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Russian Civil War - The Czecho-Slovaks

An interesting factor in the Russian situation appeared in the Czecho-Slovaks. Originally prisoners or deserters from the Austrian armies, the Czechoslovaks, mainly natives of Bohemia, found themselves in a peculiar situation. They neither wished nor dared to go back to Austria, where they would be treated as rebels and traitors, so they decided to stay in Russia. Wandering through the country, well organized and well armed, they began to establish their control over cities and districts. To the Bolsheviki, the Czecho-Slovaks were a source of worry, as their ranks were being augmented by the opponents of Bolshevism.

The Czecho-Slovak forces were divided, one part, and that the smaller, being at or in the neighborhood of Vladivostok, the other on the borders of European Russia at Samara in possession of a long extent of the Siberian Railroad and the Volga River. That an army should spring up in Central Siberia ready and willing to help the Allies, was a development utterly unexpected. It surely required some explanation. Those CzechoSlovaks were Austrian subjects who at first driven into the War by Austria against their fellow Slavs, permitted themselves to be made prisoners by Russia. But when the Bolsheviki made peace with Germany and attempted to disarm them the CzechoSlovaks protested, and for a time were able to resist all such attempts by the Bolsheviki. That they had been able to resist successfully is a clear proof that they had the sympathy of large numbers of the Russian people. They not only refused to lay down their arms, they took the field and large districts of Russia were for a time under their control. These districts comprised the most fertile parts of Russia, and therefore the Czecho-Slovaks had been able to cut off the food supply from the Russian capital. Their number was estimated from fifty thousand to three hundred thousand. The Czecho-Slovaks were to be found not only in Siberia, but also on the Italian and on the Franco-British-American front. The Entente Powers recognized them as belligerents and their native State, although it was still under Austrian domination, as a native belligerent State.

Armed conflict began on May 26, 1918. The Czechoslovaks opened operations against forces of Bolsheviki and Teutonic exprisoners simultaneously in the region of the Volga and in Siberia. In Siberia, they defeated and ousted the pro-Germans from Irkutsk and Vladivostok, occupied several towns on the Amur river, and by the middle of July were in possession of 1300 miles of the Trans-Siberian railway west of Tomsk. In the meantime, in June, they had captured Samara, Simbirsk, and Kasan on the Volga, had advanced to Ufa in the Ural Mountains, and had gained control of the chief grain routes and deprived European Russia of the Siberian food supply.1 The Czechoslovaks thus did heroic work in preventing the consummation of Teutonic designs on Russia and in arousing national opposition to the Bolshevist regime, but they could not hope with their slender forces to retain their hold on such a vast territory unless they received active assistance from the Allies.

Throughout the summer of 1918, from June to September, the armies of the Czecho-Slovaks fought their way back and forth over Siberia, and by fall all of the local Soviets in Siberia had been overthrown: the Bolshevik power had been destroyed, and from Samara and Perm to Vladivostok the ghost of Bolshevism had disappeared. This the brave armies of the Czecho-Slovaks had accomplished, depending entirely upon their own physical strength and upon the supplies which they found in Russia and which they captured from the Red army. There is no territorial advance in the annals of the war as dramatic and rapid as was that of the Czecho-Slovak revolutionary army in that vast ex-empire of Siberia. These 50,000 Czecho-Slovak soldiers had established an organization in every important city along the great Trans-Siberian Railway. They maintained order; assumed direction of the railroads without interfering with any local government except those avowedly Bolshevists. Thus, at the beginning of September, Siberia was free from the Red rule.

After long waiting the US President complied with the request of Japan and has decided, in cooperation with that country, to send a military force to Russia to be followed by economic help in the shape of food, machinery, and other things for the restoration of Russia's position. The avowed object of the expedition is to help the Czecho-Slovaks, whose safety was said to be endangered by the German and Austrian prisoners who have been formed into an army acting with the Bolsheviki. The official statement said that this assistance to be given to the Czecho-Slovaks was for the purpose of enabling them to move westward. Although Japan and the US were the only two powers that had come to an agreement to assist Russia, other powers had the right to participate. Great Britain sent soldiers from Hong Kong to Vladivostok, while France, from Cochin-China, sent four thousand of her own troops and a thousand Annamites.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:29:23 ZULU