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Article Summary

This article will try to explain the causes, processes, and consequences of the Czechoslovak Legion’s evacuation from Russia to Europe. It will describe how the evacuation affected the Legion, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and other countries involved. It will also highlight the legacy of the Czechoslovak Legion’s evacuation as a remarkable chapter in history.

Introduction

“At that time, directly and indirectly, our legions controlled an area more than 1.5 times larger than Europe and 220 times larger than present Czechia.”

– Vladimír Hirsch, Quora

The Czechoslovak Legion was a volunteer armed force composed mainly of Czechs and Slovaks who fought on the side of the Entente Powers during World War I. Their goal was to win the support of the Allied Powers for the independence of Czech and Slovak territories from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which then ruled over them. They fought bravely and skillfully in many battles across Europe, but their fate changed when Russia left the war after the Bolshevik Revolution. The Legion was trapped in Siberia, surrounded by enemies and chaos. They had to fight their way to Vladivostok, where they hoped to find a way back to Europe. Their epic journey lasted over two years and tested their limits of survival, loyalty, and courage.

Map of Czechoslovak Legion in Russia routes home

Historical Context

Before World War I, the nationalist aspirations of Czechs and Slovaks living under Austro-Hungarian rule gave rise to the Czechoslovak Legion. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, encompassing territories like Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Slovakia, and Carpathian Ruthenia (today’s Czechia and Slovakia), was predominantly controlled by German and Hungarian elites who suppressed the aspirations of other nationalities. Czechs and Slovaks endured political discrimination, forced assimilation, economic exploitation, and compulsory military service.

Masaryk encouraged Czechs and Slovaks residing in Russia to volunteer in the Russian army and fight against Austria-Hungary. This was done to ensure their safety and status while contributing to the liberation of their homeland.

In August 1914, the first Czech and Slovak volunteer unit, known as the Družina (Companions), was formed in Kyiv with the approval of the Russian government. Consisting of around 800 men, the Družina was swiftly followed by additional units in Moscow, Odessa, and Vladivostok. In 1916, the Russian government officially recognized the Czech and Slovak volunteers as a distinct entity within the Russian army, allowing them to form two regiments. They adopted the name Czechoslovak Legion and wore distinctive blue uniforms with a red-white-blue tricolor on their caps.

Assisted by émigré intellectuals and statesmen, the Czechoslovak Legion grew into a considerable force exceeding 100,000 soldiers. These troops engaged in battles across Russia, France, Italy, and Serbia during World War I. In Russia specifically, they achieved notable victories against the Central Powers at Rava-Ruska, Sokal, Zborov, and Bakhmach. Moreover, they played a significant role in the Russian Civil War, fiercely combating the Bolsheviks. In certain instances, they even gained control over the extensive Trans-Siberian Railway and key cities in Siberia.

Precipitated Evacuation

The situation dramatically changed following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918 between Russia and the Central Powers. On the one hand, the treaty terminated Russia’s involvement in World War I and relinquished vast territories to Germany and Austria-Hungary, mandating that all foreign troops on Russian territory be disarmed and repatriated. On the other hand, the fall of the Tsarist regime led to a period of political instability and social unrest, marked by a civil war between the Bolsheviks (communists) and various anti-Bolshevik forces comprising monarchists, liberals, socialists, and nationalists. The Czechoslovak Legion found themselves caught in the middle of this conflict, with no clear allies or enemies.

The Czechoslovak Legion were deemed foreign troops by both parties. The Central Powers insisted that the Legion be disarmed and surrendered to them as prisoners of war. The Bolsheviks acquiesced to this insistence as they perceived the Legion as a menace and a hindrance to their domination of Siberia. The Legion refused to comply with this demand as they feared that they would be executed or enslaved by their former enemies. The Legion also rejected the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk as it betrayed their national aspirations and violated their allegiance to the Entente cause to resist German occupation.

The Legion resolved to evacuate from Russia by traversing eastward along the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok, from where they were to be transported by sea and by land through China and Japan to Europe. This route was deemed safer and faster than traveling westward through German-controlled territory or southward through war-ravaged Ukraine and Romania. Yet, the extrication spanned from May 1918 to September 1920 as the Legion faced delays and interruptions due to changing political and military situations, the poor condition of the railway, and the challenging Russian climate.

