Chapter XVI: Events to the end of August 1918
As the Americans continued to arrive in Vladivostok they could not help realizing that they were engaged in an international campaign.
Simultaneous with the various summer engagements of the Czecho-Slovaks, the United States, Great Britain, France, Japan and China had issued proclamations on August 3, 1918 announcing intervention. Each stated individual policies with regard to Russia. Washington send orders directing troop movements to Vladivostok; British troops landed on Siberian soil.
Admiral Knight was obviously annoyed that he had to learn from the Japanese foreign officer that American troops would be landing shortly. He sent a confidential wire to Washington asking to be advised concerning this report. Knight had been extremely faithful in keeping Wash9ington alerted regarding conditions so one may well wonder why neither the State, War nor Naval Departments had reported to him regarding American policy. Perhaps no such policy was firmly established.
When the Americans arrived they began to associate with men from other countries. Many happy associations resulted as well as some less happy. When queried about their allies, many confusing and diverse answers were reported. The Americans were most vocal about the Japanese.
– The Japanese –
Japanese infiltration into Siberia had begun as early as the spring of 1918. At that time an unpleasant incident occurred in Vladivostok which served as a pretext to put men ashore. It was the general consensus of opinion that the Japanese had designees on the Russian maritime provinces.
“On April 4th (1918) at 11:00 a.m., several armed men in the uniform of Russian soldiers entered a shop in Vladivostok and demanded money. This being refused, they then shot and killed three Japanese. Early the following morning, Kato (Imperial Japanese Navy) put a party of marines ashore for the purpose (as he put it in a written notification to the Russian officials) of protecting the lives and property of Japanese citizens in the city. A second Japanese contingent was landed later in the day, making a total of 600 men ashore. The British followed suit by putting ashore 50 men as a guard for their consular establishment.
Kato explained to Knight the same day that he had been unable to find any authority on shore to whom he could appeal for the protection of his nationals. He had received information, he said, that Russian communist sailors had planned to loot the city; he thought the attack on the Japanese might have been a premature move in this direction. He had therefore acted under necessity. He had not received any further instructions from his government; but he expected an increase of his force by one more cruiser and three destroyers, to arrive April 6.”
As for the landing of troops for the intervention in the summer 1918, the first body of the Japanese detachment departed from Moji and Ujina between August 3 and August 21, 1918.
The first force arrived in Vladivostok on August 5, 1918 on the Hizen Maru. It was followed on the 11th by two transports with some 20,000 troops. Immediately upon landing the soldiers paraded down the main street of Vladivostok.
On the 12th, 17th, and 21st similar landings took place. There seemed to be no limit to the Japanese as they poured into the city. The original plan of supplying 7,000 troops had already been far exceeded at this early date.
The Japanese commander, General Kikuzo Otani, by Imperial Japanese Order of August 10, 1918, was instructed to prepare the detachment under the command of the 12th Division. He was also instructed to command the detachments of England, the United States, France, Italy and China. All were to advance as soon as was possible to the vicinity of Khabarovsk.
The aims of the Japanese were outlined in an official Japanese report: “The Japanese conformity with an American proposal, the War office authorities, with the consent of the Government, on August 5, 1918, recommended to His Majesty the Emperor that Japan dispatch to the Maritime Province a detachment of 12,000 men under the command of the 12th Division of the Japanese Army. At the same time they proposed to the Allied Nations which intended to mobilize for the purpose of rescuing the Czecho-Slovak Army, and to China, with which there were special relations in view of the Sino-Japanese Military Agreement, that the right of directing the Joint Military operations be instructed to the Commander of the Japanese Army.
This proposal having been agreed upon, the staff of the Vladivostok Expeditionary Army was organized and dispatched. The instructions given to the Commander of the 12th Division upon the dispatching of the staff were that he should cooperate with the Allied Armies, rescue and assist the Czech Army, remove the German and Austrian Agencies at work in the Maritime Provinces and maintain peace and order in those regions.”
American officers soon learned that the Japanese were prone to distort reports and to arrange military assignments in such a way that the other allies would be in the rear after the Japanese had won a battle. Another source of irritation was the planting of a higher rank wherever a few American soldiers were stationed.
General Graves was to say that he had often wondered why the Japanese wanted troops at out-of-the-way station. The only conclusion he came to was that the Japanese probably felt that if they could keep troops at such stations, Japan could justify her sending of 72,000 men to Siberia instead of the 12,000 agree upon.
In her research on the Siberian Intervention, the author sent a list of queries to as many American Veterans as she was able to contact. The replies to the query “What do you know of the Japanese in Siberia?” included some of the following replies: “The Japanese had the largest number of forces in Siberia and they were the biggest pain in the neck. . .They could not be trusted as far as one could throw a bowl of sukiyaki. . .They were the cut throats of Siberia. . .The were sociable. . .We got along fine. . .The only unpleasantness was from the Japanese but this was only at the Company or Platoon level. . .They didn’t like us and we didn’t like them. . .We had to be careful what we did and said. . .They were supposed to leave Siberia when we did but I heard they left 75,000 there in civilian clothes. . .They were lousy. . .They had the most troops and did the most fighting outside of the Russians. . .I could not say as much as one good word for them. . .I liked them. . .They were in the International Military Police Force. . .I doubt if any fouler, filthier, low down scum ever existed anywhere at any time.
.As a whole the Japanese people are very clean and have a little pride. .
