Operation Gulag

'Gulag' was a German military operation in which German and Russian anti-communist troops were to create an anti-Soviet resistance movement by liberating and conscripting prisoners of the Soviet GULAG penal camp system (2/9 June 1943).

The plan was designed in mid-1942 by Soviet prisoners of war in German captivity in the Hammelburg camp, primarily by Brigade Commander Ivan Bessonov, an officer of the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, or secret police), and Colonel Mikhail Meandrov, an army officer. Part of the German efforts to create anti-communist resistance behind the Soviet lines, the plan called for a naval and air landing in Siberia by German and anti-Soviet Russian forces, targeting the GULAG penal system camps, recruiting more anti-Soviet forces from the prisoners, and thus opening a second front in the war between Germany and the USSR.

The plan was evaluated and tentatively approved by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Head Office), so the initial steps were taken toward implementation of the concept. About 150 Soviet prisoners of war were conscripted into the units that were to be used in the operation: two assault groups of 50 to 55 men each, one group of the 20 to 25 radio operators, and a medical team of about 20 women. The plan was designed to create a zone of insurgent activity in the large area between the Severnyi Dvina and Yenisei rivers and from the extreme north to the Trans-Siberian Railway in the south. This region was subdivided into three operational zones: north on the right bank of the Severnyi Dvina river, central near the Pechora river, and east (from the Ob river to the Yenisei river).

To start the active implementation of the plan, the members of the landing force had to seize the GULAGs, free and arm the prisoners and deportees within them, and move with them to the south.

On 2 June 1943 a first group of 12 former Soviet prisoners of war, trained by the Germans, was dropped by parachute in the Komi Republic. The men were dressed as NKVD troops. On 9 June the group was discovered by real NKVD troops, who killed two of them and captured the other 10. Soon after this failure, the Germans decided to abandon the operation. The anti-communist group that Bessonov had established in the POW camp was disbanded, and Bessenov himself was transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Some of the members of Bessonov’s organisation were later employed in other German anti-Soviet operations, but again without gaining any notable successes. Bessonov and Meandrov survived the war, were transferred to the USSR and executed.