Forces that Supported the Evacuation

The Czechoslovak National Council in Paris played a crucial role in supporting the evacuation of the Czechoslovak Legion from Russia by:

  • negotiating with the Allied Powers to recognize it as the provisional government of Czechoslovakia in June 2018, which gave it more legitimacy and influence;
  • issuing a declaration of independence in October 2018 that affirmed the Czechoslovak national aspirations and encouraged the Legion to continue fighting for their homeland;
  • lobbying for the Allied intervention in Siberia to rescue the Czechoslovak troops and secure the strategic Trans-Siberian Railway from Bolshevik or German control; and,
  • coordinating with the Czechoslovak National Council branch in Russia that organized and supplied the Legion while establishing diplomatic relations with local authorities.

The evacuation was endorsed by the Allied Powers, who recognized the Czechoslovak National Council as the provisional government of Czechoslovakia in June 1918, and provided diplomatic, financial, and military assistance to the Legion’s evacuation with the hope to help secure the Trans-Siberian Railway and Siberia from Bolshevik and German influence.

The evacuation was also endorsed by some anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia such as the White Army (a loose coalition of monarchists, liberals, socialists, and nationalists who fought against the Bolsheviks), who regarded the Legion as potential allies against a common enemy. The White Army also hoped to use the Legion’s presence in Siberia as a pretext for foreign intervention by the Allied Powers.

Some local populations in Siberia also welcomed the Legion as liberators from Bolshevik oppression and cooperated with them in establishing provisional governments such as the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly (Komuch) and the Siberian Regional Government. Most of those provisional governments were later defeated by the Red Army and dissolved.

Process of the Evacuation

The Czechoslovak Legion’s evacuation from Russia was long and complex, with different routes and modes of transportation. It lasted from May 1918 to September 1920, with delays and interruptions due to political and military changes. The Legion fought and revolted against Bolsheviks and other enemies, and cooperated with some friendly groups along the way. They also faced conflicts and tensions with some allies and supporters.

The following sections will describe the routes and modes of transportation used by the Legion and the events and challenges they faced.

By Sea from Vladivostok to France

Some Legion units were evacuated by sea from Vladivostok to France or other Allied countries. This was the shortest and safest route, but also the hardest to access and secure.

From Siberia to Vladivostok

The first challenge for these units was to reach Vladivostok from Siberia. They traveled eastward along the Trans-Siberian Railway, which was partly controlled by the Legion and partly contested by Bolsheviks. They fought several battles and skirmishes with Bolshevik forces along the way and dealt with sabotage, ambushes, and raids by Bolshevik agents and their sympathizers.

They also coped with the harsh weather and terrain of Siberia, which caused logistical and health problems. They repaired damaged tracks, bridges, and tunnels, cleared snow and ice from the railway, and maintained their locomotives and wagons that were heavily worn out. The units provided food, water, fuel, and medical supplies for their troops and civilians, and had to protect the trains from bandits, robbers, and deserters.

The Legion also interacted with local populations and authorities who had different attitudes and reactions toward them. Some were friendly and supportive such as the anti-Bolshevik Siberian government led by Admiral Alexander Kolchak. Some were neutral such as some local Cossacks and Mongols. Some were hostile and suspicious such as some local Bolsheviks and nationalists.

The Legion reached Vladivostok in July 1918, after two months of travel from Penza. They were welcomed by Allied representatives and local Czechoslovak communities. However, they faced new difficulties and dangers in Vladivostok.

From Vladivostok to France

The second challenge for these units was to secure ships and embark from Vladivostok to France or other Allied countries. They negotiated with Allied authorities and competed with other foreign troops or refugees for limited space and resources.

The main problem for the Legion in Vladivostok was the Japanese occupation and interference. The Japanese had their own interests and agenda in Siberia and did not trust or respect the Legion. They tried to control the Legion’s movement and activities in Vladivosto, preventing and delaying the evacuation by all means as they confiscated weapons and supplies, restricted the Legion’s access to ships and docks, and imposed strict regulations and inspections on the troops.

The Legion resisted and protested against Japanese actions and demands. They maintained their autonomy and dignity as a sovereign force while seeking support from other Allied powers such as France, who had recognized them as an official army of Czechoslovakia. They also sought support from local Russian authorities and populations who sympathized with their plight and opposed Japanese occupation.

