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Yanks In Siberia

July 2024
20min read


During mid-August, 1918, American forces began landing at Vladivostok, the capital of the Soviet Maritime Territory, in one of the more curious side shows of the First World War. From Moscow it appeared that the United States had joined other western nations and Japan in supporting the White counterrevolution, which just then was making dangerous headway against the Red armies, and on August 30, in a speech before a throng of factory workers, Lenin denounced the United States as a fake democracy standing for the “enslavement of millions of workers.”

From a Washington hazed over with Wilsonian rhetoric about self-determination the perspective was quite different. President Woodrow Wilson wasn’t bent on smashing the revolution but, he said, on aiding a force of over forty thousand Czechoslovak soldiers, formerly a unit of the Russian army and now supposedly heading for Vladivostok along the TransSiberian railroad, thence to embark for the western front to renew the fight against Germany.

Early in 1918 it was proposed in the Supreme War Council at Versailles that Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States send forces to Russia to re-establish an eastern front against Germany, the new Soviet government having negotiated a separate peace and opted out of the war. The intervention was to be in two widely separated areas, both theoretically propitious to Allied aims: at Murmansk and Archangel in north Russia and at Vladivostok on the Pacific. The Far Eastern intervention proceeded despite warnings that the project would chiefly benefit Japan in its ambitions to expand on the Asian mainland, that Siberia already was a political and military maelstrom in which the various Bolshevik partisan bands, the Russian counterrevolutionary forces soon to be headed by Admiral Kolchak, Cossack regiments turned to brigandage, and a pan-Mongol movement led by a demented Baltic baron all were trying to fill the vacuum caused by the fall of the Romanoffs and the present weakness of the Soviet central government.


Siberia, as viewed from the War Department in Washington, seemed a good place to avoid as far as United States military involvement was concerned. The general staff believed the country had taxed itself to the utmost in sending an expeditionary force to France and had little moral energy or physical reserves to expend on adventures on the other side of the globe.

Only a vague historical memory now, without any great battles or garlanding of sensational headlines, the American intervention in Russia would loom larger in the ensuing half century. In north Russia it resulted in military action that justified a complaint by Nikita Khrushchev in 1959 that “American soldiers went to our soil … to help the White Guard combat the new revolution.” [See “Where Ignorant Armies Clashed by Night,” AMERICAN HERITAGE , December, 1958.] In Siberia it marked the first serious American interference in an Asian land war and was, as John Paton Davies, Jr., recently wrote, the “precursor of Washington’s excursions of 1945-49 into the Chinese civil war and, more recently, the civil wars of Indo-China.”

But President Wilson, for a complex of reasons that were not altogether clear, created the Siberian Expeditionary Force ( S.E.F. ) as an act of Presidential will. In falling in with the Anglo-French proposals for the venture he seemed (particularly to Lenin) to be disregarding his own Fourteen Points and his assurance that Russia would have an “unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity” to develop in any way she chose.

Late in June, 1918, Wilson was moved toward taking the step when news was received from western Siberia that the Czech legion had been attacked by the Red Guards and would have to fight its way eastward along the Trans-Siberian. That, as British Prime Minister Lloyd George later said, was the “determining factor” in the intervention, but President Wilson had discovered another reason in the stockpile of approximately one billion dollars’ worth of supplies that the United States had sent to Vladivostok to be used by the prerevolutionary Russian armies against the Germans. An expeditionary force could supposedly reclaim those huge supply dumps before they were seized by either the Red or White partisans—or by the Japanese.

On July 6 Wilson announced to his cabinet that he intended to send an expeditionary force to Siberia. Tapping out an aide-mémoire on his own typewriter on July 17, the President formulated the terms on which such a force would operate. The separated Czech detachments would be assisted in linking up and then “get into successful cooperation with their Slavic kinsmen,” by which the President meant the Russians, but which kind of Russians—the Reds, the Whites, the Cossack freebooters who were ravaging Siberia—he didn’t specify. He also ordered the dispatch of a Noah’s ark of civilian helpers including the Y.M.C.A. and the Red Cross, trade experts, agronomists, and labor advisers to work on reviving the Siberian economy.

