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The Metrovik trial


To view more photos click on the arrows. (see end note reference). *


The Accused at the Metrovik Show Trial

The accused were apprehended on March 12th 1933 and taken to the Lubyanka Prison where they were interrogated for many hours.




The Arrest of the British Engineers


Gareth Jones


“I explain it thus. Stalin  and his assistants know the real situation in Russia, and they want, by a terrible increase of terror, to frighten the growing opposition within the party.”  Kerensky[i]


Terror of the O.G.P.U. was now manifest in the Soviet Union, and would increase in the succeeding years.  Even an intrepid Gareth was subjected to intimidation and related his own story about being apprehended by the O.G.P.U. on his way to Karkiv: [ii]


"I had narrowly escaped being arrested myself not long before at a small railway station in the Ukraine , where I had entered into conversation with some peasants.  These were bewailing their hunger to me, and were gathering a crowd, all murmuring, ‘There is no bread’, when a man had appeared.  Stop that growling’, he had shouted to the peasants; while to me he said, ‘Come along; where are your documents?’


"A civilian (an O.G.P.U. man) appeared from nowhere, and they both submitted me to a thorough gruelling of questions.  They discussed among themselves what they should do with me, and finally the O.G.P.U. man decided to accompany me on the train to the big city of Kharkoff, where at last he left me in peace.  There was to be no arrest."


In the same week as Gareth’s involvement with the secret police, on March 12, 1933, six British engineers were arrested, and for the next month until after the trial, this event was to take precedence over any news of an on-going famine.  Large sections of the British newspapers were filled with reports of their detention.  For example, The Times in their ‘Parliamentary Procedures’ and ‘Overseas News’ sections, devoted whole columns entirely to the arrest and trial, but never made a single mention to the disastrous agricultural conditions in the U.S.S.R. during this crisis.


Those involved were six employees of Metropolitan-Vickers, who were accused of ‘wilfully wrecking the Soviet electrical industry and of plotting against the Soviet Government, of military espionage, and bribery’.[iii]  Gareth explained:[iv]


"When I heard the news of the arrests I was seated at tea with a group of diplomats in a house in Kharkoff, 400 miles south of Moscow .  A silence fell over the party when a servant entered with the news.  ‘It is incredible’, said one of those present … Next morning, however, I looked at the ‘Izvestia’, the official organ of the Soviet Government, and there the news stood in black and white.


"I run my eye down the list and suddenly fixed on one name: “Alan Monkhouse!’’  I had known Alan [Allan] Monkhouse on a previous visit to Moscow   I had seen him at work in the office of Metropolitan there ... I knew the deep respect in which the British colony in Moscow held him.  It seemed incredible that he should be at that moment in the Lubyanka, the headquarters of the O.G.P.U. in Moscow.


"I did not really accept the news to be true until three days later when I arrived in Moscow , and there shook hands with Alan Monkhouse.  He was standing in the entrance hall of the British Embassy, a tall figure approaching middle-age, with a dignified bearing.  He looked older than the previous time I had seen him when I was in Moscow in 1931.  He was nervous after the mental torture of continual questioning [19 hours], but he smiled courageously.


The Ambassador, Sir Esmond Ovey intervened for the prisoners:[v]


There is no doubt that Sir Esmond Ovey has placed the facts about the whole situation before the Government.  His testimony is all the more to be believed on account of his former sympathy for the Soviet Government … He has recently, however, become fully aware of the catastrophic conditions in Russia, as I gathered a fortnight ago in the Embassy in Moscow, but in his firm handling of the present case he has earned I the praise of the most critical journalists in Moscow.


But, Maxim Litvinov was less than complementary about Sir Esmond to Gareth: [vi]


Sir Esmond Ovey has been too tactless, and too bullying.  He is seeking a quarrel, and has as his aim the breaking off of diplomatic relations … We cannot have his bullying, tactless way.  He is a very unfortunate representative.


