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.