Prologue Magazine

Two Americans and the Angry Russian Bear

Army Air Force Pilots Court-Martialed for Offending the Soviet Union during World War II

Spring 2011, Vol. 43, No. 1

By Fred L. Borch

First Lt. Myron King (second from left) and fellow airmen in Greenland, October 1944

First Lt. Myron King (second from left) and fellow airmen in Greenland, October 1944. (Courtesy of Myron L. King)

"This court, upon secret written ballot, finds you of the charges and specifications: GUILTY." During the last week of April 1945, those 14 words rang out in the general courts-martial of two American lieutenants. Their trials took place more than a thousand miles apart: one officer, 1st Lt. Donald R. Bridge, was tried in southern Italy on April 23, 1945; the other pilot, 1st Lt. Myron L. King, was tried in Moscow two days later. But both men were found guilty at trial—albeit for different offenses—for the same reason: both had angered the Soviets. Bridge (flying a B-24 Liberator) had taken off without permission from a Russian-operated airfield in Poland. A month later, King (piloting a B-17 Flying Fortress) had been caught in Ukraine with a stowaway aboard his plane.

That the Russians were furious about these two events is an understatement. Gen. Aleksei I. Antonov, Chief of the Red Army Staff, complained bitterly in a letter to Maj. Gen. John R. Deane, the top American military officer in Moscow, that the United States had rudely violated Soviet law and regulation. He demanded that "necessary measures" be taken immediately against the two pilots and asked to be informed of the measures actually taken. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin also complained in a meeting with U.S. Ambassador W. Averell Harriman that American pilots "were coming into Soviet controlled territory for ulterior purposes"; Stalin specifically mentioned the facts in the King case as an example of this egregious conduct. Faced with a potential rupture in Soviet-American relations, including a possible loss of access to Soviet airfields, the Army decided to court-martial King in Moscow. Bridge, located in southern Italy with the 15th Air Force, would be court-martialed at that command's headquarters. The bottom line was that both men had to be tried— and convicted— if the angry Russian bear was to be mollified.

While the sentences ultimately meted out to Bridge and King did not include imprisonment or a discharge, permanent damage had been done to their military records. Certainly any hopes that either pilot may have had for a military career were dashed. What follows is the strange history of these two courts-martial—a story that is possible to tell only because the records of trial of each case, the military personnel records of Bridge and King, and papers relating to the Military Mission to Moscow, have been preserved by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Americans in Moscow and Soviet-Occupied Territory

To understand how Bridge and King angered the Soviets, and how their actions affected U.S.-Soviet relations in World War II, it is important to look at the operations of the U.S. Military Mission to Moscow. The mission was not only the point of contact for all U.S. military and naval activities in the Soviet Union, but the Moscow-based military mission made it possible for U.S. Army Air Force pilots to land their aircraft on Soviet-run airfields.

The U.S. Military Mission to Moscow began on October 18, 1943, when Maj. Gen. John R. Deane landed at an airfield near the Russian capital. His task: to work with newly appointed Ambassador Harriman in ensuring that the alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union was healthy and harmonious. After all, if Hitler's Germany were to be defeated—still an open question in late 1943—it was critical that the Americans and Russians share intelligence and operational plans and time their offensive campaigns so that they were mutually supportive.

From the beginning, it was a difficult mission. The Soviets believed that the Russian people were suffering the most from the German war machine and consequently were suspicious of Anglo-American delays in launching Operation Overlord, the long-promised Allied invasion of France. Since the Americans and British had been stridently anti-Communist (and anti-Soviet) in the 1920s and 1930s, Stalin suspected that the Anglo-American part of their alliance might secretly be holding back the start of the cross-Channel attack. Why? Because the Americans and British might want to bleed the Soviet Union until it was exhausted and then beat the Red Army to Berlin. Even after D-day in June 1944, Stalin and other Soviet leaders were suspicious of American and British motives, especially as the end of the war drew ever closer and Stalin began planning for Soviet-dominated governments in Eastern Europe. These suspicions—regardless of whether there was any real basis for them—provide the context for understanding what happened to Lieutenants Bridge and King.

