals and to prevent the surviving partisans from regrouping in the villages.[1]

List of anti-partisan operationsEdit


A hanged resistance fighter, Minsk, 1942/1943.
Cemetery and memorial in Vassieux-en-Vercors, where German forces, composed of Russians and Ukrainians, killed partisans and inhabitants

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Daniel Marston, Carter Malkasian, Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare, Osprey Publishing, 2008, ISBN 1-84603-281-4, Google Print, p.83-90
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Daniel Marston, Carter Malkasian, Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare, Osprey Publishing, 2008, ISBN 1-84603-281-4, Google Print, p.74-83
  3. ^ a b Daniel Marston, Carter Malkasian, Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare, Osprey Publishing, 2008, ISBN 1-84603-281-4, Google Print, p.70-74
  4. ^ a b Allan Levine (2008). Fugitives of the Forest: The Heroic Story of Jewish Resistance and Survival During the Second World War. Globe Pequot. p. 318. ISBN 1-59921-496-2.
  5. ^ Andrzej Chmielarz; Krzysztof Komorowski (1999). Armia Krajowa: szkice z dziejów Sił Zbrojnych Polskiego Państwa Podziemnego. Rytm. p. 243. ISBN 978-83-87893-45-3.
  6. ^ a b Ben H. Shepherd, War in the wild East: the German Army and Soviet partisans, Harvard University Press, 2004 ISBN 0-674-01296-8, Google Print, p.46, p.56
  7. ^ Giuseppe Fioravanzo, La Marina dall'8 settembre 1943 alla fine del conflitto, p. 433.
  8. ^ Giuseppe Fioravanzo, La Marina dall'8 settembre 1943 alla fine del conflitto, p. 433.
  9. ^ "This Day in History — 9/6/1944 - Italian resistance fighters persevere". Archived from the original on 2014-10-20. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  10. ^ Giuseppe Fioravanzo, La Marina dall'8 settembre 1943 alla fine del conflitto, p. 433.
  11. ^ Gia Marie Amella, Special for CNN. "Hidden archive exposes WWII slaughters -". Retrieved 2014-05-19.
  12. ^ Natta, Alessandro (1997). L'altra Resistenza. I militari italiani internati in Germania. Einaudi. ISBN 978-8806143145.


External linksEdit