DOUGHBOYS ON GUARD IN ARCHANGEL
DOUGHBOYS ON GUARD IN ARCHANGEL
Second Battalion Lands To Protect Diplomatic Corps--Colonel Tschaplin's Coup d'Etat Is Undone By Ambassador Francis--Doughboys Parade And Practice New Weapons--Scowling Solombola Sailors--Description Of Archangel--American Headquarters.
With the arrival of the American Expeditionary Force, the diplomatic corps of the various Allied nations which had been compelled to flee north before the Red radicals that had overthrown the Kerensky provisional government, asked for troops in the city of Archangel itself to stabilize the situation.
The second battalion of the 339th under command of Major J. Brooks Nichols disembarked at Smolny Quay at four o'clock of the afternoon of September 4th, the same day the ships dropped anchor in the harbor. A patrol was at once put out under Lieut. Collins of "H" Company. It was well that American troops were landed at once as will prove evident from the following story.
The new government of Archangel was headed by the venerable Tchaikowsky, a man who had been a revolutionary leader of the highest and saneest type for many years. He had lived for a period of years in America, on a farm in Kansas, and had been a writer of note in Russia and England for many years. He was a democratic leader and his government was readily accepted by the people. But as with all newly constructed governments it moved very slowly and with characteristic Russian deliberation and interminable talk and red tape.
This was too much for the impatient ones among the Russians who had invited the Allied expedition. One Colonel Tschaplin (later to be dubbed "Charley Chaplin" by American officers who took him humorously) who had served under the old Czar and had had, according to his yarns--told by the way in the most engaging English--a very remarkable experience with the Bolsheviks getting out of Petrograd. He was, it is said, influenced by some of the subordinate English officers to make a daring try to hasten matters.
On the evening of the 5th of September, while the American soldiers were patrolling the Smolny area, near Archangel proper, this Col. Tschaplin executed his coup d'etat. He quietly surrounded the homes of Tchaikowsky and other members of the Archangel State Government and kidnapped them, hiding them away on an island in the Dvina River.
Great excitement prevailed for several days. The people declared Tschaplin was moving to restore monarchy under aid of the foreign arms and declared a strike on the street railroads and threatened to take the pumping station and the electric power station located at Smolny. American troops manned the cars and by their good nature and patience won the respect and confidence of the populace, excited as it was. The American ambassador, the Hon. David R. Francis, with characteristic American directness and fairness called the impetuous Tschaplin before him and gave him so many hours in which to restore the rightful government to power. And Tchaikowsky came back into the State House on September 11th much to the rejoicing of the people and to the harmony of the Allied Expedition. The diplomatic and military authorities of the American part of the expedition had handled the situation in a way that prevented riot and gained esteem for Americans in the eyes of all the Russians.
Archangel, Smolny and Bakaritza now were busy scenes of military activity. Down the streets of Archangel marched part of a battalion of doughboys past the State House and the imposing foreign Embassy Building. Curious eyes looked upon the O. D. uniform and admired the husky stalwarts from over the seas. Bright-eyed women crowded to the edge of the boardwalks amongst the long-booted and heavily bewhiskered men. Well-dressed men with shaven faces and marks of culture studied the Americans speculatively. Russian children began making acquaintance and offering their flattering Americanski Dobra.
At Solombola, Smolny, Bakaritza, sounds of firing were heard daily, but the populace were quieted when told that it was not riot or Bolo attack but the Americans practising up with their ordnance. In fact the Americans, hearing of actions at the fronts, were desperately striving to learn how to use the Lewis guns and the Vickers machine guns. At Camp Custer they had perfected themselves in handling the Colt and the Brownings but in England had been obliged to relinquish them with the dubious prospect of re-equipping with the Russian automatic rifles and machine gun equipment at Archangel. Now they were feverishly at work on the new guns for reports were coming back from the front that the enemy was well equipped with such weapons and held the Americans at great disadvantage.