Soon after Gareth’s talk with Litvinov, at the end of March 1933, Sir Esmond Ovey was withdrawn from his position as British Ambassador in Moscow .


Gareth questioned why the engineers had been arrested:


"What could there be to explain it?  Then I looked across the river to the Kremlin, whose golden domes and red ramparts face the Embassy.  Within that citadel, the Kremlin, lives Stalin   There the whole policy has been framed which has changed the life of every man, woman, and child in Russia in the last five years. 


"The Kremlin gave me one clue to the arrest.  Half an hour later I walked past another building.  It was of ugly grey and yellow brick, and was formerly an insurance office.  Outside, on the pavement, a few Red sentries marched up and down with fixed bayonets.  This building gave me another clue.  It was the Lubyanka, the headquarters of the O.G.P.U.  Then I realised that the cause for the arrests was to be found in the Kremlin and in the O.G.P.U. … It was to divert attention from the famine, and find blame elsewhere:


"The Kremlin is now panic-stricken, for a catastrophe has come over that rich country of Russia.  The people are seething with discontent.  Among the ranks of the young Communists there is an ominous rumble of wrath at the crashing of their ideals. … The worker, having been promised a paradise, has had his fine dream shattered.


"… Fear, which had so often gripped the Kremlin in centuries past, had returned to haunt its dwellers.  Now the Bolshevists dread the wrath of a starving peasantry.  Seized with panic, they sought to find the foreigner on whom to put the blame when their promises fail.[vii]


"… When I was in Russia in 1931 a period of toleration had begun.  The O.G.P.U. had had some of its fangs extracted and was under the control of Akuloff, a moderate man and an economist.  The dangerous Yagoda had been removed.  Stalin  had preached the doctrine of fair-play to non-Communists and the whole country breathed a sigh of relief that the terror was over. 


"But now the attack is on all fronts - on party members, of whom numbers have been shot; on the intelligentsia, of whom there are countless representatives in Solovki; on the peasants for merely having wished to till their soi1 for themselves, and on the Ukrainian, Georgian, and Central Asian nationalists who have struggled for the rights of small countries.  More and more power is being put into the bands of the O.G.P.U. and a small clique dominates the rest of the party, the members of which, although in their heart recognizing the colossal failure of the Five-Year Plan policy, do not dare to raise even one small voice in contradiction to the general line of Stalin  .[viii]


"Symptomatic too, of this collapse of Russian agriculture was the shooting of thirty-five prominent workers in the Commissariat of Agriculture and in the Commissariat of State Farms, including the Vice-Commissar of Agriculture, and Mr. Wolff, whose name is well known to foreign agricultural experts. 


"These agriculturists confessed themselves guilty or rather were forced by torture to confess themselves guilty of such actions as the smashing of tractors, the burning of tractor stations and of flax factories, the stealing of grain reserves, the disorganisation of sowing, and the destroying of cattle.  This was surely a formidable task for thirty-five men to carry out in a country which stretched 6,000 miles.  ‘Pravda’ (March 5) stated that ‘the activities of the arrested men had as their aim the ruining of agriculture, and the creation of famine in the country’.  The announcement added, ‘The sentences were carried into execution.’


Just as these 35 agriculturists were arrested, because of the tragic ruin of agriculture, so the British engineers were arrested, because the electrical plans failed:[ix]


"In spite of the heralding of this achievement throughout the world as a super-triumph for Socialist construction, the tramways within the very area of the Dnieperstroy stopped, because there was no electric current.  The great cities of Kharkiv and Kiev, the leading cities of the Ukraine , were often plunged for hours on end into darkness, and men and women and children had to huddle in blackened rooms, because it was difficult to buy candles and lamp oil.  In the theatres, in Kharkiv, the lights would suddenly go out, and hundreds of people would sit there, dreading the crush and the fight in the dark for the way out.  At the same time as the people not many miles away from the Dnieperstroy sat in darkness, resounding slogans of the triumph of the Soviet electrical industry were drummed into the imagination of the world’s proletariat by impressive statistics, and by skilfully taken photographs of electric works and of workers wreathed in smiles.


