19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War

Larry Holzwarth - February 8, 2019

When the Russian Empire dissolved following the Bolshevik revolution and ensuing civil war, a separate peace was entered into with the Central Powers, a situation which caused consternation among the French and British mired in the trenches of World War I. The Allies agreed that intervention against the Bolsheviks in support of the Russian White Army was essential, to prevent the Bolshevik occupation of strategic ports and to oppose the creation of a communist government in the former Russian Empire. There was also a need to prevent Allied material stockpiles in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk from falling into the hands of the revolutionary Red Army.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
American troops marched through Vladivostok after their arrival there in the summer of 1918. National Archives

The French and British had few troops to spare after more than three years of bloody warfare on the Western Front, so they turned to the Americans who had recently joined the war. Against the recommendations of his War Department, President Wilson agreed and the United States sent troops and naval units to Russia to support the White army, which was fighting against the Red army in Russia’s civil war. Today the American intervention in Russia during the formative days of what became the Soviet Union is all but forgotten. Here is a list of events of the intervention of the Americans and Allies in the Russian Civil War, which helped lead to long-standing distrust between Russia and the United States.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
Although Congress and his own War Department opposed American intervention in the Russian Civil War, Wilson committed American troops anyway. White House

1. American troops in North Russia were armed with Russian guns

When General Pershing received orders from President Wilson to divert troops from France to Russia, the former responded by re-routing units bound for France to England. There they were placed under British command, armed with Russian weapons, and sent to Arkhangelsk, and ordered to protect the Allied supplies stockpiled there. British commanders in Arkhangelsk discovered upon arrival there that the retreating Red army had moved most of the supplies with them as they withdrew. The Americans were ordered on an offensive against the Red army, to attempt to relieve the Czech Legion which was also heavily engaged against the Red army.

Beginning in September, 1918, American troops launched an offensive which lasted more than six weeks against the Red army. As the Americans pushed the Russians back along two fronts, logistics difficulties developed and by the end of October their British commanders ceased offensive operations and established defensive perimeters, with the notorious Russian winter already setting in. The Russians responded with an offensive of their own, and the poorly supplied American troops were gradually pushed back, suffering casualties inflicted by the Russians, the weather, and the Spanish flu as 1918 ended and 1919 began. By the fall of 1919 American casualties in what was by then being called a peacekeeping effort had exceeded 500.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
The deployment of American troops and supplies to Arkhangelsk met with protests in the United States after the armistice. Library of Congress

2. Political unrest in the United States in 1919

By the winter of 1918-19, letters home from the American troops in the Arkhangelsk deployment indicated extremely low morale among them, and also complained that the need to protect materials shipped to the port was absent in winter since the port froze over. Both Congress and the War Department had opposed the deployment of American troops in the Russian Civil War, and combined with a letter campaign from the families of the deployed troops supported by conservative newspapers, Wilson came under considerable political pressure to bring the troops home. The pressure was only increased by the triumphant return of the American doughboys from France.

By the spring of 1919 General Pershing ordered an orderly withdrawal of the Americans from Russia, with the British using their own troops to protect British and French interests in the former Russian Empire. The low morale among the American troops deployed there led to reports of mutiny and disciplinary lapses among the men. In the late spring British troops began to arrive to relieve the Americans in the lines, and by the end of June the American troops were withdrawn to France. When they arrived there most of the men referred to themselves as the Polar Bears, in tribute to the ferocity of the Russian winter which they had endured during their deployment.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
While some American troops returned home in triumph others fought and died in Russia. Wikimedia

3. The Battle of Tulgas was fought while troops on the Western Front celebrated Armistice Day

On November 11, 1918, at eleven o’clock in the morning, the cease-fire on the Western Front officially ended the hostilities between the Central Powers and the Allies, and in the trenches on both sides men celebrated their survival of the war. At the same time, American, British, and Canadian positions in North Russia positioned along the Dwina River at an area known as the Tulgas villages came under a heavy attack by Bolshevik infantry, which quickly overwhelmed the Allied positions from sheer weight of numbers. The Allies were forced back into defensive positions around the center of the three villages, and by nightfall were surrounded by Red army forces.