Here let it be said that the American doughboy in the North Russian campaign mastered every kind of weapon that was placed in his hands or came by fortune of war to his hand. He learned to use the Lewis gun and the Vickers machine gun of the British and Russian armies, also the one-pounder, or pom pom. He became proficient in the use of the French Chauchat automatic rifle and the French machine gun, and their rifle grenade guns. He learned to use the Stokes mortars with deadly effect on many a hard-fought line. And during the winter two platoons of "Hq." Company prided themselves on the mastery of a battery of Russian artillery patterned after the famous, in fact, the same famous French 75 gun.
While the 2nd Battalion under Major Nichols was establishing itself in quarters at Smolny, where was a great compound of freshly unloaded supplies of food, herring and whiskey (do not forget the hard stuff) and, becoming responsible for the safety of the pumping station and the electric power station and the ships in the harbor, Captain Taylor established the big Headquarters Company at Olga barracks at the other end of the city on September seventh where he could train his men for the handling of new weapons and could co-operate with Captain Kenyon's machine gun men. They on the same day took up quarters in Solombola Barracks and were charged with the duty of not only learning how to use the new machine guns but to keep guard over the quays and prevent rioting by the turbulent Russian sailors. Their undying enmity had been earned by the well-meant but untactful, yes, to the sailors apparently treacherous, conduct of General Poole toward them on the Russian ships in the Murmansk when he got them off on a pretext and then seized the ships to prevent their falling into the hands of the Red Guards. And while the doughboys on the railroad and Kodish fronts in the fall were occasionally to run up against the hard-fighting Russian sailors who had fled south to Petrograd and volunteered their services to Trotsky to go north and fight the Allied expeditionary forces, these doughboys doing guard duty in Archangel over the remnants of stores and supplies which the Bolo had not already stolen or sunk in the Dvina River, were constantly menaced by these surly, scowling sailors at Solombola and in Archangel.
Really it is no wonder that the several Allied troop barracks were always guarded by machine guns and automatics. Rumor at the base always magnified the action at the front and always fancied riot and uprising in every group of gesticulating Russkis seen at a dusky corner of the city.
The Supply Company of the regiment became the supply unit for all the American forces under Captain Wade and was quartered at Bakaritza, being protected by various units of Allied forces. "Finish" the package of Russki horse skin and bones which the boys "skookled" from the natives, that is, bought from the natives, became the most familiar sight on the quays, drawing the strange-looking but cleverly constructed drosky, or cart, bucking into his collar under the yoke and pulling with all his sturdy will, not minding the American "whoa" but obedient enough when the doughboy learned to sputter the Russki "br-r-r br-r-r."
Archangel is situated on one of the arms of the Dvina River which deltas into the White Sea. Out of the enormous interior of North Russia, gathering up the melted snows of a million square miles of seven-foot snow and the steady June rains and the weeks of fall rains, the great Mississippi of North Russia moves down to the sea, sweeping with deep wide current great volumes of reddish sediment and secretions which give it the name Dvina. And the arm of the Arctic Ocean into which it carries its loads of silt and leachings, and upon which it floats the fishermen's bottoms or the merchantmen's steamers, is called the White Sea. Rightly named is that sea, the Michigan or Wisconsin soldier will tell you, for it is white more than half the year with ice and snow, the sporting ground for polar bears.
While we were fighting the Bolsheviki in Archangel, the National Geographic Society, in a bulletin, published to our people certain facts about the country. It is so good that extracts are in this chapter included:
"The city of Archangel, Russia, where Allied and American troops have their headquarters in the fight with the Bolshevik forces, was the capital of the Archangel Province, or government, under the czar's regime--a vast, barren and sparsely populated region, cut through by the Arctic Circle.
"West and east, the distance across the Archangel district is about that from London to Rome, from New York to St. Louis, or from Boston to Charleston, S. C. Its area, exclusive of interior waters, is greater than that of France, Italy, Belgium and Holland combined. Yet there are not many more people in these great stretches than are to be found in Detroit, Mich., or San Francisco or Washington.
"Arable land in all this territory is less than 1,200 square miles, and three-fourths of that is given over to pasturage. The richer grazing land supports Holmagor cattle, a breed said to date back to the time of Peter the Great, who crossed native herds with cattle imported from Holland.
