Operation Keelhaul

Operation Keelhaul

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Operation Keelhaul was carried out in Northern Italy
Northern Italy
Northern Italy is a wide cultural, historical and geographical definition, without any administrative usage, used to indicate the northern part of the Italian state, also referred as Settentrione or Alta Italia...

 by British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 forces to repatriate Soviet Armed Forces
Soviet Armed Forces
The Soviet Armed Forces, also called the Armed Forces of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Armed Forces of the Soviet Union refers to the armed forces of the Russian SFSR , and Soviet Union from their beginnings in the...

 POWs of the Nazis to the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 between August 14, 1946 and May 9, 1947. The term has been later applied - specifically after the publication of Julius Epstein
Julius Epstein
Julius Epstein may refer to:* Julius Epstein , Austrian pianist and Professor at the Music Conservatory, Vienna* Julius J. Epstein , American screenwriter...

's eponymous book - to other Allied
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 acts of often forced repatriation of former residents of the USSR after the ending of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 that sealed the fate of millions of post-war refugees fleeing eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

.

Yalta Conference


One of the conclusions of the Yalta Conference
Yalta Conference
The Yalta Conference, sometimes called the Crimea Conference and codenamed the Argonaut Conference, held February 4–11, 1945, was the wartime meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, represented by President Franklin D...

 was that the western Allies
Allies
In everyday English usage, allies are people, groups, or nations that have joined together in an association for mutual benefit or to achieve some common purpose, whether or not explicit agreement has been worked out between them...

 would return all Soviet citizens who found themselves in their zones to the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. This immediately affected the liberated Soviet prisoners of war, but was also extended to all Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

an refugees. In exchange, the Soviet government agreed to hand over several thousand western Allied prisoners of war whom they had liberated from German prisoner of war camps.

On March 31, 1945, Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

, and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 concluded the final form of their plans in a secret codicil
Codicil
Codicil can refer to:* Codicil : An addition made to a will* Any addition made subsequent and appended to the original* Any addition or appendix, such as a corollary to a theorem* Codicil : A poem by Derek Walcott...

 to the agreement. Outlining the plan to forcibly return the refugees to the Soviet Union, this codicil was kept secret from the US and British people for over fifty years.

The name of the operation comes from the naval practice of corporal punishment, keelhauling
Keelhauling
Keelhauling is a form of punishment meted out to sailors at sea...

. In his book Operation Keelhaul, Epstein states: "That our Armed Forces should have adopted this term as its code name for deporting by brutal force to concentration camp, firing squad, or hangman's noose
Hanging
Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain...

 millions who were already in the lands of freedom, shows how little the high brass thought of their longing to be free."

Treatment of prisoners and refugees


The refugee columns fleeing the Soviet-occupied eastern Europe numbered millions of people. They included many anti-communists of several categories, assorted civilian
Civilian
A civilian under international humanitarian law is a person who is not a member of his or her country's armed forces or other militia. Civilians are distinct from combatants. They are afforded a degree of legal protection from the effects of war and military occupation...

s, both from the Soviet Union and from Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia refers to three political entities that existed successively on the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century....

, and fascist collaborationists from eastern Slavic and other countries
Collaboration during World War II
Within nations occupied by the Axis Powers, some citizens, driven by nationalism, ethnic hatred, anti-communism, anti-Semitism or opportunism, knowingly engaged in collaboration with the Axis Powers during World War II...

.

At the end of World War II there were more than five million refugees from the Soviet Union in Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

, of whom approximately three million had been forced laborers
Forced labor in Germany during World War II
The use of forced labour in Nazi Germany and throughout German-occupied Europe during World War II took place on an unprecedented scale. It was a vital part of the German economic exploitation of conquered territories. It also contributed to the mass extermination of populations in German-occupied...

 (OST-Arbeiter
OST-Arbeiter
OST-Arbeiter was a designation for slave workers gathered from Eastern Europe to do forced labor in Germany during World War II. The Ostarbeiters were mostly from the territory of Reichskommissariat Ukraine . Ukrainians made up the largest portion although many Belarusians, Russians, Poles and...

s). On return to the Soviet Union, OST-Arbeiters were often treated as traitors. Many were transported to remote locations in the Soviet Union and were denied basic rights and the opportunity to further their education.