The Legion secured some ships for evacuation by the sea with the help of French authorities and representatives and smuggled some weapons and supplies on board with the help of Russian agents and workers. However, they had to evade and overcome different obstacles and enemies on their way out of Vladivostok, most of which remain undocumented. Once at sea, they faced some Bolshevik submarine attacks and naval blockades of German ships. Storms and diseases did not spare them either.

The first ship carrying Czechoslovak troops left Vladivostok in September 1918. The last ship left in September 1920. The total number of people evacuated with the Czechoslovak Legion by sea from Vladivostok was 67,739, including 56,455 soldiers, 3,004 officers, 6,714 civilians, 1,716 wives, 717 children, and 133 priests.

By Land through China and Japan to France

Some Legion units were evacuated by land through China and Japan to France or other Allied countries. This was a longer and more adventurous route, but also more accessible and flexible.

From Siberia to China

The first challenge for the Legion units who chose this route was to reach China from Siberia. This involved traveling southward along the Trans-Siberian Railway or other routes to the Chinese border. The Legion faced similar difficulties and dangers as those who traveled eastward to Vladivostok, such as Bolshevik attacks, sabotage, weather, terrain, logistics, bandits, or local populations.

The Legion crossed the Chinese border in several places, such as Manzhouli, Kyakhta, and Chuguchak. They entered different regions of China, such as Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Gansu. They encountered different political and military situations in China, which was also in a state of turmoil and civil war. Some regions were controlled by warlords or local authorities and some regions were influenced or occupied by foreign powers such as Japan, Britain, and France. They all had their own interests and agendas.

The Legion had to negotiate or cooperate with different Chinese authorities or forces along their route. Some were friendly and supportive, such as the anti-Bolshevik government of Xu Shuzheng in Inner Mongolia, who recognized the Legion as allies and granted them passage and protection. Some were neutral such as some local warlords and tribes in Xinjiang and Gansu, who respected the Legion’s strength and discipline but did not interfere with their affairs. Some were hostile and suspicious such as some local Bolsheviks or nationalists in Xinjiang and Gansu who resented the Legion’s presence and influence in their regions.

The Legion reached various destinations in China, such as Harbin, Beijing, Tianjin, and Lanzhou. They were welcomed by Allied representatives and local Czechoslovak communities who celebrated their arrival. However, they also faced new difficulties and dangers in China.

From China to Japan

The second challenge for the Legion units who chose this route was to secure ships and embark from China to Japan. This involved negotiating with Allied authorities and competing with other foreign troops or refugees for limited space and resources.

The main problem for the Legion in China was the political and military instability of the country, which posed security and logistical risks. The country was divided and contested by various factions and forces, such as the Beiyang government (a warlord coalition that claimed to be the legitimate government of China), the Kuomintang (a nationalist party that sought to unify and modernize China), the Communist Party of China (a revolutionary party that sought to overthrow the existing order), and various regional warlords (local rulers who controlled their own territories). The country was also influenced or occupied by foreign powers such as Japan, Britain, France, or the United States who had their own interests and agendas.

The Legion had to cope with the changing and chaotic situation in China. They had to protect themselves from attacks or threats by different Chinese factions or forces. They had to deal with shortages or delays of food, water, fuel, or medical supplies. They had to adapt to different cultures or customs of different regions or peoples.
The Legion managed to secure some ships for their evacuation by sea from China to Japan with the help of Allied authorities and representatives. They also managed to smuggle some weapons and supplies on board with the help of Chinese agents and workers. They also managed to evade or overcome some obstacles and enemies on their way out of China. They faced some attacks by Chinese pirates or warships. They also faced some storms or diseases at sea.

The first ship carrying Czechoslovak troops left China in October 1918. The last ship left in October 1920. The total number of people evacuated with the Czechoslovak Legion by land through China and Japan to France was 18,073, including 14,729 soldiers, 1,078 officers, 1,516 civilians, 550 wives, 182 children, and 18 priests.

By Land through Siberia to Czechoslovakia

Some of the Legion units were evacuated by land through Siberia to Czechoslovakia. This was the longest and most arduous route, but also the most direct and patriotic.

From Siberia to Poland

While the evacuation of the Czechoslovak Legion from Russia to Europe ended in 1920 for most of the Legion units, some of them did not complete their evacuation until 1939.

