Tag Archives: Eastern Front

The Three War Plans of the Comrade Stalin

This site, has discussed the Soviet foreign policy from 1939 to June 22 1941 in past. One of the reasons for this is to question and to break the one-sided explanation of Germany as the main perpetrator of the World War II and Soviet Union country striving to preserve peace. After the fall of the Soviet Union the dark shade over the Soviet history was lifted uncovering many  facts that showed the Soviet Union as no better than Nazi Germany. In terms of repressions, genocidal policy towards its own people and nations in Baltic states and Eastern Europe. What was almost impossible some 15 years before now is possible in western historiography to compare Stalinism to Hitlerism  and adequately judge the Soviet history of the WW2, without the “victorious side” guise.  What also begun 20 years ago and slowly starting to gain acceptance in the western and eastern historian cycles is the new understanding of the Soviet foreign policy. The Soviet propaganda showing the Soviet Union as nation struggling to preserve peace, Stalin afraid of Hitler with a weak army is not working anymore. The Soviet foreign policy was aggressive not defensive, despite the  slogan “Socialism within one state”. Stalin had not abandoned the Lenin’s quest for Worldwide Socialist Revolution and dragging Europe into a new global war was his personally defined quest. With so Stalin shares great responsibility of helping Hitler to stir up war in Europe and later holds even greater responsibility to his own people of dragging the Soviet Union in disastrous war with Germany. This article is a small summary based on the works of the Russian historians mainly Mark Solonin who created the theory of the Three Stalin’s War Plans. This topic is important for Latvian history as the Stalin’s aggressive policy affected Latvia directly.

The German attack on Soviet Union on June 22 1941 was completely unexpected turn of events for Stalin. It took some hours for Stalin to react and issue the first orders.  There were many foreign intelligence reports that were ignored by Stalin. The British diplomats in Moscow could not make contact with Soviet foreign commissar Vyacheslav Molotov for many hours. Why the Soviet leadership was so sure that Germany will not attack was a puzzle for many historians. Another puzzle for many is the fact that in May and June 1941 the Red Army was making a major strategical deployment – mobilization of reserves, strategical regroup and operative relocation of the army units. All this happened in depth secrecy.

The Soviet troops deployed near border only moved during the night-time, at daylight they took cover in the woods. The command staffs were moved to close border areas, in sealed trains and the even the commanders did not know where they will be taken and why. The reserves were gathered in covert ways, without no major announcements. Most were called personally for “practice muster”. Soviets gave no official complaints to Germany despite the quite uneasy mutual relations during the last months and military suspicion. Soviet Union on June 1941 was preparing for a major war, but tried to it secretly as possible. This all lead to one question – if Stalin was not expecting the German invasion, why he needed to deploy massive echelons of  troops and establish field front command posts nearby already at June 19?

This question was first answered by KGB defector Victor Suvorov. In his book the Icebreaker that is more a publicist work then an academic research, he explained that Stalin was preparing for war from the very first day. The massive centralization of economy, industrialization and collectivization that destroyed the successful Lenin’s NEP semi-capitalist economy was needed to create  a large war machine. The Great Purge was not just Stalin’s paranoia, but a needed action to gather his party and army for the coming war.   A nation unified by brutal force under the order of one man was set to face the whole capitalist world in final war that would realize the dream of the Socialist world order. On August 1939 Stalin made final decision to support Hitler in same matter as the table supports the hanged man. By dragging UK and France into destructive war with Germany, he then would pick an advantageous moment to strike from behind and finish the war as the victorious liberator. However, nor Stalin, nor UK and France did not expect such a swift German military success, that made him to fasten up the preparations for war. However, the German invasion was a heavy blow to his megalomania.

The Suvorov theory survived and was improved by historians such as V Kisilev, T Busheva, M Meltjukov, V Nevezhin and M Solonin and many others. For the theory was based on hundreds of facts and documents. Suvorov himself has given up on writing new books on his theory since other historians have done more work than him. No other alternative explanation was given, except the Rudolf Hess flight to UK conspiracy theories. Mostly its the traditional soviet explanation that is put against the so-called revisionist side   with lesser success every time.  Also an old arguments that revisionists have no documented evidence are no more relevant, for instance the latest Mark Solonin book “June 1941. The Final Diagnosis” is almost completely based on hundreds of documents from Soviet war archives. At the end the traditionalist side in Russia is showing signs of argumentative defeat by simply trying to punish historians, writers and even TV channels for falsely displaying the history of the Great Patriotic war and “insulting veterans”.

