VE Day special: the controversy over how Russian the Soviet Red Army was and who fought for the Axis

The 8th of May, 1945 is said to coincide with the end of the Second World War in Europe; by that time, the Soviet Union's fighting force, the Red Army, had pushed the Axis Powers out of Russia and had steamrolled across the rest of Eastern and Central Europe. The Red Army had also defeated the last of the Axis forces in Berlin, a major city in Axis-held Europe which had yet to surrender:

The combined forces of the United States and United Kingdom, which had already thrown the Axis out of Western Europe, were also arriving in Berlin:

Under the circumstances, the 8th of May was designated by these Western powers as "Victory in Europe Day" - or "V-E Day", for short. For some, the day marked an end to the chaos and destruction that had come with the Second World War; for others, it signified the defeat of Europe's Axis Powers - the side said to have started the war in the hopes of conquering the world and, from Germany on down, considered to be evil. These views defined how the Western public felt about "V-E Day" and, in the post-war period, influenced how the war was portrayed in their culture.

Over the next half century, very little changed in how the Second World War was presented or perceived. Perhaps that explains why, in 2002, an American deemed it advantageous to use the term "Axis of Evil" to describe several countries that the U.S. was at odds with; that American was Washington insider David Frum, who allegedly felt there were parallels between North Korea, Iran and Iraq on the one hand and the Axis Powers of the Second World War on the other. Ironically, then-U.S. President George W. Bush, whose own family had aided one of the Axis Powers of the Second World War, went with Frum's analogy, and ultimately utilized the term "Axis of Evil" to refer to Iran, Iraq and North Korea during his 2002 State of the Union Address. As time passed, Bush continued to use the phrase to reference those countries, perhaps hoping to influence how the public felt about them based on the popular understanding of what the "Axis" was about.

Of course, none of this would have happened - or would have been effective - had the public not maintained a certain, negative view of the Axis Powers of the Second World War. But these views were a defining aspect of Western culture, and I can attest to the passing generation at that time handing down their views on the matter. Within the prevailing narrative, "the Germans" who had fought for the Axis were typically portrayed as the worst of all. We see that view reflected in the following excerpt, which appeared in response to an article about V-E Day:

The comment is important because it demonstrates common sentiment. But it also exposes several common misconceptions. Contrary to what one might expect, however, ,the implication that the Red Army brought about the defeat of "the Germans" is not one of those misconceptions. It is actually a seldom-understood reality, as approximately 87% of all German battle casualties took place while fighting against the Soviet Union:

This may be surprising to some, given the contention, reinforced through Western culture, that America was the key to victory:

The German casualty figures stand in stark contrast to the illusion propagated by American media and create the understanding of a contrast, between illusion and reality, much like the one presented in the following internet meme:

The general public seems to be increasingly aware of this discrepancy. But this is just one example where the public's understanding of the war is colored by wartime, and post-war, propaganda, which begs the question: just how much are our views shaped by what we think we know, which is actually false information? Let us just focus on the things that the comment by "Walter" has wrong.

A. The Red Army was not "Russia" and "Russia" was not the Red Army.

In historiography concerning the Second World War, Westerners liberally use the term "Russia" as a synonym for the Soviet Union, and "Russians" for Soviets. From a distance, this may not appear to be a big deal. Much of the historical Russian Empire was part of the Soviet Union, and the largest and most-populated of the socialist republics therein was informally called "Soviet Russia", which roughly corresponded with the historical region where the people who considered themselves "Russian" lived. But using the term "Russia" or "Russians" in reference to the forces that took arms in the Soviet Union's Red Army is a major oversight. To understand how much of a faux pas this could be, know that the percentage of Whites Americans in the U.S. military during the Second World War dwarfed the percentage of Russians in the Red Army during that same period; this were true to such a degree that, if we were to consider the Red Army to have been "Russian" during the Second World War, it would be far more valid to step on toes and call the American military "White" during that war and even today, as White Americans still make up close to 65% of the U.S. population.

So, how "Russian" was the Red Army in the Second World War? Assuming the estimate that approximately 11 million of the 34.4 million men who fought in the Red Army perished and some 5.7 million of the deceased were alleged to be Russian, we can deduce the following: if all soldiers in the Red Army had the same survival rate regardless of ethnicity, around 17.8 million Russians served in the Red Army. In other words, Russians would have been only about half of the Soviet fighting force during the war.

1. Confirming Russian military demographics using Red Army data

In a best case scenario, we would be able to back up our estimate using official Soviet Red Army statistics from the Second World War. Unfortunately, the Soviet authorities never compiled any comprehensive demographic data at that time. Using figures from an earlier time - assuming such figures even exist - would pose a number of problems. Let us examine the issue closer.