At the time Siberia was overrun with Japanese troops. 80,000 were up there as compared to only about 10,000 Americans. They had two infantry regiments plus detachments of quartermaster, engineers, medical corps, etc. . .I don’t think you could force livestock to go in the cars of the Japanese troop trains I saw at times. They relieved themselves right on the straw on the floor. . .The Mikado gave “my American troops” a series of five Japanese postal cards and a lettersheet as part of a Christmas present. That was pretty nice. . .My impression of the maneuvers of the Japanese was that they were in the field to grab territories that held rich deposits of coking coal when the international strike became weak. . .We had squabbles with the Japanese over water wells but a little show of force was all that was necessary. . .They were all over the place. . .Understand they were set to take over completely but the did not. . .They were polite. . .In one of the engagements a substantial number of troops watched us in action but did not participate. Another engagement in which I was in charge of the rear guard I saw some Japanese soldiers that joined us. When we were unexpectedly fired on, they excitedly indicated such by gestures and promptly hit the ground. We continued on our way leaving them behind. . .I heard so many stories and rumors that I didn’t care to believe them. . .If any, the affair was between the American and the Japanese, I recall one instance rather clearly. We were en route by train in the spring of 1919 to Verkhne-Udinsk. It was toward evening when we came to a stopping place. It must have had to do with he Japanese clearing the road for us so that we could move on, for I remember a Colonel or General Buck saying “Either you’ll move, or we’ll mover your bowels.” Shortly after which we were enabled to proceed on our way. . .There was a bit of animosity against the Japs but it seemed more flagrant among the officers.
The Japanese enlisted men always greeted us with a cheery “Owhyo” (Good morning). . .The Japanese soldier did not receive much pay. It hardly kept him in cigarettes, yet they were able to sample the fruits of the hill (Kopek Hill, houses of prostitution).
As their small pay did not permit such luxuries, the Japanese Government took care of it. Each man was supplied with a card permitting him to participate at a House of Ill Repute so he could rid himself of his excess baggage twice a month. The Madam punched the card even as you or I would have a card punched in a cafeteria. . .They were very much at the base of all military planning and the real reason for our presence in Siberia to commence with. . .Vladivostok was overrun with Japanese. . .They were dubious allies. . .I wonder if one reason we were there was to prevent the Japanese from taking over. . .One occasion that has had no publicity revolves around the Japanese occupying a small town near the mouth of the Amur River below Khabarovsk. Japanese arrogance and brutality aroused the Russian populace to the extent that they rose up and attached the Japanese garrison and the Japanese shelled the town form destroyers in the river.
They had long coveted a foothold on the Asiatic mainland and fully expected, on the strength of their 80,000 or so troops and their ranking generals (coupled with the chaotic Russian situation), to take over completely. General Graves, backed by our State Department, and our troops completely frustrated their expectations. The Japanese must have derived some satisfaction to wipe out the 31st Infantry later at Bataan and Corregidor. . . We did not get along with them. . .They were not particularly friendly. . .We got along with them when necessary but had little to do with them. . .The Japanese camp was next to use at Beresovka. . .The Japanese were smuggling snow (dope), which is a drug, in order to weaken the Russians. Some of our boys took the drug and almost went out of their minds. . .The supply train would arrive and the Japanese would attack it and then they would blame it on the Bolsheviks. . .The Japanese were flooding Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Harbin, Nikolsk and so forth with cocaine. Every week the whole city of Vladivostok would seem to be at the docks waiting for the dope shit from Japan. The Russians called it snek (snow) and those who were addicts were called snow birds. . .They were very exclusive and not very friendly. . .The Japanese were with us at all times. Sometimes they were friendly and sometimes they were mean. We handled them okay. . .We were warned before landing that the Japanese were friends, but the Japanese had the idea that some day they would have to take us. We were only 7,000; They had at times more than ten times that. . .Their men were constantly being moved from one end to the other of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. . .
They were there and the Russians would spit every time they would hear the name. . .Very uncooperative. . .Japanese army units behaved as though they meant to stay in Eastern Siberia permanently. . .there were many misunderstandings with them and near clashes of firing with live ammunition. . .Japs were in the same town as us at times. . .Practically all the Allies had taken representation in Siberia: Italians, English, French, etc. We got along good with all of them. . .The only beer we could get was from (ILLEGIBLE TEXT, CUT OFF) For awhile General Otani was our commander too. . .Didn’t cooperate with us. Broke some of our supplies at the railway, “so sorry”. . .I guess the 27th Infantry had more trouble with the Japanese than anyone. . .They were kind and friendly. . .We hated them. . .In spite of an agreement to send a much smaller number the Japanese swarmed in to the tune of 80,000. They took care to bring in generals with greater seniority than any of the other Allies, and appeared ready to seize and take over as much of the Siberian terrain as they could, which they had long coveted. . .They were kept in line principally by General Grave. . .Friction was constant with them and developed on occasion to near battle status. . .They were uncooperative and dictatorial. . .One Japanese general complained to General Graves that the Japanese always came out second best in endurance and speed in marching, and General Graves is said to have told him it was a matter of difference in diet. This is said to have resulted in a drastic change in Japanese dietary requirements. . .
At the time of the Gaida revolution (November 1919) American and Japanese details, with about the same distance to go, were alerted and made forced marches to the scene of the uproar. The American patrol under command of Lt. George Woods, a long time army veteran, arrived first and had the situation in hand before the Japanese got there, much to their discomforture. . .
The Japanese were billeted in some buildings across the street from us. Some of the Americans had run-ins with the Japanese. . .What our purpose was I never did fully understand. There was supposed to have been a contingent of two regiments from each of the Allied nations, U.S., Canada, France, Italy, Britain and Japan. The Japanese, however, sent at least ten times what we did.
Although we fraternized to certain extent with the soldiers there was a certain undercurrent of animosity between us. . .There is one thing I do remember, they could never understand why the American soldier always went downtown, or anywhere else in his off duty time without a side arm, either a pistol or a bayonet. They weren’t long in finding out. After a few of them were knocked out with a stiff right or left hook, they didn’t ask any more questions. . .My company went with the Japanese from Ussari to Blagovestchensk. . .No one liked them. . .
One day in a sporting house a stampede in trying to get out of the house; some dived through the windows, others between the legs of our sailors. Our sailors had told them previously that if they were ever caught in our territory their throats would be slashed. . .I was attracted to a huge Japanese officer in a picture, as I had never seen a Jap that large in Japan or anywhere else. I don’t think there could be two like him anywhere in the Japanese army. He must have been the general that dealt our boys so much misery in World War II. . .
