Letter: Myth of missing Allied POWs

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Sir: In his review (6 January) of Nigel Cawthorne's The Iron Cage, John Torode is quite right to cast doubt on the veracity of the suggestion that hundreds of thousands of Allied POWs disappeared into Stalin's Gulag at the end of the Second World War.

According to this preposterous claim, hundreds of British servicemen were also involved, and were worked to death in Siberian labour camps.

Not a single fact has emerged from anywhere at any time over the last 50 years to hold up this story. There are other facts however. Some 142,000 British servicemen were taken prisoner by the Germans and Italians during the war of whom almost all were repatriated or otherwise accounted for. True, some camps in Poland were overrun by the Red Army and about 4,000 POWs were handed back through Odessa. The rest were handed over in Gemany and have been accounted for. Incidentally, there is a major contradiction about the claim that some of the Britons were held by Stalin because of their special skills - ie, knowledge of Western military technology. But relatively few such experts worked in the front line, and thus became POWs. And if these men were valuable there was no reason why they should have been worked to death in slave labour camps.

It is also true that Boris Yeltsin appeared to lend currency to the debate about missing Allied POWs. But he subsequently approved a joint arrangement under which British officials have been investigating the possibility that hundreds of Britons were never handed back. They have found no evidence whatsoever that this was the case.

John Torode refers to Cawthorne's claim that the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office obstructed the author's research. If the author means that secret files supporting the myths were not made available then it is not surprising - there aren't any.

Yours sincerely,


Southwold, Suffolk