The following morning the Bolsheviks were supported by gunboats in the river itself, as well as howitzers, which bombarded the Allied positions prior to infantry attacks launched against them. The battle continued throughout the day and the day following before the gunboats withdrew as the river began to freeze. American troops launched attacks which drove back Red Army units and captured their supplies, including critically needed ammunition. On the 14th of November, the Red Army withdrew. The Battle of Tulgas was a defensive victory for the Allied troops, though news of the fighting was overlooked in the celebration of the end of the war in Europe.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
A British poster reminded supporters of the White movement that they were allies, though the Whites were unreliable at best. Wikimedia

4. The Allies were forced back at the Battle of Shenkursk in 1919

The American 339th Infantry Regiment provided the main defense of the Vaga River in North Russia, supported by troops from Britain, Canada, and White Russia. The southernmost defensive positions were around the village of Shenkursk, where the Allied troops were locally commanded by an American captain named Otto Odjard. At Shenkursk itself, about 200 Americans and 900 other troops were attacked on the 19th of January, 1919, following an intense artillery barrage. About 1,000 Russian troops assaulted the Allied positions south of Shenkursk held by 47 American troops, who made a fighting withdrawal toward Shenkursk. The White Russian artillery ordered to support their retreat instead abandoned their positions.

Of the 47 Americans who began the withdrawal from their positions, only seven survived to reach a defensive position to the north that day. Two others arrived at the new position that night, having eluded pursuing Russian troops by hiding in the countryside. The new position, at a village named Vysokaya Gora, was reinforced by Canadian artillerymen who arrived from Shenkursk to man the guns abandoned by the White Russians. For the next three days the heavily outnumbered Americans and Canadians fought a defensive action against at least 3,000 Red Army troops, repulsing their assaults while inflicting heavy casualties. On January 23 the Allies withdrew to another position about 4 miles from Shenkursk.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
Sleds pulled by reindeer were one means of moving wounded and supplies employed by the Americans. National Archives

5. The evacuation of Shenkursk was a defeat for the Allies

On January 24, the defenders who had withdrawn before the Russians from the south were within the defensive positions of Shenkursk, and by the end of that day were surrounded by the pursuing Red Army. Ordered to withdraw, Captain Odjard evacuated his wounded men by sled along a logging trail which led to the north. Those wounded who could walk, which included Captain Odjard, evacuated along the same route, and the remaining troops followed, prepared to fight a delaying action should the Red Army attack. The evacuation began at midnight, with the troops at Shenkursk itself joining in the general withdrawal. The Russians meanwhile consolidated their positions preparing for an attack on Shenkursk.

In the early morning of January 25 the retreating Allies were still plodding through the snow when they heard the opening shots of the Russian artillery bombardment of Shenkursk. The retreat had been accomplished without the Russian’s becoming aware of it and by the time the Red Army realized that the Allies had abandoned the village they were too far away to attack. The Red Army victory ensured that the Allies would be unable to unite with a White Army force which was advancing to the west from Siberia, and put the Allied intervention on the defensive, a condition in which it would remain for the rest of its period in Russia.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
American troops were defeated militarily in North Russia, but morale improved when their withdrawal was announced. National Archives

6. The American-Canadian withdrawal continued throughout the winter of 1919

From the defeat at Shenkursk, American and Canadian forces withdrew to the vicinity of Vystavka, where defensive positions had been prepared and reinforced by other units of the American 339th Infantry Regiment. From January 27, when the Red Army made contact with the defenses, until March of that year, the Americans, Canadians, and White Army units manning the defenses during the bitter Russian winter repulsed numerous assaults by Red Army infantry, in fighting which was often fierce. The Red Army continuously added to its artillery strength, and the bombardment of the positions intensified throughout the campaign, but only a few outlying Allied positions were overrun.

