Jump to content

WWI Polar Bear Patches


stratasfan
 Share

Recommended Posts

Hi! I am currently trying to make my own repro Polar Bear patch for a WWI display. I have a couple photos of some original Polar Bear patches, but have some other questions, and would like to see more pictures, if anyone has a patch that they would post a pic of.

 

They are on blue wool, either embroidered or appliqued. Now . . . the back blue wool. How would you describe the thickness? Is it very stiff? Does it bend easily or not very well? I am trying to figure out what kind of wool felt to use for it, but do not know how thick to go.

 

Thanks for any help!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello!

 

If a reproduction is what you are comfortable with, you can save yourself some fabrication time, as there are several North Russian Expeditionary Force repro patches for sale on eBay currently. If you do want to make your own, look for a thin cloth called "insignia cloth" by those of us in the collecting field. The repros on eBay are mostly done on a thicker cloth that is not correct. MHJ

Link to comment
Share on other sites

NR_patches.jpg

 

These are:

1 - patch attributed to George Robins of Co. B, 339th Infantry

2 - typical construction 'walking bear' North Russia patch.

3 - Silkscreen Polar Bear patch, printed by the staff of the American Sentinel newspaper in the final days of the expedition, received by men of Co. F, H, K, Supply 339th Infantry, and the 310th Engineers

4 - embroidered style North Russia patch which is usually associated with men from the Russian Railway Service.

 

I don't have any loose 'NR' monogram patches hanging out in the office, but can photograph some from uniforms if you are interested.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello!

 

If a reproduction is what you are comfortable with, you can save yourself some fabrication time, as there are several North Russian Expeditionary Force repro patches for sale on eBay currently. If you do want to make your own, look for a thin cloth called "insignia cloth" by those of us in the collecting field. The repros on eBay are mostly done on a thicker cloth that is not correct. MHJ

 

Oh, thanks to all! As to buying a repro. I enjoy embroidering my own patches, so this is just something fun to do! Now, I've never heard of 'insignia cloth'. Is it wool or twill? So far, I've done my patches on specialty wool felt. I have over 100 colours, so have never needed to branch out. However, on this Polar Bear Patch, I would really like to figure out if my felt is thick enough or not. I know it is hard to tell something like that when you haven't actually touched one, however . . . . ;) Would you say that a PB patch should not be very stiff, if it is removed from a uniform?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is an original and a reunion patch from a group I have.

 

Many, many thanks for the pictures! That one is sooo interesting. Is it actually embroidered on that piece of green wool, or is the blue wool that is fused or sewn to a piece of green wool? Or is that green cut from a uniform? That is very interesting.

 

Also, I've never seen a reunion one, so thanks for sharing. It sure looks different, doesn't it!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

attachicon.gifNR_patches.jpg

 

These are:

1 - patch attributed to George Robins of Co. B, 339th Infantry

2 - typical construction 'walking bear' North Russia patch.

3 - Silkscreen Polar Bear patch, printed by the staff of the American Sentinel newspaper in the final days of the expedition, received by men of Co. F, H, K, Supply 339th Infantry, and the 310th Engineers

4 - embroidered style North Russia patch which is usually associated with men from the Russian Railway Service.

 

I don't have any loose 'NR' monogram patches hanging out in the office, but can photograph some from uniforms if you are interested.

 

 

OK. You've shown some that raise a couple of questions. First off, here is a link and picture, showing the two patches that the cook I am doing a display about actually owned:

 

http://mtmm.us/1p-000002

(Scroll to bottom of page at link above, and you can enlarge the PB patch.

 

This is the cook's other PB patch:

post-151812-0-05676100-1504092323_thumb.jpg

 

Now, to my extremely untrained eye, the second one seems to match your 4th one, which you say is most associated with the Russian Railway Service. My vet was a cook in an Engineers battalion.

 

If you don't mind, what are the measurements of your 2nd and 4th patches? They seem to be slightly different in size. Also, if you were to hold each of your 2nd and 4th patchs between finger and thumb, would one/both kind of flop down with gravity or are they stiff?

 

 

I would LOVE to see some pics of NR monogram patches. What are they? :)

 

Thanks ever so much for sharing and I hope you aren't bogged down by my questions!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

 

OK. You've shown some that raise a couple of questions. First off, here is a link and picture, showing the two patches that the cook I am doing a display about actually owned:

 

http://mtmm.us/1p-000002

(Scroll to bottom of page at link above, and you can enlarge the PB patch.

