combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2005

Stalin's Enemies

Between 1944 and 1947, over two million Russians who'd been living in the occupied countries of Europe, some voluntarily, some not, were forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union. Many met death by execution immediately while others were literally worked to death in the hundreds of Gulags that dotted the largest slave society in history. Whether civilian or soldier, Joseph [Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili] Stalin, who was the Soviet government, reasoned that anyone who'd been living outside the borders of the Soviet Union was to be considered contaminated by anti Soviet ideology, and therefore could not be trusted. It mattered not that many had been forcibly removed from their homeland, by the German enemy.

Approximately one million of the expatriates were military men who for various reasons took up arms against Stalin and volunteered to fight with Germany. Most, but not all, were Soviet citizens. Never before in the annals of warfare had so many soldiers abandoned their own to fight for the enemy. The reasons for this say more about the horror of life under the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Revolution, than Hitler's Germany. Sadly, these happenings also say much about the English and to a lesser extent the Americans, many of whom were willing participants in the forced repatriation. It would not be until the nineteen eighties when the awful truth began to emerge, that the world would come to know about what has come to be known as — The Secret Betrayal.

They were a disparate group, these Russians who wanted to stay in the West. Thousands were people who had fled Russia at the time of the Revolution and had never lived in what became known as the Soviet Union. They all held citizenship in other countries. Before fleeing many had fought with the White Army and for the Czar against The Red Army and the Communists — better known as Bolsheviks. Therefore, they would forever be known as White Russians. It's a definition not dictated by skin color or geographical location — but by ideology.

During the summer of 1942, the war between The Soviet Union and Germany was in its second year and the Soviets were losing. The Germans were driving hard, deep into the Russia. Soon they entered the Caucasus and the land of the Cossacks the fierce and noble warriors of storied history. In the years from 1917-20, some of the toughest resistance experienced by the Red Army came from the Cossacks of the Don, of the Kuban, of the Terak, of Orenburg, of the Ural, and of Astrakan; the six federated republics that had been formed by these fiercely independent people. The Bolsheviks showed no mercy, liquidating the Cossack Republics in the most cruel manner. Little wonder that when the Germans arrived they were greeted as liberators, accepting with wonderment the flowers and gifts that descended upon them. As later events would prove, the Cossacks offered more than a glorious welcome — and a German General named von Pannwitz would find himself commanding a quarter of a million of the world's best fighting men.

But the majority of those who came over to the German side had initially gone into battle as members of the Red Army, an Army woefully unprepared for the better trained, better equipped Germans. Stalin had refused to believe that Adolph Hitler, who had signed a nonaggression pact in 1939, was about to attack, despite intelligence that said otherwise. For this reason; on June 22, 1941, Operation Barbarossa caught the Soviets completely unprepared. The Russian soldier went into battle — the German Wehrmacht to his front and the NKVD secret police at his back. He died by the hundreds of thousands and surrendered by the hundreds of thousands. When the Germans offered to abide by the Geneva Convention allowing the Red Cross to visit the POW camps, Stalin replied that there was no such thing as a Russian Prisoner of War.

From the beginning of the war, the German Officer Corps, most of whom did not share Hitler's racist theories, had plans to recruit Soviet soldiers to their cause, and were amazed at how easy it was; even after Hitler declared that since Stalin did not recognize the Geneva Convention, Russian soldiers would not be granted POW status. According to Hitler and other top Nazis; they were subhuman or der untermensch anyway, let them die. Of five million seven hundred and fifty four thousand Russians taken prisoner after 1941, only one million one hundred and fifty thousand survived until 1945. Given the brutality of the Germans, it seems incomprehensible, that so many were still willing to don German uniforms, pick up German rifles, and go forth to do battle against Joe Stalin. To call them traitors strains the credibility of even the most prominent statesman. Indeed — they loved their country — it was their government they hated.

