Various historians have mistakenly claimed that the Russian Civil Wars commenced with the revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion on the Volga and in Western Siberia, with the aim of establishing that the so-called post-October "Triumphal March of Soviet Power" had not met serious domestic resistance and that civil war had to be "imported" into Russia by foreign interventionists. This was an odd position for them to adopt, given that the author of that triumphalist phrase, Lenin, had a propensity to predict and then describe events stemming from the seizure of power in late 1917 precisely as "civil war." It is odder yet that one finds the assertion repeated in very recent works on the period. The Czechoslovak Legion's revolt and what flowed from it, in the shape of the democratic counter-revolution, was certainly of huge significance in the civil wars (as will be discussed below), but it was significant in an ongoing series of struggles, rather than as the curtain raiser of the main event.
During World War I, Czechoslovakia was a part of Austria-Hungary, and soldiers of Czech and Slovak nationality had to fight on the Eastern Front. Many of them did not like the Austrian emperor and did not want to fight against Russia, so many Czech and Slovak soldiers preferred to be captured by Russian troops. In 1916, the Russian military authorities began to form a Czechoslovak Legion.
After the October Revolution in 1917, the Czechoslovak Legion was in a very complicated situation. The Bolsheviks did not want to use it on the Eastern Front, and it was very hard to remove Czechoslovak troops on the Western Front. In March 1918, the Soviet government (under pressure from Germany) stopped the transfer of Czechoslovak troops to France through Arkhangelsk and sent them through Siberia to Vladivostok. The slow evacuation by the Trans-Siberian Railway was exacerbated by transportation shortages – as agreed in the Brest-Litovsk treaty, the Bolsheviks were at the same time repatriating German, Austrian and Hungarian POWs from Siberia. Around the same time Leon Trotsky, then People's Commissar of War, under intense pressure from the Germans, ordered the disarming and arrest of the Legion, thus betraying his promise of safe passage.
Various historians today have developed theories that supported their own school of thought rather than dispassionately studying the facts. For many legionnaires who took part in the Odyssey of the Czechs and Slovaks across Siberia during this period, a German conspiracy lay at the root of all of their misfortune. Soviet historians, on the other hand, blamed the Allies and the White Army for provoking a clash that pitted the Legion against the Moscow leadership. During the Cold War, some historians used the Legion as an example of farsighted anti-Bolshevik efforts to crusade against Lenin and Trotsky which began as far back as the summer of 1918. Czech and Slovak Communist historians, ignoring their own archival evidence, simply echoed Moscow's theories of imperialistic adventurism. Ideological prejudice colored each theory throughout the following decades in historical scholarship on all sides. Inevitably the entire incident became relegated to the back pages of newspapers and historical research.
Though the Bolsheviks had won the day in the cities of European Russia, their following was weak elsewhere, especially the farther east one traveled. In all the confusion, rural areas consolidated under local warlords and pockets of antirevolutionary fervor began to develop. Much of the ex-tsarist opposition, though large in numbers, had been completely demoralized by the tsar's abdication. Since his arrest rumors of his fate spread throughout the countryside but nothing could be verified. Ex-tsarist officers began to reorganize throughout the interior in competition with one another for authority over makeshift army units. General Kornilov, an ex-tsarist Provisional commander, quickly gathered more than 2,500 men along the Don River - turning on local Soviet militia in the region. In Orenburg, Ataman Dutov led Cossack troops against a fledgling Red Army being organized by Trotsky. Ataman Semenov and Ataman Kalmikov, both autonomous leaders of renegade bands of Mongol and Tartar mercenaries, began to prey on peasant communities bordering China and attacked Manchuria whenever the opportunity arose.
Resistance groups had as many reasons for opposing Bolshevism as they had men eager to fight. Some, like those organizing in Ukraine, hoped for autonomy from Russia. Others fought to restore Tsar Nicholas II, and again others wanted a socialist (like the Socialist Revolutionaries) or a democratic solution (but all of them opposing the Bolshevists).
The fact that the Czecho-Slovak Army Corps had been given a safe passage from Lenin in the end only seemed to make matters worse. Instructed by their officers to keep the goodwill of the locals, Czech and Slovak echelons reluctantly handed over weapons and supplies. Movement from one depot to the next soon bogged down as local warlords, and militia leaders extorted material from each train.
In debates over the safest possible route for their kin, the Czecho-Slovak National Council (OCSNR), or Odbocky, considered many alternatives. The northward route to Archangelsk or Murmansk would lead the troops through the harshest of Siberian conditions - an incredibly hazardous journey for poorly equipped men. Proceeding to Archangelsk had also become impossible since both German and Finnish armies located nearby blocked the way.
Legionnaires also worried that the Soviets wanted nothing more than to dump them into the Siberian wilderness where food and supplies were scarce, and then offer only one way out: join the Red Army ranks or perish. On the other hand, rumors spread throughout Moscow that the Legion had been working secretly as mercenaries in the pay of Western capitalists.(1) Legion officials believed these stories had been deliberately spread by German agents who hoped to impede the Legion's transfer to the Western Front. It worked. Rural Soviet militia reacted violently, harassing trains whenever and wherever possible.
Emmett Hoskins of the American Expeditionary Forces remembered: The Czechs [and Slovaks] agreed to refrain from hostilities against the Russians and the Russians guaranteed them safe passage to Vladivostok. The Czechs stood by their agreement. On the other hand, the Russians gradually became more hostile to the Czechs and abused them, and obstructed their passage in every way possible.(2).
Even though a resolution to reject Bolshevism had passed earlier in 1917 within Russian POW camps, a socialist left wing of the legionnaires traveling on boxcars succeeded in attracting some Slavic soldiers to its cause.(3) In the first weeks of April 1918, the Czech communist newspaper Svoboda began announcing Red Army recruitment drives in Siberia. Militias offered to accept any Czech or Slovak soldier wishing to leave the Legion and join Bolshevik revolutionary ranks. In April, Communist units from Moscow began arriving in towns throughout Siberia to intercept legionnaires.(4) In Penza, the depot was outfitted with a special propaganda boxcar for recruitment of legionnaires.
On March 26, 1918, Masaryk visited the local Soviet in Vladivostok to negotiate safe housing and a smooth transfer of the Czechs and Slovaks from trains and onto Allied shipping. Within the long ribbon of Legion trains winding through Siberia, the situation appeared to be going from bad to worse. Several soldiers heard that the Omsk Soviet had ordered the local guard to stop all troop trains from proceeding any further eastward. The Omsk Militia, the Tsentrosibir, feared armed foreigners cutting through its land.(5) The Tsentrosibir pleaded with Lenin via telegram to reverse his earlier agreement with Masaryk and instead stop the flow of Legion trains to the Pacific coast.
Town henchmen made and broke agreements with Legion trains at will, often using the Bolshevik cause as their excuse. These warlords were no more loyal to the Bolshevik movement than to their bandits in the hills. The true concern of local militia leadership remained power and wealth.(6)On March 26, 1918, Joseph Stalin published an announcement to mollify growing hostilities between the Legion and village administrators. Stalin guaranteed that the legionnaires would be free to travel with a certain amount of arms and ammunition for protection, especially against counterrevolutionaries.(7) Stalin's efforts proved fruitless, however, as Kuraviev, the Soviet chairman of Penza, disregarded Moscow's orders and restricted Legion train movement on his section of the railroad line. For its part, the Czech and Slovak Army Corps believed fifteen of its trains would proceed through Penza unmolested on a daily basis. Instead, only one or two trains passed through the town depot from day to day, a rate that spelled disaster for others.
Legion Commanders became doubly concerned when Strombach, head of the Penza soviet, requested authority from Moscow to begin a propaganda campaign for a Czechoslovak Communist Party. Strombach wrote, "Enormous possibilities in the field of propaganda appear to be here, our task is to permeate the troops with ideas of internationalism. They [Czechs and Slovaks] are not at all familiar with socialist ideas. For this reason, we cannot leave Penza and go to other places.... Large sums of agitation are badly needed; do not forget Bolshevik leaders wanted to enlist what they saw as the proletarian core of the Legion.(8) By mid-April a few Czech and Slovak troop trains had arrived in Vladivostok. Contrary to their expectations, the legionnaires were not met by Allied vessels. Meanwhile, the majority of their comrades remained scattered along the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Russia through the steppe and on toward the Pacific Coast.
For the entire journey, the legionnaires were greeted with intimidation, beatings, and the confiscation of their weapons and supplies. They could no longer stay put. They could no longer proceed. Moreover, they surely could not retreat into the arms of the waiting Austrian and German armies.
Tracking them from the west, German and Austrian units pushed deep into Russian territory, determined to hunt down and execute as many of the insolent Slavic deserters as they could capture. In the meantime, Vladivostok Harbor remained empty of Allied evacuation vessels.