 

This is the cook's other PB patch:

attachicon.gifPennabakers 2nd PB patch.jpg

 

Now, to my extremely untrained eye, the second one seems to match your 4th one, which you say is most associated with the Russian Railway Service. My vet was a cook in an Engineers battalion.

 

If you don't mind, what are the measurements of your 2nd and 4th patches? They seem to be slightly different in size. Also, if you were to hold each of your 2nd and 4th patchs between finger and thumb, would one/both kind of flop down with gravity or are they stiff?

 

 

I would LOVE to see some pics of NR monogram patches. What are they? :)

 

Thanks ever so much for sharing and I hope you aren't bogged down by my questions!

The association with RRS personnel is to my knowledge based purely on observation of identified examples by Stan Bozich, who started Michigan's Own, the military museum in Frankenmuth. Stan was extremely active within the Polar Bear veterans organization, and was in fact made an honorary Polar Bear by the guys themselves, something which he has always been extremely proud of. He wrote a book on Polar Bear uniforms, insignia, souvenirs, etc. years ago, which remains the best source of information since he had so many identified original sets from which to draw his conclusions. Even though a massive 100-150 uniform collection is but a 2% sample of the overall picture, some trends can be observed. The Russian Railway patches are one example of a collector's conclusion drawn from available data.

 

When he wrote the book, Stan had two of these distinctive variant patches in the collection: one unidentified, and one identified to Lt. Victor Frincke of the Russian Railway Service. Mine is not identified, either. Within his collection, and others that he was familiar with, of all the various types of Polar Bear patches that appear consistently, this specific patch was not on any other uniform. Thus, his conclusion that it must be a Russian Railway thing.

 

In this case, you have access to one that was owned by Glenn Penabaker of Co. C, 310th Engineers. Frankly, that information adds an interesting new twist to this very old question! If it was simply one other variation available to returning Polar Bears in France after they returned from Russia, why does it not appear on more uniforms? We may never know exactly, but you have definitely opened it up to further consideration.

 

Other trends that you will spot with Polar Bear patches are the standard 'walking bear' on a light blue color wool background - when you see one of these it is usually a good bet that the uniform is from the 310th Engineers, but not always. I have one on an identified 337th Ambulance Co. soldier's uniform as well, and most of the 310th guys simply had the regular dark blue background polar bear.

 

To your question about weight of the wool, they are fairly consistent - thin material, but very dense. They do not droop, but remain in shape, though this is probably more a function of being structurally reinforced by the addition of the bear and ice pieces. The smaller of the two is 9cm x 6.3cm; the standard variety is 10.4cm x 7.5cm.

 

The 'NR' monogram patches were arguably the first, worn by members of A, E, G, I, L, M, and MG of the 339th. There are three distinct types. According to the veterans, the first examples were made of material scrounged aboard the transport taking them back to France, and featured a white cotton cut-out 'NR' on a blue wool (square) diamond background. These were also made in white wool on dark blue wool in France. The third variant are lighter weight and lighter blue color wool diamonds with white cotton embroidered 'NR' monograms, and these exist in a handful of known variants of material and stitching.

 

Occasionally you will encounter an individual who had a 'NR' patch originally, and decided that he liked the walking bear better. I also have one example from a Service of Supply officer who was sent to Russia. He had an Advanced Sector, Service of Supply shoulder insignia which he covered (mostly - leaving a small portion of the bottom of the disc visible) with a silkscreen polar bear patch. At some point, the silkscreen patch was embroidered over, essentially using it as a guide to create a hand-embroidered polar bear patch. Very unique! This fellow apparently liked patches - there is an uncut sheet of four silkscreen patches in his grouping.

 

The vast majority of what we all know about Polar Bear stuff is traced right back to the scholarship of Stan Bozich. Stan suffered a stroke a few years ago and to his great frustration, cannot actively participate in the collector shows any longer. We all owe him a huge debt, though. His efforts preserved a tremendous amount of history. I know that he would be VERY pleased that you are interested, and asking these questions.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would be interested in seeing a photo of the patch worn by the 337th Ambulance Company soldier. This was my grandfather's unit. Although my grandmother always said his patch and a few uniform buttons were saved, no one in the family knows anything about them. Sadly, the pieces were not found among her estate when she passed away. The few photos we have of him in uniform were before he was sent overseas and then on to Russia.

 

Thanks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Re: Shenkursk

 

Hi! I can't thank you enough for the info! This is amazing! What is the title of Stan's book? Also, I would be super interested to see a photo of your walking bear on light blue, as it would be cool to see, since you say it also was often seen on members of the 310th.

 

I don't know too much about the troops who went to Russia, and was wondering if anyone knows of a book about the PB soldiers?