A political army in the midst of a civil war

In utilizing figures from the early 1920s, we encounter a time when the Red Army only consisted of those who had taken a very specific side in the struggle to control the vast territory of what eventually became known as the Soviet Union. Accordingly, that army featured military-aged men from Red Army strongholds and captured territory. Furthermore, because the Red Army represented the side in that civil war which had rallied around leftist ideals and postured itself as a representation of the working class, the ranks presumably also consisted of those most partial and susceptible to that message: the hungry, revolutionary and ideologically-committed. The impoverished peasantry, and workers in larger cities - or industrial centers, like Perm - were more likely to be counted than other demographics. In any case, we already know that that some 3.4 million fighting-age men in the territory of Russia and the rest of what would come to be known as the Soviet Union would surely have been absent from that sample. The reason is these 3.4 million men took up arms against the Red Army and, between 1917 and 1923, formed the core of a counterrevolutionary force called the White Russian Movement (Белое движение). Notably, the White Russian Movement consisted of Russian nationalists, adherents to the Russian Orthodox Church and those with ties to the old nobility and old military order - a lot which, incidentally, featured many Russians. It follows that these people would have been absent from the Red Army headcounts of the early 1920s, influencing the composition of the Red Army in a way that was unique to time and circumstance.

The army of the interim: unique to its time as well?

By 1923, the Red Army forces had triumphed, paving the way for the creation of the Soviet Union. Its emerging leader, Joseph Stalin, subsequently reduced the strength and independence of the Red Army. Top military officials were purged from the ranks and executed. Moreover, mandatory civilian military service was introduced in 1925, changing the composition of the Soviet military to a rough reflection of its service-aged population. In time, that figured would account for the Cossacks, a semi-autonomous and deeply-Christian people who had previously been banned from the Red Army and persecuted. In these later years, the Cossacks were allowed to join the Red Army and subject to conscription. But what assessment of Red Army data in the time period before the Second World War would provide an accurate depiction of its demography throughout the war? Just looking at the data, we see that, as the Second World War began, Red Army conscription ballooned from 4.8 million to 29.5 million enlisted men, demonstrating just how inaccurate pre-war Red Army statistics might be in terms of shedding light on the demography of the Red Army during that war.

Of course, many in that 29.5 million figure were presumably able-bodied civilians of the Soviet Union who had volunteered, or been pushed into, uniform. In other words, while the Red Army became a fighting force during the war that was grossly different from what it had been even just beforehand, the participation in that military could largely be a reflection of the general population of the Soviet Union itself, suggesting that a general population census just prior to the Second World War could be a highly-useful tool for confirming the demographic breakdown of the Red Army at that time.

2. The Soviet census of 1937 as a problematic source

Based on data that is available to the public, the last census that was completed prior to the Second World War was held in 1937. Unfortunately, the reliability of that census has been called into question on several occasions. The most pressing issue is whether the results of the enumeration were manipulated by Soviet leadership to cover up the effects of the Holodomor, which took place between 1932 and 1933 and killed some seven million people (for those who are unfamiliar with the Holodomor, we recommend the 1998 Canadian documentary Eternal Memory: Voices from the Terror, which can be viewed here).

The 1937 census is also problematic because it was conducted in the midst of the Great Purge of 1936-1938. Indeed, in just that two-year period, 1.2 million people are said to have died, while others were arrested, incarcerated and possibly even assumed to be dead by the time of the census, having disappeared in the penal system just like millions between 1930 and 1936 and in the previous decade. As if that were not enough, others were uprooted and transferred to gulags. It has been argued that 25% to 50% of those subjects were never seen again. Based on the numbers, one can begin to see how the data produced for 1937 might have been skewed to hide the truth or, regardless of intention, might be entirely unreliable due to the high number of people unaccounted for.

In search of more reliable data, one might be inclined to just locate the next most recent census. In doing so, however, we risk moving further away from the situation on the ground, when the Red Army began mobilizing against the Axis Powers. This is particularly important because the next most recent census, scheduled for 1933, never took place. Initially, it was postponed until 1935 (presumably because the Soviet administration wanted to hide the extent of the Holodomor). But the enumeration was moved to 1936 and, finally, pushed to 1937. In short, we are stuck with 1937 as a point of departure unless we open ourselves up to statistics from even before 1933, which in theory would carry an even greater risk of obsolescence because of the even greater distance in time in relationship to the Second World War. Incidentally, the next available census takes us all the way back to 1926, which comes with a whole new array of complications.

