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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Introducing the Soviet Partisans

The term Partisan applies to those units which operated behind enemy lines in order to disrupt the German war effort. Their operations primarily targeted the infrastructure supporting the German front units, such as railways, rail stock, supplie depots, bridges, communication centers, etc. and even though their main goal was not to fight the Germans head-on, they did kill a good share of rearguard troops and collaborationist units. Initially the partisan units originated from regular Soviet troops left behind by the rapidly advancing front, and operated in an independent manner. Gradually, the German occupation and the brutal treatment of the local population -deportations, use as slave labor, confiscation of food in the middle of winter, etc.- turned many civilians, towards the partisan ranks. The German reprisals against this movement did not only target the partisans themselves -who were regularly executed-, but often included the execution of civilians, sometimes as many as 100 for each German death. The partisans responded in kind, by not just killing Germans, but sometimes mutilating them in horrible ways. As of mid 1942, the Soviet Central command started to play a role in coordinating and supplying the partisan units. The supplies not only consisted of weapons and material -including badly needed communications equipment-, but also included specially selected and trained troops as well as NKVD members to lead and reinforce the partisans. Many of these were air dropped behind enemy lines, but many also flowed through a 40km wide land corridor known as the Vitsyebsk Gate which was open for a good portion of 1942. Partisan operations gradually became more than local harassments and by 1943, they were well coordinated and timed operations. For instance, during the Kursk offensive, the suppy difficulties created by the operations in the German rear played a very important role in halting the summer offensive. Over 100,000 partisans participated in the raids at this time. Another measure of the partisans success is the fact that as the Soviet Army advanced many partisan units were ordered to continue to move west so that they could remain in occupied territory and continue to operate. This was important not just because of the direct impact on the infrastructure, but also because of the large number of German troops which were required to guard the supply lines and to hunt the partisans. Most of those partisans which were liberated by the advancing Soviets joined the regular army and kept fighting on. At the height of the war, over 500,000 partisans were active across the whole length of the front. After the war ended, partisans were treated not much better than Soviet soldiers who had allowed themselves to be taken prisoners, and underwent interrogations by the NKVD, with many of them being sent to labor camps. This is not surprising as experienced guerrilla forces would have been a danger to the Stalin's regime. In terms of toy soldiers, they are not really well represented, however there is one recent set which has done a nice job at depicting the variety of backgrounds in the Soviet Partisan ranks. Let's take a look.

Engineer Bassevich Soviet Partisans - Part I
A unique set by Engineer Bassevich. The depiction of these partisans strikes a nice balance between showing them as civilians and soldiers. For example, the guys above might have just joined the partisan unit and are still wearing some of their original clothes and their weaponry is lacking automatic firing. 

UPDATE: I had the good fortune of getting some input from Alex, the man behind Engineer Bassevich's figures and he supplied me with a description for some of the figures. For instance, these guys could be used as members of the factory workers Fighter Battalion at Stalingrad during the summer of 1942. If you take out the guy throwing the grenade, who is holding the automatic weapon, they could also be used as members of the People's Militia Division, during the summer of 1941. Automatic weapons were not avaialble outside of the professional army during the earlier part of the war.

Engineer Bassevich Soviet Partisans - Part II
These guys however are more rugged. they could be regular army troops who got left behind the enemy lines and joined the partisans, giving them some badly needed training and leadership. As far as the quality of the figures go, I am quite pleased with this set. They don't have any flashing, and the plastic used to make them feels more dense, making them feel a bit more robust. The level of detail in the sculpting as you can see, is really great.

UPDATE: Thanks to Engineer Bassevich we now know a bit more about the source of inspiration for these figures. The man in the middle is the legendary Sydir Kovpak, leader of the partisan units in the greater Ukraine-Belarus area -see picture below-. He was officially recognized by the Soviet military command and awareded the rank of Major General. The man on the right represents Pyotr Vershigora, who was Kovpak's second in command and eventually also rose to the rank of Major General. 