 

Thanks so much for the info! I am going to print this off and read it over again. Super!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are a number of period publications written by the veterans themselves, at least one of which has been reprinted. For someone new to the topic, The Ignorant Armies by E.M. Halliday is quite good. Stan's book is "Detroit's Own Polar Bears". Hayes Otoupalik and Dennis Gordon wrote "Quartered In Hell" which is a fine source of information as well.

 

I will be glad to provide photos of other patches, but it probably will be a few days. I am in the process of reorganizing the office, and the North Russia uniforms are stored away for the time being.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi,

 

These patches belonged to Corporal Frank Holub, Company A, 310th Engineers.

 

-hist3891

 

Oh, thanks for posting the pics! Love the rank patch that has the Engineers emblem on it.

 

That PB patch . . . why is it square with white stitches outlining the normal shape? Was it not actually used?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Re: Kanemono -

 

The first PB patch you have shown . . . Is it actually embroidered on that piece of green wool, or is the blue wool attached some way to a piece of green wool? Or is that green cut from a uniform?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

Oh, thanks for posting the pics! Love the rank patch that has the Engineers emblem on it.

 

That PB patch . . . why is it square with white stitches outlining the normal shape? Was it not actually used?

I would say this one has been cut from a sheet of patches and went untrimmed.The right side appears to have been cut inside the white stitch border.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

 

When he wrote the book, Stan had two of these distinctive variant patches in the collection: one unidentified, and one identified to Lt. Victor Frincke of the Russian Railway Service. Mine is not identified, either. Within his collection, and others that he was familiar with, of all the various types of Polar Bear patches that appear consistently, this specific patch was not on any other uniform. Thus, his conclusion that it must be a Russian Railway thing.

 

 

 

What a great thread...the research that Stan and Shenkursk have done on the Polar Bears would be hard to rival. Just seeing the variants floating around on Shenkursk's desk is a rare treat. I have seen that desk. For him to pin down four related insignia had to have required Herculaneum-like focus! :)

 

I know very little about the Polar Bears but am aware that they were very active in the post-service lives in perpetuating the memory of their seemingly forgotten-by-the-rest memory. They seemed to be a very welcoming, active, and well-decorated (with polar bears) veterans' group.

 

Which leads me to wonder about Lt. Victor E. Frincke. Transportation records don't "bear out" that he was a Polar Bear. He was, however, an early deployed officer to France, sailing on August 9, 1917, as a member of Co. A, 19th Engineers (Railway). When he left France two years later on August 8, 1919, he was a 1st Lieutenant in the 168 Company, Transportation Corps.

 

He didn't stay in the States long, however. He sailed out of San Francisco on 16 Oct 1919 as a member of the Russian Railway Service along with 37 other officers of the RSS. During their voyage to Vladivostok, the RRS officer requested--and received--First Class births aboard the SS Thomas. They arrived in Vladivostok on 11 November 1919. After more than a year working the Russian rails, he and the RSS left Vladivostok aboard the Madawaska on June 26, 1920.

 

Now for the important part of the whole Frincke story, and this is a bit tricky, so "bear" with the wordy explanation. The RSS personnel who left Vlad. on June 26, 1920, are listed as belonging to the State Department.

 

You see, the Russian Railway Service Corps (abbreviated as RRSC or RRS) was not a military unit. The personnel who made up the RSSC were recruited from US railroads. The general manager of the Great Northern Railroad, George H. Emerson, was commissioned as a "colonel" and placed in charge of the railroaders. All of the RSS members were given "commissions" as majors, captains, or lieutenants. Although they were given uniforms and sidearms, the 288 members of the RSS were not part of the US Military.

 

An article in the Los Angeles Times from March 28, 1971, tells the story of the fight by the former RSS men (then only numbering 33 living) to gain recognition for their service. "We've been fighting since 1922," Harry Hoskin told the Times. "We've had 22 bills introduced into Congress. The Senate passed bills eight times. But each time, the Army was too strong for us."

 

In fact, the US Army fought vehemently against recognizing the RSS, saying they were civilians employed by the (Alexander) Kerensky government. When the members of the RSS returned to the United States in 1920 (aboard the Madawaska), the War Department offered only "certificates of service"--not honorable discharges. Hence, the RSS had no veterans' status--and no financial assistance due veterans of the Great War, until finally recognized in 1971.

