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Polar Bear Expedition

Polar Bear Expedition

Texas 144.1

Regular price $14.00 Sale

Items Available: 33

Most Americans are unaware that a little over one hundred years ago, American soldiers had landed in Russia at the end of World War One in 1918. The year before, the Bolshevik Revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin, had ousted the Russian Imperial Family, effectively withdrawing Russia from the Allied cause. As the British and French governments had been supplying the Russian forces on the Eastern Front, a request was made to Woodrow Wilson to send American soldiers to Russia to prevent stockpiles of allied weapons from falling into Bolshevik or German hands. 

In July of 1918, members of the United States Army's 85th Division left Camp Custer, Michigan bound for the Western Front in France. While en route to France, units of the 85th Division, notably the 339th Infantry Regiment, the First Battalion of 310th Engineers along with support units, were ordered to England, where they were trained and re-outfitted with Russian weaponry, and then sent to Northern Russia under British command. They arrived in the strategically important port city of Arkhangelsk on September 4th, 1918. The Northern Seaports of Arkhangelsk and Murmansk proved vital in the Anti-Bolshevik, or White Russian, battle against the Red Army as both cities provided valuable access to navigable waterways and rail lines, were out of reach of German forces, and offered a haven and direct evacuation route for officials and sympathizers of the White Russian movement, Allied Ambassadors and their military liaisons. With Bolshevik forces controlling the large Central part of the country, the White Russian forces on the borders had easy access to Allied support. 

Upon their arrival to Arkhangelsk, the operation had almost failed immediately as it had started as Pro-Bolshevik forces had seized the port and began loading supplies onto railcars. A group of U.S. sailors from the USS Olympia, British and French soldiers were able to retake the town, but a large amount of munitions had been taken by the Bolsheviks. Chasing after the fleeing Red Army, the Allied force who had retaken the port soon needed rescue by the recently landed 339th Infantry Regiment. Successful in rescuing their comrades, the 339th, however, became quickly bogged down in the countryside in small, thinly-spread units. Several thousand miles to the east, American troops had landed in the Pacific Port City of Vladivostok, to also help protect Allied munitions stockpiles, but also assist the Allied Czechoslovak Legion, who were stranded on the Trans Siberian Railway, escape to safety, and prevent Imperial Japanese Encroachment in the region. 

Once in Russia, the American soldiers faced foes just as deadly as the Bolshevik forces facing them. With winter setting in almost immediately upon their arrival, the British Army rations provided to them and their issued boots proved unpopular and uncomfortable. Many soldiers traded, or took from dead Bolsheviks, their boots in favor of the warmer Russian boots. The arrival of the American Soldiers also brought another passenger: the Spanish Flu, which made an already medically challenging situation for the Americans even harder, as medical supplies at times were almost impossible to obtain. As if that weren't enough for the Americans, the local population's tendency to switch sides on a regular basis required extra vigilance on the part of the Americans.

With the support of French and Canadian allies, most battles against the Red Army were successful. However, with time, the Bolshevik forces grew more determined. The war concluded with the Armistice of November 11th, 1918, but American soldiers in Russia remained. With relentless Bolshevik propaganda, the Harsh Russian winter, and a local population weary of their presence, American morale plummeted. The arrival of new American commanders saw U.S. forces placed in a more defensive role, and against a renewed Red Army campaign to expel them, which in January 1919, forced the Allies to retreat to Arkhangelsk. 

By April 1919, with winter subsiding, and the arrival of a new commander with reinforcements, it had become apparent that it was time to evacuate American forces from Russia. As a testament to surviving the brutal Arctic winter, the 339th awarded themselves the nickname "The Polar Bears." The USS Des Moine arrived in June 1919, and the "The Polar Bears" were on their way home, with an exception of transportation and graves registration personnel to recover the bodies of American soldiers. White Russian forces had collapsed by 1920, months after the departure of "The Polar Bears." The United States Army learned several lessons from the Expeditionary Forces sent into Russia and how to better sustain combat forces on foreign shores. Over the years, many would forget the presence of American forces on Russian shores, and even fewer remember to this day.
  • 3x2.15"
  • Embroidered
  • Hook Backing
  • Release: 5/31/24