Yes, I missed a week. I’m trying to get a novel out and a Kickstarter organized. More on both in the near future.

So what about the question? Superficially, this looks plausible. Stalin’s purges and other excesses left a lot of Soviets with a grudge against his regime—dead family members, unjust accusations, obvious mismanagement. Early in the war, some Soviet citizens greeted the German army as liberators. Moderately prominent captured Red Army officers, including one general, volunteered to form an anti-Soviet army. So did a lot of rank-and-file Red Army soldiers, though how genuine those soldiers’ anti-Soviet sentiments were remains unknown.

What actually happened? The Germans did enlist a lot of Soviet citizens in the German war effort, but much of that effort was semi-covert, done by local army commanders through various guises. In a few cases, German army units experimented with offering local Russian warlords considerable autonomy in exchange for them keeping Soviet partisans out.

For much of the war, the Germans maintained a group of Russian officers as part of a mostly fictional Russian Liberation Army, which was used heavily in German propaganda. Late in the war, after Germany had been pushed out of the Soviet Union and clearly defeated, the Germans actually allowed those Russians to form a division of their own, which fought briefly against the Russians before it turned against them to help local nationalists in a revolt against the Germans. The Germans also helped anti-Soviet Ukrainians fight through Soviet lines back into Ukraine to help in a Ukrainian guerrilla war against the Soviets that lasted into the mid-1950s.

What might have happened?

Option 1: The Germans Make A Tactical Decision to Use Anti-Soviet Sentiment From Day 1: Hitler was an ideologue and enslaving the Slavs was part of his ideology. He could, however, sometimes be a pragmatist. If he saw an advantage for his regime, he was perfectly capable of short-term friendships with people he intended to destroy. The pact with the Soviets was an obvious example, but he also worked amiably with the Poles until the Germans got strong enough to destroy them. Why didn’t he use anti-Soviet citizens of the Soviet Union as cannon-fodder if nothing else?

The biggest problems with Germany (under Hitler or some more pragmatic Nazi) recruiting an army of anti-Soviet citizens in the summer of 1941 were:

(1) The German strategy (such as it was) depended on feeding the German armies “off-the-land” as much as possible in the Soviet Union. The Germans didn’t have the logistics capacity to feed their men more than a few hundred miles from the railheads and couldn’t switch the railroads over to a gauge their trains could use fast enough to keep up with the advance. The Soviets removed or destroyed as much of the crops, herds and farm machinery as they could ahead of the German advance, leaving the German-held areas at starvation level even before the Germans grabbed food for their troops. Even if the Germans had wanted to turn Soviet citizens into soldiers on their side, it would have been difficult to do so when the families of those soldiers were starving.

(2) The Germans thought they were going to face food shortages at home, like they did during World War I, so they seized and exported millions of tons of already scarce grain from the parts of the Soviet Union they took. Hitler and company figured that around twenty million Soviets needed to die in order for there to be enough food for Germany and its allies in the face of the British blockade. That calculation turned out to be wrong, but they believed it. That belief fueled a lot of what they did in the east that otherwise seemed irrational. They had no problem with that many Slavs dying but could probably have been persuaded to work them to death or use them as cannon-fodder except that the Nazi leadership felt that as many as possible needed to starve to death quickly so Germans wouldn’t starve. When you’re trying to starve people to death, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have their relatives fighting in your army. Support roles, yes. Armed? Not so much.

(3) German logistics were so chaotic in the first year of the war that they couldn’t feed/clothe/shelter the prisoners they took, even if they wanted to and millions of Red Army soldiers died of starvation/exposure/even cannibalism that first winter. Granted, some of that was lack of priorities, but the Germans were trying to capture way too much territory on a frayed logistics shoestring and couldn’t even properly escort the prisoners they took to prison holding areas, much less screen them and arm/supply those who would have been willing to fight the Soviets.

Bottom line: recruiting an anti-Soviet Russian army probably wasn’t feasible in 1941, though the Germans could have done some things around the edges to make the concept more possible later in the war. Separating soldiers drafted into the Red Army from the territories the Soviets seized after September 1939 would have probably helped later on. The Soviets didn’t have time to mold people in those areas the way they did where Soviet rule was older and more established, so as a group, those soldiers would have been good prospects for future recruitment. They could have also avoided killing or jailing Ukrainian nationalists who came back to the Ukraine from European exile. Would either of those moves made a big difference in the war? Probably not.

Option 2: Stalingrad Brings Regime Change or Policy Change: Two possibilities here. One of the many assassination plots against Hitler could have succeeded and his successor might have taken a more rational course or the loss at Stalingrad could have convinced Hitler that he needed a tactical alliance with anti-Stalin Soviets. This would be in early 1943. Many of the problems of the first year weren’t as big an issue by this time, but the Germans would have still faced quite a few problems.

  • Soviet citizens in occupied territories had a year and a half of experience with the Germans and weren’t impressed.
  • German treatment of POWs was also well known and not conducive to bringing Soviet troops over to their side.
  • Soviet propaganda had a field day with German media that portrayed Slavs as subhuman. In this case they didn’t have to lie about German attitudes.
  • The effort of screening out Soviet agents among troops the Germans recruited would have been enormous. The Soviets were very good at human intelligence and would have almost certainly infiltrated any units of Soviet citizens very thoroughly. Using those units would have made it much more difficult for the Germans to achieve strategic or even tactical surprise.
  • German administration of the captured territory was often extremely brutal and incompetent, even independent of the Nazi ideology. Their administration in the Ukraine was particularly bad, while the Baltics were considerably better. The Nazis didn’t have people remotely qualified to run the territories they seized and tended to award the jobs as rewards to old Nazis for their loyalty. If Hitler was gone and the German military was in charge, the incompetent administrators might change, but Hitler probably wouldn’t change them as part of a charm offensive.
  • Choosing which factions among the anti-Soviet soldiers to support would have been a nightmare for the Germans even if they wanted to and could have put together such an army. There were at least two major Ukrainian factions that might have been willing to collaborate, given the right concessions—essentially Ukrainian independence, along with at least one other faction of anti-Soviet Ukrainians who were adamantly opposed to working with the Germans. And that’s just the Ukrainians. Add in conflicts between Ukrainian nationalists and Russians, ByeloRussian nationalists and Russians, Crimean Tatars against both Russians and Ukrainian nationalists and probably dozens of other conflicts among Russians and between Russians and various nationalities, and the Germans would have faced a continuing nightmare trying to keep the anti-Soviet factions from spending most of their efforts fighting each other.
  • With Britain and the US in the war along with the Soviet Union, Germany was probably going to lose the war and that meant Stalin and his regime was probably coming back. That calculation meant that a lot of people who hated Stalin would have probably decided that they feared him more than they hated him.
  • The Germans would have had to supply the weapons to any anti-Stalin units they created and the Germans rarely had enough heavy weapons to keep their own units supplied, much less supplying an anti-Stalin army.

So, would it have been impossible or counterproductive to produce that kind of an army? In theory recruiting those soldiers might have been a good idea when the Germans were running low on manpower, though as I mentioned they would come with a lot of problems. They would also have their own agenda, which would eventually become a problem for the Germans.