"About fifteen miles from the mouth of the Dvina River, which affords an outlet to the White Sea, lies the city of Archangel. Norsemen came to that port in the tenth century for trading. One expedition was described by Alfred the Great. But first contact with the outside world was established in the sixteenth century when Sir Richard Chancellor, an English sailor, stopped at the bleak haven while attempting a northeast passage to India. Ivan the Terrible summoned him to Moscow and made his visit the occasion for furthering commercial relations with England. Thirty years after the Englishman's visit a town was established and for the next hundred years it was the Muscovite kingdom's only seaport, chief doorway for trade with England and Holland.
"When Peter the Great established St. Petersburg as his new capital much trade was diverted to the Baltic, but Archangel was compensated by designation as the capital of the Archangel government.
"Boris Godunov threw open to all nations, and in the seventeenth century Tartar prisoners were set to work building a large bazaar and trading hall. Despite its isolation the city thus became a cosmopolitan center and up to the time of the world war Norwegian, German, British, Swedish and Danish cargo vessels came in large numbers.
"Every June thousand of pilgrims would pass through Archangel on their way to the famous far north shrine, Solovetsky Monastery, situated on an island a little more than half a day's boat journey from Archangel.
"The city acquired its name from the Convent of Archangel Michael. In the Troitski Cathedral, with its five domes, is a wooden cross, fourteen feet high, carved by the versatile Peter the Great, who learned the use of mallet and chisel while working as a shipwright in Holland after he ascended the throne."
To the sailor looking from the deck of his vessel or to the soldier approaching from Bakaritza on tug or ferry, the city of Archangel affords an interesting view. Hulks of boats and masts and cordage and docks and warehouses in the front, with muddy streets. Behind, many buildings, grey-weathered ones and white-painted ones topped with many chimneys, and towering here and there a smoke stack or graceful spire or dome with minarets. Between are seen spreading tree tops, too. All these in strange confused order fill all the horizon there with the exception of one space, through which in June can be seen the 11:30 p. m. setting sun. And in this open space on clear evenings, which by the way, in June-July never get even dusky, at various hours can be seen a wondrous mirage of waters and shores that lie on the other side of the city below the direct line of sight.
Prominently rises the impressive magnitudinous structure of the reverenced cathedral there, its dome of the hue of heaven's blue and set with stars of solid gold. And when all else in the landscape is bathed in morning purple or evening gloaming-grey, the levelled rays of the coming or departing sun with a brilliantly striking effect glisten these white and gold structures. Miles and miles away they catch the eye of the sailor or the soldier.
Built on a low promontory jutting into the Dvina River, the city appears to be mostly water-front. In fact, it is only a few blocks wide, but it is crescent shaped with one horn in Smolny--a southern suburb having dock and warehouse areas--and the other in Solombola on the north, a city half as large as Archangel and possessing saw-mills, shipyards, hospitals, seminary and a hard reputation, Archangel is convex westward, so that one must go out for some distance to view the whole expanse of the city from that direction. A mass of trees, a few houses, some large buildings and churches mainly near the river, with a foreground of shipping, is the summer view. The winter view is better, the bare trees and the smaller amount of shipping at the docks permitting a better view of the general layout of the city, the buildings and the type of houses used by the population as homes.
Along the main street, Troitsky Prospect, runs a two-track trolley line connecting the north and south suburbs mentioned in the preceding paragraph. The cars are light and run very smoothly. They are operated chiefly by women. Between the main street and the river-front near the center of the city is the market-place. This covers several blocks and is full of dingy stalls and alleys occupied by almost hopeless traders and stocks in trade. As new wooden ware, home-made trinkets, second-hand clothing and fresh fish can be obtained there the year around, and in summer the offerings of vegetables are plentiful and tempting, the market-place never lacks shoppers who carry their paper money down in the same basket they use to carry back their purchases.
Public buildings are of brick or stone and are colored white, pink, grey or bright red to give a light or warm effect. Down-town stores are built some of brick and some of logs. Homes are square in type, with few exceptions, built of logs, usually of very plain architecture, set directly against the sidewalks, the yards and gardens being at the side or rear. For privacy, each man's holdings are surrounded by a seven-foot fence. Thus the streets present long vistas of wooden ware, partly house and partly fence, with sometimes over-hanging trees, and with an inevitable set of doorsteps projecting from each house over part of the sidewalk. This set of steps is seldom used, for the real entrance to the home is at the side of the house reached through a gateway in the fence.
