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THE 1945 EVENT THAT THE ALLIES BURIED: American And British Handover Of Russians And Cossacks To The Red Army

 A Cossack noted: “The NKVD or the Gestapo would have slain us with truncheons, the British did it with their word of honor.”

British soldiers handing over the Cossacks to the Russians

This is something that Britain would like buried in the ground. It is said that there were no good guys in the Second World War. The forced return of Cossacks to the Red Army by the British in 1945 only proves the point.

A bit of background. The Cossacks have always been fiercely independent. They had fought the Bolsheviks with the Whites in 1919. Many had emigrated to other countries. In 1941 when the Germans invaded Russia the Cossacks found a way to fight the Stalinist regime. They fought in the Wehrmacht against the Red Army.

As the war was ending, the Cossacks  found themselves cornered in Austria, in areas controlled by the British. They thought they would be safe. But their fate had been sealed at the Yalta conference.

What followed was something that the British would hardly be proud about. All the captured Cossacks were handed over to the Red Army. Women and children included. Knowing full well the sad fate that awaited the Cossacks.

 In the Bond film "Golden Eye" Bond says about this bit of history, "Not exactly our finest hour".

Equally reprehensible for the Allies was the handing over of those Russians who were anti-communists, anti-Stalin and had fought the Red Army with the Germans.

Yalta made the Allied democracies do things that has left an indelible blot on their history.

The Cossacks didn’t go willingly. British troops had to beat them into submission with billy clubs and rifle-butts. Eventually, almost 35,000 Cossacks were transported to their ‘mother country’ where the Soviets ‘welcomed’ them.

The vast majority of them were sent immediately to labor camps in Siberia, which were little better than the death camps the Nazis had built. Almost all of the Lienz Cossacks ‘repatriated’ back to Russia died in brutal suffering.

The ‘lucky’ ones didn’t even make it that far. Because many of the Cossacks weren’t born in Russia (their parents had left following the Russian Revolution) they were unable to be tried for treason as Soviet Citizens. Therefore the Red Army saved themselves the hassle of a military trial and executed them on the spot, with a bullet through the brains.

“Betrayal of the Cossacks at Lienz” by S.G. Korolkoff. Korolkoff was a survivor of the forced repatriations and the people depicted in the painting were all real people who were there. Korolkoff recreated the faces from photographs.

In the National Archives in Washington there exists a short clip of film which would appear to be the only one of its kind ever made. It is the unedited footage taken by an American army camera unit at a prisoner of war camp in southern Germany in February 1946. A card, headed "Return of Russian Prisoners to Russia," identifies the subject matter of the film and the location where it was taken. 

For many years this unique piece of film was not available for public inspection. What it recorded was a small part of a vast operation that was one of the most sensitive of the Second World War, the handing over to Stalin  of large numbers of Russians who in varying circumstances found themselves under German control by the war's end. Some of these Russians had been organized into military units to fight alongside German forces against the Red Army; in addition to them were well-known Cossack regiments who had left their homeland in the period 1917 - 1921 after the defeat of the White Russian armies by the Bolsheviks. In all, several hundred thousand Russians - a staggering number - took up arms against the Soviet Union in the years following the German invasion in June 1941. 

Cossack General Ivan Kononov: Kononov was captured and released in 1946 by the British from a DP Camp in Klagenfurth, and later moved to Munich.
After failing to establish a political organization with the various foreign associations, he feared extradition to the Soviet Union. In 1948, he travelled to Adelaide, Australia, where he settled and became a target of KGB surveillance.
Kononov was the only general who had defected to survive the war and evade subsequent Soviet persecution against all so-called traitors of the Motherland.

The fate of these Russians was one of the best kept secrets of the war. As many as could surrendered to American and British forces, trusting that they would eventually be able to settle somewhere outside the Soviet Union. But in February 1945, at the Yalta conference, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to Stalin's demand that they be handed over to him. The anti-Soviet Russians in the hands of the western allies would therefore be betrayed. To carry out the repatriation order, American and British servicemen often had to resort to deception and brute force. No one doubted what was in store for the Russians once they were in Soviet hands.

 Many were executed on the spot. In some instances, Allied guards responsible for turning over their prisoners could see their bodies hanging in the forests where the exchange took place. Some were transferred on the same boat that had brought the British delegation to Yalta a few months previously. They were shot behind warehouses on the quay side with low flying Soviet planes circling overhead to help drown the noise of the rifle fire. Many returned prisoners were tortured before being shot. The remainder disappeared into prison camps for long sentences, receiving the worst treatment of all the Gulag's inmates. Needless to say all were immediately stripped of the new winter clothing and personal equipment that had been generously issued to them by the British in response to the cynical demands of Soviet liaison officers. American and British officers were the appalled eyewitnesses to many desperate acts of suicide by Russian men and women who preferred their own death and that of their wives and children to falling into the hands of the Cheka/NKVD/GPU/KGB. 