"The O.G.P.U did not anticipate the world-wide political and economic consequences following the arrest of the British engineers in Moscow.  Gareth foresaw a desperate situation.  The world was in a state of severe Depression, world prices had declined drastically and due to the deleterious effects of Five-Year Plan on Russia’s agriculture the Soviet Government would have great difficulties in meeting obligations abroad.  ‘An embargo on upon Soviet imports by the British Government was therefore a further factor to damage her exports’:"[x]


President Roosevelt  seemed in favour of entering upon diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, but the Moscow  trial has alarmed the American, and that goal of Soviet foreign policy-American recognition-is now farther away than ever.


A great triumph for Soviet diplomacy was in the offing.  The United States, which had refused to recognise the Soviet Union and which has never had an Ambassador nor a Consul in Moscow, was seriously considering taking the step which Britain took in 1924.[xi]


On Gareth’s return to Moscow from Ukraine , he interviewed Maxim Litvinov and Gareth enquired about the fate of the six arrested six engineers.  Litvinov requested Gareth to consider his reply to remain strictly confidential: [xii]


The greater the pressure the less chance that is of my helping because we cannot give way to pressure. ... The men will not be shot.  There will be a trial.  The matter has been taken out of a hand of the O.G.P.U and will be dealt with by the Supreme Court.”


The engineers were tried on April 12, 1933, and four were released at the end of the trial on 19th.  Of the two men who made elaborate confession, MacDonald adhered to his and was given two years in prison; Leslie Thornton attempted to repudiated his and received three years. Gregory was acquitted.  Alan Monkhouse, Cushny and Nordwall were expelled from the country.[xiii]  Thornton and MacDonald were released in the July.  The Russian colleagues were imprisoned.  Those who were reprieved returned to Britain, and The News Chronicle on April 24 reported the rapturous homecoming:


London gave the four engineers from Moscow  a heroes’ welcome yesterday.  A few thousand people, cheers, the National Anthem, ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’, bouquets, handshakes, slaps on the back, tears of thankfulness.  But not overdone.  Quite English.


The reception at Liverpool Station to the four British engineers on their arrival from Moscow.  Mr Monkhouse was met by his wife, son and daughter. ‘The News Chronicle’ ,1933.



*    "Image reproduced with the permission of Churchill Archives Centre and the copyright holder. Original material held at Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge, CB3 ODS United Kingdom

(http://www.chu.cam.ac.uk/archives/). Not to be copied, distributed, published or sold without the permission of Churchill Archives Centre."





[i]   Gareth Jones, ‘We are Starving’, Western Mail  & South Wales News, April 3, 1933, p.7.

[ii]  Gareth Jones, ‘The Real Truth About Russia’, The Daily Express, April 3, 1933, p 1-2.

[iii]  Ibid.

[iv]  Ibid.

[v]  Gareth Jones, ‘Majority for Russian Imports Bill’, Western Mail  & South Wales News, April 6, 1933., p, 8.

[vi]  Gareth Jones, ‘The Real Truth About Russia at Last; Secrets of the Kremlin’, Daily Express, April 3, 1933, p.1-2.

[vii]  Ibid.

[viii]  Gareth Jones, ‘O.G.P.U.’S Reign of Terror in Russia’. Western Mail   & South Wales News. April 5, 1933, P.8.

[ix]  Gareth Jones, Ruin of Russian Agriculture’. No. III, The Financial News, Thursday, April, 13 , 1933, p 6.

[x]  Gareth Jones, ‘Russian Exports’ The Western Mail  April 6, 1933, p.8.

[xi]  Ibid., ‘O.G.P.U. Blow to Russian Trade’, Western Mail   & South Wales News April 20, 1933, p.12.

[xii]  Gareth Jones’ Interview with Maxim Litvinov, David Lloyd George  Records.  House of Lord’s Office.

[xiii]  Eugene Lyons  , Assignment in Utopia.





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