Table of contents Chapter V Chapter VII
NOVEMBER 1918 TO 1920
Austria-Hungary surrendered on November 4; Germany signed an armistice with the Allies on November 11. Yet at this time Germany was still occupying a huge non-German empire from Estonia to France and to the Crimea, and it had not lost a decisive battle - the end to the war came because of the exhaustion of the German economy. In Germany charges of betrayal were immediately launched against the signers of the armistice. In later years those charges helped the Nazis to come to power.
The Bolshevik government of Russia annulled the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on November 13 and attempted to occupy the immense territories it had lost by the Treaty. It still dreamed of a Communist (Bolshevik) takeover in Germany, and Trotsky envisioned a Soviet Russia linked to a future Soviet Germany and Soviet Austria-Hungary by free Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, Finland, and the Ukraine  - free should be translated as Soviet Communist. A few short-lived Soviets did appear in German towns and among the troops, including a Communist government in Bavaria, but those were eventually suppressed.
While most of the world (except Russia) could now return to peace and the mending of wartime wounds, Latvia still had a year and a half of fighting ahead, the so-called War of Liberation. Four forces competed for supremacy: the Latvian nationalists, the Germans, the White Russians, and the Red Russians and Latvians.
Upon Germanys collapse LPNC and DB joined forces and established a new provisional parliament, the National Council (NC), even though England had already declared its support for LPNC. Ulmanis argued that NC was necessary because the Latvian Social Democrats were against LPNC but would join a new parliament. Latvian independence was proclaimed by the new NC on November 18, 1918 in Rīga. A provisional government was formed with Jānis Čakste as President and Kārlis Ulmanis as Prime Minister.
Article XII of the Armistice Agreement between Germany and the Allies stated that German forces on the Eastern Front should withdraw only when the Allies considered it desirable. It was hoped that the Germans would remain as a barrier against the Bolsheviks. However, the regular German army disintegrated after the armistice. Most headed home, and only a volunteer unit, the Iron Brigade (soon to be renamed the Iron Division), offered to remain in Latvia. Some departing Germans, influenced by Bolshevik propaganda, formed Soviet-style soldiers councils and handed over their supplies to the Bolsheviks. The Baltic Germans organized their own Landeswehr [Home Guard] units as early as November 11.
Germany recognized NC and the Latvian provisional government as the successor-power to the German occupational authorities on November 26. On December 2 Red Army troops advanced into Latvia. Therefore, on December 7 the Latvian provisional government signed a treaty with the German envoy to Estonia and Latvia, August Winnig, which established a Latvian Defense Force under German command, to consist of 18 Latvian, 1 Baltic Russian, and 7 Baltic German companies. However, the Germans had no intentions to allow the organization of a strong Latvian army. They hoped to seize the Baltic for themselves and thus gain some compensation in the east for their defeat in the west. The Allied wishes to use the Germans as a barrier to the Bolsheviks gave the Germans a perfect pretext for staying in Latvia. They used this pretext to bring other volunteers from Germany and to hinder the organization of Latvian units as unreliable and potentially Bolshevik (pointing to the Red Latvian Rifles).
The first Latvian company of the new nationalist army was formed on December 3, commanded by Captain Jānis Balodis who had recently returned from a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. Seriously wounded, he had been captured by the Germans after the battle in the forests of Augustow in February 1915. Since the Germans [page 45] were still the real military power in Latvia, the Latvians could only do what the Germans did not oppose. A very limited mobilization was carried out in December 17-20 among officers and noncommissioned officers, only in Rīga and the surrounding countryside, to increase the total number of Latvian companies to 8, far from the authorized total of 18, and even those 8 were under full strength. Furthermore, the weapon supply was miserable. The Germans turned over their supplies either to the Bolsheviks or to the Baltic Germans. Even the Allies were reluctant to supply the Latvians when the Germans maintained that all Latvians were Bolsheviks. Moreover, the White Russians announced that all former officers of the Czars army who entered the service of the independent Latvian army were violating the oath to Czar and would be prosecuted accordingly.
December 18 a few ships of the Allied navies entered the Rīga harbor and were hailed as the deliverers from years of bloodshed and tyranny.
As early as the end of November Vācietis transferred some of the Red Latvian Rifle regiments to the vicinity of Pskov to begin an assault against the retreating Germans (since the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was annulled by the Bolsheviks). They occupied southern Estonia and northern Latvia during December. A Latvian Bolshevik government was established December 4, headed by Stučka, and was recognized by Lenin on December 22 as the government of an independent Latvia.
Famine, terror, and incompetence were the trade-marks of Bolshevik rule in Russia. The northern Latvians had experienced Bolshevik rule during the previous winter. The conditions in Russia were well known. Thus nobody was anxious to welcome a Russian-style Bolshevik government in Latvia, perhaps not even the majority of the Red Latvian Rifles - some were simply adventurers, and some were nationalists with a Red tint who supported Lenin because he opposed the White Russian generals who fought for a restoration of an undivided Russia ruled by a privileged class. Of course, the Rifles attacked the Germans because finally, after years of carnage, freedom for Latvia from German rule seemed within reach. Most of the Rifles did not even know that a nationalist government had been established. The Bolsheviks tried to portray Ulmanis as a puppet of the Germans. A few months later, when the actual situation become obvious, most of the Rifles in Latvia either demobilized [page 46] themselves or crossed over to the nationalist side. The Rifles in Russia met a more tragic fate. When the Russian Bolshevik leaders realized that the Rifles were nationalists first and Reds second, and when the Rifles started to demand a return to Latvia, they were thrown into battle against impossible odds and most of them perished.
However, in December of 1918 the Red Latvian Rifles and some Russian units outnumbered the opposing forces and advanced steadily into Latvia. The Germans were actually glad: 1) they could demand better terms from the nationalist government for German help; 2) since in their secret grand design they expected to extend some form of domination over the Baltic, a taste of the Red terror would make Latvians more willing to accept such German domination. The Germans refused to give weapons to Latvians. The Allies supplied a few, far from sufficient. In Cēsis there were 20 rifles for 300 nationalist volunteers; because of this sorry state most of the volunteers dispersed. The ones who stayed were ill-clothed and poorly provisioned. A high proportion consisted of enthusiastic teenagers. Latvia lacked men of military age because of the high losses during World War I, because a large fraction of the population was dispersed in Russia as refugees, and because thousands served in the Rifles. Thus it was not uncommon to find boys 15 or 16 years old in the nationalist army.
