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The Polar Bear Expedition America's Invasion of Russia, 1918-1919


kanemono

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In the winter of 1919, 5,000 U.S. soldiers, nicknamed "The Polar Bears," found themselves hundreds of miles north of Moscow in desperate, bloody combat against the newly formed Soviet Union's Red Army. Temperatures plummeted to sixty below zero. Their guns and their flesh froze. The Bolsheviks, camouflaged in white, advanced in waves across the snow like ghosts. The Polar Bears, hailing largely from Michigan, heroically waged a courageous campaign in the brutal, frigid subarctic of northern Russia for almost a year. And yet they are all but unknown today. I am reading the book The Polar Bear Expedition: The Heroes of America's Forgotten Invasion of Russia, 1918-1919 by James Carl Nelson. I had done research on the Northern Russian Expeditionary Force but never realized how terrible the conditions were and how the troops suffered because of being poorly equipped for the sub-zero weather, being poorly led by British officers in command and a total lack of medical supplies. More than two hundred Polar Bears perished before their withdrawal in July 1919 from the Spanish Flu and combat with the Bolsheviks. Here is one of my favorite and most poignant groups. This group is to a Doctor assigned to troops guarding the Murman Railway which terminates at the ice-free port of Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula. What makes this group especially interesting are the many photographs that Cunningham took in Russia.

First Lieutenant 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.

 

 

 

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Cunningham's Victory Medal has the bar Defensive Sector not Russia because he saw action in combat and only one bar was allowed.

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Outstanding as always Dick. A pleasure to see. Love the French made patch.

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It always makes my heart race when I see anything related to the Polar Bears! My grandfather was part of the ANREF (Polar Bears) and served on one of the fronts as a medic. He was with the 337th Ambulance Company, which was split up with small groups of men sent to the various outposts. Unfortunately, nothing in his surviving service record or unit records indicates where he was.

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Brian Dentino

Great items to the relatively unknown Polar Bears. Love that patch Dick and the fact that it is attributed is simply amazing considering how scarce it is to see anything from the Russian campaign around. Thanks for sharing this great grouping with us!

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Very attractive and historically significant group. Thanks for posting.

 

You might be surprised at how many Americans, regardless of age, don't know about our invasion of Russia 1918-19.

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US Victory Museum

This is an outstanding post! You have provided a detailed background to place these

items into their historical context. The scanned images detail reasonably well how the

troops were equipped and dressed for their environment at the time the photos were taken.

 

One in particular captured my attention (your image re-posted below).

 

The soldier located far right appears to be wearing the spec. 1348 mackinaw; however,

the black-'n'-white tones suggest that the collar is a lighter shade of wool lining than the

shell of the coat. This differs from other photographs that I have seen of this article of

clothing; nevertheless, it is otherwise consistent in appearance.

 

On frame #4 top right photograph, the soldier on the left wearing a cravat is also sporting

a leather jerkin.

 

 

Yeah, I'm a collector of clothing and accouterments, so I focus on these details.

 

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If I recall correctly,The Michigan Heros Museum in Frankenmuth has many items on display from this unit. The museum is worth the visit.

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Excellent group and research. The photographs are particularly informative on the conditions in North Russia at the time. Also that North Russia Route book is exceptional. Would like to hear/see more of it if possible. Thanls for the great post.

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Dick, I just wanted to say what a pleasure it has been to see the wonderful groups in your collection. This one is no exception. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  • 4 weeks later...

Thank you for posting. I have documented in a letter that my grandfather, a Russian speaking Ukrainian immigrant who served in the US Navy during WWI, was a translator for a US Army colonel in an expedition in Russia after WWI. I never knew the details; could this have possibly been where it was? I’ll need to dig out the letter.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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