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“A COLT THAT CAME IN FROM THE COLD” – MODEL 1911 COLT PISTOL IDENTIFIED TO LT. WALLACE W. MILLARD, 31ST INFANTRY REGIMENT, AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE – SIBERIA 1919-1920:  Manufactured in 1915, this Model 1911 Colt Pistol, bearing a unique and historically significant pair of grips, was purchased from the Vladivostok Siberia Ordnance Depot in December of 1919 by then 2ND Lt. Wallace W. Millard, U.S. Army, who was stationed in Siberia with the 31ST Infantry Regiment.   How the young lieutenant came to be in this frigid region of Russia, and how he acquired this Colt, is interwoven in an event in American history that is unknown to all but a few military historians and an even smaller community of collectors. 

In the summer of 1918, the situation in Russian was chaotic.  Having suffered the heaviest casualties of any participant in the First World War, and after three years of poor leadership, numbing hardships, and one defeat after another, the Russian army had begun to disintegrate.   Undisciplined soldiers led by Bolshevik revolutionaries, Czarist officers, and Cossack warlords roamed Russia at will, looting the countryside to feed and equip their lawless bands as the opponents coalesced into two main factions - the Bolshevik "Reds" and the monarchist "Whites".   

As the situation in Russia deteriorated, the Allies contemplated sending an expedition to Siberia not only to reestablish the critical Eastern Front against Germany, but to deal with several other international concerns.   Vast amounts of supplies provided by the Allies to aid Russia's war effort were now at risk - the Port of Vladivostok alone had accumulated supplies valued at $750,000,000.  Large numbers of German and Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war had been held in Siberia.  As the Russians abandoned their prisoner-of-war camps, these POW’s not only were feared as possible reinforcements for the Germans, but included in the ranks of these POW’s were large numbers of Czechs and Slovaks who had been drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army.  Upon the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire the Slavic minorities formed their own countries and Czechoslovakia pledged to join the war against Germany if the Allies would transport its men home from Siberia.  Complicating the allies’ interest in Siberia was Japan's thinly veiled intent to expand its empire into the Asian mainland - an aim that had been frustrated by the American brokered peace treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.  Japan had joined the war against Germany; however it was with an eye on Germany's Pacific territories.  Taking advantage of the chaos and the power vacuum in Asiatic Russia, Japan garrisoned over 70,000 of her troops in Siberia with the intent of assuming control of the province.  

Ostensibly to prevent stranded war materiel from falling into hostile hands, the Allies decided to occupy the Russian ports.  An American presence in Vladivostok would aid the war effort, secure the stocks of allied war materiel, help the Czechs, and thwart the Japanese ambitions.   After many months of prodding by America’s allies and top advisors in the U.S. State Department, President Woodrow Wilson agreed in July, 1918 to permit limited U.S. participation in an allied expedition to Siberia joining troops from Canada, Czechoslovakia, England, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, and Romania. 

In August the American Expeditionary Force – Siberia (AEFS) was created under the command of Major General William Graves.  The command consisted of the 27TH and 31ST Infantry Regiments which were then stationed in the Philippine Islands, supplemented with an additional 5,000 soldiers from the 8TH Infantry Division garrisoned in California.  The 31ST Infantry landed at Vladivostok on August 21ST as the vanguard of the American force that would eventually total 9,000 soldiers.   

While the soldiers and many of the leaders, both civilian and military, were uncertain of their mission, the AEFS settled in to their assignments of guarding sections of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, securing the supply depots in the harbor area, and addressing numerous threats posed by various hostile forces in the area.  The Americans’ duties were complicated by the harsh and unfamiliar environment, extreme weather conditions, and the lack of a viable civil government to control or care for the civilian population.  

On January 8, 1920, the AEFS was ordered to withdraw from Siberia and over the next 45 days were transported back to Manila where their odyssey began.  The last contingent of the "Polar Bears", as the 31st Infantry came to be known in later years for this Siberian service, departed Vladivostok on April 1, 1920, having conducted itself with courage, humanity, and dignity.  While serving in this relatively unknown corner of World War One, and striving to accomplish a mission which was never well defined, sixteen members of the regiment were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, 29 were killed in action, 8 died of wounds received in action, and 52 were wounded. 

Second Lieutenant Wallace W. Millard, U.S. Army, purchased this Model 1911 Automatic Colt Pistol, Serial Number 110653, at the Vladivostok Ordnance Depot on December 5, 1919 while serving with the 31st Infantry Regiment, American Expeditionary Force Siberia (AEFS).  The Vladivostok Ordnance Depot was established in support of the AEFS and was only in existence for the brief duration of the expedition – a mere twenty months.

The original record of this purchase, entered on the “Statement Of Ordnance Stores Purchased” form was discovered in the National Archives, Record Group 120, by Frank Mallory of the Springfield Research Service.  As noted on the Ordnance Department form, Lt. Millard was authorized to purchase the government owned Colt as provided by U.S. Army Regulations, 1913, paragraph No. 1520.   

These “Siberian Colts” all share common characteristics which have been recognized by collectors and students of this chapter of history.   In the interest of creating a lasting trophy of the soldier’s service in Siberia, the owners enhanced their early production Model 1911 Colt Pistols with custom carved grip panels, with each panel embellished with an engraved silver medallion commemorating the duration of the expedition.   

