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Military Police German Security Forces
in Army Group Centre and the
201st Security Division

By Todd Powell

The Axis anti-partisan forces in Byelorussia in the spring of 1944 were ‘colourful’ to say the least. The 201st Security Division (201. Sicherungsdivision) was the umbrella for a wide range of security units along with its own regiments.

The division was also responsible for protecting the main German administrative centres at Polotsk and Vitebsk, and for supporting the regional and local Byelorussian governments of appointed mayors and village elders. This was all in support of the ‘German Economic Staff’ that administered the area for the economic benefit of Germany. They managed the ‘OD’ or Ordnungsdienst (order police) responsible for daily policing of the civil population. However, they did not manage the SD or Sicherheitsdienst (security service) of the SS or intelligence service or the ‘Sipo’ Sicherheitspolizei (security police), which included the Gestapo.

The 201. Sicherungsdivision had units of old Landwehr, Austrians, Lithuanians, Russians, Byelorussians, cavalry and even a few armoured vehicles. It had a severe shortage of vehicles and its armaments were outclassed by the partisans it was fighting. The partisans often had better and more light and heavy machine-guns, submachine-guns, anti-tank rifles and even medium mortars and light guns. What the 201. Sicherungsdivision did have was often captured Polish, Belgian or Dutch equipment, so even getting basic rifle ammunition was a challenge. In addition most of the Landesschützen units' soldiers were either old, young or infirm, the officers were some of the worst of the Wehrmacht. In sum, these units were poorly equipped, poorly motivated and poorly led.

The area behind the German frontlines was divided into three zones.  

Sicherung troops
The first zone was the ‘Combat Zone’ (Gefechtsgebiet). In this zone were the frontline units and immediately behind them a German Military Administration. Security was maintained by elements of the frontline corps.

The second zone was the ‘Army Rear Area’ (Korück). One was behind each army. They were in charge of supply and also in charge of their own security. Security was maintained in populated areas and along lines of communication by military police (Feldgendarmerie). This zone was under the direct command of the Army Chief of Supply and Administration. The Korück behind each Army Group had a Rear Headquarters (Rückwärtige Heeresbebiete) and attached security divisions.

The third and last zone was the ‘Zone of the Interior’ (Heimat Kriegsgebiet), which was not administered by the military.

Sicherung troops

201. Sicherungsdivision

Originally security divisions had a single regular regiment, a regular artillery battalion and a Landesschützen (the German version of the Home Guard) regiment. The regiment of regular troops made up ‘Alert Units’ (Eingreifgruppen). The Landesschützen Regiment had three to four Landesschützen battalions and one Guard battalion. The Landesschützen battalions were mostly made up of old men (Landwehr age 35-45), reservists and injured. Additional units of signals and engineers, but smaller contingents than in the line divisions, were also included. Also, each division was to have one motorized police battalion (Ordnungspolizei).

Overall, equipment and training was poor. It was not uncommon for the Landesschützen units to be equipped with French, Belgian, Dutch or Czechoslovakian rifles, pistols and carbines. Vehicles outside the Motorized Police Battalion were very rare. Every division had one or two battalions on bicycles for local patrolling.

The Alert Units and Motorized Police Battalions were well armed and equipped but the remainding of units were poorly equipped, led and motivated. The Alert Regiment was held in reserve to deal with partisan activity. They would also be used in case of a Soviet breakthrough to fill gaps in the lines.

The situation in Byelorussia until the spring of 1943 was so fluid there was no continuous frontline and the alert units were often used to block major Soviet incursions. The motorized police battalion was usually broken up to deal with general policing and to keep order on the main communication routes.

The Landesschützen and Guard Battalions (Wachbataillone) were trained to defend supply depots, barracks and to patrol the communication lines. The battalions were broken up into area garrisons, down to platoon level. Mobilized locals (Ostbataillon) were used for static defence and reconnaissance and not to be used for offensives unless absolutely necessary and then only under constant direct German command.

The 201. Sicherungsdivision was based on Landwehr or 3rd Line formations. It had many units and most were formed from Austrians, Lithuanians, Osttruppen (Russian, Byelorussian, Ukrainian) and Landesschützen (old men and others too unfit/disabled for line divisions).

