Siberian intervention

The Siberian intervention or Siberian expedition of 1918–1922 was the dispatch of troops of the Entente powers to the Russian Maritime Provinces as part of a larger effort by the western powers, Japan and China to support White Russian forces against Soviet Russia and its allies during the Russian Civil War. The Imperial Japanese Army continued to occupy Siberia even after other Allied forces withdrew in 1920.

Siberian intervention
Part of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War and Eastern Front

Allied commanders of the Siberian intervention.
Front row : William S. Graves (3rd), Otani Kikuzo (4th) and Yui Mitsue (5th).
DateAugust 1918 – July 1920; October 1922 (Japanese withdrawal)
Result Soviet victory
  • Allied withdrawal
  • Soviets regained Siberia

Russian SFSR

Mongolian People's Party

Allied Powers:
Russian State
 United States
 United Kingdom


Commanders and leaders
Leon Trotsky
Jukums Vācietis
Sergey Kamenev
Mikhail Tukhachevsky
Mikhail Frunze
Vasily Blyukher
Yakov Tryapitsyn 
Aleksandr Samoilov
Sergey Lazo 
Alexander Krasnoshchyokov
Damdin Sükhbaatar
Alexander Kolchak 
Grigory Semyonov
Mikhail Diterikhs
Ivan Kalmykov 
Roman von Ungern-Sternberg 
Otani Kikuzo
Yui Mitsue
William S. Graves
Robert L. Eichelberger
Bogd Khan

70,000 Japanese
50,000 Czechoslovaks
7,950 Americans
2,400 Italians
1,500 British
4,192 Canadian[2]
2,300 Chinese
1,400 French
several thousands of Poles

~ More than 140,000
Casualties and losses
698 killed/missing
2,189 died of disease
1,421 wounded
3,482 evacuated sick/frostbitten
(Jan-June 1922 only)[3]
5,000 dead from combat and disease
48 killed
14 killed


Following the Russian October Revolution of 1917, the new Bolshevik government signed a peace treaty with Germany. The collapse of the Russian front presented a tremendous problem to the Entente powers, since it allowed Germany to shift troops and war material from its eastern front to the west. Also, 50,000 man Czechoslovak Legion, fighting on the side of the Allied Powers, was now behind enemy lines, and was attempting to fight its way out through the east to Vladivostok along the Bolshevik-held Trans-Siberian Railway.

Faced with these concerns, the United Kingdom and France decided to intervene in the Russian Civil War against the Bolsheviks. They had three objectives:

  1. to prevent the Allied war material stockpiles in Russia from falling into German or Bolshevik hands
  2. to help the Czechoslovak Legion and return it to the European front
  3. to resurrect the Eastern Front by installing a White Russian-backed government

The British and French asked the United States to furnish troops for both the North Russia Campaign and the Siberian Campaign. In July 1918, against the advice of the United States Department of War, President Wilson agreed to send 5,000 US troops as the American North Russia Expeditionary Force (aka the Polar Bear Expedition) and 10,000 US troops as the American Expeditionary Force Siberia. In the same month, the Beiyang government of the Republic of China accepted an invitation by the Chinese community in Russia and sent 2,000 troops by August.[4] The Chinese later occupied Outer Mongolia and Tuva and sent a battalion to the North Russian Campaign as part of their anti-Bolshevik efforts.


British Empire

The British, short on personnel, only deployed 1,500 troops to Siberia. These men came from the 1/9th (Cyclist) Battalion, Hampshire Regiment[5] and the 25th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment.[6]


The Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force, commanded by Major General James H. Elmsley and authorised in August 1918, was sent to Vladivostok to bolster the Allied presence there. Composed of 4,192 soldiers, the force returned to Canada between April and June 1919. During this time, the Canadians saw little fighting, with fewer than 100 troops proceeding "up country" to Omsk, to serve as administrative staff for 1,500 British troops aiding the White Russian government of Admiral Alexander Kolchak. Most Canadians remained in Vladivostok, undertaking routine drill and policing duties in the volatile port city.[7][8]


At the request of Chinese merchants, 2,300 Chinese troops were sent to Vladivostok to protect Chinese interests there. The Chinese army fought against both Bolsheviks and Cossacks.[9]


The "Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Estremo Oriente" was made of Alpini troops, supported by 2,500 Italian ex-POWs who had fought in the Austro-Hungarian Army and enrolled in the Legione Redenta.

