Category: russia

Allies Conditionally Recognize Kolchak’s Gover…

May 23 1919, Paris–The Allies had largely given up on reaching out to the Red government in Moscow; their last half-hearted attempted, an offer of food aid via Norwegian intermediaries, was sternly rebuffed in mid-May.  On May 23, they decided instead to provide provisional recognition to Kolchak’s government in Omsk.  The Allies did specify that this was conditional on Kolchak establishing some form of democratic government, despite his earlier dismissal of what remained of the Constituent Assembly; Kolchak would pay some lip service to these requests, but did little to act on them.

Churchill would write that “the moment chosen was almost exactly the moment when that declaration was almost certainly too late.”  Kolchak’s Ufa offensive had ground to a halt in muddy conditions in April, and Red forces under Mikhail Frunze had launched a counterattack on April 28.  By the time the Allies decided to recognize Kolchak’s government, his forces had almost been pushed back to Ufa.  The Allies could do little to aid him directly (the only link to the outside world being via Vladivostok), and in fact their recognition of Kolchak likely harmed the more successful White efforts on other fronts, by tying them explicitly to Kolchak’s reactionary, Russian nationalist policies.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919; Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War; Randal Gray, Chronicle of the First World War.

Soviets Respond to Food Relief Offer

Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930).  His Fram expedition had reached 86°13′ N in 1895.  Undeterred by the failure of the 1919 relief offer, he would try again, with some more success, in 1921.

May 15 1919, Moscow–After the idea of a conference on Prinkipo fell through, the Allies had little contact with the Soviets, apart from an American mission which was ignored, and Smuts’ very indirect approach via Béla Kun.  In large part, this was because they did not want to; the French hated the Soviets, as did much of Lloyd George’s coalition.  News from Russia was limited and of exceedingly poor quality (The New York Times printed headlines in May claiming that Petrograd had fallen to the Finns), but what little there was suggested a humanitarian crisis in a country now completely cut off from the outside world.  Hoover, head of food relief in Europe, suggested that food relief be extended to the Soviets as well–this would help the people of Russia and possibly help bring Russia back into the community of nations.

To avoid the perception that this would be yet another Allied intervention in Russia, Hoover proposed that Russian food aid be organized via a prominent neutral–Fridtjof Nansen, the famous Norwegian explorer.  Under Nansen’s leadership, Norway and other neutral countries would deliver food and medical aid to Russia, provided ceasefires were arranged in the civil war.  The offer went out from Berlin (as the Allies refused to send it), and on May 15 the Soviets responded.  Lenin had instructed Chicherin and Litvinov to be “extremely polite to Nansen, extremely insolent to Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau,” and they were, rejecting outright the idea of ceasefires without a formal peace conference.  The Allies would do nothing else that attempted to reach out to the Soviets during the remainder of the Paris Peace Conference.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919

“Our transport took the first contingent…

transport took the first contingent home from Siberia, leaving Vladivostok on April 1, 1919, and it was not April Fools’ Day for the boys who were sailing as they had been waiting a long
time to return to the good old USA. On
that day, Major General Graves, Commander of the AEF Siberia, was at the dock to bid his boys farewell as was
also the band of the 31st Infantry. We arrived in San Francisco on May 6, 1919. I hope I hear from some of those ex-Siberia Expedition

The American Legion Magazine, Volumes
31-32 – Photo: May 1919, San Francisco, American soldiers aboard a ship transporting troops between Russia and the
states. They are singing the national anthem – ECPAD, Agence d’images de la
defense, France.


The last
American soldiers left Siberia, one year later, on April 1, 1920. 


                                                           “All in good fun”                                                                 

1919, Archangel, Russia – “The great high Gorka
built by the American engineers in the heart of the city afforded a
half-verst slide, a rush of clinging men and women as their toboggan coursed laughing and screaming in euphoria down
to the river where it pitched swiftly again down to the ice.”

