The Allies in Siberia

Among the major Allied powers, the Japanese and Americans were in the best position to intervene in Siberia. Japan had significant commercial and strategic interests in the Russian Far East and did not have troops committed to a major theatre. The Americans also had important business relations in the Far Fast, and although they had begun arriving in large numbers on the Western Front, they were relatively fresh to the horrors of war and had troops to spare. The British, French and Italians, though heavily engaged

Krasnoyarsk 1919 Presoner Post Card
Vladivostok during the civil war An American ship floats In the harbour flying the stars and stripes. A small Czech flag is in the forefront. (Czech Legion art card painting, c. 1919-20)

on the Western and Alpine Fronts, were willing to contribute smaller contingents to Siberia as part of the Allied coalition.

The Japanese landed the 12th Division on 3 August 1918 and began operating with the Czechs against Red partisans in the Amur and Assuri regions. Their 14th Division followed, and by November their numbers reached 72,400, under the command of General Otani, All Allied powers in the Russian Far East were to operate under Otani's orders; however, each of the Allies was able to qualify these orders through their own military missions in-country. Following the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, Japanese intervention was a sensitive issue. Many Russians, irrespective of political hue, regarded them with suspicion.

The Americans began landing in Vladivostok on 10 August, the 27th Infantry Regiment arriving on the 16th, the 31st Infantry Regiment on the 21st, both regiments and other expeditionary units eventually totalling 7,500 under General William Graves. To the chagrin of the other Allies, however, the Americans and Japanese were not willing to drive west in order to reconstitute the Eastern Front or directly assist the embattled Czechs along the Volga.

For their part, the Japanese refused to venture west of Lake Baikal, securing instead the rail lines, cities and strategic points in

Ataman Semenov

the Russian Far East, For the duration of the civil war, they supplied two Russian commanders with munitions and financing: General Grigory Semenov, Ataman of the Trans-Baikal Cossacks, and General Ivan Kalmykov, Ataman of the Ussuri Cossacks. Eater, this support would extend to General Baron von Ungern-Sternberg in Mongolia.

As for the Americans, President Woodrow Wilson decided not to interfere in the internal affairs of Russia beyond securing the railways east of Eake Baikal, providing security and aid for the Russian people, and ensuring the Czechs could evacuate safely to the Western Front. These views were communicated directly in a presidential memorandum given to Newton Baker, Secretary for War, for personal delivery to General Graves. Although the State Department favoured a stronger action to re-form an Eastern Front and stymie the Bolsheviks, the War Department's strategy of sending all possible troops to the Western Front prevailed.

Throughout the Siberian intervention, Graves interpreted these instructions to the letter and remained strictly neutral towards the various Russian factions. This position increasingly drove the British and French, and even the American proponents of a more vigorous intervention, to distraction. Graves, in fact, immediately found himself in an economic, political and strategic rivalry

American. Japanese and Allied officers in eastern Siberia. The back has handwriting in German:'American and Japanese officers, our guard troops in Krasnaya Retchka'. Krasnaya Retchka was a prisoner-of-war camp incarcerating 2,000 Germans captured in World War One, 1,500 of them officers. Company E, of the American 27th Infantry Regiment, took control of the Camp's bnck garrison buildings in November 1918 and brought in badly-needed medical and food supplies.The commander of Company E was Captain Ed Larkins, who is probably the captain seated in the centre. Several hundred thousand German and Austrian prisoners were still in Russia awaiting repatriation to their homelands during the Russian Civil War (Bullock collection)

with the Japanese and with their warlord puppets Semenov and Kalmykov, whom he came to detest. By 1919, Graves had formed a negative impression of the entire White cause in Siberia, Not surprisingly, the Whites looked on American intervention as at best neutral and at worst hostile.

The British landed 543 men of the 25th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, in July 1918, Over the next weeks the British fought alongside a White Russian unit under Kalmykov and a Czech battalion against Red partisans on the Ussuri. Then they proceeded to Omsk in western Siberia, leaving a few garrisons at strategic points along the rail lines. The British commander, Colonel John Ward, toured the Urals, inspecting KOMUCH and Czech positions at the front. The 9th Battalion, Royal Hampshire Regiment, arrived in October and also travelled to Omsk, These and otber smaller units, totalling approximately 1,400 men, remained in close contact with the head of the British Military Mission, General Sir Alfred Knox. Knox, an outright supporter of Kolchak and a clear enemy of the Bolsheviks, was perhaps the most experienced and brilliant figure among the Allies in Siberia. Under his direction, the British took the foremost hand in the supplying and training of Kolchak's forces. Consequently, the Whites respected Britain above the other Allies.

Following a request by the British, the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force, consisting of the 16th Brigade (259th and 260th Battalions with smaller technical and support units), began arriving in Vladivostok on 26 October 1918. General j. Ehnsley commanded the 5,000 men earmarked for intervention. However, because of the Armistice and a prompt reversal of policy by the Canadian government, only 3,800 actually arrived. These were evacuated on 5 June 1919. Interestingly, the 1st Canadian Tank Battalion volunteered for service in Siberia but the unit never arrived.

