Bronislav Kaminski

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Bronislav Vladislavovich Kaminski
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-280-1075-11A, Russland, Brigadekommandeur Borislaw Kaminski.jpg
Kaminski in May 1944
Born (1899-06-16)June 16, 1899
Vitebsk Governorate, Russian Empire
Died August 28, 1944(1944-08-28) (aged 45)
Łódź, Poland
Allegiance  Soviet Union
 Nazi Germany
Years of service Soviet Union1917-?
Nazi Germany1941-43
Rank Waffen-Brigadeführer der SS
Commands held Russian National Liberation Army
Awards Iron Cross, 1st Class

Bronislav Vladislavovich Kaminski (Russian: Бронисла́в Владисла́вович Ками́нский, June 16, 1899, Vitebsk Governorate - August 28, 1944, Litzmannstadt) was the commander of the S.S. Sturmbrigade R.O.N.A. (also known as Kaminski Brigade and earlier as the Russian National Liberation Army - Russkaya Osvoboditelnaya Narodnaya Armiya, RONA), an anti-partisan formation made up of people from the so-called Lokot Autonomy territory in the Nazi Germany occupied areas of Russia, which was later incorporated into the Waffen-SS as the S.S. Sturmbrigade R.O.N.A.. The Germans planned to base the creation of the 29th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS RONA (1st Russian) on this same unit. However, during the Warsaw Uprising, where one mixed regiment of the brigade was engaged, German commanders decided that the brigade was too undisciplined and unreliable. Kaminski was called to Łódź to attend a leadership conference. He never reached it; officially, Polish partisans were blamed for an alleged ambush in which Kaminski and a few RONA officials (including brigade chief-of-staff Waffen-Obersturmbannführer Ilya Shavykin) were killed. Some sources say he was placed in front of a military tribunal and then executed by firing squad, others that he was shot when the Gestapo captured him.

Birth and early life[edit]

Bronislav (also transliterated German-style as "Bronislaw") Kaminski was born in Vitebsk Governorate, Russian Empire, now in Polatsk Raion, Belarus. His father was of Polish descent and his mother was German. Kaminski considered himself a Russian.[1] He studied at the Saint Petersburg Polytechnical University then served in the Red Army during the Russian Civil War. After demobilization he returned to the Institute, and after graduation worked at a chemical plant.

During the Great Purge, Kaminski was accused of "belonging to a counter-revolutionary group" and arrested and imprisoned in 1937, serving his sentence at a Sharashka-network -distillery in the Bryansk region of Russia, near Belarus. He was released from prison in 1941 and sent to the Lokot area - specially designated for persons after incarceration with no right to return to their previous places of living in major cities of the Soviet Union.

Lokot Autonomy militia and civil administration leader[edit]

By October 1941, the German military advance into the Soviet Union had reached the area of Lokot near the city of Bryansk, which was captured by German forces on October 6, 1941.[2] In November 1941, Bronislav Kaminski, then an engineer at a local alcohol plant, along with a local technical school teacher Konstantin Voskoboinik, approached the German military administration with a proposal to assist the Germans in establishing a civil administration and local police. Voskoboinik was designated by the Germans as the Starosta of the "Lokot volost" and the head of the German-controlled local militia. Kaminsky became Voskoboinik's assistant.

Initially the militia headed by Voskoboinik numbered no more than 200 men and was confined to assisting the Germans in conducting different activities, including numerous murders of the civil population. The militia grew rapidly and by January 1942 its personnel was increased to 400-500. During a targeted partisan attack headed by Alexander Saburov on January 8, 1942, Voskoboinik was mortally wounded. After his death, Kaminski took over command of the expanding militia.[3][4]

In co-operation with German forces, the militia began anti-partisan operations; by the spring of 1942 it had increased to 1,400 armed personnel, and by the summer, to a strength of more than 9,000 well armed and disciplined soldiers.[5]

In mid March 1942, Kaminski’s representative at the German Second Panzer Army at Orel assured the commanders that Kaminski’s unit was "ready to actively fight the guerrillas" as well as to carry on a propaganda campaign against "Jewish Bolshevism" and Soviet partisans. Soon thereafter the commander of the 2nd Army Generaloberst, Rudolf Schmidt, appointed Kaminski mayor of the Army Rear Area 532, centered on Lokot. On 19 July 1942, after approval by the Commander of Army Group Centre, Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, Schmidt and the 532 Area commander, Kaminski received a degree of autonomy and nominal self-governing authority, under the supervision of Major von Veltheim and Colonel Rübsam. Kaminski was appointed the chief mayor of the Autonomous Administration of Lokot, and brigade commander of the local militia. He administered the local government and established his own courts, jails and newspaper. Private enterprise was encouraged and collective farming abolished.

