The story of the American Expeditionary Force to northern Russia beggars belief. Nearly 5,000 “doughboys,” mostly Michiganders, landed in Archangel, Russia, in September 1918, in the midst of post-revolutionary chaos. On paper, the American troops, under British command alongside French, British, and White Russian comrades, had been sent to protect Allied supplies stored in Russia’s northern ports from the Germans; in reality, they fought the “Bolos”—British slang for the Bolshevik troops—as they advanced inland, seeking to connect with other White armies. More than 200 were killed, largely in combat but also from disease and exposure.
Fortunately, Ernest Shackleton had given lectures to the G.I.’s on surviving the bitter cold before they departed from England for Russia. Unfortunately, the leather Shackleton Boots they received, designed by the legendary explorer himself, were “fine for standing still on guard duty but they slipped like skis when walking,” writes veteran journalist Barnes Carr, who attempts to forge this astounding episode, together with the hazy details of the 1918 “Lockhart Plot”—slipshod scheming by British, French, and (less so) American agents against the Bolshevik regime—into a cohesive whole in The Lenin Plot: The Untold Story of America’s Midnight War Against Russia.