WITH SNOW ON THEIR BOOTS: The Tragic Odyssey of the Russian Expeditionary Force in France During World War I by Jamie H. Cockfield

WITH SNOW ON THEIR BOOTS: The Tragic Odyssey of the Russian Expeditionary Force in France During World War I

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A little-known story, largely overlooked by historians, about the fate of two brigades of Russian soldiers sent to fight on the western front in 1916. Cockfield (Russian History/Mercer Univ.) has done prodigious research. Russia's military production capacities were notoriously limited. The French army, having taken staggering casualties during the first two years of the war, offered Russia, with its seemingly vast manpower resources, an attractive exchange: If Russia sent troops west, France would send munitions east (cynics referred to the deal as ""flesh for shells""). The French hoped for 400,000 replacements; they eventually received 50,000. The Russians found life in France, despite the horrors of battle, rather liberating. Russian troops, drawn largely from the peasant class, were used to brutal treatment by their officers, inadequate rations, and no freedom. By contrast, the Allied troops, even in wartime, seemed remarkably well fed and vocal, Still, mutinies among war-weary French veterans spread to Russian troops, drunk with the Bolshevik promise of freedom. And as revolution engulfed Russia, the troops on the western front found themselves in a microcosm of the civil war going on back home between the ""Reds"" and the ""Whites."" The troops began to sort themselves into opposing, violent camps. Eventually the ""Whites"" prevailed and, reorganized as the Russian Legion of Honor, went on to fight the Germans on the western front with vigor and determination. Cockfield carries his narrative beyond the war, tracing the varying fates of the Russian veterans. Some eventually chose repatriation to Russia. Others swelled the Russian Æ’migrÆ’ community in France. Cockfield's book, even though it sometimes stresses facts over analysis and narrative over conclusions, fills a void in the history of the Great War. A sad and generally engrossing study.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1998
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: St. Martin's