This is a research paper I wrote in July 1981 while going through the Special Forces Officer Course. I offer it as an example of a resistance movement or insurgency with which many SST readers may not be familiar (except for my occasional rantings). The main point to grasp is the insane lengths to which a people will go to free themselves from an oppressive regime and obtain their freedom. This will to freedom cannot be understood by a cost-benefit analysis. It can be deeply emotional and amazingly strong. Does this offer any lessons for the Arab Spring? The Palestinians? How about Iraq and Afghanistan? Is this what enabled the Confederate soldiers to fight on in the face of incredible hardship and terrible odds?
Note: I retyped this without editing. It’s fairly obvious that I was a true believer in the cause of my forefathers. I still am. I was also pathetically reliant on the passive voice. Remember I was just trying to get an assignment done, not write the great American research paper.
LITHUANIAN RESISTANCE TO SOVIET OCCUPATION 1944-1952
PART I. LITHUANIA PRIOR TO 1944
The Lithuanians have an ancient and rich history as an independent nation. King Mindaugas united the separate Lithuanian tribes on the Baltic coast between the Vistula and Daugava rivers in the early 13th century. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Grand Principality of Lithuania extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea. In 1399 Vytautas the Great checked the Tartar invasion of the West for all time. In 1410 he stopped the German eastward expansion at the battle of Grunwald where the Teutonic Knights were nearly destroyed.
Lithuania’s power began to diminish steadily in the 16th century culminating in her subjugation by Czarist Russia in 1792. Nationalism remained strong in occupied Lithuania manifesting itself in uprisings against the Czarist regime in 1794, 1812, 1883, 1864 and 1904-1905.
In the closing years of WW I, Lithuania began its rise to independence. In February 1918, while still under German occupation, the Lithuanian Council declared the restoration of the independent state of Lithuania. A provisional government was formed in November of that year.
For the next two years, Lithuania resisted repeated attempts by her neighbors to conquer the newly independent nation. Bolshevik forces invaded Lithuania in 1919 on the heels of the retreating Germans. The Lithuanian Army, aided by a partisan movement, expelled the Russians by the end of August. A renewed German attempt to annex Lithuania was defeated in November 1919. A second Russian invasion and an attack by Poland were also checked in 1920.
Lithuania reestablished her hard won independence largely through her own efforts. Western support was nonexistent. Lithuania became a member of the League of Nations on September 21, 1921. The next 18 years were characterized by remarkable economic and cultural growth. Agricultural production more than doubled. Education flourished with the establishment of two universities, five other colleges and a military academy. the national budget was always balanced.
Lithuania’s growth was abruptly halted on June 15, 1940 when the Soviet Army invaded Lithuania. this occupation, though short, was brutal. The political and economic life of the nation was destroyed. Many political and intellectual leaders were arrested. Tortures and executions were a common occurrence as well as mass deportations. Over 65,000 Lithuanians were sent to Siberia from June 1940 to June 1941.
On June 23, 1941, the day after the German invasion of Russia began, a general spontaneous revolt against the Soviets was triggered by a Kaunas radio broadcast proclaiming the revolt against thew Soviets, the restoration of Lithuanian independence, and the formation of a provisional government. Lithuanian partisans had taken over the radio station as well as the police stations and several arsenals in the city of Kaunas. Within two days Lithuanian partisans controlled the entire country. An estimated 125,000 men took part in the insurrection with over 12,000 casualties. The revolt was organized by an underground representing all political parties and patriotic movements. The underground has representatives in Berlin who knew of the impending German invasion and planned the revolt accordingly.
On June 25, 1941 the German Army entered Kaunas and was greeted by a free Lithuania. An independent Lithuania, however, did not fit into Nazi plans. The Germans first attempted to pressure the new government into submission. When this failed, they tried to install a Lithuanian Nazi government which also failed. The Lithuanian leaders were arrested and deported. German officials were installed in the government because of Lithuanian refusal to participate in a puppet regime.
Lithuanian resistance to German occupation became widespread and well organized. German attempts to mobilize Lithuanian men into the army and construction battalions failed miserably due to the underground press’s call for general boycotts of these mobilizations. In the Spring of 1944, the Nazis called for the formation of a Lithuanian Home Guard. The underground leadership responded favorably due to the Russian advances. 30,000 volunteers responded to this underground backed mobilization. 14 battalions under Lithuanian leadership were organized and armed by the Germans. When the Home Guard refused to become part of the SS, the Nazis arrested many officers and attempted to disband the units. Most of the Home Guard retreated to the forests with their arms and equipment.
