Operation Schamil

Imam Shamil (19th leader of Caucasian resistance to Russian rule)

This was a German unrealised plan for a special forces airborne operation by Oberstleutnant Paul Haehling von Lanzenauer’s Lehr-Regiment ‘Brandenburg’ zbV 800 to seize the oilfields at Maykop and Grozny (25 August/10 December 1942).

These two towns were the centres of oil production and refining in the northern half of the Caucasus, and were prime objectives (together with Baku on the west coast of the Caspian Sea) for the 'Edelweiss' extension of the ‘Braunschweig’ (‘Blau III’) summer offensive of 1942 by Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm List’s Heeresgruppe ‘A’.

The plan was for the Lehr-Regiment ‘Brandenburg’ to drop in advance of Generaloberst Ewald von Kleist’s 1st Panzerarmee to take the towns by coups-de-main so that the Soviets would not be able to destroy the oil facilities which were the primary objectives of the ‘Edelweiss’ offensive, but Maykop was taken with little difficulty on 9 August, even though the Soviets had managed to destroy its oil facilities, and the Germans failed to penetrate deeply beyond the Terek river in the region of Grozny, so removing the need for the airborne operation against this centre.

Later, as an offshoot of the initial scheme, a small unit was dropped behind the Soviet lines to the south of Grozny to undertake a special commando mission. Landing on 25 August near Duba-Yurt, in the area of the Argun river gorge to the south of Grozny in the area populated by the Chechen people, the unit moved to the north-west toward the spearheads of the advancing German forces. On its way the unit tried to stir the largely Moslem peoples of the Caucasus, such as the Chechen groups led by Hassan Israilov, first into attacks against the Soviet rear areas and then into a rising against the USSR. As part of this, the Chechens and their German special forces advisers were to occupy strategic points and prevent the movement of Soviet troops.

Shortly after landing, the ‘Brandenburg’ group became involved in skirmishes with Soviet forces and until 12 September fell back, in the face of resistance from Soviet militia and NKVD units, to the south in the direction of the village of Borzoi, where there was a force of Chechen resistance fighters. After moving to the village of Oschnoi, still deeper into the Caucasus, the group concentrated on 25 September to start its march to the north-west back toward the German lines, and in this phase of the undertaking managed on three occasions to avoid encirclement and destruction by Soviet forces.

During this period the German command was in contact with two Chechen resistance groups, whose men were more than willing to fight the Soviets, but ‘Schamil’ failed not for any lack of will to co-operate between the Germans and Chechens, but the poor organisation of weapon deliveries to the Chechens, who therefore lacked the means with which to undertake an effective campaign against the Soviets. This led directly to the failure of the Germans to foment a ‘second front’ in the Soviet forces’ rear areas.

The Brandenburgers’ retreat toward the German lines was slow and was delayed by a new Soviet attack early in November after the German special forces unit ambushed a Soviet vehicle convoy. It was on 10 December that the Brandenburger unit finally linked with other German forces in the village of Verchny Kurp.

The operation had been conceived as a trial of the concept of integrating local anti-Soviet resistance elements with German offensive plans. However, the loss of the 6th Army at Stalingrad in February 1943 and the later retreat of the German forces from the Caucasus region, the Germans were compelled to consider other means of garnering the support of the Chechen and other anti-Soviet national and religious groupings in the Caucasus. It was only in 1944 that there began renewed but small-scale attempts to provoke and then support local risings in the Kalmyk steppe region through the delivery of agents and weapons by long-range aircraft of the Kampfgeschwader 200.

The NKVD secret police had soon learned of ‘Schamil’ and its longer-term implications for German and Chechen co-operation, and this was one of the reasons for the ‘Chechevitsa’ deportation of the entire Chechen and Ingush populations into central Asia and the dissolution of the Chechen-Ingush autonomous republic as part of the USSR on 7 March 1944.