3. The Soviet census of 1926 as a barometer

The 1926 census shows that approximately 52% of the population of the Soviet Union identified as Russian; by comparison, when the same respective span of territory was still part of the Russian Empire in 1897, ethnic Russians were reported to be 44% of the total population. In view of this apparent discrepancy, one might find reason to doubt the veracity of the 1926 census results. After all, the largely-Russian assortment of nationalists, old nobility and military order personnel had been on the losing side of the civil war; many were killed, expelled or driven to flee - especially amidst the Red Terror, a spate of politically-motivated violence orchestrated by Red Army auxiliaries and Jewish revolutionaries like Béla Kun and Rosalia Zemlyachka. One might thus expect to find that the Russian share of the population had actually decreased between the two censuses and, amidst reports of an alleged increase, assume some degree of data manipulation took place to hide the results of the Red Terror.

But is there really a reason to expect a decrease? Besides the Red Terror, there is nothing which suggests that the Russian share of the population had to have dropped off between 1897 and 1926. Neither the 1905 Revolution, nor the First World War (1914-1918), appear to have had an effect on this demographic explicitly, and even the contention that the subsequent civil war led to a decrease in the overall percentage of the Russian population is suspect; the fact of the matter is that, while the losing side had been a largely-Russian contingent of nationalists and old order elite, each side in the civil war is said to have lost roughly 1.5 million combatants.

As for the roughly nine million civilian casualties during the civil war, nothing suggested that the Russian-identifying population suffered to an extent that would have caused their share of the overall population to decline. For one, the fighting had took place all across the future territory of the Soviet Union. In turn, the non-combatants in harm's way were as diverse demographically as the demography of the regions in question, and ethnic Russians were not the only ones who got caught in the crossfire. Nor were they the only ones who suffered because of the collapsed economy. Amidst the hard times, the worst-hit demographic was determined by class, not ethnicity; the urban poor suffered greatly, as they were the ones most vulnerable to starvation and hunger-related disease. The masses subject to the atrocities that drove up the civilian death toll were not specifically Russian, either. On the one hand, you had the Red Army and its partisan forces targeting land-owning "kulaks" and the religious, which was not exclusively Russian - in some cases, industrious German farmers in the Black Sea and Caspian Region were the target. Meanwhile, you had the White Movement targeting what amounted to those who had aligned with the socialist forces, or were suspected to be agitators to that extent. In this context, the White Movement was responsible for pogroms which targeted Jews. Not surprisingly, the demographics most subject to this sort of oppression or to most likely to suffer economically were also those most likely to leave the country. All in all, there is nothing to suggest that the Russian share of the demographic was over-represented in any one category. Likewise, there is nothing to suggest that, in result, one would expect the Russian share of the demographic to have declined between the censuses of 1897 and 1926.

Aware of how universal the suffering was, one might now expect accurate census results to demonstrate little to no change to the overall demographic breakdown between the Russian Empire of 1897 and the Soviet Union in 1926. But there is another important detail to be aware of. Although the territory of the Soviet Union in 1926 covered most of the land belonging to Russian Empire of 1897, the Russian Empire of 1897 also included parts of what had become Poland and Romania by 1926, not to mention the Baltic countries, where non-Russians were the overwhelming majority. Ergo, with these territories and their populations missing in the assessment of 1926, it is perfectly natural to expect the Russian demographic to, in consequence, appear as a larger percentage of the overall population surveyed.

Assuming the 1926 census is a legitimate and trustworthy source, the question becomes whether it can be used to reflect on the demographic situation just over a decade and a half later, when the Red Army faced off against the Axis Powers and began mass recruitment. The first issue would appear to be that the Soviet Union expanded after the 1926 census to include those same parts of Poland, Romania and the Baltic countries mentioned previously - much of the same stretch of territory that the Russian Empire held in 1897. But the advancing Axis military forces quickly absorbed all of this territory in their invasion of the Soviet Union. Accordingly, the populations there were not likely to be included in what the Soviets had available to throw into battle after 1941, unless those populations had either retreated with the Soviets or been serving in the military beforehand. Just as importantly, the parts of Romania that the Soviet Union added to its territory - just one year prior to Axis invasion of the Soviet Union - had abandoned their homes. This was especially the case in Bessarabia and Bukovina, where approximately three million of the four million inhabitants (Bessarabia: estimated population of 3.2 million in 1939, Bukovina: 853 000 in 1930) fled as the Soviets moved in. 

German emigrants from Bukovina and Bessarabia,
arriving in Germany in 1940

Up to six hundred thousand refugees were ethnic German, but most were primarily Romanian or Moldavian; of those who stayed behind, ninety-six thousand were summarily arrested, deported, imprisoned, or executed by the Soviets. Ultimately, between twenty to sixty thousand perished. Looking at the numbers, we see that there was little demographic impact left to be had by the Soviets incorporating these territories - territories that the Soviets had not controlled yet during the census of 1926. It is just another sign that the Soviet census in 1926 may have resembled the situation when mass conscription to stop the Axis began in 1941.