January 1, 1919 the provisional government appointed Lieutenant Colonel Oskars Kalpaks as the commander of the tiny Latvian nationalist forces. During World War I Kalpaks had served as the commander of a Russian regiment. The same day the Red Latvian Rifles vanquished a Baltic German Landeswehr unit outside Rīga, and the German army stepped up its evacuation. The Allied navy had orders not to interfere in the fighting and left. January 3 the Red Latvian Rifles occupied Rīga. Ulmanis government fled by train to Jelgava, and a few days later to the port city Liepāja in Courland. The forces opposing the Reds numbered a little over a thousand: about 400 Latvians, 500 in the Baltic German Landeswehr, and 200 in the German volunteer Iron Brigade. By the end of January the nationalists held only a small semi-circle around Liepāja, about 50 km in width. Yet the Reds failed to finish off this minute force in a tiny enclave. They survived because: 1) a lot of the Red Latvian Rifles deserted when they reached their home towns; 2) the Estonian nationalists, well supplied by the Allies, began with Finnish help [page 47] an offensive against the Reds in the north and thus threatened the Red rear; 3) the Germans bolstered their volunteer forces by several thousand men recruited in Germany . Of course, the Germans were not motivated by a desire to save the Latvian government; in a few months the Latvian nationalists were forced to fight a two-front war, against the Reds in the east and against the Germans in south and west.
Despite German obstruction the nationalists managed to mobilize 1,400 additional men in January-March in the small enclave which they held. They finally received 5,000 rifles and 50 automatic rifles from British warships in Liepāja on February 9 . Since the Estonian nationalists were approaching northern Latvia, some Latvian officers were sent to Estonia to organize a northern Latvian nationalist army in the liberated regions. By March this so-called Brigade of Northern Latvia numbered about 1,500, commanded by Captain Jorģis Zemitāns.
The Germans found it difficult to accept the reality of defeat by the Allies. The returning soldiers faced famine and unemployment. A lot of them joined volunteer paramilitary organizations called Freikorps [Freecorps] to take revenge against the traitors at home who must have caused Germanys defeat, to prevent the Poles from taking German territory, and to stop Bolshevism. By the summer of 1919 the Freikorps constituted an illegal German army of 400,000-1,000,000 . Marked by brutality and ruthlessness, the Freikorps was the forerunner of the Nazi SS; Heinrich Himmler, the future leader of the SS, was a member of the Freikorps.
A German Major General Ruediger von der Goltz arrived in Liepāja on February 1 to take over command of the 6th German Reserve Corps in Latvia which now contained Freikorps units in the Iron Division (roughly 4,000 strong) and the First Reserve Guard Division (about 5,000 men). His announced purpose was to secure Germanys eastern frontiers from a Bolshevik attack. His unannounced purposes were: 1) to help the Baltic Germans regain their dominance, and to colonize the Baltic with German war veterans; 2) to gather a military force for the German Rightists who were seriously considering renewing the fight against the Allies; 3) to assist White Russians against the Reds because a White Russia could be a potential ally against England and France .
The White Russians living in Latvia had formed a company of about 200 men, commanded by Prince Anatol Lieven, as part of the [page 49] Latvian Defense Forces. A much larger White Russian Northern Corps (initially about 3,000 men) was organized in Estonia and in July was renamed the Northwest Army, commanded by General Nikolai Yudenitch. It attempted to assault Petrograd twice, and failed both times.
The Red Latvian Rifles had 12,000 men in Latvia at the beginning of February, organized into 2 divisions: the already formed Latdivi sion and a new division composed of Latvian units which were previously outside Latdivision such as the Saratov Regiment. The new division also contained a sizable number of non-Latvians. The 5th Regiment remained with the Commander-in-Chief Vācietis in Russia (he had commanded the 5th during the Christmas Battle). By the middle of May the 2 divisions had 27,000 men since the Reds could carry out mobilization in a large part of Latvia. Including non-Latvians, the Red Army in Latvia numbered 45,000 .
However, while mobilization increased the number of men, it also changed the composition of the Red Rifles. The old Rifles, brain- washed by Bolsheviks and ignorant of nationalist ideas, now came into contact with the new recruits who were mostly anti-Bolshevik. On March 1 the Red Latvian government announced nationalization of land. In practice a meant that the huge estates which the German Baltic barons had stolen from the Latvians over the centuries were now stolen by the Red state. The condition of peasants still did not improve, only the masters changed. Instead of working for the barons they would now work for the state in communes; furthermore, private ownership of cattle was forbidden . This meant that most of the Latvians became disillusioned with the Reds, and the new recruits of the Red Latvian Army just dispersed when attacked by the nationalists.
The Latvian nationalist and German forces in southwest Latvia regained western Courland during February and pushed east in March. Kalpaks was killed on March 6 in a mistaken battle between Latvian nationalist and German units. Officially it was declared that the battle occurred because each unit thought the other one was a Red unit. Yet because of friction between Latvians and Germans the people did not believe it. Balodis replaced Kalpaks. By the end of March most of Courland was liberated from the Reds, and the front was about 30 km west of Rīga. However, at this point von der Goltz stopped and waited for two months before taking Rīga because he had some devious political plans.
One attempt to overthrow Ulmanis nationalist government had been discovered in February. A German Baltic baron Heinrich von Stryk arrived from Sweden in Liepāja aboard the ship Runeborg in the company of several German and Swedish officers. It was discovered that the Swedish Lt. Col. Edlund was carrying a package of very interesting documents: von Stryks plans for a Baltic monarchy, consisting of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania . Although Ulmanis government tried to arrest him, von Stryk managed to escape to Germany (possibly with the help of von der Goltz). The publicity given to this affair helped Ulmanis both at home and abroad. It convinced some doubtful Latvians that Ulmanis was not a German puppet. It alerted the Allies to German duplicity in the Baltic and reduced the credence of German reports that all Latvians were Bolsheviks. And it attracted several foreign journalists to Liepāja who could now observe first-hand the German intrigues.