Just sixty days after the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the first major defection of Russian soldiers to the German side occurred. A Cossack unit, the 436th Infantry, commanded by Major Ivan Nikitich Kononov surrendered and Kononov laid bare his intentions to join the fight against Stalin. He told his troops how much he hated Stalin and then gave them a choice — “Those who wish to go with me take up their position on the right, and those who wish to stay take up position on the left. I promise no harm will come to those who wish to stay.” German General von Schenckendorff watched as the entire regiment moved right.

Kononov's disenchantment with Stalin had begun during the 1939 war with Finland when so many Russian soldiers had died unnecessarily. He'd been waiting two years for his chance to desert. In his naïveté concerning the Germans, he didn't realize he'd left one evil to join another. German General von Schenckendorff knew of Hitler's plans to destroy Russia as a nation; but how could he turn down another hard fighting regiment? Kononov and his men were ecstatic that they were now the One Hundred and Second Cossack Regiment of the German Army. They would prove their mettle in battle as they cleared the Steppes of the Red Army and Communist partisans.

Even the old Cossack leader, Kulakov, who everyone thought had died in 1919 while fighting the Bolsheviks came out of hiding to join the fight against Stalin.

Like von Schenckendorff, most of the Officers of the German Wehrmacht did not hold the racist views of Adolph Hitler and other top Nazis. But they were disingenuous at best when it came to dealing with these Russian soldiers who had now become their allies. While Kononov saw siding with the Germans as a chance to create a different homeland, German generals knew better. But they were on the front lines, and losing thousands of men daily; so they welcomed help, no matter where it came from. In their defense, even though they knew of Hitler's plans for Russia; they may have held out hope that even the bigoted Nazi leader would come around when he saw the fighting quality of these subhumans. There was no real chance of this happening. Hitler would never give up his insane racist beliefs. He never really departed from his plans as spelled out in Mein Kampf.

So the German Generals in essence simply disobeyed orders when it came to accepting Russian help. They were on the front lines, not the Nazi leadership, and what Hitler didn't know, wouldn't hurt them.

But what the Germans were looking for in a leader was what they termed — a Russian DeGaulle; a leader capable of molding one million Russians into an anti-Stalin army. They found him. It's too bad the Germans didn't measure up to the man they picked.

His name was General Andrei Andreievich Vlasov. He towered over other military men in both stature and intellect. He came from humble beginnings, but had great integrity, and was one of the ablest Generals in The Red Army. To this day there is a statue of him in a White Russian community in New York state.

General Andrei Andreievich Vlasov
General Andrei Andreievich Vlasov

Vlasov had been a strong believer in the Bolshevik cause, and had helped defeat the White Army, though he didn't join the Communist Party until 1930. But like so many, he'd become disenchanted with Stalin and his henchmen, realizing the Soviet Union had become a paradise for only a few and a living hell for everyone else.

In March of 1942, Vlasov was Deputy Commander of the Volkhov front. By mid June, his Army found itself surrounded, and on July 13, 1942, Vlasov became a prisoner. The Germans knew they'd captured a prize. Vlasov was placed in a comfortable camp and the subtle propaganda of the Germans may not have even been necessary. Despite Hitler's orders the Russian Liberation Army was taking shape, and by September of 1942, Vlasov, though still a prisoner had issued a leaflet calling on The Red Army and the intelligentsia to overthrow Stalin's regime. But from the beginning, the Germans proved to be unworthy allies. Added to the leaflet, without Vlasov's knowledge, was Nazi propaganda, calculated by the German High Command to persuade Hitler to accept a Russian Liberation Army. Instead, the demonic dictator launched a tirade. How dare anyone suggest that the subhuman Russians were good enough to fight along side the German soldier! But the German Wehrmacht was undeterred. Again, against orders they organized The Russian National Committee, with Vlasov its head. On paper at least The Russian Liberation Army (Russkaya Osvoboditel Armiya; naya) ROA now existed. It's unfortunate, that due to internal German wrangling and unabashed German stupidity, this million man army didn't take the field as a single unit until the last few weeks of the war.