Perhaps the final test to validate the 1926 census as a tool to gauge what the Soviets recruited their military from one and a half decades later was that the 52% Russian population figure in the 1926 census is strikingly similar to our original estimate for the percentage of Russians in the Red Army after 1941, as based on the overall death ratios we modeled. Ergo, the 1926 data may be more useful to understand the demography of the Red Army during the Second World War than originally thought.

4. Stalinist influence on demographics after the census of 1926

Of course, the example with Bessarabia and Bukovina serves as a reminder that, following the rise of Stalin, a completely new era of oppression began, shedding light on the problem of using population figures from 1926. The issue here is accounting for all the mass purges, arrests and disappearances, as well as the mass emigration these developments inspired. Each of these changes had the power to shape Soviet demographics - especially given the fact that the oppression was not just a passing episode. Thus, with each passing year, there was an increasingly stronger potentiality for the changes to alter the demographics as they would have existed in 1926.

Moving forward in time, 1929 was also a critical year in terms of long-term developments. That year, religious persecution hit a boiling point in the Soviet Union, as attempts to shatter the power and influence of religious institutions intensified. Concerning the question as to whether a certain demographic would have been more affected than others, bear in mind that the Russian Orthodox community, the largest religious community in the Soviet Union at the time, was in Stalin's cross-hairs. Historian and theologian Dr. Matthew Raphael Johnson writes:
During the Five Year Plan ending in 1937, the church came under its harshest persecution under Stalin.

According to the KGB archives opened only under [former Russian President Boris Yeltsin], [the Soviets] murdered over 106 000 priests from 1937 to 1938 alone. The church had been reduced to nothing, with four frightened bishops and a few parishes opened only for showing foreign visitors.
Amidst the murders and round-ups, and in response to the Stalinist agitation against Christianity, entire congregations joined their priests in fleeing the country. They were not alone in the race to escape Stalinism, which begs the question: did the persecution of the Russian Orthodox community - and ethnic Russians, in general - trigger greater changes to the Russian demographic than it did to other populations? Likewise, what was the effect on the demographics reported via the 1926 census when, over the course of Stalin's reign, up to twenty million people are said to have lost their lives due to the oppression of the state? These are important questions that must be asked, as they help us to understand what sort of population shifts occurred and would have been reflected in the Red Army during the Second World War.

5. Muslims and the 1926 Soviet census figures

Understanding what happened to the Muslim population under Stalin can help us reconstruct what things looked like once the Second World War began. The reason being, unbeknownst to most people, Muslims had been a surprisingly large percentage of the population in the area in question; in 1912, over 26 000 Mosques dotted the landscape of what eventually became known as the Soviet Union. Critically, in spite of whatever happened between that observation and the Second World War, by the end of Stalin's rule, Muslims still accounted for nearly 15% of the total Soviet population.

Of course, one cannot simply assume that 15% of the Red Army during the Second World War was composed of Muslims; some twenty-five million Soviet citizens perished in the conflict and many had been living in major population centers, like Leningrad (today: St. Petersburg) and Stalingrad (today: Volgograd), neither of which had a large Muslim profile. The dramatic population losses in these urban hubs generally did not include Muslims; that being the case, Muslims would have become a greater percentage of the overall remaining Soviet population by the end of the war than they had been beforehand.

But wait: under Stalin, some major changes had taken place. Islam and Arabic were banned, which was just the beginning of the sort of oppression that inspired thousands of Muslims to flee. Beyond that, a large number of those who remained were simply murdered or uprooted. This included up to half of the Tatar population of 300 000 in Crimea, which, for the most part, were a Muslim population that had still been in tact during the time of the 1926 census. Its leader, Norman Çelebicihan, was along those who had been murdered by Red Army auxiliaries.

Aware of these facts, it might not be surprising to find that up to half a million Muslims took the side of the Axis Powers and actually fought against the Soviet Union. Among them were the ethnic Chechen, Ingush, Karachay, Balkar and Azerbaijani populations. In just a few examples, roughly 70 000 fought in the Azerbaijani and North Caucasus Legions (which grew from the original Kaukasische-Mohammedanische Legion) and an additional 12 500 served in the Idel-Ural Legion. The Idel-Ural Legion also included the Tatars, who fought is various other formations as well, such as the SS Waffengruppe, Waffen-SS Mountain Brigade, Volga Legion, Tatar SS Gebirgsjäger-Regiment and a principally Crimean formation. Soviet intelligence ultimately painted the Tatars as a fifth column of Axis collaborationists that was 20 000 strong even though the figure has been disputed.

