What was Operation Osoaviakhim (1946)?


Operation Osoaviakhim (Russian: Операция Осоавиахим) was a Soviet operation which took place on 22 October 1946, when MVD (previously NKVD) and Soviet Army units removed more than 2,200 German specialists – a total of more than 6,000 people including family members – from the Soviet occupation zone of post-World War II Germany for employment in the Soviet Union.


Much related equipment was also moved, the aim being to literally transplant research and production research centres such as the relocated V-2 rocket centre at Mittelwerk Nordhausen, from Germany to the Soviet Union, and collect as much material as possible from test centres such as the Luftwaffe’s central military aviation test centre at Erprobungstelle Rechlin, taken by the Red Army on 02 May 1945. The codename “Osoaviakhim” was the acronym of a Soviet paramilitary organisation (later renamed DOSAAF), which was mistakenly first introduced by a West German radio station and adapted by the Central Intelligence Group (CIG), a predecessor of the CIA, as Operation Ossavakim.

Between midnight and 3am, when everybody was asleep. They knew exactly where I lived, first of all: a few days before I was captured, a fellow came. They had a key – they had everything to the apartment, to the door. There was one interpreter who told me [in German]: “Get up! You are being mobilized to work in Russia”, and there were about half a dozen soldiers with machine guns, who surrounded me. When I wanted to get to the toilet, they checked it out first to make sure there was no escape hatch. It was a very tight operation. They did that with every family. Many families came, while I was alone. Fritz Karl Preikschat, a German engineer recruited to the Soviet Union via Operation Osoaviakhim and held in the Soviet Union for six years.

The operation was commanded by MVD deputy Colonel General Serov, outside the control of the local Soviet Military Administration (which in a few cases, such as Carl Zeiss AG, tried to prevent the removal of specialists and equipment of vital economic significance for the occupation zone, unsuccessfully, as it turned out, with reportedly only 582 of 10,000 machines left in place at Zeiss). Planned some time in advance to take place after the zone’s elections on 20 October, to avoid damaging the Bloc of the Anti-Fascist Democratic Parties Unity List’s result, the operation took 92 trains to transport the specialists and their families (perhaps 10,000-15,000 people in all) along with their furniture and belongings. Those removed were offered contracts (the specialists were told that they would be paid on the same terms as equivalent Soviet workers).

A major consideration of the Soviet decision to undertake the operation was fear of the German economy and technological potential reacclimatising amidst the cooperation of Soviet and German technical experts after the war, and the simultaneous desire to cultivate this technological potential for the Soviet Union’s benefit (especially as it concerned the nascent rocket programme thereof). In particular, A.G. Myrkin of the Soviet artillery directorate wrote a letter to the head of NKWD/MVD operations in Germany complaining about the prominence of German scientists in important state-secure work. Another possible reason for the operation was the Soviet fear of being condemned for noncompliance with Allied Control Council agreements on the liquidation of German military installations. New agreements were expected on four-power inspections of remaining German war potential, which the Soviets supported, being concerned about developments in the western zones. The operation has parallels with Allied operations such as Alsos Mission, Operation Paperclip and Russian Alsos, in which the Allies brought military specialists, notably Wernher von Braun, from Germany (primarily to the United States).

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