WHY AMERICAN TROOPS WERE SENT TO RUSSIA
WHY AMERICAN TROOPS WERE SENT TO RUSSIA
This Was A Much Mooted Question Among Soldiers--Partisan Politicians Attacked With Vitriol--Partisan Explanations Did Not Explain--Red Propaganda Helped Confuse The Case--Russians Of Archangel, Too, Were Concerned--We Who Were There Think Of Those Pitiable Folk And Their Hopeless Military And Political Situation That Tried Our Patience And That Of The Directors Of The Expedition Who Undoubtedly Knew No Better Than We Did.
To many people in America and England and France the North Russian Expedition appears to have been an unwarrantable invasion of the land of an ally, an ally whose land was torn by internal upheavals. It has been charged that commercial cupidity conceived the campaign. Men declare that certain members of the cabinet of Lloyd George and of President Wilson were desirous of protecting their industrial holdings in North Russia.
The editors of this work can not prove or disprove these allegations nor prove or disprove the replies made to the allegations. We have not the time or means to do so even if our interests, political or otherwise, should prompt us to try it. From discussion of the partisan attacks on and defense of the administration's course of action toward Russia in 1918-19, both of which are erratic and acrimonious, we plead to be excused.
We shall tell the story of the genesis of the expedition as well as we can. We do not profess to know all about it. It will be some time before the calm historian can possess himself of all the facts. Till such time we hope that this brief statement will stand. We offer it hesitatingly with keen consciousness of the danger that it will probably suit neither of the two parties in controversy over the sending of troops to North Russia.
But we offer this straightforward story confidently to our late comrades. They have entrusted us with the duty of writing the history of what they did in North Russia as their bit in the Great World War. And we know our comrades, at least, and we hope the general reader, too, will credit us with writing in sincerity and good faith.
Early in 1918, for the Allied forces, it looked dark. The Germans were able to neglect the crumbled-in Eastern Front and concentrate a tornado drive on the Western Front. It was at last realized that the controlling Bolshevik faction in Russia was bent on preventing the resumption of the war on the Eastern Front and possibly might play its feeble remnants of military forces on the side of the Germans. The Allied Supreme Council at Versailles decided that the other allies must go to the aid of their old ally Russia who had done such great service in the earlier years of the war. On the Russian war front Germany must be made again to feel pressure of arms. Organization of that front would have to be made by efforts of the Allied Supreme War Council.
They had some forces to build on. Several thousand Czecho-Slovak troops formerly on the Eastern Front had been held together after the dissolution of the last Russian offensive in 1917. Their commander had led them into Siberia. Some at that time even went as far as Vladivostok. These troops had desired to go back to their own country or to France and take part in the final campaign against the Germans. There was no transportation by way of the United States. Negotiations with the Bolshevist rulers of Russia, the story runs, brought promises of safe passage westward across central Russia and then northward to Archangel, thence by ship to France.
This situation in mind the Allied Supreme War Council urged a plan whereby an Allied expedition of respectable size would be sent to Archangel with many extra officers for staff and instruction work, to meet the Czechs and reorganize and re-equip them, rally about them a large Northern Russian Army, and proceed rapidly southward to reorganize the Eastern Front and thus draw off German troops from the hard pressed Western Front. This plan was presented to the Allied Supreme War Council by a British officer and politician fresh from Moscow and Petrograd and Archangel, enthusiastic in his belief in the project.
The expedition was to be large enough to proceed southward without the Czechs, sending them back to the West by the returning ships if their morale should prove to be too low for the stern task to be essayed on the restored Eastern Front. General Poole, the aforementioned British officer in command, seems to have been very sure that the Bolsheviks who had so blandly agreed to the passage of the Czechs through the country would not object to the passage of the expedition southward from Archangel, via Vologda, Petrograd and Riga to fight the Germans with whom they, the Bolsheviki, had compacted the infamous Brest-Litovsk treaty.
