The Polar Bear Expedition: The U.S. Intervention in Northern Russia, 1918–1919
by Alexander F. Barnes and Cassandra J. Rhodes
Outdoors the picket partitions of the outpost in northern Russia, the wind picked up once more, inflicting the frozen snowflakes to rattle towards the thick, smoke-colored glass of the window panes. The younger American corporal blinked after which appeared out once more. One thing was shifting on the market in the tree line past the railroad tracks. Was it the “Reds” scouting the Allied positions, or was it the equally scary pack of wolves that roamed the forest close to this lonely guard publish? With luck, it was neither however merely a Canadian patrol coming to make contact and maybe get heat earlier than heading again to their very own outpost.
Not taking any possibilities, the corporal yelled throughout the room to his sergeant after which picked up his Mosin-Nagant rifle to be prepared in case the guests have been hostile. As he did so, he had the fleeting thought that this positive was one heck of a means for a draftee from Detroit to spend Christmas of 1918.
As described in the article, “Logistics in Reverse: The U.S. Intervention in Siberia, 1918–1920” in the January–February 2012 situation of Military Sustainment, the U.S. Military was current in Russia on the finish of World Struggle I for a number of causes. One was that the huge quantities of army provides and gear stockpiled on the Siberian port of Vladivostok and the northern Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel needed to be recovered for retrograde to their nations of origin or distribution to the anti-Bolshevik “White Russian” forces preventing the Bolshevik “Red” military in the Russian Civil Struggle.
These provides, together with 110,000 rifles in the northern Russian warehouses alone, had been offered to the Czar’s forces by France, Nice Britain, and america in a useless try and maintain them preventing towards the Germans. However that had not labored. The Russian leaders had been incapable of distributing the conflict materiel to their forces, and most of what they acquired nonetheless sat in the warehouses the place it had been initially offloaded from Allied ships. Some wishful politicians subsequently hoped that a small Allied army drive might stabilize the world lengthy sufficient for the Russians to create a democratic authorities and area a viable military.
The solely useful resource in nice abundance in northern Russia was lumber, and it was used as the essential materials for defensive positions and blockhouses. Even the sawdust was helpful, serving as insulation between inside and exterior partitions. In a sign of the shortage of automobiles, a quantity of American, French, and British troopers catch a journey on one of the vans assigned to the American lumberyard in Archangel.
Why Have been Murmansk and Archangel Necessary?
Archangel and Murmansk have been strategically necessary to the White Russians and their supporters for a number of causes. With the tumultuous occasions of the revolution in Russia, many of the ambassadors of the Allied nations and their army liaison staffs had retreated north from Moscow and settled in the northern cities managed by White Russian forces. These included Archangel and Murmansk, which have been situated in the thinly populated area bordering Finland and the Arctic Ocean. Each have been port cities and subsequently helpful entryways into northern Russia. With the Purple forces controlling the massive central half of the nation, the anti-Bolshevik forces have been primarily arrayed on the borders, in Siberia, Crimea, and northern Russia.
That Murmansk remained ice-free yr spherical, because of the move of comparatively hotter North Atlantic waters, made it a useful website for naval exercise. The availability of such an ice-free port in the course of the frigid Russian winter clearly made Murmansk a prized possession worthy of defending. Through the early years of World Warfare I, the ports of Archangel and Murmansk had remained out of attain of the invading German forces, which permitted provides to enter Russia from the worldwide group and the Czar’s allies.
The two cities have been additionally critically essential as a result of of their shut proximity to the railway strains and the navigable rivers in the area. Management of these cities gave the White Russian forces and the Allied expeditionary forces direct entry to waterways that have been important for his or her campaigns in this remoted area near the Arctic Circle. The mixture of rail and river entry allowed the Allies to maneuver provides, talk with the remaining of Russia, and deploy their troops the place they desired all through the countryside.
The American Northern Russia Expedition
In response to a request just like that from the Allies to ship U.S. Military troops to Siberia, the U.S. Authorities ordered the Military to deploy a drive, which quickly turned referred to as the Northern Russia Expedition, to Archangel Province in Russia. In contrast to the U.S. Common Military models that deployed to Siberia, the Troopers despatched to northern Russia in August 1918 have been primarily draftees from the Midwest. The pressure consisted of the 339th Infantry Regiment (also called “Detroit’s Own”), a battalion of the 310th Engineer Regiment, the 337th Ambulance Firm, and the 337th Subject Hospital. Together with later reinforcements, fewer than 6,000 People have been deployed.
