The Polar Bear Expedition: The Heroes Of America’s Forgotten Invasion Of Russia

The Polar Bear Expedition: The Heroes Of America’s Forgotten Invasion Of Russia
The Polar Bear Expedition: The Heroes Of America’s Forgotten Invasion Of Russia

USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- THE POLAR BEAR EXPEDITION begins in the last months of WWI, when the 339th Regiment sailed for Europe. But instead of the Western Front, they soon discovered they were bound for Archangel, Russia with the hope of reopening the Eastern Front against Germany. The Americans fought the Bolsheviks in deep snow and temperatures that plunged to fifty below zero. By January 1919, the Northern Bolshevik Army numbered more than 45,000 soldiers, while the American troops mustered a mere 6,000 men.

The Polar Bear Expedition: The Heroes Of America’s Forgotten Invasion Of Russia

And yet, even after WWI officially ended in November 1918, American troops continued to fight the Red Army and an equally formidable enemy, “General Winter,” until they were officially recalled by President Woodrow Wilson in June and July 1919, months after the November 11th Armistice.

More than 200 American “Polar Bears” perished on Russian soil during WWI, but those who made it out never forgot their fallen brothers. In 1929, a contingent of veterans returned to Russia to recover the remains of more than eighty of their fallen comrades and brought many of the bodies home to Michigan, where a monument honoring their service still stands: a massive marble polar bear guarding the graves of more than fifty fallen soldiers.

fallen comrades and brought many of the bodies home to Michigan, where a monument honoring their service still stands: a massive marble polar bear
Fallen comrades and brought many of the bodies home to Michigan, where a monument honoring their service still stands: a massive marble polar bear

ADVANCE PRAISE

“Nelson’s well-written and well-researched history brings this often overlooked war to life. … Nelson tells this story and so much more with great pathos. … The Polar Bear Expedition is more than a great celebration of this little-known conflict.” —New York Journal of Books

“Using books, articles, and newspaper accounts—and a crisp character-driven approach—Nelson narrates the expedition’s sung and unsung heroes…horrors, and other events…. [His] engrossing narrative will engage military historians, political buffs, and general readers alike.” —Publishers Weekly

“In this fast-paced account, Nelson delivers a detailed…narrative of this century-old campaign. … A vivid, well-researched history of one of America’s many misguided military expeditions.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Nelson adeptly integrates the individual experiences of the regiment with the wider events of the expedition… [T]his largely overlooked event will interest readers of military history.” —Library Journal

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Carl Nelson received the 2017 Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s Colonel Joseph Alexander Award for Biography. He is the author of three acclaimed histories of the American experience in World War I: I Will Hold: The Story of USMC Legend Clifton B. Cates, from Belleau Wood to Victory in the Great War; Five Lieutenants: The Heartbreaking Story of Five Harvard Men Who Led America to Victory in World War I; and The Remains of Company D: A Story of the Great War. He lives in Eden Prairie, MN.

THE POLAR BEAR EXPEDITION: The Heroes of America’s Forgotten Invasion of Russia

By James Carl Nelson

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Rick
Rick
2 years ago

The monument to the 339th is in White Chapel, Michigan, not far from Detroit. The best museum collection of 339th memorabilia is in Frankenmuth, Michigan — well worth visiting. A book some of you may have read about this expedition is titled “The Ignorant Armies”. Another book, written by three junior officers shortly after the 339th returned is occasionally seen in reprint form on eBay (the title escapes me at the moment). The Polar Bears were armed with Remington-made Mosin-Nagants, some of which had overly long firing pins, resulting in unplanned discharges when the butt was slammed on the ground… Read more »

Nomen Ignotus
Nomen Ignotus
2 years ago

The U.S, had troops in north western Russia ( Archangel ) to help the French and British forces there ….and also a larger force in the eastern end of the Russian Empire ( Vladivostok ) to help the White Russians ( and Czech legion trying to escape there ) and keep an eye on the Japanese Empire and see what could be done about the large amount of supplies the U.S. had sent there to help the Russian Empire before the Communists made a deal with the Kaiser .

keith
keith
2 years ago
Reply to  Nomen Ignotus

A little known part of history.
2 Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross for actions in Northern Russia in 1919. The VC is the highest gallentry award we can get, our version of the congressional medal.

Ronald Nuxon
Ronald Nuxon
2 years ago

The period immediately after the First World War is often overlooked by all but historians. This period includes the war against the Bolsheviks (communists), the war conducted by the “white” forces against the Bolsheviks (they also committed massacres against the Jews of Ukraine). Further complicating the matter, the new communist state waged war against the newly independent nation of Poland. The Poles beat the crap out of the Reds. Amidst all this, and I only scratched the surface, it’s easy to understand how American intervention in Russia is mostly forgotten.

2WarAbnVet
2WarAbnVet
2 years ago

My question is: were they armed with .30-06 rifles (M-1903 or M-1917) or the US manufactured Mosins (Remington and New England Westinghouse) in .7.62×54?
It would have made sense to use Mosins for the sake of ammo compatibility with their adversaries, thus easing resupply..

LeRoy W Rohrer
LeRoy W Rohrer
2 years ago

There is at least one other book about this and I have read it but can not recall the title. Many of the troops were form Wisconsin also.

Sgt John A. Chidlow USA (ret)
Sgt John A. Chidlow USA (ret)
2 years ago

The Infantry unit 27 Infantry Bn Wolfhound was there in the fight. They pick up the name Wolfhounds there. My unit was the 4/27 th Infantry Wolfhound, when stationed in Hawaii in 1988.

Jim Boyd
Jim Boyd
2 years ago

Possibly “The Day We Amost Bombed Moscow ” was a mid 70s book on the campaign in Russia and I noticed we also held a city in Western Siberia , along with a multinational force at that same time period . The 104 Wolfhounds came into existence during that action and lived until ‘Nam I think. The Wolfhound Rangers became very famous in Korea with unconventional tactics.
I love those Wolfhounds , they were the best we had in those terrible days. Bless their memory.

LeRoy W Rohrer
LeRoy W Rohrer
2 years ago

There is at least one other book written about this expedition. I have read it but can not recall the title. Many of the troops were from Wisconsin also.

Mott
Mott
2 years ago

I have never heard of this, Where in MI is this at?

Hoplite
Hoplite
2 years ago

I had a great uncle who was in the KNG and was sent there. He made it home but later died of the wounds that he received on that ill fated expedition.