The Cossack General, Pyotr Krasnov, had fought against the Bolsheviks back in 1918 and hoped that the British would sympathize with his situation, remembering their own intervention at that time on the side of the White Russians. Churchill, British Secretary for War in 1919, had then been the most ardent supporter of their cause; while the Allied Commander-in-Chief in Italy, Field Marshal Alexander, still wore a Russian Imperial order awarded to him for his services against the Bolsheviks in Courland. Krasnov in turn had then been decorated with the British Military Cross. He like other White Russians had never been a Soviet citizen. But his appeals were unavailing. Under the Yalta agreement, he too was sent back to the Soviet Union to certain death. He was for Stalin a prize captive. Another bonus came Stalin's way when zealous administrators for good measure threw in individuals and groups from the Baltic republics and Yugoslavia who found themselves on the wrong side when hostilities ended and whose repatriation had never been part of the Yalta negotiations. 

Of all this, the public in the democracies knew nothing. For three decades the subject remained a closely guarded secret. Western eyewitnesses were obliged by official policy to keep silent. A few journalists knew that some handing over was taking place, but not its scale. But Alexander Solzhenitsyn had met some of the surviving Russians in Soviet prison camps and learned about their history. His account of their fate and that of their leader, General Vlasov, which appeared in the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago, published in 1973 - itself a sensation - was the first the general public in the west heard of the subject and the phenomenon, as Solzhenitsyn put it, of so many young Russians joining in a war against their own Fatherland.


Abruptly the stillness of the camp was broken by the shrieking blast of a whistle. Startled, Meandrov's men woke and looked about them. At once a ghastly cacophony of yells burst from all around. Without any warning, and with accompanying shrieks and curses, the Americans began to lash with the bludgeons at each recumbent figure. "Mak snell! Mak snell!" they shouted in pidgin German, driving the bewildered figures out of their beds, through the doorways and across to the camp gates. Anyone slow in scrambling from his bed was beaten ferociously until he too fled in his underclothes out into the night. At the gates stood a row of trucks, their engines humming, into which the prisoners were driven by their screaming guards. Off along darkened roads the speeding convoy clattered and swayed. 

Operation Keelhaul was carried out in Northern Italy by British and American forces to repatriate Soviet Armed Forces POWs of the Nazis to the Soviet Union between August 14, 1946 and May 9, 1947

There followed a hasty transfer to a train, and the journey was continued some hours later. The train rattled on towards the east, where already a pale cold light was failing in the darkening sky. Near the Czech frontier, beyond Zwiesel, the train halted in the dripping stillness of the Bavarian forest. Blue-capped troops were waiting; officers exchanged brief words through an interpreter, and the bruised and terrified men of Meandrov's Division were shepherded down beside the railway track. Dazed, they stood in little groups amongst the puddles. The American guards, silent and awkward, jumped back into their carriages and prepared to make off. There was a brief hissing and clanking of pistons, and then the blank gaze of the Vlasov men watched swaying lights disappear back along the line. 

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. On their return, even the SS men in a neighbouring compound lined the wire fence and railed at them for their behaviour. The Americans were too ashamed to reply.


It wasn't just Ike and the Germans, Jeff. British Gen. Alexander, a fervent Christian, refused to obey Churchill's direct orders to hand over anti-Communist Russian prisoners of war to Stalin after the war. Since he was too widely admired and respected to fire, Churchill moved him 'up and out' to be Governor-General of Canada, then proceeded to get his purposes accomplished. British troops were ordered to hunt down and shoot Russian prisoners who tried to escape their fate. Some British troops, weeping, refused to fire on the hapless Russians and were then threatened by their officers with drawn pistols and made to do so. All were then read the Official Secrets Act and compelled to keep their silence. 

To this day, the vast majority of the British public know nothing of this war crime - directly ordered by Churchill. And those handed over to the NKVD? As they crossed the bridge which was the handover point, multitudes of Russians threw themselves off it too their deaths on the rocks below as soon as they saw the black-uniformed troops waiting for them on the far side. The others all perished as slave labour.


In the spring of 1943, in Poland was formed one Cossack Cavalry Division and since the Red Army was advancing from the east, the main center for the collection of Cossack refugees who fled from their villages with the Germans, became the headquarters stationed in Kirovograd under Pavlov. By November of the same year his command had eighteen thousand Cossacks, including women and children, and from which was formed the Cossack camp. The main challenge facing the Cossack troops  was to the fight with the guerrillas and ensure the safety of the rear of Army Group "Center". June 17, 1944 during one of the operations against the guerrillas Pavlov was killed accidentally: A German outpost in the darkness took his headquarters for a guerrilla group. Pavlov's successor was an army captain called T. Domanov. A month later, the division was transferred to Poland and from there to Northern Italy, where the Cossacks again had to battle with the guerrillas. 