The U.S. models, initially assigned to the 85th Division, had been destined for frontline obligation in France when the orders arrived diverting them to Russia. Together with the brand new vacation spot, the doughboys of the expeditionary pressure have been directed to show in their lately issued British Enfield rifles and have been armed as an alternative with Russian made Mosin-Nagant rifles. Although an unpopular change, this order made sense logistically since vital stockpiles of Nagant ammunition have been already awaiting the drive in warehouses on the Russian ports.
The convoy that delivered the 339th Infantry Regiment from England to Russia additionally carried two different vital passengers: a small Italian military contingent and influenza. Sadly for the Italian and American Troopers, influenza proved to be a horrible foe. Over 100 Troopers died from its results both en route or virtually instantly after arriving in Russia.
Awaiting the arrival of the American drive, and unfold thinly all through northern Russia, have been the British, Canadian, and French expeditionary detachments and their typically reluctant allies, the White Russians.
The mission to guard and redistribute the stockpiles of army gear in Archangel was almost a failure earlier than the 339th Infantry Regiment even set foot in Russia. Professional-Bolshevik forces had seized the port and have been loading provides onto railcars when a small drive of British and French troopers, accompanied by 50 American Sailors from the united statesOlympia, managed to retake the city. This combined drive was capable of cease the passage of some of the trains and get well some provides; nevertheless, a big quantity had already been “liberated” by the Bolsheviks.
With extra enthusiasm than widespread sense, the Allied drive then set out after the fleeing Reds and shortly turned trapped and required rescue from the just-landed, and flu-ridden, 339th Infantry Regiment. The newly arrived People, underneath British command, hurriedly scrambled a battalion of Troopers onto a Russian practice and despatched them south to rescue their Allied comrades. Though profitable in their rescue mission, the People have been now unfold throughout the countryside in small indifferent models. Identical to their fellow Troopers in Siberia, the doughboys quickly discovered themselves preventing from blockhouses and guarding remoted railheads and small villages.
The gunboat USS Sacramento arrives in Archangel to help in withdrawing the American forces from northern Russia in June 1919. The Sacramento served the Navy for a few years and is credited with capturing down a Japanese plane in the course of the assault on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941.
Sustainment Operations and Challenges
Supporting the American forces was the 339th Infantry Regiment’s regimental provide firm underneath the command of Captain Chauncey Wade. Complicating Wade’s mission was the truth that the distances between some of his “customer” models have been equal to the space from New York Metropolis to St. Louis. His Troopers have been pressured to depend on riverboats, railroads, horse-drawn wagons, and even reindeer-drawn sleds to ship the required provides to the scattered outposts.
One other harsh actuality for the People was that the availability pipeline ran again to Britain, and most of the U.S. Troopers didn’t look after British rations or their model of army footwear. With the tough winter setting in virtually instantly after their arrival in Russia, most Troopers, relatively than sporting the uncomfortable British footwear, changed their very own worn-out footgear by buying and selling with the native inhabitants or eradicating the boots from lifeless Bolsheviks. Equally, medical provides proved virtually inconceivable to acquire, and the medical service personnel assigned to the 339th Infantry Regiment have been continuously foraging for medicines to deal with the sick and wounded.
Including to the complexity of the logistics mission was the tendency of the native inhabitants to modify sides regularly, which required the People to diligently guard each barracks, hospital, and help facility. In a short time, a whole battalion was gainfully employed guarding the streets of Archangel. Sarcastically, a number of of the Troopers who had beforehand labored in Detroit as practice engineers and conductors now discovered themselves performing comparable duties on Archangel’s streetcars as American logisticians and engineers took over duty for the town’s powerplant and different infrastructure.
In distinction to the U.S. forces in Siberia, whose major perform was the safety of the logistics stockpiles and upkeep of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the bulk of U.S. Troopers in northern Russia shortly turned concerned in fight operations. In time, it turned apparent that these Troopers who have been concerned in sustaining the infrastructure and safety of Archangel received the higher deal. Their much less lucky comrades, deployed throughout tons of of miles of swampy marshes and thick forests, have been engaged in a really lively collection of campaigns towards the Reds.