The French appointed General Maurice Janin head of their military mission and placed him in charge of the Allied forces in western Siberia. However, Kolchak negated much of Janin's influence by refusing to place Russians in Russia under direct French command. The French themselves contributed 1,076 troops in the summer of 1918. These included an Indo-Chinese battalion, an artillery battery and a reinforced company of volunteers from Alsace-Lorraine. After fighting on the Ussuri, these proceeded to the Ural Front, seeing action at Ufa and Chelyabinsk in October-November. French aircraft with instructors earmarked for the Whites arrived in spring 1919, as did tank personnel who provided training on machine guns. The tanks themselves only arrived briefly at Vladivostok during the French evacuation on 28 April 1920.

France additionally organized units among foreign nationals, former prisoners of war and

Irish Armoured Train

Americans stand beside Ataman Kalmykov's armoured train in eastern Siberia, 1918-19, One of Kalmykov's soldiers peers from the observation tower. For details on this armouned train see: New Vanguard 83, Armored Units of the Russian Cvil War: White and Allied.

Two American infantry regiments transferred from their bases in the Philippines to Siberia, the 27th and the 31 stThe 27th arrived in Vladivostok on 16 August 1918, the 31st Following five days later Both regiments earned their nicknames in Siberia.The 27th became known as the 'Wolfhounds' due to a Japanese dispatch that compared their rapid rate of marching to that of'Russian Wolfhounds' (the borzoi breed of dog). The 3 1st subsequently became known as The Polar Bear Regiment' (not to be confused with the American 339th Infantry Regiment known as 'The Polar Bears').The 27th evacuated Vladivostok between January and March 1920 and the 3 i st followed in April. (Bullock collection)

soldiers who previously had served the tsar or Provisional Government. The French formed a Polish Division of 12,000 that saw action along the rails in central Siberia from late spring 1919, a regiment of Serbs at Chelyabinsk and another at Tomsk combined with Slovenes and Croatians, these two units totalling 4,000. President M. Masaryk of the Czechoslovak National Council permitted the French to directly incorporate the Czech Legion into the French Army for the duration of the war. The French Military Mission recorded their number at over 60,000.

Other members of the Allied coalition included China and Italy. The Italians

Vladivostok 1919

The 9th Battalion, Royal Hampshire Regiment, transferred from India to Vladivostok in October l9l8.The Hampshires crossed Siberia to Omsk Kolchak's capital, before departing for England in November 1919. Here, soldiers stand beside a 'submerging boat' or semi-submarine, an experiment by Russian Lieutenant Botkin and a relic of the Russo-Japanese Wan on display in Vladivostok (Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum)

The 9th Battalion, Royal Hampshire Regiment, transferred from India to Vladivostok in October l9l8.The Hampshires crossed Siberia to Omsk Kolchak's capital, before departing for England in November 1919. Here, soldiers stand beside a 'submerging boat' or semi-submarine, an experiment by Russian Lieutenant Botkin and a relic of the Russo-Japanese Wan on display in Vladivostok (Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum)

contributed at least 1,4(K) men and established these in garrisons from Vladivostok to Krasnoyarsk. China continued to guard and administer the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria alongside the Russians in accordance with an earlier treaty.

The Allies confined themselves to restoring order over the thousands of miles of Russian railways, garrisoning fixed points and fighting Red partisans, who by all accounts numbered between 80,000 and 100,(Kit). Most encounters with the partisans involved skirmishes between dozens or hundreds of men, but sometimes a few thousand. Only on the Amur and Ussuri Fronts in 1918 did they face down Red formations of 10,000-18,000 in pitched battles.

From March 1919, the Inter-Allied Committee, consisting of representatives from each of the Allied powers with a Russian as chairman, controlled the railways and through their subordinate boards supervised maintenance. American engineer John Stevens headed the Technical Board, a body of 300 experts from the United States. Originally invited to improve the rail system by Kerensky and known as the Russian Railway Service Corps, the team did not arrive in Siberia until March 1918.

Theoretically, Bolsheviks, bandits or hostile elements were not to be allowed within ten kilometres of the railways, a guideline to be enforced by the Allied military troops on hand that guarded specific sectors of the lines. In general, Allied administration of the considerable supplies flowing westward to Kolchak was as honest as the administration of the railways was competent. However, given the dilapidated slate of the Russian railways, the competing interests of the Allies themselves, the 'carrying charges' exacted by White warlords like Semenov and Kalmykov, and predatory raids by partisans, much less reached the front than had been sent out.

From start to finish, internecine squabbles Crippled the effectiveness of the Allied coalition. Each ally brought its own national goals to the table, none could agree with another on a common strategy and none but the Japanese possessed a sufficient number of troops for decisive action. If any one or two of

Japanese Siberia

The Czechoslovak Legion guarded the Trans-Siberian Railway from 1918 to 1920, in 19 19-20 their primary duty was along the lines of communications fighting Red partisans. (Painting by Jindrich Vlcek, art card. 1925)

the powers had been willing or able to commit a few brigades to shore up Kolchak's untried levies, the outcome on the Volga-Urals Front in 1919 would have been quite different.

In the end, most British formations evacuated Siberia by November 1919 and the Americans by April 1920. Most of the other Allies evacuated between these dates, the last

The Czechoslovak Legion guarded the Trans-Siberian Railway from 1918 to 1920, in 19 19-20 their primary duty was along the lines of communications fighting Red partisans. (Painting by Jindrich Vlcek, art card. 1925)

echelon of the Czech Legion embarking in August 1920. The last of the Allies, the Japanese, departed on 20 October 1922.

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  • HOPE
    Are ivan and grigorii kalmykov same person?
    8 years ago

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