Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Polar Bear Expedition

With the really cold weather outside, I decided to use this opportunity for some more macro photography.  If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you are aware that I have a fairly large collection of action figures.  While these are very similar to G.I. Joes, they are more like models because they are pretty detailed.  I have various figures that represent different eras of history.  Probably the bulk of my figures are repesentative of World War II, I do have a few from other eras.

Anyway, the cold weather got me thinking about a point in American history.  Many people are familiar with the Battle of the Marne, Meuse-Argonne and Belleau Wood but there seem to very few people that are familiar with US troops being used in Archangelsk and Vladivostok.
 This is one of two figures that I have that represent the World War I era.  The other is a British Lewis gunner.  This figure actually represents a subset of World War I for the Americans.  In 1918, the British and French governments requested United States troops to intervene in the Russian Revolution.  They would be fighting on the side of the White Government (The Czar) against the Reds (The Bolsheviks or Communists).  The men came from the 339th Infantry Regiment and were mostly from Michigan (out of 4,487 men, 500 came from Wisconsin...the rest from Michigan).  The unit was known as "Detroit's Own".
 Originally the unit was going to be sent to the battlefields of France but they were diverted to Arkhangelsk and arrived there on September 4th, 1918.  Originally the units were supposed to be used for defense of the Allied stockpiles in Russia with the British and French units to be used for offense but that changed upon their arrival in Russia.  However, they were split into two fronts and this became difficult to maintain.  In October, they were brought back to a defensive position.
 Eventually, it was realized that there weren't enough anti-Bolshevik forces for them to link up with, so they lost many of their gains from their initial offensive.  They retreated back to Archangelsk.  With the signing of the Armistice in Germany on November 11, 1918, there was a petition to return these men as well.  The morale of these men was low because they thought they would be returning with the rest of the American units.  There were several mutinies in the ranks of the men.

In May of 1919 (6 months after the end of the war), the soldiers were finally allowed to return home.  The campaign in Russia 110 men their lives.  Many of these bodies had to be repatriated well after the war.  By all accounts, the men fought bravely in a stupid cause.
One of the main differences between these soldiers and the soldiers in France was that they used the Mosin-Nagant rifles of the Russian Military.  It was easier to get ammunition for these.

There is a pretty neat memorial to these guys at the White Chapel Cemetary in Troy, Michigan.


Matthew B. Gordon said...

It's worth noting that a lot of American historians (perhaps purposely) forget about this expedition in relation to it being an early direct cause of the souring of Russo-American relations. This is definitely not something Russian historians forget when reading their literature on the Cold War. The average American would not know about this time in history, whereas the average Russian would.

The Michigan's Own Military Museum in Frankenmuth has a nice exhibit on the expedition, with several artifacts from Camp Custer, though this museum tends to be very historically biased (owing to the fact that it's really more of a memorial than a museum)

Matthew B. Gordon said...

As an aside, the Mosin Nagant is a beautiful rifle. I bought the carbine version a few years ago, and it shoots great. Ammo is very cheap and easy to find. The carbine can now be found at most sporting good stores for under $300.

Mikoyan said...

I can imagine our historians forgetting this incident. Heck, our politicians almost forgot about the soldiers we sent there as soon as they were sent there. I recall the exhibit at the Military Museum, but its been a while since I've been there.

Joe Stocking said...

My grandfather Vernon F Stocking
Was a Detroit Polar Bear 339th C.l