 

SO, returning to Frincke. His records don't show that he was part of a "Polar Bear" unit, i.e, 339th Infantry; 1st Bn, 310th Engineers; 337th Ambulance and Hospital Cos. or other ancillary units of the 85th Division that comprised the Army Russia Expeditionary Force (ANREF). Rather, he was discharged as a member of 168 Co., Transportation Corps, having served in the Co. A, 19th Engineers (a railroad unit) in France. As a CIVILIAN, he joined the Russian Railway Service--a non-Army unit, serving in Russian from 1919-1920.

 

The point of this long-winded post is this: I think (as Shenkursk pointed out), the attribution of a particular patch as being associated with the RSS is anecdotal at best--and most likely was a pleasantry expressed by Polar Bear veterans welcoming someone into their "den" who experienced the same hardships as did the original Polar Bears. Shenkursk can speak better to this than me, but I would state that Frincke was NOT a "Polar Bear" and the fact that a patch descended with his uniform is something that should not be regarded as pointing to RSS personnel wearing the patch during their service (though, now that I think about it, other service personnel, such as Red Cross or YMCA often wore SSIs of the units to which they provided service. Hmmm.)

 

And finally, for no other reason other than "I can," I am including a photo of an unidentified RSS man photographed in San Francisco with "RSS" on his collar) and another of him in Russia (probably Vladivostok) wearing his cold weather gear.

 

post-949-0-67411000-1504189937_thumb.jpg post-949-0-31216100-1504190030.jpg

 

Thanks for reading and considering this aspect of a forgotten chapter of WWI,

 

JAG

Link to comment
Share on other sites

JAG -

 

Thanks so much for your informative post! I was going to ask what exactly the Russian Railway Service was, so you answered my question before I even asked! The photos are amazing! Too bad the photos weren't marked. :( Doesn't that make you want to run and mark every picture you have? I always get that urge when I find an unmarked photo I wish I knew who was in it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well shoot...I guess this is what learning is all about. Thanks to another great thread started by Kanemono, I think I have a better handle on the RRS / and Polar Bear patches.

 

First the big confusion (that led to a very wordy, misguided interpretation by me--I might still have it wrong, but here goes a try): The Russian Rail Service (RRS) is NOT the same as the North Russian Transportation Corps (NRTC). These are two different groups. The RRS was deployed to Russian in 1917; the NRTC in 1919.

 

According to the article, "The arctic antics of the North Russian Transportation Corps of the U.S. Army" by John Wilson (available at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/polar/3104816.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext), before entering service, Frincke was employed as Mechanical Engineer with the Michigan Central Railway at Detroit. During his AEF service, he was a Mechanical Officer with the Transportation Corps at Tours. In Russia [with the NRTC--not the RRS], he served as Rail Head Officer and Assistant to Captain Jones.

 

Wilson explains, "The North Russia Transportation Corps Expedition came into existence through a most urgent need upon the part of the Allied Forces in North Russia, of experienced railroad men to operate lines taken over from the Bolshiviki. Early in the fall of 1918 the town of Murmansk on Kola inlet near the Arctic Ocean, was taken by the Allied forces."

 

He then adds, "...the President of the United States authorized the recruiting of two companies of railway men from the various Transportation Corps units in France, to be sent to North Russia to operate in conjunction with and under the command of the British on the Murmansk front. As this was to be a volunteer organization an order was sent out on February 16, 1919 calling for volunteers for a battalion which was to be composed of the 167th and 168th Companies of the Transportation Corps [NOTE: Frincke belonged to the 168 Company at that time].

 

SO, back to Stan and Shenkursk's original observations of a particular patch being worn by the rail personnel assigned to the ANREF. INDEED, there were railway troops assigned to this operation, but NOT the volunteers who comprised the Russian Rail Service. They were members of the North Russian Transportation Corps (NRTC) and were still members of the US Army troops assigned to the ANREF. Therefore, the members of the NRTC were entitled to wear the Polar Bear patch--and Stan and Shenkursk original observation is valid (with minor alteration): That patch four had been observed on troops associated with the rail units -- NRTC (rather than the RSS as originally stated).

 

I don't think I have this all correct, yet, though. Frincke's transportation documents to Vladyvostok DO list him as a member of the Russian Railway Service Corps! It seems the confusion between the Siberia Expeditionary Force and the North Russian Expeditionary Force existed even then.

 

Basically, In northwestern Russia, American Transportation Corps troops maintained the railways (the NRTC). In Siberia, the RRSC carried out railway operations as well as maintenance.

 

The railroad guys (like Frincke) who were entitled to be called Polar Bears were active members of the Transportation Corps. Railroad guys in the Russian Railway Service Corps were volunteers and not military personnel--not entitled to wear any SSI.

 

Frincke belonged to the former group, and therefore, was entitled to the patch that Stan's grouping contains.

