Military Review

Penalties in the war

Considers the enemy - we are morally weak.
Behind him and the forest, and the city burned.

You better chop wood for coffins -
In the breakthrough go penal battalions!

Song of Vladimir Vysotsky "Penal Battalions" was written in 1964 year. The poet was the first to talk about the penalty box at the top of his voice. At that time, there was no official ban on the disclosure of the penalty box in the works of the topic, they simply tried not to remember them, especially since the materials on the fines were still kept secret. Naturally, during the war years, cultural figures did not mention penalty box.

Much later, journalists and writers began writing about the penalty box, feature films appeared in which the truth was thoroughly mixed with fiction. The topic was “on the ear”, naturally, there appeared those who wanted to exploit it.

In principle, any writer or screenwriter has the right to fiction. It’s bad when this right is clearly abused, almost completely ignoring historical the truth. This is especially true for cinema. It is no secret that modern youth do not really like to read, preferring to receive information from the Internet and movies. After the release of the Shtrafbat series on television, they received this information. Now to convince them that what they saw is an ordinary fiction, an artistic vision of the director and screenwriter, who had a very vague idea of ​​the real penal battalions, is not easy. It is curious that even the cinematic master Mikhalkov could not resist the temptation, who sent his hero Kotov to the Penal Corps for penalties clearly for a deadline.

During the war years, penal battalions and companies (these are fundamentally different separate military units) began to form only from the summer of 1942, having existed until the summer of 1945. Naturally, they did not send prisoners to the penalty box and were not appointed by the company commanders or platoons.

It is necessary to make a reservation here that in 1941, several large-scale amnesties were held for persons who committed minor crimes and were fit for service, then more than 750 thousand people were sent to the front. At the beginning of 1942, another amnesty followed, giving the army 157 thousands of people. All of them went to the replenishment of conventional combat units, and, some units and units almost entirely (except for officers and sergeants) were formed from former prisoners. Amnesties for a small number of prisoners continued later, but all of the amnesties were sent only to the line units.

The formation of penal battalions and companies began after the famous order number 227 from 28 July 1942, “Not one step back!”. It is believed that the first fraud was created on the Leningrad front three days before the release of this order. The mass formation of the penal divisions began in September, when the order of the USSR Commissar for Defense of the USSR approved the regulations on the penal battalions and companies of the active army.

It was envisaged that punitive battalions in the amount of from one to three are created on each front in order to “enable middle and senior command, political and commanding personnel of all military branches, who are guilty of breach of discipline due to cowardice or instability, to redeem their crimes before the Motherland with courageous struggle with the enemy in the more difficult part of the fighting. "

As you can see, only officers and equivalent persons were sent to the penal battalions, moreover, the decision about this was made by the chiefs in the position not lower than the division commander. A small part of the officers fell into the penal battalions by the verdicts of the military tribunals. Before being sent to the penal battalion, officers were to be demoted to private soldiers, their awards were transferred to the front personnel department for storage. It was possible to send to the penal battalion for a period from one month to three.

The prisoners who were injured or distinguished in battles presented themselves for early release, reinstated in their former rank and rights. The victims were restored to the rank automatically, and their relatives were given a pension “on a general basis with all families of commanders”. It was envisaged that all penalty boxers who had served their sentences were “presented by the command of the battalion to the military council of the front for release and, upon approval of the submission, are released from the penalty battalion”. All liberated were restored to the rank and they were returned all their awards.

Penal companies were set up in the amount of five to ten in each army, in order to “give ordinary soldiers and junior commanders of all military branches, who were guilty of violation of discipline for cowardice or instability, to atone for their homeland with an offense.” Former officers could also be taken to the penny if they were demoted to the rank and file by decision of a military tribunal. In this case, after serving time in a fine, the officer’s rank was not restored. The term of stay and the principle of release from a fine (for all the time of their existence) was exactly the same as from the fine battalions, only decisions were made by the military councils of the armies.

Penal battalions and companies were separate military units directly subordinate to the command of the front and the army, they were commanded only by personnel (regular) officers and commissioners (later political workers) for whom it was planned to reduce the term of service for the next rank by half, and every month the service was counted pension for six months. Penalties commanders were given high disciplinary rights: the company commanders as the regiment commander, and the battalion commander as the division commander. Initially, the number of full-time officers and commissioners in the fine points reached 15 people, including the NKVD operative and paramedic, but then their number dropped to 8-10.

For some time in battle, the penalty box could replace the killed commander, but could not command the penal unit in the usual situation even as an exception. Penalties could be appointed only to sergeant positions with the assignment of the appropriate rank, and, in this case, they received "sergeant" money.

Penal units were used, as a rule, on the most dangerous sectors of the front, they were assigned to conduct reconnaissance in battle, break through the front edge of the enemy, etc. The information that machine gunmen drove fighters into the battle (like shown in the above-mentioned series) is not confirmed documents, no memories of veterans.

The provisions on penalties provided that penalties for specific feats could be submitted to government awards. Thus, A. Kuznetsov in an article devoted to penalty box, cites interesting figures taken from the archival document: “In the penal units of the 64 Army during the battles at Stalingrad 1023, people for courage were freed from punishment. Of them awarded: Order of Lenin - 1, World War II degree - 1, Red Star - 17, medals "For Courage" and "For Military Merit" - 134 ". Let me remind you that in the army there were only fines, so that we are talking about penalty box - sergeants and privates. So Vysotsky was right: "And if you do not catch lead in the chest, you will catch the medal on the chest" For courage "."

Former prisoners could not get into penal battles, in principle, if before that they had not received officer ranks. The former amnestied also fell into the penalties, but only after misconduct in the combat units where they served. In addition, an insignificant number of convicts were sent to the penal courts under light articles, who, during the trial or in the colonies, were given a delay from serving their sentences with a sentence to the penal company. As a rule, these were not civilians, but former military personnel or soldiers from the rear units convicted by military tribunals.

From 1943, when the active offensive began, the former military personnel who remained during the fighting in the occupied territory but did not try to cross the front line or join the partisans, began to be sent to the penalties. At the same time, after appropriate checks, they sent to the penalties voluntary surrendered Vlasovites, policemen, employees of the occupation administrations, who did not stain themselves with reprisals against the civilian population, underground fighters and partisans, and by age were subject to call-up service.

During the war years, 65 penal battalions and 1037 penal companies were created. The time of their existence was different, some were disbanded a few months after the establishment, while others fought until the end of the war, reaching Berlin. The maximum number of simultaneously existing penalties was in July 1943 of the year - 335. There were cases when the distinguished penalty companies in full force were transferred to the category of combatants. Since 1942, penal squadrons for pilots were created, according to official figures, they existed for only a few months.

Since 1943, the number of penalty batts has been falling sharply, in 1944, there are only 11 left, each with about two and a half hundred people. This is due to the fact that there were not enough experienced officers in the army, they were less likely to be sent to the penal battalions, preferring to lower the guilty in the rank of several levels and assign them to lower officer posts.

In total, about 428 thousand people passed through the penalty units during the war. The overwhelming majority redeemed their guilt, real or imaginary, with honor, moreover, many with their lives. Their memory should be treated with respect, because in the Great Victory there is their contribution.
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