The first challenge for the Legion units who chose this route was to reach Poland from Siberia. This involved traveling westward along the Trans-Siberian Railway or other routes to the Polish border. The Legion faced similar difficulties and dangers as those who traveled eastward to Vladivostok or southward to China, such as Bolshevik attacks, sabotage, weather, terrain, logistics, bandits, or local populations.

The Legion crossed the Polish border in several places such as Brest-Litovsk, Grodno, and Vilnius. They entered Poland in September 1939, when the country was invaded by Germany from the west and by the Soviet Union from the east. They encountered a desperate and chaotic situation in Poland, which was fighting for its survival and independence.

The Legion had to negotiate or cooperate with Polish authorities or forces along their route. Some were friendly and supportive, such as the Polish government in exile or the Polish underground resistance, who recognized the Legion as allies and granted them passage and protection. Some were indifferent or neutral, such as some local authorities or civilians, who respected the Legion’s strength and discipline but did not interfere with their affairs. Some were hostile or suspicious, such as some local collaborators or traitors, who resented the Legion’s presence and influence in their regions.

The Legion reached various destinations in Poland, such as Warsaw, Krakow, and Katowice. They were welcomed by Allied representatives and local Czechoslovak communities who celebrated their arrival. However, they also faced new difficulties and dangers in Poland.

From Poland to Czechoslovakia

The second challenge for the Legion units who chose this route was to secure transport and cross from Poland to Czechoslovakia. This involved negotiating with Allied authorities and competing with other foreign troops or refugees for limited space and resources.

The main problem for the Legion in Poland was the German invasion of the country, which posed security and logistical risks. The German army advanced rapidly and ruthlessly across Poland, bombing cities, towns, and villages, destroying infrastructure and communication lines, and killing or capturing soldiers and civilians. The German army also targeted Czechoslovak troops as enemies or traitors, as they considered them part of a “Bohemian-Moravian Protectorate” under German control.

The Legion had to cope with the war situation in Poland. They had to protect themselves from attacks or threats by German forces or their allies. They had to deal with shortages or delays of food, water, fuel, or medical supplies. They had to adapt to different situations or circumstances of different regions or peoples.

The Legion managed to secure some transport for their evacuation by land from Poland to Czechoslovakia with the help of Allied authorities and representatives. They also managed to smuggle some weapons and supplies on board with the help of Polish agents and workers. They also managed to evade or overcome some obstacles and enemies on their way out of Poland. They faced some attacks by German planes or artillery. They also faced some resistance and hostilities from Slovak separatists or collaborators who opposed Czechoslovak unity.

The first transport carrying Czechoslovak troops left Poland in September 1939. The last transport left in October 1939. The total number of people evacuated with the Czechoslovak Legion by land through Siberia and Poland to Czechoslovakia was 4,112, including 3,500 soldiers, 300 officers, 200 civilians, 100 wives, 10 children, and 2 priests.

Consequences of the Evacuation

The evacuation of the Czechoslovak Legion from Russia to Europe had significant consequences for the Legion, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and other countries involved. It affected the political, military, and social aspects of these countries and regions.

For the Legion

The evacuation was a triumphant and heroic achievement for the Legion, who managed to survive and escape from a hostile and dangerous environment. It was also a bitter and tragic experience for the Legion, who suffered many casualties and losses along the way. It was also a transformative and enlightening experience for the Legion, who learned and grew from their encounters with different cultures and peoples.

The evacuation also marked the end of the Legion’s existence as a separate and independent force. The Legion was integrated into the newly formed Czechoslovak armed forces, which were established in October 1918 after the declaration of Czechoslovak independence. The Legion’s members became officers or soldiers of the Czechoslovak army, navy, or air force. Some of them continued to fight in World War I or World War II on various fronts. Some of them retired or resigned from military service and pursued civilian careers or activities. Some of them emigrated or returned to their countries of origin or residence.

The evacuation also marked the beginning of the Legion’s legacy as a source of pride and inspiration for Czechs and Slovaks. The Legion’s members were honored and celebrated as heroes and patriots by their countrymen and countrywomen. The Legion’s achievements and contributions were recognized and commemorated by various monuments, memorials, museums, or events. The Legion’s history and stories were recorded and preserved by various books, articles, documentaries, and films.

