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Essay on 822nd Georgia Battalion / Research Help Appeal
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Alan Newark, 34 Rossefield Parade, Leeds, LS13 3RW, England, UK.
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Catch: Yalta 1945
Copyright: Alan Newark, Leeds, UK (23 March 2003 / 19 April 2003)
Begins: Blood and Tears - Stalin's Forgotten Heroes
At least 30,000 and possibly up to 100,000 Georgians served in Hitler's armed forces....
Some of these 'renegades' were anti-Communist nationalists but most, says Jason Pipes' 'Feldgrau' website, were former Red Army ' volunteers' captured by the Germans and enlisted, while facing certain death from starvation, disease, forced labour and brutality, in POW lagers. Many were conscripted and thus had no choice.
Serving in the 13 field battalions, each having 5 companies and 800-strong, of the Wehrmacht's Georgia Legion, Georgians were also found in the Wehrmacht's North Caucasian Legion and in other Caucasian ethnic legions.
As volunteer Freiwilligen and as Osttruppen, scattered across many divisions, they manned supply, guard and pioneer units while others earned grudgiing respect as combat engineers. In Slovenia and Northern Italy, they fought bloody campaigns as anti-partisan troops. Some Georgians rode under the banners of a Waffen SS cavalry formation while a handful, legend has it, even flew for the Luftwaffe.
Given that they were Joseph Stalin's fellow countrymen and thus a major embarrassment to the Soviet leader and their mutual home republic, one must assume that Georgian 'renegades' captured and repatriated by the Red Army and the Western Allies, were especially fearful of Stalin's wrath.
Establishing precisely what happened to these returning Georgian renegades, for little is known about this in the West and recent attempts to rehabilitate Stalin as a cult figure make this a timely study, is just one aim of this writer's long-term researches for a book entitled Blood and Tears - Stalins Forgotten Heroes.
The Blood and Tears element will focuss both on the desperate circumstances which prompted many Georgians to don enemy uniform and the tragic episodes (which this writer views as the unfortunate but outcomes of legitimate wartime diplomacy) resulting from the Western Allies agreement, at Yalta in February 1945, to the compulsory repatriation to the USSR of all Soviet citizens liberated or captured by their forces.
Chapters embraced by Stalin's Forgotten Heroes will remind Western readers of the importance to the Allied cause in early April and May of 1945 of the 6-week Mutiny and partisan campaign waged on the Dutch island of Texel by the Wehrmacht's 822nd Georgia Battalion. Pinning down 4,000 German troops and armour during 1st Canadian Army's drive across Western Holland, the Texel Georgians killed at least 400 Germans and wounded or killed hundreds more ( a 1945 Canadian report estimated over 2,000 German casualties ).
These chapters will also highlight how, due to a combination of Canadian willingness to defy the Western Allies' policy of non-interference in Soviet handling of post-Yalta repatriation operations and of Soviet guile not only in exploiting the mutineers' propaganda value but also in rewriting the outcome of their rebellion, the Texel Georgians were transformed from Stalin-reviled renegades into, to quote a 1946 Pravda article, Soviet patriots.
This writer's proposed book has drawn Canadian War Museum interest.
The Texel Mutiny, for example, had long-neglected value as a diversionary attack threatening Texel's role as an important stretch of the Atlantik Wall defensive system. My work is also important because it will examine, for the first time, the repatriation from North Central Germany of the thousands of Soviet citizens, including the Texel Georgians, handed to Soviet forces in Eastern Germany and Poland by Canadian Sector units attached to Field Marshal Montgomery's 21 Army Group.
From a German perspective, the Texel Mutiny could have ignited (it did not) similar rebellions among the 100,000 German Soviet volunteers and conscripts strung out along Holland's coastline or, even, among the far-off brigades, in Central Europe, of the largely Russian and Ukrainian Vlasov Army.
Once alerted to the Texel Mutiny, the Hitler Bunker in Berlin demanded the swift suppression of the rebellion and the summary execution of the Georgia BaTtalion's 800 mutineers.