It was not any surprise to any of us years after when they bombed Pearl Harbor. That was what they did to the Russians in the Russo-Japanese war. History has a way of repeating itself and that subject seems to have been neglected in our military schools, prior to Pearl Harbor. . .We were not allowed to look into the Japanese trainloads in Siberia.
Once in Harbin we were not allowed and when our representative asked what was on the train (it was obviously troops) the reply from the Japanese officer was “Corsets for the Russian women.”. . .There was seething unrest amongst the people of Vladivostok and Khabarovsk against the Japanese and they did not miss a chance to take a toll.
Once, during the Intervention, I arrived in a little town about 13 miles south of Khabarovsk. There were a number of Japanese stationed there. Early in the morning the Bolsheviks moved in. When we arrived all the Japanese were dead in their cars, on their porches and inside their stations. . .They were cruel. . .They never buried the enemy dead, only their own. . .They pillaged, raped and stole as they went through Siberia. . .They were courteous and helpful. . . Once they saved my life, for this I am extremely grateful. . .They were crude and deceitful. . .
The Japanese would send men home and then send new ones back to Siberia so they had fresh blood there constantly. . .Everywhere we went we saw the flag of Japan. With the exception of a few towns and bridges guarded exclusively by the Americans, the Japanese troops were always present. . .They stayed there long after we left for home.
A New Year’s greeting card mailed in 1922 from Manchuria is evidence of this. It had four red characters, used as a frank for soldiers in the field. . .We found not only soldiers but agents and merchants everywhere. . .Some of the Japanese were in civilian clothes but worked for the military.”
As the Americans observed the ever-present Japanese and as they watched the grinning coolies and heard about the war prisoners that were at large, they had concerns about what would face them beyond Vladivostok.
The prisoners quartered in Vladivostok were put under the control of the Americans almost from the start of the arrival of American troops.
– The POW’s –
The men of the 31st Infantry, Company K, were ill at ease when they were assigned to guard the POWs at the Base of Supplies. Some of the Americans dug up ancient grindstones with which they sharpened their bayonets. They were not anxious to take any changes with the “Heinies.” As for the prisoners, they looked on an mumbled to themselves.
They were not sure of the situation either. The Czechs had warned the prisoners that the Yanks were a tough bunch and “might decide to bump them off.” Company K lined up the apprehensive Germans and Austrians for count and ordered them to proceed to one of the large locomotive warehouses which was to be their permanent home. It took some persuasion with bayonets before the prisoners were finally herded in the night. The POWs were not sure of what would happen to them once they got inside. Many had already spent years in Siberia and if their lives were to end in a mass execution they seemed determined to put up a fight.
After getting them in and posting the sentries, the Americans prepared an adjoining warehouse for their own quarters and then fell in line for chow, “good ole army stew, coffee and bread.” It grew cold early in the evening. That night the straw beds felt good to the men; they were much better than the hard canvas bunks of transport. They had been in Siberia for only a few hours and already they had accomplished much, seen much and were exhausted. Harry Rohrer, the Prison Sergeant, noted that the prisoners soon realized that the Americans were not intent on executing them. Corporals Rhoades and Cubbs were Rohrer’s assistants.
Captain William H. Crow was the Prison Officer. Two prisoners were detailed as bookkeepers and two as interpreters. Rohrere’s duties included the handling of all work details and the administering to and the disciplining of prisoners. He recorded: “It didn’t take those German prisoners long to find out that the Americans were human and that they would be treated kindly as long as they obeyed orders. They were each issued a Helen Gould Field Cot, straw and blankets. They were put on regular army rations and allowed to make themselves as comfortable as possible. Then the POWs were organized into companies and each company knew just what was expected of it. The men built a massive kitchen and detailed their own cooks and helpers and had their own quartermasters and supply sergeants.”
The prison personnel included skilled mechanics. Soon the prisoners had their own shops for tailors, shoemakers, barbers, watchmakers and general repairmen. There were several artists among them as well as cabinetmakers and toymakers. The craftsmen occupied their spare time at their trades and sold their wares to the American soldiers, officers and civilians. The American doughboy was a ready purchaser.
Each prisoner was paid one dollar for each day he worked. Deductions were made for their rations, clothing, tobacco, etc. The prisoners were provided skilled medical attention and an army surgeon was on duty at all times.
Although they were given every reasonable comfort, rigid discipline was maintained. Rohrer recalled that his chief worry was keeping the Austrians and the Germans from fighting among themselves!
At the beginning the prisoners were directed to prepare the warehouses for permanent quarters. Some were detailed to unload the transports and others to fill in the pits of the warehouses after which heavy planking was laid for floors. Latrines were built. Kitchens were set up.
Prisoners were detailed to repair and to build roads. Still others began to clean the Russian barracks which would be used as troop quarters. These old barracks had formerly been used as hospitals and refugee shelters, but were so filthy that it took days to restore them to a state fit for occupancy. When this task was finally completed, the 31st moved from the Base of Supplies into the renovated quarters.
Regarding the state of the POWs, General Graves was to say later that the miserable conditions were brought to the attention of the American officials. He added: “A committee of one officer from each of the Allies here was appointed to draw up a scheme under which we could take charge and care for them. Five hundred were taken by us. We assumed the first full care and responsibility of these men. Later the number was increased to 521. They do all of the work at the Base including discharging of the transports, reclamation work, etc. and are paid under authority paragraph 65, Rules of Land Warfare, $1.00 per day for actual number of days worked. The cost of maintenance for actual days worked was charged against them. This labor has been very satisfactory and has enabled us to discharge the transports with a minimum of time and a maximum of speed.”
Bill Mason recalled seeing one prisoner who came to the barracks and took pictures of the men who wanted them. “Billy Witcraft and I had ours taken,” he (ILLEGIBLE TEXT)…we got a dozen, he took 6 and I took 6.”
