The next anniversary of the Great Victory gave rise to new discussions and revived the old regarding various events and aspects of the war, be it the figures of casualties of the parties, different views on the course of operations, discussion of certain decisions of the generals, etc. In this material we suggest to talk about the moral and fighting spirit of the allies Germany, caught in Soviet captivity.
Why precisely allies and why precisely about moral and their fighting spirit? The theme of Soviet and German prisoners of war is too multifaceted and extensive for a small newspaper article. As for the second question, the eminent German military theorist Karl von Clausewitz answered him exhaustively in his time: “The moral values in the war occupy the most important place. These moral values pervade through the entire military element ... "
Romanians always and everywhere beaten
Early in the morning of June 22, along with the Germans, Romanian soldiers entered the Soviet land - their leader (conductor) Marshal Ion Antonescu was the most loyal ally of the Reich. However, this loyalty did not find reciprocity on the part of Hitler, a week before the attack on the USSR in a narrow circle stated: "You can not count on Romania, the Romanian formations do not have offensive force."
What made one of the poorest countries in Europe to go to war with such a powerful neighbor as the Soviet Union? It seems that Antonescu's personality played a decisive role here. A charismatic leader, he did not enjoy the sympathy of King Carol II, who removed him from the post of minister of defense, after which he gave part of the Romanian territory of Bulgaria, Hungary and the USSR (Bessarabia).
This caused public discontent and protest, on the wave of which Antonescu became the dictator of Romania in 1940. But the lost territories could only be returned in alliance with Germany and at the expense of the Soviet Union, for Hungary and Bulgaria were also satellites of the Reich. Therefore, the Romanians - mainly the officer corps - entered the war with enthusiasm, believing that they were fighting for the liberation of their land: Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina.
However, the enthusiasm quickly faded away, for the words of Hitler quoted above about the low combat capability of the Romanian troops confirmed the very first days of the war. And the Red Army retreated from the Soviet-Romanian border only because of the general unfavorable situation prevailing in the summer of 1941 in the South-West direction.
It had nothing to do with the actions of the Romanian troops, beaten always and everywhere, especially at Stalingrad (then 200 of thousands of soldiers and officers of Antonescu were in captivity). In the unheated camp barracks, shaking out the lice from a long unwashed outfit, they suddenly realized that they did not want to fight the USSR. In an interview with an American journalist, a Romanian prisoner said: “We never wanted to fight against the Russians. This officers and corrupt government forced us. Now the war does not please even the officers. At home, the Germans rule our country, at the front they command our army. ”
The prisoner conveyed the mood of many of his colleagues: Romanian peasants from somewhere near Timisoara also wanted to fight for the liberation of Bessarabia, like the Russian peasants from around Tambov to fight for Galicia in World War I.
Romanian and German prisoners of war were kept together. For obvious reasons, the camp administration treated the former better than the latter. For example, Romanians were put on chores and even at the wardens, which allowed them to eat better and sometimes settle scores with their former allies. According to the historian Maxim Kustov, the Germans recalled that the whole Romanian mafia was in the camps of theirs.
All this, of course, in no way testifies to the high morale of the Romanians, but speaks of their adaptability to the difficult conditions of captivity and the ability to survive, in general, in any conditions that are characteristic of poor peasants. For them, because life is in captivity, that in a poor village there were no significant differences in everyday life.
Survive - so the whole world can be at the expense of others. So the Romanians did, because the mortality among them was relatively low. Note that many Romanians joined the anti-fascist 1-th Romanian volunteer division for reasons of very pragmatic: there is better fed and no lice.
By 1941, the fragment of the once great Habsburg Empire - Hungary had already been 23, a small and poor landlocked country, but with Admiral Milos Horthy's ruler. Neither the government nor the people had by this time eliminated imperial ambitions, partly justified, because after World War I, the territory of Hungary decreased from 283 to 93 thousand square kilometers and accordingly the population decreased from 18,2 to 7,6 million people.
Hungarians who became citizens of Romania and Czechoslovakia treated with contempt their new compatriots, because the poor and poorly cultured in the eyes of the Hungarians the Romanians had long been ruled by Turkey, and the Slavs occupied a subordinate position in the Hapsburg Empire. And the Hungarians remembered it.
Russian Magyars also hated - after all, a hundred years had not passed since the army suppressed Nicholas I of the Hungarian anti-Austrian uprising.
In a word, Horthy tried to recover the lost lands. Partly with the support of Hitler, he succeeded through the Vienna Arbitrations: in 1938, Hungary received 12 thousand square kilometers of southern Slovakia and parts of Transcarpathia. Two years later, Budapest acquired northern Transylvania with a total area of 43,5 thousands of square kilometers.
However, despite the imperial ambitions, the admiral led a cautious policy: he refused to support Germany during her attack on Poland. But Hungary had to fight against Yugoslavia, Prime Minister Pal Teleki, who disagreed with this, shot himself to death.