At the time of migration to Italy the Cossack camp population reached 15,990 people, including 7155 reservists of five infantry and one cavalry regiment. Originally Cossacks were placed on their carts around Gemona, where they underwent massive bombing by British bombers. Subsequently they moved to Tolmezzo, Alesso and Caladesi. After a long journey through Europe Cossacks finally nursed  hope for a peaceful and quiet life and finding a new homeland in the Italian lands. They founded a new village, giving them the names of those from where they had once fled. Some time later they were joined by other Cossacks, who had left Russia during the Civil War and lived all that time in the Czech Republic, Yugoslavia, France and other countries. In their new home they started publishing the magazine "Cossack land".  in Tolmezzo a Museum was opened depicting Cossack life, in the village of Villa Santina was established a cadet school.

 All the time, that the Cossacks wandered in Europe and lived in Italy, accompanying them to the clergy did not disrupt communication with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. In every village and parish priests were appointed, and worship services and weddings held in Catholic churches . 

Relations of the newcomers Cossacks with the local population  were diverse, and according to some historians, some Italian girls married Cossacks. Alesso city, later renamed to Novocherkassk,  all the locals, except the baker and translator, were evicted . Whatever it was, due to frequent clashes with the guerrillas in the early 1945 the Cossacks appealed to their neighbors that their enemy was Bolshevism, not the Italian people.

On April 30, 1945 the commander of German forces in Italy General Ritinger signed an order to cease fire and surrender, which was scheduled for May 2. The Command Cossack camp, by that time had swollen to 36,000 people, 20,000 of whom were combat-ready soldiers and officers. They were ordered to move to Austrian territory in East Tyrol, and honorablly surrender to the British forces, and not fall into the hands of Italian partisans or Tito-ites. After a rough passage through the Alps under constant attack by guerrillas the Cossacks achieved their goal. On Easter, May 6, refugees came to the valley of the Drava River and settled near the town of Lienz. On May 18 the British took their surrender.

The tough Cossack General Krasnov confers with his men

The link between the Cossacks and the English Command became commandant of the Lienz Army Maj. His Majesty Rusty Davis. With his kindness and friendly demeanour, he quickly gained the sympathy and confidence of the adult population of the Cossacks and the younger generation. Rusty Davis was always a welcome guest in Peggets camp, where most of the Cossacks, the total number of which was variously estimated 40-50 thousand people stayed. Davis assured the people that the worst was over and they were in no danger. In addition the Cossacks started getting English rations. 

Gen. PN Krasnov taking advantage of personal acquaintance with the commander of the British Army Field Marshal Alexander , wrote him a letter in which he asked for a "Special position for the Cossacks, in which the allies should not consider them either enemies or collaborators or captured." But he received no answer.

May 20 Davis gave the order to his command, according to which all ordinary Cossacks were obliged to surrender their weapons - the order was executed unconditionally and on time. An angry Krasnov again wrote a letter to Alexander, but instead of an answer even Cossack officers and generals were disarmed. 

At the same time the British soldiers took away part of the Cossacks horses. When Domanova questioned the decision, he received a reply from one of the senior officers that "there are no Cossack horses. They belong to the English king with Cossack prisoners. " This remark, perhaps,  first, albeit unofficially, definied the status of the Cossacks - being prisoners.

On the morning of May 28, 1945, the day after the disarmament of officers, Davis arrived at the Cossack camp with a new order: "All parts and head of department immediately submit nominal lists of officers, and within 12 hours all the officers were to arrive at the assembly point from where they were to go to the town of Spittal in vehicles. They were to talk with Alexander about "Overall political situation of prisoners of war and the Cossacks." It was also announced that the Cossacks would return to the camp in the evening of the same day. 

Domanov immediately summoned all his officers. 

From the camp went four trucks and one bus and on the road  they were joined by several other cars from other places where the Cossacks lived. Into the city of Spittal rode 14 generals, 2359 officers, 65 military officers, 14 doctors, paramedics and 72 priests. 
After some time two British gunners climbed aboard each vehicle  and tanks appeared out of the woods. Motorcycles equipped with heavy machine guns too appeared. 

Immediately upon arrival at Spittal the Cossacks were searched. Lights, cigarette cases, lighters, watches and pocket knives were seized, and then the captured officers were taken to the barracks. Shocked at this treacherous betrayal, Krasnov spent the night at his desk, writing petitions addressed to the International Red Cross, the League of Nations, the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Many trucks arrived next morning. The British command asked for voluntary consent to return to the USSR, which nobody naturally gave. The opinion of the Cossacks could change nothing. Loading of trucks was supposed to begin with senior officers. A whole company of infantrymen with fixed bayonets burst into the general's hut. He was found on the floor of the hut: the white general had suffered a heart attack. Krasnov when he was being carried out, turned to his subordinates: "I urge the Cossacks to die, but not to worship Satan!" After a brief fight British soldiers still managed to shove, or simply throw the Cossacks into the waiting trucks which were taken under heavy guard to the city of Judenburg: The demarcation line dividing the troops of the British Army and 83 Ukrainian Front. 
During the trip, some brave souls tried to jump from a moving car, but very few managed to reach the forest. Most of the fugitives received bullets in the back. 