Paul Bencoe was on the other side of the fence; he was himself a prisoner of war and had been from 1916. He recalled that “at irregular intervals a fellow prisoner would talk through the door and yell in Hungarian the equivalent of “Mail” and would read off the names of the lucky ones who would get letters. Then he would hand them their mail from home. Mail sent to us POWs had to be deposited at a designated collection place in camp. Both incoming and outgoing mail was censored. I believe, but an not sure, that the International Red Cross had something to do with the POW mail. That is all I can recall after all these years.”
If some of the Americans had heeded their parents’ advice to keep diaries we would have had a better record than we do of events. Ralph Baggs’ father wrote to his son on August 14th at New York and advised: “Keep a diary of events. It will be extremely interesting to you in you later life and will tend to refresh your memory.” Unfortunately, Baggs paid no heed. Baggs’ dad also advised: “I don’t suppose your letters will be censored from that quarter of the glove, so you may write us fully of what is going on.”Unfortunately, letters were censored and, whatever Baggs may have written has now passed into obscurity for there is not a trace of any of his mail from Siberia to the States. Thus we have no record of his thoughts in those long dreary months in Siberia. We do have mail to him and note the patriotic fervor in that mail and in the mail to and from other men. Censorship during WWII, the Korean War and our involvement in Vietnam has deprived the world of much documentary history. As the years recede we are to be compelled to rely on “official reports” by those who are not permitted to present the whole story.
The mother of Ralph Baggs wrote to her son: “To think that my boy was going so far off and I was not there to wish him good luck and a safe journey. I am sure he will succeed for you have the right feelings and will try, as you have doe ever since you gave your best efforts to the United States, when you made up your mind that you wanted to help your country and make it safe to live in. God bless you my boy.”
As more and more Americans and their allies poured into the city of Vladivostok they continued to be staggered by the strange metropolis. As the months wore on they learned more and more about The Mistress of the East, the prettily situated capital of the Maritime Province.
Vladivostok is situated on the slope of a coastal range between the Amur Gulf at the southwest extremity of a peninsula between the Amur Gulf on the west and the Ussuri Gulf on the east. The magnificent harbor which was formed by the bay of the Golden Horn on the western and northern sides had created a city that seemed to slumber in beauty.
Founded in 1860, Vladivostok was a free port from 1865 to 1909. At the time of the arrival of the Americans it had a population of some 100,000, consisting mostly of foreigners of many nations. The Chinese had the larges population. Then there were Koreans, Japanese and Germans. The cost of living was high but life itself seemed cheap.
Vladivostok was the largest and chief port of the Russian Far East. It was the terminus for the Trans-Siberian Railway and was the Russian Naval Base on the Pacific. It may still be that. Visitors are not encouraged.
The main street of Vladivostok, Svetlanskaya, ran east and west. Not far from the Golden Horn, it was crossed by a railway. To the south were found the Municipal Garden and the Museum. On the north side was a monument and farther to the east was another. The Greek Orthodox Church and a Lutheran Church were also in this vicinity. It seemed strange to the Americans to learn that there was a Lutheran Church in Siberia until they learned of the influx of Germans into the area.
From the heights above the Observatory, a breathtaking view presented itself. Other landmarks included the Roman Catholic Church, the Oriental Institute, the Kunst and Albers Department Store and restaurants such as the Zolotoi Rog (Golden Horn), the American Grille and the Railway Station Restaurant.
An electric tramway ran from the railway station along Svetlanskaya Street. This was the cause of much jest. Called the “Toonerville Trolley”, the Americans had much to say about overcrowding and thievery on the street car. It was about half the size of an ordinary trolley and ran” when it was not being repaired and if there was power.”
Every trip seemed to include pickpockets. McQuiddy recalled the time he was with his friend, Private Libby, who had his wallet lifted. He knew who the culprit was so waited for the latter to get off, then followed him and knocked him cold with one on the chin and retrieved his property.” There lay the man on the cobblestones and as McQuiddy and Libby walked from the scene they imagined that the gathering spectators might wonder about those Americans who seemed so adept with their fists.
The market place of Vladivostok fascinated the Americans. Everyone appeared to gather there to buy, sell or just gossip. The bazaars were market parliaments. Here the city and country dwellers could meet to discuss war, politics, Bolsheviks, propaganda, policies of the Allies, cost of food or anything else. Rumors as well as pamphlets were circulated at the bazaars.
In retrospect, the Americans had mixed feelings about life as they came to know it in Vladivostok. At the time of the first arrivals in August and early September of 1918 the climate had been most a agreeable. In winter the bay was icebound from the middle of December to the beginning of March and sea communication was difficult except by use of icebreakers. In the winter the highways were frozen and during the ensuing fall the mud became intolerable. However, there were lovely nights when one could hear the tantalizing music from the boats in the bay.
Beautiful as the Americans found the scenery upon their arrival, they were surprised to find almost no trees in evidence. The hills around Vladivostok were barren except for low brush. A few small parks dotted the city and these had benches upon which the soldiers could meditate or fight off romantically minded local girls.
One American stated that he found Siberia a wonderful land with good soil, fine grass and the best timber. There was also a surprising amount of minerals, as well as game and fish. The resources of Siberia were incalculable, needing only the wherewithal to make them available.
The consensus of opinion was that the people in Vladivostok lived “a very crowded life.” There were few modern improvements or facilities. Filth was everywhere. Food and clothing were difficult to obtain; soap was almost nonexistent and water had to be carried in buckets. There were no toilets in the homes; each city had a public toilet which everyone used and which discharged into the open. The lack of plumbing, the drabness and the poverty depressed some of the Americans. Yet others spoke of the beauty. The buildings were described as “beautiful but ancient looking. . .They were of European style.” Most of the buildings were so old that they gave forth an air of stability, an air in contrast to conditions. “I found the city romantic,” one soldier remarked, “magnificent native costumes with an amazing culture amongst some of the people. Yet the terror of Bolshevism was grasping the people when we arrived and the lust for blood was in evidence everywhere.” As for the Bay, that was a jewel, sparkling in the sun. The Golden Horn was the magnificent entrance to the harbor. Surely this was a land of sharp contrasts.