1919, American soldiers in Archangel,
Russia –

The History of the American Expedition Fighting
the Bolsheviki Campaigning in North Russia 1918-1919

– Image: 1919, American soldiers enjoying a good slide on a gorka in Russia. See
the YouTube “339th Infantry A.E.F. in Northern Russia (1918-1919)”

Wilson and Lloyd George Propose Conference Wit…

January 22 1919, Paris–The sudden end of the war left Allied efforts in Russia in an awkward position.  Their official purpose, to prevent the Central Powers from having a free hand in Russia after Brest-Litovsk, was no longer relevant, and the Allied public had no interest in a full-scale war in Russia to depose the Bolsheviks.  Lloyd George wanted a way out, and wanted to invite the Bolsheviks to the peace conference.  While he did not like the Bolsheviks, “To say that we ourselves should pick the representatives of a great people was contrary to every principle for which we had fought.” Talking only to the Whites and the Russian émigrés would be to follow the same course Britain had during the French Revolution, which “led [Britain] into a war that lasted about twenty-five years.”

Clemenceau, understandably, had a much different perspective.  A veteran of the fight against the Paris Commune in 1871, he had no patience for the Bolsheviks and certainly would not invite them to his city to let them cause trouble.  Backed by Wilson, Lloyd George proposed a compromise on January 21–a separate conference to handle any matters falling within the former boundaries of the Russian Empire (apart from Poland and Finland).  The Bolsheviks would be invited, along with the various White governments and the states that had declared independence from Russia since the revolution.  The conference would be held on Prinkipo [Büyükada], an island in the Sea of Marmara near Allied-occupied Constantinople, starting in mid-February.  Clemenceau strongly objected, but decided not to break with the British and French.  Sonnino was even more adamant, but could not back up his anti-Bolshevik attitudes with any commitment of Italian troops.

On January 22, the Council of Ten agreed to Lloyd George’s proposal, and the invitation was extended by radio the next day.  The conference, it was hoped, would work out a peace between the various Russian factions, would normalize relations between Russia and the Allies, and settle the question of Russia’s new western and southern borders.  As a pre-condition for the conference, the Allies called for a ceasefire on all fronts of activity between all parties.

The non-Bolshevik governments in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Crimea accepted the proposal, although in some cases with preconditions of their own.  Georgia declined to attend, believing its independence secure.  The Whites felt betrayed by the Allies, and most of their governments rejected the invitation or lodged strong protests.  The Bolsheviks were of two minds about the invitation–they wanted Allied troops, weapons, and money out of Russia, but they also believed world revolution was imminent and that negotiations were pointless.  On February 4, they responded, avoiding the question of a ceasefire and offering large concessions of territory and raw material to the Allies.  Effectively, this was a repeat of Brest-Litovsk; Lenin simply hoped to gain enough time for the revolution to spread.  

Wilson said that “This answer was not only uncalled for, but might be thought insulting.”  Lloyd George thought the same, and came under considerable political pressure at home from both the Conservatives and many within his own party (especially Churchill).  Combined with continued French opposition and the non-cooperation of the Whites, the proposal quietly died.

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War; Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.


“We’re here because we’re here”

“We would have given anything we
owned to have been one of that great delirious mob that surged over Paris on Armistice
and even though we had been sent to the Arctic Circle, 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 relief, no word, no news of any kind. 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?

We could not get information straight from home. We were sore. But why fret?
The best answer was the philosophic "We’re here because we’re here” and he went on building blockhouses  to prepare for
the inevitable winter campaign which began about the time of the Armistice Day,
which in North Russia did not mean cease firing.”

1918, after the Armistice, American soldier, member of the “Polar Bears Expedition” in North Russia – Photo: 1918, North Russia, American soldier’s outpost in a snow-covered forest near the Vologda
Railroad Front. See Map.  Text and photo: “The History of the
American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviki”

Note: @ the
US WW1 Centennial Commission, a great article about the US Army “Polar Bears” in North


                                                               A vodka party

come the men of the Thirsty-Foist! Better’n the best, worser than the worst! They keep the Bolsky bastard on the run!”