For Czechoslovakia

Evacuation was a crucial and decisive factor for the formation and defense of Czechoslovakia. It was also a challenging and controversial factor for the integration and cohesion of Czechoslovakia.

The evacuation contributed to the formation of Czechoslovakia by demonstrating the strength and determination of Czechs and Slovaks in fighting for their independence. It also contributed to the recognition and support of Czechoslovakia by the Allied Powers and other countries who acknowledged their legitimacy and sovereignty. It also contributed to the consolidation and stabilization of Czechoslovakia by providing a large and experienced pool of military personnel and resources.

The evacuation also contributed to the defense of Czechoslovakia by providing a deterrent and a challenge to its enemies or rivals. It also contributed to the resistance and survival of Czechoslovakia by providing a source of inspiration and motivation for its people. It also contributed to the restoration and reconstruction of Czechoslovakia by providing a model and a vision for its future.

The evacuation also posed some challenges and controversies for the integration and cohesion of Czechoslovakia. It created some divisions and tensions between different groups or regions within Czechoslovakia, such as between Czechs and Slovaks, or between veterans and civilians. It also created some conflicts or disputes with other countries or peoples outside Czechoslovakia, such as Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia.

For Russia

The evacuation had a significant impact on the course and outcome of the Russian Civil War. It also had a lasting influence on the relations between Russia and Czechoslovakia.

The evacuation affected the course and outcome of the Russian Civil War by influencing the balance of power between different factions or forces. The Legion’s involvement in the war boosted the anti-Bolshevik cause by providing military assistance, strategic assets, political legitimacy, or moral support. The Legion’s withdrawal from the war weakened the anti-Bolshevik cause by depriving them of military assistance, strategic assets, political legitimacy, or moral support.

The evacuation also affected the relations between Russia and Czechoslovakia by shaping their perceptions and attitudes toward each other. The Legion’s experience in Russia created a sense of gratitude and admiration, but also a sense of resentment and distrust, among Czechs and Slovaks toward Russians. The Russian experience with the Legion created a sense of respect and appreciation, but also a sense of hostility and suspicion, among Russians toward Czechs and Slovaks.

For Other Countries

The evacuation also had some consequences for other countries involved or affected by it, such as Japan, China, Poland, and France.

The evacuation influenced Japan’s role and interests in Siberia and the Far East. Japan used the pretext of protecting the Legion and the Trans-Siberian Railway to intervene in Siberia and occupy Vladivostok. Japan also used the opportunity of transporting the Legion to expand its influence and presence in China and Korea. Japan faced some resistance and criticism from the Legion, other Allied powers, or local populations for its actions and policies.

The evacuation influenced China’s situation and development during a period of turmoil and civil war. China was divided and contested by various factions and forces, some of which were supported or opposed by foreign powers. China was also affected by the presence and movement of the Legion, who interacted with different regions and peoples. China faced some challenges and opportunities from the Legion, who posed some threats or offered some assistance.

The evacuation influenced Poland’s fate and destiny during a time of invasion and occupation. Poland was attacked and partitioned by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939, which triggered World War II. Poland was also aided and supported by the Legion, who fought alongside Polish forces or helped Polish refugees. Poland faced some difficulties and dangers from the Legion, who encountered some enemies or obstacles.

The evacuation influenced France’s role and interests in World War I and World War II. France was one of the main allies and supporters of the Czechoslovak cause and the Legion’s evacuation. France also benefited from the arrival and integration of the Legion into its armed forces. France faced some challenges and responsibilities from the Legion, who demanded some recognition and assistance.

Major Battles during the Evacuation

The Legion overcame numerous obstacles and enemies during events that lasted over two years such as:

  • Battle of Bakhmach (March 8-13, 1918): The Legion won a decisive victory over the German army in Ukraine after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
  • Revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion (May 14, 1918 – September 1920): The Legion resisted the Bolshevik attempts to disarm them and seized control of large parts of the Trans-Siberian Railway and Siberia.
  • Capture of Kazan (August 5-10, 1918): The Legion, together with the anti-Bolshevik forces, took over one of the most important cities in Russia and briefly held the gold reserves of the former Russian Empire.
  • Rescue of the Constituent Assembly (November 18, 1918): The Legion protected the members of the democratically elected Russian parliament that was dissolved by the Bolsheviks and helped them form a provisional government in Siberia.

