File No. 861.77/451

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Great Britain (Page)


1337. The American Ambassador at Tokyo has been instructed to suggest to the Japanese Government and also to inform fully his colleagues representing the Governments of the Allies, the opinion of this Government that Mr. John F. Stevens, chairman of the Railway Advisory Commission to Russia and official advisor of the Russian Ministry of Ways of Communication, should undertake the effective operation of the different sections of the Trans-Siberian Railway and its branches, with the assistance of the American engineers in the service of Russia, known as the Russian Railway Service Corps, in conjunction with Russian railway officials and personnel and in cooperation with the Allies. In making such a suggestion the Government of the United States is simply carrying out its original purpose to assist the Russian people in the vital matter of transportation when it sent a railway advisory commission to Russia in June 1917 and, at the request of the Provisional Government of Russia, organized the Russian Railway Service Corps in September 1917. It does not consider that either the Bolshevik movement or the presence of international military assistance in Siberia or in Manchuria has modified the previously existing rights of Russia or of China. At the same time it is evident that, at least for the present, military operations must be facilitated and that the actual movement of trains must be governed accordingly.

As so much time has intervened since this Government’s first step was taken to help Russia through improvement of railway transportation, [Page 250]it seems necessary, and indeed essential, to recall certain facts. One of the first problems which confronted the Provisional Government of Russia after the revolution of March 1917, was the improvement of the food supply. The revolution had been precipitated by the demand of the people on the streets of Petrograd for food. After a temporary improvement, however, the situation after the revolution began to grow worse than it had been before. It was generally agreed that the total supplies of food in the country were adequate for the population but that the machinery of distribution was collapsing.

This disheartening condition was due primarily to the railways. The situation was brought to the attention of this Government by the American Ambassador at Petrograd and was further enlarged upon informally and unofficially by Mr. Stanley Washburn, now Major in the United States Army, upon his return from Russia in the spring of 1917. During the spring and summer of that year it is also understood that both the British and French Governments were agreed upon the seriousness of the railway situation and the assistance which might come from America owing to the close parallel between general railway problems in America and in Russia where, in both countries, questions of long haul were the rule and not the exception.

The establishment of democratic principles in Russia had been welcomed by this Government and by the people of the United States. It was felt that a first step in bringing the prevailing sentiment of sympathy for Russia to some concrete expression might well take the form of helping the Russian people improve their railway systems, especially that system of connecting lines known as the Trans-Siberian Railway.

After serious reflection and deliberation, the President, with the knowledge and approval of the Provisional Government of Russia, determined to send a railway advisory commission of five experts of the first rank who should study, first of all, the Trans-Siberian system, and prepare themselves to offer such advice and counsel as the railway administration of Russia might express a wish to receive.

The commission, consisting of Messrs. Stevens, Darling, Greiner, Gibbs, and Miller, arrived at Vladivostok the first part of June 1917 and, after a brief inspection of the enormous quantities of accumulated munitions and other material at that port, proceeded across Siberia in a special train provided by the Russian railway administration and made a sound survey of conditions as they passed. They were then put in touch with the Minister of Ways of Communication and his assistants at Petrograd. At the request of the Minister, they not only informed him fully as to their recommendations in [Page 251]regard to the Trans-Siberian Railway but also undertook to inspect conditions in the Donets Basin and report on the railways to Archangel and Murmansk. As they completed their special studies, the members of the commission in turn came back to the United States with the exception of Mr. Stevens; he remained and was established in the Ministry of Ways of Communication in the capacity of special advisor, in the expectation that he might assist in carrying into actual operation the measures which the commission had agreed with Russian officials were vital.

It was at this time that the Provisional Government of Russia requested that a corps of American railway engineers, organized to constitute skeleton division units as known in this country, should be formed here and enter the service of the Provisional Government of Russia. The plan was to establish these engineers in an advisory capacity along the different sections of the Trans-Siberian line. Upon entering the service of the Provisional Government, that Government undertook to meet all expenses of maintenance and subsistence of the men of whatever character. The Russian Railway Service Corps was thereupon organized by selecting picked engineers from different American railways and left the United States the 1st of November 1917.

The Bolshevik revolution having occurred while they were in transit to Vladivostok, they were unable to enter at once upon their duties. At the request of the Russian Ambassador at Washington they were therefore retained in Japan until an opportunity appeared for them to make a start. This opportunity came in March 1918, when about 110 of these engineers were sent to the Chinese Eastern Railway, operating from Harbin as a base; the balance, consisting of about 90 men, were recently sent to Vladivostok.

Mr. Stevens is not only one of the leading railway engineers of the United States but also proved his high capacity in the earlier stages of the building of the Panama Canal. He has now been more than a year in Russia during which time he has been a constant student of Russian railway problems and conditions. The majority of the engineers under him have obtained some experience of actual operation and some of his subordinates have established contact with the personnel of the Trans-Baikal and Tomsk Railways and the sections of the Trans-Siberian line further west in Siberia and European Russia. Both he and his colleagues undertook their responsibilities with a clear sense of duty. They will continue their work in the same spirit.

The Government of the United States believes it necessary and a part of frank understanding with the Allied Governments and the [Page 252]people of Russia, to state definitely and without any reservations whatsoever that it disclaims all purpose to obtain any interest or control in the railways of Russia. Such a purpose is not only foreign to this Government, but would not be tolerated by the people of the United States. Mr. Stevens and his associates are the agents of the Russian people. The Russian Service Corps will continue to be maintained from Russian funds disposed of by the Russian Ambassador at Washington until such time as their service may be either continued or concluded by established authorities in Russia.

You may bring this matter, to which this Government attaches great importance, to the attention of the Government to which you are accredited and emphasize the responsibility which the Government of the United States obligated itself to assume in order to secure the effective operation of the railways for Russia and for the service of the present military assistance in Siberia without prejudice to any previously existing legal, political, or other rights, by whomsoever held.

I will bring this matter myself formally to the attention of the British, French, Japanese, and Italian Ambassadors here and confidently expect not only the full understanding but also the cordial cooperation of the Allied Governments which they represent.

Repeat, mutatis mutandis, to Paris, 5598, and Rome, 1683.