In early March the decision was made by the British commander of the expedition in Arkhangelsk to abandon Vystavka and establish a new defensive line near Kitsa, about five miles further downriver. The Red Army elected not to pursue. The more than two month long assault on Vystavka was a major victory for the Red Army, and the long months of nearly constant bombardment combined with the bitter cold had seriously detracted from the morale of the American and Canadian troops. The Canadians never again engaged the Red Army during the Allied Intervention, though the Americans still had battles to fight against the Russians.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
The bodies of dead American soldiers killed in Russia were returned to the United States. National Archives

7. The Battles of Bolshie Ozerki checked the Allied Intervention

At the end of March, 1919, Allied units attacked elements of the Red Army and supporting partisan fighters at the village of Bolshie Ozerki, through which supplies were shipped in winter from the port at Murmansk, which did not freeze over, to Allied positions around Arkhangelsk, which did. From late March through the 2nd of April Allied and Red Army troops engaged in several fierce battles around the strategically critical village, which the Bolsheviks seized and then repulsed numerous attempts by the Allies to dislodge them. It was the last engagement of the Allied Intervention in North Russia to involve British troops, though the Americans were not yet ready to end combat operations.

The troops of both sides suffered from exposure during the fighting around Bolshoi Ozerki, despite the temperature being relatively mild by Russian standards. The troops found their feet soaked in the daylight hours through deficient footwear and melting snow, later to have them frozen when the nighttime temperatures dropped to below zero. On some days American and British troops assaulting the Russian defenses around the village had to move forward in snow which was waist deep. Following the fighting at Bolshie Ozerki, the Allies began the evacuation of Arkhangelsk, waiting only for the spring thaw to melt the ice and allow the port to open.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
The return of American dead from North Russia was a somber reminder of the expedition’s failure. Library of Congress

8. The North Russia Intervention was a failure for the Allies

After the Allies evacuated the troops of the North Russia Intervention it was clear that the expedition had been a failure in both a military and political sense. The stated goals of the intervention were not achieved, and the enduring enmity of the Bolsheviks and their supporters was the main accomplishment of the British, French, and Americans. The Americans abandoned North Russia beginning in the spring of 1919 and by the end of September all of the American troops were either in Brest, France or on their way to the French port for redeployment home to the United States. That same month the last of the British troops abandoned Arkhangelsk and Murmansk, leaving the White Russians to fight the Red Army on their own.

The White Army was in even worse condition than it had been in when the Allies arrived. It was disorganized, suffered from low morale and insufficient equipment, and was plagued with political infighting among its leaders. It was no match for the opposing Red Army, and with the Allies gone it quickly fell apart. In December 1919 the Red Army launched an offensive and the port of Arkhangelsk fell the following February. Murmansk followed in March. The White government the Allies had deployed to support collapsed and the end of the American involvement in North Russia resembled nothing so much as the fall of South Vietnam to the communists nearly sixty years later.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
The veteran battlecruiser USS Olympia, seen here in Hong Kong harbor, joined the American expedition to North Russia in 1918. US Navy

9. USS Olympia joined the expedition to Arkhangelsk

USS Olympia was a venerable veteran of naval action when World War I began. The ship had been the flagship of the American squadron which crushed the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish American War, and it was on its bridge that Admiral Dewey uttered his famous order, “You may fire when ready, Gridley” to its captain during that engagement. During World War I the armored cruiser was no match for the frontline warships of any of the contending powers, and was relegated to patrol duties in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Black Seas through most of the conflict.