All this while, remember, the old allies of Russia had preserved a studied neutrality toward the factional fight in Russia. They steadily refused to recognize the Bolshevik government of Lenine and Trotsky.
While this plan was still in the whispering stages, the activities of the Germans in Finland where they menaced Petrograd and where their extension of three divisions to the northward and eastward seemed to forecast the establishment of submarine bases on the Murmansk and perhaps even at Archangel where lay enormous stores of munitions destined earlier in the war to be used by the Russians and Rumanians against the Huns. At any rate, the port of Archangel would be one other inlet for food supplies to reach the tightly blockaded Germans.
Since the autumn of 1914 military supplies of all kinds, chiefly made in America and England, had been sent to Archangel for the use of the Russian armies. At the time of the revolution against the old Czar Nicholas, in 1917, there were immense stores in the warehouses of the Archangel district and the Archangel-Vologda Railway had been widened to standard gauge and many big American freight cars supplied to carry those supplies southward. And these stores had been greatly augmented during the Kerensky regime, the enthusiastic time immediately subsequent to the fall of the Czar, when anti-German Russians were exulting "Now the arch traitor is gone, we can really equip our armies," and when the Allies believed that after a few months of confusion the revolutionary government would become a more trustworthy ally than the old imperial government had been.
[Illustration: Several soldiers eating at a table.] U.S. Official Photo Olga Barracks
[Illustration: Several people standing around a streetcar.] U.S. Official Photo Street Car Strike in Archangel
[Illustration: Several building, including two towers.] U.S. Official Photo American Hospitals and Headquarters
[Illustration: Several soldiers waiting at a window.] U.S. Official Photo "Supply" C. canteen "Accommodates" Boys
[Illustration: Several soldiers and two small sheds on sleigh runners, pulled by horses.] U.S. Official Photo Red Cross Ambulances, Archangel
[Illustration: A small room with several soldiers holding their shirts.] U.S. Official Photo "Cootie Mill" Operating at Smolny Annex of Convalescent Hospital
[Illustration: Two men with a horse pulling a plow.] Wisckot Single Flat Strip of Iron on Plow point
[Illustration: Soldier sharing his rations with a group of children.] Wagner Thankful for What at Home We Feed Pigs
Now, although Archangel was the chief port of entry for military supplies to the new Russian government, the geographical situation of the northern province, or rather state, of Archangel had left it rather high and dry in the hands of a local government, which, so distantly affiliated with Moscow and Petrograd, did not reflect fully either the strength or weaknesses of the several regimes which succeeded one another at the capital between the removal of the Czar and the machine gun assumption of control by the bloody pair of zealots and tricksters, Lenine and Trotzky. Consequently, when Kerensky disappeared the government at Archangel did not greatly change in character.
To be sure, it had no army or military force of its own. The central government sent north certain armed Red Guards, and agents of government called "commissars," who were to organize and control additions to the Red Guards and to supervise also the civil government of Archangel state, as much as possible. These people of the northern state were indeed jealous of their rights of local government. And the work of the Red agents in levying on the property and the man-power of the North was passively resisted by these intelligent North Russians.
All this was of great interest to the Allied Supreme War Council because of the danger that the war supplies would be seized by the rapidly emboldened Bolshevik government and be delivered into the hands of the Germans for use against the Allies. For since the Brest-Litovsk treaty it had appeared from many things that the crafty hand of Germany was inside the Russian Bolshevik glove.
Moreover, there were in North Russia, as in every other part, many Russians who could not resign themselves to Bolshevik control, even of the milder sort, nor to any German influence. Those in the Archangel district banded themselves together secretly and sent repeated calls to the Allies for help in ridding their territory of the Bolshevik Red Guards and German agents, using as chief arguments the factors above mentioned. While the anti-Bolshevists were unwilling to unmask in their own state, for obvious reason, their call for help was made clear to the outside world and furnished the Allied Supreme War Council just the pretext for the expedition which it was planning for a purely military purpose, namely, to reconstruct the old Eastern fighting front.
