Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Invading Michigan (Wolverines, Lions and Bears, Oh My!)

CK at MGM in Detroit

Last week the AI tour invaded Michigan.  We stayed at the MGM in the motor city.  We had fun tailgating at the University of Michigan / Penn State game on 10/9 in Ann Arbor.  The Michigan Wolverines beat the Nittany Lions 18 to 13.

Vinnie Driano + Mike Deluca
Ann Arbor, MI

CK with Polar Bear Memorial
Troy, MI
The highlight of our trip was our visit with descendants of the Polar Bear Expedition of 1918-19 that invaded Northern Russia.  These men are the grandchildren of the soldiers that fought in Russia nearly a century ago.   Their organization helps to remember the sacrifice of these American invaders (http://pbma.grobbel.org/).

Larry Chase, CK, Mike Grobbel, Steve Stephens
White Chapel Cemetery, Troy, MI
Here is what AI has to say about the Polar bear invasion of Russia...

"In 1918, Woodrow Wilson ordered American forces to form part of the Allied North Russia Expeditionary Force that was being readied to support the White forces that were battling the Bolshevik Red forces in Russia. American sailors first landed in Murmansk from the USS Olympia on June 8, 1918.

Wilson had, for one of the few times in our history, granted authority to allow American troops to serve under foreign leadership. In November of 1918, just as the war in Europe was coming to a close, British Major General Edmund Ironside took over command of our force, what became known as the Polar Bear Expedition—great name, but not such a great outcome. In his diary, Ironside expressed doubts about his mission comparing the advance into Russia to sticking your hand into a huge sticky pudding.

Eventually, about five thousand American troops served in Northern Russia alongside British, Canadian, Australian, and White Russian forces. Some of them would not return to America. On the Dvina front on September 16, 1918, Private Philip Sokol from Pittsburgh was the first American to be killed in combat in the Russian campaign.

After initial success, stiffening Bolshevik resistance rapidly put the intervention forces in an increasingly desperate situation. Throughout the bitter Russian winter of 1918, General Ironside had to order his forces to retreat into a smaller and smaller area until ultimately they would be fighting just to survive.

Nevertheless, as in almost all wars, there were occasional brief, happier interludes. Godfrey Anderson was a Michigan farm boy who served in the 337th Field Hospital Unit in the Polar Bear Expedition. He describes a Christmas dinner in Shenkursk that featured fricassee of rabbit and chocolate layer cake. A balalaika orchestra and a dozen or so Russian girls were invited to attend and dance with the troops. On occasions, fraternization could lead to more; Private Joseph Chinzi of the 339th Supply Company married a Russian bride in Archangel.

Polar Bear Plaque
White Chapel Cemetery
A further eight thousand American soldiers were sent to Vladivostok, along with a variety of other Allied troops, including Japanese. US General Graves had more modest, and perhaps more realistic, ambitions than some of the other Allied generals in Siberia, and our troops ended up protecting the Trans-Siberian railroad from Bolshevik raids. Nevertheless, the intervention in Siberia proved ultimately as pointless as the intervention in Northern Russia, as chaos and conspiracy weakened the White Forces and the Red Forces advanced.

Wilson feared that the presence of American troops in Russia after World War I had ended could impede settlement of the Versailles Peace Treaty where he sought the creation of the League of Nations. The war to end all wars was finished. The Americans wanted all their boys to come home, and there was a growing feeling in the United States that the Russian intervention was a disaster that had failed to achieve anything very positive. Eventually, we did pull our boys out.
Today, though you can find a polar bear sculpture in a Detroit cemetery, the Allied North Russia Expedition is largely forgotten in the United States. In Russia, a visitor to Archangel will find several memorials of Russian resistance to the expedition."

Source: America Invadeswww.amzn.com/1940598427.

Go Blue!
Michigan Remembers
Not all invasions are glorious liberations.  It is vitally important for us to remember the fiascoes as well as the triumphs of our history.  Invading Russia, after Napoleon (1812), Hitler (1941-1944) and even President Wilson (1918-19) has proven to be the most discredited military strategy of all time.

Michigan remembers her sons the Polar Bears.

You can purchase a copy of AI and learn more about American Invasions on our web site which has additional photos, videos...

Special thanks to Mike Grobbel, Larry Chase, Steve Stephens and Mike Deluca!

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