Wilson completed his plans on August 2, having concluded an agreement with Japan that each country would send seven thousand troops; he ignored the objection of the army chief of staff, General Peyton C. March, that the expedition was a strategic blunder that would provide Japan with a respectable cover for seizing the Russian Far East. The State Department, however, with its strong anti-Bolshevik bias, came down on the side of intervention even after intelligence reports indicated that the Japanese were sending not seven thousand but seventy-two thousand troops into Siberia.

To lead the Siberian Expeditionary Force in operations none could foresee, under circumstances in which the commander’s own judgment would have to be relied upon more than any guidance from Washington, the army wisely chose one of its more intelligent and capable general officers. The Siberian Follies of 1919 could have been disastrous directed by a less cool and calculating man than Major General William Sidney Graves. Scholarlylooking, bespectacled, kindly, and considerate (as his staff described him), anything but a martinet, General Graves had a saving sense of humor and a strong sense of humanity. He was a curiously American military type that in a later war would be represented by Omar Bradley.

His career, which included the best military education this country could supply, had not been spectacular. Born during the last year of the Civil War, in Mount Calm, Texas, he was the son of a Baptist minister who had become a Confederate colonel. He had taught school before obtaining a West Point appointment. In the forgotten battle of Caloocan (December 31, 1900) during the Philippine insurrection he had been cited for gallantry in action. For many years after that he was secretary of the general staff. Recently he had been assigned to the command of the 8th Division at Camp Fremont, California.

On the morning of August 2, 1919, Graves was ordered to “take the first and fastest train out of San Francisco” and meet Secretary of War Newton D. Baker in Kansas City. At ten o’clock that night—the style of the United States military establishment was much less pretentious during those prePentagon days—he and Baker conferred briefly while seated on crates in the Kansas City railroad station.

The Secretary of War handed Graves a sealed envelope containing two sheets of paper headed “AideMémoire,” 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,” and then hurried to catch a train back to Washington.

About all that Graves could make of the Presidential directive was that he was to go to Siberia and stay out of trouble. The necessity of helping the Czech legion was emphasized, but he wasn’t supposed to “add to the present sad confusion in Russia.” He was to concern himself with “safeguarding the rear of the Czecho-Slovaks,” but they had no “rear” in the military sense and were simply strung out along the Trans-Siberian. He was further bewildered by a State Department dispatch warning that “Japan’s policy would be to keep the various Russian forces apart and oppose any strong Russian central authority” but offering no advice on how that was to be prevented.

And the War Department, on its part, rose to new heights of ineptness in assigning the components of his expedition. A patchwork brigade of units that had been chasing Filipino guerillas through the tropical jungle was organized in the Philippines and sent to shiver through the sub-zero winters on the Siberian tundra. Those unfortunates in tropical-weight khaki included the 27th and 3ist infantry regiments, a company of telegraphers from the Signal Corps, an ambulance company, and a field hospital. The Philippine regiments were so undermanned they had to be fleshed out with five thousand men from Graves’s division in California.


Graves and his headquarters staff landed at Vladivostok on September 1 —”pitchforked,” as he put it, “into the melee.” It was a formerly prosperous European-style city with Victorian architecture and trolley lines, now swarming with adventurers, spies, ex-czarist government officials in their double-breasted frock coats with brass buttons, and thousands of refugees. The cafés and cabarets were thronged with the “scourings of the Far East,” and the only saint on the scene was a prostitute named Dizzy Marie who specialized in getting sailors back on their ships.

On the day of Graves’s arrival the eastern and western echelons of the Czech legion linked up at Chita on the Trans-Siberian, and the primary stated objective of the S.E.F. appeared to be obviated. Graves’s force could have turned around and sailed back to Manila, but Washington felt that other good works might be undertaken— the railroads kept running and the Siberian economy revived.

