The Transfer of U.S. Korean War POWs to the Soviet Union
The United States lists 8,140 casualties from the Korean War whose remains have not been repatriated. Some of that number are "truly unaccounted for" in that there is no evidence at all as to the circumstances of their loss or to their ultimate fate. One estimate is provided at Appendix A. F1 Since the Joint Commission was established, a mass of convincing evidence has accumulated that U.S. POWs were taken to the Soviet Union in a tightly controlled MGB operation and never repatriated.
We believe that the transfer of U.S. POWs to the Soviet Union involved two separate programs.
1. Technological Exploitation. This program was a pure intelligence collection program for the purpose of acquiring high-tech equipment and their operators technical exploitation. The F-86 Sabre Jet was the great prize. However, we believe that Soviet intelligence collection requirements were not limited to the F-86. There is growing evidence that other types of aircraft, including the B-29, were also the subject of intelligence collection.
2. The Hostage Connection. The other program was based on the collection of POWs as hostages and for general intelligence exploitation.
These programs are discussed in Parts I and II which present our assessment of the origins and operation of the transfers.
From the conduct of the transfer operation, we switch in Part III to the next stage in the issue: evidence of Americans actually within the Soviet concentration camp system. Here we discuss the mass of sightings by citizens of the former USSR of U.S. Korean War POWs.
Footnote 1 The "truly unaccounted for" casualties of the Korean War include those who were killed on the battlefield and those who were taken prisoner where there were no witnesses or reporting the enemy. All wars, especially those that involve rapid retreats and advances, heavy casualties, and fighting over rugged terrain such as the Korean War result in large, unexplained losses.
Note 1: Throughout this document references will be made by various quoted sources to the primary Soviet security organ as the NKVD, the MGB, or the KGB. All references are to the same organization and represent only an organizational name change. At the time of the Korean War, the organization was titled the MGB and will be referred to as such. Quotations will not be altered where the speaker is imprecise. The MGB (Ministerstvo Gosudarstvenoi Bezopasnosti) was formed in March 1946 by the merging of the NKVD and the MVD (Ministry of Internal Security). This new organization was broken back into its original two parts in March 1953 after Stalin's death. That part that had been the NKVD was renamed the KGB.
Note 2: Task Force Russia was organized under the auspices of the U.S. Army in June 1992 to support the U.S. side of the U.S.- Russian Joint Commission on POW/MIAs. There were two elements in the task force: (1) The Washington-based analytical, translation, and administrative element (TFR-H), and (2) the Moscow-based research, interview, and liaison group (TFR-M). In June 1993, Task Force Russia was subordinated to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs, and TFR-H was renamed the Joint Commission Support Branch (JCSB). The Moscow-based element will continue to be designated Task Force Russia - Moscow (TFR-M).
Note 3: Translations of documents provided by the Russian side of the Joint Commission were translated by TFR-H and are numbered as TFR documents, e.g., TFR-36, and are referred to as such in the narrative.
The First Modern Air War. One of the worst-kept secrets of the Cold War was the head-to-head clash in Korea between the two former Allies of World War II, the Soviet Union and the United States. Although the ground war was fought essentially with the weaponry and tactics of the Second World War, the air war was the first major field test of the new air power technologies of the postwar world. The Korean War was the first modern air war and was characterized by an entirely new technology that was electronics intensive and depended not only on the keen wits and high mastery of the pilots flying the jet combat aircraft but on a host of advanced support activities such as air-intercept radar and airborne reconnaissance.
The Technology Gap. This was the backdrop for an even more insidious form of warfare. The Soviet Union cloaked its participation in the Korean War partly to conceal its urgent need to bridge the technological gap with the West which was widening geometrically even then. Based upon a precedent repeatedly acknowledged by senior Soviet officers, which began with the wholesale reverse engineering of the Massey-Ferguson tractor by the State Automobile Factory in the 1930s, the Willys Jeep in the 19409, and a variety of propeller technology aircraft during World War II, the Soviets sought to avert the inevitable by systemized theft of design.
The 64th Fighter Aviation Corps. The Soviet Union initiated its battlefield testing in the Korean War with the activation of the 64th Fighter Aviation Corps Headquarters in Antung (now Dandong), Manchuria, in November 1950, just as North Korea teetered on the edge of destruction. The Corps was charged with a threefold mission: (1) air defense of the area north of the 38th Parallel; (2) protection of the trans-Yalu bridges; and (3) training of North Korean and Chinese pilots. Analysis of documents provided by the Russian side, however, shows that the 64th had yet another mission: the management of the overt and covert Human Intelligence (HUMINT) effort targeted against the U.S. air forces. A review of the documents provided by the Russians reveals regular and intense coordination between Moscow, the senior advisors to the Korean General Staff, and the Commander of the 64th Fighter Aviation Corps (General Georgii A. Lobov) on a variety of topics related to prisoner of war interrogation and control. The gaps in this documentation insinuate a direct role which the Russian side to date denies.