When Hitler launched a war against the USSR, Horthy took a wait-and-see attitude, but not for long. 26 June, the Germans organized a provocation: allegedly Soviet aircraft bombed the country. And then most of the military insisted on joining the Reich in its "crusade against Bolshevism."
And the Hungarian troops went to Russia, where they showed monstrous cruelty. Archival documents show: the Magyars did not spare either the elderly, or women, or children, including infants. No less sadistic was their attitude toward Soviet prisoners of war: when you familiarize yourself with the materials, now published and accessible to a wide circle of readers, it seems that the spirit of the ancient Ugric nomadic peoples woke up in externally civilized Hungarians, turned into nonhumans on Soviet soil.
The crimes committed by the Hungarians did not put them outside the Geneva Convention - many prisoners of the Magyars did not deserve human relations at all ...
Over thousands of 400 turned them into Soviet captivity. The Hungarians could not realize their savage cruelty in the camps, but they retained their hatred for the USSR: unlike the Romanians, they categorically refused to join the anti-Hitler formations, which, it must be admitted, testifies to their unbroken fighting spirit.
February 1943 of the year turned out to be cold and windy, the frost tightly grabbed a wide Don with ice, only in some places blackened with polynyas. They were seen through the beating blizzard in the face and flooded sleet dark and exhausted people, and, despite the shouts of the guards, they rushed to drink. They fell right on the ice, in some places it could not withstand the gravity of the bodies and the icy Don took the unwelcome guests to the bottom.
How are the peaceful Italians, who failed to conquer Greece and defeated by insignificant forces of the British in North Africa, who were on the verge of defeat in France already defeated by the Wehrmacht, how did they get to faraway Russia?
The answer in the memoirs of the head of the office of the Italian Foreign Minister and Mussolini’s father-in-law, Ciano Filippo Anfuso: use Italian troops against Russia. “He cannot wait to make scabies in Russia,” he commented on his father-in-law, Ciano. ”
Yes, the duce could not wait to “get scabies in Russia”: in a personal letter to Hitler and in pathos in the fascist press Mussolini declared Italy’s readiness to join the Reich in his “crusade against communism”.
However, despite the external eccentricity, the duce was an experienced politician and was aware that the Italian army was not ready for a big war. Understood this, and Hitler, who hoped to participate in the plan "Barbarossa" Finns, Romanians and Hungarians, but not Italians. And not only because of their low combat capability — the Mussolini divisions needed the Fuhrer in North Africa.
Duce was afraid that the USSR would be defeated even before the arrival of his troops in Russia and Italy would not take part in sharing the huge Russian pie. In the end, Hitler agreed to send a minor Italians to the Eastern Front. And this decision of the Fuhrer, as well as the warlike enthusiasm of the Duce, became a tragedy for tens of thousands of Italian guys, part of the fallen, and partly captured in the boundless southern Russian steppes, where they fought as part of the 8 Italian Army.
After the Battle of Stalingrad, which resulted in the defeat of Italian divisions, among others, about 50 of thousands of Mussolini soldiers and officers were taken prisoner. After the war, just over 10 thousands returned home.
Why did such high mortality prevail among the Italians who were in captivity? There are several reasons. One of them, and perhaps the most weighty one, is despondency, the reasons for which our hapless enemies had been numerous. This is a shock experienced by the inhabitants of the close Apennine villages and ancient, almost toy cities from the huge, steppe expanses of Russia previously unseen by them, and the terrible impression of a heavy defeat, especially against the background of the initially low fighting spirit of the Italians.
Why are we here?
It seems that for many of them, as well as for Romanians with Hungarians, the clank of caterpillars crawling through the Russian blizzard became a nightmare for life tanks, the piercing roar of attack aircraft and the "Stalinist organ" - a volley of famous Katyushas. All this horror experienced, imposed on the difficult conditions of captivity, caused apathy among Italians unprepared psychologically and, as a result, low resistance of the body to the diseases that prevailed in Soviet prison camps, for example typhus.
The same Romanians, noted above, showed greater survival in captivity, the Italians did not. Why? And the relatively high level of civilization, and comfortable living conditions adversely affected the Italians in extreme conditions of captivity.
In this regard, the memoirs of the American General Omar Bradley about the surrender of the German-Italian troops in May 1943 in North Africa are very interesting. Only in this case he describes not depressed, but on the contrary, the high spirits of the Italians from the prospects, as Bradley put it, of a free trip to the States: “Soon the festive mood reigned in the Italian camp, the prisoners squatted around fires and sang to the accompaniment of accordions brought from by myself.