In any case, based on the above, from the Stalinist oppression to feats of Axis collaboratism, we are presented with clues that early Muslim population estimates from 1926 did not carry over to affect the demographic recruited to serve in the Red Army.

6. Germans and the 1926 Soviet census figures

In 1926, 1.2 million ethnic Germans called the Soviet Union home - at least, that is what the 1926 Soviet census tells us. At that time, the Soviet Union had yet to expand to include part of Poland, the Baltic states and Romania; because each of these states had German communities, it follows that their incorporation into the Soviet Union should have increased the size of the German demographic in the Soviet Union as a whole. But many Germans had fled before the map was redrawn in this fashion, thereby creating a situation where the redrawing of the Soviet Union's borders after 1926 may not have noticeably changed the size of the German demographic therein.

Another thing to consider is that, beginning during the civil war, the German people had been persecuted by Red Army auxiliaries. The reason is the German communities in their path tended to be religious, productive and agrarian, fitting the very definition for citizens of the "kulak" class. Under Stalin, the abuse intensified and entire populations were forcefully relocated. Thousands sought refuge elsewhere and emigrated to escape Stalinist oppression (see: A Short History of Forced Labor by Ethnic Germans from South Eastern Europe in the USSR). Not surprisingly, this trend began to cut into the number of ethnic Germans who would have been in the Soviet Union and subject to any hypothetical recruitment into the Red Army.

Long before that could happen,the government of Germany, under its leader, Adolf Hitler, had become aware of the persecution of ethnic German communities in the Soviet Union. Germany's government subsequently used the state of affairs to try to remedy the situation and incorporate these communities into Germany. Measures were introduced to attract the Germans under Soviet rule and resettle them within the territory of Germany. This was another development that cut into the number of Germans available in the Soviet Union for any hypothetical recruitment into the Red Army.

Finally, as Germany and the rest of the Axis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin's henchmen rounded up the German people under his control, specifically the Black Sea Germans, Volga Germans and Germans of Crimea. Some were executed, and the rest were handled by Soviet authorities and primarily shipped to hard labor camps. The Black Sea Germans, for example, ended up at Solikamsk and Bogoslav, where 18% and 13% of their population perished, respectively. The Volga Germans experienced the same treatment and roughly one third of their population perished. Aware of these facts, it is safe to assume that the 1.2 million figure for the German population in 1926 can be almost completely removed from our consideration regarding the demographics of the Red Army.

7. Using ethnic community data, largely non-Russian state data and other regional indicators

Even without official wartime enlistment records or a Soviet census corresponding to the exact period in question, there are other tools to piece together the demography of the Red Army. Among those tools are ethnic community records and data from post-Soviet states that feature particularly large, non-Russian populations.

The former is particularly useful because many ethnic groups had their own communities and kept track of their communities' military participation. We know, for example, that an estimated 40 000 Chechens served in the Red Army, while the number of Ingush was up to 12 000. Tatars are more difficult to track because of their mid-war expulsion and dispersal, but one estimate holds firm at roughly 25 000 enlisted. Then there were the Karachays, which contributed approximately 8 000 fighting men to the Red Army, and the Balkars, of whom about 6 000 served as well. Finally, there are the Kalmyks, a people who provided up to 25 000 men. Apart from the Kalmyks, all of the above groups are predominantly Muslim. Although this is just a start, piece by piece, we can use the available data to build towards an understanding of the non-Russian forces in the Red Army.

The records produced by relatively homogeneous states of the former Soviet Union could be just as useful. Through their estimates, there is much to be learned about the contributions of the Central Asian peoples to the Red Army. As evidence, it is said that an estimated 1.5 million Uzbeks fought in the Red Army during the war, plus an additional one million Kazakhs. Tajiks and Turkmen reportedly numbered over a million total, and Kyrgyzstanis and Azerbaijanis were ostensibly another million. That adds up to roughly five million soldiers total, and these are all overwhelmingly non-Russian locations.

To the southeast of the former Soviet Union we find Georgia and Armenia, which together provided the Red Army with approximately 1.2 million uniformed men during the Second World War. For the most part, these are non-Russian populations as well.

Looking at the data, we also know that trainloads of Red Army soldiers were railed in from all over the Soviet Union to fight the Axis. This included twenty-eight divisions from the distant east; if a division is 10 000 to 20 000 men, around half a million men were involved in this early transfer action. Of course, we cannot assume that the troops coming from the Soviet Far East reflected the demographics of the area from which they were arriving from, especially as there was a strong Soviet military presence in the Far East following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and Soviet engagements like the Battle of Lake Khasan (July-Aug.1938) and Battle of Kalkhin Gol (May-Sept. 1939). Vladivostok became a closed-off military port and, in 1935, the Transbaikal Military District had been established not too far from there. In any case, it is known that millions of Mongoloids and Eastern Asiatics fought in the Red Army, and the Soviet Far East they came from was a relatively undisturbed conscription grounds, well-insulated from Europe's Axis Powers.