It was Olympia which served as the main escort of the American expedition to Northern Russia, which became known as the Polar Bear Expedition, and the ship remained to support operations in Arkhangelsk and Murmansk during the early days of the operation before being withdrawn to other duties, with Britain’s Royal Navy assuming the role of nautical support. By the time the Polar Bear Expedition officially disbanded Olympia was patrolling once again in the Adriatic. Olympia’s deployment to North Russia was the extent of the involvement of the US Navy in the Atlantic portion of the Russian Intervention, but further activities took place in the Pacific which, as did most of the events at the end of World War I, had a significant impact on the political situation which led to World War II.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
An American soldier stands guard over German POWs in Siberia during the Siberian Intervention. Library of Congress

9. The American intervention in Siberia

When the Russian government under Vladimir Lenin ended Russian involvement in World War I a body of Allied troops from Czechoslovakia which had been serving as a unit of the Imperial Russian Army was promised free passage to Vladivostok by Lenin. Instead the unit became trapped in Siberia, beset by Red Army troops. One of the stated goals of the North Russia intervention was the reaching of the Czech units, which were collectively known as the Czechoslovak Legion, to allow them to rejoin the Allies in the fight against the Central Powers. The collapse of the Germans on the Western Front and the end of hostilities removed that imperative from the western Allies.

Nonetheless, President Wilson had made freeing the Legion one of the stated aims of the United States when he ordered the military intervention in Russia, and besides attempting to achieve it through the Polar Bear Expedition he ordered another expedition to Siberia through the port of Vladivostok, the Pacific terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. He supported that aim with another stated goal, that of protecting the large amount of military and medical supplies which had been shipped to Vladivostok by the United States for the use of Imperial Russia from being seized by the Red Army. Beginning in August 1918 American troops began landing in the Russian port, eventually swelling in number to about 8,000 men, where they joined a contingent of British, Japanese, Russian, Italian, and French forces.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
French and White Army soldiers mingle around French tanks during the Allied Intervention in the winter of 1918-19. Wikimedia

10. Conflicts with the Allies during the Siberian Intervention

The goals of the British and French in Siberia (and Northern Russia) included the defeat of the Red Army and the removal of the new Bolshevik government under Lenin, and either the restoration of the Tsar as a constitutional monarchy or some other form of government friendly to the Allies. Through such an action they hoped for a reopening of an Eastern Front against the Central Powers and they expected their new ally, the United States, to join in actions against the Red Army. The Japanese on the other hand hoped to seize territory in Siberia and the Sakhalin Islands to create a barrier against their old enemy, Russia, and their home islands. Thus the Allies had different motivations for intervening in Siberia, which caused inevitable conflicts.

Although Wilson’s stated aims for the Siberian Intervention included the freeing of the Czech Legion and cooperation with the Allies the commander of the Siberian contingent, General William S. Graves, interpreted his orders as meaning he was to assist the Legion escape Russia and protect American property, but not actively engage the Red Army and supporting partisans other than in self-defense. Eventually the American forces in Siberia reached 8,000 men, and Graves’ refusal to use the large force to conduct an offensive against the Red Army or provide support for the much smaller British and French contingents led to confrontations with the commanders of those forces, as well as with those of the Japanese, and later even the Chinese, who also joined in the war.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
The Japanese arrived in Vladivostok intent upon acquiriing permanent territorial gains at the expense of Russia. Wikimedia

11. The Americans grew suspicious of the Japanese in August, 1918

In the summer of 1918 the Japanese landed a force of 70,000 men through Vladivostok and the Manchurian border with Siberia, with their stated intention being the rescue of the Czechoslovak Legion. The size of their force made it evident to General Graves that the Japanese intended to leave behind garrisons as they advanced to the west. When the Japanese made contact with the Legion the combined forces, supported by the British and French, continued toward the Urals, intent on reopening the Eastern Front against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Japanese refused to continue further west than Lake Baikal. The Americans, desirous of checking the Japanese, remained behind with them.

