The Washtenaw Polar Bears
British and French troops were already fighting in northern Russia against the Bolsheviks, who had overthrown the government the previous fall. Pressed to join them, president Woodrow Wilson agreed to a limited mission to protect war materiel cached by the Allies in Archangel. But by the time the Americans got there, the "Reds" already had the weapons. The new arrivals, known as the American North Russia Expeditionary Force (ANREF), were placed under British command and sent to the front lines to support the anti-communist "White" Russian forces.
Within days, they were in "terrible" country, with "nothing but swamps and marshes and tall snake grass, and the Bolsheviki hide in the snake grass," Arthur Marsh wrote to his parents back home in Ann Arbor. Yet all that the public knew, even a month later, was summed up in a headline in the Daily Times News: "Ann Arbor Soldiers in North Russia." The three-sentence article concluded: "Apparently the 85th Division, after landing in England, was split up."
Battles and skirmishes continued through the fall and winter. Yet the official news from Archangel was upbeat. The DTN carried wire service stories of "Game is Plenty for our Men In Russia" and news that some "soldiers are even billeted in a building built as a hunting lodge for Tsar Nicholas but never used."