The Alleged Mutiny of Company I, 339th Infantry

On or about 30 March 1919 in Archangel, Russia, an incident occurred involving the Captain and men of Company I that would become blown all out of proportion and eventually find its way into Michigan and Wisconsin newspapers.

Here is a copy of the report issued on 25 June 1920 by Major H.N. Scales (the former Adjutant & Inspector assigned to the American North Russian Expeditionary Forces) regarding his May 1919 investigation of this incident.

Source: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD, Record Group 120, 85th Division records, Stack Area 290, Row 1, Compartment 27, Shelf 3, Boxes 2 and 3.

 

Transcript of the above document:

Washington, D.C., June 25, 1920

From: Major H.N. Scales, Former Adjutant & Inspector, American Forces in North Russia
To: Colonel W.P. Richardson, Former C.G., American Forces in North Russia
Subject: Alleged Mutiny of Company I, 339th Infantry

1. Pursuant to your request, the following are the facts from memory, as to investigation made by me relative to the alleged mutiny of Company I, 339th Infantry, at Archangel, Russia, in the Spring of 1919:

2. Company I, 339th Infantry, was in rest area at Smallney Barracks, on the outskirts of Archangel, Russia, when orders were received to go to the Railroad front and relieve another company. The following morning, the First Sergeant ordered the Company to turn out and load the sleds. He reported to the Captain that the men did not respond as directed. The Captain then went out to the barracks and demanded of the men standing around the stove, "Who refuses to turn out and load the sleds?" No reply from the men. Then Captain then asked the trumpeter, who was standing nearby, if he refused to turn out and load the sleds and the trumpeter replied that he was ready if the balance were, but that he was not going out and load packs of others on the sleds by himself, or words to that effect. The Captain then went to the 'Phone and reported the trouble as "mutiny" to Colonel Stewart, the Commanding Officer, American Forces in North Russia. Colonel Stewart directed him to have the men assemble in YMCA hut and he would be out at once and talk to them. The Colonel arrived and read the Article of War as to mutiny and talked to the men a few minutes. He then said he was ready to answer any questions the men cared to ask. Some one wanted to know "What are we here for and what are the intentions of the U.S. Government". The Colonel answered this as well as he could. He then asked if there was anyone of the Company who would not obey the order to load the sleds; if so, step up to the front. No one moved. The Colonel then directed the men to load the sleds without delay, which was done.

3. (a) It seems that a day or two before orders were received to move to the front, mail had been received from the United States by various members of I Company, in which there were newspaper clippings from Detroit, Michigan, of an alleged speech made by a Senator in U.S. Senate, demanding information from the Government as to why the 339th Infantry was being kept in Russia, suffering hardships from freezing and hunger, and being murdered by Bolsheviki, after Armistice had been signed. In addition to this, comments along the same line by the editor of the Detroit paper which was the home town or area of practically every man in the 339th Infantry.

- 2 -

(b) The testimony showed that the Captain commanding Company I, 339th Infantry, did not order his Company formed nor did he ever give a direct order for the sleds to be loaded. He did not report this trouble to the Commanding Officer (a field officer) of Smallney Barracks, but hastened to 'phone his troubles to the Commanding Officer, American Forces in North Russia. The Captain was alleged to be a socialist and closely allied with Victor Berger before declaration of war. He impressed me as being rather weak and totally unfitted for duties of Company Commander, yet his tours of duty at the front were considered satisfactory by his Commanding Officer.

(c) As I remember, the testimony of the First Sergeant was not available at that time.

(d) This Company was at the front in May when the investigation was made and the services of all concerned was considered satisfactory by the Battalion Commander.

(e) I might mention that there was an American Newspaper Correspondent located in Archangel and news was rather scarce from Amreican standpoint and a "thriller" would put Archangel on map and that the press report must pass through British Censor which should have been stopped. Further, both British and French each had some 3 or 4 similar troubles or "mutinies" of a worse type, but not one word of it ever "got by" the British censor of wires.

4. My conclusions were that from such evidence as could be obtained, the alleged mutiny was nothing as serious as had been reported, but was of such a nature as could have been handled by a Company Officer of force.

5. My recommendation to the Commanding General of American Forces in North Russia were that this matter be dropped and considered closed, in which the Commanding General concurred, as you will doubtlessly remember.

H.N. SCALES
Major, A.G.D.

 

This report mentions other similar "troubles" that occurred with British and French units and that word of them never got past the British censor as did the Company I incident.

According to a different report 1, one of those incidents occurred on or about 01 Feb 1919 when a British unit refused an order to load up and move out. Another incident involved 113 French soldiers in Archangel who refused an order on or about 01 March 1919 to load up and proceed to Verst 455 on the Vologda Railroad front. They were promptly arrested and returned to France for trial.

The book "Quartered in Hell" 2 describes an incident which began on 04 March 1919 in Toulgas, when one Private and three non-commissioned officers of Company B, 339th Inf. drew up and delivered a petition that listed their grievances and threatened a mutiny unless they were addressed by their officers before March 15th. On March 8th, one of the company sergeants broke up their planning and placed the four under house arrest. On the 13th, a court-martial was convened by six staff officers who had arrived from Archangel. The Private was called in first and read the Articles of War and the charges of mutiny, treason and desertion. He responded by tearing his clothes wide apart and shouting, "Look at the lice, the dirt, the filth. We are half starved. But none of you have lice or go hungry" [according to some accounts, an estimated one-third of their daily rations were being pilfered during transport from Archangel to Toulgas - Mike Grobbel]. The courtroom was deathly quiet for a long minute before the head officer rose and said, "Private, if you promise us you'll use your influence to keep down any further trouble, we shall leave Toulgas in less than ten days". The Private agreed and was excused. The others were each called into the courtroom and when they were also excused, the topic was never discussed again.

1 "Mutinies Report", National Archives Microfilm M924, Roll 2, section 23-36.1

2 "Quartered in Hell: The Story of the American North Russian Expeditionary Force 1918-1919", by Dennis Gordon, pp. 216, 223-224.

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