The Americans assumed control over large sections of the Trans-Siberian Railroad and established a unit to operate it, often clashing with the Allies over priority of supply. They also frequently clashed with Red partisans and Cossacks in remote areas. During the winter months of 1918-19 the Americans found that they, as with so many foreign invaders in Russian history, were ill-equipped to face the weather prevalent in Siberia. The water in the water-cooled heavy machine guns with which they were equipped froze, making the weapons unable to be fired. The equipment on the Trans-Siberian Railroad was often obsolescent and had been poorly maintained, leading to logistics problems. The presence of the large Japanese force was another problem which plagued General Graves, and he was forced to deploy considerable elements of his force to monitor their activities.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
US troops arrived from the Philippines in August, 1918, ill prepared for the Russian winter only weeks away. Wikimedia

12. The American troops deployed to Siberia were from mostly warm climates

The American troops which deployed to Siberia came initially from garrison units in the Philippines and were later supported by regiments deployed from Camp Fremont, Palo Alto, California. General Graves had commanded at Camp Fremont during 1918. The Americans were thus totally unprepared for the length and frigidity of the Russian fall and winter. Although they were equipped with cold weather gear in sufficient supply, much of it was unsuitable for a variety of reasons. As with their counterparts in the Polar Bear Expedition, their winter boots were of a design known as Shackleton’s, low heeled and smooth soled, and their cloth tops and liners frequently became soaked during daylight, to freeze at night.

The horses and mules which the army relied on to tow its wagons in warm months and sometimes sleighs in winter were also acclimated to the warmer climates of the Philippines and California, and in Russia they dropped like the proverbial flies. Getting sufficient food to the horses and mules was problematic year round. Foraging parties were harassed by Red partisans and Cossacks, and enclosures where the animals were kept were so often raided that Graves was forced to double, and then triple the number of men assigned to patrol them. That winter, as Japanese territorial ambitions at Russian expense became more and more evident, Graves repeatedly sent warnings up the chain of command to Wilson, who blithely ignored them.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
Japanese Generals Otani and Mitsuya led a force which exceeded 70,000 men and encouraged the development of Japanese colonies in the areas they occupied. Wikimedia

13. The Japanese began to colonize parts of Siberia

As Britain, France, and the United States continued to support their own national interests in Russia, with American support for the operations in North Russia and Siberia rapidly dwindling, Japan took steps to solidify their presence in the region and create a buffer between Russia and the Japanese home islands. Japanese companies opened facilities in Siberian cities under the instigation of the army, and over 50,000 Japanese citizens were sent to establish enclaves within the country. The Japanese were initially invited to join the intervention as part of the international coalition which included the United States, Great Britain, and France (among others) but from the start they acted independently.

When the Siberian Intervention began in 1918, the Bolsheviks controlled little of Siberia other than small pockets centered around some villages near the center of the region. By the beginning of 1920, their area of control had expanded greatly – and White supporters had been eliminated by Red action or by changing their allegiance due to the presence of so many foreign interests on their home soil. Though the end of World War I ended the need for a second Eastern Front in Europe, political and geopolitical considerations made the presence of Allied troops a necessity in the minds of western leaders for a time, in part to contain the obvious expansion being executed by the Japanese.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
The Cossack warlord Semenov met with American General Graves but was a frequent thorn in the American’s side in Siberia. Library of Congress

14. Semenov the destroyer

Gregori Semenov was a former Cossack general who ran what he designated as an independent government from the Siberian city of Chita, subsidized financially by the Japanese. Despite accepting the Japanese largesse, he declared himself to be allied with the Americans in Siberia. Among the crimes history has laid on his doorstep was the murder on his order of 1,600 civilians in Adrianoka in a single day. Eventually the Red Army and supporting partisans defeated Semenov (sometimes spelled Semyenov) and he fled to first Japanese, and then American protection. In the United States he was accused by veterans of the American Siberian intervention of crimes of violence against American troops.