A final point: by late 1944, as American bombers flying from England and Italy continued to pound enemy defenses in Germany and German-occupied Europe, American access to Soviet airfields became increasingly important. If B-17s and B-24s flying bombing missions against the enemy were damaged by flak, were low on fuel, or were otherwise unable to return to their home bases, they might reach safety in the Soviet Union. Consequently, the Military Mission to Moscow worked tirelessly with the Soviets to identify "emergency" airfields in Soviet-occupied territory that American pilots could use if they could not return to their home airfields.

Bridge Makes Emergency Landing; Takes Off Without Permission

On March 22, 1945, Donald Bridge took off from Italy. A pilot with the 756th Bombardment Squadron, 459th Bombardment Group, he and his B-24 crew were on a mission to bomb the Kralupy oil refinery, near Prague. It was their 32nd mission. After successfully completing their bombing run over the target and beginning the journey back to Italy, Bridge and his crew discovered that their airplane was short on fuel and had serious engine problems. At first, the Americans "prepared to abandon ship" but then decided that there was sufficient fuel remaining that "they should try to make it to the Mielec Airfield in Poland." This airfield, then under Soviet control, had previously been identified as an emergency airfield for use by U.S. air personnel in distress.

Bridge dropped out of formation, did a 180-degree turn, and started for Russian lines. As he approached Mielec Airfield, the Soviets fired red flares—indicating danger and that he was forbidden to land. After two or three approaches, however, the Americans finally saw a green flare, and they landed.

After parking the B-24, Bridge and his crew were met by a young Russian who spoke a little English, taken to a Red Army colonel, who was the commandant of the field, and interrogated at length. The English-speaking Russian translated the answers given by Bridge to the commandant, who wanted to know why the Americans had landed on his airfield. As Bridge's B-24 showed no signs of damage, the Soviets apparently were suspicious about its arrival; they found it hard to believe that the Americans were now in their presence because of a fuel shortage.

After the Soviets refueled the B-24, they told the Americans that they could leave the next morning. As the sun rose on March 23, however, the Soviets informed Bridge that he could not depart until clearance from higher authority had been obtained. By the end of the day, Bridge and his men sensed that permission would be long in coming and that they were being wrongfully delayed. Consequently, the next day, Bridge and his crew walked to their B-24, started it up, and began taxiing for take-off. Then, despite repeated attempts by the Russians—who were firing red flares—to halt their departure, Bridge and his crew made a "running take-off." The Americans returned to Italy without further mishap on March 24, 1945.

Lt. Myron King and "Jack Smith"

Myron King's problems with the Soviets had happened the month before when, on February 3, he made an emergency landing at the Kuflavo airfield in Soviet-occupied Poland. His B-17 had been badly damaged by enemy flak (losing two of four engines) while bombing Berlin and, believing it was too risky to attempt to return to England, King decided to try to land on a Soviet-held airfield.

After successfully reaching Kuflavo, King and his fellow crewmembers were treated "like kings" while their bomber was being repaired. Two days later, on February 5, the Americans were warming up their plane when a Russian C-47 landed at the airfield and a Soviet general stepped out of the plane. King's co-pilot, 2nd Lt. William Sweeney, walked over to the plane and started a conversation with the Soviet general through a young man who was standing by the general, and whom Sweeney thought was the Russian officer's interpreter. King subsequently joined the group, and the conversation with the Russian general and the interpreter continued.

King wanted to fly his B-17 to the airbase at Lublin, located south of Warsaw. There, he hoped to get necessary repairs and refuel with the high-octane gasoline needed for the bomber's engines. The Soviet general, however, insisted that the Americans must fly with him instead to Lida, which was located north of Warsaw.

King acceded to the Soviet general's plan and took off in his B-17 along with the Soviet C-47. Shortly before take-off, however, the Americans discovered that the young interpreter was on board. Believing, however, that he was part of the Soviet general's staff, King decided to take the stowaway with them to Lida, where the young man could re-join his boss. The B-17 had not been in the air very long, however, when the interpreter, who was known as "Jack Smith" because the Americans could not pronounce his Polish name, informed King that he had an uncle in England and wanted to return with them when they returned with their B-17 to England. While airborne, "Jack Smith," who apparently was wearing some type of British uniform underneath his Russian Army overcoat, took an American flight suit from the B-17's emergency kit and donned it. King later explained that, as it was minus 53 degrees Fahrenheit in the plane, the young man needed warmer clothing.

