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Old 05-22-2020, 11:35 AM
Dale Sams is online now
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Do you think at the end of losing wars...many soldiers just 'went home'?


I'm talking about taking off their uniforms and just going home?

It would require:

A large area of unoccupied territory at the time of going AWOL.

Ideally, home being in that territory.

Utter chaos and breakdown of everything. And a general sense that the losing side wouldn't care.

So, off the top of my head instances seem to qualify would be areas of Germany in WW2 and the South in the Civil War.

I can think of two (one fictional) instances. In the book "Tigers in the Mud", the writer actually does go to a POW camp, but horrified by the conditions quickly disguises himself, lies about who he is and shortly goes home.

And *I think* in "The Young Lions, Marlon Brando intended to just go home at the end of the film before being thwarted.

Did it happen often? Anyone know of instances? Notorious people of course would have trouble with it....but it seems like a lot of people would be able to get away with it.

Last edited by Dale Sams; 05-22-2020 at 11:35 AM.
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Old 05-22-2020, 11:54 AM
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Depends on the situation - in WWI, the sides signed a peace deal, so the government of Germany did not effectively collapse, it still ran the armed forces and made arrangements for troop movements and demobilization. In WWII as Germany wa overrun, they were still fighting, so any soldiers in captured areas would be put in camps (a) so they could be fed and (b) so they wouldn't possibly rejoin the forces on the other side of the line. There's also (c) armed young men wandering around the countryside were a liability as they would take wat they needed to eat; and would likely fight back if they were being arrested.

But IIRC desertion in less regimented times (i.e. civil war era) was always a problem, especially when the campaign became discouraging. That was why it could be a capital offense.
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Old 05-22-2020, 12:14 PM
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So, off the top of my head instances seem to qualify would be areas of Germany in WW2 and the South in the Civil War.
Cold Mountain (book and movie) is a fictional account of a Confederate deserter near the end of the war. It features the Confederate Home Guard, one of whose roles was to catch deserters who tried to return home.

So yes, desertion was common in the Confederate Army as it became obvious the cause was lost, and many tried to go home. However, they generally would have been better off trying to go home if it was in Union-occupied territory. The occupying army would have more pressing things to do than chase down Confederate deserters.
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Old 05-22-2020, 12:18 PM
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Here's an article on Confederate desertion during the war. Many soldiers were induced to desert due to letters from their wives or families back home who said they needed them back in order to survive.
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Old 05-22-2020, 12:40 PM
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I thought desertion was a major issue for the Iraqi army in 2003.

Which I can't blame them. They really didn't have the technological ability to resist the US army, and I'm sure a lot were conscripts who didn't agree with the Sunni government.
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Old 05-22-2020, 01:19 PM
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The Army of the Republic of Vietnam largely disintegrated during the fall of South Vietnam, and many soldiers attempted to return home. However, those who could be identified were imprisoned/interned in camps for years after the war.
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Old 05-23-2020, 01:34 AM
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Depends on the situation - in WWI, the sides signed a peace deal, so the government of Germany did not effectively collapse, it still ran the armed forces and made arrangements for troop movements and demobilization.
The government of Germany at the end of WWI did, in fact, collapse. The Kaiser fell, Berlin and Munich were taken over by Communists, Bavaria became the Bavarian Soviet Republic, the army fell apart into Freikorp units. Freikorps then took Berlin and Munich and slaughtered all who stood against them. Another Freikorp unit conquered Estonia and had to be removed by British armed forces. Hitler joined a Freikorps unit. It took years for the whole thing to settle down.
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Old 05-23-2020, 01:45 AM
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Here's an article on Confederate desertion during the war. Many soldiers were induced to desert due to letters from their wives or families back home who said they needed them back in order to survive.
My mother was from Arkansas, and my Arkansas ancestor in that war and two of his relatives all deserted from the Confederate Army over a six-month period in 1863. Quite a contrast with my Yankee father, whose Union ancestor proudly fought at Gettysburg.
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Last edited by Siam Sam; 05-23-2020 at 01:47 AM.
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Old 05-23-2020, 01:49 AM
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13 May 1945 German deserter execution

That’s a somewhat bizarre and depressing incident in which two German deserters were executed with the approval of their allied captors on the grounds that military discipline needed to be maintained among the surrendered German forces to keep them from just wandering off and becoming a nuisance.

So... at least two tried it at the end of WWII and were spectacularly unsuccessful in the endeavor (no doubt others had more success, though). But the general idea was that even as the German government lost control, the allies still had an interest in keeping individuals from wandering in the immediate aftermath of the war.
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Old 05-23-2020, 10:35 AM
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Is the question about deserting while the war's effectively lost but still theoretically going on, or about getting home after the war's declared over? Not really desertion in the second case; and I don't know whether at all points in history one had to wait to be formally let loose from armies.
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Old 05-23-2020, 11:12 AM
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My grandfather did it in WW II. He stranded in Czechoslovakia at the end of the war and somehow avoided to be become a POW or being caught by the Wehrmacht as deserter. He somehow managed, together with a companion, to beat his way to his hometown in Westphalia on foot. I don't know the details, but my father often told this story.
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Old 05-23-2020, 11:37 AM
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My grandfather did it in WW II. He stranded in Czechoslovakia at the end of the war and somehow avoided to be become a POW or being caught by the Wehrmacht as deserter. He somehow managed, together with a companion, to beat his way to his hometown in Westphalia on foot. I don't know the details, but my father often told this story.
Same here. My grandfather had lost an eye on the Eastern Front in 1943, so he was no longer actually fighting at the end of the war. He was guarding French POWs (or forced laborers, can't remember right now) in the German hinterland. When the Allies were getting close, he decided to split. He took his duty bicycle and made off for home (about 200 km away) sometime in April 1945. He traveled by night, trying to stay away from everybody else on the road as much as he could. He said that crossing streams was particularly difficult because the bridges were closely guarded. When he arrived at his parents' farm, the war was not over yet, so he didn't reveal himself to anybody except his father and spent the rest of the war hiding in the hayloft. After the surrender, the Americans had some kind of processing center for German military personnel in a small town nearby. He went there, turned himself in, there was a brief interview, some paperwork and then they sent him on his way.
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Old 05-23-2020, 11:45 AM
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Family history has it that my great-great grandfather walked away from the Confederate army from Virginia to Georgia, traveling by night and sleeping by day. He was never apprehended and lived a long successful life.

I don't know when he enlisted or deserted, but at the time of Lee's surrender he would have been just shy of 15 years old.
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Old 05-23-2020, 12:12 PM
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Family lore has it that, in 19-teens more-or-less Poland, my grandfather deserted five armies.

IIRC: White Russian, Red Russian, Polish, German, and Austrian. He'd gotten impressed into all of them (one at a time), not as a soldier (it's my impression that none of them were arming Jews), but as a dishwasher/kitchen worker. He was trying to get back home so his family wouldn't starve (and more or less succeeded, though with or without him they came pretty close.)

I don't remember him ever talking about any of this; just a couple of stories told by my father, who was a child at the time.
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Old 05-23-2020, 03:10 PM
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Desertion was indeed a serious problem for the Confederacy, particularly in the last year or so of the Civil War. Lee's army was melting away daily as the siege of Petersburg ground on.

Hessian troops were well-disciplined, tended to have high morale and most didn't speak English, so they only rarely deserted during the American Revolution. However, after the war, so many liked what they had seen of America that, according to David Hackett Fischer in his excellent Washington's Crossing, a remarkable 23% of them chose to remain, and others emigrated back after returning to the Germanic kingdoms.
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