May 5, 2014
The end of the 19th century saw the rise of Nationalism, the belief that every ethnic group should be free to rule itself. By August 1914, Nationalism had erupted into one of the major causes of World War I.
Austria-Hungary was an empire made up of many different ethnic groups and one of the members of the Central Powers during the Great War. It was home to not only the Austrians & Hungarians, but also to Poles, Romanians, Ukrainians, Czechs, and Slovaks. . . to name a few. Most of these groups wanted countries of their own, and worked in different ways to bring about their independence.
During WWI, a group of Czechs and Slovaks felt the time was right to win their own homeland. Both groups were forced to fight on the Eastern Front. Not wanting to fight for the Austro-Hungarian Emperor against the Russians, many Czechs & Slovak troops surrendered and defected to the Russians. At first, the number of Czechoslovak troops fighting for Russia was small, and they were assigned their own Company. By the Autumn of 1917, however, over 60,000 Czechoslovak troops belonged to the ‘Czechoslovak Corps in Russia.’
Their first major battle didn’t occur until July 1917 when they fought against the Germans at the Battle of Zborou in the Ukraine. During their second, and last, major battle of the war, the Czechoslovaks managed to evade encircling German troops at Bakhmach. . . just as the new Russian Bolshevik government agreed to pull out of the war.
The new Socialist government of the now Soviet Union agreed to send the Czechoslovaks to the Western Front. Unfortunately it wasn’t safe for them to travel from Russia’s Western ports. The Czechoslovaks would have to travel across Siberia to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean.
The Czechoslovaks tried to stay out of Russia’s business, but couldn’t for long. The Germans began pressuring the Bolsheviks, and soon they ordered the disarming and arrest of the Czechoslovaks. They weren’t going to take this betrayal lying down, however. Seperated along the route of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the scattered troops fought a series of battles – capturing and occupying town after town – in order to reunite their unit and make it to Vladivostok. By July 1918, along with the Russian White Army, they had seized just about all of Siberia, and were only a day from reaching Yekaterinburg where the Red army was holding the Czar and his family.
The Red Army began counter-attacking in the Fall of 1918 and defeated the Whites. Meanwhile, hearing of the establishment of a free Czechoslovakia, many of the Czechoslovaks wondered why they were still fighting in a Russian Civil War. In early 1919, they withdrew to the Trans-Siberian Railroad and claimed it as theirs – denying the White Army the opportunity to retreat East.
The Czechoslovaks held Vladivostok along with the Western governments involved in the Siberian Intervention throughout 1919. Anxious to return to their new nation, they finally began the withdrawal of their forces. The evacuation of 58,000 troops and 11,000 civilians lasted until 1920. When they finally returned home, their exploits had become legendary and many of these troops became the core of the new Czechoslovak army.
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