During World War I, a contingent of approximately 45,000 Czech soldiers defected from the Austrian Army to fight with the Russians to aid in their liberation and creation of an independent Czech nation. When the Russian Revolution began in 1917 these troops became trapped in a country becoming increasingly hostile to their presence. With the German-Austrian army between them and home, their only choice was to march eastward through Siberia to the Pacific.
In the summer of 1918, the Allied High Command send an expedition force comprising British, Canadian, French, Japanese and American troops to Vladivostok to secure the eastern portion of Russia and the Trans-Siberian railroad to facilitate the evacuation of the Czech Legion. Other objectives were to bolster the Pro-Monarchist White Russian Army fighting the Red Bolsheviks and to set up a separate Siberian nation. This eventually failed with the defeat of the White Army. The estimated number of forces sent may have numbered as high as 80,000 Allied personnel.
Mail service to any forces in combat zones was a challenge. This was no different for the Americans in Siberia. Letters to and from soldiers were censored, and addresses to Siberia were ambiguous to preserve secrecy in troop location and movement. Correspondence to soldiers would be addressed simply to “A.E.F. Siberia”. Sent first to San Francisco, the mail was shipped to Vladivostok in troop transports. There, a base post office would direct the mail to the American troops in their specific locations. Once in Siberia, regular schedules were amazingly maintained despite severe weather conditions with temperatures dropping to 35 below zero in Vladivostok to 65 below in the interior. The total time it took for a letter or package to reach an American soldier was approximately two months.
Although the Armistice was signed November 11, 1918 and final peace in 1919, the mission in Siberia lasted well beyond that. The first American troops did not begin departing until February 1920 and lasting through June 1920. The Base Post Office was still operating through the evacuation finally closing and leaving with the last American transport ship in mid April, 1920. The evacuation of the Czech Legion was also completed in 1920 having fought their way 7,000 miles in extreme conditions. The last of the expedition forces to depart was in June 1920 with the exception of the Japanese Contingent which evacuated in October 1922.
Images from National Postal Museum Library files.