World War II: The Resistance


Figure 1.--Communist reistance fighters were called partisans. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were the only countris where there was an effective armed resistance to the German occupation. This was because there were areas in both coyntries that the Germans had difficulty controlling. In addition the Communists more willing to accept terrible German reprisals. This determined looking Soviet boy was Misha Havdey. He apparently fought with the partisans and has been awarded a medal for heroism. We have been unable, however to find details about his war record. Click on the image for more information about Misha. We are not sure what it says yet. We suspect that the portrait here was taken at the end of the War or after the War. He looks to be wearung a brand new uniform. Modern readers may wonder why the Soviets enployed boys to fight the Germans. They should realize just what the Germans were doing in the East and what their plans were for boys like Misha. This is decribed in Genetalplan Ost.

The quick German victories in the early years of the War were so unexpected and so overwealming, there was in most countries initially no though of resistance to their occupiers. Gradually in the West as the nature of the NAZI war effort became apparent did resistance begin to grow. In the East the Germans initiated a campaign of untold barbarity from the beginning. Churchill was a strong proponent from the onset of supporting the formation and supply of resistance groups. The British formed the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The United States formed the Office of Strtegic Services (OSS). As the war began to turn against he Germans, the resistance grew in strength. The Ressistance made major contributions on both the eastern and western front. They occupied important numbers of German troops, disrupted supplies routes and communications, and provide critcal intelligence on German operations.

Axis Powers

All three mnajor Axis powers faced resistance groups and all three adopted terrifying policies to deal with them. There were diddrences in these policies. The primary difference ws between Germany and Japan. After the easy victories stopped, the Germans began to adopt policies to attract nationalist support for an anti-Bolshevik campaign. Hitler refused, however, to offer eventual independence. The Japanese pursued a more thoughtful policy. Most of the areas they conqured or obtained control of were colonial possessions of the European powers. They launched a major effort promising independence from colonial rule. Thus in some areas, primarily the Dutch East Indies abd Burmna, they were able to mobikize support from nastionalist groups. Thus the resistance effort was very different in various regions such as the the Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East with some conquered peoples actually seeing their conquerors as liberators. Emperor Hirohito woukd even refer to this in his surrender sppech. In China which was an independent country this wa not possible and the Japanese behaved with great brutality, precisely as the Germans did in the East.

Germany

The quick German victories in the early years of the War were so unexpected and so overwealming, there was in most countries initially no thought of resistance to their occupiers. This was the case in Poland despite horendous German attrocities. The Home Army organized but did not strike against the Germans because of the vicious German rerisals and the hopless military situation. The German occupation in the West was more correct, but there at first seemed no rreal hope, forcing ccomodation. In addition, a country like the Netherlands was so developed, there were no wilderness areas where resistance bands could operate. France was the only occupied country to sign an armistice with the Germans. The Vichy policy under Marshall Petain became collaboration. There was at first widespread support for Petain and ciollaboration. The Vichy police aided the Germans in supressing the resistance, but it was a first very limited. Gradually in the West as the nature of the NAZI war effort became apparent did resistance begin to grow. In the East the Germans initiated a campaign of untold barbarity from the beginning.

Italy


Japan

World War II in Asia began with the Japamese invasion of China. The poorly-equipped Chinese fought convencial battles with the Japanese during the first year of the war. This cost them mosdt of their best trained and equipped divisions. Ching then switched strategy and simply withdrew west to remote areas where the Japanese could not pursue them in force, in part because they had to garison the areas occupied. Both the Nationalists and Communidt organized residstance groups which often fought ith each other. Occasional clashed by the regular forces and low-scale attacks by the guerrillas bled the Japanese who were frustrated by their inability to bring the Chinese to battle and nd the war in a conventional sense. Thus the Japanese sustained constant casualties and had to sustain the costs of spporting a large military force in China. The military had lynched what they called the China Incident for both prestige and economic reasons, but the long drawn out war was neither presyious or economically profitable. The Chinese resistance made it virtually impossivle for the Japanese toi administer the occupied areas. As a result, the Japanese formulsted the Three Alls policy (kill all, loot all, burn all) (三光政策). In pursuing this policy, the Japanese army committed enormous war crimes agaiunst civilians. The Chinese KMT Army occasionally gave battle when they believed the circumstances were favotable. Even so the Japanese by the time they launched the Pacific War controilled most of northern and coastal China. In those areas, however, the Japanese control was thin. They controlled the major cities and the rail lines, but theur control of the countryside was tenuous at best. There guerilla groups commly operated freely. The situation was stalemated. The frustrated Japanese gradually concluded that victory ws impossible unless they were able to cut China off from the increasing aid America had begun to provide. When America embargoed oil (July 1941). The Japanese were left with only twi choices--withdraw from China or attack the United States. While the Chinese guerillas did not defeat the the Japanese, they helped prolong the War and eventually helped bring in the United States. The Japanese pursued a more thoughtful policy in the Pacific. Most of the areas they conqured or obtained control of were colonial possessions of the European powers (British, Dutch, nd French). hey launched a major effort promising independence from colonial rule. Thus in some areas, primarily the Dutch East Indies abd Burmna, they were able to mobikize support from nastionalist groups. Thus the resistance effort was very different in various regions such as the the Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East with some conquered peoples actually seeing their conquerors as liberators. Emperor Hirohito woukd even refer to this in his surrender speech.