From June 1942, Kaminski’s militia took part in the major action codenamed "Operation Vogelsang", as a part of Generalleutnant Werner Freiherr von und zu Gilsa's Kampfgruppe (taskforce) Gilsa II. In autumn 1942, Kaminski ordered a compulsory draft into the militia of able-bodied men in the area. Units were also reinforced with "volunteers" drafted from Soviet POWs at nearby Nazi concentration camps. Kaminski ordered the collection of abandoned (usually because of minor mechanical failures, or lack of fuel) Soviet tanks and armored cars. By November 1942, his unit was in possession of at least two BT-7 tanks and one 76 mm artillery piece. Owing to its lack of military dress and boots, the Germans provided for Kaminski's brigade enough used uniforms to outfit four battalions. However, by late 1942, the militia of the Lokot Autonomy had expanded to the size of a 14-battalions brigade, around 8,000 men under arms. By January 1943 the brigade had 9,828 men, including an armored unit with one heavy KV-II, two medium T-34, 3 BT-7 and 2 BT-5 light tanks and three armoured cars (BA-10, 2 BA-20).

The brigade's structure was reorganized in the spring of 1943. After the reorganization, the brigade consisted of 5 regiments with 3 battalions each, an anti-aircraft battalion (3 AA guns and 4 heavy machine guns) and an armored unit. A separate “guard” battalion was also created, bringing the total brigade strength up to an estimated 12 thousand men.

The brigade took part, alongside other German units, in the May–June 1943 Operation Zigeunerbaron ("Gypsy Baron"). Following this operation, the brigade was part of Operation Citadel, the massive offensive to destroy the Kursk salient. These operation were followed by similar operations, Freischütz and Tannhäuser, where the brigade together with other units under German command was involved in action against partisans and also took part in reprisal operations against the civilian population.

In the summer of 1943, the brigade began to suffer major desertions, due in part to the recent Soviet victories, but also due in part to the efforts of the partisans to "turn" as many of Kaminski's troops as possible. As a part of these efforts, several attempts on Kaminski's life were carried out. Each time, Kaminski narrowly avoided death and punished any captured conspirators with execution. Several German officers passing through Lokot reported seeing bodies hanging from gallows outside Kaminski's headquarters. Fearing a breakdown in command, a German liaison staff was attached to Kaminski's HQ to restructure the brigade and return stability to the unit.

After the failure of the German Operation Citadel, the Soviet counteroffensives forced the brigade, along with the their families, to flee with the retreating Germans. On July 29, 1943, Kaminski issued orders for the evacuation of the property and families of the RONA brigade and the Lokot authorities. Up to 30 thousand persons (10-11 thousand of them were brigade members) were transferred by the Germans to the Lepel area of Vitebsk in Belarus by the end of August 1943.

According to post-war Soviet estimates, up to 10,000 civilians were killed during the existence of the Kaminski formation in Lokot.

In Belarus[edit]

The brigade, together with "evacuated" civilians, finally settled in the Lepel area of Vitebsk. This area was overrun by partisans, and the brigade was involved in heavy combat for the rest of the year.

During the retreat, desertions from the brigade increased greatly, and the entire formation seemed close to disintegration. When the commander of the Second Regiment, Major Tarasov, decided to join the partisans with all his regiment (he was offered amnesty if his entire regiment joined the partisans), Kaminski flew to his headquarters and according to one account, strangled him and eight others in front of his men. Despite this, up to 200 persons deserted within the following two days. By the beginning of October 1943, the brigade had lost two thirds of its personnel, while still in possession of 12 tanks (8 of them T-34s), one 122-mm, 3– 76 mm and 8 45 mm artillery pieces.

On January 27, 1944, Himmler rewarded Kaminski's “achievements” by decorating him with the Iron Cross, 2nd Class, and on the same day with the Iron Cross, 1st Class.

On February 15, 1944, Kaminski issued an order to relocate the brigade and Lokot administration further west to the Dzyatlava area in West Belarus.

At this point, the brigade's ranks were replenished by the addition of police forces from Belarus. In March 1944, the brigade was renamed Volksheer-Brigade Kaminski. From 11 April 1944, it was attached to SS-Kampfgruppe von Gottberg, which also included the notorious Dirlewanger unit and participated in a series of anti-partisan operations: Regenschauer (up to 7.000 partisans reported as killed), Frühlingsfest (7.011 partisans reported as killed and 1.065 weapons captured) and Kormoran (7.697 partisans reported as killed and 325 weapons captured). During these operations, local civilians were shot as “suspected partisans” or deported as slave laborers, their villages burnt down.

