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The Polar Bear Expedition

The Heroes of America's Forgotten Invasion of Russia, 1918-1919
Narrated by: Johnny Heller
Length: 8 hrs and 7 mins
Categories: History, 20th Century

Non-member price: $38.94

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Publisher's Summary

An extraordinary lost chapter in the history of World War I: the story of America’s year-long invasion of Russia, in which a contingency of brave soldiers fought the Red Army and brutal conditions during the fall and winter of 1918-1919.

In August 1918, the 339th regiment of the US Army - roughly 5,000 soldiers, most hailing from Michigan - sailed for Europe to fight in World War I. But instead of the Western Front, these troops were headed to Archangel, Russia, a vital port city 1,000 miles northeast of Moscow. There, in the frozen subarctic, amid the chaos of the Russian Civil War, one of the most extraordinary episodes of American history unfolded.

The American North Russia Expeditionary Force - self-dubbed “The Polar Bear Expedition” - was sent to fight the Red Army and aid anti-Bolshevik forces in hopes of reopening the Eastern Front against Germany. On the 100th anniversary of the campaign, award-winning historian James Carl Nelson recreates this harrowing, dramatic military operation in which Americans and Bolsheviks fought a series of pitched battles throughout a punishing fall and winter. 

As the Great War officially ended in November 1918, American troops continued to battle the Red Army and an equally formidable enemy, “General Winter”. Subzero temperatures made machine guns and light artillery inoperable. In the blinding ice and snow, sentries suffered from frostbite while guarding against nearly invisible Bolos camouflaged by their white uniforms. Before the Polar Bears’ withdrawal in July 1919, more than 200 perished from battle, accidents, and the Spanish flu.

But the Polar Bears’ story does not end there. Ten years later, a contingent of veterans returned to Russia to recover the remains of more than 100 of their fallen comrades and lay them to rest in Michigan, where a monument honoring their service still stands: a massive marble polar bear guarding a cross that marks the grave of a fallen soldier.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2019 James Carl Nelson (P)2019 HarperCollins Publishers
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  • Glaudrung
  • 30-12-2019

Good history, idiot author.

The story itself is good, and worthy of a movie. The account is almost exclusively a US perspective on the expedition, and gives just about every detail that can be found.

On immediate expansion of the book would to give a Bolshevik account to run parallel. That would make this a complete history of the campaign in this sector.

The author, however, reveals he doesn't know the first thing about military science by trying to compare any expedition he didn't like to Vietnam and uses this battle (of all things) to hammer away an anti-war agenda. Most obvious is literally cuts out the arguments made by pro-war politicians, focuses on the anti-war criticisms, and calls the expedition "delusional" as if he isn't guilty of abusing hindsight in the least (he actually says certain people were "on the wring side of history).

In fact, he neglects to mention that ousting the Bolsheviks was Britain's main aim of the expedition until giving it in passing at end. Instead repeatedly mentioning Wilson's weird agenda of guarding war stores which was silly back then too.. Also, he uses the lack of clear objectives to repeatedly blame mutinous behavior on the politics of the expedition, rather than the vast range of issues he mentioned when you stick thousands of inexperienced men in the article wilderness with strangers.

And as the author himself said these events "did not occur in a vacuum." Yes, at that same time there were the Freecorps, Denikin, the Omsk government, the Crimea expedition, and other expeditions which meant people at the time would have definitely believed Churchill when he said a general war against Communist was coming soon. And no amount of this guy calling him deluded will change the fact the author's view of the inevitable outcome was a product of blind chance.

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  • J.Brock
  • 20-08-2019

A Forgotten and Tragic Expedition Unveiled

James Carl Nelson has written a brilliant expose with this book. The US army’s invasion of Russia at the end of WWI is enlightening and horrifying. The idea that this was undertaken and continued after the Armistice is hard to fathom. But these men gave their lives dutifully and without recognition. Thankfully they are given their due with this book. And may we never forget. Johnny Heller’s narration is superb as always.

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  • Kevin
  • 26-09-2019

great book

I loved it!!! I would very highly recommend this book. Very much so worth the price.