Testimony before the 102nd US Congress, November 1991, concerning the AEF experience in Russia
Allied Expeditionary Force POWs, Siberia - 1919
Courtesy of Glenn Hyatt, WWI-L: Testimony before the 102nd US Congress, November 1991, concerning the AEF experience in Russia at the end of the Great War and the possible abandonment of American POWs.
From: Hearings before the Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, United States Senate, One Hundred Second Congress.
First Session on the United States Government' efforts to learn the fate of America's Missing Servicemen November 5,6,7, and 15, 1991
SUDOC No.: Y.P32/2:S.Hrg.102-35/pt.2 An Examination of U.S. Policy Toward
POW/MIAs By the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Republican Staff.
Thursday, May 23, 1991
Part I, Section 2-1 THE AEF AND WORLD WAR I
U.S. Problems in accounting for POW/MIAs did not suddenly emerge in the
Second Indochina War; in fact, the basic Communist tactics were already
evident at the birth of the Soviet Union in the Bolshevik Revolution.
Today, most Americans have forgotten that there were two main fronts during World War I
-- the Western Front, which was the center of Allied attention, and which
today still receives the most focus; and the Eastern Front, which occurred
when the Bolshevik Regime signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the
Germans and withdrew Russian forces from participating with the Allies.
Thereupon, the Allies grew apprehensive about the German threat to the
ports of Murmansk and Archangel, and sent the Allied Expeditionary Force to Siberia
to protect the rear. As a result of the fighting against Soviet Bolshevik
forces around Archangel in 1918-1919, there were many causalities, and
eyewitness accounts of hundreds of U.S.and British and French personnel who
Nevertheless, official cables from the U.S. military attaché at Archangel
cited much lower numbers than the eyewitness reports of missing personnel.
The U.S. government policy concerning these and others in the two
categories of missing in action (MIA) and killed in action, body not
recovered (KIA-BNR) from the American Expeditionary Force in Russia, as
detailed in a November, 1930 memorandum from the U.S.
Acting Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, stated the following:
An administrative determination has been placed on each of their records
that they were killed in action on the date they were reported as missing. 
In other words, all of the men who were MIA were determined to be KIA-
BNR on the date they were reported as missing.
Public outcry over this practice resulted in the formation of the 1929
VFW/U.S. Graves Registration Expedition, which was able to identify or
account for 86 sets of remains. Many others were never identified.
However, given the technical and scientific limitations of forensics in
1929, the amount of time elapsed and the number of nationalities involved,
some of the remains may have been mis-identified.
In 1921, the New York Times reported that the American prisoners held by the
Soviet Government of Russia have been told by the Bolsheviks that they are
held because the United States government has not made vigorous demands for
It was widely known that the Bolsheviks held many American POWs and other U.S.
citizens against their will. In fact, the new Soviet Government attempted
to barter U.S. POWs held in their prisons for U.S. diplomatic recognition
and trade relations with their regime. The United States refused, even
though the Soviets had at one time threatened "...that Americans held by
the Soviet government would be put to death..."
President Harding's Secretary of State, Charles Evans Hughes, in response to
the Soviets demand for recognition and trade relations in return for U.S.
prisoners, said that the United States will not consider any suggestions of
any character from that government until the Americans now held as
prisoners are permitted to leave the country. 
But several months later the United States concluded the Riga Agreement with
the Soviet government to provide humanitarian aid to starving Russian
children. The Riga Agreement had specific requirements that the Soviet
authorities must release all Americans detained in Russia, and to
facilitate their departure. The U.S. Government was expecting 20 prisoners
to be released; but U.S. authorities were surprised when 100 Americans were
In fact, not all American prisoners held by the Soviets were released. The
Soviets held some back, presumably for leverage in any future negotiations
with the United States. However, in 1933 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt
recognized the Soviet government, these prisoners were not released, and
other than the apparent recovery of 19 sets of remains, no satisfactory
accounting of the MIA/POWs that were held by the Soviets was made by the
United States. Since an administration determination had been placed on
each of their records that they were killed in action on the date they
were reported as missing, as far as the United States government and laws
of the United States were concerned, these men were legally dead.
Other than a small number of U.S. government officials with access to the
intelligence about these men in Soviet concentration camps and prisons,
these men were legally, and otherwise generally considered, to be no longer
One such intelligence document dated November 20, 1930 cites an affidavit
taken by the U.S. Justice Department of Alexander Grube, a
Latvian-American, who was identified as a "Russian seaman." He had been
imprisoned in the Soviet gulag, including in the infamous Lubianka Prison,
where he states he saw four American Army officers and 15 American
soldiers, and was then transferred to Solovetz Island Prison where he met
"many" American soldiers and civilians. Grube further warned the U.S.
government that any inquiry made to Soviet officials of specific individuals
will result in their immediate execution.
