Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Russian Expeditionary Force in France

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Russian Expeditionary Force Memorial, 8th Arrondissement, Paris

Why is there a Russian World War I monument (pictured above) near the banks of the River Seine in Paris? One of the unknown epic and tragic stories of the Great War is that of the Russian Expeditionary Force (REF) which fought on the Western Front under French command. In something of a Faustian bargain engineered by French diplomats an politicians, Tsar Nicholas was convinced to send two brigades of troops to France plus two more to the Salonika Front in return for shells and guns that the halting Russian economy was unable to produce on its own. The troops were greeted with adulation upon their arrival in France, then progressively abused, radicalized, exiled from the battlefield, turned against one another to suppress mutineers, broken up, partly repatriated, partly send back into combat, partly stuck in France permanently, and partly vanished. It is a remarkable story.

As it turns out, the Russian troops in France were all deployed to the Champagne. They manned besieged Fort Pompelle near Reims and participated in the Nivelle Offensive of 1917. There are many traces of their service there that visitors can find. The most interesting is the complex in the bottom photo between Mourmelon-le-Grand and St. Hilaire-le-Grand, just south of their main quarters at Camp Mailly.

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Images of the Russian Forces in France

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Russian Memorial, Cemetery, and Chapel in the Champagne

We featured the Russian Expeditionary Force in the January 2010 issue of our subscription magazine, OVER THE TOP. All of our 80-plus past issues are available for downloading, as well as annual compilations on CDs, and, of course, a 2013 subscription can be purchased.

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  1. In addition to the interesting story of the Russian expeditionary force in France, there were others, including an Italian Corps of two divisions and a four division Austro-Hungarian Corps, both in the line east of Paris in 1918. I would like to know more about these formations.

  2. I saw the graves of several Russians in a small graveyard just outside of Etain.