1939: Evgeny Miller, White Russian

2 comments May 11th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1938, former tsarist Gen. Evgeny Miller was executed in Moscow, having been brazenly kidnapped by the Soviet NKVD from exile in France.

Miller opposed the 1917 Russian Revolutions (both of them) and ended up on the wrong side of the ensuing civil war as Aleksandr Kolchak‘s man in Archangel.

There, Miller (he was half-German) was the beneficiary of the Entente powers’ anti-Soviet incursion of British, French, American and Canadian troops.

These powers soon found that their respective peoples, wearied by the late world war, had little appetite for spilling more blood in the service of enthroning a Romanov, and cut bait in 1920.

Miller wisely did likewise, and watched the great workers’ and peasants’ republic take shape from the safety of Paris — where, in the 1930s, he chaired the anti-communist Russian All-Military Union (ROVS).

Soviet intelligence had infiltrated this body, however, and hatched a bold plot* to shanghai Miller and smuggle him out of the country in order to cause ROVS leadership to pass to the Soviets’ own agent, Nikolai Skoblin. Although they got Miller, they didn’t quite pull off the putsch, since the wary general had left behind a note outlining his suspicions of Skoblin in the event foul play should befall him.

Imprisoned at Lubyanka, Miller was personally interrogated by NKVD boss Nikolai Yezhov, but according to Vladislav Goldin and John Long,

little or nothing of what Miller had to report about the recent activities of the ROVS was unknown to the NKVD … the leaders of the NKVD found themselves saddled with a prominent prisoner of no significant value to Soviet intelligence and from whose capture, at the same time, nothing useful could be derived by way of publicity or propaganda.

The fall of Ezhov sealed the doom of General Miller, whose abduction had from the outset been his inspiration. In these circumstances, given his continuing uselessness to the NKVD, Miller’s elimination became an inevitable element in Commissar Beria‘s liquidation of the so-called Ezhovshchina, an operation which lasted from late 1938 through at least 1940. Although part of this undertaking involved the release of up to 200,000 of Ezhov’s prisoners, no such option was available in the case of General Miller for whose disappearance the Soviet government had consistently denied any responsibility. Accordingly, on 11 May 1939, after more than nineteen months of agonizing solitary confinement, Commissar Beria, with no viable alternative, ordered the trial and execution of the long-suffering General Miller in a process, ironically, that was fully implemented in less than twenty-four hours.

[it was] an ill-conceived, poorly executed and totally unnecessary adventure that, in the end, failed to benefit any of its apparent perpetrators.**

Skoblin, for his part, fled, disappearing to a still-unknown fate. His wife, Nadezhda Plevitskaya, copped a 20-year sentence for helping arrange the kidnapping, and died in prison.

They may not have gotten ROVS, but at least they made celluloid. Skoblin’s shadowy activities in France in this period are the inspiration for the 2004 French film Triple Agent.

* Georgy Kosenko, who we’ve previously met in these pages, helped orchestrate the kidnapping. (Times being dangerous as they were, the wheel of Red Terror turned against Kosenko so quickly that Miller actually outlived him.)

** Goldin, Vladislav I. and Long, John W. “Resistance and Retribution: The Life and Fate of General E.K. Miller”, Revolutionary Russia, 12:2 (1999), pp. 19-40.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Power,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Torture,Treason,USSR

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1891: The Namoa pirates

6 comments May 11th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1891, Chinese authorities beheaded 15 at Kowloon, including the leaders of the then-notorious Namoa pirates.

They were nicknamed for the steamer they had infamously commandeered six months before. The tale is related by an English maritime official’s orientalist (and now public-domain) memoir, The Mystic Flowery Land:

The most daring and disastrously successful piracy of late years … was the “Namoa” piracy in 1890. The startling news of this outrage created a general feeling of unsafety and consternation among the foreign communities in China, mingled with grief and just resentment for the cold-blooded murder of Captain Pocock and Mr. Petersen, both most popular and respected men, the latter being a member of the Customs Service.

On Sunday, the 3rd of December, 1890, the Douglas, Lapraik, and Co‘s coasting steamer, “Namoa,” commanded by my late most esteemed friend Capt. Pocock,* left Hongkong at noon, bound on her usual trip up the coast to Swatow, Amoy, and Foochow with several European and a large number of Chinese passengers, most of the latter being Fuhkien people returning to their native homes after many years absence in the United States and California, each with his little hoard of hard-earned dollars, gained by a small lifetime of frugal toil and self-denial in a distant land. These poor men were nearing their well-remembered haunts of earlier days, to once more spend among the relations and friends of their youth the fast-approaching New Year.

Several Chinese passengers [during the voyage] came up out of the main between-decks and walked about for some minutes in a seemingly aimless manner; then others emerged from the hatch, until there were between forty and fifty on deck — some forward near the hatchway leading down to the junior officers’ mess, others near the bridge ladder and entrance to engine-room and stokehole, and the rest at the main hatchway, saloon entrances and after skylight.

Suddenly, at a given signal, off came their loose outer garments, and these harmless-looking passengers were armed men; each with a cutlass and two revolvers in hand, and at their appointed stations.

The ship was now entirely in the hands of the pirates, whose leader placed one of the gang at the helm, with directions to steer a certain course.

The attack had been planned and carried out with consummate tact and forethought, for the pirates were old hands — desperate scoundrels … two or three ventured below … among their terror-stricken countrymen, and ransacked their luggage, robbing them of their treasured packets of dollars, saved during long and lonesome years of comparative exile and drudgery. Every cent was taken from these poor fellows, who wept in vain, and heart-rending scenes ensued. But the wretches took all.

Then [the European passengers] were all driven into the captain’s little berth, which was barely large enough to hold them all, where they were nearly suffocated.

At this point, the pirates steam off to rendezvous with their confederates, transfer their persons and their booty to the getaway ships, and — after debating whether to burn the Namoa — instead abandon the ship unsunk and the hostages unkilled.

These put the ship to rights and got it back to Hong Kong.

Public indignation was great, and considerable pressure was brought to bear on the Chinese Government to bring the pirates to justice. Skilled foreign and Chinese detectives were sent out on their track, doggedly determined to run these criminals to earth and make them pay the full penalty of their dastardly deeds.

… most, if not all, of these notorious crime-hardened criminals were eventually brought to justice, suffering decapitation outside Kowloon city, the majority of them being executed on Monday, April 17th, 1891, and the remaining nineteen on Thursday, 11th May, of the same year.**

The pirates were such big news that posed photos were taken of their public executions. (Both images are detail views; click for the full picture.)

For some time great precautions were taken by the captains and officers of coasting steamers to search the luggage of all native passengers, and thus guard against a similar catastrophe.

* Captain Thomas Guy Pocock was killed by the pirates, and has a private memorial in Hong Kong Cemetery (aka Happy Valley Cemetery). He left a one-year-old son who died in World War I.

** According to a tome on legal administration in Hong Kong, the pirates were beheaded in batches mixed in with other criminals.

A wholesale execution took place at Kowloon City on the 17th April, 1891, when nineteen pirates were decapitated, thirteen of them for participating in the Namoa and other piracies, and six others for various offences in Chinese territory … on the 11th May fifteen more prisoners were beheaded at Kowloon by the Chinese authorities, amongst the number being six Namoa pirates, including the three leaders of the gang, one of the men being the captain of the junks on board which the pirates put their plunder … One of the leaders decapitated, named Lai A Tsat, was a man whose boldness and cunning in carrying out piracies had long made him a terror both at sea and on shore.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,China,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Mass Executions,Mature Content,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions

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