The Germans forbade the Latvians to carry out mobilization in the liberated regions. Moreover, the Germans tried to steal the weapons which the Allies delivered to the Latvians. Furthermore, the Germans did not take deserting Red Latvian Rifles as prisoners-they shot them. Thus the Germans attempted to prevent the growth of the Latvian army, so that they themselves could be in a better position to usurp power.
The next attempt to overthrow the Latvian government took place on April 16, 1919. As a prelude to that event von der Goltz got rid of the German Soldiers Council in Liepāja on April 3. The latter had frequently sided with the Latvians against the German commanders in matters of local government. On April 16 units of Landeswehr and Freikorps Pfeffer disarmed and arrested Latvian soldiers and government officials in Liepāja. However, Ulmanis and most of the cabinet ministers escaped to a Latvian merchant ship Saratov in the harbor; the ship was placed under the protection of the Allied naval squadron. The Germans killed several Latvians. On April 26 the Germans appointed a pastor Andrievs Niedra as the Prime Minister of a rival government  . However, the Allies continued to recognize Ulmanis as the head of a de facto Latvian government, and the Latvian people rallied behind Ulmanis because the German actions made it very obvious that he was an independent without ties to Germans or Reds.
The Latvian nationalist forces in the front lines in the southwest, commanded by Balodis, were outnumbered by the Germans. The [page 51] Brigade of Northern Latvia was too far away to affect events in Liepāja. Thus militarily the Latvians in April were incapable to stop the German coup. On the diplomatic front they did rather well. Nobody really believed the German story that the coup was an internal Latvian affair. The nationalist forces continued to hold the front against Reds and declared their allegiance to Ulmanis government.
The government of Germany requested von der Goltz not to use German Reich forces beyond Jelgava. Consequently, when von der Goltz felt ready for an attack upon Rīga, it was done with the Baltic German Landeswehr (it would have been politically stupid to let the Latvian nationalists liberate Rīga since the Germans still tried to portray all Latvians as Bolsheviks). However, even the Landeswehr contained a high percentage of Reich Germans, and it was commanded by a Prussian officer. The attack started on May 22. Balodis brigade encircled Riga from the north, the Landeswehr entered Rīga the same day, and, despite orders from Berlin, even the German Iron Division took part by securing the region south of Rīga.
During their four and a half months of rule in Rīga the Bolsheviks had killed thousands as part of the Red Terror; now the Landeswehr did the same (so-called White Terror). Thousands of Latvians were killed as real or suspected Bolsheviks. Balodis brigade entered Rīga on May 23 but was promptly dispatched by the Germans to the front east of Rīga. However, Balodis protests to the Allies about German atrocities eventually did halt the killings.
The Estonians and the Brigade of Northern Latvia took advantage of the disorganization of the Red Army due to the fall of Rīga and pressed south and east. They captured Cēsis on May 30, Madona on June 4, Jēkabpils on June 6 . The Estonians occupied the Russian town of Pskov on May 25, and the White Russian Northern Corps pushed northeast toward Petrograd. Besides such clashes on well-defined fronts a lot of skirmishes took place in the Red rear where a number of nationalist guerilla units operated very successfully.
Since the Allied Supreme Council in Paris was beginning to scrutinize the strange activities of von der Goltz in Latvia, and even Berlin felt compelled to reduce the role of German Reich forces in his adventures, he did not waste any time in proceeding to the next step in the grand plan: the subjugation of Estonia.
Instead of sending the German forces east and south of Rīga in [page 52] pursuit of the Red Army, von der Goltz sent the Landeswehr north-east to Cēsis which had already been liberated by the Brigade of Northern Latvia and the Estonians. Four days of clashes between Germans and the combined Latvian and Estonian force ended on June 10 with an armistice arranged by American Lt. Col. Warwick Greene, a representative of the Allied Military Mission in the Baltic. British General Sir Hubert Gough, the Chief of that Mission, ordered von der Goltz to withdraw from Cēsis . Von der Goltz came up with another trick: the puppet Niedra government declared that the Estonians were encroaching upon Latvia and that the Landeswehr as part of the Latvian Defense Force had been requested to repulse them. Furthermore, von der Goltz hired out the German Iron Division to the Niedra government for a couple of weeks to help the Landeswebr. Von der Goltz could now claim that he was complying with Allied orders and that the conflict at Cēsis was strictly between Latvians and Estonians (except that all Latvians in reality were either Reich or Baltic Germans).
The Iron Division attacked on June 20. The assault included a gas attack upon the Latvian artillery. Three Estonian and one Latvian regiment battled the Landeswehr and the Iron Division for three days almost without interruptions and defeated them thoroughly . By June 25 the victorious Estonians and Latvians were outside Rīga and forced the Germans steadily back. On July 2 a few units from the Balodis brigade arrived from the eastern front and joined the attack upon the Germans. The beaten Germans asked the Allies to help arrange an armistice. Even though the Estonians and Latvians would have preferred to expel the Germans by force, upon Allied insistence, a treaty was signed July 3 which provided for a withdrawal of all German forces (including the Landeswehr) from Rīga by July 5. The Reich Germans were to leave Latvia as soon as possible. The administration of Rīga was taken over by British Col. Stephen Tallents until the arrival of a legal Latvian government. The Landeswehr was placed under the British Lt. Col. Harold Alexander (the famous field-marshal during World War II) for use against the Red Army only  .
The Brigade of Northern Latvia entered Rīga on July 6 in triumph. Niedra disappeared, and Ulmanis returned to Rīga with his cabinet aboard the ship Saratov on July 8.
It seemed that finally Latvia would be in the hands of nationalist Latvians, except for some eastern regions still held by the Red Army. [page 53] Yet von der Goltz had one more trick up his sleeve. But first he licked his wounds for a couple of months.
In November of 1918 Admiral Kolchak became the supreme commander of anti-Bolshevik forces in Siberia. The other White Russian leaders (General Denikin in the South, General Miller in Archangel, and General Yudenitch in Estonia) acknowledged Kolchaks government as the all-Russian national government. Unfortunately, Kolchak was an ardent believer in a great undivided Russia. Consequently, the Finns and Estonians were reluctant to help Yudenitch, and the Bolsheviks could maintain to the Latvian Rifles that the defeat of White Russian forces was necessary if they wanted independence for Latvia.