Formed in June 1942 from the headquarters and support units of the 201st Security Brigade, the commander from July 1942 was Generalleutnant Alfred Jacobi. Attached directly to Army Group Centre it was on security operations near Polozk until April 1943 when it was attached to 3rd Panzer Army near Nevel for the Kursk Battles. The division was destroyed in June and July 1944.

Battles of 1943

The rail lines and bridges in the southern part of Army Group Centre’s Korück were under heavy pressure in 1943.

Sicherung troops
By 1 May five partisan brigades totalling 7,000 members were attacking a 50-mile stretch of the main Army Group Centre rail supply line (Roslavl-Bryansk). Six brigades with 6,500 members were attacking the Bryanks-Lgov rail line. Another group of partisan brigades numbering 5,000 was attacking the Bryansk-Gomel rail line. The Minks-Gomel rail line was being attacked by 10,000 partisans. The other important targets behind Army Group Centre were the seven temporary bridges over the Desna River south of Bryansk, that would be critical for any German retreat.

The overall evaluation for Army Group Centre put the numbers at 62,000 in identified units and 40,000 more in unidentified units for a total of 102,000 active partisans in the Army Group Centre rear areas.

The Germans considered Partisans to be 40% as effective as front line units in direct combat. This, combined with their ability to move and retreat, meant that they were considered a very serious threat. Other attacks included cutting phone wires, blocking roads and laying minefields. As the offensive progressed, more Red Army and NKVD Officers were dropped to coordinate activities and raise new units.

The partisan activities of 1943 led to the replacement of many partisan brigade commanders with regular Soviet Army officers.

During the winter of 1943-1944 aggressive commanders were promoted as expansion led to over 135,000 partisans in brigades in Army Group Centre’s Korück and areas going back to Brest-Litovsk and Minsk. This massive increase in the winter was followed by a new tactic. The partisan brigades focused on linking up partisan areas. Leaving the supply corridors alone, the partisan brigades created large partisan controlled areas and by 1 March most of these areas were linked-up and under partisan control. The only areas under German control were the supply corridors and main population centres. There were German outposts in partisan areas, but the garrisons were isolated.
Battles of 1944

The German command considered the partisan consolidation a serious threat. The partisan brigades by 1944 had highly developed command and control and were superior to the partisan units of 1942 and 1943. German reports from the Polotsk security forces describe partisan forces as nearly on a par with frontline Red Army units. Of particular concern to Army Group Centre command was the area behind thr Fourth and Ninth armies, where the terrain was highly conducive to partisan activity.

Landesschützen off to war

After every German sweep the area was quickly reoccupied by partisans. Over 53,000 Lithuanian, Latvians and Estonians were drafted into Security formations in the winter 43-44. In Latvia in April 1944 OKH opened a school to teach anti-partisan warfare for military and civilian agencies in the East.

The Soviet partisan plan for the Bagration offensive was to form fortified Partisan regions to cannel the German withdrawal. The partisan brigades directly behind the German front fortified their positions. This was facilitated by the extensive forests and the Prypat Marshes, which would force the Germans back along four corridors (Polotsk-Minsk, Orsha-Minsk, Bobruysk-Brest and Mosyzr-Brest). The areas of the far south were in transition as the Red Army pushed the Germans back in the West Ukraine.  

Partisans Throughout the front April and May were very quiet, with few partisan attacks and mostly reconnaissance and recruitment activities. They maintained very sporadic small-scale attacks throughout the Army Group Centre Korück. Most attacks were outside the main corridors. However, in January to March over 3,500 partisans attacks were carried out on the transportation network. German maps of the period indicated three additional road descriptions reflecting the Partisan impact: 1. Safe for single vehicles, 2. Only safe for convoys, 3. Unsafe for all travel. The remainder of the spring was focused on fortifying areas, setting up strategic defences behind the German front, tactical training and intelligence gathering on German force dispositions.
German security forces were very under-strength. On the other hand, security operations involving whole German battalions or regiments security operations were often met by Partisans retreating and refusing combat. Only when the Germans attacked a major base would the partisans defend from entrenched positions. The low levels of German manpower precluded many large-scale attacks. As the ground dried out German plans were focused on the Korück behind Fourth Army and Third Panzer Army in the area west of Orsha, Vitebsk and south of Polotsk. Over 40,000 partisans were identified as active in that area.
Sercurity troops

German Operations from April to June 1944

Operation Regenschauer
German resources were severely strained, but it was felt that the rear areas were of such vital concern they had to be cleared of the most imminent threat. It was estimated that 18,000 partisans were active in the Ushachi area just south of Polotsk. On 11 April over 20,000 Wehrmacht troops of 3rd Panzer Army attacked westward to clear the area. The partisan brigades (actually 26,000) withdrew, expecting it to be a sweep and that the Germans would subsequently withdraw. The German forces cleared the Lepel-Orsha railroad and then dug in.