The situation also grew increasingly worrisome for the Allies eager to place legionnaires under their command. As Japan's first ships pulled into Vladivostok on April 23, 1918, France and Britain leaned heavily on the Japanese and United States governments to intervene in Siberian politics.(9) Britain skillfully negotiated Trotsky's permission for Allied intervention to secure war materiel sitting dockside in Archangelsk. The effort would use all available Allied forces, with the Japanese contingent being the largest. The French and British urgently pressed to reestablish an Allied front in Russia. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, however, opposed such interference in Russian and Siberian affairs. British concern over stockpiled armaments lying unused on the wharves in Arkhangelsk, Murmansk, and Vladivostok ineffectively veiled three political agendas in central Asia.
When· Japanese officials announced that they intended to place 70,000 troops 10 Vladivostok to "help the Legion," suspicions grew within Washington, D.C., and the Kremlin. British concern over stockpiled armaments lying unused on the wharves at Arkhangelsk, Murmansk, and Vladivostok ineffectively also veiled political agendas in central Asia.
Military and political officials conferred privately and publicly over the fate of the legionnaires, whom themselves possessed no knowledge of conversations occurring at the High Command in Versailles. The French and British reconfirmed intentions to transfer legionnaires to the Western Front. France had been pressing for the rapid transfer of these men as announced by Clemenceau:"All units of the Czech [and Slovak] Corps should be transported by the swiftest means to the Western Front, where the presence of these excellent troops is very important; for this reason I have taken appropriate steps with the British Government to obtain transportation for a part of these troops by way of Archangel.(10)
French and British discussions continued in secret, disregarding the Supreme War Council's input, opposition by the Unites States, or Czech and Slovak troop evacuation promises. Britain announced a plan to position the Legion in Siberia as a second front, adding a provision in the Allied evacuation agreement for "a portion of the army to remain in Russia to hold Archangel.(11) This proposal echoed German-Russian fears and alarmed both Thomas Masaryk and the Czecho-Slovak National Council. Masaryk and President Wilson pushed for Allied unity while vehemently advocating the transfer of all Legion troops to the Western Front as originally agreed.
Masaryk advocated for the Legion and against the Allies when necessary. During the preceding month, he met with the Soviet leadership in Moscow. Masaryk assured the Russian commander in chief that Legion units would never be involved with an overthrow of the Bolshevik government. In turn, Moscow guaranteed that Legion trains would have free access to the Trans-Siberian Railway and the harbor at Vladivostok. No sooner had Masaryk departed from Moscow, however, then new cases of harassment erupted along the entire railway system.
Meanwhile, the Germany succeeded in resurrecting the age-old Russian phobia concerning Japanese interests in Siberia's Pacific coastline while including the Legion as part of it. On April 20, under German pressure, Minister Chicherin relayed the following message up and down the Trans-Siberian line: "Fearing Japanese attack in Siberia, Germany expressly demands the evacuation of German prisoners from eastern Siberia into western Siberia or European Russia to start immediately and affected as quickly as possible. I request you take all measures in your power. Czecho-Slovak echelons must not be sent Eastward.”(12)
Minister Chicherin's now ordered to sent thousands of Austrian, German, and Hungarian ex-prisoners in the opposite direction on their way back home.(13)The hatred that Central Powers units felt towards the Czechs and Slovaks had only increased tenfold with every Hapsburg life taken.
Austrian, German, and Hungarian boxcars soon headed westward on their way home from camps in Siberia, passing troop trains filled with frustrated legionnaires who headed eastward at a snail's pace toward the port of Vladivostok. At depots, these old enemies often sat side by side in their respective boxcars hurtling insults and threats at one another. Railway employees alerted local soviets of the likelihood for an incident to erupt between the two groups.
Bolshevik leaders ignored most of these warnings along with Legion pleas for timelier passage through depots eastward. Tensions ballooned with the unrelenting ruthlessness of village strongmen. Word of Legion preparations to defend its property and members' lives reached the OCSNR, the Czecho-Slovak National Council. Isolated from their representatives, Legion train commanders invited Dr. Girsa of the Czecho-Slovak National Council to travel west from Vladivostok along the Trans-Siberian Railway to witness the Legion's situation.
Penza was a city at a strategic point on the Trans-Siberian Railway along the Sura River. Here all branch lines converged at Penza Station before merging into one major track leading across Siberia to Vladivostok Harbor. On April 23, 1918, the First and Fourth Czecho-Slovak regiments pulled into Penza Depot. As they arrived, three armored cars approached. Several Soviet officers ordered the legionnaires to give up more quantities of armaments and supplies. Major General Kolomensky, the commander of the First Czecho-Slovak Hussite Division, had no intention of acquiescing to these demands, especially after hearing of Lenin's many promises for the Legion's "free transportation to Vladivostok." (14) Kolomensky refused to cooperate with the local militia leaders, believing their demands to be extortion.
Girsa hurried westward from Vladivostok accompanied by Professor Procop Maxa, another member of the Odbocka (OCSNR). Both men hoped to defuse further incidents like the one occurring at Penza Station. Girsa and Maxa began to experience what the Legion had been reporting: At the first station east of Penza he [Dr. Girsa] saw what he would have to face. The orders had little weight with the local Soviets; and for several hours a day, the doctor had to negotiate with authorities, explaining to them that his men were Czecho-Slovaks, who were Slavs and friends to Russia; they only wanted to go home.(15) Unknown to Girsa and Maxa, the Moscow-appointed commissar in charge of Red Army recruitment for Penza had his own agenda. He had received information that the best fighters and therefore best candidates for recruitment into the Red Army were traveling with the First Czecho-Slovak Army Corps. This unit above all others had a reputation for having experienced, decisive fighters attributes sorely lacking in the newly organized Red Army. Trotsky anticipated that inflating his ranks with skilled Slavic fighters would encourage recruitment efforts throughout Siberia.(16)
Militia units in major Siberian towns began to receive funding from Trotsky to persuade foreign troops to abandon their trek homeward. A Czecho-Slovak revolutionary regiment at Kobolevsky Barracks had already been planned. Though empathetic toward the plight of Russia, the legionnaires did not desire glory in battle, only freedom and independence for themselves and their families back home. For the most part, they steadfastly refused to join Trotsky's Red Army units.
Village commissars insisted that Legion trains have proceeded slowly because of the lack of locomotives. Dr. Girsa countered these blatantly false excuses. Legion trains had their own locomotives. Girsa also pointed out that on the tracks running parallel, boxcars of Austrian, German, and Hungarian POWs continued unhindered in their progress westward.
Persistent German propaganda against Thomas Masaryk and the Legion convinced Trotsky it was necessary to reinforce the Siberian hinterland with more Red Army contingents. This action directly threatened the Czechs and Slovaks. Desperate over the slow pace of their trains, echelon officers turned to Legion Command for answers.
Only two troop trains had arrived in Vladivostok by the end of April. General Dieterichs waited, helpless and frustrated at the lack of allied support in the matter. Dr. Girsa reported worsening incidents of harassment to the troop trains but there was little anyone could do. As May began, it became heartbreakingly obvious to the OCSNR that Moscow had finally succumbed to German pressure. Legion telegraph workers intercepted important telegrams between Moscow and Soviet militias in the field.(17) Correspondence between Moscow, Omsk, and Irkutsk advised Soviets to delay all Legion trains.
Czech train commanders declared that they no longer trusted Lenin's promises since the Legion was certainly not being given "safe and unmolested passage to Vladivostok."(18)
Making matters worse, counterrevolutionaries - especially the newly organizing White Army, commenced their own Legion recruitment efforts. Ex-tsarist officers hoped to sway Czech and Slovak legionnaires to join in their fight against the Bolsheviks. Despite the burgeoning aggression of both Whites and Reds, Legion units honored the neutrality they had vowed to Thomas Masaryk and the Czecho-Slovak government in exile. Legion officers made sure to steer clear of either Red or White Army units.
At Penza Station, legionnaires demonstrated to Professor Maxa their loyalty and patience. In May, he witnessed station guards manhandling, searching, and beating humiliated Czechs and Slovaks. These troops asked him to intercede, but Odbocka orders were to observe, not react. Maxa, in turn, reported to superiors that Colonel Radola Gajda's assessment had been accurate: resistance had become the only answer in order for the Legion to proceed eastward toward Vladivostok.
Returning to Vladivostok from Penza, Maxa learned of discussions between a German delegation and Bolshevik leaders in Petrograd. These discussions meant to gauge the possibility of imprisonment and subsequent transfer of all Legionnaires back to Hapsburg Command. At Tambov, Czech and Slovak echelon officers secretly voted on their options. If threatened, Gajda's First Division intended to fight its way through depot after depot until it reached Vladivostok Harbor. The OCSNR understood, if not the scope, at least the intent of these train officers. Professor Masaryk, angered by the Legion's mistreatment, became resolute to evacuate his men at any cost and as quickly as possible. Along with leading elements of the Czecho-Slovak Army Command, 10,000 to 14,000 soldiers had arrived in Vladivostok only to be encamped in barracks on the outskirts of the city.(19) Masaryk wondered why no Allied vessels accepted them onboard.
On May 14, 1918, at the Chelyabinsk depot, busy with two overcrowded enemy troop trains, the tinderbox of Legion fears exploded. Shunted onto a siding, Czech and Slovak troops angrily awaited movement forward. Hungarian troops heading westward stopped alongside on the tracks next to them. Men on board the two trains taunted and ridiculed one another. This was not uncommon, but in Chelyabinsk, a large piece of metal flew through an open window, striking one of the Legion soldiers in the head and mortally wounding him. Allegedly, the Hungarian who threw it had boasted earlier that he wanted to kill at least one Czech or Slovak before departing.