There are very few of these pistols known to exist – perhaps no more than seven - which can be identified by the unique grip panels to the Siberian experience, and only two of these known specimens are identified to the soldier who owned the pistol – this Millard pistol and SN 110659 which belonged to Dr. T.T. Crooks, US Army Medical Department, one of the doctors who served with the expeditionary force.  Given the close proximity of the serial numbers of Dr. Crooks’ and Lt. Millard’s pistols, it is quite possible Crooks also purchased his pistol at the Vladivostok Depot. 

Very little is known about the person who fashioned the grip panels.  The best clue regarding the craftsman’s identity was typed on a paper tag Dr. Crook attached to his pistol identifying the man who did the work as one of the German prisoners of war being held in Vladivostok.  Supporting Crooks’ identification, the records of the AEFS include several references to German POW’s that were employed by the Americans as kitchen help, medical orderlies and to perform camp maintenance duties.  In addition, the quality of the carving on the well executed panels and the style of the design is consistent with that of German wood carvers.  Unfortunately, the identity of the German soldier was never recorded, but due to the similarity of the wood carving and the silver engraving on all the known sets, all of these grip panels were likely made by the same man – or possibly two men, one carving the oak panels and the other making and engraving the medallions.  

These commemorative grip panels appear to have been newly made rather than decorating the panels original to the pistols.  While each pair of panels is very individual, the carved design on each set is identical, consisting of a shield surmounted by an eagle over oak leaves with acorns.  The silver medallions observed on the known grip panels exhibit more variety in shape and size, however all of the medallions are engraved with some combination of the owner’s initials in the form of a monogram and the notation “AEFS “, “AEF SIBERIA” or “VLADIVOSTOK, SIBERIA” and they include the dates 1919 and 1920.   

As is the case with this Millard pistol and Dr. Crooks pistol, it is quite probable that all of these “Siberian Colts” were owned by officers as the application of the decorative grip panels would not have been tolerated on a government owned pistol which was issued to an enlisted man and which was expected to be returned in the form in which it was issued.  

Wallace W. Millard was born in Minnesota in 1896, entered the army as a private in 1916, was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in 1917.  He remained in the service after his assignment in Siberia on through the interwar years and served in military intelligence during World War Two.  Upon the reorganization of the armed services after the war, Millard transferred to the newly created United States Air Force and was still serving on active duty when he died in 1950 at the rank of Colonel after 34 years of military service.  

Two additional historical items are included in this offering which are directly related to the AEFS - a silver signet ring and a calling card stand, which like the Siberian Colt grip panels, were fashioned for sale or trade to the American soldiers serving in and around Vladivostok.  The ring is engraved on each side and on the face in the same manner, the same style, and includes the same basic information, as the medallions on the Colt grip panels.  Due to this remarkable similarity, I believe the ring was most likely fashioned by the same man who produced the grip medallions.  The calling card stand is fashioned from various military rifle cartridges and bullets soldered to the base which is a Russian Army enlisted man’s belt plate.  The front banner is made of silver and it is engraved “Souvenir of Siberia, 1919, Vladivostok”.  The stand is of the right size for an officer to use for holding his calling cards.  Both of these items represent examples of the campaign-specific keep sakes favored by the officers and men and they are included in the sale of this pistol. 

To complete this offering, a binder of research material accompanies the Colt which includes:

- a photocopy of the “Statement Of Ordnance Stores Purchased” form on file in the National Archives, Record Group 120, which documents Lt. Millard’s purchase of this Colt from the U.S. Army Ordnance Depot – Vladivostok, Siberia (note: the photocopy appears much clearer in hard copy than it appears under digital photography as shown here); 

- the letter from Frank Mallory, Springfield Research Service, certifying the copy of the “Statement Of Ordnance Stores Purchased” form; 

-  research and written communications regarding other known AEFS M1911 Colt Pistols; 

- photocopies of pages extracted from the US Army Registers showing Millard’s commissioning as a second lieutenant, and his assignment to the 31ST Infantry Regiment; 

-  photocopy of the 1920 US Census showing Millard in the Philippine Islands after his return from Siberia; 

-  photocopies from the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army Cross Reference Card showing Millard’s assignment to military intelligence and the issuance of his credentials;   

-  photocopy of the 1947 edition of the Official Register of the Army and Air Force Register showing Millard’s military history and his transfer to the US Air Force; 

-  photocopy of USAF Form 0-529 reporting Millard’s death while on duty, dated October 18, 1950; 

-  photocopy of Arlington National Cemetery Report of Internment, dated October 27, 1950 containing the details of Millard’s burial; 

-  photograph of Millard’s tombstone, Arlington National Cemetery; 

-  historical material covering the AEFS, the service of the 31ST Infantry Regiment in Siberia; and 

-  an original US Army Signal Corps photograph of “American Red Cross representative at Red Cross Hospital, Thanksgiving Day, 1918, distributing cigarettes to the sick and wounded Tieumen, Siberia.” 

This is a unique opportunity to obtain a very nice, early production Colt Model 1911 Pistol with definitive World War One history and association, as well as being representative of one of the more unusual episodes in the history of the United States Army.  The documentation is unquestionable and the comprehensive research accompanying this set combines with the three pieces – pistol, ring and calling card stand – to create an important addition to any Colt or World War One collection.  $10,500

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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