Many of the Americans did not sense the culture of this land; they saw only poverty and stagnation. “We found the cobblestones odd. They were not square like ours but egg-shaped field stones of oval type. They made me feel as though we were walking on eggs.”
The oddly numbered residences in the city and strange construction of those just beyond aroused the wonder of many Americans. “There were a great many wooden dwellings on the outskirts which invariably had a door high in a gable with a ladder leading down. It looked to me as though they wanted an emergency exit in case of deep snow. But as I never saw snow over 18 inches I am not sure I was right about this,” were the comments of one soldier.
Most homes and stores were illuminated by oil lamps and candles. Because of fear and uncertainty, few people ventured out by night. An American soldier, Jesse Sale, decided to visit the main railway station one evening. He found it was off limits until the premises had been cleaned. Even after this had taken place, Sale remarked that he saw lice crawling up the door casings and the place looked dirty as a coal bin. Sale added that all the cities were “pretty run down and dirty.” On the other hand, John Souhrada of the 31st observed that “considering their limitations the cities were pretty, clean and rather well set up.”
In most cities the wealthy and the poor rubbed elbows in the stores and in the market places. In Vladivostok those accustomed to western culture were amazed to note that local authorities had made little or no effort to tidy up the streets. While there were elegant clubs and eating places, it was not unusual to see a dead animal or even a dead man lying on the streets, sometimes for days before the forms were shoveled away. “I have seen well dressed men and women stepping right over a corpse, scattering the flies in every direction: was a comment of one doughboy.
Youthful and eager to see everything new, the Americans enjoyed watching quaint customs, bawdy scenes any novelties that came their way.
Julian Sheppard of Texas was enthralled by the majestic horses he saw in Siberia. He had spent a good deal of time on a ranch back at home but admitted he had never seen horses to match the ones the Cossacks rode. Sheppard who was with the 27th, Co. K, was born in Llano County, Texas on March 18, 1895. His dad was a farmer and a cowboy and his older brothers were cowhands who performed splendid feats on horseback. Young Julian aspired to follow in their stirrups, but it was not to be. He was never to be a cowboy. He wandered off and found himself in Pailes Valley, Oklahoma when the country went to war in 1917. Sheppard enlisted and was sent to Fort Logan, Colorado on November 17th and went on to Angel Island, California to join the 27th Infantry. He left for Vladivostok on the UST CROOK arriving there on August 15, 1918.
In retrospect Sheppard remarked, “Today my Siberian trip all seems like a dream to me. but I do recall meeting Czecho-Slovaks there. They had been captured in the town where we were stationed and there were a good many prisoners there too. There was a parade, I recall that too. We marched through the town and realized that those silent movie cameras were grinding away and taking pictures of us! Not long afterwards I was on my way to Khabarovsk, and for the first time in my whole life I saw a dead soldier. It was not a good feeling.”
Sheppard saw more than cowboys in Siberia. He saw great tall men called Cossacks with magnificent dexterity on beautiful horses. These horses were better than his brothers had ever ridden. And the Cossacks were better than his brothers when in the saddle. Sheppard was anxious to get back to his old home town area taking up residence in Brownwood where he was able to brag about horses and horsemanship he had witnessed in far-off Siberia.
Paul R. Coleman of Company B, 27th Infantry, recalled that they stayed on the transport until quarters were found for them and said that they were pretty annoyed by the whole deal and wondered who was responsible for overlooking to make proper arrangements for quartering the Americans.
Coleman had enlisted in Ohio and was sent to Texas as early as 1914. He recalled vaguely that as he traveled through Texas a today wave had destroyed a whole city in 1915. He had been ordered to the Philippines by way of the Canal Zone. When he arrived at Colon a landslide had closed the Culebra Cut and trains could not get through to the Canal; the men had been transferred to some barracks at Empire for three or four months until another transport was sent from San Francisco to pick them up. The Americans occupied the transport for 30 days on the route via Honolulu and Japan, landing at the Philippine Islands where they were sent to Los Banos. Just at that time a public figure was hanged on the parade ground. It was on the spot where Coleman had formerly played baseball. He was there for a couple of years and then he was ordered to Manila where he received orders to go to Siberia. Already he had seen so much of the world including tidal waves, landslides, and public hangings that he was not too surprised at what he encountered in Vladivostok. He admitted he had not known of the chaotic state of the city until he saw it at first hand.
One of the peculiarities that struck the Americans in Vladivostok was the manner in which houses were numbered. Apparently numbers were assigned in the order in which structures were built; there was absolutely no system or regularity. If one wanted to find an address and managed to locate the street it was well nigh impossible to locate the house without a door-to-door search. To add to the confusion many houses were completely devoid of any numbers!
Signs over stores continued to intrigue each new arrival. The men said that they yearned to compare the contents of the shops with what the trade pictures indicated.
James Whitehead of the RRSC recalled talking about the problem of warm clothing for the men. “I had dinner with Major Miller of the regulars, and with a Baron who promised to see what he could do to get furs for overcoat linings.”
In a letter to his wife Whitehead wrote: “It would take a lot of heavy clothes to keep the troops warm in the coming winter, especially as they were used to tropical climate.” He added that the RRSC had a fair supply of warm clothes which would be satisfactory if they were not stolen. “Bolsheviks break in and steal,: he wrote. “Some of them got into our baggage room. They stole two trunks and several bags belonging to our men. A cop caught one little fellow with a trunk and a bag bigger than himself on his back. He hit him hard with his sword and then asked him where he was going. Then they caught two others, but two bags were never recovered.”