Sadly, by the point the actual winter climate arrived, the People and their allies have been stranded at distant websites that would not simply help one another. The Purple forces that had given floor slightly than contest every Allied advance now returned with a vengeance and commenced a collection of hit-and-run raids. Countering these raids was difficult by temperatures that at night time dropped to 50 levels under zero, freezing the oil in machineguns. Wounded Troopers who weren’t retrieved and introduced underneath cowl shortly froze to demise.
Including to the People’ discomfort was the truth that most operation orders got here from British officers who outranked their U.S. counterparts. It was a standard perception among the many U.S. Troopers that Britain had offered a big employees however few troopers and, consequently, the People have been doing the majority of the preventing and the work. John Cudahy, a lieutenant in the 339th Infantry Regiment (and later U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Eire, Belgium, and Luxembourg) accused the British officers of “muddling, blundering and fuddling,” and he discovered them usually to have a “lack of understanding, the brutal arrogance and cold conceit.”
Different American officers have been equally upset by the disparity in rations offered to wounded American enlisted males at British-operated hospitals in comparability to the rations offered to British officers. In time, with the assistance of the American Pink Cross, U.S. medical personnel have been capable of set up their very own amenities. For some time thereafter, many U.S. Troopers, discharged as “fit for duty” from the British hospital, have been instantly reexamined by American medical personnel and positioned in their hospital for correct remedy and feeding.
Relations between the 2 Allied forces didn’t enhance when an American medical officer was formally reprimanded for refusing to order his enlisted Troopers to dig a latrine for British officers. It was not till British Main Common William Edmund Ironside arrived to take command of all of the Allied forces in northern Russia that the People developed any confidence that they have been being correctly led.
Apparently sufficient, American relations with their French and Canadian allies remained robust all through the deployment. French experience with machineguns and Canadian proficiency with artillery turned the tide in a number of battles and saved a quantity of the doughboy detachments from being overrun by Purple forces.
It was Canadian artillerymen and their extraordinarily close-range hearth help that prevented the annihilation of a quantity of U.S. Troopers on the battle of Toulgas. After Canadian hearth stopped a big Purple pressure from encircling the American place, a determined bayonet cost led by Lieutenant Cudahy inflicted heavy losses on the Bolsheviks and compelled them to retreat. The People have been then obliged to burn the village of North Toulgas to the bottom to stop its use for additional infiltration in that space. Nonetheless, a quantity of senior “Bolo” (because the Bolsheviks have been nicknamed by the People) leaders have been killed in the struggle at Toulgas, and the world remained peaceable for some time.
Sadly, although profitable in most of the battles and skirmishes towards the Reds, the Allied forces have been preventing towards time and an ever-improving Pink Military. When the armistice ending World Conflict I used to be signed in France on 11 November 1918 (coincidentally, the identical day because the battle of Toulgas), the People in northern Russia started to ask when their warfare would finish. Pink forces additionally took benefit of this occasion to extend their propaganda marketing campaign by circulating leaflets that requested the query, “If the war is over, why are you still here?”
The People have been additionally more and more disheartened by the native inhabitants’ lack of curiosity or enthusiasm in constructing their very own military to struggle the Reds. Although some White Russian models fought nicely, for probably the most half they required the management and presence of Allied troopers to make sure that they might keep in the battle.
Equally, coping with the civilian inhabitants was troublesome and complicated. One officer wrote that the Bolos dressed like each different Russian peasant: “No one could distinguish them from a distance, and every peasant could be Bolshevik.” In phrases that might additionally echo in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, he additional said that the enemy “had an uncanny knowledge of our strength and the state of our defenses . . . despite the closest vigilance there was working unceasingly a system of enemy espionage with which we could never hope to cope.”
Beneath these circumstances, each American provide convoy venturing out to the distant outposts needed to be ready to battle off ambushes en path to its vacation spot. It was additionally turning into shortly obvious that, regardless of the politics of the armistice and governmental selections, the Allied forces have been topic to a better, extra highly effective authority: the Russian winter.
Surviving the Winter and the Bolsheviks
The arrival of Main Basic William Edmund Ironside in late November 1918 quickly marked a change in philosophy. Beneath his command, the Allies adopted a extra defensive posture and tried to outlive till spring introduced higher climate. Working and defending in an space the dimensions of Texas and Oklahoma mixed, the Allies strengthened their fortifications and ready to hunker down in the bitter chilly.