But exactly what would cause a million men to desert their comrades and go over to the enemy. For that we have to go to a Russian enlisted man.

You think Captain, that we sold ourselves to the Germans for a piece of bread? Tell me, why did the Soviet Government forsake us? Why did it forsake millions of prisoners? We saw prisoners of other nationalities, and they were taken care of. Through the Red Cross they received letters and parcels from home; only the Russians received nothing. In Kassel, I saw American negro prisoners, and they shared their cakes and chocolates with us. Then why didn't the Soviet Government, which we considered our own, send us at least some plain hardtack? Hadn't we fought? Hadn't we defended the government? Hadn't we fought for our country? If Stalin refused to have anything to do with us, we didn't want anything to do with Stalin.

It's doubtful if even the noble Vlasov could have stated the case so eloquently.

An outgrowth of the Russian National Committee was the Smolensk Manifesto, seated in Smolensk, home of the Kulaks, who suffered and died by the millions under Stalin's insane collectivization plan in the 1920s and '30s. The thirteen points of the Manifesto declared there would be a united Russia, with abolition of forced labor and collective farms, while land would be given to Russian Peasants. There would be reintroduction of private commerce and handicraft and termination of terror. Personal freedom would be assured, and also freedom of faith, conscience, speech, press and assembly. The people would be able to work at their occupation of choice. All nationalities would be treated equally in the new Russia. Political prisoners would be released and the government would be responsible with rebuilding the infrastructure. Added to the Manifesto by the Germans was a statement declaring that “Germany, led by Adolph Hitler pursues the aim of creating a new order in Europe without Bolsheviks or Capitalists.” Again an example of German deviousness.

Hitler's new order would ensure that the Manifesto would never be implemented.

Broadcasting the Manifesto was forbidden by the Nazis. The committee would never be seated in Smolensk. Soviet citizens in the occupied countries would learn of the Manifesto only by leaflets dropped from planes — a plan arranged by the German Generals who still had hopes for a Russian Liberation Army. Only they understood that the war would be lost in the east without their help.

Still, the leaflets themselves had impact. Such was the hope that stirred in the breasts of those Russians who still thought freedom could be theirs. The commanders of the various German Army groups were so impressed with the thousands who wanted to join Vlasov, that they sent him on tour to talk to prisoners of war, Soviet volunteers and civilian populations. In March of '43, Vlasov published a letter, giving his reasons for taking up the fight against Bolshevism. When Hitler found out he flew into a rage, demanding to know who gave Vlasov permission to do such a thing. Vlasov was a POW and should be sent back to a camp and kept under surveillance. Then, the German Dictator gave orders that the name Vlasov, should never again be uttered in his presence.

But unlike Hitler, the German High Command realized that occupation of the conquered territories would be impossible without the help of what had become known as the Vlasov men. It's interesting that one top Nazi did see validity in the Smolensk Manifesto and Vlasov's plea for better treatment for Russians under control of the Germans. Josef Goebbels said: “One cannot but be astounded at the lack of political instinct in our central Berlin administration. If we had pursued or were pursuing a more skillful policy in the east, we would certainly be further advanced than we are.” There is no evidence of Goebbels voicing his thoughts to his Führer.

Despite frustration and disappointment, Vlasov soldiered on. He no doubt knew his more natural allies were the British and Americans. But he also knew they would not see it that way; and even if some knew of the terror of Stalin's Russia, they also knew that Stalin's Russia was killing Germans and Germany was the primary enemy. Vlasov had cast his lot with the devil in order to destroy a greater devil. He knew there was little chance of success for his plan.

Indeed, had Vlasov been able to arrange a face to face meeting with Allied leaders, he would never have been able to convince them of the evil of Uncle Joe. Franklin Roosevelt was absolutely convinced of the greatness of Joseph Stalin and Russian society. Some of his closest advisors were firm believers in the Soviet paradise. Likewise, while Churchill had doubts, many in the British hierarchy were of the same mind as their American counterparts.