A Soviet Republic was established in Hungary in March of 1919. This seemed to herald the predicted sweep of revolutions across Europe. Vācietis ordered Antonov-Ovseenko, now the commander of the Ukrainian Red Army, to form a direct contact with the Hungarian Red Army. However, the Hungarian Soviet Government fell in August.
During 1919 contests for supremacy between White Russian, Red, and nationalist forces took place not only in the Baltic but throughout the prison of nations; for example, in the Ukraine and in the Caucasus. Poland had been proclaimed independent by the invading Germans late in 1916, but Germans had controlled her government until November 1918. In 1919 and 1920 Poland attempted to regain from Russia by force large regions which had belonged to the kingdom of Poland-Lithuania in the l8th century . In August of 1919 Polish and Lithuanian forces reached southeastern Latvia and helped in the liberation of Latgale.
While the battle for Kazan in August and September of 1918 was the turning point in the Red campaign on the Volga, the Reds still held only the center of Russia, and Kolchak launched a successful attack from Siberia toward the Volga in the spring of 1919. Indirectly this attack helped the nationalists in Latvia and elsewhere since it required the concentration of most of the Red forces to oppose Kolchak. However, when the Allied Supreme Council in Paris, in exchange for supplies, demanded from Kolchak a recognition of the independence of Poland and Finland and of the autonomy (it [page 54] was not clearly defined what was meant by autonomy) of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and of the Caucasian regions, Kolchak gave an ambiguous and evasive answer, still dreaming of an intact Russian empire. In the summer of 1919 Kolchaks offensive was stopped by the 5th Red Army, commanded by the Latvian Heinrihs Eihe , and by other Red units. By the fall Kolchaks armies were in a disorderly retreat.
In May of 1919 Denikin in the southeast started a successful White offensive. He captured Kharkov in June. Alarmed by Denikins advances, Vācietis and Trotsky wanted to transfer troops from Kolchaks front to Denikins front, but they were overruled by Lenin. Vācietis resigned as Commander-in-Chief in July. Trotsky also wished to resign, but was persuaded to stay . Kolchak was defeated. Yet Denikin took Kiev in August, Orel in October. He was now within 250 miles of Moscow.
Upon Lenins orders the Red Latvian Rifles were taken from the western front and thrown against Denikins spearhead in Orel. The Rifles had been reorganized after the retreat from Riga. The two divisions were combined into a single division and in August went from Latvia to the western front in Byelorussia, possibly to stop the desertions to the nationalist side. The deserters included even the commander of the whole army group in Latvia, Mangulis. At Orel the division had only 9,000 men , which should be compared with 27,000 men in Latvia in May. According to some estimates the discrepancy is even greater. The Reds supposedly mobilized 110,000 Latvians; thus 100,000 may have deserted.
Denikins spearhead at Orel consisted of the best divisions of the Volunteer Army, composed almost exclusively of officers. Their orders were: Dont take commissars or Latvians as prisoners!. The Latvian Rifles broke through the White front and captured Krom southwest of Orel on October 15 . A Red Estonian division arrived and attacked Denikins forces from northwest. The Red 13th and 14th Armies advanced from southeast. Denikins forces retreated from Orel on October 20, which marked a turning point on the southern front.
The Red Latvian Rifles, despite heavy losses to an epidemic of typhus, captured Kharkov on December 12  . Other Red forces took Kiev on December 16. Denikins resistance crumbled.
The Allies abandoned Archangel in September and Murmansk in October  . Yudenitch attacked Petrograd in October, but [page 56] was repulsed and subsequently disarmed by the Estonian nationalists in spite of Allied protests, because the Estonians were ready to sign a peace treaty with Soviet Russia. In November the Reds captured Kolchaks capital Omsk. The tide had turned in favor of the Reds.
The Latvian nationalist front in the east against the Red army was relatively quiet during the second half of 1919. The Reds were occupied with the offensives against Kolchak and Denikin. The nationalists were occupied with von der Goltzs last trick.
In spite of the treaty signed in July the German forces did not withdraw from Latvia; von der Goltz blamed technical difficulties such as lack of transport. Just the opposite took place - reinforcements from Germany arrived continuously without any transportation difficulties  , some of them disguised as tourists. Furthermore, the German High Command for North indicated to von der Goltz that evacuation orders should not be taken seriously, and that his troops could be transferred into White Russian service. To create such a convenient White Russian camouflage, a few hundred Russian prisoners of war, released in Germany, were enlisted under Pavel Avalov-Bermondt, an adventurer, and were sent to Courland as a West Russian Army. Von der Goltz gave Bermondt a competent German staff and let the recently arrived German volunteers transfer into a German Legion under Bermondts nominal command . Thus the German army was transformed into a Russian army, just as during the battle of Cēsis it had been transformed into a Latvian army. The real White Russian army, headed by Prince Lieven (about 3500 strong), which had participated in the liberation of Rīga, left in July to join Yudenitch in the north near Petrograd.
In August the German government in Weimar agreed to continue paying the Germans who now were Russians, while the Germans who were not Russians must be evacuated according to Allied orders. The Iron Division and the German Legion refused to obey any evacuation orders, and the official transfer into the West Russian Army was started on September 17 .
The principal fantasies of the German and Russian collaborators were: 1) a march on Moscow to install a White Russian government [page 57] friendly to Germany (but the force was never strong enough for that even though Denikin was keeping the Reds occupied with his own charge to Moscow); 2) the overthrow of the current Leftist German government by the victorious troops returning from Moscow, and an annulment of the Treaty of Versailles which had just been signed by Germany and the Allies. Secondary objectives included Baltic land for German war veterans and restoration of Baltic Germans to a privileged position. The Latvian nationalists created an obstacle to those plans: 1) in a drive to Moscow they could threaten the rear of the West Russian Army; 2) the White Russia envisioned by von der Goltz and Bermondt was the undivided pre-war Russia; their plans did not allow for an independent Latvia. Furthermore, if a White Russia friendly to Germany could not be established, Germany at least would like to obtain some kind of dominance over the Baltic region. Consequently, the first priority of the West Russian Army was the subjugation of the Latvian nationalists.
