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Penal Bn & Independent Companies?


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In two quick passes through the troop list for Ivan, I saw neither of the above. Since these are spearhead units, I believe it's worth mentioning to point out their absence, especially having recently read the phenomenal Penalty Strike.

The Penal Battalions were huge formations relative to the usual line units, and the same holds true for the sub formations. A full strength Penal Company of a Penal Battalion, whose men were all disgraced former officers from every sort of unit (including pilots), desperate to redeem themselves and regain their former ranks and awards, was a whopping 600 strong. The Independent Penal Companies weren't discussed much in the book, but were composed of ex-NCOs and enlisted/drafted soldiers who'd been sentenced for various offenses. Presumably, they were similarly motivated.

SPOILER ALERT FOR ANYONE READING PENALTY STRIKE!

SPOILER ALERT!

While generally the penal units weren't simply used as cannon fodder, but as trained shock troops, some commanders did use them as cannon fodder. The author of Penalty Strike talks about an assault in which his somewhat already depleted company was reduced to 23 combat capable men, many of whom were wounded, yet chose to stay and fight. He and his men thought at the time the Germans had unleashed some terrible new weapon, but at the Victory Day celebration the new Battalion Commander, who didn't care for his men as had his predecessor, privately admitted he'd knowingly sent the men into a minefield, to pave the way for the regular infantry right behind.

Regards,

John Kettler

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Here is a great overview of the entire wartime combat penal system for the Red Army. The language is somewhat tortured, and the force numbers for a Penal Battalion and subordinate Penal Company seem way off (much too low) from what's listed in Penalty Strike. This is especially true considering these are spearhead units.

http://www.desertwar.net/penal-military-unit.html

Regards,

John Kettler

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