REPATRIATION

Submitted by starosta on Tue, 12/04/2018 - 01:35
Autor prispevku

With the end of the war on November 11, 1918, the Legion thought they were homeward bound but, again, due to the unsettled state of the Russian government, the Allies requested that they maintain order over the Trans-Siberian railway and protect, among other things, British mining interests. Feeling obligated due to the previous support they had received from Russia and the Allies, and in anticipation of future considerations in the forthcoming Peace Conference, they found themselves returning westward over previous battlegrounds. In the meantime the Red Army was gaining in strength and numbers and winning back some of the key positions. After years of constant battle some of the Legionnaires refused to continue fighting in a war they had no part of. Some laid down their arms and set out on foot to return home, a voyage that took up to two years for those lucky enough to escape immediate execution by the Reds. Admiral Kolchak had become a ruthless dictator and the Bolsheviks wanted revenge as well as the Russian Treasury which he and his Czecho-Slovak protectors still controlled. Finally an agreement was made between General Janin and the Bolsheviks whereby the Legion would be allowed to leave Russia but not with the Gold or the Admiral who was turned over to the local government. He was tried and executed, tarnishing the images of both General Janin and the Legion. Rumours persist that not all of the gold was turned over and some became part of the Czechoslovak Treasury.


The original repatriation plan was that in recognition of the service and sacrifices made by the Legion, the Allies would ship 72,000 troops, splitting then evenly between Canadian and American Pacific Ocean ports, then overland by rail and across the Atlantic home. However, the discussions of logistics were taking too long and no ships were waiting in Vladivostok.


Impatient with the Allies, who were slow to provide ships for the evacuation, the Czechoslovak government chartered foreign vessels from Japan, China, Russia and other countries. Wounded soldiers were first to leave Vladivostok on January 15, 1919, when the Roma sailed for Naples with 139 passengers arriving on March 3. The Madras followed on February 12, with 415 wounded soldiers. Seven ships sailed via Japan, Singapore, the Philippines, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean to bring an additional 7,497 evacuees to Trieste, Italy. Another six ships with 5,090 Legionnaires took the American route, some sailing directly through the Panama Canal via Cuba and Gibraltar to Marseille. Others docked in San Diego and San Francisco where the evacuees travelled overland by train to New York and Norfolk before shipping out again for Europe, delivering 3,027 to Brest and the remainder to Marseille, France. The Nanking docked in San Diego on July 4, 1919 where the troops witnessed their first Fourth of July celebrations before going to Washington, DC to meet President Woodrow Wilson, who thanked them for their war effort on behalf of the Allies. A total of 13,141 members of the Czech Legion were evacuated in 1919 but this still left almost 60,000 waiting for help in Vladivostok.


The Czechoslovak government even spent forty million crowns to purchase the Japanese ship, Tajkaj Maru. Due to the instability of the Czech Crown at the time this was probably less than $1 million U.S. They renamed it the Legion, making it the first ship in the navy of this land-locked country. It was later sold to a Greek ship owner and renamed the Lily, before it was torpedoed by a German submarine on March 9, 1942 and sent to a watery grave.

France, who had funded most of the operating costs in Russia, including providing new uniforms for all for the trip home, declared that their responsibilities would end when the Legion left Siberia. Britain and the U.S. then agreed to share the costs to complete the repatriation with the U.S. providing twelve more ships and Britain nine. Seventeen of these carried more than 33,000 passengers to Trieste Italy with some of them making two trips.
Their various routes home are illustrated on this map:
 

The Return of the Czechoslovak Legions
From Návrat Československých Legií Kolem Světa do Vlasti (The Return of the Czechoslovak Legions Around the World to Their Homeland) (Praha, Památník odboje, 1921)

 

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