Siberian Expedition

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SIBERIAN EXPEDITION. On 18 August 1918, near the end of World War I and five months after the Bolsheviks had signed the Treaty of Brest Litovsk with the Germans on 3 March 1918, an American expeditionary force landed in Siberia. Part of a joint JapaneseAmerican agreement negotiated by President Woodrow Wilson, it was organized to help "rescue" a body of Czecho-Slovak soldiers, who had been fighting alongside the Bolsheviks against the Germans and were now seeking to reach the Western Front to fight for their freedom from Austria-Hungary. Although the Allies and the Supreme War Council (the chief agency for the direction of the war) had sought for six months to win Wilson's approval for an Allied intervention, designed to reestablish the Eastern Front, Wilson's public announcement of 3 August (known as the aide memoire ) made clear that the United States would not support such an action.

Furious, the British and French proceeded with their own plans. The Czechs, under the command of the French, had secured from the Bolsheviks right of passage through Siberia. They were stopped in their tortuous journey, however, when the Germans forced the Bolsheviks to seek Czech disarmament, and when fighting broke out between Czech forces and Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war. Successful in occupying a major part of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Czechs were persuaded by the Allies and counterrevolutionary White forces to re-main at least temporarily in Siberia, to aid in the reestablishment of the Eastern Front.

Major General William S. Graves sailed from San Francisco with a contingent of U.S. troops on 2 September 1918 to join the U.S. regular 27th and 31st Infantry Regiments from Manila in the Philippines. He had been instructed to remain neutral and beware of Japanese imperialistic designs. Immediately upon his arrival, the divergence of views concerning the purpose of intervention became clearly apparent. Great Britain and France were attempting to extend the scope of military and political action in Siberia and co-opt the Czechs into reestablishing the Eastern Front, while Japan, under the terms of a secret Sino-Japanese military agreement of May 1918 (leaked by the Chinese to the State Department), was proceeding with its plans to occupy Manchuria and the Rus-sian Far East. The United States, for its part, was attempting to limit and restrain its own independent operations. By the time the armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, Japan had sent some three divisions, or 72,400 men, all of them under the direct control of the General Staff in Tokyo. Fearing that Japan would succeed in gaining control of the railways, the United States initiated plans to have them administered by the U.S. military and operated by the Russian Railway Service Corps, a body of 300 American engineers (dispatched at the request of the Provisional Government in September 1917 to operate the Trans-Siberian Railway). The primary purpose of American military forces now became the restoration and protection of the railways, with Czech cooperation and support. Between 18 November 1918 and 27 December 1919, from the rise to the fall of Admiral Aleksandr V. Kolchak (would-be dictator of Siberia), General Graves scrupulously refrained from endorsing either the Whites or the Reds.

After the armistice, the defeat of the Bolsheviks became paramount in Allied decision making. Wilson soon found it impossible to keep American troops in Siberia without actively aiding Kolchak. Eventually, the Bolsheviks themselves conceded America's justification in following such a policy when in 1933, after being shown certain documents concerning American policy, they agreed to drop all claims against the United States for its part in the Siberian intervention. When U.S. troops left Siberia with the last contingent of Czech troops in April 1920, Japan remained in occupation of eastern Siberia and partial occupation of the Trans-Siberian Railway until 1922.


Graves, William S. America's Siberian Adventure, 19181920. New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, 1931. Re-print, New York: Arno Press, 1971. General Graves's personal account showing the divergence of American policy from that of its Allies.

Kennan, George F. The Decision to Intervene. Monograph published as part of SovietAmerican Relations, 19171920. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 19561958. A classic account of America's decision to intervene in both north Russia and Siberia.

Unterberger, Betty M. America's Siberian Expedition, 19181920: A Study of National Policy. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1956. Reprint, New York: Greenwood Press, 1969. Remains the classic account of the Siberian intervention.

. The United States, Revolutionary Russia, and the Rise of Czechoslovakia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989. Paperback edition with A 2000 Year Perspective. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000. Provides the complex setting for and the role of all participants in the Siberian intervention.

Betty Miller Unterberger

See also Russia, Relations with ; World War I .

General William S. Graves, commander of the expedition to Siberia, recounts the following story of the receipt of his orders from Secretary of War Newton D. Baker: Baker "handed me a sealed envelope saying, 'This contains the policy of the United States in Russia which you are to follow. Watch your step; you will be walking on eggs loaded with dynamite. God bless you and goodbye.'"

source: William S. Graves. America's Siberian Adventure, p. 4.