From the earliest moments, the Texel Mutiny was a bloody affair with no prisoners taken and atrocities conducted by both sides. The Dutch civilian population also suffered terribly during the fighting and bombardments which raged across an island largely untouched , until 6 April, 1945, by the wider European conflict and which German combat troops had previously enjoyed as a rest area. Copies of German documents and photographs and personal accounts of the Mutiny are warmly welcomed.
In the early hours of 06 April, determined not to obey orders for a transfer to Harlingen and expected mainland combat against the Allies, Georgian officers of the 822nd Infanterie Bataillon roused their troops and issued the mutiny codeword. While some mutineers tried unsuccessfully to capture the island's two batteries and others headed for the armouries, a group of men armed with bayonets and knives slaughtered 270-plus Gerrmans in their barracks.
This enraged the 822nd Georgia Bataillon's German Commandant, Hauptmann Klaus Breitner. A Sondermeldung War Progress Report to the Hitler Bunker brought a signal ordering the summary execution under martial law of all captured Georgians.
Throughout the Mutiny, any German sniped at, ambushed or captured by the Georgians was killed with a shot to the head. A group of ten German officers, including a Padre (Vicar Haake),writes Dick van Reeuwijk (below), surrendered on a promise of safety but were later brought to the Georgian HQ at the still-standing Texla bunker and individually executed. Who were these officers and was any action ever taken to find the Georgians responsible?
As advised by Bryson Crow, Gordon Duncan's 'World War II Massacres' website also reports, but gives no source for this, a reputed German massacre of Georgians involved prisoners tied together in a group(s) of 4-5 and killed by grenades jammed between them.
During fighting at Texel's Georgian - occupied lighthouse, this from Dick van Reeuwijk and this writer's Texel interviews, up to 50 captured Georgians were forced to dig their own graves then executed. Hermann Goring Division 'sappers' ( Sprengkommandos from Oudenbosch (?)) were called in by the German Kommandant to blow holes in the base of the lighthouse.
Many wounded and stunned Georgans inside the structure were immediately shot. Others higher up shot themselves or leapt to their deaths. Across the island, it was common practise for execution squad commanders to order Georgian prisoners to undress, their mutiny having disgraced their uniforms. A number of naked Georgians escaped and were hidden by islanders.
German forces executed ten Dutch hostages without trial and many others were either killed during shelling and fighting or executed for helping Georgians dispersed across the island after 23 April and fighting as partisans.
In 1972 a war crimes trial at Oldenburg found no case to answer against the German officers responsible for the hostage shootings and other actions. The gravest charge deemed relevant was manslaughter and, states Dick's book, the crime was statute barred. The German Comander on Texel, Erich Neumann, walked free. He died four years later.
Contrary to some major sources, there was never an official Georgian surrender on Texel. Such would have been pointless as no quarter could be expected. This writer has a Canadian War Diary entry which states that when a Royal Canadian Artillery reconnaissance team visited Texel on 17 May 1945, there was still 'sporadic' shooting and that some wounded Georgians had been found in a minefield.
Dick van Reeuwijk writes and this writer's interviews with elderly Texelaars and letters from Canadian veterans confirm that for two or three days after the first Canadians arrived, the still heavily armed German troops on Texel were very nervous and were on alert against the very real threat of Georgian reprisals.
There were, indeed, a number of shooting incidents. The Dutch Reistance were, in turn, actively hunting collaborators and a Canadian veteran tells me of how he and his companion were asked but declined to witness a summary execution of a Dutch engineer whom departing German troops had tried to hide under blankets on the Texel ferry.
Dick's book suggests that departing columns of German soldiers were disarmed before leaving Texel but with the Georgians in a bloody mood no Germans would willingly give up their weapons. This writer's correspondence from Canadian veterans, backed by War Diary entries and other materials from the UK Public Record Office and the Canadian Natonal Archives, strongly indicates that evacuated German troops were not disarmed or properly searched until they reached the mainland 'Fortress' port and naval base of Den Helder. The task was too great for Canadian and Royal Navy forces alone to cope with and the Dutch Resistance was asked to assist.
