Russian stamps 10 kopecks imperforate, strip of five, largest multiple known. Ex Fabergé

Russian stamps 10 kopecks imperforate, strip of five, largest multiple known. Ex Fabergé

October 30, 2013

Belgian Army In Russia: 1915-1918

When it comes to Russian postal history during the First World War, most collectors think about the censorship handstamps, the Romanov issue or the Mute cancellations. There are other fascinating areas that are far less known though, and among them lies the military intervention of the Belgian Expeditory Corp of Armoured Cars in Russia during 1915-1918 (French: Corps Expéditionnaire Belge des Auto-Canons-Mitrailleuses en Russie).

This military corp has a fascinating history. Arriving from Brest in Arkhangelsk the 13th octobre 1915, it was meant to supply military support to the Imperial Army of Nicholas II on the eastern front. 350 Belgian volunteers fought side by side with the Russian in Galicia during the Broussilov, then Kerenski, offensives.

Figure 1 -  "Armée Belge en Campagne"
12th December 1915 - Cover sent from Petrograd to an active officer from the Belgian Armoured Corp in campaign. Military free frank. Censored in Petrograd. Real departure the 29th. Arrival at the Belgian Corps the 25th January 1916. A rare postal history document.
(Author´s stock)

The Belgian Armoured Car Corp in Russia had 58 vehicules, including 12 armoured cars "Minerva" (actually, built by Morse & Peugeot with a Minerva engine) (figure 2). This group of soldiers, surprisingly, fought successively for three different governments: they first fought for Belgium, later for the Tsar (before the Revolution), finally for the Red Army (after october 1917), although it is believed that they prefered to destroy the cars rather than to give them to the "Reds". Trapped into the Civil War in the early 1918, they could only managed to find their way home through the Transsiberian railway to Vladivostok. They embarked the SS Sheridan for the USA (arrival in San Francisco, 12th May 1918).

Figure 2 - Belgian Corp soldiers in Russia with the "Minerva"

Those foreign soldiers fighting for the Russian Motherland were officially recognized by the Imperial governement, and the mail from those soldiers in action naturally benefited from military free frank. It is not clear as to when the free frank privilege has been set up, since an early postcard from October 1915 is known franked with a 4 KOP Romanov. A small archive from the soldier Van Bompay also contains a few covers, all franked (but it might well be the ignorance of the sender regarding the free frank).

The first scan above shows a cover sent from Petrograd to an officer of the Belgian Corp (figure 1). Please note the manuscript mention "Armée Belge en campagne" (Belgian Army in Campaign). In December 1915, when this letter was sent, the Armoured Corp was in Russia since about two months and already had engaged in campaign fields in Galicia.

The Russian Post accepted the cover as a free frank, but international friendship having its limits, the Imperial Censors opened the envelope and applied their censor handstamp. You can die for my country, but let me read your mail first! Upon receipt on the 25th January 1915, the postal service of the Belgian corp applied its specific handstamp on arrival (figure 3)

Figure 3 - Close up of the very rare Belgian Corp handstamp
(upper part: "Postes Militaires") 

Obviously the surviving correspondance, due to the very small number of soldiers, is very scarce. I am aware of a dozen of covers only. You probably have a better chance to find some mail from the British or American Allied Intervention in North Russia during 1919.