Thursday, October 26, 2017

Filming America's First War with Russia (1918-1919)

In November 1918 a photographic unit of the U.S. Signal Corps arrived in Siberia to cover Operation "Polar Bear", the American intervention in Russia. At the end of World War I the United States had sent two forces to Russia. The 339th Infantry Regiment was sent to Archangel and Murmansk near the Arctic Circle, initially to protect supplies and help reopen a second front against Germany. The 27th and 31st Infantry were sent to the Vladivostok region, to assist Czechoslovak military units trying to make their way to the western front.

Left: Captain Howard Price Kingsmore, U.S. Signal Corps photographic officer with his camera at the North-Ural front in Siberia. Right: Signal Corps cameraman taking pictures on a railcar on the Transsiberian Railroad. Signal Corps Collection, National Archives

The experience in Siberia for the American soldiers was miserable. Problems with fuel, ammunition, supplies and food were widespread. Horses accustomed to temperate climates were unable to function in sub-zero Russia. Water-cooled machine guns froze and became useless. During their time in North Russia from 1918 until 1920 the American forces suffered more than 210 casualties. In fact, America's first war with Russia turned out to be a dismal failure. At least 5,000 U.S. troops were sent into Russia to kill Bolsheviks, but after the Armistice most of the soldiers just wanted to go home. Early in 1919, instances of rumored and actual mutinies became frequent. As a result, President Wilson directed his War Department to begin planning a withdrawal from North Russia.

American troops landing in Russia. Scene from Signal Corps footage at National Archives

Film Release by National Archives

U.S. Signal Corps cameramen recorded America's first war with Russia and produced 1,200 still photographs as well as 12,000 feet of motion picture film. The films were filed at the National Archives in College Park, MD, and until recently only a few scenes of this strange war were made available to the public. This all changed when in December 2014 the National Archives uploaded 14 reels of footage on the Internet, showing the activities of the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia.

Here are these films as uploaded by the National Archives on YouTube.


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