In particular, Russian Cossack
Cossack
Cossacks are a group of predominantly East Slavic people who originally were members of democratic, semi-military communities in what is today Ukraine and Southern Russia inhabiting sparsely populated areas and islands in the lower Dnieper and Don basins and who played an important role in the...

s of XVth SS Cossack Cavalry Corps
XVth SS Cossack Cavalry Corps
The XV SS Cossack Cavalry Corps was a German cavalry corps during World War II. With order of February 1, 1945 the Corps was transferred to the Waffen-SS.-History:The summer of 1942 marked the high tide of German success in the East...

 of Waffen-SS
Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS was a multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of the Third Reich. It constituted the armed wing of the Schutzstaffel or SS, an organ of the Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS saw action throughout World War II and grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions, and served alongside...

 with their relatives and Ustaše
Ustaše
The Ustaša - Croatian Revolutionary Movement was a Croatian fascist anti-Yugoslav separatist movement. The ideology of the movement was a blend of fascism, Nazism, and Croatian nationalism. The Ustaše supported the creation of a Greater Croatia that would span to the River Drina and to the border...

 from Yugoslavia, were forcibly repatriated from Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

 to the Soviet occupation zones of Austria and Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and to Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia refers to three political entities that existed successively on the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century....

 (Slovenia
Slovenia
Slovenia , officially the Republic of Slovenia , is a country in Central and Southeastern Europe touching the Alps and bordering the Mediterranean. Slovenia borders Italy to the west, Croatia to the south and east, Hungary to the northeast, and Austria to the north, and also has a small portion of...

) respectively.

Often prisoners were summarily executed by receiving Communist authorities, sometimes within earshot of the British. One of the killings at the hand of the Yugoslav Partisans is known as the Bleiburg massacre
Bleiburg massacre
The Bleiburg massacre, which also encompasses Operation Keelhaul is a term encompassing events that took place during mid-May 1945 near the Carinthian town of Bleiburg, itself some four kilometres from the Austrian-Slovenian border....

. The majority were not killed in this incident, however, but were instead sent to prison camp
Internment
Internment is the imprisonment or confinement of people, commonly in large groups, without trial. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning as: "The action of 'interning'; confinement within the limits of a country or place." Most modern usage is about individuals, and there is a distinction...

s.

Among those handed over were White émigré
White Emigre
A white émigré was a Russian who emigrated from Russia in the wake of the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War, and who was in opposition to the contemporary Russian political climate....

-Russians who had never been Soviet citizens, but who had fought for Nazi Germany against the Soviets during the war, including General Andrei Shkuro
Andrei Shkuro
Andrei Grigoriyevich Shkuro was a Lieutenant General of the White Army.-Biography:...

 and the Ataman
Ataman
Ataman was a commander title of the Ukrainian People's Army, Cossack, and haidamak leaders, who were in essence the Cossacks...

 of the Don Cossack host Pyotr Krasnov
Pyotr Krasnov
Pyotr Nikolayevich Krasnov , 1869 – January 17, 1947), sometimes referred to in English as Peter Krasnov, was Lieutenant General of the Russian army when the revolution broke out in 1917, and one of the leaders of the counterrevolutionary White movement afterward.- Russian Army :Pyotr Krasnov...

. This was done despite the official statement of the British Foreign Office policy after the Yalta Conference that only Soviet citizens, who had been such after September 1, 1939, were to be compelled to return to the Soviet Union or handed over to Soviet officials in other locations. See Betrayal of the Cossacks
Betrayal of the Cossacks
The Repatriation of Cossacks after WW2, also known as the Betrayal of the Cossacks, the Tragedy of Drau or the Massacre of Cossacks at Lienz refers to the forced repatriation to the USSR of the Cossacks and ethnic Russians who were allies of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.The...

 for example.

The actual "Operation Keelhaul" was the last forced repatriation and involved the selection and subsequent transfer of approximately one thousand "Russians" from the camps of Bagnoli
Bagnoli
Bagnoli is a western seaside district of Naples, Italy, well beyond the confines of the original city. It is beyond Cape Posillipo and, thus, looking on the coast of the Bay of Pozzuoli.- History :...

, Aversa
Aversa
Aversa is a town and comune in the Province of Caserta in Campania southern Italy, about 15 kilometres north of Naples. It is the centre of an agricultural district, the agro aversano, producing wine and cheese...

, Pisa
Pisa
Pisa is a city in Tuscany, Central Italy, on the right bank of the mouth of the River Arno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Pisa...

, and Riccione
Riccione
Riccione is a comune in the Province of Rimini, Emilia-Romagna, northern Italy. As of 2007 Riccione had an estimated population of 34,868.-History:...

. Applying the "NcNarney-Clark Directive", subjects who had served in the German Army were selected for shipment starting August 14, 1946. It was obvious to all that prisoners were sent to a fate of execution, torture, and slave labor. The transfer was codenamed "East Wind" and took place at St. Valentin in Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

 on May 8 and 9, 1947. This operation marked the end of forced repatriations of Russians after World War II, and ran parallel to Operation Fling that helped Soviet defectors to escape from the Soviet Union.