Growth

There were resistanbce groups before the outbreak of World War II. Most historians date the beginning of World war II with the Japanese seizure of Manchuraia from China (1931) and even more importanhtly the invasion of China proper (1937). After the first year of fighting in China, the Nationalist forces ptroved largely in effective and basically continued the War by withdrawing into remote areas where the Japanese could not get at them. There was a very active resistance movement. The Japanese had to use a lsrge part of their army to garison areas of China they seized. This increased the cost of the war which was designed to give Japan an economic boost. There was also a resistance orgnization in Italian-occupied Ethiopia. Italy had earlier crushed the resistance mkvement in Libya. Germany seized Czechoslovakia just before launchjing the War (March 1939). The Czechs were prepared to fight until the allies deserted them at Munich. This left them so duspirited tht there was little resistance to German occupation. The German and Soviet invasion (September 1939) was so massive and overwealming that there was no real hope of resistance and the reprisals were devestating. The Polish Home Army organized and collected weapons, but held back action whilke there was little hope. When the Germans struck in the West, their victories were so rapid and overwealming that the conquered people lost any hope of resistance. The French, by far the most important country, signed an armistice with the Germans and Vuchy leader Marshal Petain made colaboration the central policy of his government. German occupation in the west was more correct ghan in the East where millions of people were being killed. Resistance groups formed, but reltively few people joined and they were largely inefectual. Two developments trasformed the resistance effort. First, the German military victories ceased. This began with the Battle of Britain (July-September 1940), but this was not fully understood at the time. The real change began with Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). The Germans suffered massive losses before Moscow (December 1941) and again at Stalingrad (January 1943). It increasingly became clear that the Germans were not going to win the War. Second, the Germans began to intensify their exploitation of the oiccupied territories and thisd included labor. Large numbers of people were consceipted or simply seized for war work in the Reich. This in particulr transformed the resistance in France. Conscripted French workers fled to the forests where they joined the Marque. The Ressistance made major contributions on both the eastern and western front. From the beginning the Communists commonly formed the most effective resistance groups because of their orgnization. They did not at first join the effort because the Soviet Union was a German ally. This of course change instantly with Brbarossa. One historian writes, "Right from the start, communist resistance achieved a remarkable cohesion and efficiency because they had long been used to working underground.” [Charles] Denocratic partices were less prepared for cladestine organization. Growing Allied powers managed to get increasing assistance to resistance groups. German field commanders reported on resistance efforts to Wehrmacht headquarters (OKW). The resistance movements proved to be an irritant but not a critical matter. The local populations were effectively cowed by the savegry of German reprisals. Liberation would have to come from the major Allied powers (America, Britain and the Soviets). The resistance mivement in the East formed first. The size of the battlefield in the Eadt and the vast numbers of men involved left scatered griups of Red army soldiers behind German lines. And tghe savergy of the German occupation drove even potential alloies liuke the Ukranians into the resistnce. In the West resistance intensified as the posdsibilkity og German defeat rose anbd the true character if the NAZIs became increasingly apparent. Many resiustance gouos fornmed and began sttracting more members. Many joined the communist resistance because it was seen as the most effective. The divisions between the Communist anhd non-Communist resistance groups were exploited by the Gernans. Insidents between the two Comminist nd non-Commuist resistance grouos were especially pronounced in Greece, Poland, Romania, the Soviet Ukraine, and Yugoslavia. There were also serious problems in France.

Allied Support

Churchill was a strong proponent from the onset of supporting the formation and supply of resistance groups. The British formed the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The United States formed the Office of Strtegic Services (OSS). Lrgely because of geograophy, Allied support for the Resistance primarily went to Yugoslavia and France. In the case of France, the importance of the D-Day landings was also of a critical facr=tor.

Specific Countries

Resiatance groups operated in all the occupied countries. The Resistance was especially important in the Soviet Union where guerrila groups disrupted German supply lines. The Polish resistance was active, but impaired by Soviet actions against non-Communist Polish POWs and resistance groups. Resistance groups tied up imporant German units in Yugoslavia Greece. Resistance groups in France played an important tole in the success of the D-day invasion. The Norwegian resistance played an important role in impaiting the German atomic bomb program. The Danish resistance was able to employ non-violent tecniques tosome affect. The Durch resistance was limited in its ability to stage atrmed resistance, but was an important source of information. Although Italy was an Axis partner, anti-Fascist resistance groups played an important role in th Italian campaign. There was little resistance activity in the Eastern European counties that joined the Axis (Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania).

