Operation Keelhaul

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Operation Keelhaul was a secret military operation agreed to a the Yalta Conference that forcibly returned 2 million Russians captured during World War II back to the communist Soviet Union, where Joseph Stalin would punish them for being "traitors" to communism. The operation was kept secret from the American people for decades. The term "keelhaul" refers the most brutal punishment inflicted on a sailor, whereby a sailor is tortured by tying him in ropes and hauling him under a boat's keel to virtually certain death.

One example of the subterfuge used to return these Russians was a conference on May 28, 1945, in Lienz, Austria. The British forces told Cossack officials to attend this conference, and whose families were not to worry. An English officer calmed their nerves by declaring, "I assure you on my word of honor as a British officer that you are just going to a conference."[1] Then 2,749 Cossacks (including 2,201 officers) were driven into a prison camp to be picked up by Soviet armed authorities and forcibly returned to the Soviet Union.

The first US attempt at repatriation resulted in several suicides:

Conforming to agreements with the Soviets, an attempt was made to entrain 399 former Russian soldiers who had been captured in German uniform, from the assembly center at Dachau on Saturday, January 19 [1946].

All of these men refused to entrain. They begged to be shot. They resisted entrainment by taking off their clothing and refusing to leave their quarters. It was necessary to use tear-gas and some force to drive them out. Tear-gas forced them out of the building into the snow where those who had cut and stabbed themselves fell exhausted and bleeding in the snow. Nine men hanged themselves and one had stabbed himself to death and one other who had stabbed himself subsequently died; while 20 others are still in the hospital from self-inflicted wounds. The entrainment was finally effected of 368 men who were set off accompanied by a Russian liaison officer on a train carrying American guards. Six men escaped en route...

The incident was shocking. There is considerable dissatisfaction on the part of the American officers and men that they are being required by the American Government to repatriate these Russians..."[2]

  1. Julius Epstein, Operation Keelhaul: the story of forced repatriation from 1944 to the present (Devin-Adair Co., 1973), p. 77. Cf. Philip Rife, The Pariah Files: 25 Dark Secrets You're Not Supposed to Know (iUniverse, 2003), p. ISBN 0595291821, p. 137
  2. http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/FRUS/FRUS-idx?type=turn&id=FRUS.FRUS1946v05&entity=FRUS.FRUS1946v05.p0159