“The pages of history recall scarcely any parallel episode at once so romantic in character and so extensive in scale.” Winston S. Churchill
In 1917, two empires that had dominated much of Europe and Asia teetered on the edge of the abyss, exhausted by the ruinous cost in blood and treasure of the First World War. As Imperial Russia and Habsburg-ruled Austria-Hungary began to succumb, a small group of Czech and Slovak combat veterans stranded in Siberia saw an opportunity to realize their long-held dream of independence.
While their plan was audacious and complex, and involved moving their 50,000-strong army by land and sea across three-quarters of the earth's expanse, their commitment to fight for the Allies on the Western Front riveted the attention of Allied London, Paris, and Washington.
On their journey across Siberia, a brawl erupted at a remote Trans-Siberian rail station that sparked a wholesale rebellion. The marauding Czecho-Slovak Legion seized control of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and with it Siberia. In the end, this small band of POWs and deserters, whose strength was seen by Leon Trotsky as the chief threat to Soviet rule, helped destroy the Austro-Hungarian Empire and found Czecho-Slovakia.
British prime minister David Lloyd George called their adventure “one of the greatest epics of history,” and former US president Teddy Roosevelt declared that their accomplishments were “unparalleled, so far as I know, in ancient or modern warfare.”
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About the Author
Kevin J. McNamara followed the path taken by the Czecho-Slovak Legion shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, traveling almost 2,000 miles along the Trans-Siberian Railway. He was subsequently awarded research grants by the Earhart and Tawani Foundations to acquire and translate from Czech to English first-hand accounts by the men who had served in the legion, which were published in Prague in the 1920s but were suppressed following the Nazi and Soviet conquests of Czecho-Slovakia.
A former journalist for Calkins Media Inc., and a former aide to the late U.S. Congressman R. Lawrence Coughlin, McNamara is an Associate Scholar of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, PA and a former contributing editor to its quarterly journal, Orbis: A Journal of World Affairs. He earned a B.A. in journalism and M.A. in international politics from Temple University, where he was a student of the noted military historian, Russell F. Weigley. He lives in Glenside, PA. Follow him at kevinjmcnamara.com.
Table of Contents
List of Maps ix
Introduction Losing a Great War 1
Chapter 1 Under Enemy Eyes 13
Chapter 2 Inside Enemy Lands 51
Chapter 3 Masaryk's Exile 75
Chapter 4 Russia Unravels 115
Chapter 5 The Odyssey Begins 147
Chapter 6 The Seizure of Siberia 181
Chapter 7 The Ambivalent Intervention 221
Chapter 8 The Moment of Truth 255
Chapter 9 The View From Siberia 289
Bibliographical Essay 369
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a fascinating story about events during World War I that led to the foundation of the nation of Czechoslovakia. Using primary sources and a wide range of other scholarship, the author has told the story of a legion of Czech and Slovak soldiers who were caught in the crumbling Russian empire and had to fight their way to safety, which was rescue by Allied ships in Vladivostok. Along the way, they fought off continual attacks by Bolshevik armies. Apparently, there was an effort to hide this story on the part of the Russians and others, but here it is, told in a thorough and engrossing fashion by the author. This is a must-read for European history buffs.
What a great undertaking to write this story of the Czech legion, we should be grateful. They defeated the Red Army! Lots of What-ifs arise with each chapter, like couldn't they have held Siberia for about 70 more years? Some gaps remain--I wish there were pictures in the book (you can find some online of the armored trains, for example); the author waves off religion too briskly. After reading Jenkins "The Great and Holy War" , it is puzzling why little to none of the religious misuse is explored further in McNamara's work. Not much more is said rather than who left catholicism (were there Czech soldiers who didn't leave it and why?) A few Slovak priests are mentioned, but they seem to pop up devoid of context. Pesky peasant religion. I was waiting for more details on the 6,000 Czech soldiers who were presumably left behind in Siberia--what happened to them? The Czech legion fought the Bolsheviks in Siberia, yet Czechoslovakia succumbed to them years later--why wasn't there more resistance then? The book doesn't explore this and I was hoping it would. The author can't distinguish between patriotism and nationalism (any pride of homeland is labeled nationalism), but the publisher has links to Soros, so pardon the hermenuetics of suspicion, and the author may be obligated to avoid relevant depth.