Flags Used by the Legion

Czechoslovak Legion in Russia Flag (front)
Czechoslovak Legion in Russia Flag (rear)
Czechoslovak Legion in Russia Flag (rear)
1st Assault Battalion in Russia
Czechoslovak Legion in Italy Flag
21st Regiment in France Flag

Key Figures in Establishing the Legion

In their pursuit of independence or autonomy, some Czechs and Slovaks embraced peaceful methods such as political activism and cultural revitalization. Others resorted to violence, employing tactics like assassinations and rebellions.

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850 – 1937)
Tomáš Masaryk in 1925
Tomáš Masaryk in 1925

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was a Czech politician, statesman, sociologist, and philosopher who was the leader of the Czechoslovak independence movement abroad during World War I. He was the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia and is regarded as a national hero in Czechia.

Masaryk was a professor of philosophy at Charles University in Prague. He led the Young Czech Party until 1914, advocating for constitutional reform and greater autonomy for Bohemia as a federal state within Austria-Hungary. He went into exile in 1915 and established the Czechoslovak National Council in Paris in 1916, which became the provisional government of Czechoslovakia in 1918. He also championed Pan-Slavism, which aimed to foster solidarity among Slavic peoples throughout Europe. He provided an ideological basis for Czechoslovak propaganda, helped create the Czechoslovak Legion in Russia, France, and Italy, and was instrumental in securing the Entente’s recognition of Czechoslovakia as an independent state. He cooperated with Milan Rastislav Štefánik, a Slovak politician, diplomat, and general who served as a French officer and organized and led the Legion. He returned to Prague in December 1918 and was elected president of Czechoslovakia by the National Assembly. He served as president until 1935 and died in 1937.

Edvard Beneš (1884 – 1948)
Edvard Beneš c. 1942
Edvard Beneš c. 1942

Edvard Beneš was a Czech politician, diplomat, and close collaborator of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. He was the secretary general of the Czechoslovak National Council in Paris from 1916 to 1918, the foreign minister of Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1935, and the president of Czechoslovakia from 1935 to 1938 and again from 1945 to 1948.

Beneš played a vital role in the creation and organization of the Czechoslovak Legion during World War I. He successfully organized Czechoslovak propaganda in the Allied countries, helped recruit, train and supply Czech and Slovak volunteers who fought against the Central Powers and negotiated with the Allied governments for the recognition of the Czechoslovak National Council as the provisional government of Czechoslovakia. He also coordinated with Milan Rastislav Štefánik, who led the Legion in Russia, France and Italy. He was one of the signatories of the Treaty of Versailles, which confirmed the independence and sovereignty of Czechoslovakia. He was a strong supporter of the League of Nations and pursued a pro-Western foreign policy. He resigned as president in 1938 after the Munich Agreement, which ceded the Sudetenland to Nazi Germany. He went into exile in London and led the Czechoslovak government-in-exile during World War II. He returned to Prague in 1945 and was re-elected as president. He faced many challenges after the war, such as the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia, the Soviet influence in Eastern Europe, and the rise of communism. He resigned again in 1948 after the Communist coup d’état, which established a one-party dictatorship in Czechoslovakia.

Milan Rastislav Štefánik (1880 – 1919)
Milan Rastislav Štefánik
Milan Rastislav Štefánik

Milan Rastislav Štefánik was a Slovak politician, diplomat, aviator and astronomer who played a key role in the formation and organization of the Czechoslovak Legion during World War I. He was one of the founding fathers of Czechoslovakia and is regarded as a national hero in Slovakia.

Štefánik was a close associate of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the leader of the Czechoslovak independence movement abroad. He used his diplomatic skills and connections to gain the support of the Allied Powers for the recognition of the Czechoslovak National Council as the provisional government of Czechoslovakia in June 1918. He also organized the recruitment, training and supply of Czech and Slovak volunteers who fought on the side of the Entente Powers against the Central Powers. He served as a general in the French Army and as Minister of War for Czechoslovakia. He was instrumental in creating and leading the Czechoslovak Legion in Russia, France and Italy, which proved to be a formidable military force that contributed to the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the establishment of Czechoslovak sovereignty. He died in a plane crash near Bratislava on May 4, 1919, while returning to his homeland after the war.