Operation Frühlingsfest
Operation Frühlingsfest began immediately after Regenschauer as elements of 16th Army attacked from the south and west of Polotsk. They drove towards the entrenched 3rd Panzer positions near Lepel and caught the partisan brigades in a trap. The partisan headquarters saw the trap and resisted fiercely.
The Soviet airforce flew air support and large-scale re-supply and troops were airlifted in from the Soviet frontline forces.

The German forces included Luftwaffe Stukas and numerous police and SS units. The partisan resistance was so fierce that their lines could only be broken by the Germans sending in an additional division (95. Infanteriedivision). Many partisans managed to escape, but they lost 14,000 killed, captured or wounded. Over 3,000 partisans moved into regions south of Orsha. By the end of Frühlingsfest the area south of Polotsk was free of partisan brigades and heavily garrisoned by German security and frontline forces. 

Operation Komoron
On 22 May security forces from Frühlingsfest and additional police and SS forces from the Vilna-Minsk-Orsha railroad attacked the remaining 14,000 partisans in the area in a concentric attack. The partisan brigades were not as well coordinated as in earlier battles and did not resist as well. By 22 June the OKH (German High Command) considered the area cleared and reported over 13,000 partisan casualties.

While the German forces in the Polotsk-Orsha area fought the over 40,000 partisans in the three attacks, the other 90,000 partisans increased all forms of attack and harassment in the Army Group Centre Korück. They stopped withdrawing in front of German sweeps except in cases of overwhelming numbers. They destroyed German strong points and attacked often with heavy weapons. Air re-supply was increased along with additional Red Army support personnel being flow into the numerous partisan airfields.

Starting in June the Soviet airforce flew in more direct air support and combat missions while at the same time increasing the air re-supply and personnel transfer into the Partisan areas. 

Partisans destroying rail lines
Operation Bagration


On the night of the 19-20 June the partisans in the Army Group Centre Korück began an all-out offensive. They now began direct attacks on the main German routes of communication. That night they set off over 9,600 rail line demolitions followed by 892 the next night. This was accompanied by heavy attacks on German security garrisons. These attacks almost completely paralyzed the Minsk-Orsha and Mogilev-Vitebsk rail lines for several days. No German records remain of partisan attacks after 21 June as they were lost during the retreat.

The Red Army attack on 23 June was greatly aided by the 100,000 or more men of the partisan brigades. As the Red Army moved through their areas of operation the partisans were absorbed into the Red Army as replacements.

201. Sicherungsdivision Order of Battle June 1944

The Local Defence Battalion (Landesschützen Bataillon) is the basic local defence unit. It is composed of older personnel (age 35-45) and of soldiers temporarily or permanently unfit for field service. These battalions were often broken up into platoon-sized units to garrison depots, headquarters, urban centres and communication lines.

406. Infanterie Regiment
213. Artillerie Regiment, with six batteries in two battalions
601. Landesschützen Regiment, with 579., 989., 795. and 797. Landesschützen Battalions (3 companies each)

Independent battalions administered via 201. Sicherungsdivision HQ
Landesschützen Battalion 860, 4 companies formed in Austria
Landesschützen Battalion 231, 6 companies formed in East Prussia (Lithuania) moved all over the place
Landesschützen Battalion 330, 3 companies formed in Germany
Landesschützen Battalion 750, 3 companies formed in Germany
Ostreiterschwadron 201, this is Osttruppen ‘riders’ in squadron (Company) strength (likely to be Cossacks)
61st and 67th Panzer Platoons (likely to be obsolete foreign tanks such as the French R-35)

Streckenschutzzug "Blücher" Route/Rail/Road Security Platoon
Streckenschutzzug "Werner" Route/Rail/Road Security Platoon
Streckenschutzzug 83 Route/RR/Road Security Platoon

7th and 27th Feldpolizei Companies

Fielding German Security troops during Operations Bagration...  

Last Updated On Friday, December 9, 2011 by Blake at Battlefront