Graves quickly realized that he had been pitchforked into a situation completely different from the Washington view of what was happening in Siberia. A complex and confusing struggle for power had developed. The Japanese aimed to keep the various contenders at one another’s throats while attaining dominance over as much of northeastern Asia as possible. The French and British military missions were busily promoting the White counterrevolution. The Czechs were settling down in garrisons along the TransSiberian and showing no great disposition to return to Europe. Various Cossack desperadoes, most of them subsidized by the Japanese, were carving out bandit empires and occasionally riding out against the growing number of Bolshevik partisan bands. Further to the west, at Irkutsk, Admiral Kolchak had been installed as titular head of a White regime that claimed the right to administer the Siberian provinces.


The American commander knew there was going to be interallied friction the moment he presented himself to General Otani, who announced that he was not only commanding the Japanese forces but was “commander-in-chief of the Allied armies.” Graves politely declined to regard Otani as his superior. He had already decided that the only way to stay out of trouble was to maintain a posture of absolute neutrality—no military adventures such as urged by his allies (not only the Japanese but the French and British), no intrigues to promote one political faction or the other.

During his first few days in Siberia Graves learned that the supposedly helpless Czechs had established a “capital” in Irkutsk and were proposing to govern large sections of Siberia under a self-supplied mandate and with Anglo-French encouragement to engage in a war against the Soviet forces along the Volga far to the west. Intelligence officers informed Graves there were twenty-four separate “governments” claiming sovereignty over Siberia, with nothing in common but enmity for the Bolshevik regime in Moscow. Shortly before his arrival a plebiscite had been held in Vladivostok with the majority voting, to the embarrassment of the Allies and the various factions they supported, for the Bolsheviks. That vote apparently was an expression of resentment against the old czarist officials who were, as Graves observed, “reaping their revenge on Russians who had dared to act contrary to their beliefs.”

United States headquarters were established in a building formerly occupied by a German trading firm, and Graves made an inspection tour of the eastern end of the Trans-Siberian to determine where American troops would be garrisoned. The luckier doughboys occupied a former czarist barracks in Vladivostok, but most were assigned to guarding bridges and depots along the Trans-Siberian and living in boxcars with the wheels removed. Their privations in the fortybelow winter temperatures were merely a footnote to the general Siberian agony.

Back home their plight, and the dangerous exposure of American interests in the Siberian intervention, were attracting little attention except among liberal intellectuals fascinated by the possibilities of the Russian revolution. National attention was riveted on the climactic battles in northern France and the ensuing armistice. Walter Lippmann as editor of the New Republic did warn the President that he should stick to his original position of “no interference in Russia’s internal affairs.” The Nation and other liberal journals, joined in that warning, and Justice Louis D. Brandeis wrote to a friend that Wilson “should be judged by what he was and did prior to August 4th, 1918, the date of the paper justifying the attack on Russia. That was the first of his acts which was unlike him; and I am sure the beginning of the sad end.”

Although American and Soviet soldiers were indeed killing one another in north Russia, in Siberia, there was no “attack on Russia.” An intervention, yes, but otherwise the Americans there presented themselves as peace-keepers and held aloof from the political struggle. General Graves favored neither the Reds nor the Whites. His troops, he told allied officers who tried to pressure him into joining the campaign against the Bolshevik partisan bands, would venture no farther west than Lake Baikal and take part in no “crusade” against Bolshevism.

Certainly from the American viewpoint the anti-Bolshevik Russians were the best propaganda anyone could have devised for Bolshevism. General Gregori Semenov, the commander of an “independent” force based on Chita and largely operating from armored trains, presented himself at United States headquarters. A former Cossack colonel, Semenov was an Asiatic Russian with broad cheekbones, tigerish yellow eyes, and a carefully combed Napoleonic forelock. Early in 1918 he had captured the Soviet garrison at Manchuli and sent its members, beaten half to death, to the nearest Red headquarters; since then his methods had been less for-bearing. “A murderer, robber and a most dissolute scoundrel” was Graves’s opinion.