Although Semenov was acquitted of all charges in American courts, he immediately fled the country and settled in China, where he made a living by spying for the Japanese until near the end of World War II. During the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in 1945, he was captured and tried for his crimes against the Soviet state. Convicted, he was sentenced to death and hanged in August, 1946. He was but one of the unsavory “allies” which the American intervention in Siberia sought out in the attempt to influence the shaping of the Russian government in the aftermath of the October Revolution, and his activities in support of the Americans remained – and many still remain – hidden from view in the United States.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
William S. Graves commanded the American contingent in Siberia despite misgivings over the mission. US Army

15. General Graves began to openly oppose American intervention

General William Graves, the officer in command of the American intervention in Siberia, was well-informed of the depredations of Semenov and others of the resistance to the Bolsheviks. The massacres of whole villages and the murder of ethnic groups for the crime of being members of that ethnic group were presented at the time to the world as being instigated by the Red Army and Bolshevik partisans. Graves knew better, and wrote, “…the anti-Bolsheviks killed one hundred people in eastern Siberia to every one killed by the Bolsheviks”. The word of the Bolsheviks perpetrating massacres in Siberia, particularly against Jews, led some to pressure the US government to more actively support the White opposition in Russia, despite the many massacres they perpetrated as well.

It became apparent to Graves that the anti-Bolshevik forces were conducting wholesale massacres in Siberia and blaming them on the Reds in the hope of attracting additional international support to overthrow the Bolshevik regime. Graves noted that the Japanese were the instigators of much of the barbarism, hoping to take advantage of a prolonged conflict between Reds and Whites in order to claim and colonize as much of Siberia as possible. When Americans officials in Washington urged the shipment of weapons to the Japanese aligned Semenov and others of his ilk, Graves placed himself in the middle of the transaction, asking that the weapons be sent to his command instead. Graves was well aware that the American public and government were misinformed regarding the situation in Siberia and the intentions of the Japanese.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
American troop trains and encampments were often attacked by partisans and Cossacks armed with American weapons. Library of Congress

16. Americans often confronted partisans armed with American weapons

Although General Graves resisted as long as he possibly could, orders from Washington that he supply arms to White resisters of the Red Army from Washington forced him to comply. Graves was concerned that the arms would end up in the hands of independents such as Semenov, who would use them at the behest of their Japanese benefactors and carve out personal kingdoms in Siberia, aligned with the Japanese. When a trainload of American weapons was sent, guarded by American troops and en route to Irkutsk, where it was to be delivered to the White leader Admiral Alexander Kolchak, it was stopped by troops under Semenov at Chita.

Semenov demanded that the American escort turn over the shipment of 15,000 rifles, and the Americans, with fifty men to guard and protect the shipment, wired to General Graves at Vladivostok for instructions. They were ordered not to surrender the shipment, and to defend themselves if they were attacked or if there was an attempt to seize the rifles by force. The American train was surrounded by armored trains on both sides at the railyard, and Cossacks were stationed nearby. Semenov gave the Americans a thirty hour deadline to comply with his demands or be massacred. Ten hours after the deadline passed Semenov relented and allowed the train to go through.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
Ekaterinburg circa 1919. Wikimedia.

17. American weapons were used to massacre civilians by the partisans

When the shipment which was temporarily held up by Semenov reached Kolchak, four carloads of rifles were delivered by the latter to Cossacks, allegedly allied with the White cause. The Cossacks then conducted a pogrom in the region of Ekaterinburg, during which 3,000 Jews were murdered using the weaponry supplied by the United States. Spies working for General Graves reported the grisly massacre, and Graves questioned Kolchak regarding how the American weapons supplied to the Whites had been deployed. The response from Kolchak was a vague reference to events in the Ekaterinburg district, “that would give the Jews something to think about”. White propaganda was that the Jews were aligned with the Red partisans.

When the Allied Intervention in North Russia ended and the Red Army occupied most of the region, retreating White troops and partisans fled eastward, into Siberia. Many of them were ill, many were wounded, and Graves reported to his superiors that mob rule prevailed throughout Siberia. The chieftains aligned with the Japanese stopped many of the retreating trains, conducting wholesale slaughter against their supposed allies. Graves recognized that American interests in Siberia were no longer aligned with support of the White cause, and in late December, 1919 he formally recommended to the War Department that the American Siberian Expeditionary Force be removed from the civil war ravaged country.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
As the Americans and Europeans withdrew from Siberia the Japanese remained, consolidating their territorial gains. Library of Congress

