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All Hell Breaks Loose

January 21, 2010

With the Russian Civil War now under way, Masaryk, Stefanik and the Allies hatched a plan to transport the Czechoslovak Legion across Siberia to Vladivostok, where the men would board ships bound for France, via the US. Once in France, the Allies would deploy the Legion to fight on the Western front in WWI.  They pleaded with the Bolsheviks to allow the Legion to turn around and take the Trans-Siberian Railway east to Vladivostok.  In February, 1918, the Bolsheviks agreed on the condition that the Legion turn over their weapons and agree not to engage in any hostile acts against the Red Army (the Bolsheviks’ army).

At the same time, the Germans demanded that their POWs be immediately released from their camps in Siberia and transported back to Germany, heading in the opposite direction to the Legion and on the same railway.   The Germans wanted the Legion members to either be turned over to the Austro-Hungarian Army (who had been ordered to shoot Legion members on sight), or intern them in camps.

Legion-occupied Orlik train going in the winter, 1918

( The pictures in this story are from the Slovak WWI site,   www.Tatranci.SK)

The Bolsheviks tried to please both sides, and allowed the Legion to travel east, and the Germans to travel west along the Trans Siberian Railway, which lead to anger and mistrust on both sides.  At each stop along the way, the Bolshevik’s Red Army would board the Legion’s trains and take away their arms.   But Paul and his fellow troop members began to suspect that the Russians were up to something and they hid their guns.  As the train slowly made its way east, experiencing one frustrating delay after another, Paul and the others began to believe that the Russians were in cahoots with the Germans.

On May 28, 1918, in the town of Tcheliabinska, a westbound train was stopped for hours at the train station, a typical occurrence in the midst of the civil war. Its box cars were filled with German and Hungarian POWs who were irritated, restless and probably ready for a hot shower and hungry for a good meal. There was a chronic shortage of trains, and several hundred Legionnaires had been stuck in the train station for over a month, waiting for a train to come and take them east.  As the Legionnaires milled about the train station, walking up and down along the stopped train, angry words were exchanged between the two groups and soon a Hungarian POW from within the train threw a rock out the window and hit a Czech.

Legion fighting alongside the trains

The Legionnaires, who were already suspicious and fuming, became irate and stormed the train, found the rock thrower, pulled him out of the train and shot him dead on the spot.  The Red Army immediately rounded up the Legionnaires at the train station and took them into custody. But soon they were freed by their brethren Legionnaires who then occupied the town, took over the rail station and began to commandeer the trains going in both directions.  At this point, all hell really did break loose, and the Legion soon found itself fighting in the Russian civil war against the Bolsheviks.

One Comment leave one →
  1. clatterbach permalink
    January 21, 2010 5:55 pm

    Wow! Knottier and knottier. I find the military allegiances and political affiliations in this time incredibly complicated. I’m going to have to look over it again sometime before sitting over a map and thinking it through. The vicissitudes of the people of this time, though, and especially people in central and eastern europe where the borders changed again and again, is incredible!

    But then I sometimes think people will look back and think that about us.

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