Armistice Day With Americans In North Russia
Armistice Day With Americans In North Russia
"B" And "D" Busy With Attacking Bolos--"L" Vigilantly Holding Front Near Kodish--Quiet On Other Fronts--Engineers Building Blockhouses With Willing Assistance Of Doughboys--How Was Our Little War Affected--"We're Here Because We're Here"--No Share In Victory Shouting--"F" On Lines Of Communication.
Armistice Day, November 11th, 1918, with American soldiers in North Russia, was a day of stern activity for continued war. A great thrill of pride possessed the entire force because the Yanks on the Western Front had been in at the death of Hun militarism. The wonderful drives of our armies under Pershing which crushed in the Hindenberg Lines, one after another, had been briefly wirelessed and cabled up to Russia. We got the joyful news in Archangel on the very day the fighting ceased on the Western Front.
But the "B" and "D" Company men were too busy on Armistice Day to listen to rumors of world peace. The Reds had staged that awful four-day battle, told next in this story, and the American medical and hospital men were sadly busy with thirty bleeding and dead comrades who had fallen in defending Toulgas. "C" was far out at Ust Padenga earnestly building blockhouses. "A" was at Shenkursk with Colonel Corbley, resting after two months stiff fighting and with American Engineers of the 310th building blockhouses. For they correctly suspected that the Reds would not quit just because of the collapse of the Germans.
"L" Company and Ballard's Machine Gun platoon were hourly prepared to fight for their position at the Emtsa River against the Red force flushed with the victorious recapture of Kodish. 310th Engineers were skillfully and heartily at work on the blockhouses and gun emplacements and log shelters for this Kodish force, doomed to a desperate winter, armistice or no armistice. Old "K" Company, breathless yet from its terrific struggle to hold Kodish, was back at base headquarters at Seletskoe waiting patiently for "E" Company to relieve them.
Captain Heil's company had left Archangel by railroad and was somewhere on the cold forest trail between Obozerskaya and Seletskoe.
"F" Company, as we have seen, was now on the precious lines of communication, now more subject to attack because of the numerous winter trails across the hitherto broad, impassable expanses of forest and swamp, which were now beginning to freeze up. Far out on their left flank and to their rear was the little force of "G" Company who were holding Pinega and a long sector of road which was daily becoming more difficult to safeguard. And hundreds of miles across this state of Archangel in the Onega Valley our "H" Company comrades felt the responsibility of wiring in themselves for a last ditch stand against the Reds who might try to drive them back and flank their American and Allied comrades on the railroad.
On the railroad the 3l0th Engineers were busy as beavers building, with the assistance of the infantrymen, blockhouses and barracks and gun emplacements and so forth. For, while the advanced positions on the railroad were of no value in themselves, it was necessary to hold them for the sake of the other columns. Obozerskaya was to be the depot and sleigh transportation point of most consequence next to Seletskoe, which itself in winter was greatly dependent on Obozerskaya.
"I" and "M" Companies were resting from the hard fall offensive movement, the former unit at Obozerskaya, the latter just setting foot for the first time in Archangel for a ten day rest, the company having gone directly from troopship to troop train and having been "shock troops" in everyone of the successive drives at the Red army positions.
In Archangel "Hq." Company units were assisting Machine Gun units in guarding important public works and marching in strength occasionally on the streets to glare down the scowling sailors and other Red sympathizers who, it was rumored persistently, were plotting a riot and overthrow of the Tchaikowsky government and throat-cutting for the Allied Embassies and military missions.
Oh, Armistice Day in Archangel made peace in our strange war no nearer. It was dark foreboding of the winter campaign that filled the thoughts of the doughboy on duty or lying in the hospital in Archangel that day. Out on the various fronts the American soldiers grimly understood that they must hold on where they were for the sake of their comrades on other distant but nevertheless cotangent fronts on the circular line that guard Archangel. In Archangel the bitter realization was at last accepted that no more American troops were to come to our assistance.
Of course every place where two American soldiers or officers exchanged words on Armistice Day, or the immediate days following, the chief topic of conversation was the possible effect of the armistice upon our little war. Vainly the scant telegraphic news was studied for any reference to the Russian situation in the Archangel area. Was our unofficial war on Russia's Red government to go on? How could armistice terms be extended to it without a tacit recognition of the Lenine-Trotsky government?
As one of the boys who was upon the Dvina front writes: "We would have given anything we owned and mortgaged our every expectation to have been one of that great delirious, riotous mob that surged over Paris on Armistice Day; and we thought we had something of a title to have been there for we claimed the army of Pershing for our own, even though we had been sent to the Arctic Circle; and now that the whole show was over we wanted to have our share in the shouting."
But the days, deadly and monotonous, followed one another with ever gloomy regularity, and there was no promise of relief, no word, no news of any kind, except the stories of troops returning home from France. Doubtless in the general hilarity over peace, we were forgotten. After all, who had time in these world stirring days to think of an insignificant regiment performing in a fantastic Arctic side show.
Truth to tell, the Red propagandists on Trotsky's Northern Army staff quickly seized the opportunity to tell the Allied troops in North Russia that the war was over and asked us what we were fighting for. They did it cleverly, as will be told elsewhere. Yet the doughboy only swore softly and shined his rifle barrel. He could not get information straight from home. He was sore. But why fret? His best answer was the philosophic "We're here because we're here" and he went on building blockhouses and preparing to do his best to save his life in the inevitable winter campaign which began (we may say) about the time of the great world war Armistice Day, which in North Russia did not mean cease firing.
Before passing to the story of the dark winter's fighting we must notice one remaining unit of the American forces, hitherto only mentioned. It is the unit that after doing tedious guard duty in Archangel and its suburbs for a couple of months, all the while listening impatiently to stories of adventure and hardship and heroism filtering in from the fronts and the highly imaginative stories of impending enemy smashes and atrocities rumoring in from those same fronts and gaining color and tragic proportions in the mouth-to-mouth transit, that unit "F" Company, the prize drill company of Camp Custer in its young life, now on October 30th found itself on a slow-going barge en route to Yemetskoe, one hundred and twenty-five versts, as the side wheeler wheezed up the meandering old Dvina River.
There in the last days of the fall season this company of Americans took over the duty of patrolling constantly the line of communications and all trails leading into it so that no wandering force of Red Guards should capture any of the numerous supply trains bound south with food, powder and comforts--such as they were--for the Americans and Allied forces far south on the Dvina and Vaga fronts.
It was highly important work admirably done by this outfit commanded by Captain Ralph Ramsay. Any slackening of alertness might have resulted disastrously to their regimental comrades away south, and while this outfit was the last of the 339th to go into active field service it may be said in passing that in the spring it was the last unit to come away from the fighting front in June, and came with a gallant record, story of which will appear later. Winter blizzards found the outfit broken into trusty detachments scattered all the way from Kholmogori, ninety versts north of Yemetskoe, to Morjegorskaya, fifty-five versts south of company headquarters in Yemetskoe. And it was common occurrence for a sergeant of "F" Company with a "handful of doughboys" to escort a mob of Bolshevik prisoners of war to distant Archangel.
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