Interestingly, two of the main Soviet commanders in the Far East, Yakov Smushkevich and Grigori Shtern, were Jewish, and Jews were another strong component of the Soviet military; estimates suggest that at least half a million Jews served in the Red Army under Stalin during the Second World War.

Towards the western borderlands, there were also the Ukrainians, who supplied up to another five million of the Red Army's soldiers. And ideological allies from foreign populations - including the Romanians, Polish, Yugoslavians, French, Czechoslovakians, and Hungarians - totaled up to half a million men. Finally, there are the contributions of various elements of the Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian populations to consider.

Piece by piece, one can use this data to put together a model of what the Red Army looked like. But there is a curious aside in the understanding that, after the Axis Powers invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, around five million Soviet combatants laid down their arms and surrendered. Some defected and quickly declared their willingness to fight against the Soviet Union. The combatants who fit this profile and removed themselves before the Soviet war effort had really begun - perhaps without even firing a shot - would ideally be excluded from our analysis of the Soviet military machine. But it unclear how this information could ever be parsed and sorted out. Just as importantly, this understanding brings us to a startling conclusion concerning not just what the Red Army was, but who fought against it. Looking closer, it becomes clear why general census data cannot be counted on to provide a full picture of Red Army demographics after all - and another misconception, common in the way the Second World War is remembered within Western culture, is exposed.

B. "the Germans" are just one part of the Axis, which actually included various minority groups from the Soviet Union

To begin, "the Germans" were part of the Axis, a political force that included Germany and Italy. The Axis had the support of two other countries the Soviets had previously attacked - Finland and Romania - as well as Hungary and Slovakia. Together, along with volunteers from all across Europe, these countries all took part in the initial assault on the Soviet Union, which drove the Soviets out of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and soon conquered vast parts of the Soviet Union, including what is now modern-day Belarus, Moldova and a large portion of Ukraine.

The result was a situation where the populations therein, including people of the second- and third-largest Soviet republics, met any number of fates. Some became collaborators. Others were killed or took part in partisan operations against the Axis and its coalition. Still others retreated with the Soviet Red Army and went deeper into the Soviet Union. Sorting each case from the other for statistical purposes is an arduous task, and it is difficult to determine what ratio took the side of the Axis when units often formed only to be integrated into other units or formed from other units.

But we do have some degree of clarity. This is especially the case in the Baltic, where largely cohesive ethnic population existed and retained unique features of identification. Most of these people did not flee with the Soviets, and transitioned into supporters of the war against the Soviet Union, especially once the prospect of reoccupation by the Soviets became apparent. From the data, we know that some 30 000 to 40 000 Lithuanians were in collaborationist units, from auxiliary police battalions and territorial defense forces to homeland protection detachments. Some 20 000 Estonians specifically fought for the Axis and its coalition forces in Waffen SS units. And, among the Latvians, some 80 000 participants were gathered up for Waffen SS units. Many fought in the Latvian Legion. We also know that up to a million Ukrainians fought in the Waffen SS, under Division Galicia. But millions of Ukrainians were collaborators who aided the Axis forces, and this was the same story for a variety of other ethnic groups in the areas mentioned.

Unlike the areas surveyed above, the Soviet republic known as "Soviet Russia" was only briefly intruded upon by the Axis advance, specifically along its western and southern extremes. Undisturbed in this sense and providing up to two-thirds of the Soviet population, it could have, in theory, revealed two-thirds of what the Red Army conscripted, providing data relevant to the topic examined in the previous section. In reality, though, the loyalty of these populations was largely up for grabs. The southern periphery included some of the Muslim populations studied earlier, i.e. the Chechen, Ingush, Karachay, Balkarian, Azerbaijani and Tatar peoples. As shown, some fought for the Axis, which had tremendous repercussions. Hearing of Tatar collaborationism, Stalin responded by banishing the entire Tatar community in Crimea of roughly 240 000 to the Soviet hinterlands. One million Chechens and Ingush, along with just under 38 000 Balkars, suffered the same fate. Others were summarily executed, including about 200 000 Chechens who, at Stalin's command, were "liquidated" on site. At least 25% of the deported Chechens perished as well.

