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Italian prisoners of war in the Soviet union is the narrative of POWs from the Italian Army in Russia (the ARMIR and CSIR) and of their fate in Stalin's Soviet Union during and after World War II.
The Italian Army in Russia was an army-sized unit of the Italian Royal Army which fought on the Eastern Front during World War II. The ARMIR was also known as the 8th Italian Army and initially had 235,000 soldiers.
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was a Georgian Bolshevik revolutionary and Soviet politician who led the Soviet Union from the mid–1920s until 1953 as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and Premier (1941–1953). While initially presiding over a collective leadership as first among equals, he ultimately consolidated enough power to become the country's de facto dictator by the 1930s. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin helped to formalise these ideas as Marxism–Leninism, while his own policies became known as Stalinism.
World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.
Over 60,000 Italian prisoners of war (POWs) were taken captive by the Red Army in the Second World War. Almost all of them were captured during the decisive Soviet "Operation Little Saturn" offensive in December 1942 which annihilated the Italian Army in Russia (Armata Italiana in Russia (ARMIR)).
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, frequently shortened to Red Army was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution. The Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; taking the official name of "Soviet Army", until its dissolution in December 1991.
Operation Saturn, revised as Operation Little Saturn, was a Red Army operation on the Eastern Front of World War II that led to battles in the North Caucasus and Donets Basin regions of the Soviet Union from December 1942 to February 1943.
The Italian participation in the Eastern Front during World War II began after the launch of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, on 22 June 1941. To show solidarity with his Axis ally, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini ordered a contingent of the Italian Royal Army to be prepared for the Eastern Front and, by early July, an Italian force was in transport.
At its height, the ARMIR was about 235,000 strong, and operated between December 1942 and February 1943 in support of the German forces engaged in and around Stalingrad. In this period the total figure of missing Italian soldiers amounted to 84,830 (Italian Ministry of Defence, 1977a 1977b). According to the Soviet archives, 54,400 Italian prisoners of war reached the Soviet prisoner camps alive; 44,315 prisoners died in captivity inside the camps, most of them in the winter of 1943.
The Battle of Stalingrad was the largest confrontation of World War II, in which Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in Southern Russia.
A list of the soldiers' names, in Cyrillic, including date and place of death was yielded by the Russian authorities after 1989 (Italian Ministry of Defence, 1996). 10,085 prisoners were repatriated between 1945 and 1954. The individual fate of 30,430 soldiers, who died during the fighting and the withdrawal or after capture, is less well known. It is roughly estimated that about 20,000 men lost their lives due to the fighting and 10,000 men died between the time they became prisoners to the time they registered inside the camps.
Russian sources list the deaths of 28,000 of the 49,000 Italian war prisoners (according to them) in Soviet Union 1942-1954.
Travel to the destination camps in captivity covered hundreds of kilometres and was done mainly on foot. They were reported by survivors as the "davai" marches. "Davai!" is a Russian expression of urging, in this context meaning "keep moving!". The prisoners were escorted by Red Army, and often, partisans without mercy for those who fell down frozen or exhausted (Revelli, 1966). The transfer was completed by using freight trains, where many prisoners died of the extremely cold temperatures and lack of food.
Suzdal 160, Tambov, Oranki, Krinovoje, Michurinsk, sited in Eastern European Russia, were the camps where most Italian POWs were detained in dismal conditions. Others were known just by their reference numbers, as Lager 58/c and Lager 171 (Italian Ministry of Defence, 1996). Typhus and starvation related diseases were the major causes of mortality inside the camps (Giusti, 2003). Brutality from the Soviet troops and partisans to unarmed prisoners was reported, but survivors testified also to episodes of comradeship among soldiers of the two opposing nations, especially on the front line (Rigoni Stern, 1965) and, compassion from the Russian civilians (Vio, 2004).
The Italian prisoners of war in the Soviet Union were subject to plenty of propaganda. The propaganda was delivered by Italian Communist cadres who had fled fascism in Italy to the Soviet Union, known in Italy as fuoriusciti, "people who left home" (Zilli, 1950). Despite allurements and threats most of the prisoners, particularly if not previously compromised by fascism, resisted the propaganda (Giusti, 2000). Prisoners' conditions improved greatly with the spring of 1943 because of Soviet Government concern and better camp administration, sharply increasing the food supply and the numbers of soldiers surviving.
Most of the survivors were allowed to return to Italy in 1945-1946. In the same years, a group of Italian officers under detention were accused of war crimes and sentenced to many years of forced labour. After the death of Stalin the accusations proved to be false and they were released in 1954 (Reginato, 1965).
The Italians in the Soviet Union had not acted as occupation troops, and atrocities against partisans and civilians were therefore unlikely. Soviets captured by the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia (Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia, CSIR), which operated from July 1941 to June 1942, were delivered to the Germans and endured cruel treatment by the Nazis. After the establishment of the ARMIR, Soviet prisoners were kept in Italian custody in reasonable conditions. For instance, Russian POWs were fed with standard Italian Army rations (Ricchezza, 1978).
