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Lithuanian Partisan War - Forrest Brothers - 1944-1953

Lithuanian independence was short-lived. The secret Molotov-Von Ribbentrop protocols between Germany and the USSR. led to Soviet occupation in June 1940. During this first occupation, large-scale repression took place, and about 40,000 people were exiled to Siberia. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Lithuanians attempted to reestablish an independent republic by revolting against the Soviets. In the face of the German Occupation, this effort failed.

Under Nazi control, more than 200,000 Jews were murdered (95% of the Jewish population of Lithuania), the highest proportion in Europe. This genocide wiped out a major center of Jewish culture and learning that had thrived in Vilnius (once known as the “Jerusalem of the North”) since the Middle Ages. Tens of thousands of Lithuanians were deported to the Reich for manual labor.

By 1944 the tide had turned. The Soviet Union reoccupied the country, signalling the start of the anti-Soviet armed resistance. Soviet armies recaptured Lithuania in the summer of 1944, although Klaipeda did not fall until January 1945. Antanas Snieckus, the Communist Party of Lithuania leader, returned from Moscow with the other officials who had fled before the advancing German armies.

Soviet troops and terror returned in 1944. The Soviets murdered thousands of Baltic citizens and deported thousands more to deepest Siberia. Another 250,000 Lithuanians were deported to the Siberian Gulag. Virtually no family was left untouched by the horrors of the Second World War and the Soviet Occupation.

Although many events of the period are still mysterious and evoke many public discussions Bernardas Gailius emphasised in his book ”Partisans then and today": ”although some might find it unlikely, those people were the army, [...] and the most essential feature of the army is being an institution capable of providing armed defence for the country". Supported by many Lithuanians and hated by the enemy, zaliukai of post-war in many cases were capable of actions much more effective than tactics of partisans. After familiarising oneself with remaining written sources on their living conditions and struggle it becomes clear that the majority of methods applied by zaliukai under the circumstances of endless fight would not disgrace even the elite modern units deployed in hostile territory.

Guerilla warfare against the occupiers erupted in the forests of all three countries. Lithuania's full Sovietization was obstructed from 1944 to 1952 by an armed partisan resistance movement, which cost an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 partisan casualties. This partisan war continued for nearly ten years (until 1953), and more than 20,000 freedom fighters (žaliukai) were killed during this period.

Already in 1945, there were partisans in Lithuanian forests led by former officers, students and teachers. Large partisan detachments numbering as many as 200 men were being formed, while battles with the Soviet army resembled armed conflicts between regular armies.

Lithuanian partisans used to extensively employ battle arrays - an indispensable part of present-day patrolling. Even more interesting is another detail - during the night-time movement partisans in array used to affix glow-worms to their clothes in order to see their mates. Fighters of the post-war period mastered reconnaissance techniques. Thoroughly completed reconnaissance was followed by assault. The mentioned tactics arouses another association: success of partisan ambushes depended on capability of implementing surprise attacks and acting quickly. Consequently ”fluttering? partisan units were especially frequent. They would appear as if out of nowhere in the intended location and disappear in the same manner after having completed the task.

During this time, the partisans may have numbered as many as 50,000 fighters, with about 50,000 active supporters. Armed resistance by the so-called “forest brothers” continued sporadically until the early 1950s. Although there is some question about the exact number, it is estimated that from 30,000 to 50,000 Lithuanian partisans lost their lives fighting the Soviet security forces. Possibly as many as 100,000 lives were lost in a guerrilla war against the Soviets that lasted until 1953, with the last anti-Soviet partisan in Lithuania not surrendering until the 1960s.

Moscow had reason to be alarmed by the partisan movement in Lithuania. From 1945 to 1952 the partisans put to death about 4,000 Communist activists and by one count killed about 100,000 MVD, NKVD and Soviet Army troops in battle.

