History and organisation
The Wehrmacht Security Divisions were set up at the beginning of 1941 and were intended to perform policing, security and anti-partisan duties in the rear of the main German field armies, under the direction of the respective army rear area command, or Korück. They were organised from divisions initially raised in the 3rd wave of mobilisation, these being former Landwehr divisions largely manned by second-line reservists.
As support units, they were comparatively poorly equipped, and often made up of men who were for the most part unfit for frontline service through age or disability. As well as various guard (Landesschützen) and police battalions, the divisions were supposed to be provided with one standard regiment of troops, plus an artillery detachment, as a 'strike force', though in practice this was often used for frontline duty as local conditions demanded. In many cases, the Security Divisions also included battalions of Ukrainian, Russian or French soldiers as well as a unit of captured foreign tanks. Their exact organisation varied widely between individual formations and during the course of the war (see the 286th Security Division for an example).
Many of the Security Divisions were thrown into frontline service during the major Soviet offensives of 1944, such as Operation Bagration, and destroyed in the process. Some were rebuilt as standard infantry divisions due to the chronic manpower shortages of the Wehrmacht in this period.
Recent research has shown that the Security Divisions of the Wehrmacht were responsible for a large number of war crimes and in many cases for systematic programmes of repression against the civilian population. This occurred most notably on the Eastern Front, particularly in the rear areas of Army Group Centre, where they acted with extreme brutality. This is in contrast to the immediate post-war view, influenced by the Nuremberg Trials, that the Wehrmacht was not an inherently criminal organisation (see War crimes of the Wehrmacht). Modern historians such as Bartov and Shepherd (see References, below) argue that the Wehrmacht in general, and its Security Divisions in particular, were in fact deeply implicated in massacres of unarmed civilians, the systematic destruction of property, and the Holocaust.
List of divisions
- 52nd Security Division
- 201st Security Division
- 203rd Security Division
- 207th Security Division
- 213th Security Division
- 221st Security Division
- 281st Security Division
- 285th Security Division
- 286th Security Division
- 325th Security Division
- 390th Security Division
- 391st Security Division
- 403rd Security Division
- 444th Security Division
- 454th Security Division
- Division (military), Military unit, List of German divisions in WWII
- Heer, Wehrmacht
- Soviet partisans
- Bartov, Omer. Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich, OUP, 1992. ISBN 978-0195079036
- Gerlach, Christian. Kalkulierte Morde, 2000. ISBN 978-3930908639
- Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans, Harvard University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0674012967
- In addition to evidence given in accounts of individual actions, Gerlach (in Kalkulierte Morde) and others have shown that the number of people reported killed in supposed 'anti-partisan' operations consistently exceeded the number of weapons actually recovered by a factor of up to ten (Gerlach, pp.957-8), suggesting that the majority of those killed were in fact unarmed civilians.
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