Friday, September 21, 2012

A joint parade of Soviet and German troops in Brest-Litovsk on September 22, 1939

Dear readers,
This parade has taken place 73 years ago but still surrounded with numerous myths  and legends. What happened in reality in Brest-Litovsk on September 22, 1939?

The secret protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, signed on August 23, 1939 defined the boundary between the German and Soviet "spheres of influence". However, during their invasion of Poland, some German forces, especially Heinz Guderian's XIX. motorized Corps, have advanced beyond this line in pursuit of their strategic goals. The XIX. Corps, approached Brest on September, 13 and defeated the Polish resistance in the ensuing battle by September, 17, establishing their base of operations in the city. During the following days, Guderian was informed, much to his chagrin, that the demarcation line between German and Soviet-controlled regions was drawn along the Bug River and that his forces were to retreat behind this line by September, 22. On September, 17, after Vasily Chuikov's 4th Army received the order to cross the Polish border, its 29th Tank Brigade, led by Kombrig Semyon Krivoshein, entered the town of Baranovichi (pl. Baranowicze). After taking the town and capturing a few thousand Polish soldiers who were stationed there, his units kept on moving westward, reaching the village of Pruzhany (pl. Prużana) on 19 September.On 20 September, advance units of the 29. Tank Brigade, encountered Guderian's forces at the village of Vidomlya (pl. Widomla), three days after the Soviet invasion of Poland and twenty days after the German invasion of Poland.
The Soviet Brigade had seen little combat, because most of the fighting had already been over by this time. According to Krivoshein, a recon unit returned with a group of 12 German officers who identified themselves as part of Guderian's XIX Corps and explained that they, too, were moving in the direction of Brest. They were invited to Krivoshein's tent, who then proposed a toast to both commanders and invited the attending German officers to Moscow after they achieved a quick victory over "capitalist England" Through them Krivoshein also sent warm greetings to the German general and made sure to approach the city from the opposite direction than that taken by the Wehrmacht. Upon approaching the town in the morning of September 22, Krivoshein realized that German troops were already busy looting the town and that Guderian had already established his headquarters there. Soon afterwards, Guderian's representatives arrived, and greeted the "glorious Red Army" and its general. Following a short exchange of formalities, Krivoshein offered to visit Guderian and personally pay his respects to him. The offer was accepted and Krivoshein was taken to the German headquarters to share breakfast with the German General.

During the meeting, Guderian proposed a joint parade of Soviet and German troops through the town, including a lineup of soldiers from both armies on the central square. Because the Soviet troops were tired after a long march, Krivoshein declined, but promised to supply a military band and a few battalions, and agreed to Guderian's request that he and Guderian would stand and review the parade together. According to the initial agreement, the procedure included German and Soviet troops marching before their commanding officers followed by changing the flag, accompanied by national anthems of Germany and the USSR. However, the Soviet commanding officer, Kombrig Semyon Krivoshein, writes in his memoirs that he did not allow Soviet troops to pass alongside the German forces, because he was afraid that Soviet troops, weary after a long march to Brest, would look inferior in comparison with the Germans, who stayed in the city for several days. Instead, he suggested that the Soviet columns would enter the city separately and salute the leaving Germans whenever they meet. The parade began at 16:00, and the "Victory Arches" were erected which the Soviet troops decorated with swastikas and red stars, and through which German troops marched. The Soviets fielded the 4th Battalion of 29th Light Tank Brigade, which was the first unit of the Red Army to roll into the city. The Soviet and German generals paid homage to each other's armies and their respective victories over Polish forces.

See the video of the parade by clicking at