The “forest brothers” were former militaries in the armed forces, who fought alongside farmers, students and teachers. Partisan units wore the uniforms of the interwar Lithuanian Armed Forces, established a central command and prepared military and political documents, which stated that “The ultimate goal of the struggle was an independent Lithuania.” The partisan war disapproved the lies spread by the Soviets about the voluntary accession of Lithuania to the Soviet Union. Although an active partisan fighting movement was suppressed in the 1950s, the ideals for which men and women laid down their lives in Lithuanian forests remained in the hearts of Lithuanians. The struggle (only in other forms) for the Independence of Lithuania never ceased.

Food supply was one of the partisans' biggest concerns. Lithuanian farmers helped the forest brothers, either by giving meals to partisans in their homes, or by providing food to nearby partisan camps. However, it as a difficult task in a country, which suffered from war and the Soviet-organized nationalization of land. The number of the guerrilla movement supporters decreased because the Soviets deported many farmers' families to Siberia and other remote places of the USSR. Such a situation forced the partisans to start the requisition of food from rich farmers and collective farms especially during the final years of the guerrilla war.

Mass deportations between three separate occupations and a wave of 60,000 escapees created a vacuum of political, military and moral leadership. Compounded with the realization that there would be no external support from the democratic West, the will of the Lithuanians was bent by the Soviet campaign. Ultimately, the numbers of partisans killed, captured or given amnesty by Soviet forces reflect an apex in military capability in 1945 that drastically diminished thereafter.

While many authors argue that the high point in the Lithuanian partisan war occurred between 1946 and 1947, Vylius M. Leskys argues that the totality of evidence points towards a culmination in 1945 from which the effort never recovered. Leskys attributes this culminating point to a miscalculation of partisan resources on the part of their leadership as well as a lack of externalsupport. The main reason for achieving culmination, however, rested in the inability of partisansto fight a conventional war against a massive, combined arms Soviet force.

This culminating point may be attributed to a miscalculation of partisan resources on the part of their leadership as well as a lack of external support. The main reason for achieving culmination, however, rested in the inability of partisans to fight a conventional war against a massive, combined arms Soviet force. Mass deportations between three separate occupations and a wave of 60,000 escapees created a vacuum of political, military and moral leadership.

Compounded with the realization that there would be no external support from the democratic West, the will of the Lithuanians was bent by the Soviet campaign. Ultimately, the numbers of partisans killed, captured or given amnesty by Soviet forces reflect an apex in military capability in 1945 that drastically diminished thereafter.

The pinnacle of partisan effort in 1945 clearly represented a culminating point that forced the Lithuanian resistance movement to shift their operations drastically. Ultimately, based on the totality of evidence, the 1945 culminating point splits the resistance into two stages: 1) 1944-1945 - conventional war operations, a period of traditional offensive warfare by an organized partisan movement; and 2) 1946-1953 - irregular warfare operations, a period of unremitting decline by a significantly diminished resistance, relegated to a more defensive posture and small scale offensive operations.

Although the resistance effort maintained its strength ideologically, the Lithuanian partisan movement never recovered from the culminating point in 1945 because of a shortfall in resources, a lack of external support, and the inability of resistance leadership to adapt rapidly enough against a comprehensive Soviet assimilation campaign.

The period 1946-1953 was marked by irregular warfare operations, a period of unremitting decline by a significantly diminished resistance, relegated to a more defensive posture and small scale offensive operations. Groups of partisans, known as the "Forest Brothers", fought as late as 1953. This armed resistance was eventually broken by a brutal assault on the Baltic peoples perpetrated by the Russian-dominated Soviet Union.

On 02–22 February 1949, a convention of Lithuanian partisan commanders was organized with participation of representatives from all regions of Lithuania. During the convention meetings it was decided to call the Lithuanian armed resistance organization as the Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters or Movement of the Struggle for Freedom of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos laisves kovos sajudis or LLKS). The command of LLKS was formed, political program of the Movement, the program and tactics of armed resistance, political, ideological, organizational and other activities of the Movement were discussed, as well as LLKS Statute, partisan uniforms, marks of positions and ranks, etc. Appeals to the Movement’s participants and other residents of Lithuania were accepted.