This episode in the history of World War I illustrates succinctly the major
problems which still affect attempts to account for and ensure the
repatriation of U.S. military personnel captured by Communist regimes in the
aftermath of World War II, the Korean War, and the Second Indo-China War
1) The bureaucratic and legal assertion by the U.S. Government that the men
who were MIA were killed in action on the date they were reported as
missing or sometime thereafter; 2) the attempts by the Communist regime to
use prisoners as barter for economic and diplomatic benefits; 3) the
dissimulation and lies
of the Communist regime about the existence and location of prisoners; 4)
the on-again, off-again return of remains; and 5) where there is no clear
military victory over the Communist enemy, the vulnerability of U.S.
POW/MIAs who are at the mercy of the reluctance of the enemy and U.S.
government to pursue a clear, open policy for their repatriation.
THE AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE AND THE EASTERN FRONT
During World War I (1914-1918), military personnel captured by Germany and the
Central Powers on the Western Front were returned home when the U.S.,
British, or Western European allies liberated the POW camps, or after the
capitulation of Germany and its allies in November, 1918.
An accurate, detailed accounting of these POWs in Europe was possible
because the United States, as a member of the Allied Force, was the victor.
Victory afforded American officials complete access to the German records
of American POWs and the territory in which they were imprisoned. However,
Russian prisoners who were still held in Central Powers prison camps
presented a problem for the Allies after their victory.
At the beginning of the war, Russian forces fought with the Allies. But
after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks withdrew Russian
troops from the fighting after signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the
Central Powers in March, 1918. Some of the Russians held in German camps
had Bolshevik sympathies, while others did too. The Allies hoped to sort
out the Bolshevik soldiers, and recruit the anti-Bolsheviks to fight
against the new regime in Russia.
According to a War Department cable:
However, once defeated, the Germans could no longer manage the camps, and
attempted to turn the Russian POWs loose, letting them head east for the
Russian border. But the Allied Commissioners were still afraid of turning
them loose for fear that the Russians would join the Red Army, and in
February, 1919 the Allies took control of these German camps. France,
in particular, did not want any liberated Russian POWs from Germany "to go
into the interior of France, possibly on account of the Bolshevist[sic]
danger." In fact,
when the Germans released the Russian prisoners of war, 50,000 of them
found their way to France. They expected a warm welcome from their former
allies; they were interned without delay.
The Allies also were apparently concerned about American, British, and French
POW/MIAs who might still be held prisoner as a result of combat with the
Bolshevik Red Army in northern Russia, and may have wanted the Russian
prisoners for bargaining leverage.
After Brest-Litovsk took the Bolshevik forces out of the war, German and
Austro-Hungarian forces were free to move into the Ukraine and Baltic
states. The German action was perceived by Allied forces as a threat to
the northern Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel, where tons of Allied
war material were still stored. Further, the U.S. government wanted to
provide for the safe evacuation of Czechoslovak forces who had been
fighting with Russia against the Central Powers.
The group of soldiers numbered over 5,000 volunteers and draftees, mostly from
Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The troops were placed under British
command, and, in violation of their stated mission, were used in combat
operations in support of the British and French plans to secure that part of
Russia from the Germans and the Red Army.
A report from Colonel J.A. Ruggles, the U.S. military attaché in Archangel,
dated November 25, 1918, lists casualties divided into categories such as
Killed In Action (KIA), Missing In Action (MIA), etc.
These were causalities from the 339th U.S. Infantry Regiment which had been
sent to Archangel in the late summer and early fall of 1918 to serve under
British command. During the winter of 1918, after a series of poorly
planned and executed Allied military operations, the Red Army finally
prevailed on the field over the heavily outnumbered Allied forces. There
were a few spring and early summer victories for the Allies, but in the
summer of 1919 Allied forces began to withdraw from Archangel. The 339th
Regiment returned to the United States via Europe in the summer of 1919.
By the spring of 1920, all U.S. and allied troops were out of Soviet
territory. During their withdrawal, British forces seized a number of
Russian Bolsheviks as hostages to trade for British POWs and MIAs who were
still held by the Bolsheviks, and made room for about 5,000 White Russian
emigrants who wanted to leave their homeland before the Red Army overran
"HUNDREDS WERE MISSING FROM OUR RANKS"
It is difficult to accept the official U.S. accounting of U.S. casualties
of the 1918-1919 Northern Russian Expedition, particularly because all men
who were MIA were officially determined to be KIA-BNR on the date they were
reported as missing. According to several accounts, several hundred U.S.,
French, and British soldiers were left unaccounted for during the fighting
in Northern Russia. Indeed, the official history of the Expedition states
that there were "hundreds missing from our ranks." However, official
cables from the U.S. military attaché at Archangel cited approximately 70
MIAs, excluding French and British missing personnel.
