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'The Yenisey is powerful, furious hero who does not know what to do with his strength and youth'
A.P. Chekhov, 1890

8,000 US troops deploy in Siberia: the 27th and 31st infantry regiments 'act to stabilise Russia'

By The Siberian Times reporter
02 August 2016

The aim? To put in place a Moscow government 'friendly' to Washington, and to protect US interests and citizens.

The US forces parade in Russia's Pacific capital Vladivostok. Picture: IstPravda

What happened next? A 'forgotten' military adventure that began 98 years ago is full of modern lessons, according to an intriguing new book.

It was on 15 August 1918 that the 27th Infantry Regiment landed in Vladivostok with orders to be 'apolitical' yet to assist the US's allies in bringing stability to Russia as they battled to reverse the Bolshevik takeover of Russia.

World War One was still underway but the seismic seizure of power by Vladimir Lenin was gradually spreading eastward across Russia's vast territory; still, the revolution was not yet guaranteed despite the cold-blooded slaying of abdicated tsar Nikolai II and his immediate family several weeks earlier in Yekaterinburg.

The US forces - known as the Wolfhounds and the Polar Bears - were supported by a hotchpotch of allied forces over Siberia and the north of European Russia.

There were 40,000 in the Czech Legion, former prisoners of war in Siberia, along with Japanese, Italian, French, and Canadian soldiers in Siberia; the British were present, too, especially in Northern Russia. 

American intervention Siberia 1918


American intervention Siberia 1918


American intervention Siberia 1918
The US forces parade in Russia's Pacific capital Vladivostok. Pictures: IstPravda


This is the subject of a book by John House 'Wolfhounds and Polar Bears: The American Expeditionary Force in Siberia, 1918-1920', and it holds intriguing parallels for more recent US intervention elsewhere. 

As the author put it in one interview, the Siberian adventure 'kind of turned into a mess'. And as he wrote earlier: 'We Americans have often wondered why the Soviets didn't always believe our peaceful intentions.

'Most Americans don't realize that early in the existence of the Soviet Union, we actually had American soldiers on the ground killing communists (Bolsheviks back then) in northern Russia and Siberia. Our British allies were with us and instigated some of the military actions especially in northern Russia....'

One key flaw in the allied action was that no-one seemed to agree what they were in Siberia for: at a time when the head of the disparate 'White' Russian forces Alexander Kolchak was the internationally recognised 'supreme ruler' of Russia as he sought to hold back the Red tide of Bolshevism from his headquarters in Omsk. 

'Guarding the railroad and mining operations were major elements of our actions,' said House, himself a retired army colonel who saw service in Germany, South Korea and southwest Asia. 

Protecting the Trans-Siberian rail link, and keeping it out of Bolshevik hands, was seen as a critical objective, and one that ultimately failed. 

American intervention Siberia 1918
Wolfhounds and Polar Bears: The American Expeditionary Force in Siberia, 1918-1920 by John House is published by the University of Alabama Press


The commander of the US operation, Maj. Gen. William S. Graves, found himself at odds with his Allied peers who all had their own agendas in the intense political turmoil - for example believing the Japanese wanted to annex eastern Siberia - as well as different Russian factions and the US State Department. 

He kept the US forces out of direct involvement in the Russian civil war, despite entreaties from Kolchak for full scale intervention. 

'The United States and our allies did not always agree regarding appropriate courses of action. Sometimes these disagreements resulted in violence. Coordinating allied operations was difficult since no true allied force commander existed. Personalities and individual nation's interests guided military decisions and operations,' he wrote in an article for the Ledger-Enquirer newspaper. 

A long-time student of this period, he wrote these words in 2007, but they could easily apply to other US operations before and since.

'The intervention in Siberia shows that deploying soldiers into ambiguous situations with poor guidance and unsure allies is not new for America's Army. 

'The soldiers who deployed to Siberia and northern Russia faced combat in a strange place without a clear mandate of what to do and with allies who at times actively opposed our actions. 

'Separating friend from foe was difficult. Cossacks roamed the open areas of the country. Violence resolved disagreements within the country as various groups fought for power. The culture was alien to us. For the Americans, home was a long way away.'

American intervention Siberia 1918


American intervention Siberia 1918
The Brooklyn cruiser moored in Vladivostok. Pictures: IstPravda


By 1920, the US force had exited Russia, again via Vladivostok, its mission impossible over, and Lenin's forces swept Kolchak aside and consolidated the country. 

As House has written, 'once we departed, the intervention in Siberia faded into memory and was forgotten' even if it proved 'the American soldier's adaptability and perseverance in difficult circumstances'.

A key lesson lived on, but was plainly not always learned, as we see in a number of countries where the US has intervened in the - almost - century since the Siberian adventure. 

'On any mission, everybody involved needs to understand what is supposed to happen,' he said. 'There has got to be a clear objective. Understanding the situation in the host country before deciding or executing a decision to intervene is important to ensure that resources match the task.'

Ironically, the seeds of the military failure in Siberia were predicted even at the birth of the operation, at the unlikely location of Kansas City train station.

American intervention Siberia 1918


The US forces parade in Russia's Pacific capital Vladivostok. Picture: IstPravda


The US forces parade in Russia's Pacific capital Vladivostok. Picture: IstPravda


American intervention Siberia


American intervention Siberia
By 1920, the US force had exited Russia, again via Vladivostok. Pictures: IstPravda


It was here that US Secretary of War Newton D. Baker ordered Maj. Gen. Graves to assume command of the American Expeditionary Force. 

Baker warned Graves: 'Watch your step; you will be walking on eggs loaded with dynamite. God bless you and goodbye.'

He also told him: 'If in the future you want to cuss anybody for sending you to Siberia, I am the man.'

Wolfhounds and Polar Bears: The American Expeditionary Force in Siberia, 1918-1920 by John House is published by the University of Alabama Press, and is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Comments (7)

I had an uncle, William Claude Robertson, who served in in Siberia & I only recently found some links to his service. He was from Abbeville, Wilcox Co.., GA. He worked for the RR in GA & was single. He applied for a WWI Victory Victory Medal with Defense bar & was approved before he left Siberia.
Samuel Robertson, Prattville, AL, USA
08/09/2019 06:02
0
0
My 2nd Great Uncle was a Wolfhound in Siberia, the 27th Infantry Regiment. I am desperately looking for a photograph of the 27th Infantry Regiment that landed in Vladivostok Russia in August 1918. I purchased the above book several months ago but no group photos. Does anyone know if they exist?
Tami Kasovich, California, USA
24/11/2017 12:01
5
1
In fact, also Japanese troops occupied Vladivostok as part of the same expedicionary force from Allies in WWI, and were the last to leave in 1920.
Enrique, Spain
11/08/2016 20:22
5
0
save blacks from siberia----i saw this statement in a vision---i googled the word Siberia---now i am here!
king akhan, pluto
08/08/2016 03:07
1
4
Thank you for raising awareness of this history and book. I agree with Benedikt that we are "never to old to learn" and I hope Vittorio is able to find an Italian version. This also brings to mind the expression, "the Truth always surfaces". I hope we are entering an era of Truth all around the world.
Pamela Tetarenko, League City, USA
07/08/2016 20:38
5
0
i hope to see the Italian version of this book ...........
Vittorio , Italy
07/08/2016 01:52
6
0
i was reading a book about that story. never to old to learn.
Benedikt, Moscow
06/08/2016 23:55
7
0
1

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