 Many Cossacks jumped into the stones and rock below as their truck was crossing a river bridge. After which it was decided to transport prisoners across the bridge with trucks moving in a very tight formation to deprive people of the opportunity to get out and jump as some had done earlier. Handing over of Cossack officers to the Soviet Army was completed at 17:00 on the same day. 

Painting showing Cossack officers being executed by the Red Army at Lienz in 1945

The cemetery at Judenburg of Cossacks massacred by the Red Army


Helmuth von Pannwitz (14 October 1898 – 16 January 1947) was a German general who distinguished himself as a cavalry officer during the First and the Second World Wars. Later he became Lieutenant General of the Wehrmacht and Supreme Ataman of the XV. Kosaken-Kavallerie-Korps. He was executed in Moscow for war crimes in 1947 of which he has been rehabilitated by the military prosecutor in Moscow in April 1996 almost fifty years after his violent death. The revocation of the Red kangaroo court’s conviction of Pannwitz was itself overturned in June 2001

Helmuth von Pannwitz
(14 October 1898 – 16 January 1947)

The Last Knight of Europe

Pannwitz surrendered on May 11, 1945, to British forces near Völkermarkt in Carinthia, Austria, and made every effort to ensure that his men would remain in the custody of the Western powers. But by mid-May it was becoming obvious that the Cossacks would be handed over to their deadly enemies, the SMERSH, an action often referred to as The Betrayal of Cossacks. The same fate overtook the members of the Kazachi Stan at Lienz, another 30,000 old folk, women, and children. All were executed, were sent to GULAG prison camps, or committed suicide to avoid being repatriated.

Pannwitz was a German national, and under the provision of the Geneva Convention not subject to repatriation to the SMERSH. But on May 26, he was deprived of his command and placed under arrest while the forceable loading of the Cossacks into trucks began and continued through the following days.

Although many escaped from their camps following these actions, General von Pannwitz and many of his German officer cadre did not want to leave their men alone and shared the uncertain fate of the Cossacks who had been comrades in combat for more than two years, so these Germans surrendered with the Cossacks to the NKVD at Judenburg and were mostly all killed cold-bloodedly, women and children raped or sent to the Gulag.

Almost fifty years later, on April 23, 1996, during the Russian presidency of Boris Yeltsin, members of the Pannwitz family petitioned for a posthumous verdict of acquittal of the 1946 conviction. The Military High Prosecutor in Moscow subsequently determined that Von Pannwitz was eligible for rehabilitation as a victim of Stalin-era repression.


Suggested Reading


The story starts at Yalta in February 1945, when the return of all Soviet citizens that may find themselves in the Allied zone was demanded by Stalin ≈ and was duly agreed to by Churchill and FDR. Accordingly, hundreds of thousands of Soviet POW liberated by the Allies were sent back home, regardless of their wishes, and regardless of what Stalin had in store for them. In addition, in May and June 1945 tens of thousands of refugees from Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union ≈ unarmed civilians escaping communism, as well as anticommunist resistance fighters and assorted collaborationist ≈ were rounded up by the British in Austria, and forcibly delivered to Stalin and Tito. Most of them were summarily executed, sometimes within earshot of the British. Forced repatriations were known as Operation Keelhaul ≈ the "last secret" of World War II, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn called it. Men, women, and children were forced into boxcars headed for the Soviet zone in the east, or for Slovenia in the south.

Non-Soviet and non-Yugoslav citizens and Serbian royalists were supposedly exempt from the deportation order, but key military officials in the British chain of command surreptitiously included them, too. As a result ИmigrИ Russians waving French passports and British medals from the World War I were all rounded up and delivered to Stalin.

There was panic in the camps when the inmates realized what was going on. The British lied to some that they were to be taken to Italy, or some other safe haven; if the subterfuge didn't work they used rifle butts and bayonets as prods. Some refugees committed suicide by sawing their throats with barbed wire. Mothers threw their babies from trains into the river. To its credit one British regiment, the London Irish, refused: they went to war to fight German soldiers, they said, not to club refugee women and children. (Americans proved willing to open the gates of refugee camps and look the other way as the desperate inmates fled.) 

In late June 1945 the original policy of screening the would-be deportees was reinstated, but it was too late: most of them were already dead, or in the depths of the Gulag. The tragedy would have remained little known outside obscure ИmigrИ circles were it not for British historian Count Nikolai Tolstoy, who has dedicated his life to exposing the truth and identifying those responsible. This great-grand-nephew of Russia's famous novelist ≈ and heir to the senior line of the family ≈ has written three books on forced repatriations, each more revealing than the previous one, as more suppressed information came to light. In 1977 his Victims of Yalta was published, followed by Stalin's Secret War in 1981, and then his most controversial book, The Minister and the Massacres (1986).

