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East European National Units, 1943-45

Long before the establishment of the Warsaw Pact in 1955, the Soviet Union had molded the East European states into an alliance serving its security interests. While liberating Eastern Europe from Nazi Germany in World War II, the Red Army established political and military control over that region. The Soviet Union's size, economic weight, and sheer military power made its domination inevitable in this part of Europe, which historically had been dominated by great powers. The Soviet Union intended to use Eastern Europe as a buffer zone for the forward defense of its western borders and to keep threatening ideological influences at bay. Continued control of Eastern Europe became second only to defense of the homeland in the hierarchy of Soviet security priorities. The Soviet Union ensured its control of the region by turning the East European countries into subjugated allies.

During World War II, the Soviet Union began to build what Soviet sources refer to as history's first coalition of a progressive type when it organized or reorganized the armies of Eastern Europe to fight with the Red Army against the German Wehrmacht. The command and control procedures established in this military alliance would serve as the model on which the Soviet Union would build the Warsaw Pact after 1955. During the last years of the war, Soviet commanders and officers gained valuable experience in directing multinational forces that would later be put to use in the Warsaw Pact. The units formed between 1943 and 1945 also provided the foundation on which the Soviet Union could build postwar East European national armies.

The Red Army began to form, train, and arm Polish and Czechoslovak national units on Soviet territory in 1943. These units fought with the Red Army as it carried its offensive westward into German-occupied Poland and Czechoslovakia and then into Germany itself. By contrast, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania were wartime enemies of the Soviet Union. Although ruled by ostensibly fascist regimes, these countries allied with Nazi Germany mainly to recover territories lost through the peace settlements of World War I or seized by the Soviet Union under the terms of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. However, by 1943 the Red Army had destroyed the Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Romanian forces fighting alongside the Wehrmacht. In 1944 it occupied Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania, and shortly thereafter it began the process of transforming the remnants of their armies into allied units that could re-enter the war on the side of the Soviet Union. These allied units represented a mix of East European nationals fleeing Nazi occupation, deportees from Soviet-occupied areas, and enemy prisoners-of-war. Red Army political officers organized extensive indoctrination programs in the allied units under Soviet control and purged any politically suspect personnel. In all, the Soviet Union formed and armed more than 29 divisions and 37 brigades or regiments, which included more than 500,000 East European troops.

The allied national formations were directly subordinate to the headquarters of the Soviet Supreme High Command and its executive body, the Soviet General Staff. Although the Soviet Union directly commanded all allied units, the Supreme High Command included one representative from each of the East European forces. Lacking authority, these representatives simply relayed directives from the Supreme High Command and General Staff to the commanders of East European units. While all national units had so-called Soviet advisers, some Red Army officers openly discharged command and staff responsibilities in the East European armies. Even when commanded by East European officers, non-Soviet contingents participated in operations against the Wehrmacht only as part of Soviet fronts.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:44:57 ZULU