An Assessment of the Forest Brothers’ Response to Invasion of the Baltics

Adam Paul Hunt is a freelance writer with a background in political science.  Adam wide-ranging writing has been featured in Library Journal, Premier Guitar, and Dirt Rag.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  An Assessment of the Forest Brothers’ Response to Invasion of the Baltics

Date Originally Written:  November 22, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  January 13, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that in today’s security environment many lessons can be learned from how the Baltic nations historically defended themselves against a militarily superior foe.

Summary:  According to the Rand Corporation, Russia could invade the Baltic nations and reach the capitols of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania within 60 hours[1].  The Baltic nations are not strangers to defending themselves against invasion.  History shows that Baltic-based resistance groups, though their actions may be complicated or undesired, can penalize a militarily superior foe.

Text:  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the election of Vladimir Putin as President of Russia in 1999, the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have felt uneasy concerning their larger and more powerful Russian neighbor. The Baltic States have a long history of resisting Russian aggression, but as with most histories, the relationship between the Baltic States and Russia is complex and sometimes the line between hero and villain is indistinct.

During the Russian Revolution of 1905, small groups of Baltic peasants and teachers sought refuge from Tsarist forces and hid in the forests. These groups become known as The Forest Brothers[2]. After the chaos of World War I and the 1918 Bolshevik revolution, the Baltic States were able to break away from Russia. In 1940 that independence would come to a halt, with the Soviets seizing control of the Baltic States. As in 1905, small groups fled into the forests and attempted to resist the Soviets and the German Nazis. Some of The Forest Brother groups were hopeful that they could depend on the 1941 Atlantic Charter signatories, the United Kingdom and the United States, to come to their aid. The lack of action of the Atlantic Charter nations, among other factors, would eventually doom the resistance group efforts to failure[3].

In 1941, the first resistance group in Lithuania called the Lithuanian Activist Front, was formed to fight the Soviets[4]. A year later, The Supreme Committee for Liberation of Lithuania was set up to resist Nazi occupation. Curiously, partisan resistance did not start in earnest until 1944, even though the resistance would last until 1953 and the last Lithuanian partisan, Benediktas Mikulis, would be arrested in 1971[5]. While the exact numbers of those that took up arms against the Soviets are unknown, it’s estimated that between 30,000 – 50,000 did and another 50,000 people were active helpers; which means 1-20 Lithuanians were active in the struggle for independence[6]. The pinnacle of partisan efforts in 1945 clearly represents a culminating point that forced the Lithuanian resistance movement to shift their operations drastically. Ultimately, based on the totality of evidence, this 1945 culminating point split the resistance into two stages: 1) 1944-1945 – conventional war operations, a period of traditional offensive warfare by an organized partisan movement; and 2) 1946-1953 – irregular warfare operations, a period of unremitting decline by a significantly diminished resistance, relegated to a more defensive posture and small scale offensive operations.

Two men, Povilas Plechavičius[7][8] and Adolfas Ramanauskas[9][10] (“Vanagas”)would emerge as during World War II as symbols of Lithuanian independence. Plechavičius had been involved in the 1918 war of independence and the 1926 Lithuanian coup d’état that overthrew Lithuanian President Kazys Grinius. Ramanauskas was an American of Lithuanian dissent who became a platoon commander to the chairman of the Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters.

By 1944, the tide had started to turn against Germany. Nazi occupation forces had begun conscripting members of the German minority in Estonia and Latvia into the Waffen-SS. In keeping with blurring the line between hero and villain, Povilas Plechavičius cooperated with SS Obergruppenführer, and police general Friedrich Jackeln and Chief-of-Staff of the Northern Front Field Marshal Walther Model[11]. However, Plechavičius refused Jackeln’s demand for a Lithuanian SS division[12] and formed a local group called the Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force instead[13][14].

One of the most famous of the Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisans was Adolfas Ramanauskas[15]. Ramanauskas was born 1918 in Connecticut, United States of America, but in 1921 he and his family moved to Lithuania. While in Lithuania he would eventually study at the Kanus War School, join the reserve forces, rise to the rank of second lieutenant, and participate in the anti-Soviet uprising in 1941.

Ramanauskas organized a sizable resistance group called the Lithuanian Freedom Fighters Union (LLKS) and directly engaged the Soviet Ministry of Interior’s forces, the NKVD. The group’s most daring assault was an effort to free prisoners located in Merkinė and destroy Soviet records. The attack was only partly successful, ending in the destruction of the records[16]. Merkinė was also the site of the extinction of 854 Jews by fellow Lithuanians. Their bodies were deposited in a mass grave near the Jewish cemetery[17].

