By Tristan Jung
Although the campaign is little-remembered today, 2020 marks a century since American troops fought on Russian territory. During the Russian Civil War, 7,950 American soldiers fought in Siberia around the city of Vladivostok between 1918 and 1920, a major theater of the conflict between the Bolsheviks and their many domestic and foreign enemies.
The harrowing campaign began in 1918, when President Woodrow Wilson ordered Major General William S. Graves and units from the 27th and 31st Infantry Regiments to land in Vladivostok as part of the American Expeditionary Force, Siberia.
At the time, Russia was split between the Communist forces of the Red Army and the various conservative factions of the White Army. Siberia was a chaotic mess with areas under occupation by Japanese troops fighting with the Allies, German prisoners of war, other Allied armies, and Bolshevik armies all jumbled together.
Wilson planned to rescue the trapped Czech Legion, a large Allied force that had fought all the way to Siberia during the course of the Russian Civil War. But by the time the US Army arrived, the Czech Legion had been evacuated, leaving the US Army to
The Americans successfully pursued a Bolshevik force over 1,000 miles during 1918, but they were forced to return to Vladivostok under orders to remain neutral and simply guard the city. This goal of neutrality would remain for the rest of the intervention.
However, the area was devastated by the conflict and American troops suffered through a terrible winter during 1918-19, despite the signing of the Armistice in November. In 1919, the US Army guarded the Trans-Siberian railway, a vital line of supply for the White Army. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, they were constantly harassed by Cossack forces, Bolshevik partisans, and the harsh conditions.
Tensions between the Americans and Japanese forces also ran high as Major General Graves stuck to his mission of neutrality and refused to attack Bolshevik partisans. Ultimately, the defeat of the White Russian Army in late 1919 convinced President Wilson to end the intervention. The American troops were withdrawn and the last troops left in April 1920.
In fact, the AEF’s intervention into Siberia wasn’t the only American involvement in the war. In 1918, prior to the end of World War I another 5,000 US Army troops landed near the Russian port of Archangel, over 3,500 miles away from Vladivostok. The so-called “Polar Bear Expedition” lasted beyond the end of the First World War, and American troops didn’t go home until August 1919.
These two interventions mark the only times that members of the US Armed Forces have fought on Russian soil during its history.