As it began to get dark, both planes landed at Szczuczyn; Lida was too far, and the Soviet general did not want to fly at night. "Jack Smith" did not want to leave the safety of the plane, but King insisted that he come with the rest of the crew to eat in the nearby Soviet mess hall. Ultimately, the Russians discovered that "Jack Smith" was not an American and not part of King's crew, and they took him away. Under questioning, King admitted that "Jack Smith" was not part of his crew but insisted that he had transported the stowaway only because he thought he was the Soviet general's interpreter. King also signed a statement in which he claimed that he intended to turn over "Jack Smith" after he reached his ultimate destination: the U.S. air base in Poltava, Ukraine.

King and his crew did eventually travel from Lida to Poltava. While they had hoped to obtain clearance from the Soviets to fly to either Italy or England, this did not occur. On the contrary, they were taken to Moscow on a Russian transport plane and then delivered to the Military Mission to Moscow.

Bridge and King and the Case of Soviet Capt. Morris Shenderoff

Aleksei I. Antonov, Chief of the Red Army Staff, complained bitterly in a letter to Maj. Gen. John R. Deane about the transgressions of two U.S. pilots,

Aleksei I. Antonov, Chief of the Red Army Staff, complained bitterly in a letter to Maj. Gen. John R. Deane about the transgressions of two U.S. pilots, saying that their actions were instances of rude violation of the order established by the Command of the Red Army. (Records of Interservice Agencies, RG 334)

The Soviets were furious about the transgressions of Lieutenants Bridge and King. In a March 30, 1945, letter to General Deane, General Antonov reminded his American colleague that it was because of their "allied relationship" that the Soviets were permitting U.S. pilots to land their bombers on "territory occupied by the Red Army." But, continued Antonov: we have a number of instances where crews of American airplanes and individual military personnel of the American Army rudely violate the order established by the Command of the Red Army in the territory occupied by the Soviet troops, and do not live up to elementary rules of a relationship between friendly nations.

Antonov then complained that King had taken aboard a "stranger" who, in fact, "was a terrorist-saboteur brought into Poland from England." Since King's B-17 was due to return to England, this presumably would have meant that the Polish "terrorist" would have been able to complete his mission as part of the Polish underground and report back to the Polish émigré government in London.

As for Bridge, Antonov insisted in the letter to Deane that Bridge's emergency landing was a ruse and that, despite being told by the Soviets that he could not depart without permission, Bridge nonetheless "rudely violated military discipline and through deception took off from the airdrome" in his B-24. Antonov also informed Deane that the Red Army had already suffered a real loss from Bridge's misconduct: the Soviet engineer captain who had helped Bridge was so "indignant and put out" by the American's actions "that on the very same day he shot himself."

Antonov closed his letter by reminding Deane that American air crews were required to strictly observe the orders of the Red Army on Soviet air bases. He not only requested that "necessary measures" be taken to avoid "a repetition of such instances" but asked to be informed of the measures taken by Deane in this matter.

But there was more going on in the Kremlin than displeasure over the Bridge and King cases. A 15-page memorandum tucked away in the Military to Mission Moscow papers at the National Archives reveals that a third incident was playing a role in Soviet demands for action against Bridge and King—the case of Soviet Capt. Morris Shenderoff, who had "escaped" from a Soviet-controlled airfield in Hungary by stowing away on a B-24 bomber. That the Shenderoff case played a part in the Bridge and King courts-martial is certain, since Rear Adm. Clarence E. Olson, Deane's deputy at the Military Mission to Moscow, testified about Shenderoff at King's court-martial.