The Italians played a small but important role during the intervention, fighting together with the Czechoslovak Legion and other allied forces using heavily armed and armoured trains to control large sections of the Siberian railway.[10]

The main areas of operation were the Irkutsk, Harbin and Vladivostok regions.[11]


The Japanese were initially asked in 1917 by the French to intervene in Russia but declined the request.[12] However, the army general staff later came to view the Tsarist collapse as an opportunity to free Japan from any future threat from Russia by detaching Siberia and forming an independent buffer state.[12] The Japanese government in the beginning refused to undertake such an expedition and it was not until the following year that events were set in motion that led to a change in this policy.[12]

In July 1918, President Wilson asked the Japanese government to supply 7,000 troops as part of an international coalition of 25,000 troops, including an American expeditionary force, planned to support the rescue of the Czechoslovak Legions and securing the Allied war material stockpiles. After heated debate in the Diet, the administration of Prime Minister Terauchi Masatake agreed to send 12,000 troops, but under the command of Japan, rather than as part of an international coalition.

Once the political decision had been reached, the Imperial Japanese Army took over full control under Chief of Staff Yui Mitsue and extensive planning for the expedition was conducted.[13]

United States

The American Expeditionary Force Siberia was commanded by Major General William S. Graves and eventually totaled 7,950 officers and enlisted men. The AEF Siberia included the U.S. Army's 27th and 31st Infantry Regiments, plus large numbers of volunteers from the 13th and 62nd Infantry Regiments along with a few from the 12th Infantry Regiment.[14] To operate the Trans-Siberian railroad, the Russian Railway Service Corps was formed of US personnel.[15]

Although General Graves did not arrive in Siberia until September 4, 1918, the first 3,000 American troops disembarked in Vladivostok between August 15 and August 21, 1918. They were quickly assigned guard duty along segments of the railway between Vladivostok and Nikolsk-Ussuriski in the north.[16]

Unlike his Allied counterparts, General Graves believed their mission in Siberia was to provide protection for American-supplied property and to help the Czechoslovak Legions evacuate Russia, and that it did not include fighting against the Bolsheviks. Repeatedly calling for restraint, Graves was often at odds with commanders of British, French and Japanese forces who wanted the Americans to take a more active part in the military intervention in Siberia.

Allied intervention (1918–1919)

The joint Allied intervention began in August 1918.[13] The Japanese entered through Vladivostok and points along the Manchurian border with more than 70,000 Japanese troops being involved. The deployment of a large force for a rescue expedition made the Allies wary of Japanese intentions.[13] On September 5, the Japanese linked up with the vanguard of the Czechoslovak Legion.[13] A few days later the British, Italian and French contingents joined the Czechs and Slovaks in an effort to re-establish the east Front beyond the Urals; as a result the European allies trekked westwards.[13] The Japanese, with their own objectives in mind, refused to proceed west of Lake Baikal[13] and stayed behind. The Americans, suspicious of Japanese intentions, also stayed behind to keep an eye on the Japanese.[13] By November, the Japanese occupied all ports and major towns in the Russian Maritime Provinces and in Siberia east of the city of Chita.[13]

In the summer of 1918 onwards, the Japanese army lent its support to White Russian elements;[13] the 5th infantry division and the Japanese-backed Special Manchurian Detachment of Grigory Semyonov took control over Transbaikalia and founded a short-lived White Transbaikalia government.

The various Allied forces did not function well together, because of the underlying chaos and suspicion.[17] In a letter to Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence Sydney Mewburn, James H. Elmsley, commander of the British and Canadian forces, gave a description of the situation:

The general situation here is an extraordinary one—at first glance one assumes that everyone distrusts everyone else—the Japs being distrusted more than anyone else. Americans and Japs don't hit it off. The French keep a very close eye on the British, and the Russians as a whole appear to be indifferent of their country's needs, so long as they can keep their women, have their vodka, and play cards all night until daylight. The Czechs appear to be the only honest and conscientious party among the Allies.[18]

In one incident an American unit, 27th Infantry Regiment (Wolfhounds) was part of the Evgenevka incident, a face-off between the Wolfhounds and the Japanese Military.


