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Post "Tuapse" Naval Incident, 1954: Correcting the Record
Created by John Eipper on 06/06/21 9:01 AM

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"Tuapse" Naval Incident, 1954: Correcting the Record (Boris Volodarsky, Austria, 06/06/21 9:01 am)

The 1954 episode with the Soviet tanker Tuapse related by Eugenio Battaglia (4 June) looks differently if you know some basic facts.

The Navy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) had been trying to establish a naval blockade of the People's Republic of China (PRC) since 1949. Before the Tuapse episode, several vessels were captured including a Polish tanker Praca and in May 1954 a Polish cargo ship Prezydent Gottwald. There were many other ships belonging to different countries, including Britain and Norway, that had been seized by the ROC navy.

In the early morning of 23 June 1954 in the international waters of the South China Sea, the Soviet tanker Tuapse carrying more than ten thousand tons of aviation kerosene to Shanghai (PRC) was intercepted by the destroyer Yukikaze, formally of Japan, now of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and renamed Dan Yang DD-12. The destroyer ordered to stop but the Soviet tanker continued to move. Then the destroyer fired three shells, one exploded near the bow of the tanker, and the captain of the tanker was forced to stop. An armed assault team was landed on the tanker, the crew members who resisted were beaten and tied up, and the tanker together with the crew was delivered to the Taiwanese port of Gāoxióng. The Soviet sailors were divided into three groups of 16 people, taken into custody and interrogated.

On the next day, June 24, Deputy Foreign Minister of the USSR V.A. Zorin invited the US Ambassador to Moscow, Charles "Chip" E. Bohlen, and handed him a note of protest in connection with the seizure of the tanker (the Soviet leadership did not have any information about the destroyer that seized the tanker; it was believed that only the US Navy could seize the Soviet ship in this area). The US administration replied that the American navy did not capture the Soviet ship. The seizure of the ship was recognized by the authorities of the Republic of China (Taiwan), which explained that the tanker transported kerosene to the PRC, which could be used for military aviation.

Later two defectors from the Republic of China (Taiwan) reported that the seizure of the Soviet tanker took place on the instructions of the military command of Taiwan, but it was supported by the two US Navy ships and American military advisers stepped on board to talk to the Soviet sailors. (There's a book by a former CIA Far East specialist, Frank Holober, Raiders of the China Coast: CIA Covert Operations During the Korean War, 1999, which tells the story of the CIA involvement through the Agency-run Western Enterprises Inc., whose mission was to divert China's attention from the Korean front via guerrilla raids.) It should be borne in mind that the Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Republic of China was signed on 2 December 1954.

Three months after the seizure of Tuapse, the sailors were informed of the order of the Chief of the General Staff of the Republic of China (Taiwan), which stated: "The tanker and cargo have been confiscated. The ship crew are considered prisoners of war."

I can tell the story of every sailor of this tanker and assure you that those 29 who returned to Moscow on 30 July 1955 were not received like heroes, contrary to what Eugenio claims probably based on the Soviet movie ChePe--Extraordinary Accident, produced in 1958 and starring Vyacheslav Tikhonov (who later became widely known in the USSR for his leading part playing the Soviet hero-spy "Max Otto von Stierlitz" in a popular TV serial). There is also a rather detailed account in the Wikipedia article on the accident.

Several of those who decided to say, were exfiltrated to the USA in October 1955. At least five of them returned to the USSR in April next year. One of those five, Nikolai Vaganov, was accused of collaborating with the CIA, arrested in 1963 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for high treason. He served 7 years and was pardoned in 1970. In 1957 four former sailors returned from South America but after a show press conference were quietly sentenced to 15 years. In 1959, the Odessa Regional Court sentenced those members of the crew who decided not to return to the USSR in absentia to death for treason.

To JE: I very strongly recommend an excellent book by Sean McMeekin, Stalin's War (Allen Lane, April 2021). From the publisher's note: "Until Barbarossa wrought a public relations miracle, turning him into a plucky ally of the West, Stalin had murdered millions, subverted every norm of international behaviour, invaded as many countries as Hitler had, and taken great swathes of territory he would continue to keep. In the larger sense the global conflict grew out of not only German and Japanese aggression but Stalin's manoeuvrings, orchestrated to provoke wars of attrition between the capitalist powers in Europe and in Asia. Throughout the war Stalin chose to do only what would benefit his own regime, not even aiding in the effort against Japan until the conflict's last weeks... With Hitler dead and the Third Reich in ruins, Stalin created an immense new Communist empire. Among his holdings were Czechoslovakia and Poland, the fates of which had first set the West against the Nazis and, of course, China and North Korea, the ramifications of which we still live with today."

JE comments:  Returning Soviet POWs after WWII got anything but a heroes' reception, but was it as bad in the immediate aftermath of the Stalin period?  In this light, Boris, can we say that the intervening years before the 1958 filming of Extraordinary Accident brought a softening in policy towards Soviet captives abroad?  Or was the "Welcome Home" depicted in the film simply a propaganda stunt?

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  • Mainstream History, and Soviet Responsibility for World War II (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/07/21 3:21 AM)
    Fantastic, Sean McMeekin has discovered warm water! (This is a common saying in Italian when someone states the obvious.)

    Well, as Boris Volodarsky relates (June 6), there was perhaps no "heroes' welcome" for the returning Tuapse seamen in 1955, but such a welcome, in addition to the film version, is reported by the present Russian authorities, who relate also the strong oppressive acts by the Americans.

