Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force

Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force

The Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force or LTDF ( _lt. Lietuvos vietinė rinktinė, LVR, _de. Lituanische Sonderverbande)ref_label|a|a|none was a short-lived Lithuanian volunteer armed force created and disbanded in 1944 during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania. It was subordinate to the authorities of Nazi Germany. Its goal was to fight approaching Red Army, provide security, and conduct anti-partisan operations on Lithuanian lands. LTDF had some autonomy and was staffed by Lithuanian officers, their most notable commander being Lithuanian General Povilas Plechavičius. LTDF quickly reached the size of about 10,000 men. After brief engagements against the Soviet and Polish partisans, the force self-disbanded, its leaders were arrested and sent to concentration camps, and numerous of its members were executed by the Nazis. Many others were either drafted into other Nazi auxiliary services, or started forming an armed anti-Soviet resistance. The Union of Soldiers of the Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force (Lietuvos vietinės rinktinės karių sąjunga), a veterans organization, was founded in 1997. [lt icon cite journal|url= |first=Romas |last=Bacevičius |title=Dievo pagalba išvengęs mirties |date=11 February 2005 |journal=Sidabrinė gija |volume=1 |issue=11 ]

Earlier mobilisation attempts

In the beginning of 1943 Nazi occupational government attempted to raise a Waffen-SS division from the local population as they had in many other countries, but the mobilization was boycotted with less than 300 men reporting.cite book |last=Peterson |first=Roger D. |title=Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe |url= |pages=164 |publisher=Cambridge University Press |year=2001 |isbn=0521770009] cite book| url= |title=Lithuania: Stepping Westward |first=Thomas |last=Lane |publisher=Routledge |year=2001 |isbn=0415267315 |pages=57] The Nazis carried out reprisals against the population and deported 46 prominent figures and members of the intelligentsia to the Stutthof concentration camp. All Lithuanian higher education institutions were closed by the Nazis on March 18–19. lt icon cite web|url= |title=Nacių okupacija: holokaustas ir kiti nacių nusikaltimai 1941–1944 m. |accessdate=2008-08-07 |date=April 20, 2005 |format=doc |publisher=The International Commission of the Evaluation of Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes In Lithuania] In summer 1943, an "All Lithuanian Conference", sponsored by the Nazi authorities, allowed for a more successful mobilization campaign. This resulted into creation of an armed force, that would only act on the territory claimed by Lithuanians and would be commanded only by Lithuanian officers.


After the Germans suffered losses in the Eastern Front and the Red Army was approaching, Lithuanian General Povilas Plechavičius used the opportunity and continued the negotiations with the Germans. The Nazis finally agreed to create units of "Vietinė rinktinė", that were to be commanded by Lithuanian officers and to act only within the Lithuanian territory.cite book | last=Bubnys | first=Arūnas | authorlink=Arūnas Bubnys | title = Vokiečių okupuota Lietuva (1941-1944)| publisher = Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos tyrimo centras | year=1998 | location=Vilnius |pages= | isbn = 9986-757-12-6 ] The soldiers would wear Lithuanian insignia on their uniforms. Most of his demands were not met, notably a request to transfer officers from police battalions. German Ziwilverwaltung agreed not to transfer Lithuanian youth to German labor camps while LTDF was active. At first the plans called for 21 battalions, 250-strong icon cite book | first=Henryk |last=Piskunowicz |chapter=Działalnośc zbrojna Armi Krajowej na Wileńszczyśnie w latach 1942–1944 | title =Armia Krajowa na Nowogródczyźnie i Wileńszczyźnie (1941–1945) | year =1997 | editor =Tomasz Strzembosz | pages =40–45 | publisher =Institute of Political Sciences, Polish Academy of Sciences | location =Warsaw | isbn=8390716803 ] Later by Plechavičius' demands the quota was increased to 10,000 men.

