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Murman railway

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Auteur Bericht

Geregistreerd op: 11-6-2007
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BerichtGeplaatst: 25 Okt 2008 10:26    Onderwerp: Murman railway Reageer met quote

During World War I, prisoners of the Central Powers built a railway under notoriously hard conditions through northern Russiaís polar zone. The Tsarist government considered this line to be essential to its war effort, which in 1915 suffered a serious setback. After the blockade of Russiaís Baltic and Black Sea harbors, only two ports remained for the shipment of war material and industrial equipment from Britain and the United States. The far eastern harbor of Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean came into heavy use, as did Russiaís oldest port, Arkhangelsk in the north. The latter, however, was blocked by pack ice for half the year during the long winter. The construction of a railway to the ice-free Murman coast, which had been discussed before the war, was given a hasty go-ahead in the summer of 1915. The line was to be completed by the end of 1916, using Finnish inhabitants, Russian draftees, and prisoners of war as a labor force. It would extend over 1,400 kilometers from Lake Ladoga in the south, along the western coast of the White Sea, and eventually through the Kola Peninsula. The area it crossed was scarcely populated and lacked almost all infrastructure, changing from barren tundra to rocky highlands, and from woodlands to huge marshes.

Due to poor organization and avitaminosis, most of the war captives working there in 1915 were stricken by scurvy and were replaced by new prisoners from Siberia in spring 1916. During the successful Russian summer offensive of 1916, tens of thousands more POWs were shipped to the Murman area. The majority of them were ethnic Germans and Hungarians; an order of the Russian headquarters of June 1916 had decreed that only Germans and Hungarians (mostly out of Austria-Hungaryís multinational army) be used for the hard and unhealthy labor. At the climax of the construction work in the autumn of 1916, they composed some 80 percent of all captive laborers on the line. Their extreme hardship, which contravened all prewar agreements regarding the use of POWs as a labor force, became known to the Central Powers by the summer of 1916. Immediate plans for reprisals to force an end to the suffering of these captives were postponed by the German government until October 1916, when 500 captive Russian officers were interned in a marshland camp in northern Germany, to be treated as enlisted men. Russia retaliated against its captive German officers from mid-November, but after negotiations involving the Tsar and his cousin, the German emperor, mutual reprisals were suspended in mid-December, on two conditions: that the POWs be evacuated immediately from the now-completed railway, and that the Russia occupied by the Central Powers be inspected by neutral welfare delegations. As many as 40,000 prisoners were evacuated from the Murman area in 1917, leaving some 6,000 engaged in various labors, including the running of the line.

Because Russia left the war after the October Revolution of 1917, the railway was not brought into regular service for the war effort. Since many of the scurvy-stricken prisoners did not perish at the construction sites, but died later in their new internment places, it is difficult to say how many of the 70,000 prisoners sent to the Murman area died. Estimates run as high as 25,000, making the Murman Railway one of the worst horrors of captivity in Russia during World War I.
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