On the other side of the exchange, the Soviet leadership found out that despite the demands set forth by Stalin, British intelligence was retaining a number of anti-Communist prisoners with the intention of reviving "anti-Soviet operations" under orders from Churchill. In response, the Soviets did not complete the repatriation of the Allied prisoners of war in their possession, leaving roughly 23,500 American and 30,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers in Soviet hands. Some of these men were to be repatriated in the coming years, but others were sent to the GULAG
Gulag
The Gulag was the government agency that administered the main Soviet forced labor camp systems. While the camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners, large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as NKVD troikas and other instruments of...

 camp system and never returned home.

Critics


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was aRussian and Soviet novelist, dramatist, and historian. Through his often-suppressed writings, he helped to raise global awareness of the Gulag, the Soviet Union's forced labor camp system – particularly in The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of...

 called this operation "the last secret of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

." He contributed to a legal defence fund set up to help Nikolai Tolstoy
Nikolai Tolstoy
Count Nikolai Dmitrievich Tolstoy-Miloslavsky is an Anglo-Russian historian and author who writes under the name Nikolai Tolstoy. A member of the prominent Tolstoy family, he is of part Russian descent and is the stepson of the author Patrick O'Brian...

, who was charged with libel in a 1989 case brought by Lord Aldington
Toby Low, 1st Baron Aldington
Toby Austin Richard William Low, 1st Baron Aldington, KCMG, CBE, DSO, TD, DL, PC , was a British Conservative Party politician and businessman.-Life:...

 over war crimes allegations made by Tolstoy related to this operation. Tolstoy lost the case in the British courts but the award against him was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.

Tolstoy described the scene of Americans returning to the internment camp after having delivered a shipment of people to the Russians. "The Americans returned to Plattling
Plattling
Plattling is a town in the district of Deggendorf, in Bavaria, Germany.During World War II, a subcamp of Flossenburg concentration camp was located here...

 visibly shamefaced. Before their departure from the rendezvous in the forest, many had seen rows of bodies already hanging from the branches of nearby trees."

In 1957 a Polish
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 anti-communist writer Józef Mackiewicz
Jozef Mackiewicz
Józef Mackiewicz was a Polish writer and commentator. He staunchly opposed communism, referring to himself as "anticommunist by nationality".- Life and career :...

 published Kontra, a narrative account of this event.

See also

  • Western Betrayal
    Western betrayal
    Western betrayal, also called Yalta betrayal, refers to a range of critical views concerning the foreign policies of several Western countries between approximately 1919 and 1968 regarding Eastern Europe and Central Europe...

  • Anti-communism
    Anti-communism
    Anti-communism is opposition to communism. Organized anti-communism developed in reaction to the rise of communism, especially after the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and the beginning of the Cold War in 1947.-Objections to communist theory:...

  • The Betrayal of Cossacks
  • Bleiburg massacre
    Bleiburg massacre
    The Bleiburg massacre, which also encompasses Operation Keelhaul is a term encompassing events that took place during mid-May 1945 near the Carinthian town of Bleiburg, itself some four kilometres from the Austrian-Slovenian border....

  • Collaboration during World War II
    Collaboration during World War II
    Within nations occupied by the Axis Powers, some citizens, driven by nationalism, ethnic hatred, anti-communism, anti-Semitism or opportunism, knowingly engaged in collaboration with the Axis Powers during World War II...

  • Extradition
    Extradition
    Extradition is the official process whereby one nation or state surrenders a suspected or convicted criminal to another nation or state. Between nation states, extradition is regulated by treaties...

  • Forced labor in Germany during World War II
    Forced labor in Germany during World War II
    The use of forced labour in Nazi Germany and throughout German-occupied Europe during World War II took place on an unprecedented scale. It was a vital part of the German economic exploitation of conquered territories. It also contributed to the mass extermination of populations in German-occupied...

  • Helmuth von Pannwitz
    Helmuth von Pannwitz
    Helmuth von Pannwitz was a German general who distinguished himself as a cavalry officer during the First and the Second World Wars. Lieutenant General of the Wehrmacht and Supreme Ataman of the XV...

  • Russian Liberation Army
    Russian Liberation Army
    Russian Liberation Army was a group of predominantly Russian forces subordinated to the Nazi German high command during World War II....

  • Soviet reprisals against former POWs
  • Andrey Vlasov
    Andrey Vlasov
    Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov or Wlassow was a Russian Red Army general who collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II.-Early career:...

  • XVth SS Cossack Cavalry Corps
    XVth SS Cossack Cavalry Corps
    The XV SS Cossack Cavalry Corps was a German cavalry corps during World War II. With order of February 1, 1945 the Corps was transferred to the Waffen-SS.-History:The summer of 1942 marked the high tide of German success in the East...


Further reading

  • Tolstoy, Nikolai. Victims of Yalta, originally published in London, 1977. Revised edition 1979. ISBN 0-552-11030-2
  • Epstein, Julius. Operation Keelhaul, Devin-Adair, 1973. ISBN 978-0815964070

External links