All the Lithuanian political underground organizations supported formation of LTDF. The formal agreement was signed on February 13, 1944 and on February 16, 1944, the Lithuanian Independence Day, Plechavičius made a radio appeal to the nation for volunteers.cite journal |last=Mackevičius |first=Mečislovas |url= |title=Lithuanian resistance to German mobilization attempts 1941–1944 |journal=Lituanus | issue=32 |volume=4 |date=Winter 1986 |issn=0024-5089] The appeal was very successful and estimates put the number of volunteers between 20,000 and 30,000. Eventually the LTDF had a peak strength of about 10,000 men, assigned to 14 battalions. Thirteen battalions were fully formed with 750 men each and the 14th battalion was training in Marijampolė. They were numbered as police battalions 301–310 and 312–314.

The process of creation was not smooth because Germans did not trust the LTDF. They ordered reorganization of already formed battalions of four companies into battalions of three companies, and were constantly delaying delivery of arms, munitions, means of transportation and communication. Because SS did not trust the Lithuanian officers, they demanded that German officers, called "Zahlmeisters", would be inserted into LTDF units. An oath, similar to one used by the Lithuanian armed forces, was prepared. The oath was altered by SS and Police Chief Harmclarifyme to include a personal oath to Hitler. Knowing that such an oath is not acceptable to soldiers of LTDF, the ceremony was delayed every time and the oath was not taken until the formation self-disbanded.


The Germans were surprised by the number of volunteers since their previous appeals went unheeded. Possibly perceiving the success of the detachment as a nationalist threat, the Germans started to interfere, breaking the signed agreement. On March 22, 1944, SS Obergruppenführer and SD General Friedrich Jackeln called for 70–80 thousand men for the German army as subsidiary assistants. Chief-of-Staff of the Northern Front Field Marshal Walther Model pressed for 15 battalions to protect the German military airports. General Commissioner of Lithuania Adrian von Renteln demanded workers to be sent to Germany. Other German officials also voiced their demands. Plechavičius rejected and resisted such demands.

Finally, on April 6, 1944, the Germans ordered Plechavičius to mobilize the country. Plechavičius responded that a further mobilization could not take place until the formation of his detachment was complete, which further displeased the Germans. In late April, as the German plans to mobilize Lithuanians into the German armed forces became obvious, Plechavičius secretly started organizing "Tėvynės Sauga", an underground armed forces, which would include Lithuanian Army officers, veterans of the Lithuanian Wars of Independence, and former members of Lithuanian Riflemen Union. All across Lithuania, a network was secretly organized by territorial LTDF officers. The plans were to assemble around 75–80 thousand men. Most of the organizational structure was laid, and it served as a basis for the anti-Soviet resistance.


The mission of LTDF was to defend the country against the approaching Soviet Red Army. In practice, since the Red Army had not entered the Lithuanian lands to which LTDF was confined, the force was used was to aid the Nazis in their operations against the Soviet and Polish partisans, operating on the territory claimed by Lithuanians. In April, Polish Armia Krajowa (AK) in the Vilnius Region attempted to open negotiations with Plechavičius, proposing a non-aggression pact and cooperation against the Nazi icon cite book| first=Henryk |last=Piskunowicz |chapter=Armia Krajowa na Wileńszczyżnie |title=Armia Krajowa: Rozwój organizacyjny |editor=Krzysztof Komorowski |publisher= Wydawnictwo Bellona |year=1996 |isbn=8311085447 |pages=213–214] The Lithuanian side refused and demanded that the Poles either abandon the Vilnius Region (disputed between Poles and Lithuanians) or subordinate themselves to the Lithuanians in their struggle against the Soviets.

In early May, the LTDF initiated a wide anti-partisan operation against the Polish and Soviet partisans in the icon cite journal | first=Jacek J. |last=Komar | title =W Wilnie pojednają się dziś weterani litewskiej armii i polskiej AK | journal =Gazeta Wyborcza | date =2004-09-01 | url =,34234,2262779.html | accessdate=2008-03-15 ] Seven battalions were dispatched to man the garrisons in and around the towns of Oszmiany (modern Ašmiany, Belarus)pl icon cite book|first=Edmund |last=Banasikowski| title=Na zew ziemi wileńskiej| year=1988| pages=123–127| publisher=Editions Spotkania| location=Paris |oclc=18528462| url=| accessdate =2008-03-15] and Holszany (modern Halšany, Belarus), notably the villages of Murowana Oszmianka, Graużyszki, Kuncewicze, Tołminowo and Nowosiółki. LTDF units committed atrocities against Polish civilians, notably in Pawłów, Graużyszki and Sienkowszczyzna.en icon cite book | first=Tadeusz |last=Piotrowski |authorlink=Tadeusz Piotrowski (sociologist) | title =Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide... | year =1997 | pages=165–166 | publisher=McFarland & Company | isbn= 0-7864-0371-3| url =]