In July 1944 the Red Army crossed the Lithuanian frontier and by October of that year all of Lithuania was, once again, occupied by Russian armies.
PART II. ORGANIZATION OF THE RESISTANCE
By October 1944 the Lithuanian people were well prepared to wage an active resistance to Soviet domination. The accomplishments and grandeur of ancient Lithuania and her growth as an independent nation after WW I were sources of tremendous national pride. The cruelty of the Czarist occupation and Lithuanian resistance to it were never forgotten. The suffering endured under the Russians in 1940 and 1941 was much worse than under the Nazis. Lithuania knew that the second occupation would be no better. Lithuania’s defeat of the Red Army after WW I and the rebellion of 1941 exerted a lasting and intoxicating effect on all Lithuanians. It proved that then Red Regime was not invincible.
By the end of 1943, all elements of the Lithuanian resistance were united under the Supreme committee for the Liberation of Lithuania. The leadership consisted of most of the remaining political and intellectual leaders of Lithuania. It was their belief that the second Soviet occupation would be a temporary condition. Surely the Western powers, who were so enraged by the excesses of Nazi Germany, would not allow a regime as brutal as the Soviet Union to enslave Eastern Europe. The resistance leadership assumed that the Western powers would soon rally against the Red menace and come to the aid of Eastern Europe and Lithuania.
This misreading of the world situation proved to be a serious mistake for the Lithuanian resistance. Thinking of the need for political and intellectual leadership in a future independent Lithuania and of the terrible toll that past resistance had taken on Lithuanian leadership, most of the resistance leadership temporarily withdrew to the West, planning to return when the Western armies marched on the Kremlin. This exodus of resistance leadership caused the collapse of the Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania. Centralized leadership was not established again until January 1947.
In 1944 the leadership of Lithuanian resistance fell primarily to the younger officers and noncommissioned officers of the former Lithuanian Army. These officers were experienced in military matters, including guerrilla warfare, but were largely ignorant of the political aspects of resistance. Thus the resistance movement was characterized by overt military actions which extracted a heavy toll from the Lithuanian people.
The partisans were never short of volunteers. This was due to the widespread nationalism of the Lithuanian people. However, the most important factor in the abundance of partisan volunteers was the repression and terror of the Red regime. Many joined the partisans to escape the terror they experienced in 1940 and 1941. Others joined because of renewed arrests, tortures and executions after 1944 or to avoid conscription into the Red Army. In 1947 mass deportations and the beginning of collectivization swelled the ranks of the partisans. Losses suffered in the first two years of fighting necessitated the training of new leaders. Two leadership courses were held in 1947 and 1948, each producing some 70 trained partisan leaders.
Unlike most resistance movements, the Lithuanians sustained themselves without support and supplies from abroad. Vast quantities of arms, ammunition and other equipment were obtained when the Home Guard retreated to the forests in 1944. Additionally, much equipment was acquired from retreating German and advancing Red Army units. The partisans sustained themselves in the later years of the resistance through combat with the NKVD units. Initially food was easily obtained from the many small farms throughout the country. When collectivization became widespread, raids on government warehouses became the primary food source.
Although the resistance was not unified at first, the individual partisan bands were well organized and disciplined. The Lithuanian Army uniform was worn by all partisans. The Army rank structure and award system were used. As early as 1945, there was a trend toward unification of all partisan units. By the summer of that year, most resistance units in northern Lithuania merged within the Lithuanian Freedom Army (LFA) and operated under a joint command. Shortly after that, guerrilla units in southern Lithuania merged into a single district. After great efforts, all resistance elements were united under the LFA in January 1947. A constitution and strict security and discipline codes were established. The country was divided into 9 districts, each with 4 or 5 regimental or battalion sized partisan detachments. The number of partisans at any one time varied between 25,000 and 40,000.
PART III. OPERATIONS OF THE RESISTANCE
The LFA conducted aggressive guerrilla warfare from 1944 to 1952. The immediate aim of the resistance was not to expel the Red Army from Lithuania. The LFA command realized that Western help would be needed for the final liberation. The LFA fought to prevent the sovietization of Lithuania by directing its operations against the administrative apparatus, the Moscow manipulated Lithuanian Communist Party and the NKVD secret police and border guard units.