In fact, when a survey of the military resources of the European Allies had disclosed their utter lack of men for such an expedition and it was found that the only hope lay in drawing the bulk of the needed troops from the United States forces, and when the statement of the cases in the usual polite arguments brought from President Wilson a positive refusal to allow American troops to go into Russia, it was only by the emphasis, it is said, of the pathetic appeal of the North Russian anti-Bolshevists, coupled with the stirring appeals of such famous characters as the one-time leader of the Russian Women's Battalion of Death and the direct request of General Foch himself for the use of the American troops there in Russia as a military necessity to win the war, that the will of President Wilson was moved and he dubiously consented to the use of American troops in the expedition.
Even this concession of President Wilson was limited to the one regiment of infantry with the needed accompaniments of engineer and medical troops. The bitter irony of this limitation is apparent in the fact that while it allowed the Supreme War Council to carry out its scheme of an Allied Expedition with the publicly announced purposes before outlined, committing America and the other Allies to the guarding of supplies at Murmansk and Archangel and frustrating the plans of Germany in North Russia, it did not permit the Allied War Council sufficient forces to carry out its ultimate and of course secret purpose of reorganizing the Eastern Front, which naturally was not to be advertised in advance either to Russians or to anyone. The vital aim was thus thwarted and the expedition destined to weakness and to future political and diplomatic troubles both in North Russia and in Europe and America.
During the months spent in winning the participation of the United States in an Allied Expedition to North Russia, England took some preliminary steps which safeguarded the Murmansk Railway as far south toward Petrograd as Kandalaksha.
Royal Engineers and Marines, together with a few officers and men from French and American Military Missions, who had worked north with the diplomatic corps, were thus for a dangerously long period the sole bulwark of the Allies against complete pro-German domination of the north of Russia. Some interesting stories could be told of the clever secret work of the American officers in ferreting out the evidences in black and white, of the co-operation of the German War Office with Lenine and Trotsky. And stories of daring and pluck that saved men's lives and kept the North Russians from a despairing surrender to the Bolsheviki.
Meanwhile England was taking measures herself to support these men so as to form a nucleus for the larger expedition when it should be inaugurated by the Allied Supreme War Council. But the total number of British officers and men who could be spared for the purpose, in view of the critical situation on the Western Front, was less than 1,200. And these had to be divided between the widely separated areas of Murmansk and Archangel. And the officers and men sent were nearly all, to a man, those who had already suffered wounds or physical exhaustion on the Western Front. This was late in June. About this time the plan of the Allied Supreme War Council as already stated was, under strict limitations, acceded to by President Wilson, and the doughboys of the 339th Infantry in July found themselves in England hearing about Archangel and disgustedly exchanging their Enfields for the Russian rifles.
For various reasons the command of the expedition was assigned by General Foch to General Poole, the British officer who had been so enthusiastic about rolling up a big volunteer army of North Russians to go south to Petrograd and wipe out the Red dictatorate and re-establish the old hard-fighting Russian Front on the East. Naturally, American soldiers who fought that desperate campaign in North Russia now feel free to criticize the judgment of General Foch in putting General Poole in command. It appears from the experiences of the soldiers up there that for military, for diplomatic and for political reasons it would have been better to put an American general in command of the expedition. And while we are at it we might as well have our little say about President Wilson. We think he erred badly in judgment. He either should have sent a large force of Americans into North Russia--as we did into Cuba--a force capable of doing up the job quickly and thoroughly, or sent none at all. He should have known that the American doughboy fights well for a cause, but that a British general would have a hard time convincing the Americans of the justice of a mixed cause. This is confession of a somewhat blind prejudice which the American citizen has against the aggressive action of British arms wherever on the globe they may be seen in action, no matter how justifiable the ultimate turn of events may prove the British military action to have been. We say that this prejudice should have been taken into account when the American doughboy was sent to Russia to fight under British command. It might not be out of order to point out that the North Russian shared with his American allies in that campaign the same prejudice, unreasonable at times without doubt, but none the less painful prejudice against the British command of the expedition. And all this in spite of the fact that most of the British officers were personally above reproach, and General Ironside, who soon succeeded the failing Poole, was every inch of his six foot-four a man and a soldier, par excellence.