However, the most important document prepared at the time was the Declaration passed on at LLKS Council’s meeting on 16 February 1949 and signed by eight participants of the meeting: chairman of LLKS Council Presidium Jonas Žemaitis-Vytautas and members of LLKS Council: Aleksandras Grybinas-Faustas, Vytautas Gužas-Kardas, Juozas Šibaila-Merainis, Bronius Liesys-Naktis, Leonardas Grigonis-Užpalis, Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas and Petras Bartkus-Žadgaila.

The Declaration, along with the other documents adopted at the convention of Lithuanian partisan commanders, constituted the legal and political base of Lithuanian armed resistance, gave new character to the struggles for freedom, validated LLKS as an organization of universal organized armed resistance to the Soviet occupation, whereas its Council – as the only legal government in the territory of occupied Lithuania.

In 1945 Jonas Žemaitis-Vytautas entered the Lithuanian Freedom Army and gave the oath. Same year he was appointed as Chief of Žebenkštis Forces Staff, later – Commander of the same Forces. After Kestutis District commander, the Captain of Lithuanian Aviation, one of initiators of the creation of the united command of Lithuania partisans Juozas Kasperavicius-Visvydas perished in 1947, J. Žemaitis was elected to be the District Commander. He continued the recruitment started by the partisan command.

In 1949, he called the convention of the commanders of the Lithuanian partisans that announced the creation of the unified resistance organization, i.e. the Movement for the Struggle for Freedom of Lithuania. Also, the political Declaration was adopted stating that LLKS Council is the supreme national political authority governing the fight for freedom of the nation to restore the independent and democratic republic.

J.Žemaitis was elected as LLKS Chairman and the Partisan General in a unanimous vote. He was implementing the functions of the supreme commander of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Lithuania and the supreme officer leading the country’s political fight for freedom. On 30 May 1953, the bunker where J.Žemaitis was hiding was discovered. By throwing sedative gas hand grenade into the ventilation duct it was attempted to avoid the suicide of the underground President that was traced for so long. He was delivered to Moscow’s Butyrka prison, interrogated and tortured. Until his very execution on 26 November 1954, Jonas Žemaitis-Vytautas remained loyal to his oath to the Lithuanian State.

Lithuania spent the next 45 years as a Soviet Republic. The Soviets restored lands occupied by Poland and Germany in the interwar and wartime years. Lithuanian exiles in the West, especially the United States, kept the flame of an independent nation alive, along with Lithuania's culture and traditions. The Lithuanian diplomatic service continued to function in countries (including the United States) that refused to recognize Lithuania's incorporation into the USSR. Inside Lithuania, many Lithuanians attempted to resist Sovietization.

Once the Red Army regained control of the region, a campaign of collectivization of agriculture, rapid industrialization, and Russification began. Massive numbers of former political party members, middle classcitizens, and farmers resisting collectivization were arrested and deported. Between 1944 and 1949 about 550,000 Lithuanians were deported to Eastern Siberia and Central Asia.

Lithuania escaped Soviet-imposed industrialization, sparing itself the large influx of Russian workers that occurred in Estonia and Latvia. Despite these modest successes, life under the Soviets was hard. Moscow repressed any overt expression of Lithuanian national aspirations; however, with determination and perseverance, Lithuanians were able to preserve their culture, language, and traditions.

Lithuanian exiles in the West, especially the United States, kept the flame of an independent nation alive, along with Lithuania's culture and traditions. The Lithuanian diplomatic service continued to function in countries (including the United States) that refused to recognize Lithuania's incorporation into the USSR.

Underground resistance never disappeared, although the armed underground was destroyed. As a movement, resistance was first sparked by efforts to defend the Roman Catholic Church. Mter the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which led to increased repression in the Soviet Union, the dissident movement spread. In the 1970s, Lithuania had numerous underground publications.

In 1991 the old units and subunits of the local militia and borderguards, security organs and customs departments were resurrected in Lithuania. They are staffed by many who raised arms against Soviet rule, especially at the management level.



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Page last modified: 03-01-2016 20:13:27 ZULU