Operation Priboi

Operation Priboi ("Coastal Surf") was the code name for the Soviet mass deportation from the Baltic states on March 25–28, 1949, called March deportation by Baltic historians. Some 90,000 Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, labeled as enemies of the people, were deported to inhospitable areas of the Soviet Union. It was one of the most complex deportation operations engineered by the Soviets in the Cold war era.[1]

While portrayed as "dekulakization", the operation was intended to facilitate the forced collectivisation of rural households and to eliminate the support base for the insurgency by the Forest Brothers against Soviet occupation.[2] Thus the Soviets specifically targeted anti-Soviet nationalists, supporters and kin of the Forest Brothers, veterans who served in the German military and relatives of those already held in the Soviet Gulag for alleged anti-Soviet activities.[1] The deportation fulfilled its purposes: within a few weeks the majority of the rural households accepted collectivisation and organized themselves into kolkhozes (collective farms).

Due to the high death rate of deportees during the first few years of their Siberian exile, caused by the failure of Soviet authorities to provide suitable clothing or housing at the destination, whether through neglect or premeditation, some sources consider these deportations an act of genocide.[3][4][5] Based on the Martens Clause and the principles of the Nuremberg Charter, the European Court of Human Rights has held that the March deportation constituted a crime against humanity.[6][7]


In response to the activities of various resistance groups such as the Forest Brothers and their supporters, Alexsandr Mishutin, Procurator of the Latvian SSR wrote a secret report to Moscow on September 21, 1948, in which he reported that "counter-revolutionary" elements—including "kulaks", underground resistance groups, and other "enemies of the people"—were rife in Soviet Latvian society. The top secret decision, No. 390-1388ss,[8] was taken by the USSR Council of Ministers on January 29, 1949, approving the deportation of "kulaks", "nationalists", "bandits", their supporters, and their families from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. On February 28, 1949, Viktor Abakumov, the minister of State Security (MGB), signed the USSR MGB order No. 0068 for the preparation and execution of the mass deportations by the USSR MGB Interior Forces under Lieutenant-General Burmak's command. From this, additional orders were drafted—USSR MGB order No. 00225 that ordered various branches of the USSR Interior Ministry (MVD) to assist the MGB, as well as republic level orders, for example, the Latvian SSR Council of Ministry decision No. 282ss and 297ss of March 24 (one day before the deportations began) authorizing the confiscation of the properties of the deportees.


Due to the immense scale of Operation Priboi, which spanned three Soviet republics, considerable resources were involved. The following command staff were assigned with the task of deporting 30,000 families from the Baltic states:

  1. Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Burmak (head of the USSR MGB Interior Forces Chief Administration);
  2. Lieutenant-General Golovko (head of Interior Forces Baltic District);
  3. Major-General Leont'ev (commander of Interior Forces stationed in Riga);
  4. Head of Communications Lieutenant-Colonel Kotov;
  5. Head of Transportation Lieutenant-Colonel Spektor;
  6. Quartermaster Colonel Sakharov;
  7. Colonel Rizhov (special representative of the USSR MGB Interior Forces Chief Administration).

In addition to the troops already stationed in Latvia and Estonia, an additional 8850 soldiers were deployed to Estonia and Latvia from other parts of the Soviet Union to take part in the operation, 4350 to Estonia:

Additional MGB Interior troops[1]
USSR MGB Interior Forces Unit To Estonia To Latvia
1st Motorised Infantry Division (Moscow) 850 2,000
13th Motorised Infantry Division (Leningrad), one regiment 700
7th Division (Minsk), one regiment 1,000  
4th Division (Lithuania), one regiment   1,000
Officers' Corps Training School (Sortavala, Karelia) 400  
Military Specialised Secondary School (Saratov)   1,000
Security Corps sergeants 1,400 500
Total 4,350 4,500

Telecommunications was a vital component to ensure smooth running of the operation, thus the MGB commandeered all civilian telephone exchanges for the duration. Due to the scope of the operation an extra 2,210 MGB communications personnel were brought in. A total of 8,422 trucks were organised. 5,010 civilian trucks were commandeered and the remaining vehicles were military origin, including 1,202 imported from the Leningrad Military District, 210 from the Byelorussian Military District and 700 from MGB Interior Forces. Some 1,250 tons of fuel was stockpiled for use in the operation. These additional vehicles were stationed just outside the border of the Baltic Republics in advance so as not to raise suspicion and sent in at the start of the operation.[1]


Personnel involved[1] Number Proportion (%)
State security personnel 8,215 10.8
USSR MGB Interior Forces troops 21,206 27.8
Republican MGB Destruction Battalion troops 18,387 24.1
Communist Party activists 28,404 37.1
Total 76,212 100.0

Deportation was to be physically performed by small nine–ten man operative teams, which included three USSR MGB agents ("troika"), two republican MGB Extermination Battalion soldiers and four or five local Communist Party activists who were armed by the MGB.