Allied withdrawal (1919–1920)

With the end of the war in Europe, the Allied Powers decided to support the anti-Bolshevik White forces and effectively intervene in the Russian Civil War. Allied army support was given to Admiral Kolchak's White government at Omsk, while the Japanese continued to support Kolchak's rivals in Grigory Semyonov and Ivan Kalmykov.[19] In the summer of 1919, the White regime in Siberia collapsed,[19] after the capture and execution of Admiral Kolchak by the Red Army.

In June 1920, the Americans, British and the remaining allied coalition partners withdrew from Vladivostok. The evacuation of the Czechoslovak Legion was also carried out in the same year. However, the Japanese decided to stay, primarily due to fears of the spread of communism so close to Japan, and the Japanese controlled Korea and Manchuria. The Japanese were forced to sign the Gongota Agreement of 1920 in order to evacuate their troops peacefully from Transbaikal. It meant an unavoidable end to Grigory Semyonov's regime in October 1920.

The Japanese army provided military support to the Japanese-backed Provisional Priamur Government based in Vladivostok against the Moscow-backed Far Eastern Republic. The continued Japanese presence concerned the United States, which suspected that Japan had territorial designs on Siberia and the Russian Far East. Subjected to intense diplomatic pressure by the United States and the United Kingdom, and facing increasing domestic opposition due to the economic and human cost, the administration of Prime Minister Kato Tomosaburo withdrew the Japanese forces in October 1922.


Effects on Japanese politics

Japan's motives in the Siberian intervention were complex and poorly articulated. Overtly, Japan (as with the United States and the other international coalition forces) was in Siberia to safeguard stockpiled military supplies and to "rescue" the Czechoslovak Legion. However, the Japanese government's intense hostility to communism, a determination to recoup historical losses to Russia, and the perceived opportunity to settle the "northern problem" in Japan's security by either creating a buffer state,[12] or through outright territorial acquisition, were also factors. However, patronage of various White Movement leaders left Japan in a poor diplomatic position vis-à-vis the government of the Soviet Union, after the Red Army eventually emerged victorious from the Russian Civil War. The intervention tore Japan's wartime unity to shreds, leading to the army and government being involved in bitter controversy, as well as renewed factional strife in the army itself.[12]

Japanese casualties from the Siberian Expedition included some 5,000 dead from combat or illness, and the expenses incurred were in excess of 900 million yen.

See also


  1. cf. Jamie Bisher, White Terror: Cossack Warlords of the Trans-Siberian, Routledge 2006, ISBN 1135765952, p.378, footnote 28
  2. Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force.
  4. Breidenbach, Joana (2005). Nyíri, Pál; Breidenbach, Joana (eds.). China Inside Out: Contemporary Chinese Nationalism and Transnationalism (Illustrated ed.). Central European University Press. p. 90. ISBN 963-7326-14-6. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
  5. James 1978, p. 62
  6. James 1978, p. 78
  7. Isitt, Benjamin (2006). "Mutiny from Victoria to Vladivostok, December 1918". Canadian Historical Review. 87 (2): 223–264. doi:10.3138/CHR/87.2.223.
  8. Canada's Siberian Expedition website
  9. Joana Breidenbach (2005). Pál Nyíri, Joana Breidenbach, ed. China inside out: contemporary Chinese nationalism and transnationalism (illustrated ed.). Central European University Press. p. 90. ISBN 963-7326-14-6. Retrieved 18 March 2012. "At the end of the year 1918, after the Russian Revolution, the Chinese merchants in the Russian Far East demanded the Chinese government to send troops for their protection, and Chinese troops were sent to Vladivostok to protect the Chinese community: about 1600 soldiers and 700 support personnel."
  10. First World War - Willmott, H.P.; Dorling Kindersley, 2003, Page 251
  11. A History of Russia, 7th Edition, Nicholas V. Riasanovsky & Mark D. Steinberg, Oxford University Press, 2005
  12. Humphreys, The Way of the Heavenly Sword: The Japanese Army in the 1920s, page 25
  13. Humphreys, The Way of the Heavenly Sword: The Japanese Army in the 1920s, page 26
  14. Robert L. Willett, Russian Sideshow, (Washington, D.C., Brassey's Inc., 2003), pages 166-167, 170
  15. Congressional hearings
  16. Guarding the Railroad, Taming the Cossacks The U.S. Army in Russia, 1918–1920, Smith, Gibson Bell
  17. Smith 1959, p. 872.
  18. Beattie 1957, p. 119.
  19. Humphreys, The Way of the Heavenly Sword: The Japanese Army in the 1920s, page 27


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