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Prague, Russians and Cossacks


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Are there any scenarios out there about the infamous 'traitor' divisions of the Wermacht- i.e. the divisions of Cossacks and anti-Communist Russians who fought alongside the German army? I believe there was some kind of last stand by them in Prague in 1945 when they first joined forces with the Czech resistance against the SS units stationed there, then switched sides and joined with the SS against Red Army. Would have the makings of a good scenario I feel. Or maybe even a series of scenarios.

Also, does anyone know what kind of equipment these divisions used? Did they use captured Russian equipment or were they trained to use German equipment? A scenario pitching German T-34s against Russian ones would be cool

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A few days ago German TV showed a documentary about the remains of a Cossack unit - including their families - in Austria that was about to be handed over to Stalin by the Brits.

A lot of them fled into the mountains and hid in caves, slaughtering their horses for food; others, women and children jumped into the river to kill themselves.

Cossacks have often chosen the wrong masters in the hope of gaining some freedom for themselves.

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Then again, Cossacks have also often chosen a side based entirely on where they thought they could get the most loot or the greatest license to rape murder and pillage as they pleased. They were not boy scouts, they were for centuries the most barbaric irregular soldiers in Europe, given to the most pointless cruelty toward civilians, etc.

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Jason,

Yep, they sure weren't boy scouts.

But

"often chosen a side based entirely on where they thought they could get the most loot or the greatest license to rape murder and pillage as they pleased"

That statement of yours intrigues me, especially the "often" part. What wars/campaigns are you referring to?

My impression was Cossacks when they were a going independant concern pretty much picked sides based on national interest (such as it was), and once they were the Tsar's soldiers they very frequently were the guys doing reconnaissance and partisan warfare, so it's not exactly fair to compare their behavior with men in a regular army.

Besides, the Tsar didn't pay Cossacks for service, so that's incentive for a Cossack to steal everything he can lay his grubby hands on, when campaigning.

As to barbarism, read Wedgewood's history of the 30 Years War. Gutting a countryside is a fine old European military tradition.

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Yes, barbarism is relative. Ask Kurt Waldheim. (No, don't. He'd just lie anyway).

Cossacks occupy a colorful middle ground between the conventional and settled Russian Slavs and the Tatar/Mongol and Turkic horse peoples who still occupy the bulk of the Eurasian steppe. And they share the same characteristics of most clan-based groups with weak ties to lands, kingdoms and kings -- military prowess, tactical mobility, opportunism, fickleness and tendency to pillage the more settled peoples they encounter. Who naturally fear these people as barbarous and perfidious.

While Russian nationalists prefer to downplay the fact (e.g. Nevsky), for about 2 centuries the Dukes of Muscovy and Kiev were little more than tributaries of the Khanates of the Golden and Blue Hordes. Cossack tribes likely served in the Hordes, then switched over to the Russian dukes as it suited them.

Very likely though, their roots lie even deeper in Slavic history, as vestiges of the hordes who rolled west over the German lands (who had previously displaced the Celts, etc., etc).

"Cossack" and "Kazakh" are essentially the same word (and the latter definitely make no secret of their historical and racial connection to the Khanates).

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Yes, my Kazakh friend explained that to me. But they don't take umbrage at the name, nor the association.

Apparently her people (she is a quarter Russian though) have their roots in three different Khanates who became quite peaceful and settled over the centuries. Rather than resisting the Russians (Czarist and later Red), they more or less welcomed them in, in sharp contrast to the Turkics (Turkomans, Tajiks, Azeris) who were still creating major trouble in the 1930s.

BTW, according to the history of the Soviet airborne troops (VDV), the first recorded vertical insertion op took place in 1932 when Red Army troops were airlanded on the Steppe to cut off a Tajik "basmach gang".

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It never ceases to amaze me the connections one gets from this board. I have been to Kazakstan many times and am dating a Kazakh now and never thought I see someone on this board who also has a connection to the Kazakhs. However, the Kazakhs are a large group and not all of the tribes welcomed the Russians, some did put up a fight and actually fled to China when collectivisation came into effect. But I never knew the VDV had its inagration against the Basmachi.

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I correct myself. The desant took place in 1929, although the VDV didn't exist at that time as such. The first airlanding formation wasn't stood up until 1931.

At the 1935 Kiev maneuvers, the spectacle of desantniki parachuting in battalion strength from TB-3 bombers, together with glider landings, impressed the German observers enough to set up the Falschirmjager, whose exploits in turn led to rapid imitation by the Western Allies.

Seem to recall the Germans saw rather a lot of other things at these particular maneuvers that left a deep impression them.... most notably the BT-5 fast tanks. Kind of a World's Fair of the blitzkrieg, although I've never seen anyone other than the always suspect Suvorov (Razin) give it much notice historically.

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BigDuke6 - they picked between Polish-Lithuanian, Russian, and Turkish overlords based entirely on who they wanted to raid that week. Goes back 500 years. For literally centuries, the primary source of economic production was raiding their neighbors, with livestock herding a distant second (and mostly done with stock run off the other way).

