How an army without a nation fought its way across Russia and on to independence.
Czechs and Slovaks wearing Russian gas masks. After World War I broke out in 1914, thousands of Czechs and Slovaks living inside Russia heeded Masaryk’s call to fight alongside Russians against the Central Powers, which included Austria-Hungary.
But tensions were high. As Russia collapsed into chaos, the eastbound Czechoslovaks brushed past freed Austrian and Hungarian prisoners of war headed west.
In May, a freed POW flung an object at a Czech legionnaire, sparking a bloody brawl. Local Bolsheviks arrested the Czechs involved, but the legion wasn't having it and stormed in to free its comrades. Bolshevik leadership reacted furiously, demanding the Czechoslovaks be disarmed or “shot on the spot.”