The Polar Bear Expedition: The Heroes of America's Forgotten Invasion of Russia, 1918–1919

Morrow. Feb. 2019. 320p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780062852779. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062852793. HIST
In 1918, the U.S. 339th Regiment was deployed to Murmansk, Russia, as part of the Allied intervention in the Russian civil war, in order to fight the Soviet Red Army and assist anti-Bolshevik forces. With this latest work, historian Nelson (I Will Hold: The Story of USMC Legend Clifton B. Cates, from Belleau Wood to Victory in the Great War) avoids a narrow focus on the minutiae of warfare, employing descriptions of the logistical nightmares that came along with a campaign near the Arctic Circle as well as the political entanglements the U.S. forces experienced. Interestingly, it was upon their return to the United States that the 5,000-team unit adopted the moniker the Polar Bears; unfortunately, nearly 200 died owing to harsh weather conditions before their withdrawal. While Nelson mined memoirs written by the Polar Bears, the bibliography is rather sparse on the most recent historiography of the war.
VERDICT Nelson adeptly integrates the individual experiences of the regiment with the wider events of the expedition, though sometimes the narrative is overdramatized. Still, this largely overlooked event will interest readers of military history.
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