Penal military unit

Penal military unit

Penal battalions, penal companies, etc., are military units consisting of convicted persons for which military service was either the assigned punishment or a voluntary replacement of imprisonment.

Nazi Germany

See Afrika-Brigade 999 (also Bewährungseinheiten 999, Strafbataillon 999, Bewährungstruppe 999 Division 999).

See Dirlewanger Brigade (also SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger).

oviet Union

In the Soviet Union, the systematic creation of penal military units started during the World War II, after Stalin's "Order No. 227" (July 1942), which introduced severe punishments for unauthorized retreats. In this order Stalin referred to the positive experience of Nazi German troops. Penal units were implemented according the detailed "Status of penal units of the Army" ("Положение о штрафных батальонах действующей армии") order of November 26, 1942 of Georgiy Zhukov, then a Deputy Commander-in-Chief. The first penal battalion was formed on the Stalingrad Front on August 22nd, shortly before German troops reached the Volga river.

Penal battalions ("shtrafbat"s, штрафбат, штрафной батальон, up to 800 per unit) were formed of midrange and senior commanding officers and political officers ("politruks").

Penal companies (штрафная рота, 150 to 200 per unit) were formed of junior officers (NCOs) and privates.

Main sources of Soviet penal battalions and companies were:
* personnel convicted under Order 227, and tried under Article 58 of the Soviet Criminal Code (otherwise resulting in execution)
* Former Soviet POWs: many were transferred to "shtrafbat"s under Order 227 retrospectively
* Gulag inmates.

There are no published figures for the numbers sentenced to penal units, but the prominent Russian military historian Dmitri Volkogonov, using classified information from state military archives, has estimated that approximately 600,000 military personnel were ordered to penal battalions. There are estimates of up to one million Gulag inmates transferred to penal units.However, according to military historian Lt Col Yuri Veremeev (Юрий Веремеев) [ in Russian] , who also quotes Gen Col G.F. Krivosheev, the overall number of 427,910 served in penal units from September 1942 to May 1945. It should be compared to nearly 34.5 million men and women who served in the Soviet armed forces during the entire period of the war.G.F. Krivosheev, ‘Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the twentieth century’, London, Greenhill Books, 1997, ISBN 1853672807 (ISBN13 9781853672804).]

The term of service in penal units was from one to three months (the maximum term was usually applied as the standard punishment for Order 227). Convicts were released earlier if they suffered a combat injury (the crime was considered to be "washed out with blood") or committed a heroic deed. The convicts could also receive military decorations for outstanding service and upon release were considered fully rehabilitated. Airmen in penal squadrons were at a disadvantage since, by the nature of air combat, an injury was usually fatal.

Penal battalion service was very dangerous: the official view was that they were highly expendable and were to be used to reduce losses in regular units. They were used in attempts to break through particularly stubborn enemy defences, reconnaissance to determine enemy strength, as rearguards during retreats and in conspicuous ways (eg, wearing dark, instead of snow camouflage, clothing) to attract enemy fire away from regular units.

Standard rates of conversion of imprisonment terms into penal battalion terms existed.

Together with "shtrafbat"s, Order 227 mentioned "barrier troops", which have led to a modern misconception that "shtrafbat"s were rearguarded by barrier troops. Attempts to retreat were prevented by so-called anti-retreat detachments of the Soviet NKVD, using force.

In the story, “The Warlord” by the Soviet writer Vladimir Karpov, he recounts his military career, from a penal company serviceman to a Guards Colonel, who was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.


* "The Dirty Dozen", a 1967 American film directed by Robert Aldrich from the novel by E.M. Nathanson.
* "Shtrafbat" ("Штрафбат", imdb-title|0425715|Shtrafbat), a 2004 Russian miniseries directed by Nikolai Dostal.
* The Warhammer 40,000 novel series, "The Last Chancers", by Gav Thorpe, portrays penal military units in a futuristic setting.
* is a video game portraying a company made up of the men whose offenses within the US Army aren't serious enough for a court martial and as such are used as essentially cannon fodder.


External links

* [ Yefim Golbraikh memoirs, including his serving commander of a penal company] ru icon
* [ Article] from Voice of Russia

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