Additional 5,025 submachine guns and 1,900 rifles were brought in to ensure that these operative teams were sufficiently armed to carry out the operation. Unlike the June deportation in 1941, the families deported in 1949 were not separated.[9] Since the people had already experienced mass deportations, they looked out for arrival of fresh troops, vehicles, trains and attempted to hide. Therefore, the Soviets later organized smaller actions to locate those that escaped the first Operation Priboi in March.[10]


Estonian deportees in Siberia — 72% of deportees were women and children under 16.

Some 72% of the 94,000 deportees were women and children under the age of 16. Kruglov, the USSR Interior Minister, reported to Stalin on May 18 that 2,850 were "decrepit solitary old people", 1,785 children without parents to support them and 146 disabled.

Summary of results of Operation "Priboi"[1]
Republic Families People Freight trains
Estonian SSR 7,702 19,827 15
Latvian SSR 13,537 41,811 31
Lithuanian SSR 8,012 25,951 20
Total 29,251 87,589 66
Gender and age of deportees[1]
Absolute number Proportion (%)
Men 25,708 27.1
Women 41,987 44.3
Children (16 or under) 27,084 28.6
Total 94,779 100.0


The deportees were required to sign a document upon their arrival, officially designating them with the status of "special settlers" with no right of return to their home, with the penalty of twenty years' hard labour for attempted escapes. Deportees were not permitted to leave their designated area and were required to report to the local MVD commandant once a month, failure of which was a punishable offense. The following table shows the locations the deportees were sent.

Location of "special settlements" for deported Balts[1]
Region of USSR Number of families Number of people Average family size % of total deportees
Amur Oblast 2,028 5,451 2.7 5.8
Irkutsk Oblast 8,475 25,834 3.0 27.3
Krasnoyarsk Krai 3,671 13,823 3.8 14.6
Novosibirsk Oblast 3,152 10,064 3.2 10.6
Omsk Oblast 7,944 22,542 2.8 23.8
Tomsk Oblast 5,360 16,065 3.0 16.9
Total 30,630 93,779 3.1 99.0


By decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, orders and medals for the successful completion of Operation Priboi were to be granted. 75 people were awarded the Order of the Red Banner, their names published in Pravda on 25 August 1949. On 26 August, Pravda published the names of 17 people awarded the Order of the Great Patriotic War, First Class for courage and heroism displayed during the operation.[11]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Strods, Heinrihs; Kott, Matthew (2002). "The File on Operation 'Priboi': A Re-Assessment of the Mass Deportations of 1949". Journal of Baltic Studies. 33 (1): 1–36. doi:10.1080/01629770100000191. Retrieved 2008-03-25. "Erratum". Journal of Baltic Studies. 33 (2): 241. 2002. doi:10.1080/01629770200000071. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  2. Strods, Heinrihs; Kott, Matthew (2002). "The File on Operation 'Priboi': A Re-Assessment of the Mass Deportations of 1949". Journal of Baltic Studies. 33 (1): 1–36. doi:10.1080/01629770100000191. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  3. Rudolph J. Rummel, Lethal Politics: Soviet Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1917, Transaction Publishers 1990, ISBN 1-56000-887-3
  4. J. Pohl, Stalin’s genocide against the “Repressed Peoples”, Journal of Genocide Research, Volume 2, Number 2, 1 June 2000, pp. 267–293
  5. Lauri Mälksoo, Soviet Genocide? Communist Mass Deportations in the Baltic States and International Law, Leiden Journal of International Law (2001), 14: pp. 757-787, Cambridge University Press
  6. Postimees 31 March 2009: Martin Arpo: kommunismiaja kuritegude tee Euroopa Inimõiguste Kohtuni
  7. Full text of European Court of Human Rights Decision on the case Kolk and Kislyiy v. Estonia: Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to Crimes against Humanity
  8. The title of the deportation order: "O vyselenii s territorii Litvi, Latvii i Èstonii kulakov s sem'iami, semei banditov i natsionalistov, nakhodiashchikhsia na nelegal'nom polozhenii, ubitykh pri vooruzhennykh stolknoveniiakh i osuzhdennykh, legalizovannykh banditov, prodolzhaiushchikh vesti vrazheskuiu rabotu, i ikh semei, a takzhe semei repressirovannykh posobnikov banditov"
  9. History of Latvia the 20th Century. Jumava. Rīga. 2006 ISBN 9984-38-038-6 p.354–355
  10. Anušauskas, Arvydas (1996). Lietuvių tautos sovietinis naikinimas 1940–1958 metais (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Mintis. pp. 324–325. ISBN 5-417-00713-7.
  11. A facsimile of the lists published in Pravda on 25 and 26 August 1949 is reproduced in the 1999 issue of the Yearbook of the Occupation Museum of Latvia

Further reading

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