Spoiling for a fight, both sides emptied from their trains and rioting ensued.
Colonel Vojcechovsky, a Russian officer who led the middle Legion contingent of trains, entered the town of Chelyabinsk demanding a meeting with the town commissar. Vojcechovsky hoped that investigating the incident would lead to the arrest of those involved.(20) Instead, local Soviet militia ordered Vojcechovsky and his entourage jailed. Their names were added to a list of Czechs and Slovaks to be executed at dawn the next morning. News of Vojcechovsky's situation filtered back to the troops sitting idle in Chelyabinsk .(21) Within hours, Legion troops attacked militia headquarters. By mid-morning of the following day, Vojcechovsky's echelon had taken over the town and imprisoned the local Chelyabinsk commissar and his men.
News of this uprising spread to Moscow where members of a visiting Odbocka delegation which included Professor Maxa, Cermak, and Janik were placed under house arrest. The incident occurring at Chelyabinsk convinced Lenin and Trotsky that the Germans had been correct all along: the Legion, represented by Maxa, Cermak, and Janik, really was in the pay of Western capitalists who had always intended to use the Legion to foment a counterrevolution in Siberia.
The day Czechs and Slovaks feared had finally arrived. Order #115 mandated that "Czecho-Slovak troops be disarmed; those who do not do so voluntarily will be shot.(22) Local Soviet militias were ordered to enroll Legion soldiers in the Red Army or arrest them for work in labor camps. Trotsky's communique's, sent up and down the Trans-Siberian line, fell instead under the care of General Dieterichs' appointed telegraph operators. Order #115 arrived in Legion headquarters in Vladivostok along with news of the arrest of the Odbocka officials. Under threat, Lenin forced Maxa and Cermak to appeal to all Legion trains to surrender.(23)On the contrary, Legion officials interpreted these events as proof of Moscow's submission to German and Austro-Hungarian manipulation. Moscow had become an unwelcome enemy.(24) In the eyes of the Czech and Slovak troops traveling toward Vladivostok, Order #115 became Moscow's declaration of war on the Legion. From this point on it would have to forcibly occupy every inch of the Trans-Siberian Railway - neutralizing every town and station along the way. Poised to pass through harsh climates and brutal terrain, legionnaires readied themselves for constant battle. Each troop train quickly gathered to elect a council to represent it in the Odbocka in Vladivostok. In turn, Odbocka Command verified that each unit would be free to react according to its own unique situation along the railroad.( 25)
Echelons were to govern the segment of track occupied by their trains and the surrounding region; any other response would be deemed as inefficient. Radola Gajda's trains passed Omsk, leading the chain of echelons. Gajda planned to occupy Novonikolayevsk up ahead in order to ensure a quick procession for all Legion trains following behind. Gajda had been contacted on two separate occasions by the Secret Organization of Russian Officers, an anti-Bolshevik group from Novonikolayevsk under the auspices of General Grishin-Almazov. Grishin-Almazov begged Gajda and the other commanders to wait until the anti-Bolshevik military groups could better organize in order to help the Legion cause. Siberian opposition leaders wanted to ensure the fate of the political administrations and civil control of their towns once the legionnaires had passed through. Grishin-Almazov's officers created the Siberian Volunteer Army, more than 300,000 Siberian members strong, to facilitate a controlled handover of towns and stations once the Legion evacuated to Vladivostok.(26) Each Legion echelon became its own base of attack. If necessary the entire Trans-Siberian Railway would become a rolling theater of battle. The Czech-Slovak National Council believed it had unequivocal proof that the Bolsheviks never intended to allow the Czecho-Slovak Army Corps to leave Siberia. Legion commanders also realized that trained Red Army troops would soon arrive to reinforce local militias. Time was of the essence. Legionnaires had to hurry to consolidate their positions. The Polish Legion, which had passed through on the Trans-Siberian Railway before the Czechs and Slovaks, had also gathered together on its way to the Pacific coast. Polish Legion members, however, had disagreed about everything from who should lead them to what route to take. Unable to unite, they became easy prey for marauding bandits. After coming under attack, the Poles scattered into the woods where many were captured and held hostage by Soviet recruitment officers. (27)
Forced to join Bolshevik units fighting throughout the Siberian countryside, legionnaires often came upon groups of these Polish soldiers hiding in the nearby forests. The fate of the Polish troops stood as a warning to the Legion to remain united in purpose or be lost alone. With this specter in mind, Legion Command immediately launched attacks on depots up and down the line.(28)
As news of the capture of town after town spread, hope began to grow. Controlling the entire steppe was impossible but managing large sections of the railway through it was not. This plan, however, demanded an immense leap of faith. Indeed, any army attempting such a feat would have to have been insane. The insanity began on May 25. For weeks troop trains to the west of Penza had been stalled, and reports of escalating violence and harassment at the station made waiting legionnaires anxious.(29) Colonel Cecek's troops, numbering more than 10,000 and comprising the rear guard, attacked the town and depot. After three days of desperate hand-to-hand combat, Penza fell into Legion hands. Cecek quickly consolidated available arms and prepared to meet stiff resistance from European Russia to the Cecek worked to keep this portion of the Trans-Siberian line open until all stragglers, whether Czech, Slovak, Rumanian, Bulgarian, or Pole, passed through and on to the east where they might find safety. To the west of Cecek, nothing but the Red Army and hopelessness awaited. Spread across the Trans-Siberian line, smaller Legion units hurried to combine with larger echelons traveling ahead. To the east of Cecek another 8,000 to 10,000 men, newly freed from Chelyabinsk and low on arms, followed Colonel Vojcechovsky. They attacked stations and held them open for Cecek to follow.
William Duncan, a minister and associate with the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), began to travel with these stragglers. Duncan wrote letters home to his family relaying stories about the heady atmosphere in which he found himself living. He described the incident at Chelyabinsk the day after:
Just now a train of prisoners and refugees is standing opposite coming from further east with many Turks aboard. The Checks [Czechs] are searching to find hidden ammunition while people look on and wonder ... [the prisoners] were in Bohemia and they told of the bad conditions there, especially how twenty thousand of the Check [Czech] women were forced to work in the mines. You can imagine that such news does not make German sympathizers of these men.(30) Reports circulated that legionnaires already believed the Bolsheviks acted under control of the Kaiser.(31) The Legion heard of the immediate promotions of Austrian, German, and Hungarian POWs volunteering to enter newly organized Red Army units in Siberia.
Presumably, a continued German influence throughout Siberia convinced the Legion of the inevitability of confrontation with this enemy. Though legionnaires formerly believed contact with the Austrians, Germans, and Hungarians had ended when they fled Ukraine, they now realized that old enemies had been nearby all along. Deep within the Siberian hinterland, Colonel Gajda's units surged ahead. With little more than bayonets and stones, Gajda and his men quickly gained a reputation for the strategic use of trains in battle.(32) Only one field gun with six shells existed in his entire column, but by moving it up and down the railway line, Gajda tricked the enemy into believing that the Sixth and Seventh regiments had many such weapons. Under what were believed to be overwhelming numbers of well-armed legionnaires, local militias withdrew ahead of Gajda's echelon.(33) While the enemy on one train focused on what it assumed to be one column of Gajda's men, other Legionnaires would circle back to disassemble the track behind the Soviet train before attacking. Militia units always assumed that they had been surrounded by two separate Legion groups and would immediately back up their broneviky (armored train) only to discover the track had been destroyed behind. Panic ensued with disoriented militia men running into the woods for cover. Gajda's men would then board the deserted train, replace the track, and head up the line without firing a shot.
By the end of May, the entire Trans-Siberian Railway had become the site of a series of military engagements. As each town and station fell to Legion troops, the countryside surrounding it became secured for those Legion units following behind. From west to east, echelons hurried through depots in a never-ending flow of locomotives, boxcars, and men. As the westernmost stations became secured and Colonel Cecek's rear echelons passed through, control of towns once again reverted back to the Siberian populous at large.(34) The day after Penza fell into Czech and Slovak hands, the Marianovka militia, from the outskirts of Omsk, ambushed a Legion train.(35) The outcomes of engagements at Chelyabinsk and Penza, along with Trotsky's Order #115, spurred the Marianovka Soviets into action. (36) Unfortunately, their resolve proved far greater than their prowess. In a relatively short time, the Marianovka militia members were captured, disarmed, and chased Into the surrounding forest. Telegraph lines buzzed with official reports to Vladivostok's OCSNR headquarters. Within two weeks, Chelyabinsk, Penza, Mananovka, and Novomkolayevsk had all surrendered to the Legion, As a result, the entire Volga region lay in Czech and Slovak hands.(37)
The Moscow leadership's influence began to be questioned. By the beginning of June 1918, news of Legionnaire successes across the Russian Far East began co cause an uproar throughout European Russia. Simultaneously, organized counterrevolutionary fronts spread throughout southern and eastern Russia to confront local soviets.