Despite all of the barriers erected, Vlasov's eloquent speech and imposing physique continued to strike a cord with Russians in the occupied territories, who saw him as their last best hope. It was through his efforts that conditions for both civilians and soldiers improved. The German yoke lightened and while the Russian Liberation Army wasn't taking shape, more Russian soldiers were fighting alongside Germans. One German commander said that fifty percent of his troops were from Russia and other eastern countries. In all, by the beginning of 1943, four hundred and twenty seven thousand Russians were fighting against the Red Army on the Eastern Front. Then, one incident, whether true or untrue was reported to Hitler — sending him into one of his patented rages.

There was a report that the Red Army had broken through at one point due to traitorous behavior on the part of the Russians. Hitler ranted that all of the Russian volunteers should be disbanded and sent to Germany as coal diggers. When Hitler was reminded that this would mean that 427,000 Russians would have to be replaced by Germans, even he relented, saying that only Russians from the broken sector of the line would be sent. But then the German Dictator would issue the order that would completely destroy the morale of the Russian volunteers.

During the autumn of 1943, eighty percent of the Russian volunteers who had joined forces with the Germans to free their homeland, were moved from the Eastern Front to the Western Front. The Russians were now going into combat against people they had no interest in fighting — the French, British and Americans. But all hope was not lost and help came from an unlikely source.

In the beginning, Heinrich Himmler, like his Führer had been adamantly opposed to Vlasov and any idea of a Russian Liberation Army. But Himmler was more practical than Hitler. The Schutzstaffel (SS) Commander understood the deteriorating situation on the Eastern Front. He had created the first non German SS Division in April of 1943, with the formation of the Ukrainian 14th SS Grenadier Division. Since the division was under Himmler's control, they had no real national identity, but were promised that they would fight only on the Eastern Front. In March of '45 as the war became more desperate, they were given the name of 1st Ukrainian Division. They fought well until the end. But to Adolph Hitler, this meant nothing. On March 23, 1945, he exclaimed — “I've just been told to my amazement that a Ukrainian SS Division has appeared. I don't know anything about this, what is going on around here!” Yet it was said that Himmler was proud of his Ukrainians.

While the Russian Liberation Army came into being too late to make a difference the Russian volunteers, despite being scattered among many German units, still saw Vlasov as their leader, and their best hope for a free and independent Russia. By the middle of 1944, the practical Himmler scheduled a meeting with Vlasov, that was to take place on July 21, 1944. But fate intervened with the attempt on Hitler's life on July 20th. The meeting was not held until September 16th. Still, even at this late date, Vlasov, after meeting with Himmler, may have seen a glimmer of hope.

Himmler, now the second most powerful man in the Reich, and with the full confidence of Hitler assented to the formation of a new committee, the KONR — Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia. Vlasov was to command all Soviet citizens living under German rule. Then, another complication arose. Many of the Soviet citizens now supposed to be under Vlasov's command were not Russian. They wanted independence from Russia and had no desire to be part of a new Russia. Also, there were some old Russian emigrants who wanted to return to the days of the Czar and to some extent saw Vlasov as too Bolshevistic. Other old emigrants, realizing that there would be no return to the Czar accepted Vlasov's leadership. For Vlasov's part, he saw the refusal of groups like the Cossacks and Georgians to be anything but independent as a defeat for the KONR. He refused to accept the congratulations of Germans who thought he had brought the various factions together. Yet, as long as KONR existed it remained under the control of Russians who were Soviet citizens.

