In the winter of 1919, 5,000 U.S. soldiers, nicknamed "The Polar Bears," found themselves hundreds of miles north of Moscow in desperate, bloody combat against the newly formed Soviet Union's Red Army. Temperatures plummeted to sixty below zero. Their guns and their flesh froze. The Bolsheviks, camouflaged in white, advanced in waves across the snow like ghosts.
The Polar Bears, hailing largely from Michigan, heroically waged a courageous campaign in the brutal, frigid subarctic of northern Russia for almost a year. And yet they are all but unknown today. Indeed, during the Cold War, two U.S. presidents, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, would assert that the American and the Russian people had never directly fought each other. They were spectacularly wrong, and so too is the nation's collective memory.
It began in August 1918, during the last months of the First World War: the U.S. Army's 339th Infantry Regiment crossed the Arctic Circle; instead of the Western Front, these troops were sailing en route to Archangel, Russia, on the White Sea, to intervene in the Russian Civil War. The American Expeditionary Force, North Russia, had been sent to fight the Soviet Red Army and aid anti-Bolshevik forces in hopes of reopening the Eastern Front against Germany. And yet even after the Great War officially ended in November 1918, American troops continued to battle the Red Army and another, equally formiddable enemy, "General Winter," which had destroyed Napoleon's Grand Armee a century earlier and would do the same to Hitler's once invincible Wehrmacht.
More than two hundred Polar Bears perished before their withdrawal in July 1919. But their story does not end there. Ten years after they left, a contingent of veterans returned to Russia to recover the remains of more than a hundred of their fallen brothers and lay them to rest in Michigan, where a monument honoring their service still stands.
In the century since, America has forgotten the Polar Bears' harrowing campaign. Russia, notably, has not, and as Nelson reveals, the episode continues to color Russian attitudes toward the United States. At once epic and intimate, The Polar Bear Expedition masterfully recovers this remarkable tale at a time of new relevance.
"A beautifully crafted anthem to doomed American youth, James Carl Nelson's The Remains of Company D is a must-read for World War I enthusiasts and those looking for a damn good war book."---Alex Kershaw, New York Times bestselling author of The Longest Winter and The Bedford Boys
"War is always hell, but the unprecedented carnage on World War I's Western Front was the stuff of nightmares. The American boys of Company D were on the front lines, and James Carl Nelson has combined previously unpublished first-person accounts, prodigious research, and vivid, you-are-there prose into one of the great books on the subject. This is a Band of Brothers for World War I."---James Donovan, author of A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn—the Last Great Battle of the American West
"James Carl Nelson's book is a great contribution to AEF history. He has done an incredible amount of research in order to convey the experience of one group of doughboys...and to tell their story through their own words.....He reminds us that these long-forgotten battles of ninety years ago were as hard fought as any before or since, and that our country was well served by the young men who fought them. Get this book. It puts a very human face on the experience of Americans on the Western Front."---Dr. Paul Herbert, executive director of the Cantigny First Division Foundation
Haunted by an ancestor's tale of near death on a distant battlefield, James Carl Nelson set out in pursuit of the scraps of memory of his grandfather's small infantry unit. Years of travel across the world led to the retrieval of unpublished personal papers, obscure memoirs, and communications from numerous Doughboys as well as original interviews of the descendents of his grandfather's comrades in arms. The result is a compelling tale of battle rooted in new primary sources, and one man's search for his grandfather's legacy in a horrifying maelstrom that is today poorly understood and nearly forgotten.
The Remains of Company D follows the members of Company D, 28th Infantry Regiment, United States First Division, from enlistment to combat to the effort to recover their remains, focusing on the three major battles at Cantigny, Soissons, and in the Meuse-Argonne and the effect these horrific battles had on the men.
This is an important and powerful tale of the different destinies, personalities, and motivations of the men in Company D and a timeless portrayal of men at war.
The incredible true story of Clifton B. “Lucky” Cates, whose service in World War I and beyond made him a legend in the annals of the Marine Corps.
Cates knew that he and his small band of marines were in a desperate spot. Before handing the note over to a runner, he added three words that would resound through Marine Corps history:
I WILL HOLD
From the moment he first joined the Marine Reserves of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I, Clifton B. Cates was determined to make his mark as a leader. Little did he know what he would truly accomplish in his legendary career.
Not as well-known as his contemporaries such as Alvin C. York, his fame would not come from a single act of heroism but from his consistent and courageous demeanor throughout the war and beyond.
In the bloody second half of 1918 with the 6th Marine Regiment, he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Purple Heart, the Silver Star, was recognized by the French government with the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre, and earned the nickname “Lucky.”
I Will Hold is the inspiring, brutally vivid, and incredible true life story of a Marine Corps legend whose grit and unstoppable spirit on the battlefield matched his personal drive and sage wisdom off of it.
Five Lieutenants tells the story of five young Harvard men who took up the call to arms in the spring of 1917 and met differing fates in the maelstrom of battle on the Western Front in 1918. Delving deep into the motivations, horrific experiences, and ultimate fates of this Harvard-educated quintet—and by extension of the brilliant young officer class that left its collegiate and post-collegiate pursuits to enlist in the Army and lead America's rough-and-ready doughboys—Five Lieutenants presents a unique, timeless, and fascinating account of citizen soldiers at war, and of the price these extraordinary men paid while earnestly giving all they had in an effort to end "the war to end all wars."
Drawing upon the subjects' intimate, eloquent, and uncensored letters and memoirs, this is a fascinating microcosm of the American experience in the First World War, and of the horrific experiences and hardships of the educated class of young men who were relied upon to lead doughboys in the trenches and, ultimately, in open battle.
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 U.S. 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 re-opening 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.