The fiercest and most brutal engagements took lace against the NKVD troops. The aim of the LFA was to weaken the fighting capacity of the security forces and to demoralize the NKVD soldiers in every way possible. Losses suffered by the NKVD between 1945 and 1949 have been estimated at 80,000 killed. The majority of these losses occurred in NKVD attacks against LFA units. However, the LFA lost few opportunities to attack NKVD troops. A number of large scale raids on NKVD garrisons in towns were carried out. In larger cities, small partisan groups raided NKVD headquarters and ambushed security patrols. Some NKVD units became so demoralized that they would take no offensive action for several months.
Other less costly targets of the LFA were communist officials and local communist activists. From 1945 to 1952 the LFA executed over 4,000 Russian and Lithuanian communist activists. Even officials under constant NKVD protection were not immune to liquidation. Those who were especially efficient in carrying out Soviet orders or were known for their ruthlessness were priority targets of the resistance. The execution of these hardliners dampened the enthusiasm of other communists.
Moscow attempted to legitimize the subjugation of Lithuania through elections in which only communists were on the ballot. The LFA did its utmost to sabotage these elections by destroying bridges and cutting telephone lines to isolate the communists from their headquarters and prevent them from visiting outlying farms with their ballot boxes. The LFA also attacked NKVD garrisons to prevent their participation in the vote gathering. The efforts of the LFA were effective. Despite all communist threats and coercion, seldom more than a quarter of the electorate voted in any election from 1946 to 1948.
Another major target of the LFA was the collectivization of Lithuanian agriculture. Communist activists and Russian colonists attempting to establish collectives were executed or intimidated into leaving the country. Soviet efforts to tax the independent farmers out of existence were hampered by the killing of tax collectors, the destruction of tax records and frequent raids on government warehouses. One effective LFA tactic was the mining of farms of deported Lithuanians to prevent Soviet use of these lands.
In 1944 the Kremlin embarked on a ruthless campaign to break the back of Lithuanian resistance. Stalin placed Mikhail A. Suslov, a dedicated and efficient wartime partisan leader, in charge of the pacification of Lithuania. Suslov had only limited success in setting up the rudiments of a communist government, but had no success in bringing the partisans under control. In September 1944 the Kremlin dispatched General Sergei N. Kruglov to liquidate the Lithuanian armed resistance. Kruglov, the deputy commander of the NKVD under Beria, had already proved himself a cruel and merciless executioner in mopping up operations in areas recaptured by the Red Army. In Kruglov’s 1945 to 1949 offensive, he used an estimated 100,000 security troops sometimes supported by Red Army and Air Force units to combat the LFA. Between 30,000 and 50,000 partisans died during this period. Attempts to infiltrate the resistance were largely ineffective due to LFA security measures. Yearly offers of amnesty were issued to the partisans. The LFA leadership did not discourage those who wanted to take advantage of the amnesty since the supply of willing volunteers for partisan duty always exceeded the need. In addition to the usual Soviet mass arrests, tortures and executions, Kruglov’s men carried out eight mass deportations of possible partisan sympathizers and supporters between 1945 and 1950. Approximately 320,000 people were deported from Lithuania during those years.
In 1952 the LFA high command made the decision to demobilize the armed resistance and continue the fight for freedom by other methods. Two factors were crucial to the decision to end armed resistance. First, the resistance realized they misinterpreted international developments and the intentions of the West. They wrongly counted on support from Great Britain and the United States. It was impossible for an armed struggle to continue without outside support. Second, the Kremlin’s efforts to liquidate the resistance had taken its toll on the LFA. The resistance suffered well over 30,000 casualties including 90 percent of the LFA cadres. The once plentiful supply of arms and equipment was becoming depleted. Most importantly, the forced collectivization of farms removed most of the supply and intelligence base of the resistance.
The demobilization was done gradually and was completed by 1955. However, isolated cases of partisan attacks have occurred as late as 1965. Although the resistance failed to establish an independent Lithuania, its example serves as a rallying point for patriotic resistance to this day. The Lithuanian people are now waging a cultural and social struggle for national existence.