Morris Shenderoff's story—assuming that what he told his American interrogators is true, and there is no reason to doubt it—is both fascinating and tragic. It is worth setting out in considerable detail because it explains why the Soviets were so angry about Bridge and King—and why they insisted that action be taken against the two American pilots.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on June 8, 1912, Shenderoff was the son of Russians who had immigrated to the United States earlier that year. Both of Shenderoff's parents were "political revolutionaries in opposition to the Czarist regime," and both had been imprisoned for their political activities. Ultimately, however, both parents were able to leave Russia, and they settled in Cleveland, Ohio. According to Shenderoff, his father became a successful building contractor and did well enough financially to own two automobiles. Both he and his wife (Shenderoff's mother) ultimately became naturalized U.S. citizens.

In 1926, Shenderoff's father "decided to visit Russia . . . intending to return to the United States in four or five months." Later that year, he wrote to Shenderoff's mother that he had decided to stay in Russia and asked her to join him—and bring Shenderoff and his sister, Eva. While Shenderoff's mother "was not enthusiastic about leaving America," Shenderoff and Eva, then 16 years old and 17 years old, respectively, were curious about traveling to a faraway land. The result: in September 1927, the three Shenderoffs traveled on their U.S. passports by ship to France and obtained tourist visas at the Russian embassy in Paris that allowed them to enter the Soviet Union. (Since the United States and the Soviet Union did not have diplomatic relations in 1927, it was impossible for the Shenderoff family to obtain visas prior to leaving the United States).

In January 1928, Morris Shenderoff, his mother, and his sister finally reached Baku, Azerbaijan, where the elder Shenderoff was working as a chief engineer and overseeing the construction of factories in the area. None of the three new arrivals liked Baku. They considered it to be dirty and unattractive and wanted to return to the United States. Their father, however, persuaded them to remain for a time.

Tragedy then struck: young Eva Shenderoff died of typhus, and her emotionally distraught mother announced that she would not leave her daughter's grave and would remain in Baku. At this juncture, Morris Shenderoff wanted to return to America but was dissuaded by his father, who insisted that, as an only son, Morris should stay with his parents.

Over the next two years, Morris repeatedly went to the Baku passport office to get the Russian tourist visa renewed in his U.S. passport; this had to be done every three months. In late 1929, after making a fifth request for an extension on his visa, the Soviet authorities took Shenderoff's American passport and refused to return it. These same officials, however, subsequently told Shenderoff's mother that he was "at liberty" to return to the United States whenever he so desired.

In 1931, now 19-year-old Shenderoff graduated with an engineering degree from the Baku Engineering Construction Institute. Having determined that his future was in America, he again requested that his passport be returned and that he be permitted to depart for America. In reply, Soviet officials "wanted to know why he was so anxious to return to the United States" and "pointed out that he owed Russia a debt of gratitude for the education he had received." Shenderoff agreed to remain a year to repay this obligation.

Between 1932 and 1940, Shenderoff attempted repeatedly to return to the United States but was blocked by Soviet authorities at every turn. Matters only got worse when his father, attempting to obtain Shenderoff's passport and facilitate his son's return to the United States, was arrested as a spy and imprisoned. As a result of his father's arrest, Shenderoff lost his job in Tbilisi (he had been working there as a construction engineer). He was subsequently imprisoned for a time and, after being released, moved to Moscow. In this new home, Shenderoff found employment in an automobile repair factory.

After Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, Shenderoff was inducted into the Red Army. As an engineer, he was assigned to the 29th Pioneers Battalion, 33rd Army, and given the rank of War Engineer, 3rd Class. (This type of rank, abolished in 1943, was equivalent to the rank of captain).

Over the next few years, Shenderoff repeatedly saw heavy combat and was wounded in action. His bravery under fire was recognized with the award of the Red Star and the Medal for Bravery, and he was promoted to major and given command of the 809th Battalion, part of the 35th Brigade of the Fifth Army. In April 1942, however, Shenderoff was "disciplined" for wrongfully killing 150 German soldiers. According to Shenderoff's own statement, his battalion had encircled 150 Germans in a fight near the Lovat River. Rather than take them prisoner, however, Shenderoff ordered his soldiers to machine-gun them. He told his American interrogator that "it would have required too many of his men to escort one hundred and fifty prisoners back to the nearest headquarters." For this war crime, Shenderoff lost his Red Star decoration and was demoted to the rank of captain.

