The troopships "Somali," "Tydeus," and "Nagoya" rubbed the Bakaritza and Smolny quays sullenly and listed heavily to port. The American doughboys grimly marched down the gangplanks and set their feet on the soil of Russia, September 5th, 1918. The dark waters of the Dvina River were beaten into fury by the opposing north wind and ocean tide. And the lowering clouds of the Arctic sky added their dismal bit to this introduction to the dreadful conflict which these American sons of liberty were to wage with the Bolsheviki during the year's campaign.
In the rainy fall season by their dash and valor they were to expel the Red Guards from the cities and villages of the state of Archangel, pursuing the enemy vigorously up the Dvina, the Vaga, the Onega and the Pinega Rivers, and up the Archangel-Vologda Railway and the Kodish-Plesetskaya-Petrograd state highway. They were to plant their entrenched outposts in a great irregular horseshoe line, one cork at Chekuevo, the toe at Ust-Padenga, the other cork of the shoe at Karpagorskaya. They were to run out from the city of Archangel long, long lines of communication, spread wide like the fingers of a great hand that sought seemingly to cover as much of North Russia as possible with Allied military protection.
In the winter, in the long, long nights and black, howling forests and frozen trenches, with ever-deepening snows and sinking thermometer, with the rivers and the White Sea and the Arctic Ocean solid ice fifteen feet thick, these same soldiers now seen disembarking from the troopships, were to find their enemy greatly increasing his forces every month at all points on the Allied line. Stern defense everywhere on that far-flung trench and blockhouse and fortified-village battle line. They were to feel the overwhelming pressure of superior artillery and superior equipment and transportation controlled by the enemy and especially the crushing odds of four to ten times the number of men on the battle lines. And with it they were to feel the dogged sense of the grim necessity of fighting for every verst of frozen ground. Their very lives were to depend upon the stubbornness of their holding retreat. There could be no retreating beyond Archangel, for the ships were frozen in the harbor. Indeed a retreat to the city of Archangel itself was dangerous. It might lead to revulsion of temper among the populace and enable the Red Guards to secure aid from within the lines so as to carry out Trotsky's threat of pushing the foreign bayonets all under the ice of the White Sea. And in that remarkable winter defense these American soldiers were to make history for American arms, exhibiting courage and fortitude and heroism, the stories of which are to embellish the annals of American martial exploits. They were destined, a handful of them here, a handful there, to successfully baffle the Bolshevik hordes in their savage drives.
In the spring the great ice crunching up in the rivers and the sea was to behold those same veteran Yanks still fighting the Red Guard armies and doing their bit to keep the state of Archangel, the North Russian Republic, safe, and their own skins whole. The warming sun and bursting green were to see the olive-drab uniform, tattered and torn as it was, covering a wearied and hungry and homesick but nevertheless fearless and valiant American soldier. With deadly effect they were to meet the onrushing swarms of Bolos on all fronts and slaughter them on their wire with rifle and machine gun fire and smash up their reserves with artillery fire. With desperation they were to dispute the overwhelming columns of infantry who were hurled by no less a renowned old Russian General than Kuropatkin, and at Malo Bereznik and Bolsheozerki, in particular, to send them reeling back in bloody disaster. They were to fight the Bolshevik to a standstill so that they could make their guarded getaway.
Summer was to see these Americans at last handing over the defenses to Russian Northern Republic soldiers who had been trained during the winter at Archangel and gradually during the spring broken in for duty alongside the American and British troops and later were to hold the lines in some places by themselves and in others to share the lines with the new British troops coming in twenty thousand strong "to finish the bloody show." Gaily decorated Archangel was to bid the Americanski dasvedanhnia and God-speed in June. Blue rippling waters were to meet the ocean-bound prows. Music from the Cruiser "Des Moines" (come to see us out) was to blow fainter and fainter in the distance as they cheered us out of the Dvina River for home.
Now the troops are hurrying off the transport. They are just facing the strange, terrible campaign faintly outlined. It is now our duty to faithfully tell the detailed story of it--"The History of the American North Russian Expedition," to try to do justice in this short volume to the gripping story of the American soldiers "Campaigning in North Russia, 1918-1919."
The American North Russian Expeditionary Force consisted of the 339th Infantry, which had been known at Camp Custer as "Detroit's Own," one battalion of the 310th Engineers, the 337th Ambulance Company, and the 337th Field Hospital Company. The force was under the command of Col. George E. Stewart, 339th Infantry, who was a veteran of the Philippines and of Alaska. The force numbered in all, with the replacements who came later, about five thousand five hundred men.
These units had been detached from the 85th Division, the Custer Division, while it was enroute to France, and had been assembled in southern England, there re-outfitted for the climate and warfare of the North of Russia. On August the 25th, the American forces embarked at Newcastle-on-Tyne in three British troopships, the "Somali," the "Tydeus" and the "Nagoya" and set sail for Archangel, Russia. A fourth transport, the "Czar," carried Italian troops who travelled as far as the Murmansk with our convoy.
The voyage up the North Sea and across the Arctic Ocean, zig-zagging day and night for fear of the submarines, rounding the North Cape far toward the pole where the summer sun at midnight scarcely set below the northwestern horizon, was uneventful save for the occasional alarm of a floating mine and for the dreadful outbreak of Spanish "flu" on board the ships. On board one of the ships the supply of yeast ran out and breadless days stared the soldiers in the face till a resourceful army cook cudgelled up recollections of seeing his mother use drainings from the potato kettle in making her bread. Then he put the lightening once more into the dough. And the boys will remember also the frigid breezes of the Arctic that made them wish for their overcoats which by order had been packed in their barrack bags, stowed deep down in the hold of the ships. And this suffering from the cold as they crossed the Arctic circle was a foretaste of what they were to be up against in the long months to come in North Russia.
We had thought to touch the Murmansk coast on our way to Archangel, but as we zig-zagged through the white-capped Arctic waves we picked up a wireless from the authorities in command at Archangel which ordered the American troopships to hasten on at full speed. The handful of American sailors from the "Olympia," the crippled category men from England and the little battalion of French troops, which had boldly driven the Red Guards from Archangel and pursued them up the Dvina and up the Archangel-Vologda Railway, were threatened with extermination. The Reds had gathered forces and turned savagely upon them.
So we sped up into the White Sea and into the winding channels of the broad Dvina. For miles and miles we passed along the shores dotted with fishing villages and with great lumber camps. The distant domes of the cathedrals in Archangel came nearer and nearer. At last the water front of that great lumber port of old Peter the Great lay before us strange and picturesque. We dropped anchor at 10:00 a. m. on the fourth day of September, 1918. The anchor chains ran out with a cautious rattle. We swung on the swift current of the Dvina, studied the shoreline and the skyline of the city of Archangel, saw the Allied cruisers, bulldogs of the sea, and turned our eyes southward toward the boundless pine forest where our American and Allied forces were somewhere beset by the Bolsheviki, or we turned our eyes northward and westward whence we had come and wondered what the folks back home would say to hear of our fighting in North Russia.*****
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