It turned painfully apparent simply how poorly knowledgeable the U.S. Military headquarters in Paris was concerning the occasions in Russia when, in response to a telegraphed report concerning the standing of U.S. forces in Pinega despatched by 339th Infantry Regiment headquarters in Archangel, it acquired a telegram again asking, “Just where is the Pinega front?” What had began as an expedition to rescue army provides and stabilize a portion of Russia had modified focus to staying alive via the winter.
Sensing the shift in Allied techniques, the Bolsheviks started a winter marketing campaign aimed toward dislodging the foreigners from their nation. Utilizing their information of the terrain and their capacity to maneuver swiftly by means of the countryside on skis and sleds, the Bolshevik forces infiltrated the area. In January 1919, after a pitched battle, they managed to drive the Allies from a stronghold at Shenkursk and pressure them to retreat towards Archangel. By April 1919, when a brand new U.S. commander arrived in Archangel with orders to evacuate the American pressure as quickly as practicable, the Allies had been pressured to evacuate many of their distant outposts.
Accompanying the brand new commander have been the one unit-sized reinforcements the People would obtain: two Military Transportation Corps railroad corporations, the 167th and 168th. By this time, nevertheless, it was apparent to the U.S. Authorities and to the American public that it was time to deliver the 339th Infantry Regiment house. Whereas getting ready for his or her withdrawal from Russia, the People awarded themselves the nickname of the “Polar Bears” as a testomony to surviving the arctic winter.
In June 1919, the cruiser USS Des Moines escorted a convoy of provide ships to Archangel to extract the People. The solely U.S. forces remaining behind after the Polar Bears’ departure have been the 2 railroad corporations and a graves registration detachment trying to recuperate the our bodies of the Troopers who had died in Russia. A short time later, even these logistics models departed, abandoning greater than 120 our bodies nonetheless unaccounted for. (Efforts by the Veterans of Overseas Wars and different organizations would later succeed in recovering the stays of almost 100 of these Troopers in the 1920s and 1930s.)
The British forces stayed some time longer, till the autumn of 1919, once they too had had sufficient and departed, leaving the White Russians to defend Archangel by themselves. In February 1920, the world acquired information, by way of telegram from Moscow, that the town had fallen to Pink forces and that “the troops remaining in the town passed over to the [Bolshevik] side.” The sudden shift in loyalties wouldn’t have stunned any of the Polar Bears.
On the frozen White Sea, the united statesDes Moines cuts by way of 15 ft
of ice en path to Archangel in Might 1919.
We will take away a number of classes from the U.S. Military expertise in northern Russia.
Belief your individuals on the scene. When the British requested U.S. help for the Northern Russia expedition, they said, “The dispatch of additional French or British reinforcements is impossible and it is therefore essential that America should help by sending a brigade . . .” After which they added, “It is not necessary that the troops sent should be completely trained, as we anticipate that military operations in this region will only be of irregular character.”
The U.S. consul in Archangel on the time, Felix Cole, strongly opposed American participation. Cole replied in June 1918, with some foresight, “Intervention will begin on a small scale but . . . will grow in scope and in its demands for ships, men, money and materiels. . . . It means establishing and maintaining telegraph, telephone, wireless, railroad, river, White Sea water, sledge, automobile and horse communication with repair shops, hospitals, food warehouses, munitions trains, etc.” He additionally predicted that the Russians wouldn’t show to be efficient allies towards the Reds: “They work for themselves neither willingly nor effectively. Still less so will they work for others.”
The U.S. Authorities ignored Cole’s warnings and deployed the 339th Infantry Regiment to Russia anyway. Consequently, out of a drive of 5,500 Troopers, the Polar Bears suffered 244 deaths from motion or accidents, 305 wounded, over 100 lifeless from influenza, and one suicide.
Rank is necessary. When working in a coalition, the leaders of an expeditionary drive should have rank commensurate with their duty. If this isn’t potential, be sure that they perceive that they keep the last word authority in how U.S. forces are employed. In far too many instances in northern Russia, the senior American officer on the scene was solely a captain or a lieutenant and subsequently was outranked by an hooked up British or French officer. Although they commanded preventing forces, the American junior officers have been obligated to take orders from senior overseas officers who have been utterly unfamiliar with U.S. objectives, techniques, and capabilities.
