1918 US invasion of Russia
1918 US invasion of Russia

Unlike their government, American soldiers had little desire to intervene in the war in Russia. The first and only US military intervention in Russia began on May 27, 1918, when the US cruiser Olympia arrived in Murmansk, already under British control.

A few months later, in another northern Russian port, Arkhangelsk, five and a half thousand soldiers of the American army landed. Eight thousand more servicemen appeared at about the same time in the Russian Far East.

American troops in Arkhangelsk, October 1919

American troops in Arkhangelsk, October 1919.

The large-scale intervention of the United States and the Entente countries in the Civil War in Russia was not initially caused by hatred of Bolshevism. The main reason was the conclusion on March 3, 1918 in Brest by the Soviet government of peace with the Germans, which meant the country's withdrawal from the war and the actual collapse of the Eastern Front.

The German Empire could now throw all its remaining power on France, which promised considerable problems for the allies. The Bolsheviks, however, were not considered by the Entente as a real force capable of holding out in power for a long time. They were seen as German puppets, henchmen of the Kaiser, who act in his interests.

German and Soviet soldiers in February 1918

German and Soviet soldiers in February 1918.

At the official level, it was stated that the main task of US soldiers would be to protect American military supplies that were sent to Russia before the revolution, but had not yet reached the Bolsheviks. Washington feared that the latter would hand them over to the Germans. In addition, the so-called Czechoslovak corps (legion) should have been helped to leave Russian territory.

The corps was formed in October 1917 by the Russian military command from Czechs and Slovaks prisoners who expressed a desire to fight against Germany and Austria-Hungary, and was legally subordinate to the French command. The legionaries were to be evacuated to the Western Front through the ports of the Far East.

However, in the spring of 1918, when the Bolsheviks tried to disarm them, they revolted and took control of large areas in Siberia.

Czechoslovak troops in Irkutsk

Czechoslovak troops in Irkutsk

The United States has publicly declared that it has no plans "to affect the political sovereignty of Russia, to interfere in its internal affairs, or to encroach on its territorial integrity, neither now, nor ever later." In fact, their military contingents were supposed to contribute to the victory in the Civil War of the white movement, which declared its intention to continue the war with the Germans.

However, at the same time, neither the United States nor the other intervening powers planned to lose people on foreign soil, trying to get by with little bloodshed. “The allied forces, however, had no instructions to take part in the operations and arrived with completely vague assignments,” wrote Ivan Sukin, the foreign minister in the government of the leader of the white movement in the east of the country, Alexander Kolchak, with annoyance.

American troops in Khabarovsk

American troops in Khabarovsk.

The Siberia Expeditionary Force (eight thousand soldiers), Major General William Graves, was entrusted with the protection of sections of the Trans-Siberian Railway and coal mines in Suchan (Partizansk).

Formally, he was subordinate to the French General Maurice Janin, who carried out the general command of the allied forces of the interventionists in the Far East. The Americans were not interested here at all in the Czech legionaries, as stated, but in their own intervention allies, the Japanese. Having sent as a member of the Entente more than 70 thousand of its soldiers to the Russian coastal region, Japan played its game, almost openly seeking to annex it.

This could not but cause fears of their Pacific rival, who used the Siberia corps as a deterrent to Tokyo's expansionism. Neutral-hostile relations developed between the Americans and the Japanese troops, as well as the White Cossack atamans subordinate to them.

Often it came to conflicts. So, ataman Ivan Kalmykov, Graves openly called "a murderer, a robber and a thug," "the most notorious villain" he had ever met.

An ambulance car for American troops in Khabarovsk

An ambulance car for American troops in Khabarovsk.

Relationships between American troops and local Red Guerrilla units ranged from a desire to avoid each other to violent confrontation.

The most serious clash between them took place in the village of Romanovka on June 24, 1919, when, as a result of a battle with the detachment of Grigory Shevchenko, the interventionists lost 19 people killed and 27 wounded. The answer was an anti-partisan operation, during which the Bolsheviks were pushed back into the depths of the taiga.

A US Army soldier distributes food to prisoners

A US Army soldier distributes food to prisoners.

In the Soviet Union, it was believed that the American interventionists actively participated in the mass executions of the local civilian population. As the newspaper Zabaikalsky Rabochy wrote on June 10, 1952, 1600 Soviet citizens were shot by the White Guards and Americans in the taiga Tarskaya valley on July 1, 1919. “The corpses of those who tried to flee were lying near the grave for several days.

A doctor from the American Red Cross did not allow the bodies of tortured people to be buried for three days,”the newspaper quotes an eyewitness to this massacre, Bolsukhin. Today, however, the participation of American troops in mass terror is questioned, although there have been cases of individual war crimes against civilians.

A Bolshevik shot by American soldiers near Arkhangelsk

A Bolshevik shot by American soldiers near Arkhangelsk.

The 339th Regiment of Colonel George Stewart played a major role in the US intervention in the Russian north, known as the Polar Bear Expedition. The regiment consisted of natives of the northern state of Michigan.

Accustomed to the cold at home, they were believed to quickly get used to the harsh climatic conditions of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. The supreme command over the American soldiers (5 and a half thousand people) was carried out by the British, whose forces in the region were several times larger.

A US Army captain with a trophy saber captured in a battle with the Bolsheviks in the Russian north

A US Army captain with a trophy saber captured in a battle with the Bolsheviks in the Russian north.

Unlike the Far East, in the Russian north, the Americans had to fight a lot with the Bolsheviks. If the "Siberians" of Graves were in the deep rear of Kolchak's army, then the "polar bears" entered into direct clashes not only with partisan detachments, but also with regular units of the Red Army.

During the offensive of the 6th Army near Shenkursk in January 1919, up to 500 American soldiers were surrounded. Having lost 25 people killed, artillery, equipment and ammunition, they were able to break through only thanks to the white officers who knew the area well.

US military engineers in Russia

US military engineers in Russia.

The conclusion of an armistice in November 1918, and then a peace with Germany in June 1919, raised the question of the expediency of the presence of American troops in Russia.

"What is the policy of our state towards Russia?" - asked Senator Hiram Johnson in his speech on December 12, 1918: "I do not know what it is, and I do not know a single person who does." The command, however, was in no hurry to evacuate. A group of soldiers of the 339th Regiment, who filed a petition to return home in March 1919, were threatened with a tribunal.


With the defeat of the White movement in the north and east of Russia at the end of 1919, all sense of the presence of American troops here was lost. The last soldiers left the country in April 1920.

During the entire period of the intervention, the Siberia Corps and the Polar Bears lost 523 soldiers killed in battles, killed by disease, frostbite and accidents.Lieutenant of the 339th regiment John Coudehi wrote in his book "Arkhangelsk": "When the last battalion sailed from Arkhangelsk, not a single soldier imagined, even vaguely, what he fought for, why he was leaving now, and why so many of his comrades remained here under wooden crosses."

The graves of American soldiers in Russia

The graves of American soldiers in Russia.

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