Ralph Fletcher was so concerned about the coming cold that he wrote to his wife asking her to hurry with winter wherewithal. He wrote: “Darling if war spares me and you wish to see me again send me some wool clothes: heavy socks, drawers, sleeping garments and gloves. Get them from the Red Cross if possible, if not buy them. . .I have none and they are absolutely necessary. . .we will have to winter in a climate of 30 below zero and it is cold here now.
“We are living in a war element. Uniforms of many nations and armed bodies of men are everywhere. soldiers are being rushed out in trains during the day and the wounded are already being brought in at night. The toll is heavy. The work is hard but we are glad to do our bit in the greatest conflict among men that has occurred in this old world.”
Fletcher continued with these remarks: “This is a wonderful country and everything here is on a big scale. We are living in tents now and are in the midst of the grimness of war, that terrible destroyer. Armed men of many nations, bugle calls, etc., etc. . .The other regiment (the 27th) is on the line now and we are expecting to go any time.”
Leo Fifer of the 31st recalled that he landed in Vladivostok on August 21st and noted in his diary that it was “one hell of a country.” They went into camp on the 22nd and on the 24th he wrote: “Working very hard every day now. Country no better. Sure is some place and some people. A mixture of Russians, Koreans, Chinese, Japs, Polish and others. . .”
Malcolm Currie of Mercer Island, Washington was a member of Company A, 31st Infantry. He arrived on August 22nd and told of an incident that was hushed up quickly. He related that the Senior CO of the Allied forces at the time was a Japanese and that the General Headquarters was guarded by Japanese soldiers. Currie described the incident in this manner: “An American messenger went to deliver a message to the CO and was denied admission, probably because of the language barrier. The American tried to go past the Japanese and in the scuffle the American got struck by the Japanese bayonet. The American then pulled his pistol and shot the Japanese soldier. Whether he killed him or not I do not know, but it was said that this caused the American Expeditionary Force to set up its own Headquarters and I know the incident was hushed up fast.”
Writing home on August 23rd, Whitehead stated that one of their own men was now lolling after their mail. He said he had five minutes to write, was well, and that the RRSC was “slowly getting under way and would probably go to work any day.” He closed his letter with “the man who looks after our mail now is waiting so must close.” But he had time to add: “Things of a very interesting nature, and important, too, are happening and it looks like this will be some place after all. Don’t worry. . .there is no danger now and I cannot foresee any. Some of us are still in Vladivostok and some others went west.”
At this time Russian Railway Service Corps was being dispatched, in groups of three or four, to divisions and repair points and to junctions to become familiar with the road and with Russian procedures; also to help the Russians where they could, particularly with the Baldwin eight-wheeled freight engines of which there were a considerable number. Some of the Americans went as far inland as the border of European Russia. They performed valuable service, often in precarious situations. According to Corpsman L.D. Yates they had been recruited to take over the Trans-Siberian Railway; there were men who were expert in all categories of railroad repair, operation and maintenance.
Prior to the arrival of the American railroaders the situation was considered deplorable. Some 826 bridges had been blown up by one or another of the participants in the civil war and this included the 420-foot bridge over the Amur River at Khabarovsk which could not be replaced during the stay of the AEF in Siberia. It was not until 1922 that the bridge was restored.
In addition there were 20 railway stations and 14 water supply stations that had been blown up. There was no accurate estimate of how much trackwork had been demolished or removed. It has been considered that all railway delays, whether caused by partisans or their opponents, played a major role in bringing about the eventual defeat of Admiral Kolchak and his supporters.
Although consisting of numerous warring factions, all Siberians had the common purpose of preventing the return of a Czarish regime. Numerous dictatorships, directorates and other governments were constantly appearing. Each told the populace that it would be best for them.
At the time the Americans were preparing so seriously in the Philippines and in the States during July and August, 1918 the Czecho-Slovak forces had already abandoned their efforts to withdraw from Eastern Russian and from Siberia, in spite of the fact that the Americans were proposing to rescue them! Colonel Styer became aware of this situation upon his arrival.
The Czecho-Slovaks had established themselves in association with non-Red elements along the Trans-Siberian Railway from Ekaterinburg to Vladivostok. Gaida, the Czech leader, had planned a drive eastward from Irkutsk but had been gradually slowed during August by the Bolshevik and POW forces which were scurrying down the Amur Valley destroying facilities as they went. Along the way the latter increased their numbers and made for Blagovestchensk.
General Mikhail Kontstantinovich Dietrichs, head of the Priamur Government, had made a drive northward from Vladivostok. After the enemy had been defeated further advance had been halted when he had reached Shmakovka on the Amur River. This movement had taken place on August 3rd and 4th.
Styer was also to learn that Washington had been advised of the current situation that prevailed. Officials there had been notified that the situation was most fluid. Instead of getting the Czecho-Slovaks home, the following recommendations were submitted:
1) It was wise to assist the Czechs in attempting to control the railroad
2) War activities of prisoners of war must be halted
3) A front should be established in Eastern Russian against possible Austro-German military activity
4) There should be retention of as much anti-Bolshevik government as possible in hopes that an anti-Bolshevik army could be organized and a non-Bolshevik government could be created.
Huge quantities of materials belonging to the American and European powers had been piled up at Vladivostok and had become the source of great concern. The fear that these supplies might fall into the hands of the Central Powers still persisted. The only protection for those stores was supplied by the presence of Allied Warships. The USS BROOKLYN, HMS SUFFOLK, the Japanese ships ASAHI and IWANI, and the Chinese cruiser HAI YUNG maintained a watchful eye over these stores.
Shortly after the Czecho-Slovaks obtained control of Vladivostok in June, General Dietrichs began his participation in the general plan of the Czech campaign b moving north toward Khabarovsk. Nikolsk was captured after a brisk engagement on July 4th, and as previously noted, wounded Czecho-Slovaks from that battle were cared for in a hospital established by the USS BROOKLYN. Further advance by Dietrichs’ troops ended in failure.