    About being enamored of "mainstream history," please read the account of the meeting between Hitler and Molotov in November 1940, the Soviet support for the putsch in Belgrade on 27 April 1941 and the continuous arrival of Soviet troops on the border. On 1 May 1941 of a total Soviet strength of 170 infantry divisions, 33 and 1/2 cavalry brigades, 46 armored brigades, 118, 20, and 40 (respectively) were on the Western borders.

    On 1 September 1939, these numbers had been 44, 20, and 3. Only an innocent arrangement?

    The Soviet Embassies, contrary to the initial accords of 1939, started pushing the Communists of the areas occupied by Germany to commit acts of sabotage, while the German settlers in the East were pressured to act as spies for the USSR when returned to Germany.

    Stalin was ruthless in creating an empire, but what about other empires? Don't they have something in common, even if the citizens of such new empires will never believe/acknowledge it?

    JE comments:  Given Hitler's rantings about Lebensraum in the East, Stalin would have been an idiot not to beef up his borders.  He was cruel, but no fool.  I cannot prove this counterfactual argument, but I'll give it anyway.  If Stalin had not sent so many divisions to the border (which turned out to be largely ineffective anyway), does this mean that Hitler would have canceled Barbarossa?  Eugenio, what say you? 

    We're coming up on the 80th anniversary of the German invasion, June 22nd, 1941.

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    • Stalin's Ambitions for European Domination (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/08/21 7:43 AM)
      After Suvorov and others we now also have Sean McMeekin, but I already knew that it was Stalin who wanted to go to war to dominate Europe. This is a view I've held for many years, from reading between the lines and accepting the evidence without cultivating the old bias.

      Do you remember for how long the politically correct version of the massacre of the 22,000 Polish officers continued to blame the Germans in spite of the report from the International Red Cross? Only thanks to the Cold War the truth came out, but now it is in nobody's interest to search for the truth.

      However, when I want to joke, I say that I can understand those Americans who in early 1940 believed that the USSR was ruled by Good Uncle Joe who had a difficult childhood so he never trusted anyone. He finally found one man he trusted, Hitler, but this one was a criminal madman who betrayed poor Uncle Joe.

      Not only that but the criminal madman arrived to accuse, with some annoying Poles, Good Uncle Joe for the massacre of Katyn and many other massacres and of course, Good Uncle Joe was right when he hanged Germans for those crimes.

      Hitler in 1941 was satisfied with what he had achieved. See the offers of peace made by him.

      The many Soviet divisions proved to be ineffective anyway because they were preparing for an offensive and not for a defensive. They were superior in arms and men but were on the move and the German sudden counter-attack overwhelmed the Soviets, who later instead fought well when properly placed in defensive positions before going on the offensive.

      JE comments: The #1 WWII counterfactual (among dozens or hundreds) is what if Hitler had not broken his non-aggression pact with the Soviets. Another year or so of Britain going it alone may indeed have resulted in a negotiated peace.

      But the above scenario could never have happened. Hitler was almost as obsessed with the Bolshevik "problem" as he was with the Jewish one.  More precisely, he saw them as one and the same (problem).  And another condition would have to have been met:  no Pearl Harbor.

      Here's a non-hypothetical question: How far can one condemn Stalin's ambitions without sounding apologetic towards Hitler, or worse, exposing oneself to accusations of revisionism? I am of the "pox on both your houses" school, looking no further than what those two neighborhood bullies did to Poland in 1939.

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      • Britain Was NEVER Alone in WWII (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/09/21 4:11 AM)
        Please stop with the silly tale of Britain going it alone in WWII.

        Britain could count on the armies of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, India, Canada, Greece, volunteers from France Libre, plus the Serbian Chetniks, later betrayed in favor of Tito's criminal Communists, Polish aviators, etc.

        Add to this a bunch of soldiers from the other colonies, including some French.  Just give a look at a globe of 1941 and you will see that the red of the British Empire is the dominant color. As just one example, in 1945 the Indian Army in Britain's service had 2.5 million personnel.

        What is wrong with "revisionism"? History is continuous revisionism. Otherwise, it is only what the victors had propagated with their Psychological Warfare Departments, and if enforced by law it is really a religion defended by a new inquisition.

        Another topic: Today the Italian Army has withdrawn from Afghanistan after 20 years of useless war and 52 deaths for nothing. The Italian republic--lay democratic and antifascist, born from the resistance, formed by the constitution derived from an imposed Peace Treaty--has participated in too many useless and/or self-defeating wars starting with Congo 1961 (Kindu), Lebanon, Somalia, Serbia, Iraq (twice) Egypt, Sudan, Libya, etc. Presently, Italian troops are in the above places and in many others, plus the Italian Navy is patrolling east and west of Africa against terrorists and pirates (the involvement of said ships is however correct).

        The Empire has required Italian troops on the Russian borders (sic) and Navy ships in the Indo-Pacific areas, but so far the ships have not yet moved.

        Article 11 of the Italian constitution, said to be the most wonderful in the world, states: "Italy repudiates war as an instrument of offense to the liberty of other peoples and as a means to solve international controversies."

        JE comments:  Point well taken:  it's a dramatic narrative, but the perception of a scrappy little island single-handedly facing down the Nazi juggernaut prior to June 1941 is quite an overstatement.  We also need to take into account the massive material support from the US after March of that year.

        It's been a very long time since WAIS focused on Afghanistan--the longest war in history for the US and its allies.  The bill has been around $1 trillion.  Now that US involvement is winding down, what were the achievements, if any?  Lessons learned... if any?

        Two eternal truisms of military history:  don't invade Russia, and stay the heck out of Afghanistan.

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