At any rate, the formation of KONR led to the Prague Manifesto, the outgrowth of a meeting on the 14th of November, 1944, in which The Committee For The Liberation of the Peoples of Russia was formed. It was similar to the Smolensk Manifesto but stressed that the people of Russia had the right to self determination. Despite the fact that the war was coming to an end and despite German interference, the Manifesto had a deep impact on the Russian people. Thousands of volunteers rushed to Vlasov's side. One entire Red Army Air Force squadron landed behind German lines and joined KONR. None of these volunteers doubted that Nazi Germany was going down to defeat, yet their hatred of Joseph Stalin brought them to the losing side. The Prague Manifesto has been called naïve by some but is a testament to a people's thirst for freedom.

After the D Day landings in June of '44, it didn't take long for Allied commanders to realize that they were not fighting just Germans. In fact, up to ten percent of prisoners taken were not German and a good many were Russian. Had the American and British commanders had any real understanding of Soviet society, they would have understood why these Russians seemed so content in there imprisonment. These were men who'd been knocked around and brutalized all their life, first by the communists, then by the Germans. For the first time in their lives, they were being treated like human beings. They didn't know such a world existed. Little wonder, that when later notified they would be sent back to the Soviet Union, many preferred death to repatriation.

By November of '44, the KONR, though still referred to by some as the ROA, was finally taking shape. Yet Vlasov was continually thwarted by German deviousness and intransigence. He was growing tired of his messages to other Russians being altered or added to. One such communication which declared that equality for all would exist in the new Russia was altered by the Germans to say that this did not apply to Jews. Vlasov was not anti Semitic and refused to sign the document. The Germans sent it out anyway, without his signature. Despite this he continued on his chosen course because there was no alternative.

By the time the KONR was ready to take the field, the Third Reich was in dire straits, and there was a shortage of equipment. Himmler had deserted the project, turning it over to the Wehrmacht. He knew of Hitler's objections and had decided the KONR was too little, too late. It was time to be thinking of his own skin.

Vlasov had to contend with German commanders who did not want to release their Russians to the KONR, since it would weaken their own commands. Indeed if not for the thousands of new volunteers that flocked to Vlasov, the two and one half divisions that were finally formed would never have taken the field.

But Vlasov's men were finally an army and on January 28, 1945, he took command. The German insignia was removed from uniforms and replaced by the KONR's own.

Vlasov reviewing Russian troops in
German uniforms
General Andrei Andreievich Vlasov
reviewing Russians in German uniforms

Considering the shortage of equipment, the two divisions and one brigade were well equipped by 1945 standards. They numbered twenty thousand men per division and had adequate armor.

The Commander of the first KONR division was Sergei Bunyachenko and was called the 600th Panzer Grenadier Division. But operational readiness was not reached until mid February '45, less than ninety days before the end of the war, and due to chaos in Germany, didn't reach the front until the beginning of April.

The second KONR division, commanded by General G.A. Zveryev was called the 650th Panzer Grenadier Division, but never reached operational readiness.

On March 29, 1945, the Cossacks who had been serving under General von Pannwitz, decided to put aside personal differences with Vlasov and voted unanimously to join him in the fight. But the Germans were still in control and Himmler, who had already given up on KONR didn't issue the order until seven days before the end — much too late for the Cossacks to join Vlasov. Only two KONR formations ever took part in the fighting against the Russians. A unit commanded by Colonel Sakharov and the First Division tried to dislodge the Soviets from a bridge on the River Oder. The attack failed. The most successful attack by the Vlasov men came strangely enough, not against the Soviets, but against the German SS.

After the failure of the attack on the Oder, Sakharov headed his twenty thousand men toward the Czech border, where he was joined by Vlasov. The Germans no longer had any control over the KONR. Both Sakharov and Vlasov were hoping that Prague would be occupied by Americans. What they found were German SS and a Czechoslovak Council pleading for help in ousting the Germans. The Vlasov men could not know that the Americans had no intention of entering Prague due to a prior agreement with the Red Army. The Czechs knew but kept silent. The Red Army had stopped since they had decided to let the SS deal with the Vlasov men, thus saving their own troops. What followed was an agreement between the Czechs and the Vlasov men. “Clear our city of Germans and you will receive asylum,” said the Czechs. Vlasov didn't believe them but Bunyachenko and his men wanted to believe and besides, this was a chance to repay the SS for all the indignities visited upon them by the Germans. And to, they'd be glad to surrender to the Americans. Was there a chance the Czechs were sincere? They'd have to take that chance because they were now between the proverbial rock and hard place. They'd made a deal with the devil (Germany) in order to fight someone they considered a greater devil (Stalin). But that first devil was now on the verge of defeat and could be no help to them. What to do? They had no choice. They would fight the Germans and hope that the Americans would move into Prague, at which point they would surrender to them. Vlasov, now totally discouraged, saw betrayal coming — and it did.

