Partisan (military)

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Children murdered by Soviet partisans, Seitajärvi, Finnish Lapland 1942.
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Soviet partisans in Belarus 1943

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Interrogation of a Soviet partisan by German Paratroopers, Ukraine 1943

A partisan is a member of an irregular military force formed to oppose control of an area by a foreign power or by an army of occupation by some kind of insurgent activity. The term can apply to the field element of resistance movements, an example of which are the civilians that opposed Nazi German rule in several countries during World War II.


The French term "partisan", derived from the Latin, was first used in the 17th century to describe the leader of a war-party. Techniques of partisan warfare were described in detail in Johann von Ewald's Abhandlung über den kleinen Krieg (1789).[1]

The initial concept of partisan warfare involved the use of troops raised from the local population in a war zone (or in some cases regular forces) who would operate behind enemy lines to disrupt communications, seize posts or villages as forward-operating bases, ambush convoys, impose war taxes or contributions, raid logistical stockpiles, and compel enemy forces to disperse and protect their base of operations. This concept of partisan warfare would later form the basis of the "Partisan Rangers" of the American Civil War. In that war, Confederate States Army Partisan leaders, such as John S. Mosby, operated along the lines described by von Ewald (and later by both Jomini and Clausewitz). In essence, 19th-century American partisans were closer to commando or ranger forces raised during World War II than to the "partisan" forces operating in occupied Europe. Such fighters would have been legally considered uniformed members of their state's armed forces.

One of the first manuals of partisans' tactics in the 18th century was The Partisan, or the Art of Making War in Detachment...[2] by de Jeney, a Hungarian military officer who served in the Prussian Army as captain of military engineers during the Seven Years' War – published in London in 1760. Partisans in the mid-19th century were substantially different from raiding cavalry, or from unorganized/semi-organized guerrilla forces. Russian partisans played a crucial part in the downfall of Napoleon. Their fierce resistance and persistent inroads helped compel the French emperor to flee Russia in 1812.

During World War II the current definition of "partisan" became the dominant one[citation needed] — focusing on irregular forces in opposition to an attacking or occupying power. Soviet partisans, especially those active in Belarus, effectively harassed German troops and significantly hampered their operations in the region. As a result, Soviet authority was re-established deep inside the German-held territories. There were even partisan kolkhozes that raised crops and livestock to produce food for the partisans. The communist Yugoslav partisans were a leading force in the liberation of their country during the People's Liberation War of Yugoslavia.

By the middle of 1943 partisan resistance to the Germans and their allies had grown from the dimensions of a mere nuisance to those of a major factor in the general situation. In many parts of occupied Europe the enemy was suffering losses at the hands of partisans that he could ill afford. Nowhere were these losses heavier than in Jugoslavia.[3]Basil Davidson

Soviet partisans attacked villages and indiscriminately massacred everyone, including children and babies. Since they would be no match for effective anti-partisan military patrols, the victims were targeted because they were easy targets in remote villages, rather than being militarily significant. The murders were reported to higher command as attacks on enemy military. For instance, the Seitajärvi massacre where 15 civilians were brutally murdered, was falsely reported as a raid on a German officers' sanatorium, and the 33 civilians murdered in Malahvia were reported as 93 enemy soldiers. The murderers have never been prosecuted. Furthermore, disclosure has been hampered by wartime and post-war censorship on part of the victims' government, and suppression on part of the Soviets.[4]

Notable victims

  • Marutei Tsurunen, a survivor of a Soviet partisan raid

See also


  1. Ewald J. (ed. & trans. Selig, R. and Skaggs, D) "Treatise on Partisan Warfare" Greenwood Press (1991) ISBN 0-313-27350-2
  2. de Jeney, L. M. [Lewis Michael]: The Partisan, or the Art of Making War in Detachment..."translated from the French of Mr. de Jeney, by an Officer of the Army" [Thomas Ellis]. London: 1760. from French edition in Hag, 1757 see Mihály Lajos Jeney
  3. Basil Davidson: PARTISAN PICTURE

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