With his subsidy of a hundred thousand dollars from the Japanese, Semenov ranged the Trans-Siberian in an armored train called The Destroyer . His private car was fitted out with Oriental rugs, silk bed sheets, and several mistresses. With members of his Savage Division, Semenov would steam into a settlement and order his Mongol cavalrymen to round up all the inhabitants. The male villagers were mowed down with machine guns and most of the nubile women raped. Then the train would roll on to another helpless village. His brain fevered with vodka and cocaine and flashing with apocalyptic visions, Semenov aimed to establish a new Mongol empire, carved out of Manchuria, Mongolia, and eastern Siberia. Meanwhile he presented himself as an American ally, one, as it turned out, whom the Americans would be eager to disavow when he executed sixteen hundred persons in Adrianoka one day and late in 1918 killed a Swedish physician attached to the International Red Cross.

Semenov, however, was a proper gentleman compared to two of his collaborators who had served in Semenov’s regiment on the Caucasian front against the Germans and Turks. Ivan Kalmikov, ataman of the Ussuri Cossacks, had established himself as “dictator” of Khabarovsk, which was an American garrison town. Soon after the Americans arrived, Kalmikov, who was also on the Japanese payroll, captured a United States patrol and held them on charges of not having Russian passports. They were rescued by another American detachment but not before the prisoners had been severely beaten with Cossack knouts. “The worst scoundrel I ever saw or heard of” was General Graves’s verdict. “Kalmikov murdered with his own hands, where Semenov ordered others to kill, and therein lies the difference between Kalmikov and Semenov.”

The other Semenov collaborator was a psychopathic sprig of the Baltic nobility named Alexander von Ungern-Sternberg, whom the czar had promoted to major general for his service on the Galician front. Since then the baron had declared himself the reincarnation of Genghis Khan, gathered a following of Mongol horsemen, Cossack adventurers, and Chinese deserters, and seized the Dauria province of Manchuria. A convert to Buddhism, he misconstrued his new religion and sincerely believed that when he killed all Jews he could lay hands on and all people suffering from disease or who were disabled or elderly, he was doing them a favor.

General Graves was so outraged at being forced to witness the depredations of Semenov, Kalmikov, and Ungern-Sternberg that he could only angrily disavow them as collaborators or comrades in arms. The world, he wrote, believed the Siberian massacres were conducted by Bolshevik partisans, but “the anti-Bolsheviks killed one hundred people in eastern Siberia to every one killed by the Bolsheviks.”

It was all the more galling that an anti-Bolshevik campaign was being mounted in the United States, and many of his countrymen were urging that he join the White partisans. Wilson’s Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, was imprisoning or deporting thousands suspected of carrying the Communist virus, and many American newspapers, besides supporting those measures, reprinted the statement of Kolchak’s liaison officer in Vladivostok that “the United States soldiers are infected with Bolshevism … most of them are Jews from the East Side of New York City. …” This was, to say the least, a gross exaggeration.

Graves, far from being influenced by the journalistic tom-toms, protested against two incidents that seemed to epitomize the unselective attitude of his government. A representative of the newly organized Siberian cooperatives, which were nonpolitical attempts to revive the Siberian economy, was sent to the United States with his blessing. The Siberian was refused entry by United States immigration authorities, who labelled him a Bolshevik. A few weeks later one of Semenov’s lieutenants made the same journey, without Graves’s blessing, and was warmly received in Washington.”… One can only assume,” Graves wrote, “that character was ignored and political classification alone considered, in determining whether a Russian should be permitted to enter the United States.”

As early as November, 1918, the War Department was urging withdrawal of the S.E.F. , but President Wilson was preoccupied by the coming peace conference and felt he could not take unilateral action without endangering his plans for the League of Nations; meanwhile dominant elements in the State Department were urging that the S.E.F. support Admiral Kolchak in his expected march on Moscow.

Graves and his troops were increasingly revolted by the activities of Kolchak’s forces and their GossackMongol allies; even the hardened veterans of Philippine razzias, in which villages were razed and Moro tribes decimated, found the excesses of Semenov and Kalmikov hard to bear. The populace in and around Khabarovsk repeatedly complained to the American garrison that Kalmikov was kidnaping and murdering everyone he suspected of sympathizing with the Bolsheviks. Just one case in which Graves ordered an investigation involved two miners arrested by the ataman. Graves demanded their release, but Kalmikov’s Japanese “military adviser” replied that they had escaped. Actually Kalmikov had tied stones around the prisoners’ necks and thrown them into a lake. They were among an estimated three hundred persons killed during one of Kalmikov’s experiments in terror.