Proceeding north from Nikolsk, the Czechs defeated Bolshevik forces on July 16th at Spasskoe and pursued them as far as the line of the Ussuri River where the Czechs took advantage of a strong natural position to await reinforcements from Khabarovsk. In this position the Czechs were attacked by superior numbers. Beginning on August 1st, the Bolsheviks drove the Czechs back south of Shmakovka where the latter halted, reinforced by the arrival of Ataman Kalmikov with some 800 cossacks. A fairly strong position was established with a force of 2500 troops between the two branches of Belaya Creek with headquarters at Kraevski.
While the engagements of August 1st to 4th were in progress, the United States government, followed by the governments of Great Britain, France, Japan and China, issued the proclamation in which the policy of the respective governments was stated with regard to the Russian Intervention.
It may be recalled that August 3rd was also the date on which orders were sent from Washington directing the troop movements to Vladivostok. On this day also, in view of the situation of the Czecho-Slovaks at Shmakovka, 800 British troops arrived and started for the Ussuri front. On August 9th these were followed by 1200 French and on the 11th by about 3000 Japanese troops.
The assistance from these detachments enabled the Czecho-Slovaks to hold their position until groups could be organized under one command and strengthened sufficiently to assume the offensive. This consolidation was barely effected when the first American troops began to enter Vladivostok.
At the time of the arrival of the Americans no stable government existed nor was law and order in evidence. A considerable portion or the population was composed of Bolsheviks, bandits, political and other convicts.
As mentioned elsewhere, during the monarchy Siberia had been a dumping ground for convicts and political prisoners and also for the criminals from European Russia. The latter were often crude, vicious cut-throats whereas the political prisoners included the intelligentsia, the well-educated who had been too free in expressing their views.
Most of the convicts had made their way to Vladivostok because the city offered a port from which escape was possible. Most of the political prisoners also chose Vladivostok in order to be in a cosmopolitan city. The criminal element expected to make a living by robbing the newly-arrived Allied soldiers. On the other hand, the political prisoners welcomed the new arrivals, for a new social awareness was opened in their relationships with other men with related schooling and background.
As each Allied unit arrived, it had its own military police force. This was limited in scope as an American MP could not arrest or caution any but Americans, a Japanese MP could deal only with Japanese, and so on. As a result, an International Military Police Force was set up. This remarkable body took hold of the situation under the able direction of Major Samuel I. Johnson only a few weeks after the arrival of the first troops.
The Allied officers were not long in discovering that problems in Siberia could not all be observed on the surface. There were numerous Russian factions to be contended with; and there were our so-called allies, the Japanese. The latter proved more difficult and troublesome to deal with than the partisans.
Although the national quotas were not to exceed 10,000 men, the Japanese sent troops well in advance of that figure. The estimate varied from 70,000 to over 100,000. Some of the Americans maintained that Japan sent civilians who were actually military personnel. This made it difficult to keep count. Discord developed early regarding the size of the Japanese contingent.
Two days after Col. Styer had been informed that Gen. Kikuz Otani was commander in chief of all Allied armies, Otani was officially designated by the Japanese government to command the Japanese expedition to Siberia. By virtue of his grade he was senior to any of the other commanding generals. Consequently, soon after landing, he fortified the statement made to Styer with the following communication which was addressed to the Allied Armies:
“I have the honor to inform you that I have been appointed Commander of the Japanese Army at Vladivostok by his Majesty, The Emperor of Japan, and that I am entrusted unanimously by the Allied Powers with the Command of the Armies in the Russian Territory of the Far East. The cooperation and the friendship between our Armies will easily permit, from the point of view of their command, of rapidity of action and of success without any difficulty. I hope with all my heart that our Armies will work together for the command aim.”
(Signed) General Otani Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies
The first group of American soldiers to arrive was not long in Vladivostok before the crowds began to swell in Svetlanskaya Street. Hamor B. Scott had met many people; he had worked hard before reaching Siberia. He was born in 1882 and was orphaned in 1887. Thereafter he lived where he could with numerous families. Scott joined the army in 1911 and found himself in Siberia in 1918. He did not recall too much trouble upon his arrival but remembers vividly that the American and British troops were handed leaflets when they arrived. The leaflets read:
“We take it for granted that this is a word of welcome and warning to the American and British forces landing in Siberia. We take it for granted that you have landed here on Russian soil with no hostile intentions to the Russian people that you could be of some help to the distressed Russian people and in this we thank you and bid you welcome. Your machine guns and your artillery should not and must not be turned on the peasants in order to strangle the majority of the Russian people. ~”The Friends of the Russian Revolution.”
The Americans soon found that there were sights beyond those of Vladi’s muddy streets. Some of the men had wandered over to the Bathing Beach, just as the RRSC men had done previously. There before their eyes was a multitude of people — men, women and children, enjoying the bathing, all in the nude. As this news spread there soon was a large audience of Americans at Vladivostoks beaches.
The public baths also aroused surprise. Lester Ade stated that the first bath he had had in the city took place six days after arrival. “Another fellow and I ordered one in a bath house,” he reported, “and we had cold water from a shower, two large bath towels, soap and the use of a spacious, comfortable dressing room for about six rubles each, which was about 65 cents in our money. There was also a marble slab sofa in the bathroom and women attendants were to be had if desired, but we took things in the usual American way.”
Some Americans were too busy to see the sights. As we have seen, the Engineers were most occupied. They remained in Vladivostok until November 3rd busy with the tracing and transliteration of various Russian staff maps of the territory occupied by the American troops. The maps indicated the location of the American troops. Sundry smaller tracings were made for various departments.
