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.Anti-communist Yugoslavs and Hungarians were also forcibly repatriated to their respective governments.
Three volumes of records, entitled "Forcible Repatriation of Displaced Soviet Citizens-Operation Keelhaul," were classified Top Secret by the U.S. Army on September 18, 1948, and bear the secret file number 383.7-14.1.
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,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.
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).
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).
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.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. 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.
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 under orders from Churchill, with the intention of reviving "anti-Soviet operations".
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."
Nigel Nicolson, a former British Army captain, was Nicolai Tolstoy's chief witness in the libel action brought by Lord Aldington. In 1995, he wrote:
Fifty years ago I was a captain in the British Army, and with others I supervised the Jugoslav (Yugoslav) 'repatriation', as it was euphemistically called. We were told not to use force, and forbidden to inform them of their true destination. When they asked us where they were going, we replied that we were transferring them to another British camp in Italy, and they mounted the trains without suspicion. As soon as the sliding doors of the cattle-trucks were padlocked, our soldiers withdrew and Tito's partisans emerged from the station building where they had been hiding, and took over command of the train. The prisoners and refugees could see them through cracks in the boarding, and began hammering on the insides of the wagons, shouting abuse at us for having betrayed them, lied to them, and sentenced at least the men among them to a grotesque death. There is now no doubt about their hideous fate, and to those of us on the spot there was little doubt then. Shortly after the first trainloads had been despatched, we heard the stories of the few survivors who escaped back to Austria, and thousands of manacled skeletons have since been disinterred in Slovenian pits.
Ghinghis Guirey, an American on one of the repatriation screening teams, reported:
The most unpleasant aspect of this unpleasant business was the fear these people displayed. Involuntarily one began to look over one's shoulder. I heard so many threats to commit suicide from people who feared repatriation that it became almost commonplace. And they were not fooling.Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn called this operation "the last secret of World War II." He contributed to a legal defense 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.
The Russian Liberation Army was a collaborationist formation, primarily composed of Russians, that fought under German command during World War II. The army was led by Andrey Vlasov, a Red Army general who had defected, and members of the army are often referred to as Vlasovtsy (Власовцы). In 1944, it became known as the Armed Forces of the Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia.
Baron Aldington, of Bispham in the County Borough of Blackpool, is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created on 29 January 1962 for the Conservative politician and businessman, Sir Toby Low. On 16 November 1999 he was made a life peer as Baron Low, of Bispham in the County of Lancashire, as were all hereditary peers of the first creation following the House of Lords Act 1999. On his death in 2000 the life peerage became extinct while he was succeeded in the hereditary barony by his son Charles, the second and present holder of the title.
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Andrei Grigoriyevich Shkuro was a Lieutenant General (1919) of the White Army.
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Victims of Yalta or The Secret Betrayal is a 1977 book by Nikolai Tolstoy that chronicles the fate of Soviet citizens who had been under German control during World War II and at its end fallen into the hands of the Western Allies. According to the secret Moscow agreement from 1944 that was confirmed at the 1945 Yalta conference, all citizens of the Soviet Union were to be repatriated without choice—a death sentence for many by execution or extermination through labour.
Boris Alexeyevich Smyslovsky was a Russian-Finnish general, émigré, and anti-communist. His pseudonyms were Arthur Holmston and Hauptmanvon Regenau. He commanded the pro-Axis collaborationist First Russian National Army during World War II.
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Julius Epstein (1901–1975) was a journalist and scholar, an Austrian Jewish émigré who fled Europe in 1938, worked during World War II in the Office of War Information, and then a prominent American anti-communist researcher and critic of the Soviet Union. He was a Research Associate at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace for decades and authored a study of Operation Keelhaul that was the first account of the forcible repatriation by the Allies of World War II of several million persons to the Soviet Union and countries in its sphere of influence.
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Anthony Wilson Cowgill was a British soldier, engineer and researcher. After a 30-year career in the Army he worked for Rolls-Royce and set up a company offering information and access to government. Past retirement age he initiated his own private inquiry into the Repatriation of Cossacks after World War II, and published the English texts of European Union treaties.