The ataman flogged his own Cossacks in wholesale lots when they rebelled at his liquidation program. Early in 1919 seven hundred of his troopers deserted en masse, about three hundred fleeing into the countryside and three hundred and ninety-eight of them marching in a body to the headquarters of the ayth Infantry in Khabarovsk, where they begged for sanctuary, which was given to them. The Japanese demanded that the deserters be returned to “little father Kalmikov” for paternal correction, but Graves refused and several weeks later released them to go where they pleased.


Aside from demoralization and the threat of political infection of one kind or another, the Americans in Siberia were prey to epidemics raging in a land where the drinking water came from surface wells. The S.E.F.’S chief surgeon reported to Washington that hundreds had been stricken by “plague, typhus, relapsing fever, typhoid fever, scarlet fever and malignant sore throat.”

With each passing month General Graves became more acquainted with the truth of Oscar Wilde’s epigram about the pleasures of feasting with panthers: “the danger was half the excitement.” The anti-Bolshevik front, he was convinced, was terrorizing the Siberian peasantry in hopes of provoking resistance and thereby “justify calling for more Allied troops to put down the Bolsheviks.” The appointment of the old czarist General Ivanoff-Rinoff to organize White forces in the eastern provinces of Amur, Primorskaya, Sakhalin, and Kamchatka seemed an attempt to reimpose czarism without the czar, thereby “delaying the settlement of the Russian question by the Russian people,” as Graves put it. General Ivanoff-RinofFs brutal procedures convinced him that Semenov and Kalmikov were not atypical representatives of the White cause. In March, 1919, American intelligence learned that Ivanoff-Rinoff’s troops had dispatched a press gang to the village of Gordyekva. The younger men of the village fled into the forest rather than be forcibly recruited, and ten of the elders were tortured and killed in reprisal. Graves sent one of his staff to investigate. The officer found that the survivors in Gordyekva had armed themselves with old hunting rifles and were prepared to fight to the end if the Ivanoff-Rinoff troops ever reappeared. “General,” the officer told Graves on his return to headquarters, “never send me on another expedition like this. I came within an ace of pulling off my uniform, joining those poor people, and helping them as best I could.”

Such atrocities the Americans attributed not only to the predictable savagery of a civil war but to the encouragement of the Japanese paymasters. The more trouble the Japanese could foment through their hirelings and the longer the outcome of the Red-White struggle could be delayed, the easier it would be for Imperial Japan to move into the Russian coastal provinces and northern Manchuria. Bolshevik partisans evidently came to the same conclusion as United States intelligence and began ambushing Japanese patrols around Khabarovsk. In February, 1919, two Japanese infantry companies and a battery of field artillery—about four hundred men in all—were attacked by the Bolshevik guerillas. Only three escaped with their lives. The Japanese liaison officer begged Graves to send a company of United States infantry, but the latter refused with the statement that he would need proof the Japanese had been attacked by partisans rather than Siberian peasants fighting in selfdefense. The more violent antiCommunist newspapers in the United States reprinted charges in the Japanese press that Graves had acquiesced in the slaughter of his ally’s troops. “Why,” Graves effectively replied, “didn’t the Japanese send their own troops to the assistance of their men? They had an entire division in Khabarovsk and vicinity, while the Americans had but two battalions.”


Graves’s resistance to the idea of committing American troops to a shooting war with the Bolsheviks was causing concern among some elements in the State Department and likeminded foreign ministries, but his superior, General March, cabled from Washington, “I am going to stand by you until hell freezes over.” The army stood firm against involvement even as the State Department was sending its ambassador to Tokyo, Roland S. Morris, over to Vladivostok to investigate the possibility of American participation in driving the Reds back over the Urals.