Two reasons for the German troops in many parts of Holland remaining fully armed and still guarding depots and armouries well after the Official Surrenders of early May 1945 were (i) that the Anglo - Canadian sweep eastwards into Germany had left large swathes of the North of Holland still in German hands and (ii) that in order to avoid immediate responsibility for the normal Geneva Convention liabilities the victor assumes for feeding and properly housing a defeated army in the field, German forces in Holland were deemed to be only Surrendered Enemy Personnel and not bona fide Prisoners of War. For some time after the various surrender ceremonies, German staff officers in Holland maintained direct responsibility for discipline and were even allowed, until furious protests halted these actions, to stage supervised court martial executions of captured German deserters.
Some of the Texel Germans may have ended up in the Field Secuity 'cage' at Callantsoog (?) and a number may have been lucky enough to have sailed to Germany on board two large ships used to house military and naval prisoners. The majority of local German personnel of all Arms were repatriated by June 26 but the bulk of the 100,000 - strong Festung Holland German garrison force, minus a Dutch SS unit (?), had to walk home to Germany, having assembled at Den Helder, along a route well-provided with previously chosen or constructed transit camps. One of these was the Esterwegen camp formerly housing political prisoners. Some German prisoners walked only part of the way and were then transferred to / returned via the Emden canal.
Once in Germany, most were penned into the Schleswig Holstein penninsula between Emden and Kiel where they were formally processed and detained prior to eventual demobilisation. The Allies' sustained maintenance of such large numbers of prisoners in that region greatly worried the Soviet High Command and Zhukov's HQ in Berlin, their in the end unjustified fear being that there lay the nucleus of a possible future joint force which could be used against them.
Published a decade before this writer first learned, in 1989, from Glasgow-based Dutchman and retired Scotch whiskey exporter Eddy Teske, of what the latter called the Texel Cossacks' Rebellion, Dick van Reeuwijk's handy-sized, soft cover, book
'Sondermeldung Texel - Opstand der Georgiers' , summarised earlier works but advanced study of the mutiny by tracking down and interviewing Georgian and German veterans.
Long available in Dutch and German, the book was recently re-issued in English, price 12.70 Euros, as 'The Georgian Rebellion on Texel'. Translated by Judith Hin, Dick's book is available from publisher Theo Timmer's Het Open Boek bookshop in Den Burg, Texel / www.hetopenboek.nl.
Generously illustrated, the book provides numerous, highly readable, snapshots of the intensity with which the 1945 mutiny was waged. Het Open Boek also stocks several other titles, including bulkier Dutch language accounts by van der Vlis and Kalkman - Bartels, about the uprising.
The van Reeuwijk work does contain a copy of the controversial June, 1945, message in which General Charles Foulkes, Commander of the Canadian 1st Corps in Holland and his Civil Affairs staff officer, Lieutenant Colonel Lord Tweedsmuir, praised the Texel Georgians as valiant allies and urged the Soviet High Command to immediately rehabilitate them as heroes.
What it does not offer and what this writer, with the encouragement of the Mayor of Texel, has undertaken to compile, is an accurate chronicle of what really happened to the Texel Mutiny survivors after they left Anglo - Canadian jurisdiction in mid-1945 and began their long trek back to Georgia.
Given that, after years of research, this writer knows of no other Georgian renegades who were granted such en-bloc exemption from their expected fate at the hands of Stalin's NKVD and SMERSH security troops and that no other group of returning Georgians seems to have merited the several months of high-level diplomatic and military exchanges which coloured their transfer to Soviet custody, such a chronicle is long overdue.
Also sure to be controversial with regard to the Texel Georgians' repatriation, is present day public, academic and Press reaction to the Canadian Army's clear defiance - one assumes this had political support from Ottawa, was backed by the Canadian Military HQ in London and was known to Montgomery's Canadian personal aide, Freddy de Guingand, at 21 Army Group HQ - of the Western Allies' overall policy of non-interference in Soviet handling of their returning citizens.
Across many fronts and often with a nod and a wink from local commanders, there were scattered efforts by Western officers and Other Ranks to frustrate and, on occasion, to prevent Yalta's compulsory and often forcible repatriations of Soviet nationals. Perhaps the highest level such effort was that of Field Marshal Alexander and General Eisenhower in sending a large fleet of American trucks and a guarantee of safe passage into American - held territory to commanders of the thousands of Cossacks, Croats and Serbs being forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Zone of Southern Austria by the British V Corps.