The opposite was observed in the Germans. These were busy setting up the camp. Non-commissioned officers gave orders, and soon the quarters of tents from camouflage raincoats grew up in the desert. The soldiers were put into companies, latrines were dug, kitchen areas were allotted, and normal water supply was established. ”
In other words, the Germans continued to recognize themselves as soldiers, and therefore maintained their fighting spirit. Romanians lost morale, but managed to unite in a camp. Hungarians helped hate Russians to survive. The Italians had neither hatred nor cohesion necessary for survival.
Another well-known fact testifies to their apathy and unwillingness to undertake any serious efforts for survival - the Germans carried out a mass execution of soldiers and officers of yesterday’s allies, who suddenly turned into prisoners of war on the Aegean islands of Kefalonia and Kos, in Lviv, in the Balkans and in Poland. These tragic events occurred after the overthrow of Mussolini and Italy’s withdrawal from the 8 war on September 1943.
Before they shot their former allies, the Nazis had previously disarmed them, and almost nowhere, with the exception of the islands named, the Italians did not resist.
Of course, among pedantic German soldiers who did not lose their bearing, the crowd rejoicing over the Allied captivity did not arouse anything but contempt, which in distant Russia took on other, more rigid forms.
According to the German military historian and philosopher Gerhard Schreiber, the hatred of all Italian could not be explained only by a truce between the allies and Rome. Indeed, it is not a truce, but a difference of mentalities and, if I may say so, the fighting spirit of the Germans and Italians.
What did it mean? Schreiber responds to this question with the following example: “In northern Italy, already in March 1943, a strike movement emerged that swept up to 300 thousands of workers ... Of course, there were also workers in Germany who were dissatisfied with the regime, but it did not reach strikes here.” Moreover: “In the concrete situation of the summer of the year 1943, with all its immediacy, the determination of the majority of Germans was shown to hold on to the so-called bitter end. Therefore, they lacked the understanding that in the minds of many Italians they had their own idea of the relationship between struggle and victory. Most of the people south of the Alps considered the struggle senseless, because for the Axis powers, victory had long been unattainable. ”
By the way, there was no strike movement not only in Germany, but also in Romania - the power of Antonescu was too firm and merciless, and in Hungary - the Magyars were too loyal to the Reich.
An understanding of the meaninglessness of the struggle gave rise to an understanding of the meaninglessness of captivity in general. “Why are we here?” - Many Italians asked a similar question in the Soviet camps. And they could hardly find an answer that could inspire them to fight for survival and even to preserve the human form.
The senseless and incomprehensible war, the harsh conditions of captivity, poor nutrition and medical care were aggravated by one more factor. The fact is that of the actually Italian camps for prisoners of war stationed in the USSR 116 there were only four. In the rest, former allies and even Poles became their cellmates. And all of them, without exception, in one form or another blamed Mussolini's soldiers.
Finally, the Finns. They turned out to be the most efficient allies of Germany - namely allies, not satellites, like the Hungarians, Romanians and Italians. And nothing like the tragedy of the latter, after leaving the war en masse shot by the Nazis, with the Finns simply could not be - they would not let themselves be disarmed.
Moreover, in his book Psychology of War in the XNUMXth Century - historical the experience of Russia, Professor Elena Sinyavskaya writes: "According to many testimonies, the combat effectiveness of the Finnish units, as a rule, was significantly higher than the German."
The high fighting spirit, as well as the military professionalism of the Finnish troops, is evidenced by the fact that in the period from 1939 to 1944, only three thousand soldiers and officers of Field Marshal Gustav Mannerheim were captured.
The Finns fought cruelly. In his book, Sinyavskaya notes: “In particular, the facts of the destruction by Finnish sabotage groups of Soviet military hospitals along with the wounded and medical personnel were well known.”
The high morale and cohesion of the Finns as a whole were kept in captivity. In the Soviet camps, the percentages of Finnish prisoners of war died to 32 - mainly from disease, malnutrition and overwork due to excessive production standards.
A relatively low figure, due to the fact that the conditions of detention, as well as the attitude of the Soviet administration to the Finns, were more loyal than the Germans.
But these are living conditions, but what was the moral state of the Finns in captivity? According to Professor Viktor Konasov: “The behavior of the Finns in the POW camps was fundamentally different from the behavior of, for example, German soldiers and officers. As the observations of the operatives and the camp administration showed, they were very hardworking, disciplined, kept apart from prisoners of war of other nationalities, communicated, as a rule, only among themselves. They didn’t sympathize with the Germans for their arrogant, instructive tone in behavior with others and a light, scornful attitude towards women, remembered from the times of German troops in Finland quartering ... Finns are characterized by self-esteem, strict morality. ”
These lines are not evidence of the high morale of the Finns in captivity? Add to this that from the Soviet captivity the Finns, unlike, say, the same Italians returned as heroes.
More than half a century has passed since the day when the volleys of the Second World War died down. Italians have not seen Russian enemies for a long time, the Romanians, in general, also, with Finns and Hungarians, is becoming more and more difficult. But that is another story.