One of the controversies surrounding Ramanauskas is the event of July 19, 1941. Along with German forces, the LLKS partisans held partial control of the Lithuanian town of Druskininkai and participated in the roundup of communists and Jews, and the disarming of Poles. Those detained were then transported to the Treblinka death camp[18].

At the end of World War II, The Forest Brothers would continue to defy Soviet occupation and hope that the United States and Great Britain would support their resistance[19]. Plechavičius ordered his men to disband and organize resistance groups to fight Soviet occupation. Plechavičius would eventually be arrested by the Soviets and deported to Latvia. In 1949, Plechavičius moved to the United States and would die in 1973[20].

Ramanauskas would continue to resist Soviet occupation, but due to a series of defeats and lack of outside support, he would eventually suspend armed resistance in favor of passive resistance and publish newspapers in Russian and Lithuanian. He would continue to evade Soviet authorities until his arrest in 1956. Ramanauskas would be tortured by the Soviet Committee for State Security, the KGB, and was eventually executed in 1957[21].

The occupation of Lithuania by the Third Reich and the Soviet Union was brutal. Between extermination campaigns by the Wehrmacht and Einsatzgruppen, mass deportations (notably operations Vesna, Priboli, and Osen), and “Sovietization” campaign, it’s estimated that between 60-70,000 Lithuanians were forced into exile[22]. Between 1940 and 1944, 460,000 civilians and military personnel were killed (out of a population of 2,442,000). Also, in 1953 nearly 120,000 people, (about 5% of the population) would be deported. Lastly, the Germans exterminated between 143,000-195,000 Litvaks (Lithuanian Jews).

The lessons that can be learned from Lithuania are many, and range from: history is messy, the distinction between hero and villain isn’t always clear, commitments like Atlantic Charter are not always honored, and changing tactics as circumstances change is necessary, especially against superior forces.


Endnotes:

[1] Kyle, J. (2019, January 16), “Contextualizing Russia and the Baltic States,” Retrieved December 15, 2013, from https://www.fpri.org/article/2019/01/contextualizing-russia-and-the-baltic-states/.

[2] Woods, Alan. “Bolshevism: The Road to Revolution Archived 2012-12-10,” Wellred Publications, London, 1999.

[3] Leskys, Major Vylius M. United States Army. “‘Forest Brothers,’ 1945: The culmination of the Lithuanian Partisan movement” Submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Master of Military Studies. United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Marine Corps University, 2009.

[4] Piotrowski,Tadeusz, “Poland’s Holocaust”, McFarland & Company, 1997

[5] Buttar, Prit, “Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II” Osprey Publishing, 2015.

[6] Ruin, Pahl, “The forest brothers – heroes & villains of the partisan war in Lithuania” Baltic Worlds http://balticworlds.com/the-forest-brothers-heroes-villains/, 2016.

[7] Povilas Plechavičius, http://partizanai.org/gen-povilas-plechavicius

[8] Roszkowski,Wojciech and Kofman, Jan, “Biographical Dictionary of Central and Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century” Routledge, 2008.

[9] Adolfas Ramanauskas, http://www.draugas.org/news/adolfas-ramanauskas-the-hawk-vs-the-ussr/

[10] “Ceremony of Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas state funeral,” Ministry of National Defence Republic of Lithuania, https://kam.lt/en/ceremony_of_adolfas_ramanauskas-vanagas_state_funeral.html 

[11] Povilas Plechavičius, http://partizanai.org/gen-povilas-plechavicius

[12] Villani, Gerry and Georg, Jennifer, “Soldiers of Germania – The European volunteers of the Waffen SS”. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.

[13] “Karys Nr. 2 (2018) 2014 m.” (PDF). Karys: 46–52. 2014, https://kam.lt/download/39937/maketas%20visas.pdf, Retrieved 2 October 2019.

[14] Eidintas, Alfonsas et al., “The History of Lithuania. 2nd rev. ed”. Vilnius: Eugrimas, 2015.

[15] Adolfas Ramanauskas, https://www.baltictimes.com/lithuania_pays_tribute_to_partisan_commander_ramanauskas-vanagas_in_state_funeral/

[16] Adolfas Ramanauskas, https://peoplepill.com/people/adolfas-ramanauskas/

[17] Balčiūnas, Evaldas, “Footprints of Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas in the Mass Murder of the Jews of Druskininkai” http://defendinghistory.com/footprints-adolfas-ramanauskas-vanagas-mass-murder-jews-druskininkai/65177, 2014.

[18] Balčiūnas, Evaldas, “Footprints of Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas in the Mass Murder of the Jews of Druskininkai” http://defendinghistory.com/footprints-adolfas-ramanauskas-vanagas-mass-murder-jews-druskininkai/65177, 2014.