Bronislav Kaminski and personnel of the Volksheer-Brigade Kaminski” operation”Frühlingsfest”, Belarus, May 1944

In the SS[edit]

In June 1944, the brigade was absorbed as a part of the Waffen-SS and renamed Waffen-Sturm-Brigade RONA, with Kaminski being given the rank of Waffen-Brigadeführer der SS, the only man with such rank.

As the result of Operation Bagration, the anti-partisan activities of the brigade were halted and its personnel (6 -7 thousand persons - some sources give 3-4 thousand) was collected at SS training camp Neuhammer . Plans were made for a non-German SS Division, and the structure was laid down for the 29.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (russische Nr.1) on the base of the brigade by an order issued August 1, 1944. On the same day, Kaminski received a new rank - Waffen-Brigadeführer and General-Major of the Waffen-SS.

In Warsaw[edit]

The Warsaw Uprising started on 1 August 1944 and changed Himmler’s plans. On August 4, 1944, a combat-ready regiment of the brigade was ordered to assist in crushing the rebellion. SS-Gruppenführer Heinz Reinefarth was placed in charge of Kampfgruppe Reinfarth, a pacification unit which consisted of the Kaminski along with the Dirlewanger and several other Ordnungspolizei and SS rear area units. Himmler personally requested Kaminski's assistance, and the latter obliged by gathering a task force of 1,700 unmarried men and sending them (some sources mentioned that they had four T-34 tanks, one SU-76 and few artillery pieces) to Warsaw as a mixed regiment under field command of Kaminski's brigade chief-of-staff, SS-Sturmbannführer Yuri Frolov. Frolov stated that in 1945 the regiment had up to 1600 men and had 7 artillery pieces and 4 mortars.


Frolov noted in 1945 that Kaminski gave his men permission to loot [6] - and many did. Kaminski's brigade soon lost any combat worthiness and Kaminski himself focused entirely on collecting valuables stolen from civilian homes.[7] Perhaps 10,000 residents of Warsaw were killed in the Ochota massacre, most murdered by Kaminski's men.

Death[edit]

Heinrich Himmler used the misconduct of the Warsaw group as a pretext for having Kaminski and his leadership executed after trial by court martial in Litzmannstadt (Łódź). They were tried for stealing the property of the Reich, as the stolen property was to have been delivered to Himmler, but Kaminski and his men had attempted to keep it for themselves.[7] Also executed with Kaminski was brigade chief-of-staff Waffen-Obersturmbannführer Ilya Shavykin.

The men of RONA were given a false explanation: that Kaminski had been killed by Polish partisans. When Kaminski's men rejected this explanation, the Gestapo took Kaminski's car, pushed it into a ditch, shot it up with a machine gun, and smeared goose blood all over it — offering that as evidence. The demoralized unit was soon moved out of town and stationed to the north of it, far from any partisan activity.[7]

The death of Kaminski and the unreliability of his troops as a combat unit brought the plans to expand the Kaminski Brigade to a division to an end. After Kaminski's death his unit was placed under the command of SS-Brigadeführer and Generalmajor der Polizei Christoph Diehm.

Awards and decorations[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ ↑ 1,0 1,1 1,2 1,3 1,4 1,5 Janusz Marszalec: Z krzyżem świętego Jerzego, "Polityka" nr 31/2001, ss.66-68
  2. ^ "чпеообс мйфетбфхтб -[ йУУМЕДПЧБОЙС ]- уПЛПМПЧ в.ч. пЛЛХРБГЙС. рТБЧДБ Й НЙЖЩ". Militera.lib.ru. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ "After The Blitzkrieg". Scribd.com. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  5. ^ Edgar M. Howell (1997). "The German Manpower Shortage, Spring 1942". The Soviet Partisan Movement: 1941 - 1944 (Merriam Press). pp. 99–100. ISBN 1576380149. Retrieved 2013-06-27. 
  6. ^ "Протокол судебного заседания Военной коллегии Верховного суда СССР по делу военнослужащих бригады РОНА Ивана Фролова и других". Wolfschanze.narod.ru. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  7. ^ a b c (Polish) Jerzy Kirchmayer (1978). Powstanie warszawskie. Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza. p. 367. ISBN 83-05-11080-X. 

External links[edit]