When the SS had been defeated, the Czech Council informed Vlasov that the Red Army, not the Americans would be occupying Prague. The Vlasov men, now completely dejected began marching back in the direction from which they had come, hoping to run into the Americans. They did, but even that would turn into disappointment.

On May 1st, emissaries from General Andrei Andreievich Vlasov, commander of the Russian Liberation Army reached the lines of the Seventh U.S. Army near the village of Schluesselburg. By this time Vlasov was a completely disillusioned man. Urged to escape to the American lines, he said he must share the fate of his men. Bunyachenko pleaded with American officers to intern his army rather than turn them over to the Soviets. He was told that since Schluesseburg was in the Russian zone, his men could not be interned. The best the American could do was suggest that the Vlasov men try on their own to get to the American sector. Many tried — few made it. Most were shot by Soviet troops. Some 17000 were forcibly repatriated to Russia where they were executed,( many while on the way) or worked to death in the Gulags.

Vlasov was captured by the Red Army while on his way to the American zone. Since the Seventh Army was commanded by George Patton, the most anti-communist general, had Vlasov made it he might well have survived.

The horror visited upon those Russians who either voluntarily or involuntarily found themselves outside the Soviet Union at the end of World War Two (even sooner in some cases) is almost incomprehensible to those who have spent their lives in freedom. That English and sometimes American soldiers helped perpetrate this horror that did not come to light for many years. The book Secret Betrayal by Nikolai Tolstoy could just as easily been titled, England and America's Shame. The two men (both of who would later become Prime Ministers of England) who share most of the blame for upwards of two million deaths were Harold Macmillan and Anthony Eden. Up until the time of their deaths, neither would admit to any wrongdoing. However, if this be so, why were they so careful to keep what they were doing from the British people?

So little did the Allies know about what the Soviet Union was really like, that a leaflet dropped to Russians fighting against them on the Western front would have been funny if not so tragic. The leaflet declared that any Russian surrendering would be guaranteed safe passage back to their home in the Soviet Union. The Allies couldn't understand why after the leaflet drop, the Russians fought even harder. What's wrong with these people, they don't want to go home!

It would be up to the Officers and enlisted men in charge of the holding camps for the Russians, to finally understand what was happening. Perhaps it was the suicides that finally got the message across. When we tell these Russians they're going home — they slit their throats! But still the orders came down. All Russian prisoners will be repatriated! Soon, stories of soldiers forcing men, wo men and children onto trucks with clubs and rifle butts while tears streamed down their faces became legend. They'd been told the Russians were traitors to their country and they must do their duty — no matter how hard. But were the children traitors too?

Then, other opinions began to surface. Some of these Russians aren't even Soviet citizens! They left during the Bolshevik Revolution! How can we force them to go to the Soviet Union!

As time went by, things became more complicated. Most of these Russians didn't want to go home! But according to Anthony Eden. “They will be repatriated by force if necessary — they can't stay here.” However, Eden was worried about the impact the situation was having on the troops. There were too many reports of soldiers looking the other way while Russians escaped. And what about the average British citizen. If word got out about the forced repatriation and the brute force that was being applied, the public would be up in arms. More devious methods must be applied; keep it from the Russians as long as possible. It would make things easier. With no one group was this method applied more successfully — than with the Cossacks.