In late 1942, Captain Shenderoff and his unit were in the thick of combat. At one point, they were encircled by Germans and for 22 days they were without food (surviving only by eating horse flesh); only 35 Russian soldiers survived, including Shenderoff, although he had been badly wounded when his legs were crushed by a tank.

In January 1944, after recuperating from his injuries, Shenderoff obtained a transfer to the Red Air Force. He was assigned to the 704th Mobile Aircraft Repair Unit, located at the airbase at Poltava, Ukraine, and supervised the repair of all types of military aircraft. Since the U.S. Eighth Air Force also had a small number of airmen at Poltava, Shenderoff quickly became acquainted with these Americans given his fluent English. Once he told the Americans his story, they not only were sympathetic to his plight but promised to "get him out of there." But any escape was impossible, because the Soviet NKVD secret police, suspicious of Shenderoff's close relationship with the Americans, watched him constantly.

Not until the following year, in March 1945, did Shenderoff get his chance to escape. By this time, he had been transferred along with the 704th to Kecskemet, Hungary, where he continued to oversee work on a variety of military aircraft. This included work on American B-24 bombers, which had authority to make emergency landings at Kecskemet.

On March 22, 1945, apparently with the consent of an American pilot identified only as 1st Lieutenant Raleigh, Shenderoff secretly boarded a B-24 and hid until the plane had taken off from Soviet airspace. A few minutes before the plane arrived in Bari, Italy, Shenderoff announced his presence. He was taken into custody and detained at a nearby refugee "transit camp." Despite a lengthy interrogation by an Army intelligence officer during the last week of March—which resulted in a 15-page memorandum stamped SECRET—Shenderoff was not permitted to remain in Italy. On the contrary, he was flown back to Moscow and, on April 12, 1945, handed by Military Mission to Moscow authorities to Major Storbanov of the Red Army. Amazingly, the Americans had Storbanov sign a "receipt" for Shenderoff.

The files reveal nothing more about Shenderoff or his fate—although King heard during his time in Moscow that Shenderoff had been shot on the very day that he had returned to Soviet control. While there is no way to know if Shenderoff was executed, it would not be surprising.

In any event, the Soviets connected the three cases—Shenderoff, King, and Bridge—as Admiral Olson confirmed at the King trial. It follows that the Soviets probably believed that Shenderoff's escape on Raleigh's B-24, the presence of stowaway "Jack Smith" on King's B-17, and Bridge's suspicious landing and disobedient departure in his B-24 were not a coincidence. Was there a conspiracy to undermine Soviet authority? Were the Americans intentionally befriending Russians and convincing them to escape? At a minimum, American military leaders were permitting their pilots to meddle in the Soviet Union's internal affairs. This explains the bitterness of Antonov's letter to Deane—and why Soviet pressure caused Bridge and King to be court-martialed for their misconduct.

In case General Deane did not understand the seriousness of Antonov's letter to him, the Soviets informed the Military Mission to Moscow the following day, March 31, 1945, that "all flight clearances" were suspended for American aircraft at Poltava until further notice.

Bridge and King are Court-Martialed

On the morning of April 23, 1945, Donald R. Bridge was tried in Italy at a general court-martial convened by Headquarters, 15th Air Force. He was charged with two crimes: first, "wrongfully" taking off from Mielec airfield "without first obtaining proper clearance and authority" and, second, "wrongfully" disregarding "the red flare signal," which he knew to prohibit takeoff, an act that "might prejudice the relationship existing between the United States and its Ally, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."

Since Bridge pleaded not guilty to both charges, the government was required to prove the case against him, and the prosecutor called members of Bridge's crew to testify against him. The evidence at trial was not disputed: the Americans had not been cleared to leave Soviet airspace on March 24 but believed that their departure was being unreasonably delayed; Bridge had seen red flares fired by the Soviets but ignored them; these red flares meant either that there was danger on the runway or that takeoff was prohibited; Bridge nevertheless had proceeded with a "running take-off" and, once airborne, had returned to Italy.