The French were able to send only part of a regiment, one battalion of Colonial troops and a machine gun company, who reached the Murmansk late in July about the time the Americans were sailing from England. They were soon sent on to Archangel, where political things were now come to a head.
The Serbian battalion which had left Odessa at the time of the summer collapse of the Russian armies in 1917 had gradually worked its way northward from Petrograd on the Petrograd-Kola Railroad with the intention of shipping for the Western fighting front by way of England. They had been of potential aid to the Allied military missions during the summer and now were permitted by the Serbian government to be joined to the Allied expedition. They were accordingly put into position along the Kola Railroad. These troops, of course, as well as thousands of British troops which were stationed in the Murmansk and by the British War Office were numbered in the North Russian Expeditionary forces, were of no account whatever in the military activities of that long fall and winter and spring campaign in the far away Archangel area where the American doughboys for months, supported here and there by a few British and French and Russians, stood at bay before the swarming Bolos and battled for their lives in snow and ice.
The battalion of Italian troops with its company of skii troops which sailed from England with the American convoy also went to the Murmansk and all the American doughboy saw of Italians in the fighting area of Archangel, North Russia, was the little handful of well dressed Italian officers and batmen in the city of Archangel. Of course, we had plenty of representation of Italian fighting blood right in our own ranks. They were in the O. D. uniform and were American citizens. And of course the same thing could be said of many another nationality that was represented in the ranks of American doughboys and whose bravery in battle and fortitude in hardships of cold and hunger gave evidence that no one nationality has a corner on courage and "guts" and manhood. To call the roll of one of those heroic fighting companies of doughboys or engineers or medical or hospital companies in the olive drab would evidence by the names of the men and officers that the best bloods of Europe and of Asia were all pulsing in the American ranks.
The presence of British, French and American war vessels and the first small bodies of troops encouraged the Murmansk Russian authorities to declare their independence of the Red Moscow crowd and to throw in their lot with the Allies in the work of combatting the agents of the German War Office in the North. In return the Allies were to furnish money, food and supplies. Early in July written agreement to this effect had been signed by the Murmansk Russian authorities and all the Allies represented, including the United States. It will be recalled that Ambassador Francis had been obliged to leave Petrograd by the Bolshevik rulers, and he had gone north into Murmansk.
The result of this agreement with the Murmansk and the arrival of further troops at the Murmansk coast, together with the promise of more to follow immediately, was to influence the Russian local government of the state of Archangel to break with the hated Reds. And so, on August 1st, a quiet coup d'etat was effected. The anti-Bolshevists came out into the open. The Provisional North Russian Government was organized. The people were promised an election and they accepted the situation agreeably for they had detested the Red government. Two cargoes of food had no little also to do with the heartiness of their acceptance of the Allied military forces and the overturn of the Bolshevik government.
Within forty-eight hours came the military forces already mentioned, the advance forces of the British that preceded the Allied expedition, consisting of a huge British staff, a few British soldiers, a few French and a detachment of fifty American sailors from the "Olympia." In a few days the battalion of French colonials sailed in from Murmansk.
The coming of the troops prevented the counter coup of the Reds. They could only make feeble resistance. The passage up the delta of the Dvina River and the actual landing while exciting to the jackies met with little opposition. Truth to tell, the wily Bolsheviks had for many weeks seen the trend of affairs, and, expecting a very much larger expedition, had sent or prepared for hasty sending south by rail toward Vologda or by river to Kotlas of all the military supplies and munitions and movable equipment as well as large stores of loot and plunder from the city of Archangel and suburbs. Count von Mirbach, the German ambassador at Moscow, threatened Lenine and Trotsky that the German army then glowering in Finland, across the way, would march on Petrograd unless the military stores were brought out of Archangel.