"Soviet Russia" had other populations that fought for the Axis, too. This included small Christian minority groups such as the Udmurt, Chuvash and Mordovian peoples. Then there were the Cossacks; initially banned from the Red Army, they were later subjected to Stalin's mandatory Red Army reforms and continued to be persecuted for their autonomy and strong Christian religiosity. The Cossacks, like the Germans, fit much of the "kulak" description and, by the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, over half of the Cossack population had been deported from their homes or executed. Taking the side of the Axis, they fought in the 15th SS Cossack Cavalry Corps, which grew to roughly 35 000, the Freiwilligen-Stamm Division (including the 5th Volunteer Cossack Regiment) and various other formations, even serving outside of the Soviet Union. Promised an independent nation if they helped to defeat the Soviets, the Cossacks fought to the bitter end, and retreated with the Axis under leaders like Andrei Shkuro, Timofey Domanov and Pyotr Krasnov. In fact, the Cossacks were among the last Axis-supporting troops that remained active in Europe in 1945. Around 32 000 surrendered to the British - after V-E Day, even - only to be handed to the Soviets, sentenced to hard labor and, in many cases, killed. Around 80 000 were rounded up in modern-day Austria. Distrusting the British assurances that they would not be betrayed, some resisted and, in Lienz, shot themselves before they could be delivered to the Soviets. Given what we know about the outcome of Operation Keelhaul, they had good reason to doubt the British assurances (see movie below).

Moving on, other Soviet republics, such as those which included modern-day Georgia or Armenia, also saw populations take up arms alongside the Axis. Notably, these are also populations adhering to Christian traditions. Georgians and Armenians forces aligned with the Axis numbered approximately 66 000.

Aware of the above, it becomes clear just how divided the Soviet Union's population was when it came to supporting the Soviets, regardless of ethnicity or confession. Aware of these details, one can begin to see the problem with using just a census to determine the demographics of the Soviet Union. But, as the following shows, we cannot even deduce that the Red Army was probably more Russian than a hypothetical general population census in 1941 would have shown. The reason is, the Russian population was divided on supporting the Soviet Union, too. Here, we brush upon a third common misconception which is also rarely touched upon in the Western narrative about the Second World War.

C. "Russia" was actually split over whether to support the Soviet Union

Historians who write about the Second World War are probably well aware that approximately five million Red Army soldiers surrendered to the Axis Forces by the end of 1941. But what their contemporary mainstream counterparts may not know - or will not convey - is that some of them included Russians who intended to join the Axis to fight against Stalin. The number of defectors probably would have been even higher had the Axis accepted the conditions proposed, including the Russians being allowed to keep their weapons. One German soldier witnessed the charade firsthand and described it using one word:"verrückt" - "crazy".

Apart from those who were captured, an additional 1.5 million former Soviets reportedly fought in just the German Wehrmacht - and, specifically, as the campaign against the Soviet Union began; that 1.5 figure largely involved Russian expatriates who had fled their homeland sometime between the start of the civil war in 1917 and the peril that followed, opting to settle in Germany, Serbia and other countries. This included men like Boris Smyslovsky, who had settled in Germany, joined the Wehrmacht and fought in "Sonderdivision R", which consisted of twelve battalions sent into action against the Soviets. Smyslovsky went on to establish the First Russian National Army (Русский учебный батальон) as well, which included up to ten thousand men. Other expatriates, like Pyotr Wrangel, had escaped from the Soviet Union, settled in Serbia and joined the Russian All-Military Union (Русский Обще-Воинский Союз). The organization successfully attracted members of the Russian emigre community, some of whom - like Wrangel - voluntarily joined the Wehrmacht and its campaign against the Soviet Union.

Outside of these 1.5 million men, Russians like Nikolaj Gubarev served in the Russian Protective Corps (Русский охранный корпус), which was active in anti-partisan activity against those who supported the Soviet side in the war; there were also volunteers who plainly fought for the Axis during the campaign in the Soviet Union, or left the Soviet side after the initial Axis invasion, including the tens of thousands who enlisted in the Russian National Liberation Army (Русская освободительная армия). Other volunteers were not counted in any of these numbers.

As the tide turned in the Soviet Union's favor, some thirty thousand Russians in the so-called Lokot Autonomy (Ло́котское самоуправле́ние) retreated alongside the Germans to escape the advancing Soviet army. Russians were also active in the establishment of the Committee for the Liberation of the People of Russia (Комитет освобождения народов России), in Prague, some time thereafter.

Astonishingly, by the end of the war, the number of former Soviet citizens who had fought alongside the Axis and its supportive coalition had grown to represent an estimated 20% of the participation in that fighting force. As the following documentary shows, up to 10% of the forces that surrendered following the British and Americans invasion of the European subcontinent were Russian:

The documentary above, which delves into the bleak fate of these Russian fighters, was never aired in the United Kingdom despite being produced by one of its own flagships, the BBC. Having seen the video, I can begin to understand why: the British were directly linked to the fate of these Russians, and not in a good way.