Despite all the contrary advice from S.E.F. headquarters the United States in mid-igig decided to support the Kolchak regime in Irkutsk logistically if not, immediately, with military action. A shipment of arms and ammunition was ordered sent from Vladivostok to rearm Kolchak’s forces, and a Kolchak emissary appeared at Graves’s headquarters with a million dollars in gold to pay for the supplies. The American commander feared, however, that most of the shipment would fall into the hands of Semenov, Kalmikov, and other Japanese-subsidized freebooters and allow them to increase their operations against his scattered garrisons. He halted the transaction on his own initiative, explaining in a cable to Washington, “The Cossacks, under the leadership of Kalmikov, are threatening to commence action against Americans. This action is supported by Semenov and I believe instigated by Japan. These Cossacks have armored cars which our present arms will not pierce.” He then requested “one battalion three-inch or mountain artillery be sent to report to me.”

Thus he was able temporarily to prevent the flooding of Siberia with American arms. His argument that the security of his own forces was paramount to any other considerations could not be debated; his seventhousand-man force was broken up into many small detachments guarding bridges and other points along a two-thousand-mile section of the Trans-Siberian. If they came under a general attack, the results would be disastrous. A number of incidents indicated the likelihood of such an eventuality. One involved an American soldier waiting in the Vladivostok station for a train to take him back to his unit. An officer in Kolchak’s army called him “a __ Bolshevik.” The American started to swing but was cut down by the Russian’s pistol shot. A group of Japanese officers standing nearby went over to congratulate the murderer, who was arrested, tried, acquitted, and released within an hour.

General Graves persisted in his scrupulous neutrality despite attacks from all sides on the Siberian scene and back in the States. The Soviet government failed to appreciate his evenhandedness and rather stupidly charged—and would continue to charge through succeeding decades— that the S.E.F. participated in the plot to restore the Whites to power. Yet only one instance in S.E.F. records can be found in which the American forces operated against the Red partisans in their zone. Bolshevik sympathizers had banded together in the Suchan coal-mining district after being attacked by Kalmikov’s irregulars. The Americans had to prevent any large-scale outbreak around the mines because the coal was needed for heating and for keeping the TransSiberian operating. They drove the Cossacks out of the district, then engaged in brief skirmishing with Bolshevik sympathizers. Otherwise there was no combat between the S.E.F. and regular or irregular forces of the Moscow government.

After stalling as long as he could, General Graves was finally forced to resupply Kolchak, but he agreed to turn over the munitions only in Irkutsk, so that the guns would take longer to filter into the hands of Semenov and his lieutenants. The shipment left Vladivostok in two long trains. One reached Irkutsk without incident. The second, however, was stopped at Chita, Semenov’s headquarters, on October 24, 1919. Semenov boarded the train and demanded of the guard detachment’s officer, Lieutenant Ryan, that he hand over fifteen thousand rifles. Ryan refused, though he had only fifty soldiers to back up his defiance. Semenov replied with an ultimatum: hand over the rifles within thirty hours or be massacred. One armored train pulled up to block the munitions train from the west, another from the east. A Cossack battalion completed the encirclement.

Ryan wired Vladivostok for instructions. Don’t give up a single rifle, he was ordered, and open fire if attacked. Ryan and his troopers sweated out the deadline, then ten hours more, before Semenov stopped blustering and allowed the train to proceed.

Graves’s suspicion that the arms shipment would be villainously employed was confirmed almost immediately. Through a Russian agent he learned that Kolchak turned over four carloads of weapons to the Cossacks. Shortly thereafter the recipients of those weapons conducted a pogrom in the Ekaterinburg district in which a reported three thousand Jews were massacred. The American liaison officer at Kolchak’s headquarters, on questioning how the United States arms were used, was told only that ”… something … occurred at Ekaterinburg that would give the Jews something to think about.”


Whatever hopes the more fervent anti-Bolshevik officials in the Wilson administration nurtured that the Siberian expedition might be guided from peace-keeping to crusading under the Whites’ banners were blown away toward the end of 1919. In north Russia the Allied invasion force had given up and gone home. The façade of the White counterrevolution in Irkutsk had begun crumbling by the time General Graves made an inspection trip along the Trans-Siberian in the fall. The White armies had become what Graves called a “retreating mob,” with long trains heading east, their cars crammed with soldiers suffering from wounds or disease. The law of the jungle, Graves reported, now ruled the Siberian tundra. On December 27 he recommended the immediate withdrawal of the S.E.F.

