Don’t know too much about the US involvement in Russia during WWI? Don’t worry, neither did I until a few years ago. The above photo was acquired from a poorly listed eBay auction, and depicts a 310th Engineer posing for the camera in a Russian studio in the city of Archangel. Photos of “Polar Bear” soldiers are incredibly rare, especially front-taken studio portraits. I’ve seen a FEW example of Polar Bears posing back home, but only a couple taken overseas. This one is particularly rare, as it shows a member of the 310th Engineers, who only sent ONE battalion of soldiers up to Russia.
Want to read more about the Polar Bears? Visit the site below!
An excerpt taken from the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan’s website:
“The American military intervention at Archangel, Russia, at the end of World War I, nicknamed the “Polar Bear Expedition,” is a strange episode in American history. Ostensibly sent to Russia to prevent a German advance and to help reopen the Eastern Front, American soldiers found themselves fighting Bolshevik revolutionaries for months after the Armistice ended fighting in France.
Because many of the American troops involved in the intervention were from Michigan, the Michigan Historical Collections has long been interested in documenting this episode. This guide describes the Collections’ holdings of manuscripts and photographs as well as maps and primary printed source materials relating to the Polar Bear Expedition.
During the summer of 1918, the U. S. Army’s 85th Division, made up primarily of men from Michigan and Wisconsin, completed its training at Fort Custer, outside of Battle Creek, Michigan, and proceeded to England. While the rest of the division was preparing to enter the fighting in France, some 5,000 troops of the 339th Infantry and support units (one battalion of the 310th Engineers, the 337th Field Hospital, and the 337th Ambulance Company) were issued Russian weapons and equipment and sailed for Archangel, a Russian port on the White Sea, 600 miles north of Moscow.
When American troops reached their destination in early September, they joined an international force commanded by the British that had been sent to northern Russia for purposes never made clear. Whatever the reasons for the intervention, however, the force was fighting the Bolsheviks who had taken power in Petrograd and Moscow the previous winter.”