In his books Tolstoy argued that refugees not covered by the Yalta agreement ≈ ИmigrИ Russians and royalist Yugoslavs ≈ were forcibly repatriated because Harold Macmillan, "minister resident" in the Mediterranean and later prime minister, wanted to advance his political career by appeasing Stalin. He persuaded a British general whose 5th Army Corps occupied southern and eastern Austria to ignore a Foreign Office telegram ordering that "any person who is not (repeat not) a Soviet citizen under British law must not (repeat not) be sent back to the Soviet Union unless he expressly desires."


The Last Secret by NICHOLAS BETHEL

 The Last Secret (1974), broke to the British public the story of the part played by the British V Corps after the end of the Second World War in handing over two million White Russian refugees to death or imprisonment in Soviet camps.

The book, the forerunner of Count Tolstoy's better known but more polemical Victims of Yalta, told a horrifying story with restraint and balance, and was made into a television documentary, Cossacks, in 1974. As a result of Bethell's book, in 1980 Mrs Thatcher personally overruled objections from the Foreign Office to the erection of a memorial to the Yalta victims.

Rape And Abuse Of Chinese, Korean, Dutch And Asian Women By Japanese Soldiers During WW2

Rape is a part of war. It should not be. But reality is, nobody fight wars following the Queensberry rules. The Geneva Conventions to be more relevant. Why should women be violated when the men do the fighting? But real life is not fair. So as we said rape inevitably occurs during war.

Coming to the Second World War we have talked at length of the rape of German, French and Italian women. Now we come to rape committed by Japanese soldiers. The victims were mostly Chinese and Korean women. This aspect has received slightly less coverage than say, the rape of German women. May be continents matter. Or may be color of the skin. Only lately has the rape by Japanese soldiers received increasing  prominence in the western media because both the perpetrators and the victims have become front rank economies (Japan has been a big power since the late sixties).

The reality of war is that is that nobody is a saint in war. After Japan was defeated in 1945 and the Americans too raped Japanese women and kept "comfort women" during the occupation. But that is dealt elsewhere.

The roots of the present confrontation between Japan and China (and Korea} lies in the bitter history of WW2. And  the mass rape and abuse of Chinese and Korean women by Japanese soldiers has left a deep imprint. The wounds have never healed.

Hatred and aggression have very very long shadows.....

The Motivation For Rape During War

The need to dominate the "other," the enemy, is imperative in battle with other men. The violation of the bodies of women becomes the means by which such a sense of domination is affirmed and reaffirmed.


Japanese troops seem to have committed sexual violence against Dutch women at various places in the Dutch East Indies immediately after the invasion. For example, when they entered Tjepoc, the main oil centre of central Java, “women were repeatedly raped, with the approval of the [ Japanese commanding officer.”

The following are some extracts from the testimony on this case given by a Dutch woman after the war, which was subsequently presented at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal as one of numerous pieces of evidence of war crimes that the Japanese troops committed against Allied civilians.

On that Thursday, 5 March 1942, we remained in a large room all together.
The Japanese then appeared mad and wild. That night the father-in-law
and mother-in-law of Salzmann. . . . were taken away from us and fearfully
maltreated. Their two daughters too, of about 15 and 16 had to go with
them and were maltreated. The father and mother returned the same night,
fearfully upset, the girls only returned on Friday morning, and had been
raped by the Japanese.
On Saturday afternoon, March 7, 1942, the Japanese soldiers (odd
soldiers) had appeared in the emergency hospital where the women and
children were seated together. The ladies were here raped by the Japanese,
in which connection it should be mentioned that this happened where the
children were not present. These ladies were myself, Mrs. Bernasco, Mrs.
Mebus, Mrs. Dietzel, Mrs. de Graaf, Mrs. van Bakerghem, Mrs. Verbeek,
Mrs. Warella.
This occurred from March 7 to 17, 1942; generally the Japs came at
night, but by way of exception, also during the day. It was a mass, continuous
merciless rape. The first afternoon that this happened, as mentioned,
three enlisted men came, and everything took place under threat. After this
happened, we managed to tell the Chinese doctor Liem. He went to the
Commandant, whereupon that afternoon, Mrs. Dietzel, myself and one or
two others had to appear before the Commandant. The Commandant said
that we would be given an opportunity to point out the Japs who had
misconducted themselves, and that they would be shot dead before our very
However, nothing happened and after an hour we were sent back to the
emergency hospital.
That evening, at 8 o’clock, we were transferred to a classroom in a school
near by. According to what we were told, this was done for our own safety,
since the Japs would not come there.
Between 10 and 12 o’clock that night, when we were all asleep, a whole
mass of Japanese soldiers entered with the above-mentioned commandant
at the head. The Commandant sat on a table in our classroom and then
watched how each of the women was dragged away, one by one, to be
raped. He himself did not join in this.

As only a part of this testimony was read at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, it is not clear what happened to these women after this incident. However, Lieutenant Colonel Damste, a Dutch prosecutor who submitted this testimony to the Tribunal, claimed that this was “the same as happened when the Japanese entered the oil town of Balikpapan” in southwest Borneo.