German ambassador Count Mirbach advised Lenin and Trotsky to herd together all of. the legionnaires and delegate their fates to their former Hapsburg commanders, Mirbach intended to contain the legionnaires in Siberia and prevent their transfer to the Western From. Trotsky geared up units of the Red Army to move east against the Czechs and Slovaks. He knew that a protracted conflict with the Legion would probably ruin the Bolsheviks in Moscow. Not only might the Legion unite with the counterrevolution but the Russian people, sick of warfare, would never tolerate another protracted series of engagements while famine threatened in the cities. While Lenin and Trotsky planned their next move, the Legion overpowered Simbirsk, Lenin's birthplace.
The legionnaires seemed to advance against all the odds. Town militias remained obstinate, so ambush and sabotage became the best strategy, especially when approaching an unfamiliar settlement. Miraculously, with fewer than one rifle for every six men, Legion troops prevailed with whatever tools they had on hand. By using each train as a base of operations, legionnaires marched on foot, combing the adjacent woods for snipers.(38) With every success, however, Czech and Slovak fatalities continued to mount throughout the summer, particularly near larger centers of population, Even so, legionnaires felt a sense of comradeship with the local peasants - a Sentiment that affected their fighting. Only a few weeks earlier, Druzina members continued to mount throughout the summer, particularly near larger centers of population. Even so, legionnaires felt a sense of comradeship with the local peasantry - a sentiment that affected their fighting. Only a few weeks earlier, Druzina members had fought together with the very same Russian recruits they now faced. Currently, their alternatives remained dear: fight or die. Many Siberians hailed the Legion as a liberating force and blessed it for ridding towns and hamlets of cruel political bullies. Peasants passed on news of Czech and Slovak generosity.
Legion Command provided food and medical care whenever possible. Later in the summer when Russian currency became scarce, Czech and Slovak troops paid for needed items with rubles to help the local economy. In return, villagers informed Czech and Slovak officers of enemy encampments ahead of their trains. (39) Former Legionnaire Joseph Skelnicka remembered this mutually beneficial relationship. "When I got to the station, I simply said, 'I need to bring so many pieces of cattle.' Moreover, they brought me that many ... Even the Communists gave us cattle, if we had written confirmation of our demand.”(40)
Summer began with the division of the Czecho-Slovak Army Corps into four distinct groups. By midsummer, three remained west of Lake Baikal and the Baikal Mountain Range while the fourth settled in to wait for them in Vladivostok under the command of General Dieterichs, The westernmost trains under Colonel Cecek's leadership continued to act as rear guard for the entire column still proceeding toward Vladivostok. Acting as the middle echelon, Colonel Vojchecovsky's units pushed toward Chelyabinsk and Barabinsk where Colonel Gajda's Sixth and Seventh regiments struck out across the central Siberia steppe. Isolated and deep in enemy territory, Gajda moved toward the Baikal Mountains. Meanwhile. Czecho-Slovak Army headquarters regrouped to correct inefficiencies in the field under General Diererichs' orders.
In Moscow meanwhile, Germany's ambassador Count Mirbach continued to do everything in his power to halt Allied plans to transport legionnaires to the Western Front. German troops had made great strides into France and Belgium following ratification of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty in March 1917. An Allied infusion of well-trained Slavic troops to the west would threaten Germany's progress. Mirbach conceded, however, that though the Central Powers had reversed Allied advances along the Western Front, German influence in both Russia and Siberia, especially concerning the worrisome legionnaires, had begun to wane.(41)
Legion trains progressed along the Trans-Siberian Railway partly because large population centers were few and far between. In the urban centers, however, better-trained and better-organized Soviet militia congregated.(42)
The mutiny of the Czechoslovak Legion acted as a stimulus for other anti-Bolshevik movements, whose resistance until then had been confined to sporadic local skirmishes. Now they rose and swiftly took control of the central Volga region and Siberia, and set up their own government in Samara on the eastern banks of the Volga.(43)
The ‘Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly’, or Komuch, as it was called, was dominated by the Socialist Revolutionaries. As they had won the elections for the Russian Constituent Assembly before it was dissolved by Lenin, they felt themselves to be the only legitimate government of Russia.
Adding to the demoralizing situation ahead, the roadways leading into both Samara and Omsk had become trenches of deep undulating mud. Horse hooves slipped and can wheels stuck in ruts along these roads, delaying the Legion and making it easy prey for artillery fire.
After Samara and Omsk, Krasnoyarsk lay ahead. The city of Krasnoyarsk, Boris Usakov's hometown, held impressive numbers of well-trained Soviet militia men. Beyond Krasnoyarsk sat Kazan: an exceedingly well-guarded arsenal city. Yet, no - community along the entire railway line held the import that Ekatinburg had since it spread out directly at the crossroads of the main Trans-Siberian Jines from Petrograd to Chelyabinsk. Securing each city was the only chance these men had for survival. If the evacuation sputtered and died, the entire Legion faced annihilation.
By the beginning of summer, Ekaterinburg and Irkutsk stood directly ahead of Gajda's troop trains - two giant enigmas - reputedly impervious to attack. The first, Irkutsk, perched on the west side of the Baikal Mountain Range astride a single railroad spur that ran straight through 39 tunnels and on to the Pacific coast at Vladivostok. Securing both cities was paramount for the Legion to proceed eastward. With one well-placed stick of dynamite the enemy could stop the Czechs and Slovaks quite literally in their tracks. Doing so would also ruin travel throughout Siberia for years to come and isolate west from east indefinitely. General Dieterichs' chief map expert, Colonel Vladimir Klecanda, remembered, "There still remained, however, this great obstacle: the strong, natural Baikal positions of impassable mountains and narrow defiles ",which lay along the south bank of the Jake and which were defended by 5,000 men fully armed from the Irkutsk arsenal with powerful artillery and armed boats."(44)
The dilemma necessitated a surprise frontal attack on the fortified Baikal Depot, quite simply a suicide mission. Summer rains flooded the slippery shale mountain slopes, making earlier reconnaissance efforts to transport equipment impossible. Even if the Sixth and Seventh regiments could successfully overwhelm the Irkutsk garrison, command wondered if they could forestall the demolition of tunnel passes behind it.
Cut off by mountains and left with no telephone and telegraph communication, General Dieterichs and the local Soviet authorities in Vladivostok attempted to end fighting on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The following communique, sent by both Dieterichs and his Bolshevik counterpart in Vladivostok, was meant to defuse hostilities: Your departure from Vladivostok is assured and is delayed solely by technical reasons, by the absence till now of ships. There are already 12,000 of us here in excellent surroundings and impatiently awaiting your arrival. The local Soviet authority supports us in every manner. Any use of force on your part en route only delays travel and threatens the gravest complications. There, we urgently insist that all dashes immediately cease, mat complete order be maintained.(45)
But there were complications. Dieterichs knew Trotsky's Order #115 deeply affected his troops. Jan Syrovy, privy to recent reconnaissance reports, rushed to link up with Colonel Gajda's trains heading coward the 39. tunnels, Scouring the hills surrounding their position, Syrovys men discovered that notorious ataman Geigori Semenoff had been moving bandits south and into Chita. Semenov meant to use Chita as his headquarters in order to take advantage of the Legion's remarkable advances. Once the Legion cleared away Soviet resistance around Chita, Semenoff intended to control the entire region. Presently, however, Semenov's position between Syrovys troop trams and the Baikal Mountain Range threatened Legion progress.
Echelon commanders could only guess the ataman's rationale, but little concerning Grigori Semenoff had ever made sense. Making matters worse, Count Mirbach accused Legion Command of working to unite Legion efforts with renegade elements like Semenov. Jan Syrovjs echelon sat out the silence of the telegraph wires west of the Baikal Mountains waiting to hear back from Odboeka headquarters.
The Legion despised Semenoff, his tactics, and his followers. They believed him to be the worst kind of opportunist- a murdering brigand who lived by extorting and brutalizing his own people. Grigori Mihailovich Semenoff cared little for politics even less for justice.(46)
So here again since the British and the French (supporting anybody that would promise to help re-open the Eastern Front against the Germans) were in liaison with Semenoff. Moreover, if there is any truth to the British or/and French in any way involved with the Czech-Slovak rising they would not have them fight Semenoff.
A telegram from the British Ambassador in Peking (Sir J. Jordan), contained in the files of the Political and Secret Department of the India Office, shows that in February they paid Semenoff's forces 420,000 roubles, and in March 115,000. (National Archives, Kew, F0371 /3283, no. 118, p. 257, titled: Very secret Very Urgent.)
The telegram goes further on to state that also the French Legation through its Military Attache had placed 4 million roubles at Semenoff's disposal. The Ambassador was naturally concerned that the French would have entire control and influence under these arrangements, and funds provided by the British might thus be used for furthering enterprises opposed to British policy. On 4 July the Foreign Office replied, informing Jordan that he could authorize Sly to pay Semenoff a further 500,000 roubles to cover the arrears for March.