The trucks, claimed British authors Lord Bethell and Count Niklai Tolstoy, (firstname.lastname@example.org) both implacable critics of the Yalta compulsory repatriation agreements and of the manner in which both the Western Allies and the Soviet Army treated their returning charges, were turned back on the edge of V Corps' sector. Handover operations conducted by V Corps at Judenburg, Bleiberg and other locations were facilitated through deception and involved scenes of, they claim, needless violence.
Branding the late V Corps commander as a war criminal, Count Tolstoy has been the focus of a globally reported UK libel trial, which he lost, and of a sympathetic - to - him follow-on Appeal finding by the International Court of Human Rights. Author of the 1980's work Victims of Yalta, which he plans to follow with a New Millennium sequel, Tolstoy shares his feelings about the above Austrian scenarios with the Russian human rights campaigner Alexander Solzhenytsin.
In the above book, Tolstoy's footnotes do briefly touch upon the Texel Mutiny but his researcher, basing his notes on an Allied interrogation report, as seen by this writer in London, and failing to pursue enquiries in Holland, seriously misreported the duration and impact of the Mutiny but did accurately refer to extended, post war, Allied-Soviet communications about the mutiny survivors. The Count, with whom this writer does not agree, has nonetheless described my researches as a 'greatly important' contribution to the on-going Yalta debate.
From a Canadian viewpoint, Blood and Tears will suggest, Ottawa's revived attention should be focussed upon 18 May 1945, when Lieutenant Colonel Kirk of 1 Survey Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, and his Adjutant, Captain Don Fletcher, led a reconnaissance trip to Texel. There they found that island's German garrison on high alert and still sporadically fighting with the rebellion's Georgian survivors.
Almost 60 years later, the Mutineers' commander, Captain Shalva Loladze, and 476 of his 800 men lie buried in Texel 's beautifully tended Georgian War Cemetery. In 1945, they and the Georgia Battalion's survivors were regarded by the Texel islanders and by the Canadians as heroic allies.
A 1945 Dienstelle-WASt Muster Roll of the 822nd Georgia Battalion, long sought by Dutch and Georgians alike due to the Battalion's German commander having destroyed all operational materials should soon be with this writer. Mindful of Texel's Georgian war dead lying in unmarked graves, the hope is that, at this year's 4 May Liberation Day ceremony at the above cemetery, there can be a presentation of that list to the Georgian Ambassador and Dutch authorities. Any volunteer able to secure and send this writer the names of all 400 German cadre members of the 822nd Battalion, can rest assured that a copy of the list will also be offered as a healing gesture.
Lieutenant Colonel Kirk, though this, like the Georgians' evacuation, is not recorded in his unit's War Diary, was so impressed by the Georgians' resistance efforts that he refused to regard them as Enemy Personnel. Instead, he labelled them Displaced Persons and allowed them, while on the island, to retain personal weapons.
Canadian Texel veterans have told this writer of the cordial relations which prevailed not only between them and the Georgians but, also, the surrendering Germans. Although one Canadian claimed that he and his comrades did not have to fire a single shot during their evacuation of Texel's still-heavily-armed German garrison forces, there is anecdotal evidence, collated by this writer on Texel and in the UK, that numerous clashes occurred between emerging Georgian partisans and German troops anxious to leave the island.
Joseph Stalin, meantime, was especially keen, regardless of the circumstances in which troops like these volunteered, to secure the return of so-called renegades who, like the Texel mutineers, had donned enemy uniform. Unwilling to let the Soviet people know of the existence or the extent of such collaboration , Stalin planned to execute many of their officers and to dispatch other 'renegades, traitors and deserters' to isolated forced labour projects from which few returned. About 15% of the overall figure were sent to Siberia.
The Texel Georgians could not have known of the Yalta Conference repatriation agreements but they did not expect their mutiny to win them any mercy from the Red Army. Indeed, the surviving Georgians were so worried about this that many asked, unsuccessfully, for permission to stay in Holland. In the end, they refused to leave Texel voluntarily unless the Canadians agreed to speak to the Soviet authorities. The result was the above 1st Corps HQ letter of June 1945.