Here is a picture of Major General Sydir Kovpak, partisan leader in the greater Ukraine-Belarus area

Engineer Bassevich Soviet Partisans - Part III
These guys are probably a mix of civilians and ex-soldiers, but have been in the Partisan ranks long enough to have more sophisticated clothes and equipment. A very interesting touch is the kid in the middle, holding a captured German sub-machine gun. I actually saw a picture of such a kid, dressed very much the same way, which was surely the inspiration for the pose. 

UPDATE from Engineer Bassevich: The guy on the right, would have belonged to the division of the People's Militia. Maybe a former teacher. He can be used in the Battle of Moscow, along with soldiers from set number 1. The man on the left could have been a regular army officer left behind the enemy lines after his unit was encircled and then he joined the partisans.

11 comments:

  1. These look great as do the WW2 regular Russian Army set. Call you direct me as to where I can purchase these ? Thanks in advance

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  2. I bought them via eBay. They get shipped from Russia via certified mail.

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  3. Superb photography and write-up. I look forward to delving into your blog! I'm a toy soldier plastics guy myself (mostly 1/32nd these days, though I have tons of Airfix 1/72ns and thousands of metal troops as well) and I love your stuff.

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    1. Hey John, thanks for reaching out and for the generous feedback. I am glad you found it interesting. Sounds like you have a nice collection yourself!

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    2. Re-reading what I wrote, I sounded awfully brash. Many of those figures are 15mm and 1/72nd scale - they really add up when they're so tiny! Many more are fantasy figures - most of the metal, indeed. I do have enough boxes of plastic to be dangerous and am a dedicated Marx man as well.

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    3. No worries. You were just stating the facts. It does sound like you do command a dangerous army!

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  4. TSG, Airfix have just re-released their Multipose British Infantry, American Infantry Europe and German Infantry. Not sure if they're about in the States yet but I've just ordered some here. You get the components of six figures, but you can pick their headwear, weaponry and equipment and to some extent the poses. Not sure if they'd be up your street, but they look good... http://www.airfix.com/media/catalog/product/cache/2/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/a/5/a55211_british-infantry-colour-scheme.jpg

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  5. Thanks for the heads up. I don't usually go for figures which require assembly, but I will take a look at these. They sound like nice sets and I do find Airfix's sculpting among the best.

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  6. Well, there are six suggested poses which most people follow, but if you want you can change it slightly. The big things are the Sten guns (not often seen in miniature but one of the most mass-produced weapons of the war), the late/post-war assault helmets (the one that the grenade thrower is wearing in that picture), and the possibility of having side-caps, and berets, peaked caps and Webleys which would be good for officers. The prone figure is excellent if you replace the rifle with a Bren gun. The poses are just a little bit better, in my opinion, than the one-piece British infantrymen from Airfix.

    As I'm keen to get myself a full British infantry platoon for late-war Normandy and Germany, or Operation Sealion, it's a very useful little set. I've already got two full sets of the one-piece infantry so I haven't got a great deal more to go, although the amount of Thompsons, Brens and 2" mortars is a little bit annoying when I want .303 Lee-Enfields. The Enfield is a smashing weapon, and having used one myself, I'm very keen on getting the correct number in my platoon, which is about six or seven per ten man section. In the late war period, the Corporal and Lance-Corporal would probably have a Sten or Thompson and there would also be a Bren gunner, although in the fierce urban fighting after D-Day SMGs began to be occasionally issued to privates as well, so I can use that to my advantage.

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  7. I have to check out those new figures myself. Seems I heard a whisper about them somewhere many moons ago.

    It has been a dry period overall for 1/32 plastic WWII, with very little new releases since the Pegasus fallschirmjaegers.

    Maybe it us time to play more with what we have, rather than hope for tons of new releases!

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    1. I find one of the best strategies is to repaint figures in different styles. Germans regulars can be painted as SS, British commandos can be painted as BUF troops if you play VBCW, and Airfix Afrika Korps are good for Spanish Civil War and, if you clip the peak of their caps off, they can be painted as Italian reserves.

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