The Founding of WWII German Cossack Regiments

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Major General Ivan Kononov Nikitch
DOB: February 4, 1900 Novo-Nikolajevskaja

Deceased: September 15, 1967 Australia

 

Ivan Kononov was a man who felt the terror of Stalin personally.
In 1918, the Bolsheviks hanged his father, who was a Cossack Captain, and his eldest brother was killed fighting the Bolsheviks in the civil war. His two other brothers died in the Gulags in 1934 & 1937.
In 1922, Kononov joined the Soviet Army, disguising his place of origin and changing his date of birth to 1906. His service started in the 79th Cavalry Regiment. He later graduated from military college, and he joined the Communist Party in 1927.
As a platoon leader in the regimental school he was able to suppress the civil unrest in Kursk in the spring of 1930. The people were protesting against Stalin’s policy of collectivisation.
In September 1939, he participated in the occupation of eastern Poland and then in 1940 the Winter War with Finland, where he was awarded the Order of the Red Star. He was promoted to Major, then Lieutenant Colonel as Commander of the 436th Rifle Regiment, located on the western border of Ukraine.
When Germany invaded Ukraine in Operation Barbarosa, Kononov’s regiment formed the rear guard of the Soviet 155th Rifle Division. During the retreat he sent one of his trusted advisors with a message through the front to the Germans, consenting not only to capitulation, but knowing the mood of his men, he suggested the defection of his entire regiment on condition that he be allowed to establish a Russian Liberation Army aimed at overthrowing the Stalinist regime.
Kononov was fortunate that his adversary, General Count Schenckendorf, was a fierce opponent of Hitler's Eastern Policy. The Count, grasping the opportunity, set down his own provisional terms in establishing the Kononov liberation force.
He promised Kononov he would do everything in his power to convince his superiors to approve the scheme and initiate a Russian Liberation Army. In the meantime he implemented his ‘absolute power of authority, and took upon himself the establishment of a Wehrmacht Cossack regiment.
Kononov, a Don Cossack, eagerly agreed to Schenckendorf’s provisional terms to establish such a force. He had no doubt that the German leadership would quickly realize how easily the Stalinist regime, with the help of the Russians themselves, could be overthrown.

Kononov then held a meeting with all his officers and men, where he announced that he was now an enemy of Stalin, and that he had decided to take up the fight against the Soviet regime for the liberation of Russia.
He told them that he was going to defect to the Germans to create a new Russian Liberation Army. All those who wanted to go with him were welcome, and all those who wanted to stay could do so. Nothing would happen to them.
Apart from a few Political Officers all were ready to follow him.
On the 22nd of August 1941, without any resistance, Kononov led his regiment over to the German side.
After their arrival, General Schenckendorff gave Kononov the authority to act completely independently. He placed a liaison officer, Lieutenant (later Major) Graf Rittenberg with the Cossacks. He quickly acquired the confidence and friendship of Kononov and remained with the regiment until the end of the war.
Eight days after his defection Kononov, visited the POW camp in Mogilev, gave a speech, in which he declared his intentions and asked for volunteers to join his Russian Liberation Army. Of the five thousand POWs, four thousand immediately volunteered. From these four thousand Kononov chose five hundred, of which four hundred were Cossacks. When he left, he assured the men he left behind that he would be back to collect them at a later date.
He recruited more men in the POW camps at Bobruisk, Orsha, Smolensk, Propoisk and Gomel.
On the 19th of September, 1941, four weeks after his defection, his new Cossack Regiment was formed, consisting of seventy-seven officers and one thousand, seven hundred and ninety-nine men.
Major Kononov, now of the Wehrmacht (German Army), had to release some of his initial riflemen because they were not Cossacks. He assigned them to duties in civil administration, and in police units. They were not returned to the POW camps.
General Schenkendorf in the meantime had organised weapons and equipment for the newly-formed regiment. He personally read to the assembled new Cossack regiment the directive from the German War Office confirming its establishment; it was christened the 120th Don Cossack Regiment. A regimental banner was presented to the Don Cossack Belogradow, who had spent twelve years in a Gulag, and whose two brothers had been killed by the Soviet secret police.
In early 1942 the Cossacks fought partisans in the Smolensk region, and then in Mogilev, and Kononov was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
His hopes of a quick organization of larger units were not fulfilled. On the contrary, on 27 January 1943 he was told that Russian forces would only be approved in battalion strength and that his regiment, almost three thousand strong, was to be reformed into the 600th Don Cossack Battalion.
A Special Armoured Division was formed, and the 17th Cossack Armoured Battalion was placed under the 3rd German Army Command, which was committed to the Eastern Front several times.
A drastic drop in morale led to many desertions to partisan forces, which caused Hitler and his General Staff to distrust the Cossacks, and he sent them off to France.
In the summer of 1943, the 2nd Siberian Cossack Cavalry Regiment and the 3rd Kuban Cossack Cavalry Regiment were formed.
The various Cossack units were reorganized to form the 1st Cossack Division of the Wehrmacht (see below for the listing of these units), and were sent to Yugoslavia to fight against Tito’s National Liberation Army.
In June 1944 Kononov was promoted to Colonel and awarded the Iron Cross Second, and First Class. Later, he was also awarded the Knight's Cross of Croatia.
In December 1944, the Cossack Division fought successfully against the 3rd Ukrainian Front, and was then transformed into the 15th Cossack Cavalry Corps.