According to a Dutch government report, rape of Dutch women was also committed by the Japanese in Tarakan, Menado, Bandung, Padang, and Flores during the invasion and the early stage of the occupation.6 It is also reported that at Blora, a place near Semarang on Java, about 20 European (presumably Dutch) women were imprisoned in two houses. Of these, 15, including mothers and their daughters, were raped several times a day for three weeks by the Japanese troops passing by. This was finally ended by a high-ranking Japanese officer who happened to visit.

The full story of the Rape of Nanking, which occurred in 1937, did not come out until the post-World War II Tokyo war crimes tribunal, held almost ten years later. While none of the war crimes defendants were tried for rape, prosecutors presented evidence of mass rape to help convict several defendants of crimes against humanity.

[note: This was similar to the treatment of rape during the Nuremberg war crimes trials for Nazi war criminals. ]

The Chinese Nationalist Army had used Nanking as its capital, but General Chiang Kai-shek had decided not to defend the capital and withdrew the army as Japanese forces arrived. This withdrawal left the city-full of refugees, women and children-defenseless in the face of invading forces:

There were many cases of rape. Death was a frequent penalty for the slightest resistance on the part of a civilian or the members of the woman's family who sought to protect her. Even girls of tender years and old women were raped in large numbers throughout the city, and many cases of abnormal and sadistic behavior in connection with these rape occurred. Many women were killed after the act and their bodies mutilated. Approximately 20,000 cases of rape occurred within the city during the first month of the occupation.

Reports indicate that superior officers often did not stop such behavior: a soldier caught by a Japanese officer or military police "was very politely told that he shouldn't do that again." At the Tokyo tribunal, testimony of continued rapes by Japanese soldiers on the campus of Nanking University indicated knowledge and complicity on the part of the Japanese government: the university campus was located next to the Japanese Embassy. The tribunal found General Iwane Matsui, the man in charge of the Nanking invasion, guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death by hanging.

[note: The tribunal ruled that the behavior of the Japanese army could not be considered the acts of a military group that temporarily had "gotten out of hand"; rather, rape, arson, and murder had continued to be committed on a large scale for at least six weeks after the city had been taken.]

 In 1991, the world learned that Japanese soldiers during World War II forced 80,000 to 200,000 Asian women, mostly Koreans, to serve as sex slaves. Known as "comfort women", they were held in front line brothels to service the Japanese Imperial Army.

[note: Only Japanese prostitutes were sent to the brothels at first, but Japan later began using women from its Asian colonies, drawing primarily from its oldest colony, Korea. ]

The government had provided the women in order to control the spread of venereal disease among soldiers, and to discourage troops from raping local women, which "would have intensified civilian resistance to the Japanese army as it swept through Asia." The story of the "comfort women" was a secret for nearly half a century due to the shame felt by the women,

[note: According to the mores of Korean society, the women felt they had brought great and lasting dishonor to their families. ]

the weak political and social status of women in Korean society, and the women's fear of becoming objects of derision. A group of elderly South Korean women in 1991 decided to end their silence, announcing to the world the atrocities they had suffered.

The Japanese government at first denied involvement in the brothels, claiming that the brothels were run by private contractors, but it eventually released a report acknowledging its direct involvement in the brothels and apologizing for recruiting the women. The report, based on a six-month survey of wartime documents, stated that the government systematically obtained women from Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia to serve in the brothels. The documents showed that military officials had not only set up the brothels, but also kept meticulous records about venereal disease, revenue generated and even price per woman: one yen to use a Chinese woman, one and a half to use a Korean woman and two yen to use a Japanese woman. Each soldier got thirty minutes with a woman and had to wear a condom; each woman had to service at least forty men per day, although some served up to 100 a day" The report found no evidence that the government recruited these women forcibly. The refusal of Japan to state that the women were forced or tricked into the brothels evoked a bitter reaction, especially from South Korea, where the government demanded further investigation. A 211- page interim report released by the South Korean Foreign Ministry included 155 examples of women sent to the Japanese brothels under "threatening circumstances".

The few remaining survivors also tell of forcible recruitment or trickery. The Korean Council for Women Drafted for Sex Service by Japan located sixty survivors; half said that Japanese soldiers kidnapped them, and the other half said that recruiters misled them by offering them jobs as nurses or factory workers.

[ note: One woman said she was picking vegetables when soldiers abducted her and a truckload of other village girls. Another woman said she was sent to Taiwan, but refused to work as a prostitute until she was beaten so badly that her bones were broken. When she tried to escape, she was sent to Manchuria, where she was forced to have sex with up to fifty men a day. Some women said they were tortured with bamboo slivers pushed under their nails; many spoke of ailing friends who were left to starve. After the war, the Japanese army left the women in distant outposts; many were killed. ]

One former Japanese soldier admitted that he participated in dawn raids on Korean villages, dragging young women away from their screaming children and loading them into trucks. Witnesses reported that soldiers seized one woman who resisted, tied her to five horses by the arms, legs, and neck and then whipped the horses away.