The air-focused Soviet priorities are perhaps best summed up by the comment of retired Colonel Aleksandr Semyonovich Orlov, a
veteran of the 64th, and the chief of intelligence for one of its divisions. He casually dismissed the significance of ground forces personnel with the comment that he knew more about the operations of the American infantry battalion than a U.S. Army captain would. Orlov, himself a captain at the time of the Korean War, then described in painstaking detail Soviet intelligence collection requirements which were focused on aircraft technical parameters. F2
The Soviet Interrogation Effort. The Soviet interrogation effort was largely disguised. Soviet interrogators, when present for interviews, wore Korean and Chinese uniforms without visible rank, and in some cases were ethnic Koreans or other oriental Soviet nationalities. One such officer is Colonel Georgii Plotnikov, who called himself by the Korean translation of his name Kim-Mok-Su, which means carpenter in both languages. F3
Another Soviet officer was a Buryat Mongol. F4
Most Soviet involvement was probably concentrated on the preparation and translation of collection requirements to be filled by their North Korean and Chinese allies. Some, however, appears to have taken place without the Chinese and North Koreans. One such case is that of escaped POW Marine Corporal Nick A. Flores who was mistaken for an F-86 pilot when captured by Soviet anti-aircraft troops and sent directly to Soviet interrogation at a Soviet airbase in Antung. This case is developed in more depth at the end of this section. Additionally, General Lobov, Commander of the 64th Fighter Aviation Corps, has stated that at some point in the war, the Chinese and North Koreans became somewhat less cooperative in turning over captured U.S. POWs for interrogation. As a result, Lobov had 70 Soviet teams out looking for shot down U. S. pilots.F5
According to one report, Stalin had singled out U.S. Air Force POWs to be held as hostages.6
All USAF POWs already held in the camp system were segregated from other POWs, held in separate camps under Chinese jurisdiction on North Korean territory, and subjected to interrogation by Chinese and Soviet personnel. One such POW was USAF Sergeant Daniel Oldewage who has stated that he and a number of other captured USAF NCOs were transported to Antung for interrogation by the Chinese and the Soviets. Oldewage stated that the Soviets were dressed in Chinese uniforms and appeared to be pilots based upon their thorough professional understanding of air operations against the B-29.7
2 Paul Cole, RAND Corporation, Interview with Colonel Aleksandr S. Orlov, 18 December 1991, Moscow.
3 Paul Cole, RAND Corporation, Interview With Colonel Georgii Plotnikov, 17 December 1991, Moscow.
4 Paul M. Cole, RAND Corporation, Interview With Colonel (ret) Viktor A. Bushuyev, 16 September 1992, Moscow. This Soviet Buryat Mongol was named Kolya Mankuev.
5 Paul Cole, RAND Corporation, Interview with General Georgii A. Lobov, 18 December 1991, Moscow.
6 Celestine Bohlen, "Advice of Stalin: Hold Korean War POWS, New York Times, 25 September 1992.
The Soviet Hunt for F-86 Pilots
According to U.S. Air Force data, 1,303 USAF personnel were declared missing for all reasons between 25 June 1950 and 27 July 1953. After reclassification, this figure had been reduced to 666 whose bodies were not recovered (BNR).8 Of that number, the argument can be made from an analysis of their circumstances of loss, that several hundred survived their crashes and were potential candidates for transfer to the Soviet Union. There is almost blatant evidence that this was, indeed, the case for a number of technically proficient, well-educated, and highly- skilled pilots of the F-86 Sabre jet. Most captured American pilots who did not die in the prison camps did in fact return. However, there is one major statistical aberration: the F-86 pilots.
A total of 56 F-86 aircraft were downed in aerial combat or by anti-aircraft artillery. From these aircraft, 15 live pilots (Appendix C) and one set of remains were repatriated. Of the 40 remaining losses, for whom no pilots were repatriated, the circumstances of loss indicate a high probability of death for nine. Of the 31 remaining cases (Appendix B), conditions were such that survival was possible. The 55 percent missing in action rate is unusually high compared to missing rates for pilots flying other airframes.
7 Transcription by Task Force Russia of a videotape statement by Daniel Oldwage, 13 May 1993.
8 USAFEAF Battle Casualties -- Korean War Summary, cumulative with adjustments through 6 October 1953. The reclassified 637 included: 370 declared dead, 44 returned to military control (REC), 220 declared POW, and 3 recovered before the end of the war.