The Intelligence Division arrived on the SHERIDAN on August 21st. This contingent consisted of 16 members of the Military Intelligence Division, Washington, and 15 Army Field Clerks. The latter had been specially selected and dispatched with a view to the possible need for a large intelligence section to work with the Expedition. The nucleus of the Intelligence Section had arrived with the first troops on August 15th and 16th and consisted of five officers, one of who was an engineer. Fifty-one enlisted men selected from the Philippine organization, a detachment of 18 enlisted men of the Engineer Corps and a detachment of 18 enlisted men of the Signal Corps were ready for service. From the start their work was coordinated to the establishment of relations with the intelligence officers of the Allied forces.
Almost at once the Intelligence Division made an inspection of the whole field of action northward and eastward to the hills. Careful observation was made of the trenches, field of fire, shell holes and location of the dead (still largely unburied). An opportunity for further observation of the terrain was given by a reconnaissance made on August 28th and 30th by an intelligence officer and three enlisted men on motorcycles. They went as far north as the town of Ussuri.
A detachment from the Intelligence Section was attached to Col. Charles Morrow who was in charge of the 27th Infantry. Included were Lt. Skladal, a detachment of interpreters, engineers and signal men. They were to secure information and communications in the field.
When the 31st Infantry arrived at Vladivostok a tent camp was established in Gornastaya Valley, just east of the city. Detachments were immediately deployed along the Ussuri Railway Line taking strong tactical positions at Nadezhdinskaya, Kiparisova, Ugolnaya, Pervai Rechka and other small railway towns.
In addition to the Japanese and the Chinese, the British and the French were also in Vladivostok in August. On the 21st K.C. Lin, Commodore of the Chinese Navy, sent a letter to Col. Styer. Written aboard the R.C.S. HAI YUNG at Vladivostok, it stated:
“I have the honor to inform you that in a few days the Chinese troops may be expected to arrive in Vladivostok by railroad. I have the honor to be, Sir, Your Obedient Servant,
K.C. Lin, Commander C.N.”
Ironically, on the same date, First Lt. Herrick of the 27th Infantry sent word to Major Buck out on the line that: “Civilian messenger reports about 400 Chinese bandits now about seven verst from here marching on this place, armed with rifles and one pound machine guns. Send reinforcements and machine guns as soon as possible.”
Events were crowding one upon the other, and news was pouring into Vladivostok. An Edict given by the Staff at the front and signed jointly by Gaida, Pepeloff and Bagoslovsky at Verkhne-Udinsk on August 21st soon reached Vladivostok.
“Edict on the Cossack Troops of Enisey:
“In the troublesome times during the sovereignty of the Bolsheviks, when by the latter, acting as tools in the hands of the Germans, all rights of the free Russian people were trampled under feet, when, without consideration of public good, the Bolsheviks were selling Russia to Germany, you, brave Cossacks of Enisey, did not take part in this deceit, but conducted yourselves as faithful sons of your mother country.
“Deprived of your rights, deprived of the opportunity to protest, with heartaches you were compelled to look on while the Bolsheviks were robbing and leading our native country to ruin. The greater force was on their side, and you were unable to do anything.
“The patience of the Russian people is now exhausted and all Siberia, in order to shake off the shameful yoke of Bolshevism, as one man awoke to action. You, brave Cossacks of Enisey, were one of the first to join the new Siberian Army and notwithstanding that formerly you consisted of only a regiment, you are now in full division in strength. This effort will not be overlooked by your mother country. And then, valiant Cossacks of Enisey, immediately after your formation, took the field together with the young Siberian Army and brotherly troops of the Czecho-Slovak, and on the shores of Baikal won the victory which forevermore banished the fear of Bolshevik ascendancy. At the height of the fight together with the Bolshevik troops, you proved yourselves worthy descendants of the brave Cossacks of Enisey, when you, without meditation surrendered your life for the Liberty of Russia, and conducted yourselves as loyal sons of the mother country.
“The memory of your heroic action on the shores of Baikal will be cherished by your country and the glory with which you are covering yourselves in this painful time of the deliverance of our suffering Native Country, will be handed down from generation to generation.
(Signed) Colonel Gaida
Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Front
Commander of the Middle Siberian Corps
Chief of Staff of the Eastern Front,
General Staff of the Army.”
On Saturday, August 25th there was stir of excitement in Vladivostok. Gen. Dmitri L. Horvath, General Manager of the Chinese Eastern Railway, ordered all Russian subjects to report for duty to fight to the end against the Germans and the Bolsheviki. He set himself up as Dictator of All Russia.
The attempt of Horvath to alter the city government gave Vladivstok the appearance of a besieged city. The consul of Allied Diplomats stated that the Russians could not be armed and it threatened to take Horvath a prisoner if he insisted on arming anyone.
Hundreds of Czecho-Slovaks, Americans and Japanese were guarding the streets to check any disturbance which might have arisen as a result of Horvath’s announcement. There was some concern in the Officers’ Quarters; however, beyond some slight excitement, no violence resulted.
On the following day, August 26th, the men of the 27th Infantry who were still in the city had much to occupy themselves. They were assigned 28 head or horses and 186 mules. Civilian Farrier Humphries accompanied the stock. The balance of the latter was assigned to the 31st Infantry Field Hospital #4 and the Ambulance Company #4. Additional shipments were made later to the 27th Infantry at Spasskoe and Khabarovsk.
As the men were departing from Vladivostok for sites along the line, those remaining in the city pondered as to when they would see their buddies again. Lt. Colonel G.H. Williams was detached for duty as Commander at the Base of Vladivostok and Captain R.E. Wallace for duty on the Line of Communications.
In town the doughboys visited the Golden Horn Care, the American Grille and similar places where they were able to chat with the local inhabitants and those Allies already in Vladivostok.
At first the natives were suspicious, but with the passing of August 1918 they found the Americans were friendly and meant them no harm.
The Allies were a diverse group, coming from many parts of the world. Some of the Allied sailors and soldiers seemed alien to the Americans, but as the months wore on the latter became more accustomed to those encountered in and out of Vladivostok.
Those Americans still in the city wondered how much longer they might remain there. Word was awaited from F and G Companies of the 27th Infantry who had been the first to leave the city some two weeks earlier.