Apr 26, 2021
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US intervention

For almost the entire second half of the 20th century, Russians and Americans were preparing for war with each other. But despite all the preparations, a real clash never happened (if we exclude a few episodes of local conflicts in the Cold War).

Monument in the USA. Source:

At first glance, it seems that Russia was at war with all the great powers except the United States. But this is not so: in 1918-1920. American invaders fought in Russia, albeit without a declaration of war. That conflict did not bring anything good to either side – only sacrifices. Since 1930, at the cemetery in the city of Troy (Michigan), there has been a monument to soldiers and officers who died in Russia in the form of a polar bear.

“Polar bears”

So far, the Americans from the 339th Infantry, sent to Arkhangelsk, called themselves polar bears. During the preparations, cold was identified as the main problem. Before the campaign in 1918, the command invited the researcher Ernest Shackleton, who lectured the future interventionists about survival in the literal sense of the Cold War. However, most of the 100 or so Americans killed in Russia during the campaign are frostbite victims.

“Polar bears” as part of the American corps (more than 5.5 thousand people under the command of J. Stewart) began to arrive in Arkhangelsk in September 1918. Initially, their task was to help the British and French in the protection of military warehouses, which could go to the Bolsheviks and then the Germans (whose agents, as many then suspected, were the Leninists). In addition, the interventionists provided direct assistance to the anti-Bolshevik forces, which advocated the resumption of Russia’s participation in the war against Germany. After the defeat of the Germans, this pretext disappeared, but until October 1919 the Allies still remained in the North.

Americans in Arkhangelsk Source:

Sending troops to Russia, US President Woodrow Wilson, later called “the president of the Arkhangelsk raid”, ordered “to provide assistance to the Russians, as far as possible, in organizing their self-defense.” This is what the “polar bears” did – they took part in the protection of military facilities, escorting prisoners, and in battles.

In the North, April 1919 Source:

How many Bolsheviks fell at the front and in the rear as a result of the interventionists’ participation in a civil war alien to them is still unknown. They themselves showed no fighting enthusiasm. After the defeat in Germany, the soldiers did not understand why they needed this war, and bored the command with requests to send them back. In the North, the Allies achieved nothing, soon after their departure the Whites were defeated, and Murmansk and Arkhangelsk came under the control of the Reds.

Expeditionary Force: “Siberia” in Siberia

The American expeditionary corps “Siberia” (about 9 thousand people), sent in August 1918 from San Francisco to the Far East, did not achieve much more: the 27th and 31st infantry regiments, a military hospital, orderlies, signalmen, engineers, etc. In addition to the noble goal declared by the US State Department – to provide the Russian people with “help … in maintaining order and establishing new social institutions” – the troops had to perform more specific tasks. In particular, help the Czechoslovakians get from Russia to Europe through the United States (so that they fought on the side of the Entente against the Germans). This, as Wilson believed, could have been prevented by German and Austrian prisoners of war in Siberia going over to the side of the Reds. There were also enough other reasons for the intervention – opposition to the growing influence of the Japanese (they sent more than 70 thousand people to the Far East of Tokyo) and the protection of their own interests. The Americans guarded the Transsib and supported trade with Russia through Vladivostok, which is very beneficial for their companies.

Americans in Siberia. Source:

General W. Graves, Commander of US Forces in Siberia Source:

[Прим.: в советской исторической литературе и современных публикациях на тему американской интервенции можно встретить цитаты американских сенаторов, например, Поиндекстера и Шермана, намекавших в годы гражданской войны в России на возможность превращения части Сибири в квази-колонию США. Даже если не подвергать сомнению подлинность цитат, ни один источник не подтверждает, что реальные планы Конгресса США, лично президента Вильсона и главы Госдепа Р. Лансинга могли быть столь одиозны. Более или менее реальной перспективой было лишь содействие союзникам до ноября 1918 г. и политическое давление на большевизм после. Стоит отметить, что в США в 1919 г. громче стали голоса тех политиков (к примеру, сенаторов Джонсона и Бора), кто выступал против «преступной» интервенции и за возврат американцев домой. Вильсон, и сам не в восторге от всей этой затеи, принял решение о выводе войск из России летом 1919 г.]

