Wolfhounds and Polar Bears: The American Expeditionary Force in Siberia, 1918–1920 First Edition
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“I highly recommend this well-researched book on a US military operation that has been forgotten by most Americans. Our government ordered ten thousand men, which included two US infantry regiments to land at the Port of Vladivostok, Russia. Their mission was to protect US military supplies and property and to assist the Czech Legion to evacuate Russia. This is one history lesson that will amaze you as you learn the fate of the American Expeditionary Force Siberia during its nineteen months in an unforgiving land.”
—Z. Frank Hanner, director of the National Infantry Museum, Columbus, Georgia
—Lieutenant General Ronald L. Burgess, former director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency
“John House brings to life a virtually unknown US military operation—one that sheds historical light on operations in Siberia during World War I. House’s clear understanding and detailed written explanation of events make history spring to life and allow the reader to better understand the important themes in the book. What a lesson, one not to be forgotten as expeditionary force operations continue for America’s armed forces.”
—Major General Walter Wojdakowski, US Army (ret.), former commanding general of the US Army Infantry Center and School
“Extensively researched, this is a fantastic account of history that should be in every library. You feel you are there in the firefights while you read flowing accounts of small unit operations and heroic actions of individual soldiers. The description of the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) in action brought back memories of its use in my platoon and company in the Korean War.”
—Lieutenant General Sam Wetzel, US Army (ret.), former chief of infantry and honorary colonel of the 31st Infantry Regiment
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It must have been a bizarre place in 1918. Aside from the Americans, there were Japanese in large numbers, British, White Russian forces, Russian formations working with the Japanese, and a sprinkling of others. The American role was never particularly well-defined, the fault of political rather than military leaders. Americans protected some of the vital railroads, a mine, guarded prisoners and helped maintain public order. There was some fighting the Bolsheviks, although the force was supposed to be neutral and helped protect the very large store of military supplies that had been shipped to Vladivostok before Russia exited the war.
I do think the chapters could be sequenced a bit more logically because they seem to me to skip around a bit. There's no sequential account of the campaign, perhaps partly because there was no real campaign, just a lot of patrolling and some skirmishes. One notable event was before the American commander arrived; a subordinate did not have instructions and placed American troops under Japanese command for one action. So far as I know this is a unique historical event. The relationship between the Americans and Japanese was cautious and not particularly cordial. The author describes an American force rather well commanded and fairly well equipped, a force that was competent and generally liked by Russian civilians.
I found several chapters to be especially interesting. Chapter 5 discusses the challenges Siberia imposed, including cold, mud, poor roads and more. Chapter 6 covers aspects of American railroad personnel brought over to keep rails running, something I have not read about elsewhere except as a footnote. Chapter 7 is the most interesting, covering the support for the expeditionary force: weapons, hospitals, clothing, recreation--there are oddly interesting details such as the American Library Association shipping more than 16,000 books to the soldiers. Chapter 9 discusses garrison life.
There's also some general background about aspects of the Russian Civil War, which could have been cut a bit, and some detail about Siberia, which could have been expanded a little. Still on balance, this is a solidly researched history and provides a good account in a short and very readable book.
At times it was very repetitive, even within sentences. You would have thought a good editor would have picked that out.
Despite the issues I had, it was nice to read a book on the intervention as they are a tad hard (at least recent books).