People's Volunteer Corps in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45
People’s Volunteer Corps in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45
voluntary military and paramilitary units formed to assist the Red Army and composed of persons not subject to priority conscription for mobilization; one of the ways in which the Soviet people participated in the armed struggle against the fascist German aggressors.
Fascist Germany’s attack on the USSR and the threat to the existence of the socialist state aroused the Soviet people to uncompromising struggle against the enemy. Hundreds of thousands of people (including manual and office workers, students, kolkhozniks, and those engaged in science, technology, and culture) who were not subject to the draft requested party and soviet organizations and military commissariats to send them to the front. At the initiative of the people and under the direction of the Communist Party, worker detachments, Communist battalions, detachments of the most active party and soviet members, and self-defense groups were formed in many cities. During the very first days of the war such units took part in the fighting in Brest, Grodno, Przemysl, and Liepāja.
On June 24, 1941, the Soviet of People’s Commissars of the USSR adopted a decree establishing voluntary antisabotage battalions. They were located in the zone adjacent to the front and were to guard objects in the rear of Soviet forces and to combat enemy espionage and diversionary activity and landing groups. Their combat missions in the interior zone were directed by headquarters set up in the people’s commissariats of internal affairs of the USSR and Union and autonomous republics and the administrations of internal affairs in krais and oblasts. By late July 1941 there were 1,755 antisabotage battalions (with 100 to 200 persons in each, up to 500 in certain cases) with a total of 328,000 personnel. Additionally, more than 300,000 persons were members of groups that assisted the battalions. Twenty-five antisabotage battalions were formed in Moscow, more than 1,000 in the oblasts of the RSFSR, 657 in the Ukraine, 78 in Byelorussia, and 63 in Moldavia. Such battalions were even formed in Karelia and in the Soviet Baltic and Transcaucasian republics. In 1941, 1,350 battalions (more than 250,000 persons) were sent to the army in the field, and more than 25,000 antisabotage fighters became partisans.
In late June 1941 divisions of the people’s volunteer corps began forming at the initiative of party organizations and workers in Leningrad; by June 30 they were being formed in all regions. The Central Committee of the ACP (Bolshevik) approved the initiative of the inhabitants of Leningrad and spread the idea to other cities. On July 2 party organizations in Moscow began forming people’s volunteer corps. On July 4 the State Defense Committee adopted the decree On Voluntary Mobilization of the Working People of Moscow and Moscow Oblast in Divisions of the People’s Volunteer Corps. The work of forming the units was carried out by local party organizations. Command positions at the battalion level and higher were staffed for the most part with regular military commanders. Political personnel were chosen from local party workers, and weapons were supplied by the people’s commissariat of defense. At first, the supply of materiel came primarily from local resources.
In July, 12 divisions of the people’s volunteer corps were formed in Moscow. In September 1941 they were renamed rifle divisions and given the following military unit numbers: 2nd, 8th, 17th, 18th (later 11th Guards), 29th, 60th, 110th (84th Guards), 113th, 139th, 140th, 160th, and 173rd (77th Guards). Five divisions (the 2nd, 8th, 29th, 139th, and 140th) were disbanded because of losses in October 1941, but the others took part in fighting until the end of the war. In October 1941 four more divisions of the people’s volunteer corps were formed in Moscow and in January 1942 were renamed the 129th, 130th, 155th, and 158th rifle divisions. In all the people’s volunteer corps in Moscow had more than 160,000 members.
In Leningrad ten divisions and 14 machine gun-artillery battalions (about 135,000 persons) were formed from June to September 1941 and were sent to the front. In all, 200,000 persons joined the volunteer corps. Three divisions that suffered losses in battle were disbanded without receiving military unit numbers; the rest became regular army rifle divisions (the 13th, 44th, 56th, 80th, 85th, 86th, and 189th) and took part in the fighting until the enemy was completely crushed.
In Rostov-on-Don, a cavalry division of the people’s volunteer corps (the 116th, later transformed into the 12th Guards) and a volunteer corps rifle regiment were created; in Stalingrad there was a corps of people’s volunteers consisting of cavalry and rifle divisions and a tank brigade. In Sevastopol’, 15,000 persons enlisted in the volunteer corps. People’s volunteer corps divisions were formed in Krasnodar Krai and Kirov, Voronezh, and Yaroslavl oblasts; a brigade was formed in Smolensk; and regiments, battalions, and detachments were formed in Kursk, Tula, Kalinin, Ivanovo, Gorky, Riazan’, and Briansk. According to an estimate, the volunteer corps of the RSFSR had about 1 million members.
In 1941, volunteer corps formations were created in the Ukraine and Byelorussia. But because formation of the units was not completed, only the Kremenchug division took part in combat in the Ukraine. The Ukrainian people’s volunteers were used primarily to staff and replenish regular army units; some sub-units were sent to the enemy rear for partisan activity. In Byelorussia there were more than 200 people’s volunteer corps formations (about 33,000 persons). More than 10,000 fought in besieged Mogilev.
There were three people’s volunteer corps regiments and a number of battalions in Karelia, the Kishinev Communist Battalion in Moldavia, the Tallinn Communist Regiment and the Narva Workers’ Regiment formed from small individual volunteer units in Estonia, and two Latvian regiments in Latvia, which included worker battalions and detachments of the most active party and soviet members. In Lithuania only detachments of the most active party and soviet members were operating.
REFERENCESBeliaev, S., and P. Kuznetsov. Narodnoe opolchenie Leningrada. Leningrad, 1959.
Moskovskoe opolchenie [1941–1945 gg.J: Kratkii istoricheskii ocherk. Moscow, 1969.
Bilenko. S. V. Istrebitel’nye batal’ony v Velikoi Otechestvennoi voine. Moscow, 1969.
Balkovyi, P. N. Narodne opolchennia Radians’koi Ukrainy. Kiev, 1961.
B. I. KUZNETSOV