The Legion in contrast wanted nothing to do with factions vying for power throughout Siberia and intended to keep a safe distance from anything that could compromise its evacuation. Semenov had plans, however, and his plans included the Czechs and Slovaks. Colonel Gajda's trains headed eastward through the Baikal Mountains toward the 39 tunnels as Jan Syrorys echelons followed. Semenov decided to plant himself in Chita, directly in their path. Grigori Semenov was not the only one mapping the progress of the legionnaires.
In their imaginations, American and British citizens traveled with the Legion on a weekly basis by reading the Sunday supplements of both the New York Times and the New York Herald. After the incident at Chelyabinsk, photographers and reporters from both papers joined the Czech and Slovaks to live on and report from their trains. The status of the odyssey, the Legion's location, and the unique situation of each unit fascinated readers.
European and American press called for the quick evacuation of all the Slavic units moving eastward through Siberia. Immigrant communities in Canada, the United States, and throughout Western Europe petitioned for thorough evacuations of these men who represented homeland aspirations for independence. Public awareness and concern poured in from readers and focused on aiding the Legion's transfer to the Western From. Several millions of dollars arrived for the Red Cross, the YMCA, and the Czech and Slovak Alliance, all organizations working to fund the evacuation of Legion troops or to back Thomas Masaryk's idea of an autonomous Czecho-Slovak state.(47)
After Gajda's impressive consolidation of the town of Mariinsk, his friend and confidante, Boris Usakov, left the unit to travel to the Bolshevik stronghold of Krasnoyarsk, his hometown. Boris Usakov was now a Russian officer of great renown. He had been traveling with the Legion since the beginning of the evacuation because he believed that Russia owed these men a debt. Usakov had become famous as a master of disguise - slipping into and out of Soviet strongholds dressed as everything from a peasant woman to an officer of the Red Guard. Earlier, he gained notoriety for fooling German troops in the same fashion. Few of his enemies knew what he looked like or that he was from Krasnoyarsk, but many hoped to put an end to Boris Usakov's life on the run as a Legion spy.
Gajda's and Cecek's triumphant consolidation of town after town infuriated the Moscow leadership. So far, each officer had caught local militias off guard and, for the most part, found them lacking not only in supplies but also training and resolve. Local units fought only when victory was guaranteed and abandoned territory and arms whenever seriously challenged. Cecek's rear guard moved into Samara, proclaiming the town and the railroad open to traffic. In Samara, Cecek's units discovered large supplies of weapons which the fleeing Red Guard had abandoned. The Red Guard had, however, taken time to pilfer over 100 million rubles in gold from Samara's banks. For an army that prided itself on being against materialism, the Siberian soviets militias were adroit at stealing anything that wasn't pinned down. Cecek's men found Samara in a state of chaos with 1,500 of its citizens lying dead in the city streets - casualties of pitched battles between the Red Guard and the Legion. Outside the city center, the flour mill, containing over 18,500 pounds of Bour, burned out of control, After chasing the militia into the surrounding countryside, Colonel Cecek, in an unprecedented move, declared the city anti-Bolshevik and appointed the Constitutional Assembly delegates who had been in power before the Bolshevik takeover to act as Samara's provisional government.(48)
With the capture of Kazan', Komuch now claimed sovereignty over a vast territory made up of portions of five provinces (Kazan', Samara, Saratov, Simbirsk, and Ufa), with a population of twelve million people.
By August the Czechoslovak rebellion had combined with events in the south the German establishment of Skoropads'kyi's Hetmanate in Ukraine, the Don Cossack rebellion, and the advance of the Volunteer Army in the Kuban' -to overthrow Soviet power in roughly three-quarters of the former Russian empire. The two principal fronts of the civil war took shape: the Eastern front along the Volga and a Southern front officially constituted in September. Of the two the Eastern front undoubtedly delineated the chief threat to the Soviet state in 1918. The Central Committee officially declared the Eastern front the main front of the Red Army, and Lenin tirelessly argued in his public and secret communications throughout the summer that the future of the Soviet state hinged on victory in the east. As he put it in a letter of August 1 to Fedor Raskol'nikov and other Communists in Kazan': "Now the whole fate of the Revolution rests on one card: a quick victory over the Czechoslovaks on the Kazan'-Urals-Samara front."
Legion units occupied towns and cities along the railway line, but seldom replaced administrators unless absolutely necessary. Cecek's actions directly violated his oath to Masaryk and to the Odbocka (OCSNR) by interfering in Siberia's internal affairs. The Czecho-Slovak National Council (OCSNR) knew that Colonel Cecek had the best intentions for the citizens of Samara, but because of his actions hostility towards all of the Czech and Slovak units traveling along the railway would increase. Predictably, Moscow's Central Committee viewed Cecek's proclamation as undeniable evidence that Count Mirbach and the Germans had been correct all along - the Legion really was acting under orders from Russia's former capitalist allies. With Samara in Legion control, Colonel Gajda turned his sights toward the town of Nizhne-Udiinsk, a city that threatened to become Gajda's most difficult military target so far. Weapon supplies on board his troop trains had dwindled to severely low levels. Even though Nizhne-Udiinsk had a large military presence, Gajda's troops had to attack.
From the Legion trains, the landscape appeared incredibly beautiful as thick moss twisted over birch trees in groves above pools of black oily mud and amidst tufts of waving cat grass. From the boxcars legionnaires saw both men and women exotically dressed in animal hides who sported long black queues. The women rode roughshod on small shaggy ponies, skillfully herding groups of large-horned cattle.
In actuality, the thick spongy moss and swamp water encircling Nizhne-Udiinsk had become rancid in the summer heat. As the days grew longer, the humidity stifled the air, providing the perfect breeding ground for insects. From their boxcars, legionnaires noted the constant drone of buzzing mosquitoes.
One by one, Gajda's units poured out of their boxcars toward the advancing enemy. Reporters depicted a battle so hazardous that even Legion cooks and engineers joined in the fray. Later, as the battled raged, Gustav Becvar watched in shock as wounded hospital car. He remembered: Quite apart from injuries received in the normal course of battle, they were in a terrible state. Their faces were blotched and swollen in the most grotesque fashion, their eyes and noses being barely distinguishable .... Mosquitoes! I have suffered from mosquitoes in many places and in varying degrees, but never before or since have I met a more virulent species than inhabited the surrounding of this small Siberian town. The Russian inhabitants, watching us pass, noticed our misery, and as we rushed on through the town towards the fighting line, many of them ran into their houses, returning with bottles filled with black liquid, which they told us to rub upon our faces and hands.(49)
Becvar and the others were Gajda's most experienced fighters - skilled and tough, never surrendering ground once it had been taken. Gajda learned from locals, however, that the troops they would face that day were even more notorious in battle: Cossacks, literally meaning "horsemen." Having served near them along the Eastern Front, Colonel Radola Gajda knew that these fierce sword-wielding men might easily be the end of his unit.(50) Identified by their long flared coats, high black felt boots and gray fur hats, the Cossacks attacked on horseback with their usual flair and acrobatics. William Duncan, secretary with the YMCA, described a meeting he had with them that day near the swamps of Nizhne-Udiinsk: I heard the shout "the Cossacks are coming" and through the opening in the woods came these lovers of war. The horse and rider are one. [We were) tired, but there was something about them that made you feel the bugle blew [and) all that weariness would have fallen away. They are to a manner born - war is life to them. If a thing is worth having it is worth fighting for. Their leader was fully six feet seven inches tall with a beard that let you know he was a Russian of Russians. [They are] strong men who loved the; out-of-doors life. As a sight to witness, I beheld them when we drew out ... standing around the fires singing the songs of war in which their spirits fed.(51)
The dark air and thick sludge of the Nizhne-Udiinsk swamp quickly swallowed up the Cossacks. As they slogged through the muck on horseback, their cloaks grew heavy with clinging mud. Once their pace slowed, mosquitoes bit their faces and swelled their eyes shut. The inhabitants of these swamps offered no help to the Cossacks, whom they detested for their reputed cruelty.(52) No one warned them of the Legion waiting, faces blackened with the secret mosquito repellent of Nizhne-Udiinsk , In the end, it appeared to many of the legionnaires fighting that day on the outskirts of Nizhne-Udiinsk that luck had somehow changed their way. The tempo of fighting increased as spirits lifted. The Cossacks became sitting ducks.
Able to secure and consolidate stations ahead, Gajda's units repaired telegraph and telephone communications, rebuilt bridges, and moved on rapidly towards the mountains. Newspapers reported the Legion's victories as columns of troup trains began to unite into one unstoppable fighting force. Yet, serious obstacles remained ahead of Gajda and the others. Lake Baikal and the mountains that surrounded it could prove all but impassable.
A German engineer apprehended in the Lake Baikal region stunned his captors with the news that the local Soviets had plans to dynamite all 39 tunnel approaches. Destroying the tunnels would isolate the vast majority of legionnaires west of the mountains and could also eliminate travel across Siberia for years. Reconnaissance also revealed more than 40,000 Bolshevik troops hunkered down near Lake Baikal where the local militia had commandeered lake steamships fitted with artillery pieces to block any Czech and Slovak approach.