Vladivostok, Russia, song written by American soldiers of the 1918 AEF
Polar Bear ExpeditionInfantry Magazine – Photo: WW1, American
men of the Polar Bear Expedition in Russia having a little Vodka Party
– Ian Kotchian’s

The US Militaria Forum                                                           

September 6, 1918  – Un…

September 6, 1918  – Unloading first American ambulances on the docks
at Bakharitza, Russia

“We are here living in our cars and we are told that we are
in for a long trip. There is a company of French cars alongside us. They just
came from the front. We have also some British troops.

The Bolsheviks are just ahead and blowing up all bridges to
stop us. We drew 6 days of ration in about 20 hours. Here the roads are the
worst roads in the world. The mosquitoes are awful they have me eaten alive.
The whole country here is tundra or swamps.”

Note: The Polar Bears, four Army units – the 339th Infantry Regiment, the 1st
Battalion of the 310th Engineers, the 337th Ambulance Co. and the 337th Field
Hospital of the U.S. Army’s 85th Division – fought in the Polar Bear Expedition
in 1918-19 against the Bolshevik Red Army to stop the spread of communism. They
fought under a midnight sun that only rose two hours a day, in minus 60 degree
temperatures, lacking supplies, clothing, food and medicines. Their ill-define mission
was so horrific that it became known as the acid test of “loyalty to the
county. When they war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, they remained on the arctic front and
fought until the spring of 1919.“

Photo, American soldier’s diary & note sources:

Polar Bear Expedition
Digital Collections


Heroic Story of the American WW1 Polar Bear Force in Arctic Russia

University of Michigan

Russia Makes Additional Concessions to Germany

August 27 1918, Berlin–By late August, both Germany and Russia had higher priorities than fighting each other, despite voices on both sides that still called for it (and the series of assassinations of German officials in Russia and Ukraine).  Germany was facing defeat on the Western Front and needed whatever resources could be gotten from Russia without a commitment of troops, while the Russians needed to fight the White forces on the Volga and needed reassurances that the Germans would not attack them from behind, especially given they had already stripped much of Petrograd’s defenses.

On August 27, Germany and Russia signed a supplemental peace treaty.  The Russians agreed to pay 6 billion marks in indemnities for wartime damages, to relinquish any rights to Estonia, Latvia, and Georgia, to fight the Allied forces around Murmansk and Archangelsk, to allow the Germans to use the remnants of the Black Sea Fleet (which was already under their control anyway), and to provide the Germans with a third of their oil once Baku returned to their control.  The Germans, meanwhile, promised that neither they nor their Finnish allies would attack Russia, and that they would do their utmost to convince the Turks to return Baku once they expelled the Allies.  Many of these provisions were secret, despite the Bolsheviks’ stated aversion to “secret treaties.”  The terms were viewed by many as a further humiliation, in the words of one negotiator “worse than Brest-Litovsk.”  It should be noted, however, that the 6 billion mark figure was far less than the 132 billion mark figure which would be imposed on the Germans at Versailles.

Today in 1917: Continued Failed Attacks Around Ypres

Today in 1916: Romania Declares War on Austria-Hungary
Today in 1915: Last Allied Push on Hill 60 Falls Short
Today in 1914: Germans Outflank Russian Second Army’s Advance in East Prussia

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War.

“It moves me to tears when we sing our Russian…

“It moves me to tears
when we sing our Russian songs in the French village much to the French officers’
surprise! And every evening, we organize outdoor choirs and dances which are
not bad at all! We don’t have much, we sleep on hay on the floor, but we are
not  miserable.”

WW1 Russian volunteer
member of the Légion Russe des volontaires in the French Army, in Mailly, Champagne, France
– From the beautiful “Souvenirs d’un volontaire russe dans
l’armée française, 1914-1916″
– Photo: WW1, in
France, a Russian volunteers’ performance – @ La Courtine