As a result of of some of the problems arising from this drawback, Common John J. Pershing, the general U.S. commander in Europe, would later insist on maintaining a serious common, Henry T. Allen, because the commander of the U.S. forces through the occupation of Germany. Although the dimensions of that command was extra fitted to a lower-ranking officer, Pershing insisted that the commander be of the upper rank so he might deal on an equal footing with the opposite Allied occupation commanders from Nice Britain, France, and Belgium.
Perceive the climate, terrain, and distances, and ship a large-enough pressure for these circumstances. That is just about the identical lesson discovered by the U.S. forces in Siberia. Even immediately, with superior communications and transportation know-how, no commander would try and defend and police an space the dimensions of Texas and Oklahoma with 5,500 Troopers. By comparability, in November 1918, to occupy the American zone in Germany, which was a a lot smaller space than northern Russia, the U.S. Military deployed 250,000 Troopers and maintained one other 50,000 in close by Luxembourg.
Including to the issue was the truth that a lot of the world was impassable swamp or almost impenetrable forest, which elevated reliance on rail and riverine transportation.
The U.S. Troopers despatched into this area quickly discovered their cold-weather gear, appropriate for the trenches in France, to be insufficient for what was ready for them in the Russian winter. Additionally they had little information of the sort of points this climate would deliver them through the protection of their bases and provides.
Coalition operations are exhausting, and coalition logistics are even more durable. Many of the identical issues that confronted coalition operations in Siberia have been additionally current in northern Russia, however they have been magnified by the isolation and climate constraints. As troublesome because it was for U.S. forces to obtain their provides in Siberia, it was even more durable in northern Russia. Making issues worse, most of the provides they did obtain got here from British sources and, notably in the case of rations and clothes, weren’t nicely acquired by the American Troopers. Aside from lumber for constructing amenities and fortifications, only a few assets have been obtainable in the Archangel space.
When the White Sea froze round Archangel, the one option to get provides to the Allied forces there and to the distant outposts in the encompassing area was by the rail line from the port of Murmansk. Makes an attempt to construct up the White Russian forces additionally proved irritating to the People once they acknowledged a number of of the Bolsheviks that they had captured solely weeks earlier than once they appeared, apparently rehabilitated, as half of the British-trained White forces.
What could be concluded concerning the American efforts to guard and recuperate the mountains of army provides in Russia throughout 1918 to 1920? It was a troublesome mission. That may be stated about many army operations, however definitely the 2 American expeditions into Russia after World Struggle I have been distinctive in their idea, execution, and problem. Whereas the remaining of the world celebrated the top of the bloodiest warfare in historical past to that point, two comparatively small teams of American Troopers have been preventing for his or her lives at reverse ends of a rustic that was present process a violent revolution.
For his or her half, the Troopers have been solely partially profitable in their Siberian and northern Russian missions. Most of the provides they have been despatched to protect and shield have been misplaced to the Reds or have been misused by the Whites. Nevertheless, the Czech Legion was aided in its profitable withdrawal from Siberia and transported to its new homeland. Clearly, such small forces because the People offered couldn’t stabilize revolutionary Russia in time to stop the last word victory of the Bolsheviks, particularly when it turned obvious that the White forces have been ineffective and affected by poor management.
However, the U.S. Troopers did show themselves succesful of working and sustaining fight forces in a particularly austere and harsh surroundings. In that surroundings, the place the best measure of success typically was survival, the American Troopers served bravely and remained loyal to their nation and to their Allies. That they did so in spite of overwhelming odds and an ever-increasing sense of isolation is proof of their braveness and perseverance.
When the squaddies and logisticians of the 2 expeditions to Russia lastly returned to the USA, they discovered that few individuals knew or cared about their sacrifices. Ninety years later, fewer individuals are conscious that U.S. forces had even been there. Nonetheless, in the huge wilderness of Siberia and hidden in the deep forests close to Archangel, the stays of some of their comrades are nonetheless buried. As one American Military veteran of northern Russia wrote in 1920, “Why if the job had been worth doing at all had it not been worth while for our country to do it wholeheartedly with adequate force and with determination to see it through to the desired end . . . Why had we come at all?” It might not be the final time American service members would ask that query in the 20th century.
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