General Dieterichs, unable to help Gajda, awaited updates. Legion troops bivouacked in Vladivostok finally reported seeing Allied ships approaching the harbor. Their presence made the Soviet commissar and other city officials increasingly anxious even as Dieterichs worked to mollify them. Dieterichs, chief of staff of the Czecho-Slovak Legion, had been sitting for nearly two months in Vladivostok, his men in tents on the side of a mountain. His position had been very delicate as he watched relationships deteriorate day after day without being able to prevent the destruction of good will. Worse still was his inability to assist beleaguered Czech and Slovak trains still on the railroad west of the Baikal Range.(53)
Vladivostok Soviets ignored Japanese and American overtures to land vessels at the port. By June 25, 1918, 15,000 legionnaires had assembled in the harbor to board ships for the Western Front. The Legion Council quickly drafted an appeal to the Allies reiterating that they only wished to either go home or be evacuated to fight on the Western Front. Not one of the Legion units waiting in Vladivostok Harbor had been allowed to board the evacuation vessels. Worse yet, the Allied Command refused to provide a clear explanation why not.
After arriving in port, the Allies realized that the local Vladivostok militia had begun transferring large stocks of war supplies from the docks to the interior. These stockpiles left over from the tsarist war effort belonged to the Allies, not to local Bolsheviks. General Dieterichs, concerned that war material smuggled out of the city might be used against his Legion troop trains in transit, tried to enlist the local commissar's help to end this subterfuge. City officials agreed to Legion demands that the militia confines itself to an area surrounding the Vladivostok port and that all Allied materiel remain unmolested at dockside.(54) Unfortunately, the very week General Dieterichs signed this agreement, Czech and Slovak reconnaissance again reported arms and supplies heading west under the command of the local militia. On June 29, General Dieterichs and units from the Legion barracks marched to the port of Vladivostok.
The Bolsheviks and their soldiers, Hungarians and Austrians, refused to yield the port, and inflicted considerable losses. During the battle, four Russian torpedo boats steamed out to assist in attacks on the Czechs, but a Japanese cruiser, the Asachi, swung across their path. The Japanese captain assured the Russians that he would sink them if they did not retreat. The Russian captains turned back.(55)
General Diererichs' men succeeded in overthrowing the Bolsheviks in Vladivostok. This maneuver by the Legion's military commander completely subverted its vow of neutrality and further complicated any Legion evacuation.
In an age of industrial competition, the port of Vladivostok and its stockpiled war materiel invited interest and interference from the far eastern provinces to the west. With Dieterichs in control of the strategic port, the Allies' true intentions concerning Legion troops came to light: The day after the Czechs' [and Slovaks'] seizure of Vladivostok, the French government gave formal recognition to Czechoslovakia as a nation ...
The question of Allied intervention in Russia had been resolved, and on July 1, a detachment of American Marines from the cruiser U.S.S. Olympia assisted the British military and naval forces in the occupation of Murmansk in the far north. Japan, Britain, France and the United States decided to move into Russia to keep the war materiel they had shipped from falling into German hands, and to prevent the Bolsheviks from helping the Germans.( 56)
Although 12,000 troops under General Dieterichs celebrated the docking of the Allies in Vladivostok Harbor, Diererichs privately nursed concerns. Czechs and Slovaks isolated west of the Baikal Range headed into confrontation with some of their most formidable adversaries. Militia encampments near the tunnels marking the Legion's only escape route barred the way. Whether these men would ever escape Siberia with their lives was uncertain. Dieterichs knew that over the next couple of weeks the fate of his men would be decided.
Once considered merely troublesome deserters on their way home, Legion troops had morphed into a major military presence across the entire Russian Far East. Lenin and Trotsky had to either obliterate the troop trains or increase the pace of Czech and Slovak repatriation and end extortion of these soldiers throughout the Trans-Siberian system.(57)
Though heading in the opposite direction, Austrian, German, and Hungarian ex-POWs also found difficulty traveling homeward. The Central Powers put additional pressure on Lenin to do something about militia harassment of their own troop trains heading west out of Siberia.
The true cost of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Brest-Litovsk Treaty which pulled Russia out of the war effort had already severely strained the Allied effort on the Western Front. Though the United States had entered the war by April 1917, the Russian surrender reversed any advantages the Allies formerly enjoyed. Earlier in December 1917, reports reached Allied Command that large numbers of German troops in the western trenches had a few days of food rations left. When the United States suspended shipments of petroleum to Germany, its actions crippled German advances in the West.
The signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty changed all of that. The outlook of the war now turned in Germany's favour. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty opened Galician, Rumanian, and Caucasus petroleum supplies to the Central Powers. With Russia quiet to the east, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Turkey took time to pause and rethink troop positions in all theatres of battle.
As the summer of 1918 heated up, lives and materiel continued to be squandered with neither army advancing along the western trenches. Several French divisions, caught in the most wasteful of the fighting, mutinied. Imperceptibly at first, the balance of power began to shift throughout Belgium and France. By mid-July, Austrian, German, and Hungarian supplies and men diverted from the Eastern Front arrived in the West by rail. Formerly successful Allied port blockades had now been rendered unnecessary as Russian material and foodstuffs traveled directly westward over land, bypassing the ports altogether. Allied reconnaissance reported that a German advance along the Western Front would soon follow - one that could succeed if the situation continued to worsen for Allied troops in the field.
Throughout early summer the Allied Supreme Command in Versailles heard German artillery pounding away at the outskirts of Paris. Its only welcomed relief had come from reports of Legion advances along the Trans-Siberian Railway. Desperate for more men and supplies, the Western powers looked to the Legion for experienced replacements.
By midsummer, Legion units had cleared over 2,000 miles of uninterrupted railway between Lake Baikal and Ekaterinburg, Czech and Slovak's troops discovered caches of stored food and war material left behind by the tsarist officers in town warehouses and forgotten boxcars alongside branch lines. The greatest problem facing the progress of the Legion became the frontovik bandits roaming the countryside - not a lack of supplies. Still, there were more than enough random acts of violence occurring on either side to inflame an already desperate situation.(58)
Ex-tsarist soldiers turned bandits destroyed tracks, tunnels, and depots to isolate and then pillage separated Czech and Slovak units and to prey upon the peasantry in towns that dotted the countryside.
Through representatives in Moscow, Germany demanded that the Volga region is retaken immediately, no matter the cost. With German troops entrenched along Russia's western borders and the Japanese present in the Russian Far East, Lenin's position in Moscow became untenable. Legion commanders continued to have the desire to demonstrate to Moscow that they had never been dupes of the Allies and that Czech and Slovak's intentions had always been to evacuate to the Western Front as possible. To prove this, towns taken and cleared of the Soviet militia by legionnaires were returned to local control once the last of the Legion trains departed.
Meanwhile, the nucleus of a Siberian Provisional Government began to coalesce throughout the countryside. The Siberian Autonomous Movement organized a regional duma, preparing for representative government throughout Siberia. The Czechs and Slovaks also held these ideals dear and empathized with the Siberian Autonomous Movement's crusade. Even as the atmosphere began to slide toward foreign interference and civil war, Legion Command hoped for a shift toward representative government and democratic rule in the Russian Far East.
The Siberian Autonomous Movement also appeared to have grassroots support among the peasantry. In Omsk, more than 2,000 troops gathered to volunteer, while 1,000 reported to units in Tomsk, nearly 600 in Novonikolayevsk, 1,000 in Irkutsk, and 600 in Krasnoyarsk- a total of just under 7,000 men compared to 5,000 Bolshevik recruits from the same area. Aware of this growing threat, Moscow enhanced Red Army troops with over 6,000 Austro-Hungarian ex-prisoners of war.(59)
With the rising tide of militarism from all sides, Russian and Siberian refugees began to flee toward Vladivostok from the west. The Allies had hoped to minimize chaos along the coast, but political unrest in the interior threatened their efforts. In the harbor area, war materiel and other supplies were stacked to capacity.(60) The port at Vladivostok had always been considered Russia's back door. Under the Tsar, the harbor and city had been fortified with cannons mounted on concrete blocks on the hilltops partially encircling the port.(61)
American, British, Canadian, Czech, French, Japanese, and Slovak troops organized international patrols of the entire city. With a Japanese commitment for more troops to be stationed deep in the Russian Far East, the French and British hoped that resistance in the Caucasus region would divert German troops to southern Russia. At the turn of the century, American technical know-how had helped the Russian tsar push east toward the Orient. Japan continued to worry that Russia, whether under Bolshevik control or not, preferred partnership with the United States.(62)) Japan saw any effort to increase technical and economic support to Siberia on the part of the United States as interference in its national affairs. Japanese leaders believed that Siberia could prove an important route for expansion. Disguising its intentions, Tokyo promised to intervene in Siberia on behalf of the Czech and Slovak Legion.
The increase in Japanese troops aroused both Russian and American suspicion. With chaos in Moscow, Woodrow Wilson cautioned Britain and France that a sizable Japanese intervention might provoke Moscow to turn to Germany for help in Siberia.(63) President Wilson advanced the theory that the Brest-Litovsk Treaty had never been legitimate since the Russian representatives who signed the agreement had never been elected by the Russian people. They would not be recognized as representatives of Russia by her former allies.(64) If Lenin and Trotsky wanted to annul this treaty, Wilson proposed that the Allies would support them.
