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A little known chapter in American History.

In the summer of 1918 an Allied expeditionary force consisting of British, French, Italian, Canadian, Chinese, Japanese, and American troops was deployed to Siberia to intervene in the Russian Civil War. The mission of the Allied forces was ostensibly to secure the safe evacuation of the Czechoslovak Legion, a unit of approximately 10,000 Czechs and Slovaks who had deserted the Austro-Hungarian army to fight for Czarist Russia in hopes of securing independence for Czechoslovakia. Following the Russian withdrawal from World War I in 1917, the Legion found itself without a war to fight and was given permission by the Bolshevik government to leave Russia via Siberia to fight for the Allies on the Western Front. While marching across Russia, the Legion was caught in the middle of the battle between the White and Red armies for control of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, prompting the Allied intervention.

By the time the Allied forces arrived, however, their stated objective had essentially already been achieved by the Czechoslovaks; the legion, in cooperation with the White army, had captured the entire Trans Siberian Railroad themselves, were now fighting with the Whites against the Bolsheviks, and no longer seemed at all inclined to leave Siberia for the Western Front. Nevertheless, the Allies remained in Siberia despite the obviation of their original objective and themselves became embroiled in the fighting against the Bolsheviks, in accordance with their unstated objective of limiting Bolshevik influence in eastern Russia and Asia. The Americans remained in Siberia through 1920, and the Japanese did not withdraw completely until 1922.

The Japanese were by far the dominant partner in the Allied expedition, fielding 70,000 men in Siberia while each of the other participant nations only deployed a few thousand men each. The United States for example, sent only two regiments and some miscellaneous smaller units in a force totaling just under 5,000 men. Moreover, the Japanese commander, General Onaka, was a four star general and thus as the highest ranking Allied officer in Siberia, considered himself empowered to give orders to the other Allied commanders. At least initially, the Japanese directed the intervention; American units found themselves moving according to Japanese orders and in some cases American soldiers fought in the field in mixed units under the direct command of Japanese officers. However, as the intervention progressed and perceived Japanese failures mounted, the American commander, Major General William Sidney Graves, increasingly resisted Japanese authority.

The years between 1918 and 1920 appear to be a somewhat unique period in the history of US-Japan relations, one of the only times the United States and Japan found themselves allies working together for certain common goals. Following Japan’s successful modernization and impressive victory in the Russo-Japanese War, Japan had earned America’s respect but had not yet attracted her enmity. Just twenty years later they would be mortal enemies.

After returning from Siberia, Graves wrote a history of the expedition, America’s Siberian Adventure.

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