He was executed for being on the side of the Germans during a war that was to have a lasting effect on the world.
A general who fought for the Red Army and a member of the Communist party in Russia, Vlasov (or Wlassow) was tasked with freeing Leningrad in 1942. His mission failed, but rather than abandon his troops to their fate he stuck with them and went into hiding in German territory.
During this period, Vlasov asserted that his experiences gave rise to grumbling anti-communist feeling. He even began to believe that Stalin may have been Russia’s worst enemy. It was then that he was captured by the Germans.
Of course there are critics that maintained that Vlasov’s change of heart was pure survival instinct – that he was being opportunistic as well as fearful of the consequences of his failed military operation.
The Germans took great interest in Vlasov and one Captain Wilfried Strik-Strikfeldt took him under his wing and the Russian Liberation Movement was born. Vlasov was transferred to Berlin where he collaborated in drafting plans to overthrow the Bolsheviks and replace them with a democracy.
He went on to found the Russian Liberation Committee, with the plan to put together a Russian Liberation Army. Then, in the spring of 1943, he wrote and distributed the ‘Smolensk Proclamation’ which provoked Soviet Red Army troops to desert in their masses.
However, he was to become a victim of his extraordinary success and ever suspicious, Hitler vetoed Vlasov’s plans for an army and he silenced all of Vlasov’s German army supporters. Why? Hitler was worried that Vlasov may succeed in his endeavours to overthrow Stalin, which would halt Hitler’s plan to smash and grab the Urals in a bid to expand Germany.
Following a speech in Nazi-occupied Russia, Vlasov called the Germans ‘guests’ which didn’t go down too well. So he was put under house arrest, But in September of 1944 Heinrich Himmler persuaded the powers that be to give Vlasov the go-ahead to create his Russian Liberation Army. And he did.
They fought their one and only battle against the Red Army in February 1945, but by May their guns had turned on the Germans (cynics believe the timing uncannily coincided with the growth of the allies’ strength against an ever flailing Germany).
They finally surrendered to the Allied forces on 10 May 1945, and the Americans took him into custody in Tyrol. There he tried to explain the thinking behind the liberation movement and, while some were sympathetic, others were afraid of disobeying their superior officers who were in alliance with Stalin. So they handed him over to the Russians, who shipped him off to Moscow.
He was held in Lubyanka prison for a year then put on trial alongside 11 colleagues during the summer of 1946. They were all sentenced to death and Vlasov was hanged aged 45 alongside his 11 fellow officers on this day in 1946.
Their execution was one of the last death sentences by hanging in the Soviet Union.