Buried History – the remarkable forgotten story of Russian troops on the WESTERN Front in WW1
“Russians with snow on their boots” marching to war alongside British and French troops in the killing fields of France in World War One. The bit about the snow was of course not true, but the soldiers themselves were very real. This is their forgotten history!
Very few people in the West really appreciate the enormous part played in the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Russian armed forces – despite the fact that they accounted for around 90% of all German losses in the entire Second World War. But even fewer know of the sacrifice of thousands of brave Russian soldiers on the Western Front in the FIRST World War.
The suffering and sacrifice of Russian soldiers deserves to be remembered in the same vein as the misery, mutilation and death of millions of those of the many other nations involved.
This remarkable piece of history has been buried, however. First, Soviet historians didn’t want the truth about the courage of the Tsar’s army known. More recently, the fanatical hatred that Western liberals have for Christian Russia means that they too want these events and heroism forgotten.
As observed by Britain’s Imperial War Museum, “Britain’s policy was to maintain a balance of power in Europe. Germany’s growing strength and manifest pursuit of ‘world power’ status persuaded Britain to align with its traditional rivals: France in 1904 and Russia in 1907. This connected Britain, France and Russia in the ‘Triple Entente’…” and led to a request by France in 1915 for Russia to send troops to fight alongside the French on the Western Front.
By that time, Russia had suffered several serious reverses on its own borders and, as recorded by Professor Paul Dukes of Aberdeen University, “The Eastern Front in the First World War commands far less attention than the Western, even though it extended further, involved more soldiers and probably resulted in more losses. It saw four empires destroyed: Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany and Turkey. Russia lost at least as many men as any other combatant, yet its contribution has often been neglected, no doubt because Russia has often been considered apart from Europe, especially after the Revolution of 1917.”
In 1916 Russia established four special brigades of which numbers 2 and 4 were sent to Macedonia and 1 and 3 to France. 1st Brigade was formed in January 2016 with a strength of 8,942 men and, commanded by General Nikolai Aleksandrovich Lokhvitsky, left Russia on February 3 and arrived in Marseille on April 16. 3rd Brigade was formed in Yekaterinburg under command of General Fyodor Fyodorovich Palitzin and arrived in France in September 1916 to complete the Russian Expeditionary Force of some 20,000 men, of whom over 5,000 were killed in action.
The Russian cemetery and memorial at Saint Hilaire le Grand. 915 soldiers are buried there and the chapel is dedicated to all Russian soldiers who died in France in the First World WarBoth formations fought well, but being under direct command of the French Army they were committed to the Nivelle offensive of April-May 1917, which was a disaster.
As summarised by one analyst, “The huge offensive, involving 1.2 million men, was the plan of Robert Nivelle, Commander-in-Chief of the French Army. By the time the Offensive was over, tens of thousands of Allied troops had been killed or wounded; the French Army had been pushed to mutiny in over half its divisions and Nivelle had been sacked.” The Russian brigades captured the town of Courcy and successfully defended it against German counter-attacks for three days but lost 700 soldiers killed and 3,000 wounded in what was the last operation the Expeditionary Force conducted as a formed body of troops.
The overthrow of the Tsar and the Revolution complicated affairs, and understandably there were violent disagreements among soldiers of the Expeditionary Force concerning their loyalties. The Force as such had to be disbanded, but the French government subsequently arranged formation of a Russian Legion of volunteers from the original contingents, and it served with great distinction as a brigade of the Moroccan Division, notably at the defence of Aisne in May 1918, against the German Spring Offensive, and the battle of Soissons in July.
Some Russians returned home after the war, but many stayed in France, which now has several memorials to those who served and died.
The Memorial in Paris to the Russian Expeditionary Force was sculpted by Vladimir Surovtsev and inaugurated on 21 June 2011 by President Putin and Prime Minister Francois Fillon. It is on the bank of the Seine, near the Grand Palais.
Originally posted at: Russia Insider