Historians believe most of the women held in Japanese brothels died during World War H or soon afterwards. When the women contracted diseases or suffered from malnutrition, the soldiers threw them into the sea or doused them with gasoline and burned them alive. Thousands were slain by soldiers who wanted to set an example to the rest of the women. A witness reported that once a soldier considered a woman "useless", the soldier sometimes would insert a gun into her vagina and blow her apart. Many other women died shortly after the war, either from untreated venereal disease, beatings, botched abortions, or the effects of deprivation." Still others committed suicide, many while being forced to serve as "comfort women".

The Japanese Imperial Army enslaved between 80,000 and  200,000 women and girls from 1932 to 1945. Most came  from Korea, with many also from Japan and the Dutch East  Indies. Women and girls were obtained through abduction or  deception and, in some cases, purchased from destitute parents. Euphemistically known as “comfort women,” they  were taken to ‘comfort stations’ throughout the Pacific,  including then East Timor and the Solomon Islands. Women  were kept for months or years on end, and while most were  under the age of 20, some were as young as 12. For many,  the comfort stations were their first sexual experience, and  many are infertile as a result of their enslavement. Women  who made it home at the end of the war kept silent about  their experience through fear and shame, and threats received from the Japanese military. 

The atrocities were not just against the Chinese, but also British, Canadians, and people of other nationalities. For example, at a hospital for injured British soldiers, the Japanese soldiers slaughtered 170 recuperating soldiers and a few hospital staff. The eyes, ears, noses, tongues, or limbs were cut off on many victims. Seventy of the soldiers were killed with swords while they were lying in bed. The hospital’s seven nurses were raped, sometimes while lying on top of the bodies of murdered British soldiers. Several of the nurses were also slaughtered, and one of them almost had her head severed.


Japanese military leaders believed that the provision of comfort women was a good means of providing their men with some kind of leisure to compensate for unlimited tours of duty. Unlike US and other Allied soldiers, the rank and file of the Japanese military forces did not have designated leave periods or limited tours of duty.

Japanese military leaders were very concerned about the rape of civilians by members of the Japanese armed forces – but not out of concern for those civilians. For good strategic reasons, they believed that the antagonism of civilians in occupied territories towards their conquerors was exacerbated by such behaviour. They also believed that a ready supply of women for the armed forces would help to reduce the incidence of rape of civilians.

Another concern of military leaders was the incidence of VD among the armed forces. They believed that VD threatened to undermine the strength of their men (and hence their fighting ability). They also feared the spread of the disease could potentially create massive public health problems back in Japan, once the war was over. The leaders believed that a regulated system, such as the comfort stations, would enable them to take effective preventive health measures.

A further concern was security. Military leaders believed that private brothels could easily be infiltrated by spies and that prostitutes working in them could easily be recruited as spies.


One Chinese physician who practiced in Hong Kong between 1941 and 1942 claimed that possibly 10,000 girls and women were raped in the month following Japanese occupation.


"We have not seen comfort women for three months," yelled the Japanese soldiers  They decided to pull out 12 women, guarded each channel and college entrance, then this group of female doctors and nurses were raped.

First squadron leader Daisaku Yoshida Chezhu (A Japanese officer} raped one of the most beautiful female doctor. "Now I command: All the Chinese women here come forward!" All Japanese soldiers, immediately fell upon struggling female doctors and nurses. Half-naked Japanese soldiers were seen everywhere in the grounds., Disrobed women lay on the ground. Others ran around with dishevelled hair.. On an average each woman was raped by six Japanese.


From the Judgement of the International Military Tribunal On War Crimes In The Far East....

From Documents On Rape Of Nanking by Timothy Brook (Page 259)

Women were killed in indiscriminate acts of terror and execution, but the large majority died after extended and excruciating gang-rape. "Surviving Japanese veterans claim that the army had officially outlawed the rape of enemy women," writes Iris Chang. But "the military policy forbidding rape only encouraged soldiers to kill their victims afterwards." She cites one soldier's recollection that "It would be all right if we only raped them. I shouldn't say all right. But we always stabbed and killed them. Because dead bodies don't talk ... Perhaps when we were raping her, we looked at her as a woman, but when we killed her, we just thought of her as something like a pig." (Chang, The Rape of Nanking, pp. 49-50)

Kenzo Okamoto, another Japanese soldier, recalled: "From the time of the landing at Hangzhou Bay, we were hungry for women! Officers issued a rough rule: If you mess with a woman, kill her afterwards, but don't use bayonets or rifle fire. The purpose of this rule was probably to disguise who did the killing. The military code with its punishment of execution was empty words. No one was ever punished. Some officers were even worse than the soldiers." (Yin and Young,The Rape of Nanking, p. 188)

After the occupation of Nanjing, the soldiers immediately formed into groups and roamed throughout the city. When they came across a woman, they would take turns raping her. A report on these atrocities can be found in the appendices of Harold John Timperley's book "A Foreigner's Eyewitness Account of the Atrocities Committed by the Japanese." Almost the entire account is devoted to crimes involving rape. A few items selected from Timperley's book will suffice to show how these scattered troops from the Japanese army went about committing the crime of rape.