When Thomas Masaryk visited Washington in June 1918, President Wilson asked for his assessment of the situation in Siberia, Masaryk approved of economic assistance to Russia, believing that supplies of food, technical help, and engineering know-how might prevent a further slide into chaos. The American president was warned, however, that the Allies should not become entangled politically or militarily in either Russia or Siberia. Masaryk believed that any country becoming embroiled in Siberian civil issues would surely regret it. Support for the evacuation of all Legion units from Siberia remained Masaryk's chief concern. Secretary of State Lansing echoed this goal only days later on June 23,1918, by urging President Wilson to act: ''As these troops [Czechs and Slovaks] are most loyal to our cause and have been most unjustly treated by various Soviets, ought we not to consider whether something cannot be done to support them.(65) The Legion units in the interior of Siberia had been left unaware of the political and diplomatic intrigue surrounding them. Over the spring and summer of 1918, they had instead been preoccupied with just staying alive.
Colonel Gajda knew that a respite for his men would be detrimental to their progress, so he pushed deeper into the mountains. The Sixth and Seventh regiments grew sick of Gajda's voice demanding, "Shoot and advance, shoot and advance." Still, Gajda could be seen running back and forth prodding and cajoling his men - placing himself at risk under fire, hardly eating or sleeping.(66) This constant advance left local militias in a state of confusion and placed them on the defensive. Colonel Cecek also moved swiftly through the Siberian countryside to keep up with Colonel Vojechovsky's trains. By July 12, Syzran had fallen, and the town of Bulgma was secure. Cecek's men, like Gajda's, ignored their consuming fatigue and continued eastward.
On July 22, the First and Fourth Legion regiments moved into Simbirsk. The collapse of the Simbirsk militia proved a terrible blow to Lenin and Trotsky. Commissar jurcnev, Bolshevik supreme commander of the region, fired off Message #345 to his Soldier Councils with the news: Simbirsk has been taken by the Czecho-Slovaks and the White Russian troops. The Social Revolution is in peril. So that we have hitherto gained it is necessary to organize forthwith all the forces at your disposal and to send them out against the Czechs and the White Army. From the Germans we need fear nothing. You will be responsible in history for the success of the Revolution.(67)
Jurenev’s impression that Czechs and Slovaks fought alongside the White Russian forces was an inaccurate assumption repeated over and over again throughout the coming months. Grisly descriptions of violence abounded in the Western press as White and Red Army units began to prey upon one another, catching the Siberian villagers in between.
Many reports filtered through Sweden, Denmark, or Holland on the way to Western Europe and the United States. It was not until midsummer that the extent of the havoc overtaking Russia surfaced in the media. On Saturday, July 6, 1918, Yakov Blumkin and Nikolai Andreev, both employed by the Soviet Cheka and also members of the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party, burst into the office of the German consul. Dispatchers described the two men entering Count Mirbach's private office where they had a short conversation with the German Ambassador before shooting him. As they exited, Blumkin and Andreev lobbed explosives into the room. Both Blumkin and Andreev wanted the Soviets to rejoin the Allied war effort against Germany. Within days of his death, the German press began to connect Count von Mirbach's death with the overthrow of the Bolshevik military in Vladivostok and the Legion's successful campaign to evacuate from the Pacific coast. News of Count Von Mirbach's assassination reached the Western press by midmonth.(68) German rhetoric convinced the Allied nations that the Legion not only needed help but that Russia was now a powder keg - no longer under the control of either the Soviets or German diplomacy.
At the Fifth Congress of All-Russian Soviets held earlier in July, recriminations surfaced on the part of the Social Revolutionary opposition. Maria Spiridonova of the Left Social Revolutionary Party announced that a majority of the provinces were still not and probably never would be pro-Bolshevik as Lenin and Trotsky asserted. The Congress had broken up into philosophical camps and finally bogged down under threats and intimidation on both sides. Along with many others, Miss Spiridonova was accused of helping to assassinate German Ambassador Count von Mirbach. The Fifth Congress arrested and summarily executed her by firing squad.
Leon Trotsky now set the stage for further intimidation while warning Entente nations to stay out of Bolshevik business. Any involvement in either Russia or Siberia, Trotsky proclaimed, would be seen as a threat to both. As the Fifth Congress wound down, 11 former tsarist officials who had voluntarily returned from the West to assist the Moscow leadership in stabilizing the Russian economy were arrested and executed. The Fifth Congress was only a portent of what would follow.(69)
On August 18, 1918, the New York Times carried an inconsequential-looking story, little more than one paragraph long, hidden on page 3.(70) note. It reported the execution of over 1,700 of Russia's best-trained officers. They had made the mistake of applying for emigration papers in an attempt to secure passage into the Polish territories. Several hundred Europeans had also been detained, many identified as British and French businessmen.
As Russia spiraled into chaos, the White Russian Army, made up of former tsarist officers, tightened it is ranks. It organized to fight against the Red Guard while working to enlist Allied interest in the success of a counterrevolutionary movement.
Allied shipping in Vladivostok, supposedly there to evacuate the Legion, turned out to be warships.(71) Japan landed more troops in Vladivostok and publicly announced its intentions to financially back Ataman Sernenov in Chita. In addition, Japanese units spread out into the borderlands along Manchuria and garrisoned near Irkutsk. The Allied Command began to worry that Japan's intention could be to cooperate with Chinese interests in Outer Mongolia and northern Manchuria in order to establish a satellite state in areas of Chinese occupation.(72)
Fear of becoming entangled in the growing counterrevolution festered among Legion troops. While the White Guard offered to help the peasantry, it did little more than victimize local citizens. Later, American General William Graves would write: "If the Allies were trying to get the Czechs [and Slovaks] to the Western Front, it seems peculiar that no arrangements had been made for ships to take them from Vladivostok. (73)
While it is true the British wanted to leave the Czechoslovaks as a fighting force in Russia to aid the struggle against the Central Powers, the takeover of the Siberian railway that had ensued now, might in fact have embolded the Allies to be willing to also fight Bolshevism to the degree that they would obstruct opening a new Eastern Front against Germany in what was the former Russian Empire.
The Western powers initially aided the White Army in the hopes that a Red defeat would guarantee Russia’s re-entry into the First World War. However, the Allied strategic objectives in Russia changed. So, from the November 1917 Bolshevik Revolution to the November 1918 armistice on the Western Front, the Allies tried first to prevent the Bolsheviks from making a separate peace with the Central Powers and, failing that, to re-establish an Eastern Front. The last phase is from after the 1918 armistice to the fall of the last Whites in the Crimea in 1920. This was the time of greatest change in the attitude of individual Allied Powers towards Russia. Before the armistice, there was a concerted effort by all the Allies to win the Great War. Every strategy was directed to that ultimate goal. After the armistice, the Allies had no agreed collective aim and efforts were often directed to national goals rather than to agreed common ends.
1) "The Czecho-Slovak Incident," Box 2 File 1. pp. 2-3 Ernest Lloyd Harris Collection. Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, File #1, Box #2, 2-3.
2) Emmett Hoskins Collection. Memoirs and personal letters to family and friends, p.5
3) Bradley, John. The Czechoslovak Legion in Rmsia; 1914 1920. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991, 59-60.
4) Ibid., 79-80.
5) Stephen M. Berk, The Coup D’état (unpublished manuscript) 1919, 177-178.
6) Bradley, 82-83.
7) Clarence A.Manning , The Siberian Fiasco ,1952 , 46.
8) Letter from Strombach, Head of Penza Soviet, to Czechoslovak Communist Party Headquarters, Moscow, April 3,1918. Quoted in Vanek, Orakar, Volta Holecek, and Rudolf Medek. Za soobodu: obrdmovil krollikd ceskoslovenskeho revolucsniho huuti na Rusi, 1914-1920. Prague: Nakladem Pamarniku odboje, 1929, 66-68.
9)Wright, George Frederick. Asiatic Russia. Vol. 2. New York: McClure, Phillips, 1902, 15.
10) James Bunyan, Intervention, Civil War. and Communism in Russia, April-Decmber, 1918: Documents and Materials (Baltimore: John Hopkins Univerisry Press, 1976), 88.
11) Steven Porach, "The Role of the Czechoslovak Legion in Allied Policy toward Russia, 1918" graduate seminar paper, History Department, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, june 1975.
12) White, John Albert , The Siberian Intervention, Princeton University Press, 1950, 246-249.
13) "Siberian Outlook Not Encouraging," Pittsburgh Post, May 31, 1918, 2.
14) idem "Siberian Outlook Not Encouraging," Pittsburgh Post, May 31, 1918, 2.
15) Gen. William S. Graves, Americas Siberian Aduenture (New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, 1931), 45. Graves, 44-45.
16) Berk, 167.
17) Baerlein, Henry, The March of the Sevemy Thousand. London: Leonard Parsons, 1926, 134-135.
18) Bradley, 85 -86.
19) National Archives, United States War Department: General Staff, Military Intelligence Division. Military Reference Branch Classified Documents, Special Staff Records, 1917 to 1921, #164 to 212. United States Army Military Inteligence Records, #165, note #4, 2.