Negotiations with the Bolsheviks for the repatriation of the missing
failed. Col. Ruggles stated:
Negotiations for the exchange of prisoners have been terminated by orders from General Pershing, after having been delayed, although under discussion from both sides, through failure of the Bolshevik commander to obtain authority from Moscow.
In fact, the Bolsheviks wanted diplomatic recognition in return for the
release of Allied POWs; at the suggestion of the U.S. Secretary of State,
the U.S. Secretary of War reminded the U.S. Attaché at Archangel of this
fact in a May 12,1919 letter: "the United States has not recognized the
Bolshevik regime as a government either de facto or de jure." The
negotiations never resumed. Throughout the summer and fall of 1919, 3,315
replacements were sent to Siberia to rotate out many of the original U.S.
The 1919 and 1921 reports of the Secretary of War records the causalities
for the Archangel fighting and the Siberian expedition as follows:
Killed in Action........................................137 (including 28 presumed killed)
Died of wounds....................................... 43
Died of disease........................................122
Died of accidental causes.......................... 46
The totals listed above from the combined 1919 and 1921 official annual
reports of the Secretary of War conceal the fact that out of the 144 combat
deaths of American soldiers officially reported in 1919 in Northern Russia,
127 of those deaths, or 88% of those official combat death figures were
made up of some 70 MIAs declared dead, and another 57 soldiers who were
This fact was left out of the official Secretary of War report on U.S.
casualty figures from combat in Northern Russia. The vast majority of
these missing men never received a proper accounting. Further, the
practice of the Secretary of War of lumping the MIA and the KIA-BNR figures
together as those killed in action necessarily calls into question the
general credibility of these official figures. One historian makes note
that ten U.S. POWs from the Archangel Expedition were repatriated through
Finland and Sweden.
In fact, there is evidence that some of these men were actually held in
prisons and concentration camps in Russia by the Communists. A November
12, 1930 memorandum which detailed an affidavit taken by the U.S. Justice
Department from a "Russian seaman" stated:
An internal U.S. government letter which evaluates the information provided
by the Russian seaman states:
I also found another case which may possibly be involved, it is of Lindsay
Retherford, up in my mind because of the mention by the Russian sailor of
Alfred Lindsay. Lindsay Retherford was reported missing and a similar
determination [KIA-NBR] was made in his case." 
"THE SOVIET GOVERNMENT IS HOLDING AMERICANS"
Three years later, in 1933, the United States recognized the Bolshevik
government. In 1934, 19 sets of remains were reported as "identified" by
the U.S. Graves Registration. In the separate 1929 VFW/Graves Expedition 86
remains of the 127 missing or KIA-BNR from battles fought by the American
Expeditionary Force of Archangel were claimed to have been identified.
This left 41 unaccounted for from the Archangel post. Further, that of the
86 remains "identified," it is likely that a number of these
"identifications" stretched the capacity of forensic science at that time.
Refugees from Russia fleeing into Europe during the late 1920s continued to
report that a number of Americans were still being held by the Soviet
government in forced labor camps. It is noteworthy that some of the U.S.
troops sent to Archangel were themselves U.S. immigrants from Eastern
Europe, or the sons of U.S. immigrants from Eastern Europe who had been
drafted into the American Army. It has been speculated that the Soviet
kept them because of their national origins, or the national origins of
The U.S. Government did not publicly admit that U.S. military personnel
remained in the custody of the Red Army in Russia upon the return of the
American Expeditionary Force in Russia. However, on April 18, 1921, the
New York Times reported:
Three months later, President Harding responded to an appeal from Moscow
for "bread and medicine" for the "children and the sick." He instructed a
member of his staff, Herbert Hoover, to cable a reply to Moscow that the
American Relief Administration would undertake relief for one million
Russian children and provide some medical supplies for their hospitals -
but subject to certain conditions.
August 20, 1921, a formal agreement between the Soviet Union and the United
States, the "Riga Agreement," was concluded. Among the conditions for U.S.
aid to the Soviets was the following:
The United States government expected the repatriation of approximately 20
citizens, but, in fact, more than 100 Americans were repatriated as a
result of this agreement. As Herbert wrote in his autobiography:
Even so, reports continued to be received by the Department of State that more
Americans were still held, and the actual number of more than one hundred
released - gave the U.S. Government its first taste of negotiating for
Americans held against their will by Communists.
