Who was Andrey Vlasov?
Andrey Vlasov was a Russian general of the ‘Red Army,’ who served during World War II. Born in Lomakino in the Russian Empire, Andrey grew up in a middle-class family. His father was belonged to a group of peasants (named “kulak”). Andrey initially studied in a Russian Orthodox seminary. The Russian Revolution left a great impression on his young mind and he joined the ‘Red Army’ in 1919, at the age of 18. In 1930, he joined the ‘Communist Party’ of the Soviet Union. He went to China as a military advisor, on his party’s behalf, in 1938. He returned to Moscow in 1939, a few months before the start of World War II, in which he ended up playing a key role. In 1941, he played a major role in defending Kiev and Moscow against the Germans. However, in July 1942, he was captured by the ‘Nazis.’ While in German captivity, Andrey sided with the Germans and was appointed as a general to fight against his own ‘Red Army,’ raising a ‘Russian Liberation Army.’ He was captured and handed over to the Soviets. He was then tried and hanged for high treason.
Childhood & Early Career
Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov was born on September 14, 1901, in Lomakino, Russian Empire. His father worked as a peasant. Andrey grew up with two brothers, Ivan and Vladimir.
The Stolypin reforms that began in 1906 introduced a series of changes. This made the Soviet landowners richer. Andrey’s family benefitted from the reform.
Andrey initially studied at a local Russian Orthodox seminary. Neither academics nor theology interested him much. He was still a teenager when the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917. The revolution attracted Andrey’s attention, as it was aimed at curbing the powers of the monarchy. Andrey thus joined the ‘Red Army.’
The Russian Civil War concluded in 1923, with the ‘Red Army’ emerging victorious. Being a farmer’s son, Andrey was expected to make a career in agriculture and thus began studying agricultural sciences. However, after joining the ‘Red Army’ he developed an interest in serving the military.
He became an officer in the army and then rose through the ranks.
In 1930, he joined the ‘Communist Party’ of the Soviet Union, which was founded by Vladimir Lenin in 1912. When Andrey joined the party, it was being led by Joseph Stalin.
In 1938, he was sent to China to serve as a military advisor to the leader of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek. This happened a year prior to the outbreak of World War II. When the war began, Andrey was called back to Moscow.
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World War II
After his return from China, Andrey served at various positions in the army and completed several successful assignments. In 1939, he was handed over the command of the ‘99th Rifle Division,’ and under his able supervision, it rose to become one of the best divisions of the ‘Red Army.’
Following these back-to-back successes, in 1940, Andrey was promoted to the position of major general. The Soviet Union had not been involved in the war till then, but when the German army attacked the Soviets in 1941, Andrey was given the command of the ‘4th Mechanized Corps.’
He was quickly promoted to the position of lieutenant general and defended the city of Kiev against the Germans while commanding the ‘37th Army.’ When the German army attacked Moscow, Andrey and his ‘20th Army’ executed a counter-attack and retook the Moscow towns that had been captured by the Germans earlier.
The defence of Moscow became his biggest claim to fame till then. Many local newspapers and publications hailed Andrey as one of the “defenders of Moscow.” His efforts won him the ‘Order of the Red Banner.’
In January 1942, he was sent on another important mission, which required him to break the Leningrad encirclement. Andrey was in command of the ‘2nd Shock Army’ at that time, and his army was successful in penetrating the German lines. However, Andrey and his army were stuck there due to the lack of support from other army factions. Without help, there was no way out.
He asked for permission to retreat but was refused. Finally, in May 1942, the permission was granted. However, by then, it was too late. His army was too weak to fight its way out. In June 1942, his army was surrounded by the ‘Nazi’ army. The ‘Red Army’ offered to have him rescued, using an airplane, but he refused and hid in the German-occupied region.
He was later caught when a local farmer exposed him to the ‘Nazi’ army. He was taken prisoner by ‘Nazi’ general Georg Lindemann.
Nazi Captivity & the Russian Liberation Army
The Germans interrogated him regarding the Soviet plans in detail. The Germans also wished to know any other information that could revive the German army’s chances in the ongoing war.
According to Andrey, while he was in hiding, he had thought a lot about his stand in the war. He ended up convinced that Stalin was an enemy of the Russian people and that he hated the ‘Bolsheviks’ since the beginning. He thus changed sides. He later claimed that he had done so in order to provide a better life to the Russians after defeating Stalin.
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It is also claimed that he had sided with the Germans due to his fear that Stalin would not be happy after his unsuccessful siege. He offered to join the ‘Nazi’ forces out of opportunism and to save his own life.
He was taken to Berlin, where he met a Baltic German army general who wanted to initiate a ‘Russian Liberation Movement.’ There had been many Russian people who were opposed to Stalin and the ‘Red Army’ due to the atrocities committed by them on their own people.
Andrey was inspired and laid the foundation of the ‘Russian Liberation Committee.’ He also wished to create a ‘Russian Liberation Army,’ which was eventually formed in 1944. Hitler initially opposed the army but later approved of it. Andrey visited the German-occupied Russian areas and recruited soldiers for his army.
In February 1945, his army fought the ‘Red Army’ on the Oder River. His army was badly defeated and forced to retreat. In May, one of the generals from the ‘Liberation Army’ asked for permission to launch an attack against the Germans. Andrey was reluctant at first but eventually agreed. Thus, he changed sides once again.
It is stated that they had done this to save their lives, as the German army was pretty much on the losing side by then. However, soon, the communist Czech partisans arrested the traitor Russians and handed them over to the Soviet Union.
Andrey was captured and was sent to ‘Lubyanka Prison,’ where he was interrogated. In 1946, he and several other high-ranking officers from the ‘Russian Liberation Army’ went on trial and were sentenced to death for high treason.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Andrey Vlasov married a Russian woman named Anna Mikhailovna before the outbreak of the war.
He married a German woman named Heidi Bielenberg while he was staying in Berlin during the war.
He had two sons. None of his family members were executed for his act of treason. However, his Russian wife, Anna, had been imprisoned in 1942. She was released in 1946.
On August 2, 1946, he was hanged to death for committing treason.
There have been arguments about whether Andrey was a patriot or just a coward. Later criticisms of the dictatorial regime of Stalin led to a widespread assumption that Andrey was a true patriot who wanted to set Russia free from dictatorship.