Dick van Reeuwijk did not mention this but Lord Tweedsmuir also oversaw the Georgians' 16 June 1945 evacuation from Texel and accompanied their convoy, guarded ( as recorded by author Wim Kalkman) by personnel from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) , to the German Baltic port of Wilhelmshaven
At Den Helder, as the Georgians arrived on the Texel ferry and as they formed up and marched off to waiting trucks, they were photographed, this writer learned, by a Canadian Army officer, Lieutenant J.G. Woods. They were also filmed by an as - yet - unidentified cameraman who could have been a Dutchman or from a Soviet security or propaganda unit.
In Wilhelmshaven, as promised, Tweedsmuir spoke on the Georgians' behalf to Soviet Repatriation Commission liaison officers attached to 21 Army Group. Some time during their homeward journey, says the Dutch National War Museum, website, each of the Georgians was also issued an individual Certificate of Bravery.
At Wilhelmshaven, wrote Dick van Reeuwijk in a tantalisingly brief paragraph, the Georgians 'were handed over to the Soviet authorities' . Here the historical record becomes blurred for Tweedsmuir's appeal to the Soviet High Command refers to the movement (were their also Dutch , German military / municipal / Rotes Kreuz movement orders?) from Texel of 226 surviving Georgians. The van Reeuwijk book gives a Dutch and, presumably, Georgian figure of 228 survivors but states that 'many of these were injured'. Elsewhere, this writer has read of 236 survivors.
At least one sick Texel Georgian is known to have remained on the island for up to a year and to have been repatriated in 1946. We may safely presume, therefore, that there was at least one other sick or dead Georgian or that one somehow escaped his comrades' evacuation.
By the time the Georgians reached their first known Soviet transit camp in Poland, in September, 1945, however, there were only 212 survivors. Checks are underway in Ottawa, with the Geneva HQ of the International Committee of the Red Cross and with various national Red Cross HQs to try to establish what happened to the missing 14 Georgians.
In early 1946, , the Texel Georgians' former officers apparently told Dick van Reeuwijk, the remaing surviviors returned to Tbilisi, the capital of their motherland'. This process, Dick notes, was remarkably quick for men whose numerous counterparts were elsewhere more likely to face ' a bullet in Siberia '.
According to two former Georgia Battalion officers interviewed by van Reeuwijk, that homecoming was preceded by nothing more strenous than a few months' additional service in the Soviet Army. The homecoming itself was allegedly a triumphal welcoming ceremony at the Georgian border and widespread popularity due to military newspaper reportage of the Texel rebellion.
Such, therefore, was the impact of the Canadian Army's intervention that the majority of the Texel Mutiny survivors escaped serious punishment and lived to be told, in 1956, of their eventual rehabilitation by the Kruschev regime.
In 1946, as this writer established, Pravda not only hailed them as Soviet patriots but also published a British Embassy acknowledgement that the Mutiny, while a mere skirmish in the eyes of Montgomery and other 1945 Allied war planners, deserved greater acknowledgement.
Some mutiny survivors were even offered roles as key characters and extras in a 1953 Soviet propaganda film, The Crucified Island, which (UK VHS copy and production details welcomed) celebrated their rebellion. Again, van Reeuwijk mentioned the film but merely as evidence of a thaw in Soviet attitudes.
He overlooked the film's reported claim, now resented by some older Texelaars, that Texel was liberated by the Georgians. Georgian veterans reputedly reminded the Dutch of this implied debt during post-war visits, thus ignoring the reality that the island was not officially liberated, by the Canadians, until 20 May 1945. The film also claimed that, far from being Georgian nationals in enemy uniform who had mutinied against their German overseers, the Texel rebels were prisoners of war who broke out of their camp and freed the island from its fascist occupiers. That myth was also still firmly believed by some mutineers' families as recently as 1995.
In that year, when shown a small exhibition staged in their honour at Texel's much-fought-over lighthouse ( since restored but built around the original shell - pocked 1945 structure ), visiting relatives were shocked to see photographs of Georgians in German uniform and carrying or firing German weapons. How could this be, they asked, the unwitting victims , 42 years on, of a clever piece of 1950's, Kremlin - endorsed, celluloid trickery.