However, Polish resistance fought back. On May 4, the 3rd Brigade of AK intercepted and destroyed a company of the Lithuanian 310st Battalion which attempted to pacify the Polish village of Pawłowo. At Graużyszki the Lithuanian 301st Battalion suffered 47 casualties and was dispersed by the 8th and 12th Brigades of the Armia Krajowa on May icon cite book | first=Piotr |last=Łossowski| authorlink=Piotr Łossowski| title =Polska–Litwa: ostatnie sto lat | year =1991 | pages=110 | publisher=Oskar | location =Warsaw | isbn=8385239065] On May 6, the 8th, 9th and 13th Brigades of AK defeated two companies of the Lithuanian 308th Battalion, which were burning the villages of Sienkowszczyzna and Adamkowszyczyzna and murdering their inhabitants. Most notably, the Polish resistance organized a concentrated assault against the fortified Lithuanian positions around the village of Murowana Oszmianka. The defences, reinforced with concrete bunkers and trenches, were manned by the 301st Battalion of the LTDF. During the night of May 13–14, the 3rd Brigade of the AK assaulted the village from the west and north-west, while the 8th and 12th Brigades attacked from the south and east. The remainder of the Polish forces (13th and 9th Brigades) secured the Murowana Oszmianka – Tołminowo road. In the effect of the battle the Lithuanian force lost 60 men, while 170 were taken prisoner of war. Another 117 Lithuanian soldiers were taken prisoner later that night in the nearby village of Toł icon cite book | author =Komisja Historyczna b. Sztabu Głównego w Londynie | title =Polskie Siły Zbrojne w drugiej wojnie światowej | year =1999 | pages=602 | volume =III | publisher =Adiutor, Instytut Historyczny im. gen. Sikorskiego | location =London | isbn=8386100338 ] After the battle all Lithuanian prisoners were disarmed and set free with only their long johns and helmets on.


Since March Germans constantly attempted to use LTDF to mobilize Lithuanians for labor in Germmany, Wehrmacht, and Hilfswillige, but such attempts were blocked by Plechavičius. As tensions between Germans and LTDF were growing, Plecahvičius even sent a resignation request and suggested to demobilise LTDF on April 12. But demands and tension continued to grow. At the end of April, Plechavičius secretly blocked creation of a list of conscripts into the German army. He opposed the mobilization, announced in the beginning of May (it was supposed to be completed on May 8). The mobilization failed completely, when only 3–5% of men of conscription age reported to the German authorities. Most of them were not fit for the military service. Plechavičius had personally ordered his officers in territorial branches to ignore the mobilization icon cite book | editor=Arvydas Anušauskas | title = Lietuva 1940–1990: okupuotos Lietuvos istorija | publisher=Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos tyrimo centras | year=2005 | location =Vilnius | pages =237–238 | isbn = 9986-757-65-7]

Since April the Germans were considering transforming LTDF into an auxiliary police service of the SS. The failures of the operation against the Polish Armia Krajowa, culminating in the LTDF defeat in the Battle of Murowana Oszmianka on May 13–14, gave the Germans another excuse to assert their control over the formation. On May 9, 1944, after the unsuccessful attempt of mobilisation, Friedrich Jeckeln ordered the detachment units in the Vilnius Region to recognize his direct authority. All other units of LTDF were to become subordinates of the regional German commanders. Jackeln demanded the troops to take an oath to Hitler. Furthermore, the detachment was to wear SS uniforms lt icon cite journal|title=Generolo Jono Žemaičio vaidmuo partizaniniame kare| journal=Genocidas ir rezistencija| year=1998| first=Nijolė| last=Žemaitienė| volume=2| issue=4| publisher=Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania| issn=1392-3463 |url= |accessdate=2008-08-07 ] and use the "Heil Hitler" greeting.