While German behavior in much of the occupied territories had been brutal, the Germans rule in the land of the Cossacks had been comparatively gentle. When Stalingrad fell, forcing a German retreat, the Cossacks turned west with them. As the Wehrmacht retreated even further, the Cossacks under great hardship retreated with them, finally ending up in northern Italy. Some of their leaders went back to the battle against the Bolsheviks. Men such as General Peter Krasnov and General Vyacheslav Naumenko. Things went well in Italy for awhile but with the collapse of the German military, Communist Italian partisans became more brazen. The Cossacks were ordered out of Italy, and after a perilous journey, ended up in Austria on May 3, 1945. The Cossacks, their number down to a mere thirty-two thousand, set up camp at the small town of Lienz. It was Easter Sunday and the Christian Cossacks were jubilant. Christ is Risen! They cheered. The leaders knew the war was over and the only decision involved who would take their surrender, the English or the Americans. They decided on the British — after all, hadn't the British Commander Alexander, fought with them against the Bolsheviks and hadn't the White Russian General Yudenitch bestowed the Russian Imperial Order on Alexander? And hadn't Krasnov been awarded The British Military Cross? Yes, the English would remember. It was a decision the proud Cossacks would come to rue.

General Vasiliev and Lieutenant Nikolai Krasnov, grandson of the aging General Krasnov, and an English-speaking woman, Olga Rotova went to meet the nearest British force.

They met with British General Arbuthnott and Brigadier General Geoffrey Musson. The Cossacks requested to join General Vlasov and no doubt with General Alexander in mind explained that they wanted to resume fighting the Bolsheviks. The naïve Cossacks did not understand that these two British Generals were allies of the Bolsheviks. “First you must surrender your arms!” declared Arbuthnott. Vasiliev said he could not make that decision on his own, whereupon the two British officers declared that they would come to the Cossack camp on the morrow to discuss terms. Before the Cossacks left the officers insisted they not leave until tea had been served. During subsequent conversation Lieutenant Krasnov explained that he was a Yugoslav citizen and many of the thirty two thousand Cossacks were citizens of countries other than the Soviet Union.

During subsequent meetings with the British, things seemed to go well, though the Cossacks had uneasy feelings. These British were not like General Alexander As it turned out, the reason the British had not pushed the issue of arms surrender was because they didn't think they had enough forces to disarm the Cossacks.

But the Cossacks had no intention of causing any trouble. They only wanted to stay together as a group and settle any where other than the Soviet Union. Besides, they believed that the Americans and British would never stay allied with the Soviets once they knew the truth. Their prediction was correct but it would come too late for the Cossacks.

General Krasnov had fought in the White Army during the Revolution because he saw that the Bolsheviks meant to do away with the Russia he loved. He was driven into exile in France and Germany. Krasnov was also a writer and he now believed the time had come to contact his old friend, General Alexander, so he wrote a letter. He received no reply. There is some doubt as to whether the letter was ever delivered. Krasnov now began to worry.

Vlasov with German officers
General Andrei Andreievich Vlasov
(front in glasses) with German officers

On to the scene now came a British officer whom the Cossacks would come to know and love, because he was a fair minded man. His name was Major Rusty Davies and he was soon given the duty of supervising the Cossacks, but as he was later to say — “this was not difficult because the Cossacks supervised themselves.” The one big mistake made by Davies was coming to care about a doomed people.

Davies did not believe the Cossacks when they told him of the horrors awaiting them in the Soviet Union, until one day an old woman held up both hands from which the fingernails had been removed. Then he understood why the Cossacks said they would go anywhere but home.

Rusty Davies did not believe a humane nation like his would return people to a country that would torture and kill them. In this respect he was as naïve as his Cossack friends. Things took a turn for the worse when the British confiscated the Cossack horses. When the Cossacks complained, General Arbuthnott declared they were not Cossack horses as the Cossacks were prisoners. It was the first time he'd referred to the Cossacks as prisoners. General Krasnov again wrote a letter to his good friend, General Alexander — again there was no reply.