D. Upper levels of old "Russia" and Christian "Russia" were linked to and wanted to trust "the Germans"

We have already examined the influence of the Russian emigre community on the Axis war effort. But American historian Dr. Michael Kellogg contends that a number of intellectuals and monarchists who had escaped the Soviets and their revolutionary predecessors may have even helped the rise to power of Hitler, the head figure within the coalition that invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Kellogg's claims, documented in the work The Russian Roots of Nazism: White Émigrés and the Making of National Socialism, 1917-1945 (purchase here), utilize reports from secret police who served the anti-communist counterrevolution. The expose shows the power of the White Russian emigre bloc, including numerous prominent personalities not yet named, such as Boris Brasol.

Another American historian, Johannes Due Enstad, has focused on the role of the Russian religious community, specifically the Russian Orthodoxy, amidst the invasion of the Soviet Union. In a piece that appeared in the scholastic journal The Slavonic and East European Review, Enstad wrote the following:
On 18 August 1941, fourteen Russian Orthodox priests, accompanied by two German officers, travelled [...] to the Russian city of Pskov, then under administration by the German Wehrmacht. The priests formed the nucleus of the so-called Orthodox Mission in the Liberated Regions of Russia (better known as the Pskov Orthodox Mission), a network of clergymen consisting by mid 1943 of about 500 priests and other staff. With travel permits issued by German commanders, the missionaries traversed the districts between Pskov in the south, the outskirts of besieged Leningrad in the north, and the front line to the east, tending to the spiritual and material needs of a mostly peasant population. The priests soon learned that popular religiosity was alive and well despite Bolshevik efforts to replace traditional religion with Communism.
But the link between the Russian Orthodoxy and the German-led Axis Powers went much deeper than co-sponsored religious excursions. This work has already investigated Stalin's hostility towards the Orthodox community upon seizing power; but what has not yet been shown is how dedicated these religious leaders were to reopening a conflict to free their homeland. Recently, historian and theologian Dr. Matthew Raphael Johnson discovered a trove of primary source material pertaining to that exact topic. One example concerns Russian Orthodox figurehead Vasiliĭ Georgievskiĭ, a bishop who lost his position in connection with Moscow after submitting a prayer for those who had been victimized by Soviet authorities. He became an exarchate, assuming control over Russian Orthodox Church's affairs in Western Europe as Metropolitan Evlogii. In a eulogy dated 4 October 1936, he contacted the German ambassador to Paris and addressed the Reichsminister for Church Affairs in Berlin, explaining the following:
[O]ur clergy always display a full reverence and devotion to the government of the country that has welcomed our Russian refugees; in the spirit of respect and devotion to our clergy and their congregations brings, I along with all my clergy, seek to guard our Christian flock from all the false teachings of freemasonry, theosophy, communism and all other doctrines contrary to the teachings of the Church...

As far as our parishes, located in Germany, then in all our churches prayers are offered to the government of this country and of the German people. In 1936, the diocesan assembly of clergy and lay people from 14 countries had expressed gratitude to the Government of the German Reich for the favorable attitude to our parishes and their protection.

Finally, if the government of the German Reich wishes to use the Russian Orthodox Church as a weapon to cooperate in the fight against the atheism and Soviet Communism, as well as all other movements working against the church, the Reich Government will have our full agreement and backing.
The Russian Orthodox Church continued to express similar sentiments as the war between the German-led Axis Powers and the Soviet Union broke out. Bishop Carl Lyade had been born in Germany and converted to the Russian Orthodox faith in Russia, where he met his wife. Fleeing Soviet oppression, he returned to Germany and, in 1941, as the Metropolitan Seraphim, delivered the following message:
The punishing sword of divine justice fell on the Soviet regime, on her minions and adherents.

The leader of the German people called his victorious army towards a new struggle, to the struggle which we have long coveted: the consecrated war against the godless torturers and rapists, who have entrenched themselves in Moscow Kremlin and to truly began a new crusade for the salvation of European people from the forces of Antichrist...

Therefore, as the first hierarch of the Orthodox Church in Germany, I appeal to you. Be active in this new crusade, for it is your fight.
For the Orthodox community, the invasion of the Soviet Union brought the promise of liberation, and there was little reason to doubt the sincerity of Hitler's overtures. Already, in the Ukrainian-Polish borderlands, the Axis forces had helped to restore property that had belonged to the church and "been seized from the Ukrainian jurisdiction of Metropolitan Dionysus", as Enstad wrote in The Slavonic and East European Review. It is hard to say what is more surprising: that this sort of thing happened, or that it took twenty years of research to come across it. Perhaps I can rest easy knowing the public is just as uninformed about what was happening in Europe at that time.