Armenische (Armenian) Legion
The 812th Armenian Battalion, also known as the Armenian Legion, was a military unit in the German Army during World War II. It primarily consisted of Soviet Armenians, who had been taken prisoner by the Nazis, and commanded by General Drastamat Kanayan.
The short-lived Republic of Armenia, established in 1918, was conquered by the Russian Bolsheviks in 1920 and incorporated shortly after into the Soviet Union. This was something which members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF; Dashnaks) political party never reconciled themselves with, as many of them were imprisoned, killed, or expelled by Soviet authorities following the Soviet takeover.
In 1942, in order to fight Turkey's anti-Armenian politicking, a number of Dashnaks entered into negotiations with Berlin, and reluctantly agreed to participate in the formation of a military legion. This was a move, however, that was officially repudiated by ARF party organs.
The majority of the soldiers in the 812th Battalion legion were drawn from the ranks of the Red Army prisoners of war who had opted to fight for the German Army rather than face the brutal conditions of the Nazi POW camps, though a number of Armenian veterans who had escaped to the United States after World War I also came back to Europe to join it. Command of the unit was given to a former Defense Minister of Armenia, General Drastamat Kanayan (Dro). Kanayan was among the minority in the legion who volunteered, under the hope of freeing Soviet Armenia from the control of Moscow.
Through the span of active service, the 812th Battalion participated in the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula and the North Caucasus. One unit comprising a part of the Armenian Legion, was the 4th Battalion of the 918th Grenadier Regiment, 242 Infanterie-Division, one of the few Eastern Legion units to be given German insignia after March 18, 1944. The battalion participated in the unsuccessful defense of Toulon.
At the end of the war, morale among the men in the unit began to collapse and many in the legion deserted or defected.[ Hans Houterman reported that in one case a battalion in the Netherlands where the legion was stationed even revolted. Many men surrendered to the Western Allied forces. If not detained by them, they were turned over to Soviet authorities who, in accordance with an order proclaimed by Joseph Stalin, sent them to camps in Siberia as punishment for surrendering to Axis forces and "allowing themselves to be captured," a fate suffered by nearly all of the former Soviet prisoners of the war.
Several Jewish Red Army POWs were saved by some of the Armenians in the Legion and there were several instances of Jews being sent to the battalion to evade detection by the Nazis. Josef Moisevich Kogan, a Red Army soldier captured by the Germans, for example, stated that he received help by an Armenian doctor in the 812th Battalion when he was sneaked into the battalion itself, later escaping with the help of Dutch underground. Other examples included Jews being sent to the battalion to evade detection by the Nazis.
In spite of Nazi Germany acknowledging the Armenians as an Aryan people, Adolf Hitler personally did not trust them, and as a result the Armenian battalion was mainly stationed in the Netherlands. Speaking about military units from Soviet peoples, Hitler said: "I don't know about these Georgians. They do not belong to the Turkic peoples...I consider only the moslims to be reliable...All others I deem unreliable. For the time being I consider the formation of these battalions of purely Caucasian peoples very risky, while I don't see any danger in the establishment of purely Moslim units...In spite of all declarations from Rosenberg and the military, I don't trust the Armenians either."
Minister of the Occupied Territories and Racial Theorist Alfred Rosenberg declared that the Armenians were Indo-European, or Aryans, and thus they were immediately subject to conscription. According to Versteeg, however, "Although Armenians officially were considered 'Aryans', the notion of them being 'Levantine traders', similar to the Jews, was deep-seated in Nazi circles, and racial 'purists' along with Hitler himself were prone to look upon the Armenians as 'non-Aryans.'"
Other Armenian Infantry Battalions
There were a number of other units that Armenians also served in aside from the 812th Battalion, their total number, according to Joris Versteeg, reaching 33,000. Of these, 14,000 were placed in field battalions, while another 7,000 served in logistical and other non-combat units. Ailsby puts the number of Armenians in "the legions and replacement battalions" closer to 11,600.
809th Battalion "Zeytun"
812th Engineering Battalion
I / 125 Battalion
I / 198 Battalion
II / 9 Battalion
General Drastamat Kanayan.