Upon Allied demands the German government announced on September 25 that von der Goltz would be replaced by General von Eberhardt to supervise the evacuation of German troops, while at the same time the German government officially sanctioned the transfer of German volunteers to the West Russian Army. The Allies, tired of the German games, delivered an ultimatum on September 27 : all Germans must be evacuated at once, including those in Russian service, or the Allies would reinstate the blockade of Germany. The German government immediately sent an order canceling permission to transfer into Russian service, but this order mysteriously took several days to reach Latvia, and by that time von der Goltz could truthfully state that the transferred Russian troops were no longer under his command. Therefore, there was nothing that he could do.
Bermondts Russians attacked Rīga on October 8, the German Legion on the right along Daugava, the Iron Division in the center along the main road from Jelgava to Rīga, and the Corps of Count von Keller on the left along the seashore. Bermondts total army amounted to about 51,000 men, 120 airplanes, and 101 guns, while the total Latvian army consisted of 39,000 men and 33 guns. However, since the best Latvian troops were on the eastern front against the Red Army, and since most of Bermondts forces were in Lithuania, initially in the battle for Rīga 6400 Latvians and 16 guns were pitted against 8600 men and 56 guns of Bermondts army. [page 58] The Latvian troops were mostly raw recruits undergoing training, while the Germans were veterans of World War I.
German attempts to encircle the Latvians on the west bank of Daugava did not succeed, and on October 9 the Latvians withdrew to the east bank. On October 10 the Allies established a naval blockade on all German shipping in the Baltic Sea. The Estonians sent two armored trains (guns mounted on flatcars) to help in the defense of Rīga. The Allied naval squadron moved out from the Rīga harbor into the Gulf of Rīga. Still, the Germans were afraid to cross the Daugava since the Allies could re-enter and cut them off. Consequently, the Germans confined the attack on Rīga to a heavy artillery bombardment and sent some of their forces southeast to force a crossing of Daugava further upstream. They also offered a truce in insolent terms on October 11, but the Latvians did not deign to answer. The Latvians took advantage of the reduction of the German forces opposite Rīga and counterattacked across Daugava on October 14 with limited success. By the evening the Latvians had to retreat back to the right bank. Admiral Sir Walter Cowan, the commander of the Allied squadron, sent an ultimatum to the Germans to withdraw by noon of October 15 . When they failed to do so, French and British cruisers and destroyers, commanded by the French Rear Admiral Brisson, bombarded the Germans in support of another Latvian attack. The Latvians crossed the Daugava north of Rīga in small boats past the Allied ships, cheered on by the sailors. By the afternoon of October 15 the Latvians had a secure bridgehead on the left bank of Daugava.
On October 19 the Latvians repulsed German attempts to cross the Daugava upstream. Stopped in the east, the Germans turned west and occupied most of Courland. On October 31 the Rossbach Freikorps left Germany without permission and marched to Latvia. It arrived on November 11, just in time to save Bermondts army from total defeat.
The major Latvian counterattack began on November 3 along the seashore with artillery support from the Allied ships. On November 10 the Latvians turned southeast. They liberated the suburbs of Rīga on the west bank of Daugava on November 11 . By November 16 the Latvians threatened to encircle the German headquarters at Jelgava. The fighting was bitter on both sides: prisoners were rarely taken; the Germans left behind them a scorched earth; they carried away everything portable and torched the rest. Some [page 60] typical German atrocities were described by Walter Duranty, the correspondent for The New York Times:
The Germans took them [four Latvian soldiers] along a road to a big field which was separated from the road by a six foot ditch. Across the field about a hundred yards away there was a wood. The Germans said to the Letts, Now, you bastards, well give you a chance. At the word of command you jump the ditch and run for your lives. We shall give you ten seconds, then start shooting. In short, revolver practice with human targets. One Lett fell less than a dozen yards beyond the ditch with the back of his head blown off: The second was shot through the heart about twenty yards farther, and the third took a bullet in the spine a moment later, which killed him too. 1 saw the bodies of these three still lying in the snow. The fourth man was winged, but reached the shelter of the wood, and lived to tell the tale. 1 talked with him in the hospital.
The next day on my return to Rīga I heard another atrocity story. Four or five nights before, during the bombardment, the Bermondt troops had caught a Lettish spy, or a man they thought was a spy. They tied him up in barbed wire, then cut a hole in the ice on the river and dipped him through for five seconds, to make him confess. They would pull him out and a film of ice would immediately form over him. There were thirteen such films on his body when the Letts found it, so one presumes he died hard and slowly; but he didnt talk. The Letts are not always excessively quick on the uptake but they are loyal as steel, and damn tough. I like the Letts and admire them. Half of their troops there in Mitau [Jelgava] were barefoot, or next to it, with the temperature ten degrees below zero, but they kept going. Good tough peasant soldiers, a hundred per cent loyal and intensely patriotic.
Friedrich Heinz, one of the German volunteers in Bermondts army, wrote:
[page 61] unloaded all their despair and fury in one wild power-blow against the Letts. Villages burst into flames, prisoners were trampled underfoot . The leaders were powerless, or else they looked on with grim approval.
The soldiers of the Iron Division and the German Legion
Similarly, from the German volunteer Ernst von Salomon :
We saw red and no longer seemed to possess human feelings. Wherever we passed the land groaned from destruction. Where once peaceful villages stood was now only soot, ashes, and burning embers after we had passed. A gigantic banner of smoke marked our way. We kindled a funeral pyre, and more than dead material burned on it - there burned our hopes, our longings, there burned the bourgeois tables, laws, and values of the civilized world . And so we came back swaggering, drunken, laden with plunder.
And thus the future stalwarts of the German Nazis got their training in burning Latvian farms and killing Latvian soldiers and civilians. The veteran Germans were defeated by the young Latvian army, mostly kids and old men. The brothers Veiss were typical. Alfreds, sixteen, and Voldemārs, nineteen, volunteered for the nationalist army in January, 1919. By the fall of 1919 Voldemārs was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and was so successful in ridding a township from Red guerilla gangs that the Reds put a price of 10,000 rubles on his head. Alfreds was killed by Bermondts forces in the Latvian attack across Daugava in October and received the Order of Lāčplēsis [Bearslayer], the highest Latvian decoration, posthumously. Ironically, Voldemārs Veiss later became the first Latvian to receive the German Knights Cross for bravery during World War II when the Latvians were forced into an unwilling alliance with the Germans against the Russians. Yet he never forgot that his brother died from a German bullet.
