Czech Legion, also called Czech-Slovak Legion was an armed force attached to the Russian army during the World War I. It played a prominent role in the Russian Civil War.
As World War I broke out, ethnic Czechs living in the Russian Empire petitioned Emperor Nicholas II of Russia to let them set up a national force to fight against Austria-Hungary. The Tsar finally gave his assent (as late as in the summer of 1916). Besides Czech Russians, the force was composed of many prisoners and deserters from the army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which were from the provinces of Bohemia and Slovakia. The leader of Czech nationalist movement Tomas Masaryk helped to expand the Legion. The Legion peaked to around 65,000 men.
Civil War in Russia
After the Russian revolution the Bolshevik government concluded the separate Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and it was agreed between the Bolsheviks and the Legion to evacuate the Czechs to France to continue fighting. Because the European front was blocked by German and Austrian armies, the evacuation was to be done by a detour via Siberia, the Pacific port of Vladivostok and the USA.
The slow evacuation by the Trans-Siberian railway was exacerbated by transportation shortages - as agreed to by the Brest-Litovsk treaty, the Bolsheviks were at the same time returning German, Austrian and Hungarian POWs from Siberia back home. In May 1918 Czechs stopped a Hungarian train at Chelyabinsk and shot a soldier who had apparently thrown something at their train. The local Bolshevik government arrested the Czech culprits and to free them, their comrades had to storm the railway station - and subsequently occupied the whole city.
Some time later Leon Trotsky, the then People's Commissar of War, ordered to disarm the Legion. As a result, the Legion took over a considerable area around the railway just east of Volga River, in the process capturing 8 train cars of gold bullions from the Imperial reserve in Kazan. After that, the Bolsheviks had to negotiate a new deal - gold for the free passage home (1920). Eventually, most of the Legion was evacuated via Vladivostok, but some part joined the anti-Bolshevik army of Admiral Kolchak.
Only 7 train cars of the Imperial gold were turned over to Moscow. The Legion kept the 8th to buy or lease ships in Vladivostok and what was left was used to set up the Legion Bank in Prague. Its headquarters on Prague's Na Porici street is a masterpiece of Czech Cubist architecture and its faÁade features scenes of the Legion's retreat through Siberia.
The Legion Bridge in Prague is named after the Czech Legion.
The last Legioner died in 2001