US Prisoner Exchange With Russia

The exchange of US sportswoman, Brittney Griner with Arms Dealer, Viktor Bout, reminds us of Russia’s long history of prisoner swaps. Human hostage trades were established early in the Communist era and continued throughout the Second World War and the Cold War. The first prisoner exchange treaty, which set the standard for subsequent agreements, was brokered between the British MP, Jim O’Grady and Lenin’s envoy, Maxim Litvinov in 1920 (the draft agreement that was signed on 12 February can be found in Appendix 3 of my book, Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners).

US military prisoners captured during the Russian Civil War were released early in 1920, but there remained a few civilians who were arrested for spying and were held in Moscow along with British and French hostages. Perhaps the most infamous case was that of Mrs Margueritte Harrison. She travelled to Moscow as the correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, but was arrested on Good Friday and taken to Lubjanka prison on the same night as Francis McCullagh. She was tortured by the Tcheka and coerced to act as a Soviet agent. Her false reports led to the arrest of Mrs Stan Harding, correspondent for the New York World, but did not save her from being re-arrested in October 1920 and sent to the Novinsky Prison for Women, eventually being released on 29 July 1921, in exchange for American famine relief.

British prisoners released by the Russians were always quarantined and “debriefed” by MI6, in order to check whether they had been “turned”, or sympathised with Soviet ideology. When you read that Brittney Griner has been taken to an Army Base in San Antonio to help her adapt back to normal life, you can be sure that an element of this programme will be controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency for the same purposes. The ten month imprisonment must have been an extremely traumatic experience for her, but not as bad as the fifteen months of Bolshevik torture suffered by Margueritte Harrison.


6 thoughts on “US Prisoner Exchange With Russia

  1. While doing some research for my father’s story, I found and watched your fascinating RUSI lecture on Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners. Does your book cover all the British military prisoners held by the Bolsheviks, or just the 15 you mentioned? My father was persuaded to join the Southern Russian Campaign in 1919, and flew with 221 squadron, stationed in Petrovsk. His plane crashed following a dogfight, and he and his observer were captured by Bolsheviks and held for ten months, first in the Lubyanka and then in the ex-Tsar’s summer palace. My father’s name was Anthony Jacques Mantle, his observer was Ingrams. Did you come across them in your research too?


  2. Partly thanks to the work of Rev Frank North, the Anglican chaplain in Moscow, my father and some other fellow prisoners were taken to Finland and released in a White/Red prisoner swap and returned to the UK.


    1. Dear Sally,
      The Reverend Frank North was a complete hero and secured the repatriation of hundreds of British civilian families and military prisoners of war in 1920. The well-worn route through Petrograd (St Petersburg), where the starving captives were looked after by Mrs Violet Froom, was used extensively, as I describe in chapter 16 of my book.
      I have found a little bit about 221 Squadron RAF, which flew the elegant DH9 single-engined aircraft, but have not yet discovered your father’s name among my list of British PoWs. I will send a fuller response tomorrow from my personal email, with some pictures and thoughts on Deniken’s campaign.
      Best wishes, Rupert


      1. Dear Rupert
        That would be great. I have more details of his experiences too that might be of interest to you. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.
        Many thanks


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