The rearguard of the Bolshevik armed forces was disappearing over the horizon when the American jackies seized engines and cars at Archangel Preestin and Bakaritza, which had been saved by the hindering activities of anti-Bolshevik trainmen, and dashed south in pursuit. There is a heroic little tale of an American Naval Reserve lieutenant who with a few sailors took a lame locomotive and two cars with a few rifles and two machine guns, mounted on a flat car, and hotly gave chase to the retreating Red Guards, routing them in their stand at Issaka Gorka where they were trying to destroy or run off locomotives and cars, and then keeping their rear train moving southward at such a rate that the Reds never had time to blow the rails or burn a bridge till he had chased them seventy-five miles. There a hot box on his improvised armored train stopped his pursuit. He tore loose his machine guns and on foot reached the bridge in time to see the Reds burn it and exchange fire with them, receiving at the end a wound in the leg for his great gallantry.
The Red Guards were able to throw up defenses and to bring up supporting troops. A few days later the French battalion fought a spirited, but indecisive, engagement with the Reds. It was seen that he intended to fight the Allies. He retreated southward a few miles at a time, and during the latter part of August succeeded in severely punishing a force of British and French and American sailors, who had sought to attack the Reds in flank. And it was this episode in the early fighting that caused the frantic radiogram to reach us on the Arctic Ocean urging the American ships to speed on to Archangel to save the handful of Allied men threatened with annihilation on the railroad and up the Dvina River. And we were to go into it wholehearted to save them, and later find ourselves split up into many detachments and cornered up in many another just such perilous position but with no forces coming to support us.
The inability of the Allied Supreme War Council to furnish sufficient troops for the North Russian expedition, and the delay of the United States to furnish the part of troops asked of her, very nearly condemned the undertaking to failure before it was fairly under way. However, as the ultimate success of the expedition depended in any event on the success of the Allied operations in far off Siberia in getting the Czecho-Slovak veterans and Siberian Russian allies through to Kotlas, toward which they were apparently fighting their way under their gallant leader and with the aid of Admiral Kolchak, and because there was a strong hope that General Poole's prediction of a hearty rallying of North Russians to the standards of the Allies to fight the Germans and Bolsheviki at one and the same time, the decision of the Supreme War Council was, in spite of President Wilson's opposition to the plan, to continue the expedition and strengthen it as fast as possible. To the American soldier at this distance it looks as though the French and British, perhaps in all good faith, planned to muddle along till the American authorities could be shown the fitness or the necessity of supporting the expedition with proper forces. But this was playing with a handful of Americans and other Allied troops a great game of hazard. Only those who went through it can appreciate the peril and the hazard.
To the credit of the American doughboys and Tommies and Poilus and others who went into North Russia in the fall of 1918 let it be said that they smashed in with vim and gallant action, thinking that they were going to do a small bit away up there in the north to frustrate the military and political plans of the Germans. And although they were not all interested in the Russian civil war at the beginning, they did learn that the North Russian people's ideal of government was the representative government of the Americans, while the Red Guards whom they were fighting stood for a government which on paper at its own face value represented only one class and offered hatred to all other classes. When it tried to put into effect its so-called constitution that had been dreamed out of a nightmare of oppression and hate, it failed completely. Machine gun beginning begot cruel offspring of provisional courts of justice and sword-revised soviets of the people so that packed soviets and Lenine-picked delegates and Trotsky-ridden ministers made the actual soviet government as much resemble the ideal soviet government as a wild-cat mining stock board of directors resembles a municipal board of public works. And the world knows now, if it did not in 1918-19, that the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic was, and is, a highly centralized tyranny, frankly called by its own leaders "The Dictatorship of the Proletariat." The Russian people prayed for "a fish and received a serpent."*****
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