So, there is no doubt that, by 1947, most of the Texel Mutiny survivors were safely home in Georgia. Like the above Georgian relatives, however, van Reeuwijk and his publisher Theo Thimmer , now proprietor of Texel's Het Open Boek outlet, were the victims of the same deception process which spawned The Crucified Isle ( this in no way diminishes the overall value and content of Dick's book which is highly recommended).
The survivors did make it home and they may well have been swiftly transferred to Soviet custody at Wilhelmshaven ( one of two locations, the other being Oldenburg, where, this writer has established, the Canadians maintained Lower Saxony / Niedersachsen camps for Soviet Displaced Persons ). Dutch sources, partially backed by 1960's Soviet publications, however, insist that the Texel Georgians' homecomings were scattered across a two-year period and were achieved only after a 2 - year trek through Holland, Germany, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus Mountains.
There was almost certainly no 1946 en-masse triumphal welcome at the Georgian border - the Georgians were, in 1946, in a camp near Baku and are said to have slipped away from that camp, individually and in groups, over a period of 12 to 18 months - and Dutch sources insist that the veterans were officially warned, at least until the 1960's, not to discuss their experiences in public.
This writer, for the record, knows of camps where they are known or likely to have been held in Niedersachsen, Poland, Belarus and Azerbaijan. This list is by no means comprehensive and requires additional, externally funded, field research in each of these countries, in London and Ottawa and in Moscow.
To this day, the few remaining Texel Mutiny survivors are reluctant to reveal both the actual date and location of their 1945 transfer to Soviet custody and the identity of the Anglo--Canadian and Soviet military units and higher authorities which oversaw their transfer. Subject to sponsorship needs and in a race against time and the veterans' ages and health, this writer hopes to visit Georgia, to gain their trust and to secure such details.
What is known is that their handover must have occurred sometime between their mid - June 1945 arrival in Wilhelmshaven and their 12 September 1945 arrival at a camp near Stettin in Poland. They are said to have travelled to their handover point by train and to have been well-treated by their Western guards but roughly treated by Soviet compatriots.
Indeed, rumour has it that, during their tranfer in the company of unidentified fellow North Caucasians, the Texel Georgians were almost shot. Why and by whom is not yet known. Again, personal interviews could supply the answers.
According to yet-to-be-seen documents in Ottawa, Canadian troops overseeing the East - bound transfers of Displaced Persons from Lower Saxony recorded only one major incident, in a camp, involving the use of force against Soviet nationals. Individual Cannucks are said largely to have viewed their task with distaste. A Canadian officer receiving a 1946 order announcing the cessation of such transports reportedly annotated the document 'Thank God'.
There are, copies welcome, one or two German books and a documentary (Volker Richter or Dieter) about the Mutiny. Four thousand German soldiers, possibly including, info needed, SS anti-partisan troops and definitely including Hermann Goring Division combat pioneers (were these Sprengkommandos from Oudenbosch?) took part in counter offensives against the Georgian rebels. The Canadians estiimated that there were over 2300 German KIA, wounded and MIA.
Texelaars say that between 400 and 600 German KIA were initially buried in mass graves and then, as Dick confirms, transferred to cemeteries at Den Burg on Texel and in Den Helder. From there they were taken to the German military cemetery (photos and a Register welcome) at Ijsstelstein near Venray. The stories of old German veterans visiting Texel and a farmers' death-bed confession mentioned by van Reeuwijk, strongly suggest that perhaps 50 or more German soldiers are still buried in makshift mass graves on Texel.
This writer seeks as much information and documentary / memorabilia evidence as possible to give a fresh, hopefully largely unpublished, German perspective to this bloody conflict.
Today's Georgian folklore still praises the brave POWs who rose up and 'liberated' Texel in support of the advancing mainland Allies. The Texel mutineers' bloody struggle is also described by Dick van Reeuwijk's book as Europe's Last Battle.
Six decades on, that battle will be revisited in this writer's forthcoming book not only as a major and too-long-neglected supportive gesture in support of Canada's liberation efforts in Holland but, also, as the backdrop to one of the Kremlin's most enduring and successful post-war propaganda exercises.
Newark - Ends
Copyright: 23 March 2003 / 19 April 2003
Author: alan newark