[19] Leskys, Major Vylius M. United States Army. “‘Forest Brothers,’ 1945: The culmination of the Lithuanian Partisan movement” Submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Master of Military Studies. United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Marine Corps University, 2009.

[20] Povilas Plechavičius, http://partizanai.org/gen-povilas-plechavicius

[21] Adolfas Ramanauskas, http://www.draugas.org/news/adolfas-ramanauskas-the-hawk-vs-the-ussr/

[22] “The Genocidal Temptation: Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Rwanda, and Beyond,” edited by Robert S. Frey, 2004, https://books.google.com/books?id=NkE1LGCxiR0C&lpg=PA79&dq=Soviet%20deportations%20from%20Lithuania&lr&pg=PA79#v=onepage&q=Soviet%20deportations%20from%20Lithuania&f=false

Assessment Papers Baltics Estonia Germany Irregular Forces Latvia Lithuania Russia

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ Options to Counter the 1941 German Invasion

Timothy Heck is a free-lance editor focusing on military history and national security topics.  An artillery officer by trade, he is working on several projects related to the Red Army during and after the Great Patriotic War.  He can be found on Twitter @tgheck1 Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  On June 22, 1941 Germany invaded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Date Originally Written:  August 13, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  October 24, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of the Soviet High Command’s (Stavka) options for handling the German invasion of the USSR which began on June 22, 1941.

Background:  On June 22, 1941 German troops in significant strength (at least Army-sized) attacked the border of the Soviet Union in all military districts.  The attacks came as a surprise to the Soviets, in spite of the presence of several operational indicators[1].  At the strategic level, intelligence failed to detect obvious signals of an imminent invasion[2].  Despite intelligence shortcomings, the Soviet Red Army repelled these attacks and defended the Motherland at heavy cost.

On June 23 positional fighting continued with Soviet defenses holding firm in most sectors and making small gains in others.  Today, the Germans are expected to continue attacks in local settings in division-level or below strength.  The Red Army has several options to respond.  Options 1a and 1b are manpower-based decisions while Options 2a and 2b involve combat deployment.  

Significance:  Massed German forces pose an existential threat to the Soviet Union’s security.  German military capability and capacity remain high.  While the German campaign model is of short, aggressive thrusts, a long war would likely involve the destruction of recent Soviet significant economic and social progress made during recent five-year plans. Conversely, failure to destroy the Hitlerites presents a threat to the long-term stability of the USSR.

Option #1a:  The USSR initiates a full military mobilization. 

While reservists in the Kiev and the Western Special Military Districts remain mobilized until autumn 1941, complete mobilization is required for full war.  Mobilization Plan 41 (MP-41) would activate approximately 8.7 million men and women, arrayed in over 300 divisions, which outweighs estimated German strength of approximately 200 available divisions[3].  

Risk: 

Economic:  Full mobilization would result in significant disruption to the Soviet economic base. First, mobilized manpower would be removed from the labor pool, tightening all sectors’ resources. Second, the necessary industrial retooling from peacetime to war material is a long-term detriment of the Soviet economy.  Third, mobilized manpower would be unavailable for the upcoming harvest.  Fourth, as the majority of Soviet economic assets travel via rail lines, their use for mobilized forces will impact delivery of necessary civilian goods, including agricultural products and raw materials.  

Equipment:  Current industrial capacity and military stores are unable to fully equip the mobilized force in the near term.  Furthermore, a full-scale mobilization risks adding excessive use to all items not specifically needed to address the German threat, requiring accelerated replacement and procurement plans. 

Gain: 

Strategic flexibility:  A fully mobilized Red Army provides flexibility without concerns about manpower restrictions should further combat operations become necessary.  MP-41 gives commanders strategic and operational reserves needed for mobile warfare, regardless of whether Option 2a or 2b is selected.

Readiness:  A full-scale mobilization brings all reserve formations to table of organization and equipment strength, allowing commanders to improve individual and collective training levels, and improving combat readiness.

Option #1b:  The USSR initiates a partial military mobilization.

A limited mobilization could be used to replenish losses in forward units, recall specialists to duty, and / or reinforce against potential Japanese aggression in the East.  A limited mobilization would focus on current operational and strategic needs. 

Risk: 

Excessive scope/scale:  Any level of mobilization creates excess manpower to train, administer, and equip.  Given current Red Army shortages, excess personnel risk being underused.  Furthermore, an excessive mobilization shortens service life for items used by excess personnel.  