Bermondt resigned from the command of his West Russian Army on November 16 . On November 17 the Iron Division and the German Legion formally requested to be taken back into the German army. The Lithuanians were skirmishing with the German troops [page 62] on their territory and thus were threatening the German rear. Von der Goltzs successor von Eberhardt arrived in Jelgava on November 17 and ordered a German counterattack against Latvians to improve the German position before offering an armistice. A Baltic Interallied Military Mission, headed by the French General Niessel, was on its way to examine the situation. However, by now the Latvians were growing tired of Allied Missions which urged them to fight the Reds but did nothing to stop the German atrocities. Only Allied interference had saved the German forces from annihilation after the battle of Cēsis. Despite American President Wilsons program of Fourteen Points which appeared to imply that all nations are entitled to self-determination, the peace conference in Paris had shown only sporadic sympathy for the nations trying to liberate themselves from the Russian prison of nations. They seemed to be more concerned with who is going to pay Russias debts to the Allies if the Reds prevail or if Russia is broken up into small nations. Consequently, when the German counterattack failed, and when the Latvians threatened to surround the Germans at Jelgava, and when Eberhardt offered an armistice on November 18 (ignored by the Latvians), and when Niessels Mission did arrive, then Ulmanis became conveniently ill and would not receive the Mission, and Balodis was in the front lines fighting the Reds. Ulmanis government severed diplomatic relations with Germany on November 26 and declared a state of war. The Latvian forces pursued the defeated Germans into Lithuania. The last skirmishes took place there on November 30 . In the words of the historian Oliver Warner , but for Allied intervention, it is possible that the jubilant Letts would have advanced upon East Prussia; that, at least, was a humiliation von der Goltz was spared. The Allies did interfere. Niessels Mission requested Balodis to hold back his troops. Admiral Cowan protested to the British Admiralty that such a request was madness. It gave the Germans time to transport their loot to Prussia so that Courland was utterly devastated while Prussia was teeming with livestock.
The last of the German troops crossed the frontier of Germany on December 13. The embittered German veterans of the Baltic campaign (called Baltikumers in Germany) took part in an attempted overthrow of the German government in March of 1920 (called the Kapp Putsch) which did not succeed. This failure [page 63] disillusioned the Baltikumers even more, and most of them eventually joined Hitlers movement, blaming the Weimar government for all their defeats .
Amidst all the fighting the Latvians managed also to begin the construction of the framework of their state. The National Council declared an amnesty for those who wished to leave Bolshevik ranks or who had supported Niedras government. On December 18, 1919, the National Council enacted the first law in Europe which granted cultural autonomy to the national minorities (Russians, Germans, Jews, Poles, etc.); each minority could establish its own free school system supported by the state.
The Bolsheviks had offered a peace treaty on September 11, but since Latgale was still in their hands, of course, the Latvians did not respond. The Estonians concluded an armistice with Soviet Russia on January 3, 1920, despite threats from the French government of an economic blockade - the French still hoped to defeat the Bolsheviks and regarded the Estonian armistice as a desertion from the ranks of anti-Bolshevik forces. The armistice freed Soviet troops which could now be deployed in Latvia. However, the Poles and Lithuanians joined the Latvians in the liberation of Latgale, and the Latvian forces which had vanquished Bermondt could be transferred to the Red front by the end of December of 1919. Therefore, an offensive started on January 3 was a great success, and all of Latvia was free of foreign occupation by the end of the month. The nationalist army of 400 at Liepāja in January of 1919 had grown to 70,000 in January of 1920 . In the words of The New York Times correspondent Duranty: true to their original intention, the Letts advanced no further and thus was ended the only successful campaign against the Bolsheviks in the whole history of Intervention and the Civil War.
An armistice between the Latvians and the Reds was concluded on February 1, 1920, but it was kept secret. Consequently, minor skirmishes continued. Soviet Russia concluded a peace treaty with Latvia, giving independent Latvia a de jure recognition on August 11, 1920. Article 2 said: Russia ... voluntarily and for eternal times renounces all sovereign rights over the Latvian people [page 64] and territory . It turned out that eternal times meant less than twenty years in the Soviet Union (the new name of Soviet Russia, adopted in 1924).
Soviet Russia signed peace treaties with Estonia on February 2, 1920, with Lithuania on July 12, 1920 , with Finland on October 14, 1920 , and with Poland on March 18, 1921 . Soviet Russia paid four million gold rubles to Latvia as compensation for property evacuated to Russia during the war, and granted rights to cut timber in Soviet territory. A peace treaty between Latvia and Germany was signed on July 15, 1920 . Nevertheless, as late as August 10, 1920, the United States still publicly asserted that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were properly a part of Russia. However, that did not prevent the U.S. (or France, or England) from presenting bills to the Latvian government for food and munitions supplied during the War of Liberation (the French asked five million franks for the transport of the Imanta and Troicka regiments from Siberia by ship to Latvia).
A freely elected Constituent Assembly met from May 1, 1920 to November 7, 1922 and prepared a Bill of the Latvian Constitution, an Agrarian Reform Bill, and approved a number of other laws.
On January 4, 1920 the defeated Kolchak abdicated as Supreme Ruler in favor of Denikin. The Czecho-Slovaks, embittered by the atrocities of Kolchaks troops, let the Reds capture Kolchak. He was shot on February 7 .
Denikins beaten army retreated south and at the end of March poured into the Crimean peninsula with the Reds in hot pursuit. On April 4 Denikin resigned, naming Baron Peter Wrangel as his successor.
