WW1 rebellion of Russian troops on the Western Front at Courtine, France.

During the First World War an Expeditionary Corps [two brigades], consisting of about 20,000 men was sent from Russia via Vladivostok to Marseilles to fight with the Allied troops on the Western Front against Germany.

The Russians fought at Amiens along with the British troops. They were also, I believe, involved with the French Army in heavy fighting at Chemin des Dames, where the French lost 250,000 men and faced a mutiny amongst their troops.

The Russian Brigades had taken heavy casualties also, and after the Russian revolution there was considerable disaffection amongst the troops on the grounds that they "were fighting for the French", with whom they apparently saw no common cause.

This apparently lead to the Allied command segregating the Russians at a camp at Courtine: Camp Militaire, north west of Courtine by about two kilometres. ["west of Clermont, east of Limoges, north of Ussel"]

There was subsequently a "rebellion", including a refusal to fight, within the Russian ranks.

Two separate camps, basically one for each brigade, developed from the Courtine base. One had discipline problems but was able to be controlled to some extent and was used to suppress the other, which remained at Courtine and basically disintegrated as discipline failed completely.

The French response, after Russian authority collapsed, was to surround the camp and, using a newly arrived Russian artillery unit backed by French troops and artillery, after shelling the rebel encampment and some fighting in the camp, "order was restored".

I gather this exercise resulted in about 10 dead and 44 wounded Russians, plus an unknown number shot by their compatriots as they tried to leave the rebel lines.

The surviving troops were dispersed to numerous jails and camps in France and North Africa.

After many months and much aggravation eventually many were sent back to Bolshevik Russia. Apparently a large number assimilated into French society through labour schemes and local contacts.

One of those who returned to the new Soviet Russia was a sergeant, trained as a machine gunner, R Ya Malinovsky, who was prominent in the Soviet campaigns of the Second World War, including a period as commander of the Southern Front ["Stalingrad Front"]. Later he was appointed a Marshal of the Red Army and was Minister of Defence in Khrushchev’s time.

I understand a lot was written about this episode in Soviet Russia but I have not found many references to it in English.

There has been a very good book published which gives a very full account of this sad episode. "With snow on their boots", The tragic odyssey of the Russian Expeditionary Force in France during World War 1, Jamie H Cockfield, St Martin's Griffin, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, 10010, 1997, ISBN 0 312 22082 0 [paper] ISBN 0 312 17356 3 [cloth]

There are several French language sites about La Courtine, some with photos, including www.amnistia.net. and another at Les mutins de La Courtine.and Des troupes russes à La Courtine

There is also a re-enactment society site for the unit which was created after the mutiny, the Russian Legion.

If you have any information about this event I would be interested to hear from you, my email address is on one of the tags below.

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