Inadequate scope/scale:  Inadequate mobilization fails to give the Red Army the manpower needed for either Option 2a or 2b.  Likely, subsequent mobilizations would be required, increasing the complexity of operational-level planning by adding phasing requirements.

Gain:

Planned preparedness:  Recalling selected personnel / units tailors the mobilization to meet current or anticipated needs without creating waste.

Minimized disruption:  The impact on the Soviet economy would be reduced, allowing for continued progress on the Third Five Year Plan and its focus on consumer goods.  Excessive disruption would adversely impact the Soviet citizens’ quality of life.

Option #2a:  The Red Army counterattacks against the German forces.

With the forces currently or soon to be available, launch an immediate counterattack along the East Prussia-Berlin or Prague-Vienna axes[4].  

Risk: 

Material readiness:  While the Red Army possesses approximately 13,000 tanks along the German-Soviet border, many units have limited mobility needed for offensive operations[5].  Many airfields are overcrowded and squadrons displaced as a result of recent re-alignment in the Red Air Force[6].

Japanese involvement:  Given the Japanese-German-Italian alliance, the possibility exists that Japan will declare war against the USSR.  This would necessitate dividing forces to deal with both enemies, a risk compounded if forces are relocated from Siberian and Manchurian districts.

Gain: 

Operational initiative:  Choosing when and where to attack gives the Red Army the operational initiative in support of strategic objectives.

Potential alliance with Western Allies:  An immediate counterattack would align with Western interests and possibly set the conditions for an alliance.  Such an alliance would gain access to Western technologies, intelligence, and equipment while further dividing German attention and strength.  While capitalist states cannot fully be trusted, there exist mutually aligned interests in countering Germany that could be exploited.

Option #2b:  The Red Army maintains current defensive posture along the western border.  

Risk:

Continuing threat:  Without internal political collapse in Germany, the German military threat cannot be removed by a defensive Red Army.  In any war, the most one can hope for when playing defense is a tie.

Unprepared defenses:  Soviet defenses, especially in recently liberated territories, remain vulnerable.  Assuming continued German aggression and nationalist remnants, these territories are at risk of capture by German forces.

Gain:

Flexibility:  Remaining on the strategic defense now does not preclude going onto the offensive at a later date.  Furthermore, the Red Army can rebuild on its chosen timeline and to its desired end state (Option 1a or 1b).  

International support:  By remaining on the defensive rather than waging war on the German forces, including their civilians, the Soviet Union retains moral superiority, furthering the cause of Socialism worldwide.  Given recent Capitalist propaganda during and after the Finnish War, appealing to the League of Nations would advance Soviet interests in the long-term by showing a respect for the organization and giving the appeal a perceived moral grounding.  

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None. 


Endnotes:

[1] Alexander Hill, The Red Army and the Second World War.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019, p. 206.  For more on available indications and warnings, see David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House, When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Revised and Expanded Edition. (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2015), pp. 48-51.  See also Amnon Sella, “‘Barbarossa’: Surprise Attack and Communication.’” Journal of Contemporary History 13, No. 3 (July, 1978).

[2] Viktor Suvorov, Icebreaker: Who Started World War II? (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1990), pp. 320-321.

 [3] Hill, 198 and 192-3.

 [4] Hill, 196.

 [5] Hill, 199.

[6] See Mikhail Timin and Kevin Bridge, trans. Air Battles Over the Baltic: The Air War on 22 June 1941—The Battle for Stalin’s Baltic Region. Solihull, UK: Helion, 2018.

Germany Option Papers Timothy Heck Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)

Germany’s Options in the First Moroccan Crisis

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which ran from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Rafael Loss is a California-based defense analyst. He can be found on Twitter @_RafaelLoss. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  The German Empire was a latecomer to the “Scramble for Africa.” Looking for “a place under the sun,” the first Moroccan crisis in 1905-06 presented an opportunity for Germany to further its colonial ambitions and improve its position among Europe’s great powers.

Date Originally Written:  May 31, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  September 19, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the point of view of the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II[1]. While representative of the competing views within the German government, the two options presented are somewhat stylized to draw a starker contrast.

Background:  Following the Franco-Prussian war and its unification in 1871, the German Empire was a latecomer to the “Scramble for Africa.” Only in 1890 did it adopt Weltpolitik, seeking possessions abroad and equal status among the European imperial powers. On a visit to Tangier in March 1905, Kaiser Wilhelm II provoked a diplomatic spat by challenging France’s dominance in Morocco. As the crisis escalated, Germany called up reserve units and France moved troops to the German border. In early 1906, a conference in the southern Spanish town of Algeciras sought to resolve the dispute[2].