Upon hearing this order, and being informed that it was signed by Jackeln as early as April 15, Plechavičius opposed this challenge to his authority and rejected the demands.. He immediately ordered cadets, training in Marijampolė, to return home. He also ordered LTDF battalions in the Vilnius Region to stop hostilities with AK forces and return to the assigned garrisons. On May 12, Plechavičius refused to meet with newly appointed Kurt Hintze and sent his chief of staff Urbonas, who told Hintze that he never meant to be an SS officer, nor ever wanted to serve in this structure. Jeckeln also suggested that LTDF would fight in the Western Front, but Plechavičius refused. Plechavičius issued a declaration for his men to disband and disappear into the forests with their weapons and uniforms.cite book| editor=Juozas Audėnas |title=Twenty Years’ Struggle for the Freedom of Lithuania |location= New York |publisher=Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania |year=1973 |oclc=24760279] [cite book |last=Ivinskis |first=Zenonas |chapter=Lithuania During the War: Resistance Against the Soviet and the Nazi Occupants |editor= Vytas Stanley Vardys |title=Lithuania under the Soviets: Portrait of a Nation |location=New York |publisher=Frederick A. Praeger Publishers |year=1965 |pages=84 |oclc=398253] The Lithuanian headquarters directed the detachment units in the field to obey only the orders of the Lithuanian chain of command.


On May 15, Plechavičius was arrested together with the his chief of staff, colonel Oskaras Urbonas. Jeckeln and Hintze delivered a speech before the remaining LTDF officers accusing them of banditry, sabotage, and political agenda and threatening them with executions and transfers to concentration camps. Jeckeln announced that LTDF was to be disbanded and disarmed. Soldiers of the LTDF would be transferred to German air defence forces. Anyone who would desert would be shot on sight, causing repressions against their families. Together with other members of the LTDF staff Plechavičius was deported to the Salaspils concentration camp in Latvia. Altogether, 52 LTDF officers would end up in Salaspils, 106 cadets in Stutthof, and 983 soldiers in Oldenburg concentration camps. To make an example, the Nazis shot about 100 former LTDF members, and publicly executed 12 randomly selected soldiers in a Vilnius line-up which consisted of some 800 men. 84 or 86 members of LTDF were shot in Paneriai. While transporting some of the arrested men to Kaunas, one of the prisoners escaped. In retaliation, the Germans then selected NCO Ruseckas for execution on the spot. Since the German regular army guards were stalling the execution, an SS officer did the actual shooting.

Most of the soldiers were to be disarmed and arrested by the Germans, but they succeeded disarming only 4 out of 14 battalions. On May 16 German units arrived to liquidate Marijampolė officers school, but found only a dozen soldiers; after an attempt to disarm them a firefight started and 4 or 5 soldiers were killed. About 3,500 members of the LTDF were drafted into other Nazi formations: several infantry battalions under Colonel Birontas were sent to the Eastern Front, some became guards at Luftwaffe installations outside Lithuania, others were sent to Germany as forced laborers. Many soldiers who managed to evade the Germans, disappeared with their weapons. They formed the core of the armed anti-Soviet resistance, which waged a guerrilla war for the next eight years. Covert Soviet plans for the destruction of the remnants of Plechavičius' army were already created in 1944 [cite book| author=United States Senate Judiciary Committee |title=Soviet Intelligence and Security Services 1964–70 |url= |pages=110 |publisher=GOP |year=1972 |oclc=81160115] and the Soviets would execute or imprison LTDF soldiers they captured. LTDF was the last large mobilization attempt by the Nazis.


a Note_label|a|a|none "Vietinė rinktinė" has several translations into English, which can cause some confusion. Translations include Territorial Defense Force, Home Army, Home Defense, Local Defense, Local Lithuanian Detachment, Lithuanian Home Formation, etc.


Further reading

*lt icon cite journal| last=Blaževičius |first=Kazys |url= |title=Žemaitijos valdovas |journal=XXI amžius |date=January 21, 2004 | volume=6 |issue=1209

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