In late Summer 1992, the Russian side provided two lists of U.S. POWs that they stated had been provided to them by the Chinese and/or North Koreans.9
One--list had 59 names and the other 71 names. There were 42 names that appeared in both lists and in almost identical sequence. The list of 59 names purported to be of those POWs who had transited an interrogation point. On a number of documents provided by the Russian side (translated in TFR-76) were the names of Soviet officers who had had some role in interrogations or the reporting process. The most prominent of them was a Lieutenant General Razuvayev whose position was such that he could report on occasion directly to the Defense Minister and the Chief of the General Staff. F10
The names of these Soviet officers are at Appendix F.
At the request of the American side, the Russian side provided the interrogation files associated with these two lists. However, the Russians provided files for only 46 individuals. By reviewing the archival data handwritten on the files, Task Force Russia determined that 120 pages were missing. In those cases where interrogation material was missing, another 41 names can be correlated from the two lists. F11
Analysis of ancillary information and coordination with Air Force Casualty Affairs indicates that the 120 missing pages should contain data on eight identifiable MIAs. In addition to these eight, a ninth MIA was identified in the interrogation files whose name was not on either list. The nine MIAs are listed below: F12
9 The first list with 59 names on it was entitled, "A List of Air Force personnel shot down in aerial combat or by anti- aircraft artillery during combat operations in Korea and who transited an interrogation point." The second list of 71 names was entitled, "A list of USAF aircrew members participating in combat operations in North Korea in 1950-1953 and about whom information is found in files of the 64th Fighter Aviation Corps." Both documents have been translated in TFR-3.
10 General Razuvayev appears to have been the liaison officer between Kim Il Sung and Stalin. He signed a letter discussing the captured American General Dean to the Minister of Defense and the Chief of the General Staff.
11 "Add the two lists: (59 + 71 - 130). Subtract the duplicated names (130 - 42 - 88) which provides 88 individuals. All but one of those names (Kharm) has been matched with a POW, thus 87 identified names. Add the number of names mentioned in Russian documents and the number we think should also be in the files (46 + 41 = 87), and we arrive at the number 87 again as the total number of identified POWs.
12 Task Force Russia (POW/MIA), "Report to the U.S. Delegation, U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on POW/MIAs, 4 June 1993; and Task Force Russia (POW/MIA), "Report to the U.S.
Table 1. USAF Korean War POWs
On Whom the Russian Archives Should Have Information
Name Aircraft Duty Position
Tenney, Albert Gilbert, CPT F-86 Pilot<
Wendling, George Vincent, MAJ F-86 Pilot
Harker, Charles A., Jr., lLT F-84 Pilot
Niemann, Robert Frank, lLT F-86 Pilot
McDonough, Charles E., MAJ RB-45C Pilot
Unruh, Halbert Caloway, CPT B-26 Pilot
Shewmaker, John W., CPT F-80 Pilot
Reid, Elbert J. Jr., SSgt B-29 Gunner
Bergmann, Louis H., SSgt B-29 Radar Operator
[NOTE: I put the above in table format in order for it to appear in heading form as it did in the document--WEBMASTER]
Of the seven pilots in this group, three flew the F-86 and one the experimental RB-45C reconnaissance aircraft, types of aircraft in which the Soviets had high interest. In addition to the F-86s, the Soviets would have had an equally high interest in the RB-45C flown by Major Charles McDonough. The North American RB-45C was the first operational U.S. multi-engine jet bomber employed by the U.S. Air Force, and its reconnaissance configuration would have made it doubly interesting .13 The Russians have even provided evidence of their interest in the B- 45 series in a document dated 6 February 1951 in which intelligence collections requirements against U.S. forces in Korea were listed (TFR 34-46).14 U.S. records also show that SSgt
Stalin was such a louse. My only regret is that we were never able to hold Stalin accountable the way the IRAQI people will hold SADAM accountable for his crimes.
Nelson DeMille wrote a fictional novel in the 80's called Charm School, where the premise was that downed US pilots from Vietnam were turned over to the Soviets to provide intelligence on fighter tactics or something, and then when they were so old that their information was thought to be out of date, they were used to train spys to act like Americans. Good book.
I guess it's not hard to see why the Russians would want any evidence of having held US POWs lost or destroyed after the fall of the Soviet Union. Tough to say, "we want to be friends and get some start up money from you; and oh by the way, we had a few hundred of your pilots here for about thirty years, but we might have killed them or worked them to death when they weren't useful anymore."
I read somewhere that US pilots shot down over Laos during the(VN war)were also transfered to Russia.Again the rationale was to secure technology.