In this question, it is established that the Czechoslovak Legion went back to Europe in 1920 merely on US boats along three different naval roads.

@Felix Goldberg quotes a master's thesis by Major Robert Dziak of the Czech army that says:

Finally, the Czechoslovaks stayed in Russia until 02 SEP 1920 when the last Legionary was evacuated. Totally, 36 transports were dispatched and over 67,700 people were transported through three main directions: First, around Asia, then via Suez Canal to Trieste; Second, across Pacific ocean, Panama canal, Atlantic ocean to Trieste or Hamburg; Third, through Pacific ocean to Canadian West coast, by rail road across Canada, then through Atlantic ocean to Hamburg.

So far, so good. I'm very interested in the next two sentences :

Many passengers were not members of the Legion. The transports took also care of the Legionaries’ family members, civilian personnel, and POWs.

"POWs" here means Prisoners of War. As far I understand, they would be fighters captured by the Czech Legion during its long adventures in Siberia, most probably Bolsheviks.

Dziak doesn't explicit further who are those POWs. There is only one additionnal endnote:

In addition, several Russian anti-Bolshevik commanders undertook the travel to Czechoslovakia and became members of the Czechoslovak Armed Forces.

I am a bit skeptical though : why would the Czechoslovak Legion, who didn't plan to play any role anymore in the Russian civil war, bother to bring POWs all around the world to their newly founded homeland, Czechoslovakia ? Why not rather release them, or handle them to the Japanese Army that was occupying Vladivostok ?

Possible explanations that I could imagine :

  • Maybe some POWs were notabilities and the Czechoslovak Legion expected them to be ransomable when back in Europe ?

  • Maybe some were adventurers who willingly followed the Czechoslovak Legion, to escape a not-so-bright future in Siberia (where Bolsheviks were clearly winning against the White Russian warlords), and try to build a new life in America or Europe ?

  • Similarly, maybe prisoners from western Russia might have thought it would be easier to go back home this way rather than crossing war-ravaged Siberia westwards ?

  • Maybe here POWs doesn't mean POWs captured by the Czechoslovak Legion, but non-Czech, non-Slovak Europeans, captured by the Russian Imperial Army during WWI and released after Brest-Litovsk treaty, who similarly tried to go back to Europe ? Or, as suggested by @Svick in comment, would they be Czechs and Slovaks captured, then released by the Russian Imperial Army, who did not join the Czechoslovak Legion ?

Did the Czechoslovak Legion really bring POWs during its evacuation ?

If yes, who exactly, and how many, were those POWs ? What motivated the Czechoslovak Legion to bring them along ? What happened to them when they reached Czechoslovakia ?

In addition, any more precise figure about how many family members, civilian personnel, and POWs accompanied the Czechoslovak Legion in its evacuation would be appreciated.

  • 3
    Could it be that they were Czechs and Slovaks that were captured by the Russian Army, then freed, but who didn't join the Legion?
    – svick
    Apr 26, 2018 at 11:13
  • 1
    @swick : yes, that is another credible hypothesis.
    – Evargalo
    Apr 26, 2018 at 11:45
  • 2
    @svick - that shouldn't work, at least not by official terminology. Masaryk was in Russia between May 1917 and April 1918, was in touch with the Bolsheviks, and they agreed that every ethnic Czechoslovak POWs would automatically become a member of the Legion and would serve Russia in the World War I. So at least at that time, he would be a legion member. Russia viewed them with suspicions - according to the rule "traitor once, traitor forever". What the Legion did against the Bolshevik was secondary - I think that all these men would be called legion members, anyway. Apr 26, 2018 at 15:55
  • 3
    I love it. So enigmatic question and so easy answer!
    – Gangnus
    Apr 27, 2018 at 14:22

2 Answers 2


Yes, Czechoslovak Legion did bring POWs during the evacuation. Details are available on the Czech Wikipedia page about the Czechoslovak Legion.

Look at the section "Evakuace" and use Google Translate.

Between 1919 and 1920, they sailed from Vladivostok to Trieste, Marseille, Cuxhaven, and Naples. The POWs who were transported included Hungarian, Austrian, and German POWs – those had fought on the losing side of the First World War. Those were typically verified by armed U.S. guards. They had to pay for their transportation (well, much like all foreigners on the ships).

The evacuation was supervised by the Evacuation Bureau of the Czechoslovak Armed Forces in Rus'.

I suppose that from the Italian etc. ports, these POWs were allowed to go to their homelands – they weren't taken as gifts to be stored in the new Czechoslovakia forever – but I am not 100% sure. Let me look into my closet more carefully. ;-)

To answer the question why those POWs weren't given to the Japanese etc., well, it's because Czechoslovakia was a pragmatic newborn country respecting the principles of humanity, the Great War was over and passé, it was sensible for those POWs to get to Europe in some way, and with some compensation, there was no reason why the mostly Czechoslovak evacuation ships couldn't have fulfilled that role.

  • 2
    Thank you ! I'll let some time in case someone else can provide additionnal information before accepting it, but this is a great answer.
    – Evargalo
    Apr 27, 2018 at 8:21
  • 6
    Excellent! So, they were prisoners of the PREVIOUS war, not Civil War in Russia, but WWI. Very clever and not obvious explanation! Dekuji, Lubosi.
    – Gangnus
    Apr 27, 2018 at 14:19

Just to build on Lubos excellent answer.

First of all, the Czech Legion consisted of Czechs who were fighting on the Allied side, under Russian command, in World War I. That was a bit unusual, because what later became Czechoslovakia was part of Austria Hungary at the time. In a sense, these Czechs had "defected." Some of them might have been expatriates, and some POWs captured by the Russians. (Kind of like Polish forces that fought on the Allied side in World War II after Poland had been conquered by the Nazis.)

During World War I, these Czechs fought, and occasionally captured, members of the Austro Hungarian empire, including other Czechs. They were technically former enemies, but (probably) not seen as such. More like Czech "brothers." (Some of these POWs may have been members of the future Poland or Yugoslavia.) In any event, the Czechs took these "POWs" home.

During their stay in Russia, the Czechs supported their former sponsors "white" (Csarist) Russians against Bolshevik (red) Russians, and captured a few of these. Most of them would probably have been released on Russian soil when the Czechs left (e.g.) Vladivostok. But some of them wanted to defect and join the Czechs, and were gladly accepted. (After the Korean war, many North Korean and Chinese POWs elected not be "repatriated," and likewise, a few Americans stayed in North Korea.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.