 Memorandum "To Acting Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, Subject: Alleged
confinement of American Officers and Soldiers in Russian prisons," November
 "Captives' Release Repeatedly Sought," The New York Times, April 18, 1921.
 Herbert Hoover, Herbert Hoover, An American Epic, Volume III, the Hoover
Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company,
1961), pp. 427-433.
 War Department cable No. 1272, Military Intelligence, Subject: RUSSIAN
PRISONERS ARRIVING IN FRANCE FROM GERMANY, December 17, 1918.
 See report of the YMCA, Service with Fighting Men, William Howard Taft,
et al, eds. Associated Press, N.Y. 1922, pp.320- 322. "It was exceedingly
difficult for these Allied authorities to decide just what should be done
with these men. There were a menace to Germany as they were; if they were
returned to Russia, they might join the Red forces."
 War Department cable No. 1272, December 17, 1918.
 Service With Fighting Men, pp. 320-322.
 See telegram to the War Department, Military Intelligence Branch, No.
2045-221, November 26, 1919.
 Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin, George Kennan, (Boston:
Little and Brown and Company, 1960).
 The Cheka was the all-Russian Extraordinary Commission to Combat
Counterrevolution and Sabotage, the Bolshevik's secret police; it was the
forerunner of the GPU, the State Political Directorate, which in turn
preceded the NKVD, the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, which
became the KGB, the Committee for State
 Two Company I officers, 1st Lieutenants Dwight Fistler and Albert May,
met with Bolshevik officers in an attempt to secure the release of captured
Allied servicemen. They recorded the meeting: "We had 500 Russian
prisoners. They had seven of ours. We were worried about hundreds of
missing from our ranks and arranged a truce to effect an exchange....
Negotiation was difficult. Interpreters were not very efficient. But the
Reds learned what we were up for, and haggled. The end was, they traded
us two of the seven Americans for the 500 Russian soldiers, and we had to
toss in a round of cigarettes to seal the bargain. We never did learn what
had become of the missing."
 Telegram No. 221, "To Military Intelligence, From: Archangel, U.S. War
Department," April 14, 1919.
 See a May 12, 1919 letter to the Acting Secretary of State, Frank L.
Polk, from the U.S. Secretary of War: "I have the honor to acknowledge
receipt of your letter ("NE-M"), dated April 28, 1919, regarding the
negotiations with the Bolshevik government in Russia for the exchange of
Allied prisoners, referring to in cablegram No. 230 from the Military
Attaché, Archangel, Russia. In accordance with your suggestion, a
cablegram was sent to the Military Attaché on May 1, reminding him that the
United States has not recognized the Bolshevik regime as a government either
de facto or de jure."
 Annual Report of the Secretary of War, 1919, Office of the Chief
Military History, Washington. p. 25.
 Telegram No. 2045-297 "To : Military Intelligence, From: Archangel,"
February 4, 1919.
 Annual Report of the Secretary of War, 1919, p.74.
 War Department Memorandum, "To: Acting Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2,
Subject Alleged confinement of American Officers and Soldiers in Russian
prisons," November 12, 1930.
 See U.S. government letter, "To: Mr. Huckleberry evaluating the
affidavit taken by the U.S. Justice Department," November 8, 1930.
 See Benjamin D. Rhodes, The Anglo-American Winter War with Russia,
 "Captive Release Repeatedly Sought," The New York Times, April 18, 1921.
 Herbert Hoover, p. 428.
 ibid. p.433.
 ibid. p.433.
- Memorandum "To Acting Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, Subject: Alleged confinement of American Officers and Soldiers in Russian prisons," November 12, 1930.
- "Captives' Release Repeatedly Sought," The New York Times, April 18, 1921.
- Herbert Hoover, Herbert Hoover, An American Epic, Volume III, the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1961), pp. 427-433.
- War Department cable No. 1272, Military Intelligence, Subject: RUSSIAN PRISONERS ARRIVING IN FRANCE FROM GERMANY, December 17, 1918.
- See report of the YMCA, Service with Fighting Men, William Howard Taft, et al, eds. Associated Press, N.Y. 1922, pp.320- 322. "It was exceedingly difficult for these Allied authorities to decide just what should be done with these men. There were a menace to Germany as they were; if they were returned to Russia, they might join the Red forces."
- War Department cable No. 1272, December 17, 1918.
- Service With Fighting Men, pp. 320-322.
- See telegram to the War Department, Military Intelligence Branch, No. 2045-221, November 26, 1919.
- Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin, George Kennan, (Boston: Little and Brown and Company, 1960).
- The Cheka was the all-Russian Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counterrevolution and Sabotage, the Bolshevik's secret police; it was the forerunner of the GPU, the State Political Directorate, which in turn preceded the NKVD, the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, which became the KGB, the Committee for State Security.