World War II: Soviet Child Soldiers

Figure 1.--Here we see three Red Arny soldiers in Berlin, probably after the War in 1945. The boy is Volodya Tarnowski. His comrads are unidentified. The younger boy may be a son of the regiment. But notice all his medals. Red Army soldiers commonly fought without helmets and wore their medals into battle. He may have worked with the parisans. Presumably the binoculars are props.

We note many images of Soviet boys and engaged in the struggle against the NAZI invaders. Some are clearly in the Red Army. Others are with the Partisans. Ohers may have been Sons of the Regiment. In some cases it is difficult to determine. There have in recent years been considerable press treatment of child soldiers. Many horrific accounts describe the damage done to society and the children themselves. we note images of boys in the Red Army. Clearly young people below the age of conscription joined the Red Army. Given the fact that the NAZIs committed wide spread attrocities against civilians, including women and children, the idea of keeping children out of the War becomes a rather unrealistic concept. Although unknown to the Russians at te time, the German Generalplan Ost was genocidal. It is of course absurd to use the modern concerns over child soldiers given the Germnan war aims and brutal conduct of the Wehrmacht.

Regular Red Army

We notice boys in Red Army uniforms. We have few details about them or their exact age. Before the War tghe age of conscription was 19 years. Just before the War the age of conscription as lowered to age 17 years. We are not sure if all youths this age were called up at this time, but they certainly were after the German invasion (June 1941). We believe that younger youths wre allowed to volunteer which probanly explains why some Red Army soldies look so youthful. We are not sure, however, how common or how important thus was. Nor do we know if the Red Army discouraged or promoted this. We suspect that given the emergency that they accepted who ever volunteered unless they were clearly children rather than youths. Hopefully readers will know more.

Red Army Age Regulations: Exceptions

Officially, children were not allowed to join The Red Army. There were age limitations. With the emergency created by the Germamn invaion, exceptions were made. Soldiers as the Red Army began moving west came across abandoned and orphaned children. They sometimes found children in the villages destoyed by the retreating Germans. These children were supposed to be sent to orphanages set up throughout the Soviet Union. For a variety of reasons, this did not always occur. The girls eere sent to the orphanages, but not all of the boys. Red Army soldiers connected wuith the boys and the boys with the children. For sme of the boys it was these personal conectind that were important. With their parents killed, these were the only peoplw with which they had connections. And many had a powerful desire for revenge and a burning desire to kill Germans. Other children were in partisan groups and incorporated into the regular Red Army as areasof the Soviet Union were liberated. Thus some children were incorporated in combat units. Most were teanagers, but there were some pre-teens as well, a few as young as 9-years old. Another source of child soldiers was the recruitment process. As a resut of the disasters of June-October 1941, much of theRed army was destroyed. The Red rmy was desperate to form new diisions. Some underage Soviet teanagers wanted to join up and fight the Germans. Here patriotism ws aoften afactor. Another factor was that the Red army soldiers received the best food rations. Here we are not taling avout preteens, but many undragetenagers were accepted by recruitent officers not asking alot of questions. Small uniforms were tailored for these children and they were given guns and used them. Many of these boys stayed with their regiment until the war ended.

Sons of the Regiment

There was along tradition in the Tsarist and other Europen armies called sons of the regiment. At the time there was no system of support for military families. The officers often came from aristiocraic or other familiies of means. The enlisted families were entirely dependant of the father's salary. Thus if the father was killed, his family was destitute. Insome cases, boys were in effect adopted and becae sons of the regiment. This tradition seems to have continued with the Red Army. We are unsure about the inter-ar era, but we note it duing World War II, but fmilies were no longer left destitute. We believe that many of the boys that became sons of the regiment were boys whose parents were killed or were separated from their parents. he boys may have begun hanging arond soldiers are the headquarters, in part because food was available. The soldiers may have given them odd jobs and then as bond of affection formedm the boys became sons of the regiment. The extent to hich they prticipated in actual fighing probably depended on various fctors, age, position, and soldiers to which they attached. Hopfully readrs will have more detiled information.

Juvenile Delinquints

A reader tells us that juvenile delinquents were conscripted, but we have no actual information at this time.


Many children worked with the partisans in the occupied areas. We suspect that many of the boys that joined with the parisans were children who had become separated from their parents or whose parents had been killed. In some cases they may have witnessed the brutalities. These were primarily youths who joined the partisans, but there were children as well, mostly boys. As the Red Army drove west, most patisans would have become part of the regular Red Army. Presumably the youth and children who had joined the partisans were accepted into the Red Army. We have noted references to some of these boys, but we do not yet have their complete stories. Hopefully there are records somewhere with their detailed accounts. One such boy is Vasya Borovik One of the most famous boy partisans was Vasya Korobkois Another boy partisanwas Vanya Shkeley.


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Created: 3:02 AM 9/9/2012
Last updated: 9:37 PM 4/22/2015