Personalized 1911s from the WW1 American Expedition to Siberia

At the end of the Great War, the United States sent several thousand soldiers to eastern Siberia, to protect war supplies from the Red Russian forces and to help rescue the Czechoslovak Legion. Also known as the Polar Bear Expedition, this force spent 1919 around Arkhangelsk and Vladivostok. They saw some combat action, and also took on the job of guarding German POWs who had been in Russian captivity. One of those POWs – we will probably never know his name – was a skilled artisan who made fancy custom M1911 grips for a number of American soldiers and officers. They have deep reliefs of eagles and oak leaves and engraved silver plaques. There are at least half a dozen pistols with these grips documented in various collections around the US, and we have two examples to look at in person today.

The wood carvings ing is basically the same on all of them, but the wording on the silver varies from gun to gun. Typically one side has the owner’s name or initials and the other side commemorates the mission, with “AEF” or “Vladivostok” and/or dates of 1919 and 1920. These pistols are a fantastic personal link to a mostly-forgotten corner of US involvement in World War One.

22 Comments

  1. I am most impressed by the checkering below the level of the raised figures, “behind” the imagery.

    Were these carved from the original grips or some replacement pieces of wood? The panels look quite thick at their thickest. How were the silver insets attached?

    Speaking of the Western Allies in Russia, who wants to talk about Archangel?

  2. Thanks for sharing these pistols!

    Part of the 31st Regiment is still around…stationed at Ft. Drum, NY. 4-31 was my old unit. The regiment had a LOT of hard luck historically. Pro Patria is the official motto…the unofficial one was “Polar Bears eat their Young.”

  3. “(…)end of the Great War, the United States sent several thousand soldiers to eastern Siberia, to protect war supplies from the Red Russian forces and to help rescue the Czechoslovak Legion. Also known as the Polar Bear Expedition, this force spent 1919 around Arkhangelsk and Vladivostok(…)”
    Actually, it was international intervention, it is known as Иностранная военная интервенция в Сибири и на Дальнем Востоке in Russian, which denotes it was intervention of foreign (countries).
    https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%98%D0%BD%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%82%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B2%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%86%D0%B8%D1%8F_%D0%B2_%D0%A1%D0%B8%D0%B1%D0%B8%D1%80%D0%B8_%D0%B8_%D0%BD%D0%B0_%D0%94%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%8C%D0%BD%D0%B5%D0%BC_%D0%92%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%BA%D0%B5#%D0%A3%D1%87%D0%B0%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B8
    gives following participants estimates
    73 thousands – Japanese (would later lead to government vs military strained relation)
    55 thousands – Czechoslovak (among them would be Czechoslovak prime-minister Jan Syrový and Sergej Vojcechovský and would-be commander of 1. armáda in fateful 1938 year)
    12 thousands – Poles
    9 thousands – Americans
    5 thousands – Chinese
    4 thousands – Serbs
    4 thousands – Rumanians
    4 thousands – Canadians
    2 thousands – Italians (see Legione Redenta di Siberia)
    1,6 thousands – British
    0,7 thousands – French
    Interventionist

  4. The stippling (rather than checkering) in the low areas is an old, good dodge for darkening and emphasizing a carved design. My father used it sparingly on some of the rifle stocks he made. If your’re patient, it’s an easy technique, requiring just a needle punch and a hammer.

    Those grips look practical, too, although I think they’d let you know when you were shooting hot enough loeads.

  5. I have a carved cigarette box marked US/ East Siberia I picked up at a thrift shop in the late 60’s, it was my joint box when I still indulged in Cannabis.
    Oak Leaves and a very Russian looking eagle.

  6. Hi Ian

    You seem to be conflating two separate expeditions. The British commanded Allied intervention in North Russia involved the US 339th Infantry regiment while a wholly separate Allied expedition occupied parts of East Siberia. It was the latter which received and shipped out the Czech Legion to France. As a side note, the US 31st Infantry Regiment ended up in Siberia, and both it and the 339th use a polar bear in its insignia. The size of Russis being what it is, the two expeditions never linked up.

  7. Another great episode, whose depth is enhanced by your knowledgeable commenters.

    Also: it is time you finished the book on De Gaulle and updated your “sites we enjoy reading.” For example, Weaponsman passed away a couple of years ago.

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