The issue of Italian prisoners of war in the Soviet Union remained a hot political topic in post-war Italy. It was never seriously investigated because of the Soviet authorities' unwillingness to yield information about the destiny of the tens of thousands of missing soldiers. Their case was used in an instrumental way by the centre-right parties which accused the Soviet Union of not returning its prisoners of war (Democrazia Cristiana manifesto, 1948), and denied as anti-communist propaganda by the left (Robotti) during the first democratic elections in Italy (1948). Unbiased information underpinning the size of the tragedy and an objective historical reconstruction came only after the fall of the Soviet Union (Giusti, 2003) when most public interest in Italy had already faded away.
A prisoner of war (POW) is a person, whether a combatant or a non-combatant, who is held in custody by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict. The earliest recorded usage of the phrase "prisoner of war" dates back to 1660.
Giovanni Messe was an Italian general, politician, and field marshal. He is considered by many to have been the best Italian general of the Second World War.
Stalag XI-B and Stalag XI-D / 357 were two German World War II prisoner-of-war camp (Stammlager) located just to the east of the town of Fallingbostel in Lower Saxony, in north-western Germany.
Stalag IX-B was a German World War II prisoner-of-war camp located south-east of the town of Bad Orb in Hesse, Germany on the hill known as Wegscheideküppel. The camp originally was part of a military training area set up before World War I by the Prussian Army.
Herman Reinecke was a German general and war criminal during the Nazi era. As head of the General Office of the Armed Forces in the OKW during World War II, he was responsible for the creation and implementation of the POW policy that resulted in the deaths of approx. 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war. Reinecke was tried and convicted to life imprisonment at the High Command Trial.
Stalag IV-B was one of the largest prisoner-of-war camps in Germany during World War II. Stalag is an abbreviation of the German Stammlager. It was located 8 km (5.0 mi) north-east of the town of Mühlberg in the prussian Province of Saxony, just east of the Elbe river and about 30 mi (48 km) north of Dresden. From 1944 to 1945 it belonged to the Province of Halle-Merseburg. Now, the area is in Brandenburg. A sub-camp, sometimes identified as Stalag IV-B/Z,Stalag 304 or Stalag IV-H was located at Zeithain, 10 km (6.2 mi) to the south in Saxony.
Stalag VII-A was Germany's largest prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, located just north of the town of Moosburg in southern Bavaria. The camp covered an area of 35 hectares. It served also as a transit camp through which prisoners, including officers, were processed on their way to other camps. At some time during the war, prisoners from every nation fighting against Germany passed through it. At the time of its liberation on 29 April 1945, there were about 80,000 prisoners in the camp, mostly from France and the Soviet Union. Many others were billeted in Arbeitskommando working in factories, repairing railroads or on farms.
Systematic POW labor in the Soviet Union is associated primarily with the outcomes of World War II and covers the period of 1939-1956, from the official formation of the first POW camps, to the repatriation of the last POWs, from the Kwantung Army.
By the end of World War II the number of Romanian prisoners of war in the Soviet Union was significant, about 140,000 of them having been taken prisoner even after August 23, 1944, the date when Romania switched its alliance from the Axis Powers to the Allies.
After World War II there were from 560,000 to 760,000 Japanese personnel in the Soviet Union and Mongolia interned to work in labor camps as POWs. Of them, it is estimated that between 60,000-347,000 died in captivity.
During World War II, Nazi Germany engaged in a policy of deliberate maltreatment of Soviet prisoners of war (POWs), in contrast to their treatment of British and American POWs. This resulted in some 3.3 to 3.5 million deaths.
During World War II, the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia was a corps-sized expeditionary unit of the Regio Esercito that fought on the Eastern Front. In July 1942, the three divisions of the CSIR all became part of the Italian XXXV Army Corps.
Richard Ruoff was a general in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II. He commanded the 4th Panzer Army and the 17th Army on the Eastern Front.
There were two waves of the Finnish prisoners of war in the Soviet Union during World War II: POWs during the Winter War and the Continuation War.
Approximately three million German prisoners of war were captured by the Soviet Union during World War II, most of them during the great advances of the Red Army in the last year of the war. The POWs were employed as forced labor in the Soviet wartime economy and post-war reconstruction. By 1950 almost all surviving POWs had been released, with the last prisoner returning from the USSR in 1956. According to Soviet records 381,067 German Wehrmacht POWs died in NKVD camps. German historian Rüdiger Overmans maintains that it seems entirely plausible, while not provable, that one million died in Soviet custody. He also believes that there were men who actually died as POWs amongst those listed as missing-in-action (MIA).
Benvenuto "Nuto" Revelli was an Italian essayist and partisan.
During World War II, it has been estimated that between 19,500 and 50,000 members of the Imperial Japanese military surrendered to Western Allied combatants prior to the end of the Pacific War in August 1945. Soviet troops seized and imprisoned more than half a million Japanese troops and civilians in China and other places. The number of Japanese soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who surrendered was limited by the Japanese military indoctrinating its personnel to fight to the death, Allied combat personnel often being unwilling to take prisoners, and many Japanese soldiers believing that those who surrendered would be killed by their captors.
Soviet prisoners of war in Finland during World War II were captured in two Soviet-Finnish conflicts of that period: the Winter War and the Continuation War. The Finns took about 5,700 POWs during the Winter War, and due to the short length of the war they survived relatively well. However, during the Continuation War the Finns took 64,000 POWs, of whom almost 30 percent died.