Allied boots first hit Siberian ground under the Intervention in August 1918, with the arrival of first British, then French, Japanese, American, Chinese and Canadian forces in Vladivostok. They threw their weight behind the Czechoslovak advance up the Ussuri; Khabarovsk was the first to fall. Meanwhile, the Japanese deployed more troops along the Chinese Eastern Railway. They joined Semenov and the Czechoslovaks in the drive towards Chita via Manzhouli.
The Chinese interventionary headquarters in Vladivostok included civilian emissary Liu Jingren, Ambassador to Russia when the revolution broke out, and Commodore Lin Jianzhang, captain of the warship Hai Rong which had arrived in the city in April. As the Intervention got under way, Lin requested additional staff fluent in English, French and Japanese. The Foreign Ministry thus dispatched three representatives to the headquarters: Wang Tingzhang, Lü Liehuang and Zhang Shoumo. Wang had graduated from the University of Liège in Belgium and held a succession of diplomatic and foreign-language positions. Lü was one of the first youths sent to study in Japan following the Sino-Japanese War; while at the Tokyo Higher Normal School, he joined a student patriotic organisation. Less is known about Zhang’s background, but he subsequently served as a diplomat in Cuba, South Africa and Mexico. The following report was sent by Lü and Zhang in September:
A telegram was sent on the 8th which we hope the Ministry has read. Now we are summarising the news on the war recently obtained from various sources, compiling them into a report; it is sent separately for Your perusal. It is said that the headquarters of the various national armies will soon move from Vladivostok to Irkutsk, hence Liehuang specially went with Commodore Lin yesterday to meet Japanese commander Otani to enquire about this. He said that in future they are likely to move there, but now the time has not yet come. Also, the Japanese are issuing military yen in Siberia; on this matter the Russians have resolved to lodge a protest. The Siberian Government, on the basis that the military yen damages the Russian economy, has also discussed a means to prevent its dissemination. We have heard that there are also plans to circulate the military yen in Harbin and Manzhouli, it seems that we should also draw up a plan to deal with this. Further, the Allied troops plan to begin putting the economic situation in order in areas that have been cleared of the bolsheviks. The Japanese government has even announced the staff of an economic committee. This matter will have a great impact on our migrants, industry and trade. With deepest regards to the Ministry.
Japan has dispatched frontline cavalry which took Irkutsk on 5 September. On the 6th they occupied the weapons factories there, obtaining 120 cannon. Also, on the 7th, they surrounded the enemy’s naval base, capturing 17 river gunboats and three steamers.
The large iron bridge across the Amur northwest of that area has not yet been destroyed by the enemy, hence westward trains are still running as normal.
News has arrived from Heihe that, currently, the number of bolsheviks fleeing to Blagoveshchensk from both the east and west has reached 3,000-4,000; the area has fallen into a state of anarchy. Half of them, seeing that the tide is turning further against them by the day, are much inclined to stop fighting. The other half instead proposes to resist to the end and have said that, if forced to, they will move their base to the Zeya River area.
Also, according to news from the locality, the main body of German and Austrian POWs, as well as the bolshevik leadership, plans to establish a base at Alekseevsk [the junction of the Trans-Siberian and the Blagoveshchensk line], as a backup plan. As for what their movements will be thereafter, this is not currently known.
On 6 September, commander-in-chief Otani, in order to convey the objectives of the Allied deployment in Russia, distributed an announcement via airplane in Vladivostok and the Ussuri front area. It informed the Russians of the following:
‘To patriotic Russian citizens: The objectives of the current Allied deployment in Russian territory are to rescue friendly forces – the Czechoslovaks – from the hands of German and Austrian POWs, and to aid our ally, Russia, suffering under misgovernment and devastation. Hence the enemy of the Allied troops is the armed German and Austrian POWs. The Allied troops in no way wish to do battle with the citizens of Russia.
‘Now the Allied troops have assembled a great military force to successively pursue the enemy and advance, with the intention to wipe out the German and Austrian POW soldiers. The moment when Russia is delivered from the jaws of the enemy is not far off. But as the German and Austrian POW soldiers are defeated and withdraw, they damage transport infrastructure completely. Due to the destruction of the railways, they will cause future difficulties in the supply of goods, further delaying Allied relief to the Russian people. Patriotic Russian citizens, you who understand the Allied objectives, facilitate the Allied troops’ conduct of the war in order to swiftly restore your fatherland.’
Since the fall of Khabarovsk, the Japanese 12th Division plans to advance urgently in preparation for future action; plans are being drawn up. The naval infantry near Nikolaevsk, in support of these troops, has successively gone upriver along the Amur.
News from Manzhouli is that after the 6th Regiment of the Czechoslovak Legion occupied Nerchinsk, they plan to proceed eastwards in order to join forces with the Japanese troops advancing from Khabarovsk.
The bolshevik troops in Blagoveshchensk, together with the German and Austrian POWs, number 4,000. There are 2,000 German and Austrian POWs in Alekseevsk, as well as 4,000 bolsheviks. Going forward, the Allied troops’ military objective will be none other than Blagoveshchensk and Alekseevsk.Letter from Lü Liehuang and Zhang Shoumo, 17 September 1918. Zhong-E guanxi shiliao, Minguo jiunian zhi banian (1917-1919): chubing Xiboliya, pp. 337-339.
Much headway had been made in a month. Progress on the Ussuri front was matched by a rapid advance into Transbaikalia. By mid-September, Semenov had succeeded in linking up with the Czechoslovaks in Chita. Alekseevsk fell on the day Lü and Zhang’s report was recived, and Blagoveshchenk would follow two days later. Throughout these territories, Otani’s announcement reassured its audience that the Allies harboured no harmful intentions towards Russia. Instead, economic relief would soon follow.
Yet Lü and Zhang noted the introduction of the military yen in areas occupied by the Japanese, including not only the Russian Far East but the CER zone as well. Their concerns were matched by the Russians’: The arrival of the yen threatened to draw these territories into the Japanese imperial orbit and challenged an important marker of sovereignty, namely the issuing and control of one’s own national currency. Such fears were even more acute in the Manchurian context, in which the northern part of the province had become dominated by the ruble and the southern by the yen, following Japan’s South Manchurian Railway. With Allied assistance, Russia’s anti-bolshevik regimes would largely be able to resist the spread of the yen. The Chinese lacked such coordinated support and proved less capable of doing so; as we shall see, however, they would be more successful in ejecting the ruble from the Railway concession zone.