Map of eastern Russia

Siberia is the huge eastern portion of Russia. Like Alaska, it is large, sparsely inhabited, and lacking in infrastructure, with the Trans-Siberian Railway forming a narrow developed corridor in 1941. The climate is brutal, with temperatures as low as -80 F (-60 C) during the long winters. However, the region was believed to have considerable natural resources (a suspicion amply borne out after the war) and the Japanese attempted to seize control of it during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War in the early 1920s.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917, the new Russian government made peace with Germany and turned to suppressing internal counterrevolution. Czech army units in Russia, which had been fighting for the Allies, were ordered to disarm. Instead, the Czech Legion seized portions of the Trans-Siberia Railroad, and the Allies intervened on the pretext of rescuing the Czech Legion. Japanese troops had already made one landing in Vladivostok, in December 1917, and in April 1918 they landed a much larger force to seize the military supply depots before they could be turned over to the Germans.  The United States, Britain, France, and Japan agreed to assemble a combined expeditionary force for Siberia of not more than 7000 troops each, but the Japanese contingent soon grew beyond this ceiling, This caused considerable bad feelings in the United States, though Bolshevik atrocities against Japanese civilians at Nikolatevsk and elsewhere gave Japan a special stake in the expedition. A new ceiling of 12,000 men was soon exceeded as well. 12 Division landed at Vladivostok on 18 August, was soon joined by 7 Division, and the two divisions and their supporting elements, numbering some 70,000 troops, were soon operating as far west as Lake Baikal.

The campaign quickly bogged down into a guerrilla war, while rice riots in Japan in September 1918 prompted the government to call out Army units to suppress the riots. The United States withdrew their troops from Siberia in 1920, and the Japanese were compelled to pull their armies back to Manchuria in late 1922.

A brutal footnote to the Intervention was a bloody campaign against anti-Japanese forces on the Yalu River in Korea in October 1920.


Drea (2009)
Edgerton (1997)

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