18. The American withdrawal ended the Allied intervention

Three weeks later the War Department concurred. Meanwhile an engagement between American troops protecting an arms shipment and an armored train operated by Semenov’s men led to several American and Russian casualties, though the Americans prevailed in protecting the train. It was the final engagement for the Americans, withdrawal via Vladivostok began in February, and in April General Graves and the final group of American troops evacuated, but not before observing and reporting the Japanese construction of fortifications along the borders of the territories they had occupied while paying Siberian warlords to disrupt the peacekeeping efforts of the Americans.

The Japanese remained for another two years before the Soviet government, supported by the League of Nations (which the United States had failed to join) forced them to withdraw from the areas they had occupied. In the early 1920s the Japanese began expanding their Navy, with several ships built for them by Great Britain, and their air force, in preparation for further adventurism in Asia. The Americans returned to their main western Pacific bases in the Philippines, from which their Asiatic Fleet maintained a watchful eye on the Japanese as they increased their naval power, and a militaristic government emerged in Japan.

19 Events of the All but Forgotten American Intervention in the Russian Civil War
When he returned from Siberia General Graves (third from left, sitting) was accused of being a Communist sympathizer. Wikimedia

19. General Graves was accused of being a communist sympathizer

Upon his return to the United States, after being compelled to conduct an operation that he felt was both morally and strategically wrong for the United States, General Graves found himself excoriated in the press and by the public as a communist sympathizer who had subverted the American effort in Siberia. The judgment did not stop among the strident anti-communists of the day. President Harding, who privately called the entire American intervention a mistake, publicly agreed that the failure of the American military force to actively seek out and destroy the Red Army units and partisans in Siberia was the cause of the intervention’s failure.

Graves found himself the target of American surveillance by Army intelligence and the FBI. Graves remained in the Army until he retired as a Major General in 1928. He then published a book presenting his views of the American Intervention in Siberia, America’s Siberian Adventure 1918-20. Other historians commented that of all the leaders involved among the Russians, Japanese, and British, and others, Graves was the only one who conducted himself in a manner honorable to his duty and his country during the entire intervention. The American intervention in Russia was soon forgotten to American history, largely because it was a complete failure. American history texts and classes ignore the intervention for the most part, though it did much to create the mutual suspicion between Russians and Americans which prevails after nearly one hundred years.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Intervention and the War”. Richard Ullman. 1961

“Fighting the Bolsheviks”. Neil G. Carey. 1997

“Quartered in Hell: The Story of the American North Russia Expeditionary Force 1918-1919”. Dennis Gordon. 1982

“Russian Sideshow: America’s Undeclared War, 1918 – 1920”. Robert L. Willet Jr. 2003

“Polar Bear Expedition History”. Article, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. Online

“The Archangel Expedition”. Article, Mount Holyoke Academy. Online

“Where ignorant armies clashed by night”. E. M. Halliday, American Heritage Magazine. December, 1958

“Allied Intervention in Russia”. Article, The National Archives. Online

“Guarding the Railroad, Taming the Cossacks”. Gibson Bell Smith, Prologue Magazine. National Archives Online. Winter, 2002

“The Siberian Expedition 1918-1920”. Colonel Robert L. Smalser. Naval War College. Pdf, online

“American Intervention in Siberia: A Re-Interpretation”. Christopher Lasch, Political Science Quarterly. June 1962

“The Siberian Intervention 1918-1919”. George Constantine Guins. 1969

The Unknown War with Russia: Wilson’s Siberian Intervention”. Robert James Maddox. 1977

“Wolfhounds and Polar Bears: The American Expeditionary Force in Siberia”. John M. House. 2016

“Yanks in Siberia”. Richard O’Connor, American Heritage Magazine. August, 1974

“America’s Siberian Adventure”. General William S. Graves. 1931

“When the Red Storm Broke”. William Harlan Hale, American Heritage Magazine. February, 1961