This post first appeared on Russia Insider
The US has been engaged in far-flung military adventures for over a century.
One forgotten instance happened in Russia in the aftermath of WWI. Russia was deep in a civil war, and the Western powers, including America, sent troops to Russia's peripheries to take what they could while Russia was down.
Well, since we're talking about history, it's quite appropriate to remember how the Americans, upon the order of the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who was to become a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, were deployed to Russia with an intention to feather their nest while we were in tatters after WWI and the Revolution. If you remember, back then, Lenin put forward a rallying cry, "Let's turn the imperialistic war into a civil one." So, the American troops wasted no time. In the North European part of the country alone, 6,000 soldiers showed up, marching under the U.S. flag. Is it normal? Not all of them made it back to America. Even now, in the 21st century, Russian search parties continue to find the remains of the American soldiers and send them home to their families.
Nikolay Vasiliev will tell us about the echo of the First World War from the Arkhangelsk Oblast.
This typical Western European memorial is located in downtown Arkhangelsk. A hundred years ago, there was a swamp here. That is when 222 soldiers and officers were buried here. They were invaders from various countries who, from 1918 to 1920, were fighting in the Russian North against the Soviet government. The British, the French, the Canadian, and the Australians were here from 1916. The Imperial army's allies in Entente were supplying it with weaponry for the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary. After the February and October Revolutions, and, most importantly, when Germany's defeat in WWI became obvious, the Americans were quick to join the Entente. On the 5th of September 1918, the U.S. Army 339th Infantry Regiment disembarked in Arkhangelsk. There were a total of 6,000 troops. The British, who were in command of the entire northern unit, ordered the Americans to guard military warehouses.
Neale Duffett, Twinning Committee of Portland: "What could have happened here that suddenly we turned into enemies instead of friends? As we know from the events of WWII, we're much better off when we're allies. It's good that now, in this very place, we're starting the search for the missing soldiers, as allies."
Over 200 U.S. Army soldiers died in a strange country, in a strange war for strange interests. Most of them were buried with honors at home. According to historians, approximately 20 servicemen of the 339th Infantry Regiment are still considered to be missing.
Igor Matyuk, National Rescue Agency: "I was contacted by, so to say, my American colleagues, they asked for my help in finding the soldiers who went missing during WWI."
Igor Matyuk has spent 20 years searching for those who died on Nevsky Pyatachok and Lake Ladoga. He restored the memory of several hundred Soviet fighters who were considered to be missing during the Great Patriotic War. In a technical sense, searching for Americans who went missing during WWI is not more difficult.
Igor Matyuk: “The railway station Obozerskaya was their base. They went into the swamp around it, and it's clear in what direction they were going and where they drowned. I mean, it's not a very vast search area. Nevertheless, it's a difficult task.”
The organizing of a search expedition was requested by both the researchers from the East-West World Wars Museum in New Jersey the Polar Bear Memorial Association in Michigan. The Americans are confident that the Russian rescuers' expertise combined with cutting-edge technology will help find the U.S. Army soldiers who died in the Russian North.
Dwight Bornell, East-West Museum: "This is a standard uniform of a WWI soldier. Even if all the clothing has deteriorated, the buttons remain. They are the most valuable thing when finding a soldier. Buttons and chest hardware enable us to determine not just the country the soldier was fighting for, but even his regiment sometimes. By the way, the Polar Bear soldiers had different uniforms, warmer ones."
After the Russian North campaign, Polar Bear became the nickname for both the 339th infantry regiment of the 85th U.S. Army division and its servicemen. To this day, their logo features both the polar predator and their motto in Russian in the old lettering, "The Bayonet Decides." That's what the Red Army soldiers taught their enemy: no matter how mighty the guns, tanks, and airplanes are, a battle isn't over while at least one bayonet-armed soldier is alive.
There were few actual encounters between the Americans and the Red Army. And each of them is documented in great detail in archives with all the dates, names, and even photographs. The Arkhangelsk Museum of Search Movement stores a famous shot taken on the 8th of January, 1918. It's Shenkursky Province, the spy Nikolay Dyachkov, who was killed in the battle, and the infantryman George Moses.
Alexey Sukhanovsky, Third Front Memorial Team: "He isn't showing a trophy, he's showing the novelty that is the camouflage cloak. Americans, like flies in cream, were crawling under gunfire, so camouflage was very important in a snowy environment. The Americans were very quick to adopt such cloaks, I mean, they would even just cover themselves in bed sheets."
Oleg Teptsov, Cinema Director: "When they came here, like it happens now, they were very surprised to discover that people also live here."
Cinema director Oleg Teptsov is studying materials for a documentary about the intervention in the Russian North— about both the participants and the victims, on both sides. It turns out that the American commanders' first choice for sending soldiers to Arkhangelsk were those whose parents immigrated from the Russian Empire.
Oleg Teptsov: “They stayed here for a while, guarding warehouses, tasted the freezing cold, and fell ill with the flu. 70 men died from the Spanish flu. Some of them even managed to marry and adopt children.”
Yuri Zharov, East-West Museum: “Now is a very good occasion, with the 100th anniversary of the withdrawal of these troops from Russia coming up in November, to remind everyone about it, to tell this story again, to teach everyone another history lesson, both in Russia and America, and in other countries. It would be magnificent."
American troops spent exactly fourteen months fighting near Arkhangelsk. On the 5th of November, 1919, the 339th regiment was urgently evacuated to the USA, when the divisions of the Red Army invaded the city. It's definite that at least two Americans were buried at the British memorial in Arkhangelsk. Their graves, however, are now lost among dozens of gravestones like these. As it's written here that only God knows which soldier of the Great War rests here.
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
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