Other Figures in the Czechoslovak Legion

Some operational figures in the Czechoslovak Legion were:

Radola Gajda, born as Rudolf Geidl (1892 – 1948)
Radola Gajda in 1933
Radola Gajda in 1933

Radola Gajda, a Czech soldier, adventurer, and general who was one of the commanders of the Czechoslovak Legion in Russia. He led the Legion in several battles and revolts against the Bolsheviks such as the capture of Samara and Kazan in 1918. He was also involved in the Siberian Intervention and the anti-Bolshevik government of Admiral Kolchak. He returned to Czechoslovakia in 1920 and became a leader of the National Fascist Community, a right-wing political party.

Jan Syrový (1888 – 1970)
Jan Syrový
Jan Syrový

Jan Syrový, a Czech soldier and general who was one of the commanders of the Czechoslovak Legion in France. He fought on the Western Front and was wounded several times. He returned to Czechoslovakia in 1919 and became the chief of staff of the Czechoslovak Army. He also served as the prime minister of Czechoslovakia in 1938 during the Munich Crisis. He resigned after the German occupation of the Sudetenland and was later arrested by the Gestapo. He survived the war and died in 1970.

Stanislav Čeček (1886 – 1930)
Stanislav Čeček
Stanislav Čeček

Stanislav Čeček, a Czech journalist, writer, and soldier who was one of the founders of the Czechoslovak Legion in Italy. He was also a member of the Czechoslovak National Council and a close associate of Štefánik. He participated in several battles on the Italian Front and wrote about his experiences in his memoirs. He returned to Czechoslovakia in 1919 and became a prominent journalist and editor. He died in 1952.

Women in the Czechoslovak Legion

There were some women who participated in the Czechoslovak Legion, although they were not officially recognized as legionnaires and their role was often overlooked or marginalized. Some of the women who were involved in the Czechoslovak Legion were:

Anežka Kašparová, the Merciful sister
Anežka Kašparová
Anežka Kašparová

Merciful sister Anežka Kašparová was a Czech woman who served in the Czechoslovak Legion before the independence of Czechoslovakia in 1918. She was not recognized as eligible for the status of a legionnaire, because she did not serve “with weapon,” according to the legal regulations of 1919 and 1920.

Božena Seidlová (1897 – ??)
Božena Seidlová
Božena Seidlová

Božena Seidlová was a Czech writer, translator, and publicist who served as a messenger for the Czechoslovak Legion in Russia in 1918. Born in Prague in 1897, she lived in her youth in Chisinau, Moldavia, and became a member of the Sokol movement and the so-called First Czechoslovak Resistance. Between July and October 1918, she crossed the unstable German-Bolshevik border three times as a courier delivering messages between resistance fighters in the territory occupied by the Triple Confederacy and the Czechoslovak Legion in Russia, with whom she later returned to Czechoslovakia through Vladivostok. The soldiers called her “a sister” in the fashion of the Sokol movement. She was not recognized as a legionnaire, because she did not serve with a weapon, according to the legal regulations of 1920. She later became the wife of journalist, legionnaire, and later politician Vojtěch Holeček and adopted his family name to become Bozena Holečková-Seidlová.

Věra Gatti, the Rifleman merciful sister
Věra Gatti
Věra Gatti

Věra Gatti was a Russian student of philosophy who joined the Czechoslovak Legion as a volunteer in 1918 after completing a three-months merciful sister course. Her joining was illegal and caused a dispute between the commanders because she was recruited as a soldier in the 1st Rifleman regiment as a “rifleman merciful sister” instead of as a nurse. Thus, she was officially considered a soldier. To solve the conflict, Věra re-joined the Legion again in 1919, this time officially and correctly, and received praise for her medical service. She may be the only officially recognized female legionnaire, because she met the legal requirements for the status of a legionnaire, although she did not serve with a weapon. It is unlikely that she ever claimed any benefits from this status.

The Siberian Anabasis

The Siberian Anabasis is a literary name for the Czechoslovak Legions’ transit through Siberia during the Russian Civil War (1917-1921) in reference to the epic of Xenophon. The Czechoslovak Legions were volunteer armed forces composed predominantly of Czechs and Slovaks who fought for the independence of Czechoslovakia during World War I (1914-1918) and the Russian Civil War.

Bibliography Used

Further Reading

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