|The Czech Legion on the Trans-Siberian Railroad|
During the early months of the First World War an army of Czechs and Slovaks was formed to fight alongside the Russians against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Despite sanctioning its formation, Tsar Nicholas II deeply distrusted this "Czech Legion" and refused to allow it to fight with his troops. [Note: other units on the Western and Italian Fronts shared the name "Czech Legion" at times] The Bolsheviks, after their seizure of power, also uncomfortably viewed the Legion as a foreign army on their soil. Indeed, the Czechs were one of the only disciplined and cohesive fighting forces in Russia at the time, numbering almost 70,000. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk—which ended the war between Russia and Germany—they found themselves as an army without a war. Agreements were reached between the Czechs and Bolsheviks whereby the Legion could exit Russia via the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Legion would embark at Vladivostok for France to continue the fight for national independence.
None were to complete the trip during the war. In May, at the town of Chelyabinsk, the agreement broke down. What began as a clash between Czech echelons moving east and Austro-Hungarian prisoners-of-war being repatriated under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk moving west resulted in open warfare between the Bolsheviks and the Czechs. The Bolsheviks demanded the Czechs surrender their weapons for passage out of Russia. The Czechs quite naturally refused, and the conflict quickly spread the length of the 5000-mile-long railway, over which detachments of the Legion were strewn. After receiving news of the uprising President Wilson informed his allies that he was rethinking the possibility of sending American troops to Siberia, to help the Czech Legion escape.