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"Entirely who they wanted to raid that week" is entirely bull.

Like every other group they had their own interestes and they sought allies based upon their own interests.

For hundreds of years they were an important border state between Russia, Austria Poland and the Golden Horde. All these states took a hand at intervening in the internal affairs of the Cossacks as powerful states have always done with weaker ones.

A useful parallel with them is the Armenian state that existed between Rome and the PErsians - both Parthian and Sassanian - the Armenians were quite skilled at playing one side off against the other. However it is a precarious existance that doesn't hold much prospect for a long existance!!

none-the-less both Cossacks and Armenians survived as "independant" for centuries until the political situation no longer allowed them to.

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No, sorry, they weren't independent. They were part of Lithuania, they were part of the Ottoman Empire, they were part of Russia, all at different times. And they made war on any of the others. They lived by raiding, they had endless internal wars of their own as well. They were not remotely a separate civilized monarchy like ancient Armenia, but a loose band of steppe warriors who lived in the saddle, by the sword, as freebooters. They were pirates on land, plain and simple.

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JasonC

Based on what historical research I know, until probably the XVI century you can't really speak of any "overlord" over the lands that the Cossacks then occupied - though some may have claimed it, few, if any, really controlled it. A more appropriate word would be "loose and shifting alliances". That independence was precisely was attracted so many serfs from neigboring feudal states.

Cossack society had not all formal trappings of a "state", but since the very beginning it was one where all leaders were elected in a democratic process. Will you, please, remind me, when "civilized" Europe started doing that on a regular basis?

During Catherine the Great's reign in the XVIII century, Cossak independence was abolished, and the Cossacks resettled. They formed the basis of light cavalry units; however, not all Cossacks were in the military - a lot of them were simply peasants with a strong military tradition and readiness to pick up arms if need be.

Even if we limit the term Cossaks to the military term only, can you honestly claim that they were more bloodthirsty than, say, any of the sides in the peasant uprisings and the wars surrounding the Protestant Reformation, where wholesale slaughter and desecration of churches seemed the order of the day? Or less loyal than the mercenary bands of the period? Or less respectful of human dignity than societies that had slaves well into the XIX century?

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Yes, sure, easily.

An entire society whose principle means of livelihood is the robbery of its neighbors is not a normal society. Warfare was not an occasional thing for the Cossacks. It was their way of life.

That warfare was not conducted for political objectives. It was conducted for the profit and personal pleasure of those doing the fighting. Continually.

Nor incidentally were they a people or nation - much later concepts being projected back onto them from later times. They were a warband, with shifting and voluntary membership.

Romanticizing it is as stupid as romanticizing terrorists today, or pirates of the past. They were cutthroats. As for "elected", um, when they weren't killing each other over leadership maybe.

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Foreigner - I don't have to write it, it is already written there. You just have to read with modest comprehension and the slightest trace of morality. Nominal subjects of any of the empires of the region but lastingly loyal to none, they were interested only in maintaining their ability to conduct private wars at will. Which they conducted without the slightest scruple or hint of honor or restraint of any kind. Next we will be regaled with the noble achievements of Tamerlane, and the fierce independence of the Kymer Rogue or the Shining Path.

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An entire society?

In Ukraine alone there were town Cossacks, border Cossacks, Zaporizhia Cossacks, "wild Cossacks", Cossacks loyal to the Left Bank Hetmanate, the Right Bank Hetmanate, and so on. Sometimes they were independent, sometimes they co-existed with Tartars/Poles/Russians.

The thing to remember about Cossacks is that for most of their existence most of them were Slavic border communities avoided peasantry to whatever big power of the moment, by bearing arms for that big power against another big power somewhere else on the steppe. Most often they were ethnic Ukrainians moving West from out Carpathian way, but the communities accepted pretty much any Christian; including sometimes Russian deserters with horse and full kit.

There is no historical evidence (that I have seen anyway) that the Cossacks were any more brutal or vicious than all the other players in that soup, including the Russians, Poles, Turks, Tartars, and Swedes; and if you want to expand your definition of Cossacks to the Caucauses and Siberia then they fought against some world-class nasty enemies like the Mongols, Chechens, and Chinese.

With the clear exception of the Zaporizhians, Cossack communities as a rule had women and children and survived on sustenance agriculture, just like pretty much every one else in the 15th -18th centuries. Certainly the men would go to war from time to time, but that's a long way from the bunch of bloodthirsty pirates you're making them out to be.

Of course, there was plenty of Napoleonic propaganda about the Cossacks (they almost grabbed him, at one point), which paints Cossacks in the worst possible light: they steal everything, they aren't human, they don't take prisoners, etc. ad naseum. This myth made its way into the European mindset mostly because it was Cossack regiments that trailed the Grande Armee out of Russia in 1812, and Napoleon's campaigns were THE popular military history of the 19th century.

It is interesting to note that during Europe's Romantic period Cossacks sometimes were viewed by European intellectuals as the ideal man: "the untainted man of nature" and all that rot.

