Operation Keelhaul

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Operation Keelhaul was a forced repatriation of former Soviet Armed Forces POWs of Germany to the Soviet Union, carried out in Northern Italy by British and American forces between 14 August 1946 and 9 May 1947. [1]

Soviet Armed Forces 1912-1991 combined military forces of the Soviet Union

The Soviet Armed Forces, also called the Armed Forces of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Armed Forces of the Soviet Union were the armed forces of the Russian SFSR (1917–1922), the Soviet Union (1922–1991) and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1912–1991) from their beginnings in the aftermath of the Russian Civil War to its dissolution on 26 December 1991.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.


Yalta Conference

One of the conclusions of the Yalta Conference was that the western Allies would return all Soviet citizens who found themselves in their zones to the Soviet Union. This immediately affected the liberated Soviet prisoners of war, [2] but also extended to all Soviet citizens, irrespective of their wishes. 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. [3]

Yalta Conference

The Yalta Conference, also known as the Crimea Conference and code-named the Argonaut Conference, held from 4 to 11 February 1945, was the World War II meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union for the purpose of discussing Germany and Europe's postwar reorganization. The three states were represented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Premier Joseph Stalin, respectively. The conference convened near Yalta in Crimea, Soviet Union, within the Livadia, Yusupov, and Vorontsov Palaces.

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the "United Nations" from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

Treatment of prisoners and refugees

The refugee columns fleeing the Soviet-occupied parts of Europe included anti-communists, civilians, and Nazi collaborators from eastern European countries. They added to the mass of 'displaced persons' from the Soviet Union already in Western Europe, the vast majority of whom were Soviet prisoners of war and forced laborers (Ost-Arbeiter).

Western Europe region comprising the westerly countries of Europe

Western Europe is the region comprising the western part of Europe. Though the term Western Europe is commonly used, there is no commonly agreed-upon definition of the countries that it encompasses.

Soviet subjects who had volunteered for the German Army Ostlegionen and/or Waffen SS units were forcibly repatriated. These included Russian Cossacks of the XVth SS Cossack Cavalry Corps with their relatives, who were transported from the Western occupation zones of Allied-occupied Austria to the Soviet occupation zones of Austria and Allied-occupied Germany. Among those handed over were White émigré-Russians who had never been Soviet citizens, but who had fought for Nazi Germany against the Soviets during the war, including General Andrei Shkuro and the Ataman of the Don Cossack host 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 1 September 1939, were to be compelled to return to the Soviet Union or handed over to Soviet officials in other locations (see the Repatriation of Cossacks after World War II).


Ostlegionen, Ost-Bataillone, Osttruppen, and Osteinheiten were units in the Army of Nazi Germany, during World War II that were made up of personnel from countries comprising the Soviet Union. They represented a major subset within a broader number of the Wehrmacht foreign volunteers and conscripts.

Allied-occupied Austria

The Allied occupation of Austria started on 27 April 1945 as a result of the Vienna Offensive and ended with the Austrian State Treaty on 27 July 1955.

Allied-occupied Germany post-World War II military occupation of Germany

Upon defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, the victorious Allies asserted joint authority and sovereignty over 'Germany as a whole', defined as all territories of the former German Reich west of the Oder–Neisse line, having declared the destruction of Nazi Germany at the death of Adolf Hitler. The four powers divided 'Germany as a whole' into four occupation zones for administrative purposes, under the United States, United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union respectively; creating what became collectively known as Allied-occupied Germany. This division was ratified at the Potsdam Conference. The four zones were as agreed in February 1945 by the United States, United Kingdom and Soviet Union meeting at the Yalta Conference; setting aside an earlier division into three zones proposed by the London Protocol.

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, Aversa, Pisa, and Riccione. [1] Applying the "McNarney-Clark Directive", subjects who had served in the German Army were selected for shipment, starting on 14 August 1946. The transfer was codenamed "East Wind" and took place at St. Valentin in Austria on 8 and 9 May 1947. [1] This operation marked the end of forced repatriations by the Soviet Union after World War II, and ran parallel to Operation Fling that helped Soviet defectors to escape from the Soviet Union. [1]

Bagnoli quarter of Naples, Italy

Bagnoli is a western seaside quarter 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. After

Aversa Comune in Campania, Italy

Aversa is a city and comune in the Province of Caserta in Campania, southern Italy, about 5 kilometres north of Naples. It is the centre of an agricultural district, the Agro Aversano, producing wine and cheese. Aversa is also the main seat of the faculties of Architecture and Engineering of the Seconda università degli studi di Napoli. With a population of 52,974 (2017), it is the second city of the province after Caserta.

Pisa Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Pisa is a city and comune in Tuscany, central Italy, straddling the Arno just before it empties into the Ligurian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Pisa. Although Pisa is known worldwide for its leaning tower, the city of over 91,104 residents contains more than 20 other historic churches, several medieval palaces, and various bridges across the Arno. Much of the city's architecture was financed from its history as one of the Italian maritime republics.

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. [4]


Author Nikolai Tolstoy described the scene of Americans returning to the internment camp after delivering a shipment of people to the Soviet authorities: "The Americans returned to Plattling 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." [5]

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn called this operation "the last secret of World War II." [6] He contributed to a legal defence fund set up to help Tolstoy, who was charged with libel in a 1989 case brought by Lord Aldington over war crimes allegations made by Tolstoy related to this operation. Tolstoy lost the case in the British courts; he avoided paying damages by declaring bankruptcy. [7]

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Nikolai Tolstoy (1977). The Secret Betrayal . Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 360. ISBN   0-684-15635-0.
  2. Sheehan, Paul (August 13, 2007). "Patriots ignore greatest brutality". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  3. Sanders, James D; Sauter, Mark A; Kirkwood, R. Cort (1992). Soldiers Of Misfortune: Washington's Secret Betrayal of American POWs in the Soviet Union. National Press Books.
  4. Costello, John (1988). Mask of Treachery. p. 437.
  5. Murray-Brown, Jeremy. "A footnote to Yalta". Boston University. Archived from the original on 2008-05-16.
  6. Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I (1974). The Gulag Archipelago. 1. Harper and Row. p. 85.
  7. "Lord Aldington". The Guardian. London. 9 December 2000. Retrieved 25 May 2010.

Further reading