Three weeks passed before the War Department cabled permission to withdraw. Evacuation would be a delicate and dangerous process because of the far-scattered deployment of the American forces. Just how touchy the situation had become, with Semenov, Kalmikov, and company itching to send the S.E.F. on its way with a bloody nose, was indicated by the Posolskaya incident shortly before Washington approved of the withdrawal.

On January 9, 1920, Semenov’s chief lieutenant, General Bogomolets, was terrorizing towns along the American sector of the Trans-Siberian. His armored train was The Destroyer , Semenov’s personal conveyance, and it roared into Verkhne-Udinsk to arrest the Stationmaster because he had protested the seizure of American property. A detachment of United States infantry arrived from the nearbypost just in time to prevent the stationmaster from being executed.

In a violently anti-American mood General Bogomolets then steamed sixty miles west to the desolate station of Posolskaya, where Lieutenant Paul Kendall and thirty-eight enlisted men stood guard. The Americans were attacked by cannon and machine-gun fire from the armored train as they slept in a wooden railway car that had been converted into their barracks. Though heavily outnumbered and badly outgunned, Kendall and his troopers tumbled out of their shelter and into the subarctic night to attack the train with rifles and grenades.

A United States sergeant dashed up to the locomotive of The Destroyer and dropped a grenade into its boiler before he was fatally wounded. With doughboys swarming all over his armored cars and firing through the slits of his turrets, Bogomolets lost interest in the battle and called for a withdrawal.

His engineer managed to get up just enough steam for The Destroyer to crawl away like a gravely wounded snake. Three miles up the line, hotly pursued by enraged Americans, Bogomolets ran up the white flag. A greater humiliation came with the discovery that twelve of his Cossacks had deserted during the battle. Five others had been killed (to two Americans), and seven Cossack officers (including Bogomolets) and sixty-six men surrendered. Then the train and its whole cutthroat crew were taken in tow back to Verkhne-L’dinsk.

The expeditionary force thus ended its year and a half of largely peaceful occupation of eastern Siberia on a victorious note. Graves and his staff embarked with the final echelon on April 1, 1920, after he and his G-2, Colonel Robert Eichelberger, who twenty-odd years later would command an army under MacArthur in the southwest Pacific, made a final inspection of the outskirts of Vladivostok. Along the slope above the First River they saw Japanese troops building fortifications and settling down for a long stay (but not as long as they planned; under Soviet pressure they withdrew from Siberia in October, 1922). As the last American transport sailed out of the Vladivostok harbor the soldiers on deck heard a Japanese band serenading their departure from the docks. The tune was “Hard Times Come Again No More.”

Graves and his command had performed a difficult, almost impossible, task with great forbearance and honor. It it easy to imagine the consequences if he had been a glory hunter or one who succumbed to political and journalistic pressures. He believed that 90 per cent of the Siberian populace was anti-Kolchak and anti-czarist—though not pro-Bolshevik—and that any aggressive action by the American forces would have resulted in a protracted struggle which a disillusioned America would not have borne without violent dissension. His own career continued on an unspectacular trajectory—command of troops in the Philippines and the Panama Canal Zone—until he retired in 1928 to tend his garden in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, and write his memoirs. He died in 1940.


There was a bitter footnote to the Siberian venture and the passions it aroused. On their return to their homeland Graves and his comrades were accused repeatedly of having favored the Bolshevik cause and of having let our allies down by refusing to join in a crusade beside the disintegrating White forces.

Such charges evidently were taken seriously in the upper reaches of the Harding administration. One evening in November, 1921, General Graves, Admiral Austin Knight (commander of the Asiatic Fleet when it was providing naval support for the S.E.F. ), and about sixty other Siberian veterans held a reunion banquet at the Commodore Hotel in New York. A stranger who appeared, uninvited, at the banquet table was asked to identify himself. The gate-crasher showed a Department of Justice badge and muttered threats about what would happen if he were asked to leave. General Graves, who had carried out with skill and moral courage one of the most difficult missions ever given a United States general officer, was “mortified” that his own government should feel compelled to spy on him. It was, one is tempted to say today, the shape of things to come.

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