Donald Bridge elected not to testify at his trial, probably because he had made a written statement, prior to trial, in which he admitted seeing red flares, understood their meaning, and ignored them. But Bridge did have the benefit of his chain of command at trial: his squadron commander and squadron operations officer both testified that he was "an excellent pilot with a good reputation." Interestingly, they also testified that he had flown 35 missions—three of which were subsequent to the wrongful takeoff at Mielec.

Shortly after four o'clock, on the same day that his trial had begun, 22-year-old Donald Bridge was found guilty. He was sentenced to be reprimanded and to forfeit $100.00 pay a month for six months. Since Bridge earned $183.00 a month as a lieutenant, this was not a light punishment.

Letter from Maj. Gen. John R. Deane relaying Antonov's complaint

Maj. Gen. John R. Deane, the top military officer in Moscow, relayed Antonov's complaint and described for Gen. George C. Marshall the incidents involving Lieutentant King and Captain Bridge. (Records of Interservice Agencies, RG 334)

Two days later, and many miles away in Moscow, the general court-martial of Myron King began. The trial was unique, as it was the first time in history that an American had been court-martialed in the Soviet Union. The trial convened on April 25, 1945, in the large mansion that housed the U.S. embassy, not far from the Kremlin. The trial was held in secret, and the record of trial was stamped SECRET at the end of the proceedings.

King was charged with the following crime:

In that 1st Lt. Myron King . . . did, in Poland, on or about 5 February 1945, while, as Senior Pilot, operating an American aircraft under the auspices of the Soviet Army, transport, without proper authority, an alien from near Warsaw to Szczuczyn, and did, thereafter, until such alien was removed by Soviet authorities on or about 6 February 1945, permit this alien to wear U.S. Army flying clothes, and to associate himself with the American aircraft's crew under the name "Jack Smith" known to be an alias, thereby bringing discredit on the military service of the United States.

At trial, the prosecutor called most of King's aircrew as witnesses; they testified that "Jack Smith" had, in fact, come aboard their aircraft, had later dressed in American clothing, and had expressed a desire to come to England with the Americans. The government also introduced (as a prosecution exhibit) Antono's letter to Deane. King's defense counsel vehemently objected, correctly insisting that the letter contained hearsay and that Soviet views on King's conduct were irrelevant. The objection was overruled, however, and the jury of 10 Army officers considered the letter.

The prosecution also called the embassy's second secretary, Edward Page, to testify. He stated under oath that he had been at an April 15, 1945, meeting between Marshal Stalin and Ambassador Harriman and had acted as their interpreter. At that meeting, Stalin had told the Americans that it appeared to him "that American aircraft were coming into Soviet-controlled territory for ulterior purposes." Stalin specifically mentioned an incident in which an American airplane had landed "on a pretext of engine trouble" and, after receiving "the help and hospitality of the Russians," had "immediately flown off with a Pole on board."

Page's testimony was followed by that of Admiral Olsen, who testified about the Shenderoff case. According to Olsen, the escape of Shenderoff caused "serious reaction in Soviet circles and a demand for the immediate return of this Soviet citizen." Olsen further testified that Shenderoff had, in fact, been returned from Italy to Moscow, and handed over to Soviet authorities.

At the end of the government's case, King took the stand. After taking an oath to tell the truth, King testified that, while he had permitted "Jack Smith" to come aboard the B-17, he had done so only because he believed that the young man was the Soviet general's interpreter. While King agreed that he had allowed "Jack Smith" to wear American flying gear, this was only because it was so cold; he vehemently denied that there was any intent to deceive the Soviets, much less hide "Jack Smith" from them.

On April 26, 23-year-old Myron King was found guilty. His punishment: to be reprimanded and to forfeit $100.00 of his pay a month for six months.

Interestingly, while the military officers sitting as a jury found King guilty, they all signed a handwritten note, asking General Deane to give "clemency" to King. But Deane refused: he approved King's sentence on May 10 and forwarded the entire record to Washington, DC.

Appeal to vacate guilty findings in King's trial

Myron King pursued his appeal, and in 1952 Maj. Gen. Reginald C. Harmon, the Air Force Judge Advocate General, vacated the findings of guilty in King's trial. (Records of the Army Judge Advocate General, Office of the Clerk of Court, Washington National Records Center)


After returning home to the United States, and being honorably discharged, both Bridge and King sought to reverse their court-martial convictions. Bridge, who immediately looked for a way to appeal his case, was unsuccessful; King, however, who began the appellate process a few years later, had his conviction set aside.