Individuals

There are many fantastic individual stories. Admiral Canaris the head of the Abwer (German military intelligence) turned against Hitler. An agent who volunteered to help the Bitish was code named Garbo and helped convince the Germans that the Allied invasion of France would come at Pas de Calais. A French Jewish girl who grew up speaking German in Metz, helped the Allies in their sweep through Germany. [Cohn] The adventures of Allied covert operations are legendary. [Miller]

Impact

They occupied important numbers of German troops, disrupted supplies routes and communications, and provide critcal intelligence on German operations. The Germans often did not use front-line combat troops in anti-partisan operations. As the partisas and other resistance groups did not have heavy weapons, the anti-partisan units did not have to be of the same quality and as heavily armed as front-line units. The resistance movement in Europe played an important, but not crucial role, in defeating the NAZIs. While there were armed resistance units, outside of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, they were not of great importance. In most of Europe, the Resistance was oprimarily important in gathering intelligence. The two most important intelligence operations were those gathering information on German rocket and cruise missle development nd even more important German dfenses opposing the D-Day lamndings. While the resistance in the West usually avoided attacking heavilky armed German units, in part because of the bloody reprisals. They did engage in a range of other actions, including disrupting communication lines and aiding downded airmen.

Danger

While the Resistance effort was important in both the East and West, it was also very dangeous. The Gestapo and other Axis security services were ruthless in supressing the Resistance. This included how they dealt with members of the Resistance they captured as well as innocent civilins seized as hostages.

Radio

Radio changed the nature of warfare, giving a tremendous advatage to the offensive. Advance elemets no longer lost contact with commanders. It also changed the nature of popaganda. Occupying powers no longer had a monopoly on information. And it changed the possibilities for resistance. Individuals were ble to obtain accurate information on the War. After the fall of France (June 1940), the BBC's Radio London broadcasting in different languages became a beacon of hope for the oppressed people living under NAZI rule throughout the continent, the major source of information about the War and resistance to the Germans. It soon became very dangerous to listen to foreign radio broadcasts, both in Germany and occupied countries. This is one reason that the Germans even before the War took radios away from Jews. Churcgill after the fall of France hit upon the idea of setting Europe aflane through the resistance. This was impossible because of the German grip on the continent and vast secuity operation. The resistance could and did play an important role in the Soviet and Allied war effort. A key aspect of totalitarian rule is controlling infomtion. It was an important part of the NAZI dictatorship in Germany and the Germans cought to replicate this in their expanding empire. It thus became a serious crime to listen to foreign broadcasts. Radio also increased the capabilities of the resistance. As German rule became increasingly oppresive and as the Soviets and Allies began to reverse the Axis tide, resistance begn to grow. And radio provided a means for the soviets and Allies to easily communicate with resistance groups that the Axis powers could not interupt, although code breaking was a problem. Communication in the other direction werre far more dangerous, but a vitlm part of the Allied effort ahainst the Axis. Axis response to the resistance was brutal and given the highly urban environment of Western Europe (unlike the Soviet Union and Yugoslvia), armed resistance was virtually impossible. The major objective of the resistance in the West became preparation of th Cross-Channel invasion, essentially reporting on German preparations and troop movements and orders for the resistance to prepare and support the invasion. Sending such messages in German occupied areas was dangerous because the Germans could detect and locate sending stations. As the invsion would come in France, it was the French resitance that becme key to the Western Allies.

Pro-Axis Groups

Not all of the people in Axis-occupied areas opposed the invading Axis forces. There were many who saw them as liberators, at leat at first. These groups included the Volk Germans, Slovenes, Croats, Bosnian and Kosovo Muslims, the Balts, the Ukranians, ant-Bolshevik Russians, Soviet Muslims, many Arabs, Indonesians, Burmese, and some Indians. The Germans were able to recruit sizeable militaey formations. The Japanese unlike the Germans promised independence after the War, but of course had no intention of following through in those promises. They also raused milkitary formations, but they had little impsct on the War. By the time the Allies reached Dutch Wast Asia and Burma, the Japanese were so obviously defeated that these nationslist groups were not about to fight for the Japanese. Some changed side or melted away. The nationalist groups did, however, played a key role after the War in establishing independent counties. The Japanese had much less success in orgazing a supportive nationalist effort, largely because at the time of the Japanese invasion, the United States was preparing to grant independence to the Philippines. The Japanese invaion only delayed indepoendence.

Sources

Asprey, Robert B. War in the Shadows (Doubleday). A reader has suggested Asprey book as an important source on the Resistance. We have not yet looked into it.

Charles, Jean-Léon. Les forces armées belges au cours de la deuxième guerre mondiale, 1940-1945, (1970).

Cohn, Marthe with Wendy Holden. Behind Enremy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany (Harmony), 182p.

Miller, Russel. Behind the Lines: The Oral History of Special Operatioins in World War II (St. Martins), 287p.






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Created: December 30, 2002
Last updated: 4:01 AM 3/7/2016