22 Cranborne to Commonwealth Government

Cablegram D193 LONDON, 1 February 1945, 7.30 p.m.

TOP SECRET IMMEDIATE

At the Moscow Conference last October the Foreign Secretary obtained from Marshal Stalin a personal assurance that every care and attention would be given to ex Prisoners of War from the British Commonwealth as soon as they were freed by the Red Army.

Since then the United Kingdom Government have tried through their Military and Diplomatic Representatives in Moscow to work out with the Soviet Authorities a plan for giving effect to this assurance.

Bearing in mind the probability that large numbers of Russian Prisoners of War in German hands would be liberated in Western and Southern Europe, and in view of the importance which the Soviet Government are known to attach to reciprocity, the United Kingdom Government proposed a reciprocal agreement to govern treatment during the period before the surrender of Germany of Soviet Prisoners in Enemy controlled camps when liberated by the Allied Armies, and of British Commonwealth Prisoners in enemy controlled camps when liberated by the Red Army. The agreement proposed was on lines very similar to those discussed recently here between Representatives of United Kingdom Departments, of Dominion High Commissioners and of SHAEF and AFHQ. Before the present Russian offensives started the United Kingdom Government made clear in Moscow that they wished to reach agreement on this subject as soon as possible, but it was not until 20th January that the Soviet Government communicated to the United Kingdom Embassy their views in a draft reciprocal agreement. The draft extended the scope of the agreement to civilians but otherwise followed very closely the lines of our own proposals except for the new article referred to in the last three paragraphs of this telegram.

2. The Soviet Government have been informed in reply that their proposals for reciprocal agreement are generally acceptable to the United Kingdom but that in view of the integrated nature of British-American Commands in Western and Southern Europe we regard it as essential that agreements on these lines should be concluded by the Soviet Authorities with both the British and United States Authorities in identical terms and should be regarded by the Allied Commander-in-Chief in both theatres as workable. Further that we attach great importance to reaching final agreement on the precise terms between the three Governments as soon as possible and that the Foreign Secretary is in favour of this being done at the impending conference of the Heads of the three Governments.

3. Contact officers have been for some time in readiness to proceed to Russia but final arrangements have not yet been approved by the Soviet Authorities. We hope that once the main agreement has been concluded, agreement in Moscow on this and other details will follow more rapidly.

4. The Article in the Soviet draft about work lays down that ex Prisoners of War (with the exception of Officers) and civilians may, pending their repatriation, be employed on work in aid of the common war effort, as to which the competent Soviet and British Authorities shall agree among themselves. We have given very careful consideration to this proposal (which of course has a political aspect) and have reached the conclusion that the Article in question should be accepted on the following grounds:-

(A) A separate agreement under negotiation between the United Kingdom and Soviet Governments regarding the treatment of Soviet Nationals captured while serving in the German forces and now in this country provides for employment in the United Kingdom pending repatriation and many are now at work. To this extent principle has thus already been laid down;

(B) There are large numbers of Russians in similar category on SHAEF hands and many more may be expected. Without the right to put them to work SHAEF fear that it will prove extremely difficult to control them;

(C) Agreement elsewhere provides for access to camps and repatriation as quickly as operational conditions permit. By the terms of the Article in question it will be possible to ensure that conditions of work are tolerable.

5. We, therefore, feel that this particular proposal should be accepted subject to provisions to ensure:-

(A) That British Commonwealth ex Prisoners of War liberated by the Russians would, on release, automatically resume their status as members of His Majesty's Forces under the command of British Officers and that if employed on work for the war effort pending repatriation they would be so employed only on that basis and in the environs of the camp where they were situated;

(B) That in the case of mens camps, arrangements would be made for despatch of officers to take command of Prisoners of War on liberation;

(C) That repatriation of all British subjects liberated by the Russians at the earliest possible moment would be the sole consideration to be taken into account in deciding their subsequent movements and they should not be moved e.g. to suit labour requirements.

6. We should be grateful for very early comments of the Dominion Government, if possible, before 5th February, in order that they may be communicated to the United Kingdom Delegation at the impending conference. Full particulars have been communicated to the Dominion representatives on the sub Committee A of the imperial Prisoners of War Committee where matter was discussed yesterday.

[AA: A1066, IC45/6/2/1, i]