On September 4, 1918, United States troops land at Archangel, in northern Russia. The landing was part of an Allied intervention in the civil war raging in that country after revolution in 1917 led to the abdication of Czar Nicholas II in favor of a provisional government; the seizure of power by Vladimir Lenin and his radical socialist Bolshevik Party; and, finally, Russia’s withdrawal from participation alongside the Allies in World War I.
By the spring of 1918, after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ended Russia’s war effort against the Central Powers, the country was embroiled in a heated internal conflict. Supporters of the Bolsheviks—known as the Reds—faced off against the Whites, anti-Bolshevik forces loyal to the provisional government, in a power struggle aimed at defining the future course of the Russian state. In this struggle, the leaders of Britain, France and the United States definitively favored the Whites, harboring as they did an intense fear and misunderstanding of Lenin and his forces of radical socialism. With some hesitation, they determined to launch an intervention into the Russian civil war, aimed at defeating the Bolsheviks and installing the Whites in power again, hoping this eventuality would draw Russia back into the war against the Central Powers.
A document issued by the U.S. State Department in July 1918 set the terms by which the U.S. would participate alongside the other Allied powers in the so-called “interventions” in Russia: three infantry battalions and three companies of army engineers would be sent to Archangel to join the British troops already there. A small force would also be sent to Vladivostok, where a force of Czecho-Slovak troops bent on continuing the fight against the Central Powers had claimed the Russian city as an Allied protectorate early in July. According to the State Department, Allied responsibilities in Russia were clear: “…Each of the associated powers has the single object of affording such aid as shall be acceptable, and only such aid as shall be acceptable, to the Russian people in their endeavor to regain control of their own affairs, their own territory, and their own destiny.”
The Allied intervention in Russia would continue throughout the end of World War I and the peace negotiations at Versailles, from which the Russian Bolsheviks were excluded. By October 1919, White Russian forces were in full retreat in the south, and Lenin and his Bolsheviks had effectively consolidated power for their regime. Recognizing the futility of their intervention in the costly and distant conflict in Russia, Allied forces began to withdraw. By the time the American troops completed their evacuation of Vladivostok and Archangel, 174 of them had been killed in action or died of wounds incurred over the course of the intervention.