The houses in Archangel are usually of two stories, with double windows packed with cotton or flax to resist the cold. When painted at all, the houses have been afflicted by their owners with one or more coats of yellowish-brown stuff familiar to every American farmer who has ever "primed" a big barn. A few houses have been clap-boarded on the outside and some of these have been painted white.
The rest of the street view is snow, or, lacking that, a cobbled pavement very rough and uneven, and lined on each side--sometimes on one side only, or in the centre--with a narrow sidewalk of heavy planks laid lengthwise over the otherwise open public sewer, a ditch about three feet wide and from three to six feet deep. Woe be to him who goes through rotten plank! It has been done.
So much for general scenic effects at Archangel. The Technical Institute, used as Headquarters by the American Forces, is worth a glance. It is a four-story solid-looking building about one hundred and fifty feet square and eighty feet high, with a small court in the centre. The outside walls of brick and stone are nearly four feet thick, and their external surface is covered by pink-tinted plaster which catches the thin light of the low-lying winter sun and causes the building to seem to glow. On the front of the building there are huge pillars rising from the second story balcony to the great Grecian gable facing the river.
Inside, this great building is simple and severe, but rather pleasing. Windows open into the court from a corridor running around the building on each floor, and on the other side of the corridor are the doors of the rooms once used as recitation and lecture halls, laboratories, manual training shops, offices, etc. Outside, it was one of the city's imposing buildings; inside, it was well-appointed. To the people of the city it was a building of great importance. It was worthy to offer the Commander of the American troops.
Here Colonel Stewart set up his Headquarters. The British Commanding General had his headquarters, the G. H. Q., N. R. E. F., in another school building in the centre of the city, within close reach of the Archangel State Capitol Building. Colonel Stewart's headquarters were conveniently near the two buildings which afterward were occupied and fitted up for a receiving hospital and for a convalescent hospital respectively, as related elsewhere, and not far either from the protection of the regimental Headquarters Company quartered in Olga Barracks.
Here the Commanding Officer of this expeditionary force of Americans off up here near the North Pole on the strangest fighting mission ever undertaken by an American force, tried vainly to keep track of his widely dispersed forces. Up the railroad he had seen his third battalion, under command of Major C. G. Young, go with General Finlayson whom General Poole had ordered to take Vologda, four hundred miles to the south. His first battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Corbley he had seen hurried off up the Dvina River under another British Brigadier-General to take Kotlas hundreds of miles up the river. His second battalion under Major J. Brooks Nichols was on duty in Archangel and the nearby suburbs. These forces, and his 310th Engineer Battalion and his Ambulance and Hospital Units were shifted about by the British Generals and Colonels and Majors often without any information whatever to Colonel Stewart, the American commanding officer. He lost touch with his battalion and company commanders.
He had a discouraging time even in getting his few general orders distributed to the American troops. No wonder that often an American officer or soldier reporting in from a front by order or permission of a British field officer, did not feel that American Headquarters was his real headquarters and in pure ignorance was guilty of omitting some duty or of failure to comply with some Archangel restriction that had been ordered by American Headquarters. As to general orders from American Headquarters dealing with the action of troops in the field, those were so few and of so little impressiveness that they have been forgotten. We must say candidly that the doughboy came to look upon American Headquarters in Archangel as of very trifling importance in the strange game he was up against. He knew that the strategy was all planned at British G. H. Q., that the battle orders were written in the British field officer's headquarters, that the transportation and supplies of food were under control of the British that altogether too much of the hospital service was under control of the British. Somehow the doughboy felt that the very limited and much complained about service of his own American Supply Unit, that lived for the most part on the fat of the land in Bakaritza, should have been corrected by his commanding officer who sat in American Headquarters. And they felt, whether correctly or not, that the court-martial sentences of Major C. G. Young, who acted as summary court officer at Smolny after he was relieved of his command in the field, were unnecessarily harsh. And they blamed their commanding officer, Colonel Stewart, for not taking note of that fact when he reviewed and approved them. The writers of this history of the expedition think the doughboy had much to justify his feeling.*****
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