 

Whew...does that make sense?

 

 

OH, btw, the excellent thread and group that Kanemono shared (and to which Mccooper made valuable comments) that finally led me to rethink my earlier statement is located at:

http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/296697-northern-russian-expeditionary-force/?hl=%2Bnorth+%2Brussia&do=findComment&comment=2384303

 

JAG

Link to comment
Share on other sites

JAG - You are a joy to read! I love learning and you are doing a great job at sharing what you are learning! I really appreciate it, too! I am really enjoying what you are putting together and it really is a nice picture of a very forgotten and overlooked part of the Great War. I appreciated the other thread link, too, as I went and studied that one for a bit as well! Thanks!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 months later...

Late again- But I have Lt. Frincke's foot locker and all the rest of the items that the seller held back from Stan B. There are some photographs and letters. The good Lt. married a Russian "princess" and they lived in Wisconsin after the war. I can share what I have and know if there is any interest.

Illinigander

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is a link to a 167th Trans uniform with SSI at my museum (Michigan Military Heritage Museum). It is a bit different in coloring to the type that Shenkursk shows, but he has seen this and helped to i.d. the soldier as a part of that unit a few years ago. Hope it helps you! Scott

 

http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/205144-polar-bear-grouping/?hl=%2Bpolar+%2Bbear

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

Just ran into this thread looking for some info on the 339th. The North Russia Transportation Corps (NRTC) was made up of railroad engineer volunteers from France, and sent to Murmansk in March of 1919. They left in July of 1919. Lt. Victor E. Frincke was a member of the 168th Company, NRTC. Below is the officer group listed in the unit history, taken from my copy. It is my understanding (very possibly incorrect) that the "skinny" bear patch was worn by NRTC personnel. Another respondent to this thread mentioned that his relative who wore this patch was an engineer. We do know that Frincke was a part of the NRTC before the RRS.

 

mccooper

 

post-151387-0-74693300-1560817159_thumb.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 years later...
kanemono

Richard Augustine Cunningham, was born on July 23, 1891 in Lynn, Massachusetts. He graduated with the Class of 1913 from Tufts College, Boston, Massachusetts, with the degree of Doctor of Medicine. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on October 5, 1917 and was sent to Army Medical School in Washington, DC for additional training as an Army Orthopedic Surgeon. He was then processed at Camp Upton for service overseas. Cunningham was sent to England where he served at Base Hospital No. 40, Sarisbury Court, England. He was next assigned to the American Red Cross Military Hospital No. 21, at Paignton, Devon, England. Cunningham then took part in the Allied intervention in Russia with the Northern Russian Expeditionary Force. The intervention brought about the involvement of foreign troops in the Russian Civil War on the side of the White movement. Cunningham was assigned as a Doctor with troops guarding the Murman Railway on the Kola Peninsula. The Murman railway was important because it terminates at Murmansk the only ice-free port on the Kola Peninsula. While the White movement was ultimately defeated, the Allied forces fought notable defensive actions against the Bolsheviks, allowing them to withdraw from Russia in good order. First Lieutenant Richard A. Cunningham, Medical Corps was discharged from Camp Dix, New Jersey on October 9, 1919. Richard Augustine Cunningham died on May 2, 1967 in Brookline, Massachusetts.

group-on-bluestone.jpg

Cunningham.jpg

Cunningham-named--book.jpg

Cunningham-dog-slead.jpg

Discharge-front.jpg

defensive-sector-lo-rez.jpg

small-polor-bear-patch-together.jpg

reunion-patch.jpg

Discharge-Reverse.jpg

bridges-and-locomotive.jpg

Group-of-small-photos.jpg

inspection.jpg

Photos-group-A.jpg

photos-group-B.jpg

Soldier-and-horse.jpg

US-and-Brit-armed-with-a-Mosin-Nagat-and-Lebel.jpg

enlarged-lebel.jpg

dogsled.jpg

horse-and-wagon.jpg

Italian-troops.jpg

map.jpg

Murmansk.jpg

quanset-huts.jpg

railroad-bridge.jpg

rebuilding-bridge.jpg

rebuilt-bridge.jpg

train.jpg

White-sea.jpg

wrecked-bridge.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Niner Alpha

There is also the Polar Bear patch from the 31st Infantry who were part of the Siberian expedition.   The polar bear is in the regiment insignia for the 31st Regiment's  remaining 4th battalion down to today.  I'll attach a patch that was the patch worn by the father of  a Vietnam era 6th of the 31st !st SGT while serving in the Russian adventure from WWI.   

DSCN0959.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...