The WWI Michigan Polar Bears

In the summer of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson, at the urging of Britain and France, sent an infantry regiment to north Russia to fight the Bolsheviks in hopes of persuading Russia to rejoin the war against Germany.  The 339th Infantry Regiment, with the first battalion of the 310th Engineers and the 337th Ambulance and Hospital Companies, arrived at Archangel, Russia, on September 4, 1918.  about 75 percent of the 5,500 Americans who made up the North Russian Expeditionary Forces were from Michigan; of those, a majority were from Detroit.  The newspapers called them “Detroit’s Own,”; they called themselves “Polar Bears.”  They marched on Belle Isle on July 4, 1919.  Ninety-four of them were killed in action after the United States decided to withdraw from Russia but before Archangel’s harbor thawed.

Photos by Vicki Aiello

Back to Galleries