20) Bradley, 85-86.
21) Fie, Victor M. The Collapse of American Policy in Russia and Siberia. 1918. Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1995,8.
22) “Vexation of Central Power: Russia's Czech Troops," Times London, June 13, 1918, 5.
23) Bradley, 85 -86.
24) White, 246-249.
25) Bradley, 85-87.
26) Fie, 9.
27) Baerlein, p.159.
28) Captain Radola Gaja, Commander of the Sixth and Seventh regiments, had already prepared a plan of action. His plan predated the Chdyabinsk incident by over two weeks and was not allowed to be enacted by the Odbocka, Captain Radola Gajda, Plan of Action, Order number 38/1 (3 May 1918), Novonikolayevsk, Siberia,
29) Bobrick, Benson, East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia, Poseidon Pr, 1992, 393-395.
30) William Duncan, "Letters Home," May 26,1918, Quarterly Reports 1918, William Duncan Collection.
31) "The Czecho-Slovak Incident." File #1, Box #1, 4-5, Ernest lloyd Harris Collection.
32) Radola Gajda's reputation was quickly to falter. Lengyel, Emil, Siberia, Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing, 1943,218.
33) Ernest Lloyd Harris, "Telegram to Moscow Consulate:' June 25. 1918. 8, Ernest Lloyd Harris Collection.
34) The uprising of the Czecho-Slovak Legion as seen from a variety of perspectives by historians is highly controversial. Kratochvil's Cest reuoluce maligns Gajda for acting against his own Chelyabinsk Congress by refusing to negotiate .. with the Bolshevik militia at Novonikolayevsk rather than choosing of attack. The Soviet newspaper [zuestia covered the first Soviet report of the Czcchoslovak revolt on May 29. 1918. Coverage of the uprising in Czech. Slovak. and Russian repom would remain diametrically opposed to one another afterward. Izucstia, no. 107 (371), May 29,1918.
35) Interestingly, Trotsky's Order #115 was made under the instructions of Moscow in Lenin's name. Later, Soviet historians ignored Trotsky's role in the incident once he had fallen out of favor with Communist Party membership. Unterbcrger, Betty Miller, The United States, Revolutionary Russia, and the Rise of Czechoslovakia, Texas A&M University Press, 2000, 176-177.
36) Manning. 49.
37) Baerlein, 110.
38) Manning. 49.
39) Manning. 49.
40) Skelnicka interview April 29,1977. Tape #62.
41) David R. Francis, United States ambassador to Russia. reported to Washington in May 1918 that Count Mirbach and his agents seemed to dictate to the Soviet government in Moscow. Francis intimated that if hard proof could be round that Lenin was under the pay of Germany then the Allies had good reason to reestablish a second front. Lasch, 219,,220.
42) Baerlein, 135.
43) Wright, 348.
44) Skelnicka, Joseph. Interview by Joseph Swoboda. Experiences on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, 1917 to 1920, 15
45) Diererichs had been cooperating with the Bolsheviks with relative ease in the Pacific Province while awaiting Allied transport ships. Cooperation was not only prudent but helped Diererichs secure the port from any future Bolshevik intrigue. A contingent of legionnaires already in Vladivostok had been hampered from giving help to Legion troops in the field. For further information concerning General Diererichs and the precarious position he and his troops faced encamped by the port of Vladivostok, see White, 252-253.)
46) Most of Semenov's men cared only for gaining quick riches from the war developing in their homeland. Stanley K. Hornbeck Papers. "American Expeditionary Forces in Siberia," Hoover Institution Archives. For more on Semenoff see also “White Terror: Cossack Warlords of the Trans-Siberian” by Jamie Bisher (Nov 8, 2005).
47) Because of its 'extensive experience in the Spanish-American War as well as continuing work on the Western Front, the YMCA had become very adept at establishing volunteer centers in the field. The Krasnay« Rnchka and the Spaskoto prisoner of war camps had been esrablished in Siberia in order to feed and clothe German and Austrian captives. Volunteers from the Red Cross and the YMCA spread overland to contact orphans and widows in order to provide help. The YMCA often sold items such as cigarenes, matches, candy. tobacco, soap. fruit, and coffee, Kenneth Andrew Steuer, "The Pursuit of an 'Unparalleled Opportunity': The American YMCA and Prisoner-of- War Diplomacy Among the Central Power Nations During World War 1. 1914-1923," PhD diss. University of Minnesota, 1998, footnote #17, 456-457.
48) Telegram to Moscow Consulate from Irkutsk Consulate, Ernest Lloyd Harris Collection, Box #1, June 25. 1918, 3 -6.)
49) Becvar, Gustav. The Lost Legion. London: Standley Paul, 1939, 127-128.
50) Svidine, Nicolas, Cossack gold: The secret of the white army treasure, Little Brown & Company ,1975, 20-21
51) William Duncan, Letters Home, 1918.
52) Svidinc, 19-22.
53) Hoyt, Edwin P. The Army without a Country. New York: Macmillan, 1967, 140.
54) Hoyt, 139.
55) The New York Times Current History of the European War. vol.16, 105.
56) Hoyt, 141-142.
57) Victor Mamarey, "Dissolution of Austria-Hungary," Journal of Central European Affairs (October 10. 1950):256-270.
58) William Duncan recalled witnessing the execution of several men who were taken out and shot by the Legion after subduing the town of Barrabinsk. One was an engineer from the Tram-Siberian Railway who had admitted shooting a Czech in the back. Another had been a commissar in Barrabinsk who had been responsible for the mutilation of a Czech officer. Another was a Hungarian caught running into the forest and another Duncan was unable to find any rationale for executing. On the other hand, Duncan also wrote relatives back home of an incident in which three legionnaires fleeing a force of Bolsheviks had stopped at the house of a doctor, who bandaged their wounds. When the Bolsheviks later found out about help given to the enemy by this local doctor, his hands were cut off and as Duncan describes, "the last sight my eyes beheld as we pulled out from that village was the house of the doctor in flames." Letter Home from William Duncan, Barrabinsk, Siberia, June 9, 1918, p. 1.
59) Emmett Hoskin. Collection, 15.
60) Ibid., iii.
61) Bobrick, 398.
62) On its way to Russia, the Root Mission had neglected to stop first in Japan. This perceived slight convinced the Japanese of the mission's sinister and hidden agenda. The United States government flatly denied having any motives other than those publicly announced, but the Japanese continued to believe that the opposite was true. All American railway commissions, diplomatic delegations, and humanitarian groups were henceforth seen by the Japanese as a cover for secret aggression planned with Russian approval and against Japan, For more information concerning the strained relations between Japan and the United States during the intervention into Siberia, see The New York Times Current History of the European War, vol. 16, New York 1918, 110-111.
63) George Kennan felt that eastern Siberia could be kept from both Japanese and German influence by American forces. These U.S. forces had to act as a buffer between the Russian people and all foreign elements now inside Siberia. A central issue. in Kennan's intervention theory had become the independence of eastern Siberia. George F. Kennan, “Can We Help Russia ?,” America Faces Russia: Russian- American Relations From Early Times to Our Day, ed. Thomas Bailey (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1950), 126.
64) George F. Kennan, "American Troops in Russia: The True Record," Atlantic Monthly, vol. 203 (January 1959).
65) Lansing to Wilson, June 23, 1918 in F R. Lansing Papers, 364.
66) Hoyt, 135.
67) The summer of 1918 had proven to the Bolsheviks that they were fighting a strong and wily enemy. The cities in western Russia were suffering from hunger and mob violence and jurenev's message captures the feeling of impending doom. Most Soviet leaders held the belief that the Czechs were intent upon overthrowing Bolshevism. General Gajda, in My Memoirs, Prague 1920, believed Russia was still too weak to field a national army of an)' consequence. The Germans, waiting in the west, would surely overwhelm them given rime. For more information concerning the fall of Simbirsk and the summer engagements of the Czechs along the Ussuri and Volga fronts. Klecanda, Vladimir. "Operations of the Czecho-slovak Army in Russia During the Period 1917-1920, 14-16
68) "Count Von Mirbach Assassinated by Two Unknown Men in Russian Office," San Francisco Chronicle, July 7, 1918, L
69) "Bolsheviki Suppress Uprising in Moscow with Sanguinary Violence," The San Francisco Chronicle, July 9,1918, I.
70) "Hundreds of Officers Executed by Lenin," New York Times, August 1918, 3.
71) Graves, 44-45.
72) Geoffrey Hudson, "The Far East at the End of the First World War," Contemporary History Journal, vol.4, no. 2 (April 1969):176-177.
73) This remark, coming from the commanding officer of the United States Army Expeditionary Force, seems in itself peculiar. General Graves left San Francisco with direct orders from President Woodrow Wilson to "help the Czechs in any way possible." The marooned legionnaires were, in fact, the official reason that American troops had been sent to Siberia. Or were [hey? It would appear that all of the Allied nations had ulterior motives, motives other than their officially stated goals for sending troops to the Russian Far East provinces of Siberia. General Graves obviously questioned the Slavic troop evacuation plans being used as an excuse by the Allied Command for other hidden agendas. Graves, 44-45.