Wednesday, September 7, 2011

If they only had guns--The Georgian Soldiers on Texel

OK, you still think the untrained and underarmed Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto actually stood a chance against the German Army. Nothing's going to change your opinion that a few more guns would have made the day.

Well, How about the Georgian Uprising on Texel (5 April 1945 – 20 May 1945) which was an insurrection by the 882nd Infantry Battalion Königin Tamara (Queen Tamar or Tamara) of the Georgian Legion of the German Army stationed on the German occupied Dutch island of Texel (pronounced Tessel)?

The men of the rebellious battalion were Red Army soldiers from the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic captured on the Eastern front. They had been given a choice rarely offered by the Germans: the captured soldiers could choose either to remain in the POW camps, which would mean almost certain death, or to serve the Germans and be allowed a degree of freedom. The battalion was formed of men who chose the latter option. These were well armed and well trained troops wearing the same uniform as the "enemy".

Preparations began in late March 1945 to move several companies of the Georgian battalion to the Dutch mainland to oppose Allied advances which was the trigger for the rebellion. The battalion of Georgians on Texel revolted, hoping that other German Foreign Legion battalions serving in the German Army along the coast would do the same.

Shortly after midnight on the night of 5-6 April 1945, the Georgians rose up and gained control of nearly the entire island. Approximately four hundred German soldiers were killed in the initial uprising, almost all while sleeping in the quarters they shared with Georgians, who used knives and bayonets. Other German soldiers were shot and killed while standing guard or walking the roads of the island in groups or individually that night and the following day.

Within days, the Germans poured in reinforcements and launched a counter offensive supported by armor. The vicious fighting continued for an entire month, even after the German capitulation in the Netherlands (5 May) and general surrender to the Allies on 8 May. It wasn't until 20 May 1945 when Canadian troops arrived that led to the end of this battle.

The Georgians were unable to overrun two large gun emplacements manned by only German soldiers. These batteries, located in the dunes and overlooking the area where the Georgians were holed up in fixed positions, soon were joined by the heavy coastal artillery of Vlieland and Den Helder, which targeted the rebels, and with them the population of Texel.

The damage on Texel was enormous. Fighting was particularly furious in the Eierland polder where dozens of farms went up in flames. The final stage of the battle was fought around the lighthouse, where several Georgians fought to the end. With much of the fighting over, the Germans then searched the island for rebels. The troops, in a chain link only meters apart, combed the length of the island dragnet style and after two weeks of on/off fighting Texel was "retaken".

Surrender was not an option since captured mutineers were ordered to dig their own graves, remove their German uniforms, and executed. It is also believed that the survivors may have feared facing the same fate as most Soviet collaborators: forced repatriation, under the terms of the Yalta Conference, often followed by incarceration and banishment and, for officers, execution. The 228 Georgians who survived by hiding from the German troops in coastal minefields, or who were concealed by Texel farmers, were turned over to Soviet authorities. After arrival at a collection camp in the Soviet Union, 26 Georgians were singled out and banished together with their families and nearly all others disappeared into Stalin’s Gulags. Those still alive in the mid-1950s were rehabilitated and allowed to return home.

During this fierce battle 565+ Georgians, 120 citizens of Texel, and around 800 Germans lost their lives. Other sources, however, speak of more than 2,000 Germans killed. In 1949 the German War Graves Commission disinterred 812 bodies on Texel (including the 400+ killed in their sleep by the Georgians in their shared quarters) for reburial at Ysselsteyn military cemetery. The numbers given in an early report by the Texel district list "565 Georgians, 120 Texel islanders and approximately 800 Germans killed"; followed by "other sources ... speak of more than 2,000 Germans killed." The "other sources" comment in all probability refers to the Canadian report to SMERSH that lumped together under "casualties" the 1,535 disarmed Germans with their 812 dead.

But, we have to remember that this could be considered an ambush where the bulk of the German dead was killed in their sleep using knives or bayonets, not firearms, during the early part of the uprising.

Additionally, there is only one book on the subject, The Georgian rebellion on Texel (ISBN: 978-9070202330), which is only 72 pages long. That means not a whole lot has been written about the uprising and how it was fought.

Of course, how many people know about Georgian Uprising of Texel?

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