Correspondence attached to Bridge's court-martial record indicate that Bridge asked Congressman Angier L. Goodwin (R.-Mass) to see what could be done by the Army to modify his conviction. On November 9, 1945, the Army replied to Goodwin that, as Bridge's court-martial was entirely legal, nothing could be done. "There is no provision of law," wrote Under Secretary of War Kenneth C. Royall to Goodwin, "under which a valid sentence of a general court-martial when fully executed can be modified or set aside by administrative action." Apparently Bridge took no further action in the matter; perhaps he decided it was best to move on with his life.

As the saying goes, however, "timing is everything," and in King's case nothing could be truer. King began pursuing his appeal after the establishment of the Air Force in 1947, and this was a critical break, as all courts-martial conducted by the Army Air Force in World War II were now subject to review by legal authorities in the new Air Force. Consequently, while the Army had—as with Bridge's court-martial—determined that King's court-martial had been entirely legal, King now got a fresh look at his case from the Air Force.

In 1951, John A. Doolan, an Air Force attorney working in the Pentagon, learned about King's case and decided that it was a miscarriage of justice. Doolan analyzed the record of trial, wrote an 88-page memorandum highlighting its errors, and convinced the new Air Force Judge Advocate General, Maj. Gen. Reginald C. Harmon, that King had been wronged. As a result, on January 11, 1952, Harmon "vacated" the findings of guilty and the sentence in King's trial. King got his forfeited pay restored, and more important, his military record was cleared.

While forgotten today, the courts-martial of Bridge and King remain a fascinating episode of American military legal history—and certainly foreshadow the Soviet Union's Cold War–era suspicions of American actions and attitudes.

Fred L. Borch is the regimental historian and archivist for the Army's Judge Advocate General's Corps. A lawyer (J.D., Univ. of North Carolina) and historian (M.A., Univ. of Virginia), he served 25 years active duty as an Army judge advocate before retiring from active duty in 2005. This is his fourth article for Prologue.

Note on Sources

Myron King's and Donald Bridge's official military personnel records are preserved at the Military Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

A portion of the King court-martial records is contained in the Records of Interservice Agencies, Records of the Military Mission to Moscow, 1943–1945 (Record Group 334), at the National Archives at College Park. These records also contain correspondence from the Soviets relating both King's and Bridge's misconduct, including the letter from General Antonov to General Deane. The Bridge court-martial also is referenced in the these files.

A folder in box 10 of the Records of the Military Mission to Moscow, labeled "Incidents, U.S. & Soviet, Top Secret," contains the 15-page memorandum relating to Morris Shenderoff; the folder was declassified in July 1988. Shenderoff's story is not unique. More than a few American citizens of Russian ancestry returned to Russia in the 1920s and 1930s and subsequently were prohibited by Soviet officials from returning to the United States. One of the best known involved Victor Herman, who went to Russia with his parents in 1931 and was not permitted to leave until 1976. His memoir Coming Out of the Ice: An Unexpected Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich, 1979), was a bestseller. Similarly, Alexander Dolgun's Story: An American in the Gulag (New York: Knopf, 1975) tells the story of an American of Russian ancestry who returned to the Soviet Union with his family when he was eight years old. He, too, was prevented from leaving the Soviet Union and was later imprisoned. Dolgun was not permitted to leave the Soviet Union until 1971.

The complete record of trial in King's court-martial, CM 281131, is in records maintained by the National Archives at Suitland, Maryland, for the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps. The entire record was classified "secret" until its classification was "cancelled" by order of the Judge Advocate General in March 1952. The complete record of the Bridge court-martial, CM 283049, also is in this set of records.

One secondary source, The Wars of Myron King, by James L. McDonough (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2009) also provides much interesting background about the King court-martial. Although the author had a copy of the King record of trial, he relied mostly on interviews with King in writing his version of the Moscow court-martial.

Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.