The Czechoslovak Legion: A History of Czech Troops in WWI, Part III

Cobblestones outside the Bank of the Czechoslovak Legions in Prague (Na Poříčí 24) via Wikimedia / Jose Mesa
Cobblestones outside the Bank of the Czechoslovak Legions in Prague (Na Poříčí 24) via Wikimedia / Jose Mesa

Note: click here for the first part of this series

PARTNER CONTENT

The Czechoslovak Legion had become well and truly soured on the idea of getting anything worthwhile from the Bolsheviks, those same people who had wanted to confiscate all their weapons and prevent them from reaching Vladivostok. The troops forged alliances with various White Russian groups, helping them to gain several important victories against the Bolsheviks. The Legion, of course, provided enormous help by gaining control of the Trans-Siberian Railway and placing Vladivostok under Allied control.

The Legion fought with the People’s Army of Komuch, helping it to seize control of the city of Kazan, in western Russia. Another major victory involved the capture of a gold reserve; both of these victories occurred in August 1918. The Legion also helped White groups to stand behind the All-Russian Provisional Government. Unfortunately for Russia, the Red Army gained in strength, and the Czechs and Slovaks who had provided so much help began to lose their enthusiasm for fighting on behalf of the Whites. They were fighting virtually alone, since they had even more trouble than before in gaining recruits from prisoner of war camps. Furthermore, no Allied troops were joining them on the front lines.

On October 28, 1918, the creation of a separate Czechoslovak state was made official in Prague. Having reached their goal, the Czechoslovak troops wanted only to return to a home that really was, now, a home for them. World War I was near an end, but the Russian Revolution was dragging on and on.

On November 18, 1918, with World War I now officially at an end, the All-Russian Provisional Government was overthrown in a British-backed coup in Omsk, which established a dictatorship under a White leader, Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak. The Legion helped to put down attempts to remove Kolchak, including the executions of at least 500 people. During that winter, troops guarded the Trans-Siberian Railway from attacks by partisan groups, keeping Kolchak’s supply lines open throughout the year 1919. On November 14 of that year, the Red Army took Omsk, and the Whites fled to the east. The Czechoslovak Legion, now heartily sick of supporting a cause that could not help them in any way, declared neutrality.

Kolchak had also left Omsk, along with the gold from the reserve seized in 1918, and the legionnaires were ordered by Allied representatives to escort him to Vladivostok. The admiral’s bodyguards had abandoned him, and after some deliberation, the legionnaires decided to turn Kolchak over to the Political Center in Irkutsk, which consisted of moderate socialists. On February 7, 1920, the Czechoslovak Legion agreed not to attempt to rescue Kolchak, and not to attempt to take any of the gold, in exchange for free passage to Vladivostok. Kolchak was executed by firing squad that same day.

Czechoslovak troops were finally going home. The last Czechoslovak train traveled east through Irkutsk on March 1, 1920. In September 1920, the last troops left Vladivostok on the long voyage home. Several legionnaires went on to join the new Czechoslovak army back home.

Statues paying tribute to the Czechoslovak Legion are, of course, everywhere in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia. France’s Père Lachaise Cemetery also has a large memorial, in honor of the Czechs and Slovaks who fought with the French army during World War I. These troops joined in 1914 and fought through to the end of the war.

Erin Naillon

Erin Naillon

I am an American living and working in Prague. I freelance in various areas, including photography/film, voice work, and, of course, writing.
Erin Naillon
About Erin Naillon 290 Articles
I am an American living and working in Prague. I freelance in various areas, including photography/film, voice work, and, of course, writing.