Role in World War II
Armenia was part of the Soviet Union during World War II.
Armenia was spared the devastation and destruction that wrought most of the western Soviet Union during the Great Patriotic War of World War II. The Nazis never reached the South Caucasus. Armenia had a population of 1,320,000 at the beginning of the war in 1939 and an estimated 300,000–500,000 Armenians served in the war, almost half of whom did not return.
A total of 117 citizens of Armenia including 10 non ethnic Armenians were awarded Hero of the Soviet Union. Of these, 36 had been killed in action and were awarded this title posthumously. 27 Armenian soldiers and sergeants were also awarded the Order of Glory, and a total of 66,802 participants from Armenia were awarded orders and medals of the Soviet Union. Armenians living in the areas occupied regions of the Soviet Union formed partisan groups to combat the Germans. Over sixty Armenians were promoted to the rank of general, and with an additional four eventually achieving the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union. Hovhannes Bagramyan was both the first non-Slavic Marshal and commander to hold the position of front commander when he was assigned to be the commander of the First Baltic Front in 1943. Admiral Ivan Isakov became the second Admiral of the fleet of the Soviet Union. Hamazasp Babadzhanian was the second of only two Chief Marshal of the Tank and Armored Troops. Sergei Khudyakov had been among the third to be Marshal of Aviation.
Six special military divisions were formed in Soviet Armenia in 1941–42, partly because so many draftees from the republic could not understand Russian. These six divisions alone had more than 67,000 soldiers. Five of them, the 89th, 409th, 408th, 390th, and 76th Divisions, would have a distinguished war record, while the sixth was ordered to stay in Armenia to guard the republic’s western borders against a possible incursion by neighboring Turkey. The 89th Tamanyan Division, composed of ethnic Armenians, distinguished itself during the war. Led by Major General Nver Safaryan, it fought in the Battle of Berlin and entered Berlin. Many Armenian soldiers also served in two other multi-ethnic divisions. They came not only from Soviet Armenia, but also from the other Soviet republics and other countries with considerable Armenian minorities.
The Armenian SSR provided weapons and rebuilt damaged aircraft. Workers donated to the Defense Fund 216,000,000 rubles. Armenia, as a gift, sent to the front 45 wagons of provisions. Armenian communities in the Middle East and the West also donated considerable sums of money to the Soviet government to help construct a series of tanks for the Red Army.
The Armenische Legion was created within the Wehrmacht, which consisted mainly of Soviet prisoners of war, who had opted to fight for German forces rather than be sent to the Nazi POW camps or killed. The legion was led by former Defence Minister of Armenia General Drastamat Kanayan, who fought against the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front. Kanayan was among the minority in the legion who volunteered, under the hope of freeing Armenia from Soviet control. The total number of Armenians serving in the German armed forces during the war reached 33,000: 14,000 were placed in field battalions, while another 7,000 served in logistical and other non-combat units. The legion participated in the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula and the Caucasus. It did not take part in the Holocaust, on the contrary several Jewish soldiers captured as POWs were saved by some of the Armenians in the Legion. Towards the end of the war, many of the legion deserted, defected or revolted. In spite of Nazi Germany acknowledging the Armenians were an Indo-European (or Aryan) people, Hitler personally stated, "I don't trust the Armenians."
The Diaspora also had its input in the anti-fascist struggle – Armenian organizations set up in the U.S., France, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Romania, Cyprus, Jordan and other countries were providing military assistance to the Soviet troops.
After the universal call for fundraising in Etchmiadzin in 1943, Sassuntsi-Davit Tank Regiment was formed. It was almost entirely funded by Diaspora Armenians.
Over 30 thousand Armenians were fighting on the Allied side. Out of them 20 thousand were fighting in the ranks of American and Canadian forces.
Armenians also stood out during the French Resistance Movement. Missak Manouchian was one of the founders of this movement. In his memoirs “Le Temps des avant” Charles Aznavour wrote:
“Before he became a hero of Resistance, Missak Manouchian was known in the Armenian community especially for his poems. In 1944, Manouchian and his comrades were arrested by the Gestapo. Panic-stricken Missak’s wife Meline hid in our place. We were in alarm waiting for some news, which eventually proved to be bad as the Resistance Movement participants who the Nazis used to call ‘terrorists’ were executed.” Missak Manouchian was posthumously awarded the title of the National Hero of France.
89th Tamanyan Division
390th Rifle Division
76th Rifle Division
261st Rifle Unit
408th and 409th
Sassuntsi-Davit Tank Regiment