The Crimea is connected to the mainland by the narrow Isthmus of Perekop across which an old barrier known as the Turkish Wall was reinforced by the Whites with machine-gun bunkers. Despite being severely understrength because of typhus, the Red Latdivision attacked the Turkish Wall on April 13 and captured a part of it, suffering heavy losses. A White cavalry counterattack almost surrounded the Latvians, and the Reds failed to send reserves . Why? Was it just the usual Russian incompetence and cowardice, or was there a grand design to let the Latvians die in hopeless [page 65] battles because they were suspected of being Latvians first and of supporting Bolsheviks only as a temporary matter of convenience? The Red Estonian division had just demanded passage home to Estonia in accordance with the peace treaty concluded on February 2. Despite Bolshevik obstruction and even some use of force, the Estonians succeeded. A Latvian artillery unit had also passed a resolution that those Latvians who wished to return to Latvia should be given that opportunity, since the Latvian Rifles were exhausted by endless fighting. The armistice between Latvia and the Soviet Union was secret, and thus the Latdivision did not know about it. In general the Bolsheviks kept the Latdivision in the dark about events in Latvia or distorted the news so as to keep the Latdivision in faithful service of the Bolsheviks.
The Latvians repulsed the White cavalry attack on April 13 but had to retreat from the Turkish Wall. Similar attempts to break through the Wall on April 14 and 16 also failed. A Polish offensive in Western Ukraine on April 25 forced the transfer of a large number of troops from the Crimean front to the Polish front, and Wrangel got a respite in which to transform his mob of refugees into a good fighting force and in which to outfit his army with the latest war technology.
On June 7 Wrangel broke out from Crimea, attacking with airplanes, tanks, cavalry, and infantry. The 9th Latvian Regiment was almost completely annihilated, and the 4th, 5th and 6th suffered heavy losses . The Latvians and other Red forces retreated to the right bank of the river Dnieper. Within a couple of weeks Wrangel occupied some substantial territory north and east of the Crimea.
In the beginning of July the Latdivision crossed the Dnieper to establish a beachhead on the left bank at Kakhovka. However, after several days of bloody combat the Latvians were forced to retreat. The 6th Regiment refused to take part in the attack and demanded a return to Latvia. The Red Army command was upset and hauled several officers and political commissars in front of a military tribunal, but to no avail. The Latvian Rifles began to desert individually and in groups so as to make a perilous journey back to Latvia. Lenins Praetorian Guard, praised as the vanguard of the Revolution a year and a half ago, the heroes of Kazan where they had turned the tide engulfing the Bolsheviks, the pride of Orel where they had stopped Denikins drive towards Moscow, the [page 66] Latvian Rifles were now on the Red Armys black list. The Latvians and the rest of the world were gradually recognizing the huge gap between Marxist theory and practice. The Bolshevik oppression of peasants led to famine and rural revolts. Religion was persecuted. Politically the people had even less representation than under the Czar since all other parties were outlawed. Millions died because of starvation and the Red Terror. A revolution against the Czars government in 1917 was justified because of corruption and oppression. However, the Bolsheviks stole from the Russian people the freedom which they had earned by the revolution. Czar Nicholas was replaced by Czar Lenin, and Czar Lenin ruled with a much heavier hand than Czar Nicholas ever had. The revolution was supposed to benefit the toilers. Yet by their policies the Bolsheviks destroyed the wealth of Russia and starved those same toilers.
During the night from August 6 to 7 the Latdivision again crossed the Dnieper and established a beachhead at Kakhovka. Three other Red divisions were sent into the beachhead also, and heavy fighting raged for three months . The beachhead threatened Wrangels rear. Therefore, some of his best forces tried to push the Reds into the river, and the Latvians suffered more heavy losses.
After the armistice with Poland in October the Reds could concentrate more forces against Wrangel. On October 28, 1920 the Reds started an offensive which drove Wrangels army back into the Crimea. On October 29 the Latdivision and other Red units reached the Isthmus of Perekop. The last offensive to crush Wrangels forces began on November 7. The Turkish Wall was occupied by the Reds on November 9, and the Whites retreated to the Ushun fortified line of defense. The Latdivision, which had been in reserve, was ordered to attack Ushun on November 11, and it broke through the Ushun line of defense the same day which put an end to serious resistance by the Whites. Within a week the Reds occupied the rest of Crimea, and Wrangel evacuated 146,000 people by sea to Constantinople from where they dispersed further. Thus ended the last stand of the Whites.
The Latdivision ceased to exist on November 29, 1920 when it was dissolved by the Red Army. By then the peace treaty between Soviet Russia and Latvia was generally known, and thousands returned home, sometimes using force to assure passage.
The Latvian nationalist historians are reluctant to mention the exploits of the Latdivision since they regard the Bolshevik brainwashing of the Rifles a dishonor. The chauvinistic Russian Communist historians minimize the importance of non-Russians. The Western historians have trouble distinguishing between Russians and non-Russians, one foreign name sounding just as strange as another foreign name. Consequently, the role of the Latdivision in the founding of the Soviet Union is sinking in the quicksands of history. Indirectly the Latdivision did assist in the struggle for Latvias independence: their defeat of the White Russian forces prevented the re-establishment of Kolchaks goal, the great, united, undivided Russia.
Of course, the achievements of the nationalists in the direct struggle for independence surpassed even those of the Latdivision - teenagers and old men, fighting on two fronts, routed two veteran armies. Independence was bought dearly and, therefore, was highly treasured. Seven hundred years of oppression by foreigners had finally ended.
Latvians returned home. The poet Jānis Rainis who had inspired Latvians with
ideas of independence from exile in Switzerland returned in April of 1920 with
his wife, the poetess Aspāzija, and received the most triumphant welcome in the
history of Rīga. The Imanta and Troicka
regiments arrived by ships from Vladivostok via the Indian Ocean and the Suez
Canal. The peace treaty with Soviet Russia provided for repatriation of Latvian
refugees who wished to return. However, in practice a request to repatriate
could mean arrest by the Cheka or at least the loss of a job and endless
waiting. For example, Auzāns (the former commander of the 2nd Brigade and
thereafter the commander of the Russian Topographical Corps) had to wait two
years in poverty to get permission to cross the frontier to Latvia.
About 200,000 Latvians returned from Soviet Russia, while another 200,000 stayed
there, either afraid to request repatriation, or
reluctant to leave their new homes (such as the colonists in Siberia), or still
expecting Lenins utopia to come true. Some, such
as Vācietis, were not welcome because of their fight against the nationalists.