The Cossacks became even more disturbed when on the morning of May 27, 1945, Rusty Davies told the Cossacks that all weapons had to be handed in by midday. Davies who had established a good rapport with the Cossacks did not realize that the turning in of weapons would lead to something more sinister. He was simply the instrument his superiors were using to put a plan in motion — a plan that had already been decided on. To soften the blow, the Cossacks had been given British uniforms.

If Davies and the Cossacks had heard General Musson giving instructions to British troops that morning, they would have been even more concerned: “I realize we are dealing with people whose language we cannot talk and there are many women and children here ... if it becomes necessary to fire on them you will do so and regard it as an operation of war.” The troops of the 8th Argylls were about to participate in something they would come to consider as shameful and it would haunt some for the rest of their lives. They were not NKVD — they could not brutalize women and children and sleep well at night.

The next day the Cossacks were handed an order stating that all officers would be going to a conference held east of Oberdrauburg, where they would be addressed by General Alexander. It was a lie but Davies didn't know it so he reassured the Cossacks that everything was on the up and up. The question was asked but never answered as to why General Alexander couldn't come in his staff car and talk to the Cossacks. Wouldn't that be easier then trucking two thousand people miles down the valley?

The Cossacks dressed in their best uniforms — nothing was too good for their friend, General Alexander.

Some of the Cossacks fell out along the way, they were suspicious. Their suspicions were well founded.

There was no General Alexander awaiting the Cossacks. When they arrived at the appointed place, they were met by General Musson. “I have to inform you that I have received strict orders to hand over the entire Cossack Division to the Soviet authorities. I regret to have to tell you this but the order is categorical good day.” With that the convoy was headed east — into the abyss that was the Soviet Union.

When Rusty Davies realized he'd been part of a carefully planned deception, he asked to be relieved of his duties. His request was denied.

With the officers out of the way, it was hoped the rest of the Cossacks would give little trouble. In a show of passive resistance, the remaining Cossacks linked arms and refused to get on the trucks. Troops waded in with rifle butts, pick axes and bayonets. Seventy six year old General Krasnov who had not been in the original convoy of officers was loaded on to a truck by younger officers. He crossed himself and said — “Lord, shorten our suffering.” There were upwards of a dozen suicides by Cossacks who preferred death to life in the Soviet Union. The unkindest cut of all may have been that many of these Cossacks were not Soviet citizens at all. They were citizens of other countries who had joined the Germans to liberate their homeland.

Of all the Cossacks sent into the hell of the Soviet Union, only Lieutenant Nikolai Krasnov would ever see the west again. After ten years in the Gulags, he was, on the strength of his Yugoslav citizenship, released. His grandfather had asked him to write a book detailing all the horrors of the forced repatriation. His book, was published in the U.S. but read by few. He died soon after, probably poisoned by the KGB. They had read the book.

The forced repatriation of 1944-47 was referred to as the two million person holocaust. The first holocaust was perpetrated by Nazi murderers, while some of the best people in the world were involved in the second.

General Andrei Andreievich Vlasov was imprisoned in the Soviet Union. When told if he didn't confess there would be no trial and he would be tortured and then killed. He replied — “I know that and I am very frightened but it would be worse to vilify myself. But our suffering will not be in vain. In time the Russian people will remember us with warmth.”

On August 2, 1945, Vlasov was executed. One report said he was hanged on piano wire with the hook inserted in the base of his skull. Another report said the method of execution was too horrible to talk about.

      Vlasov And The Russian Liberation Movement Catherine Andreyev
      Secret Betrayal Nikolai Tolstoy
      Stalin's Secret War Nikolai Tolstoy

by Don Haines
... who is a Cold War Army vet, chaplain of American Legion Post 191 in Mount Airy, a retired Registered Nurse, and freelance writer, whose work has appeared in World War Two History magazine and many other publications.