Let me tell you about the time the U.S. Army fought the Red Army on two fronts on Russian soil. That’s right, from September 1918 to July 1919, nearly 13,000 American troops fought in Russia as part of an international invention in the Russian Civil War that had started immediately following the 1917 revolution.
The Russian Civil War had two major contestants, the Red Army (Bolshevik socialists) and the White Army (monarchists, capitalists, alternative socialists, democratic and undemocratic). Additionally, the Green armies (rival socialists and non-ideological) fought both the Reds and the Whites.
Fearing Bolshevik socialism, eight countries intervened to prevent the Reds from consolidating power. The British and French had three objectives. First, prevent the capture of Allied war materiel in Arkhangelsk. Second, help the Czech Legion stranded on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Third, get Russia back in the war and reopen the Eastern Front. They asked the Americans for help, and President Woodrow Wilson agreed, overriding objections from his War Department.
The U.S. sent 5,000 troops to Arkhangelsk (in North Russia) and nearly 8,000 to Vladivostok (in East Russia). In Arkhangelsk, the Americans arrived to find the war materiel had already been captured by the Reds and moved. Under British command, they went on the offensive to help the Czech Legion and pushed the Reds back for six weeks, though they failed to link up with the Czech Legion. The front became too large to sustain, and American forces went on the defensive. During the following winter, the Reds went on the offensive and pushed them back, inflicting many casualties. Conditions were miserable. Morale plummeted, and unrest began to spread in the ranks.
In Vladivostok, U.S. forces stayed under American command, with General Graves seeing his mission as limited to protecting Allied war materiel and refusing to take part in offensive operations.
Early in 1919, mutinies in the Allied armies were spreading. President Wilson ordered the withdrawal of American forces from Russia.
The Red Army went on to defeat the White Army by 1920, though it took until 1934 to completely crush all resistance and gain control over the entire country. An estimated 7 to 12 million Russians, mostly civilians, died during the war from the fighting and various hardships, including the Spanish Flu. Relations between the Soviet Union and the Allies started on very cold terms as a result of Allied intervention and countries like the U.S. refusing to formally recognize the USSR. President Warren G. Harding called American intervention a mistake and blamed the Wilson administration.
In 1930, the last American dead from the North Russia campaign buried in Russia were returned and re-buried at the “Polar Bear” Monument in Troy, Michigan. The last surviving veteran of that expedition passed away in 2003.