The Polar Bear Expedition: Allies vs. Russia

By | November 3, 2019

[November 3, 2019]  British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said that “History is written by the victors.”  He was talking about how future generations would view World War II and the bloodbath that constituted its essential elements.  Likewise, we rarely hear about the Polar Bear Expedition of Allied Forces that attacked Russia in the midst of their Revolution.  The expedition failed.

During the latter days of the First World War, Russia had disintegrated into a brutish purge of its aristocracy.  Czarist Russia was rampant with corruption, inefficiency, disregarded the common man, and poor handling of the war.  It was clear, from the view of the Allies, that Russia was no longer part of the effort.

At the request of the British and French governments, the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson authorized an American expedition to assist in achieving two objectives.  The first objective was to prevent war material stockpiles from falling into the hands of the Central Powers or Russian Bolsheviks.  And second, to rescue the Czechoslovak Legion, which was stranded in North Russia.

Following the Allied Armistice with Germany on November 11, 1918, family members and friends of soldiers who fought there began writing letters to newspapers and circulating petitions to their Congressional representatives, asking for the return of the force from Russia.  By early 1919, these forces were still in Russia (mostly due to the winter freezing the ports).  In April 1919, a relief force arrived at Arkhangelsk, where the American force disembarked.

A year later and with the backing of the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization, expedition members began lobbying to obtain funds to retrieve the bodies of those who had lost their lives in Russia.  The current VFW Magazine has an article on their efforts and worth reading how our troops are instilled with the idea to never “leave a man behind.”  As of the publication date of this blog post, the VFW has not put the article up on their Webpage.

By the time World War I ended, the Communist ideology had taken hold in many parts of the world.  Russia was just one location.  China’s dance with Communism began about the same time but for different reasons.  The point is that all the ideology accomplished with dictators at the lead was the death of more than 100 million people.  The estimated death toll of the Allied Polar Bear Expedition was less than 1,000.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

17 thoughts on “The Polar Bear Expedition: Allies vs. Russia

  1. The Kid 1945

    Good history article. I found myself surprised that I’d never heard of this. What I am thinking is that this “war” might have colored the perception of Russia about the US. Russia is like an old woman who is paranoid, slow acting, and revengeful.

    1. Kenny Foster

      This is why you can never trust the Russians. They don’t even trust themselves. It’s largely a 5th century, tribal country.

      1. Tracey Brockman

        You got that right, Kenny. I have several friends from Russia that I went to college with back about 20 years ago. They were generally good folks but they told me to never trust a Russian because their allegiance was always to themselves. They were also anti-religion; no surprises here.

      2. apache2

        Hey guys, let’s not paint with such a broad paintbrush. It’s like comparing city-folk from New York City to Texas Rangers. Big difference and hard to draw parallels in them too.

    2. Willie Shrumburger

      Me too. Always good to get a little light on our military history.

  2. Bryan Lee

    We can learn from history and from those times that “try men’s souls” have the greatest lessons. Those things we learn are not always apparent during those difficult times. Take, for example, the terrible election we are having here in the US. With such nasty, vindictive campaigning going on, it makes me sick. Whoever gets elected will be no good. But the Democrats are crazy! I’d rather have Trump than any of the whackos that live in la-la land.

    1. Eva Easterbrook

      Tell us what you think, Bryan. Ha Ha Ha. I was thinking the same thing. Learn from history but first you have to know the history. I’ve seen such a distortion of history in this election and distortion of the Bible too. They cherry pick what they want to make their points. Stupid people are sucked into their talk.

    2. Darryl Sitterly

      Right. Smoke and mirrors. Hard to get much out of that.

  3. Max Foster

    The Polar Bears, hailing largely from Michigan, heroically waged a courageous campaign in the brutal, frigid subarctic of northern Russia for almost a year. And yet they are all but unknown today. Indeed, during the Cold War, two U.S. presidents, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, would assert that the American and the Russian people had never directly fought each other. They were spectacularly wrong, and so too is the nation’s collective memory.

    1. Jake Tapper, Jr.

      In the century since, America has forgotten the Polar Bears’ harrowing campaign. Russia, notably, has not, and the episode continues to color Russian attitudes toward the United States. At once epic and intimate.

  4. Harry Donner

    Good article for a sunny Sunday morning. I love history but some of it is just too dull. When it comes to military history, you have my attention. There is so much we can learn about senior leadership at the strategic level and tactics that it is hard not to see better our way as leaders. Unfortunately, the Polar Bear Expedition was confusing and little history is written about it (that I can find).

    1. Jerome Smith

      Right! I too looked elsewhere on the Internet and couldn’t find much. If someone wants to write a book about it, then go right ahead. Not much out there.

      1. Lady Hawk

        I ordered mine today. Reading the reviews on Amazon, it looks to be a pretty good book to study.

        1. JT Patterson

          Hi Lady Hawk. Haven’t heard from you in a while. Welcome back!

  5. Gil Johnson

    Interesting history. Never heard of this expedition. Should have finished off Russia while she was in the middle of her “revolution.”

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