Research on the German Armed Forces 1918-1945
During the time of World War II hundreds of thousands of non-Germans
served in the ranks of the Wermacht as foreign volunteers. The full extent of
the foreign volunteer movement during WWII is fairly well known, but what is
less so is the limited attempt to create a force of Germans to fight against the Wehrmacht itself.
No where was this rare and limited phenomenon seen but in the epic battle
between the Soviet and German forces on the Eastern Front between 1941 and
Unlike the massive influx of foreigners into the German armed forces during the initial stages of the Campaign in the Soviet Union, the Soviets had to work very hard to get even a few Germans to join their forces. During the early phases of the Russo-German war the initial propaganda appeals by the Soviets across front were not suprisingly, clumsy dogmatisms formulated by German Communists in-exile like Walter Ulbricht, Wilhelm Pieck, and the Marxist poets Erich Wienert and Johannes Becher. Under the tutelage of Department 7 of the Moscow Political Central Administration of the Red Army, they exhorted their German countrymen to lay down their arms and desert for the reason that the current conflict between their nations was an instrument of evil "Plutocrats, Capitalists, and War-profiteers", and that the German Soldier was fighting a common "proletariat", much like himself, by fighting the Red Army. It is no surprise that such politically inspired propaganda fell upon deaf ears when aimed at the then victorious troops of the Wehrmacht.
Aside from their initial attempts, the Soviets also set up what were known as antifaschulen, or antifascist schools, in 1941 and 1942 and allowed select Germans POWS to publish a paper known as The Free Word, but the success of this venture changed with the results of the war. There was talk about setting up a committee in 1942, but because of the German summer offensive, it was dropped - morale was again quite high for the Germans and not likely to produce volunteers for the Red Army.
The next stage in the Soviet attempt to gain a German volunteer contingent to fight alongside their forces was the creation of the Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland, or National Committee for a Free Germany - NKFD, which was formed at the Krasnogorsk POW camp outside of Moscow on the 12th and 13th of July 1943. The NKFD consisted of 38 members, 25 being soldiers and officers up to the rank of Major, the remainder were Communist emigres from Germany. Their aims called upon soldiers to follow Prussian Liberal heroes such as Von Stein, Yorck and Clausewitz who in 1813 when German troops stood on Russian soil, appealed from Russia above the heads of their leaders for a struggle for freedom.
Seeing as the Allies were unwilling to negotiate an end to WWII or prepared to make peace with the National Socialists, the NKFD claimed that the only hope for German survival was to remove Hitler and replace him with a new government which the Allies might enter into peace negotiations with. It was also stated that they would renounce all conquests as well. The NKFD adopted the old pre-Weimar colours which indicated it was not prepared to accept total defeat or unconditional surrender. The NKFD also stressed nationalistic rather than political ideals by saying that the continuation of a war against Russia could very well lead to the complete dissolution of Germany as they knew it and that it was their duty to desert to prevent this inevitable destruction. A manifesto of the NKFD was proclaimed by Radio Moscow on July 20th, 1943 and printed in PRAVDA the next day which exhorted all responsible Germans to "rid themselves of Hitler and form a legitimate National government with a strong democratic order." The Committee failed to win over many senior officers because German Generals had strong principles and they considered it treacherous to negotiate with the enemey, even if Hitler was bringing Germany down - Prussian militarism and nationalism was very principled indeed.
During the summer of 1943, after the loss of Kursk, well known General Walther von Seydlitz entered into negotiations with German communists and the Red Army Political branch. The result was the formation of the Bund-Deutscher-Offiziere, the German Officers League or BDO, on the 11th and 12th of September 1943, under the leadership of Seydlitz. It contained a number of officers from the 6.Armee, including the former commander of the 389.Infanterie-Division Generalmajor Lattmann, and Generalmajor Dr. Korfes, former commander of the 295.Infantrie-Division. Well known officer Von Paulus would join later on, all of whom enabled the BDO to make a personal approach to the Germans at the front.
Perhaps the best known example of the work of the BDO and the NKFD was during the Korsun-Tcherkassy pocket on the lower Dnieper west of Kiev in early 1944. It was there that five German divisions, remnants of the 5.ss Division Wiking, and the Belgian Volunteer Brigade Wallonie were trapped. Seydlitz, Korfes, and other high-ranking German POW officers of the BDO were transported to the salient by a special Soviet train equipped with loudspeakers. The Soviets showered the Germans with leaflet drops and the BDO officers personally exhortated via loudspeaker for the frozen and bloodied troops to surrender their arms for the greater good of a free Germany. The weary Landsers and Waffen-SS troops didn't budge. The commander of XLII.Armeekorps recorded in his diary, "Seydlitz today sent me fifty German prisoners with letters to their commanders; in addition they are supposed to persuade their comrades to go over to the enemy. I cannot understand Seydlitz. Although the events at Stalingrad must have changed him completely, I am unable to see how he can now work as a sort of G-2 for Zhukov." He later writes on the steadfastness of the troops and the apparent ineffectual work of the BDO (he calls them NKFD) "Determination was the prevailing mood..." he writes, "...they wanted to fight their way through." Manstein managed to open a corridor from the west and saved a considerable number of foot-borne elements of the trapped formations although most of their heavy equipment was lost. There are no recorded instances of defections or purposeful surrender to the Red Army as a result of the BDO and its actions in this battle.
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