Significance:  The Entente Cordiale of 1904, a series of agreements between Great Britain and France which saw a significant improvement in their relations, marked a major setback for German efforts, perfected during the Bismarckian period, to manipulate the European balance of power in Berlin’s favor[3]. The Entente not only threatened Germany’s colonial ambitions, but also its predominant position on the European continent—a vital national security interest. The Algeciras conference presented an opportunity to fracture the Franco-British rapprochement. In hindsight, it arguably also offered the best off-ramp for Europe’s diplomats to avert locking in the alignment patterns that contributed to the unraveling of the European order only eight years later.

Option #1:  Germany weakens the Entente by seeking closer relations with France (and Britain). This option required a constructive and conciliatory stance of Germany at Algeciras. (This option is associated with Hugo von Radolin, Germany’s Ambassador to France.)

Risk:  Rebuffing French bilateral overtures, Germany had insisted that a conference settle the Moroccan issue from the beginning of the crisis. Appearing too compromising at Algeciras risked undermining German credibility and status as a great power determined to pursue legitimate colonial interests. Alignment with France (and Britain) also jeopardized Germany’s relations with the Russian and Austro-Hungarian monarchies and could further increase domestic pressure for democratic reform.

Gain:  A successful pursuit of this option promised to alleviate Germany’s security dilemma, located between France to the west and Russia to the east, with the British navy threatening its sea lines of communication. This option would also reduce dependence on Austria-Hungary and Italy, who were seen by some as rather unreliable allies, and could eventually facilitate the emergence of a continental block—with France and Russia—against Britain’s maritime primacy. Moreover, this option could improve relations with the United States, a rising great power and increasingly important player in colonial affairs.

Option #2:  Germany weakens the Entente by pressuring France. This required a bellicose negotiating stance and raising the specter of war to deter Britain from coming to France’s aid. (This option is associated with Friedrich von Holstein, the Political Secretary of the German Foreign Office.)

Risk:  While consistent with Germany’s heretofore assertive opposition to France’s dominance in Morocco, leaning on France too hard at Algeciras risked escalating a peripheral diplomatic dispute to major war in Europe, for which public support was less than certain. It could also precipitate an arms race and alienate the other delegations, especially since Germany had already secured concessions from France, including the dismissal of a disliked foreign minister and the conference itself. Furthermore, it was uncertain whether even a total diplomatic victory for Germany at Algeciras could weaken the Franco-British rapprochement, as the status of the Entente itself was not part of the negotiations, or even strengthen their resolve in the face of German adversity.

Gain:  Successfully pressuring France promised not only greater influence in colonial affairs in North Africa but also exposure of the hollowness of the Entente Cordiale. Without British support for either France or Russia—Britain had sided with Japan during the Russo-Japanese war—Germany’s position on the European continent would improve considerably, particularly since Russia and Germany had discussed a defense treaty the prior year. Separately dealing with the challenges at land and at sea would also make it easier for Germany to contest Britain’s maritime primacy at a convenient time, perhaps even with French support as the end of the Entente might reignite Franco-British competition. Domestically, humiliating France yet again could be expected to increase popular support for the Kaiser and the conservative elites.

Other Comments:  Kaiser Wilhelm II and Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow ultimately instructed their representatives at the conference to pursue Option #2.

With Britain, Italy, Russia, Spain, and the United States siding with France, however, Germany was largely isolated and, at last, had to accept an unsatisfying settlement. Germany’s actions in 1905 and its combative posturing at the conference failed to fracture the Entente[4]. To the contrary, rival blocks began to consolidate which severely limited the room for diplomatic maneuver in subsequent crises. Worsening tensions between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy (Triple Alliance) on the one side and Britain, France, and Russia (Triple Entente) on the other, ultimately led to the outbreak of general war in August 1914.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Lepsius, J., Mendelssohn Bartholdy, A., & Thimme, F. (1927). Die grosse Politik der europäischen Kabinette, 1871-1914. Sammlung der diplomatischen Akten des Auswärtigen Amtes: Vols. 20.1 & 20.2. Entente cordiale und erste Marokkokrise, 1904-1905. Berlin, Germany: Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft für Politik und Geschichte.

[2] Anderson, E. N. (1930). The first Moroccan crisis, 1904-1906. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

[3] Sontag, R. J. (1928). German foreign policy, 1904-1906. The American Historical Review, 33(2), 278-301.

[4] Jones, H. (2009). Algeciras revisited: European crisis and conference diplomacy, 16 January-7 April 1906 (EUI Working Paper MWP 2009/01). San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy: European University Institute.

2019 - Contest: Small Wars Journal Germany Morocco Option Papers Rafael Loss