1st Cossack Division consisted of:

1st Cossack Cavalry Brigade (Don): 1st Don Cossack Regiment, 2nd Siberian Cossack Regiment, 4th Kuban Cossack Regiment, 1st Horse-drawn Cossack Artillery Battalion.
2nd Cossack Cavalry Brigade (Caucasus): 3rd Kuban Cossack Regiment, 5th Don Cossack Regiment (under Lieutenant Colonel, Ivan Kononov), 6th Terek Cossack Regiment, 2nd Horse-drawn Cossack Artillery Battalion.
Detachments: 55th Recon Battalion, 55th Artillery Regiment (horse-drawn), 55th Engineer Battalion, 55th Signal Battalion (composed entirely of Germans), 55th Supply Section (two motorized and three horse-drawn columns), 55th Medical Battalion, and a Veterinary Company.

A Cossack cavalry regiment had a staff of four to five officers and twelve enlisted men. There were also a communications section of seventy men and an anti-tank squadron. Each regiment consisted of two battalions, while each battalion was made up of four squadrons. A Cossack cavalry regiment had two thousand men with a German cadre of one hundred and fifty. In addition, the divisional staff had a cultural and propaganda platoon.
There was also a 1000-strong Reserve and Replacement Regiment that was permanently stationed in France, although it was still formally part of the 1st Cossack Division.

Recognized total numerical strength – 13,000 Cossacks and 4,500 German soldiers.

Commentary:
The Cossack Liberation Forces were not only of Russian descent. As early as the autumn of 1941 through to the end of the war, Cossack units from different nationalities were being trained at the Lutensee Army Camp, in Mittenwald, Bavaria, Germany:
East Battalion: Baltics, Ukraine, and Belarus.
East Legionnaires: Turkestan, Georgia, Armenia, Crimean Tartars, Kalmyk Cavalry Corps.
Special Units: Nightingale (Ukrainians), Bergman (Caucasian).

All these ethnic groups had one thing in common: the liberation of their homeland from Soviet oppression. However, Erich Koch, Reichskommissariat (East) Ukraine, who called himself a ‘Brutal Dog,’ ruled with an iron fist and started a reign of terror and oppression. Koch often said that the Slavic people were inferior to the Germans, that Ukrainians were half-monkeys, and that Ukrainians “must be handled with the whip like the Negroes.” He once said that “no German soldiers would die for these niggers [Ukrainians]. If I find a Ukrainian who is worthy of sitting at the same table with me, I must have him shot.”
In 1943, all German and foreign troops were put under the jurisdiction of Heinrich Himmler, giving them SS (Schutzstaffel) status, which was against their Wehrmacht officers’ wishes. One should not forget that according to Adolf Hitler and his thesis, there was never any place for Slavs in his Aryan Master Race. If it weren’t for the loss of so many men, putting Eastern volunteers into the German Army was never any intention of his. Nevertheless the Russian Liberation Forces, with General Vlasov as their leader, despite all his difficulties, did eventually manage to achieve an improvement in work conditions for the battered eastern slave labourers known as Ostarbeiter. In January 1945, Himmler gave the order: “Whoever beats a Russian worker in the future, will end up in a concentration camp themselves.” As the war was ending, this too I believe was out of necessity rather than preference.
The men Kononov left behind in the POW camps may have been lucky, as they were rounded up by General Vlasov later, but not all of them, I’m sure. Stalin had not signed the Geneva Convention and the Nazis made their Soviet POWs live under the most extreme conditions, as can be seen in Pavel Polian’s books. To these men Kononov’s Cossacks are no heroes.
For the Cossack people who were left in their homelands to survive the Nazi onslaught, these Cossacks are no heroes.
For the Allied Forces, the Cossacks now wearing the German Uniform had become part of the enemy forces and were no longer part of the Soviet ally.
This sealed their fate in what has come to be known as The Tragedy of the Drau.

 

Afterword:
In April 1945 General Vlasov appointed General Kononov Ataman of all Cossack troops.
Kononov was captured and released in 1946 by the British from a DP Camp in Klagenfurth, and later moved to Munich.
After failing to establish a political organization with the various foreign associations, he feared extradition to the Soviet Union. In 1948, he travelled to Adelaide, Australia, where he settled and became a target of KGB surveillance.
Kononov was the only general who had defected to survive the war and evade subsequent Soviet persecution against all so-called traitors of the Motherland.
15th September 1967 in Australia, Major General Ivan Kononov Nikitch, Ataman of all German Cossack Troops, was killed in a car crash.

 


General Andreij Vlasov

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Executed August 12th, 1946, along with his family

Vaslov’s Generals: Krassnoff, Shkuro, Klitsch, Domanov, and von Pannwitz
Hanged, January 16th, 1947



For Cossack in WW II, see  “The Cossacks Last Ride

 

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