The Cossacks were about as far from monolithic and homgeneous as a society gets. Making any sweeping statement about Cossacks, is a little like a sweeping statement about pre-Bismarckian German society from the Middle Ages to the 1848 revolutions inclusive. You're talking about a Slavic culture that wasn't quite a pure state or nation, but nonetheless existed for about five centuries, and evolved all that time.

Verdansky and Seaton are my main sources.

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Yes I am talking about a culture that lasted five centuries, and made war privately for every one of them, on everyone it saw. For profit. The only reason they didn't murder everyone they reached is they could sell them in Istanbul.

Later when the Russians tamed them into a more controlled military force, they retained a serious element of the same wildness, when turned loose. The Czars weren't saints either, and sicked them on domestic enemies, putting the latter outside all law. In foreign war and domestic, their reputation was hard earned, and whitewashing it after moral standards rose won't fly.

Nor does the term cover any entire people like the Ukrainians, most of whom were entirely law abiding supporters of an actual government that actually made peace at times, kept its word, etc.

As for the silliness of the romantics, yes they glorified the freedom to murder anyone one pleased. Not a recommendation.

I realize everyone thinks treason to fight for Nazis is the highest form of human achievement, but all the noble savage multicultural respect routine is utter crap. A brigand is a brigand. If he puts himself in service of a government that actually restrains him he may graduate to a soldier, but if he doesn't or ignores it, he's just a brigand, and any civilized man who can hang him is well advised to do so.

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JasonC

Since you challenge my comprehension, how do you comprehend this direct quote from the website that, incidentally, you do not dispute (emphasis mine):

In the 15th century, the Cossack society was described as a loose federation of independent communities, often forming local armies, entirely separate from the neighboring states(of, e.g, Poland, Grand Duchy of Moscow or the Khanate of Crimea).

By the 16th century these Cossack societies merged into two independent territorial organizations:

- The Cossacks of Zaporizhia, centered around the lower bends of Dnieper, inside the territory of modern Ukraine, with the fortified capital of Zaporizhian Sich. They were formally recognized as a state, the Zaporozhian Host, by a treaty with Poland in 1649.

- The Don Cossack State, on the river Don, separating Grand Duchy of Moscow from the Nogai states, vassals of the Ottoman Empire. The capital of the Don Cossack State was Cherkassk, later moved to Novocherkassk.

/endquote/

Or do you simply ignore what you don't like?

Funny you mention piracy. Need I remind you that most "piracy" was done by privateers, officially sactioned by a "civilized monarch"? Of course, when caught by the affected parties, they were hanged like the pirates they were. Only if they avoided capture, could they be knighted like Sir Francis Drake. Talk about good old England as a culture promoting violence and robbery on the high seas.

And, please, help me find the morality in using torture as a legitimate part of the judicial process; burning people alive to save their souls; glorifying crusaders who, by their own admission, "walked knee high in blood", witch trials in which essentially the only way to prove innocence was to die (and if found guilty would die anyway).

It wasn't a Cossack who told their suporters to "Kill everyone - God in heaven will sort the good from the bad." It wasn't a Cossack that stated: "Britain doesn't have eternal friends, or eternal enemies, but eternal interests." And it was still not a Cossack who advised the ruler to renege on any treaty that no longer was in their interest. Oh, and I'm sure the French, the Dutch, and especially the British and Americans can teach even the most brutal Cossack a lot about killing, abducting, and selling people for profit on an industrial scale - in view of a generally accommodating society. But, hey, they were civilized people, so this must definitely be a good thing. So, "massa", don't talk about the straw in your neigbor's eye.

And, no, not all Cossacks fought for the Nazis. And debunking wholesale slander on any social/national/religious group is not Nazi apologism.

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Read the whole thing, and you will find they acknowledged Polish and Lithuanian sovereignty, then rebelled against it. Later did the same with Russia. They pledged their loyalty to states when it was convenient but broke their word, that does not make them their own state, just rebels. You can read more than a wiki article about them if you like.

Then there is the everybody does it defense. Since Pol Pot made killing fields, why can't they? Utter rot. They massacred entire towns that surrendered on terms, kidnapped raped burned looted and murdered with complete abandon, tortured people to death in public for amusement while roaring drunk, etc, etc. You might as well lionize Ted Bundy.

And they are not an ethnic, religious, or national group. They are a job description in an area for a period, looter from the steppe in the second half of the second millenium. They came from half a dozen nationalities and ethnicities, were eastern orthodox but hardly the only eastern orthodox or typical of that denomination, and swore allegiance in succession to three different sovereigns while actually fufilling their oaths to no one.

Drake is a reasonable comparison, except he was more restrained and willing to serve a particular sovereign for profit. The lawlessness of the early modern Caribbean is also a good comparison. The mystery is why anyone would defend drunken casual cruelty and endless warfare waged against non-combatants as a way of life, in the modern age.

[ March 23, 2006, 07:20 AM: Message edited by: JasonC ]

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