Siberia, 1918. Source:

Ultimately, as in the north of Russia, after the end of the First World War, the apparent reasons for the intervention disappeared. As a result, even the commander of the Americans in Siberia, General William Graves “… could not come to any satisfactory conclusion as to why the United States took part in this intervention at all.” The intervention dragged on until April 1, 1920, when the evacuation was completed, which had already become a necessity – Kolchak was completely defeated, and the Reds did not have long to wait. And the United States did not have the best relations with them.

Parade of Americans, Vladivostok. Source:

Although the Siberia corps was formally aloof from the civil war, and Commander Graves demonstrated his neutrality and declared the principle of non-interference in Russian events, in reality the Americans were helping the whites. The only government they spoke with was the Kolchak government. In his favor, the railway was guarded, along which allied military supplies went to the Kolchakites. So the Reds quickly decided on their own, “hu out of hu”: they considered the Americans enemies, and from time to time the Red guerrillas attacked them.

“Silent” war

Unlike in the North, in Siberia, the Americans did almost nothing at all, and used force, only defending themselves and participating in actions to restore order (and in such punitive operations against partisans, the line between defense and attack is very thin). Graves later made the excuse that they opposed the Red detachments, which consisted “at least in part” of German prisoners. But this also happened relatively rarely. The most striking episode of the remaining in the history of military operations by the Russians and the Americans was the battle near the village of Romanovka (near Vladivostok) on June 25, 1919: the partisan red detachment of Yakov Tryapitsyn attacked the invaders. The Americans lost 24 people, but fought back, and the Bolsheviks had to retreat.

Ivan Tryapitsyn. Source:

In general, the scale of “battles” involving the Americans is small. They spent most of the civil war in Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, guarding coal mines in Suchan and Transsib – from Mysovsk to Verkhneudinsk and from Iman to Vladivostok (until January 1920). In a number of cases, the Americans, at times honestly considering themselves a neutral force, were so passive that they did not interfere with the Reds in their actions against the Whites and other interventionists (if only they did not interfere with the work of the Transsib). The following facts were also known – the Red Guards had (most likely, as a result of trade with US soldiers) American weapons: bombs, Colt revolvers and cartridges.

Newspaper publication about the return of American soldiers. Source:

In Siberia, 200 US officers and soldiers died (and a total of 299 in Russia), and also mainly from diseases. After the return of the invaders to their homeland, no one could answer what was the purpose of the campaign. Minister of War N. Baker, justifying the American mission in Russia, then gave out something very convincing: “… if it were not for the presence of American soldiers in the allied forces, things could happen that would further complicate the situation in Russia and seriously affect the future of the whole world “.

American atrocity?

In addition to the political and military assessment of the intervention of US troops in Russia, another one is given – concerning the behavior of the Americans. Already the publication of historical works of the 1930s. (not to mention the 1950s and later) are replete with descriptions of savage atrocities perpetrated by the invaders. It will hardly be possible to check the reliability of each of the above facts today, but you cannot completely dismiss them – some disgusting bloody episodes could have taken place. Collected in the 1920s. data, the interventionists (of all countries) were killed approx. 111 thousand Russian citizens.

There is no doubt that part of the victims is the responsibility of the United States, but it is hardly very significant: there were not many of them, and their military actions were not at all fierce.

It is another matter that the Russians, whom the American Minister of War N. Baker called “bewildered but friendly people,” cursed all the invaders in general. Red propaganda put a lot of effort into portraying its enemies as “puppets of the Entente” and succeeded. Against the background of the behavior of foreigners and the very fact of their presence, the Bolsheviks, who had recently concluded such a shameful Brest-Litovsk peace with Germany, by 1920 looked like defenders of their homeland from foreigners. In 1920, most of the invaders left Russia. The gamble, promising more problems than benefits from the outset, failed.

Konstantin Kotelnikov

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