Latvia would not accept them even though they wished to return .
 Chamberlin, vol. II, pp.122-3.
 Klīve, p.364.
 Bilmanis, p.307.
 4. C.L. Sullivan, German Freecorps in the Baltic, 1918-1919, J.Baltic Studies, vol. 7, pp.124-133.
 Plensners, p.170.
 Ibid., p.164.
 Bilmanis, p.309.
 Ibid., p.312.
 H. Rozenšteins, ed., Latvijas Armija 20 Gados (20 Years of the Latvian Army, in Latvian) (reprinted from a 1939 Latvian Army publication by Raven Printing, Inc., Grand Haven, Mich., 1974), p.66.
 Plensners, p.183.
 Ibid., p.188.
 Samsons, vol. II, pp.290-1.
 Ģērmanis, Latviešu , p.270.
 Bilmanis, p.310.
 Plensners, p.187.
 Ibid., p.161 & p.195.
 Rozenšteins, p.71.
 Plensners, p.203.
 Rozenšteins, p.74.
 Rei, pp.57-8.
 Rozenšteins, p.82.
 Ibid., pp.80-2.
 Ibid., pp.117-9.
 G.S.Graber, History of the SS (D.McKay Co., Inc., New York, 1978), p.28.
 Ibid., p.4.
 Rozenšteins, pp.82-3.
 Rei, p.63.
 C.L.Sullivan, The 1919 German Campaign in the Baltic: The Final Phase, in Vardys, Misiunas, op. cit., p.32.
 Rei, p.74 & 87.
 Samsons, vol. II, p.690.
 Porietis, pp.471-2 and 479-481.
 Samsons, vol. II, p.291.
 Kroders, p.336.
 Rozenšteins, p.94.
 Kroders, pp.305-312.
 Plensners, pp.303-6.
 Kroders, p.313.
 Rozenšteins, p.83.
 Plensners, p.350-1.
 Ibid., p.352.
 Ibid., pp.358-366.
 Kroders, pp.314-325.
 Klīve, pp.404-417.
 Rozenšteins, p.104.
 Ibid., pp.110-3.
 Bilmanis, p.322.
 Rozenšteins, pp.113-4.
 Ibid., p.114 and 128.
 Rei, pp.74-5.
 Rozenšteins, pp.139-153.
 Rei, pp.77-9.
 Bilmanis, pp.322-3.
 Rei, p.80.
 Roznšteins, pp.130-3.
 Rei, pp.80-1.
 Rozenšteins, p.136.
 Bilmanis, p.323.
 Rei, pp.82-3.
 Rozenšteins, pp.136-7.
 Chamberlin, vol.II, p.186.
 Ibid., p.214.
 Halecki, pp.375-6.
 Chamberlin, vol.II, p.171.
 H.A.Grant Watson, The Latvian Republic (George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1965), pp.64 & 95-6.
 Samsons, vol.II, p.96.
 Chamberlin, vol.II, p.192.
 Ibid., pp.246-9.
 Samsons, vol.I, p.377.
 Ibid., vol.II, p.252.
 Porietis, p.395.
 Ibid., p.475.
 Ibid., p.474.
 Chamberlin, vol.II, p.276.
 Šteins, pp.47-9.
 Porietis, p.396.
 Ibid., p.397.
 Šteins, pp.49-51.
 Chamberlin, vol.II, p.169.
 Kennan, p.89.
 Rei, p.110.
 Chamberlin, vol.II, p.200.
 Rozenšteins, p.173.
 Bilmanis, p.325.
 Page, p.159.
 Sullivan, The 1919 , p.34.
 Ibid., pp.34-6.
 Rozenšteins, p.174.
 Sullivan, The 1919 , p.37.
 Ibid., p.39.
 Bilmanis, p.327.
 Rei, p.101.
 Rozenšteins, p.178.
 Ibid., pp.176-7.
 Rei, p.103.
 Sullivan, The 1919 , p.40.
 Rozenšteins, pp.179-184.
 Rei, p.105.
 Rozenšteins, p.187.
 Ibid., p.193.
 Ibid., pp.198-200.
 Sullivan, The 1919 , p.41.
 Duranty, pp.39-40.
 Graber, p.29.
 I.Vanadziņš, Veiss (in Latvian) (Zelta Ābele, Stockholm, 1955), pp.5-7.
 Rozenšteins, p.207.
 Klīve, p.426.
 Bilmanis, p.328.
 Rei, p.99.
 Klīve, p.435.
 Kavass, Sprudzs, p.62.
 Rozenšteins, p.212.
 O.Warner, The Sea and the Sword, the Baltti 1630-1945 (Wm. Morrow & Co., New York, 1965), p.165.
 Grant Watson, p.81.
 Bilmanis, pp.332-3.
 Von Rauch, p.71.
 Rei, pp.111-2.
 Rozenšteins, pp.217-232.
 Duranty, p.83.
 Rozenšteins, pp.233-4.
 Bilmanis, p.329.
 Von Rauch, p.75.
 Kavass, Sprudzs, pp.172-3.
 Rei, p.116.
 Bilmanis, p.330.
 Ibid., pp.333-6.
 Chamberlin, vol.II, pp.201-3.
 Ibid., pp.288-9, 318-9, and 533.
 Šteins, pp.54-7.
 Porietis, pp.398-401 and 405-7.
 Ibid., pp.398-9.
 Ibid., p.458.
 Ģērmanis, Latviešu , p.298.
 Šteins, pp.57-8.
 Porietis, pp.407-8.
 Ibid., p.459.
 Samsons, vol.II, p.12.
 Šteins, pp.58-63.
 Samsons, vol.III, p.719.
 Ibid., vol.II, p.764.
 Chamberlin, vol.II, p.332.
 Samsons, vol.II, p.252.
 Ģērmanis, Latviešu , p.299.
 Ibid., pp.304-5.
 Auzāne-Vītoliņa, pp.31-3.
 Samsons, vol.II, p.240.
 Ģērmanis, Oberst Vācietis , pp.22-3.
See the maps:
The front against the Reds in early 1919
Civil War and Intervention, 1919-1920. Farthest advances of anti-Bolshevik armies
The front lines on October 10, 1919
Table of contents Chapter V Chapter VII