At noon, December 14th, on Chien Ying Hsiang Road, Japanese soldiers entered a house and took four girls, raped them, and let them return [home] in two hours.

On the night of December 14th there were many cases of Japanese soldiers entering Chinese houses and raping women or taking them away.

On the night of December 15th, a number of Japanese soldiers entered the University of Nanking buildings at Tao Yuen and raped thirty women on the spot, some by six men.

On the evening of the 15th [of December] at San Tian Hsiang many soldiers got into the house and raped many women.

On December 16, seven girls (ages ranged from 16 to 21) were taken away from the home at the Military College. Five returned. Each girl was raped six or seven times daily -- reported December 18th.

On December 18th, evening, 450 terrified women fled for shelter to our office and spent the night in our yard. Many have been raped.


An extract from the autobiography of Maria Rosa Henson, a former Filipina comfort
woman. The passage depicts clearly how military violence involves atrocious
abuse of women’s sexuality.

Twelve soldiers raped me in quick succession, after which I was given half an hour rest. Then twelve more soldiers followed. They all lined up outside the room waiting for their turn. I could not even stand up. The next morning, I was too weak to get up . . . I could not eat. I could not resist the soldiers because they might kill me. So what else could I do? Every day, from two in the afternoon to ten in the evening, the soldiers lined up outside my room and the rooms of the six other women. I did not even have time to wash after each assault. At the end of the, I just closed my eyes and cried.
Japan's Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution during World War II and the US Occupation  By Toshiyuki Tanaka Introduction Page 1


The Medical Unit of the 3rd Division set up a comfort station soon after they entered Yangzhou on December 18. A Chinese local security council was ordered to supply 60 women to this station. ( These councils were organizations that occupying Japanese troops forced local civilians to establish.) Eventually 47 women were secured. The 26th Brigade of the 13th Division, stationed in Bengbu, also set up a comfort station staffed with 10 Chinese women, which opened at the end of January 1938. Therefore it seems that the Japanese forces which invaded Nanjing and neighboring areas used many Chinese women as comfort women. Some troops used devious methods to “recruit” these women.

However, the exploitation of local Chinese women in territories occupied by the invading Japanese troops did not become a general pattern. Before March 1938, some units such as the 104 Regiment stationed in Chuxian, were reluctant to use local women as comfort women. They did not set up a comfort station until mid-March when Japanese and Korean women were sent to this unit. It  that sooner or later troop commanders realized that it was not good policy to force local women into prostitution, out of consideration for the public. Another reason that the Japanese troops were generally reluctant to use local Chinese was related to security.
Source: Tanaka, Page 14


The comfort women were treated as “military supplies,” but relevant documents were either hidden or destroyed at the end of the war. It is impossible to know, therefore, how many women were exploited. The best estimates range from 80,000 to 100,000. According to the Japanese military plan devised in July 1941, 20,000 comfort women were required for every 800,000 Japanese soldiers, or one woman for every 40 soldiers.62 There were 3.5 million Japanese soldiers sent to China and Southeast Asia during the war, and therefore, by this calculation, an estimated 90,000 women were mobilized. Of these women, 80 percent are believed to have been Koreans, but many also came from Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Why were comfort women almost invariably from Taiwan, China, or various places in Southeast Asia, and above all Korea? This might seem odd at first, given that the Japanese were notorious for their racism towards the people of other Asian countries. However, racial prejudice provides part of the answer to the question – that very racism helped make these women suitable for the role of comfort women.

Japanese prostitutes did serve the military abroad during the war, but most were in a different position from the comfort women. The Japanese prostitutes worked in comfort stations that served high-ranking officers, and they experienced better conditions than the Asian comfort women. Apart from the difficulty in recruiting Japanese women into comfort stations, Japanese military leaders did not believe Japanese women should be in that role. Their mission was to bear and bring up good Japanese children, who would grow up to be loyal subjects of the Emperor rather than being the means for men to satisfy their sexual urges.

Source: Tanaka, Pages 31, 32

Suggested Reading

Japan's Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution during World War II and the US Occupation  By Toshiyuki Tanaka
Japan's Comfort Women tells the harrowing story of the "comfort women" who were forced to enter prostitution to serve the Japanese Imperial army, often living in appalling conditions of sexual slavery. Using a wide range of primary sources, the author for the first time links military controlled prostitution with enforced prostitution. He uncovers new and controversial information about the role of the US' occupation forces in military controlled prostitution, as well as the subsequent "cover-up" of the existence of such a policy. This groundbreaking book asks why US occupation forces did little to help the women, and argues that military authorities organised prostitution to prevent the widespread incidence of GI rape of Japanese women, and to control the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes In World War II

The Rape Of Nanking

The Rape of Nanking: An Undeniable History in Photographs


What war means: the Japanese terror in China; a documentary record By H J Timperley

Documents On The Rape Of Nanking By Tomothy Brook

Documents of The Nanking Safety Zone

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