There is a little argument now that Stalin’s policy was aggressive. The date  of possible attack remains a question. For, the Stalin’s aggressive plan was not constant and changed three whole plans. Because the theory never works in practice in strategical political affairs. Neither Hitler was ever able to fulfill his foreign policy according to his Mein Kamph and his Second Book, because of real strategical situation and neither Stalin who also published many books and speeches about the coming war.

First Stalin’s war plan was quite simple based on his understanding of the Socialist Worldwide Revolution doctrine. It was nothing new as Lenin also predicted the next capitalist global conflict that would cause Socialist ultimate victory. According to Stalin’s speech on August 19 1939 that has now been recognized as true fact by historians such as Simon Sebag Montefiore a Stalins biographer who included this speech in his collection of the most important speeches of the XX century (his interpretation of this speech however serves the traditional soviet explanation), the pact with Germany would cause war within the capitalist states that would be long and destructive. And then Soviet Union would regain the lost territories of the Russian empire and play the decisive role in the end of the war. Stalin had real chance to sign a deal with UK and France to make a united front against Germany. It would possibly prevent Hitler from attacking Poland and place him into isolation. The Baltic States would  possibly still lose their independence or at least sovereignty.  But Stalin had clearly stated that such outcome would be disadvantageous  for the interests of the Soviet Union.

The plan brought its “fruits” – Eastern Poland was occupied, Baltic States and Bessarabia was taken without a force. The war in Finland although disastrous for the Red Army, allowed to gain many important industrial regions from Finland that she had to give up. Some documents like the note by executive of the Special Chamber of the NKVD Main Administration major Osterov in March 5 1940 claims that global conflict in the summer of 1940 will fought between USSR allied with Japan and Germany against the UK and France. The war will take a long time. However another document states when the British were considering sending a military support to Finland, the Soviet navy received directly that their main enemies are not British but Germany and Italy. Its shows a nature of double speak and deception within the official soviet communications.

Weather fighting the capitalists or the Nazis, Soviets made active preparations for the war right from 1939. The large strategical PE-8 (TB-7) bombers with bomb storage of 1 tons and maximal flight distance 3300 km (German HE-111 could reach 2700 km at that time), and that was not enough – a bomber with 5000 km was issued by Stalin. Such flight distance was not needed for defending Soviet Union, or even bombing Germany. Reaching London or Paris with them was more appropriate. Also a large paratrooper force was organized and PE-8 bombers were also meant as air landing party planes. A diving four motor heavy PB-4 bomber was in the works. Soviet war fleet was in the making. Soviets had 267 submarines, while Germany 57, Italy -68 and Japan 63. A such a large submarine force for country with less war ports on June 1941 showed a sign of weapons mania. On 1940-1941 the Soviet Air Force main Naval headquarters marked the Mediterranean ports as the main bombing targets. That were controlled by UK and France.

However, for many including Stalin, Nevil Chamberlain and French leaders was an unbelievable sight when weakened by the Versailles treaty and arms restrictions the German Wehrmacht managed to enter Paris no less than two weeks. Stalin had complained on April 17 1940 a month before the invasion in France that imperialist forces are not really fighting, but rather are playing cards. The German army on 1940 in technical sense was less advanced than France and UK. However, the France and UK soldiers and commanders had very less will to fight, while Germans had great discipline and high attack morale. In following months Germany had seized the control over the Eastern Europe and showed dissatisfaction with Soviets occupying and annexing the Baltic States and Romanian province of Bessarabia. The first Stalin’s plan had failed.

The Second War plan is more concrete and known to historians. The plan is preserved in documents and published. The two-volume “Russia XX Century.Documents of the 1941″ published on 1998 in Russian, holds important documents about Soviet strategical deployment and plan to fight against Germany on May 15 1940. The documents show that the plan for the major war existed and all of this plans were based only on major attack outside the Soviet borders. As on August 23 1939 Stalin had said to Ribbentrop that is important that Soviet Union establishes a common border with Germany – and on 1941 this was realized – the only two countries that would face such attack was Germany, Romania and Finland. The documents indicate targets like Lublin, Krakov, Vistula river and Warsaw all within German control. Two possible attack routes were made- the Northern path trough East Prussia and Northern Poland and the South path trough Lviv. At the end of the Lviv path was chosen. A war games was played out on both variants and contrary to self praising deceitful Zhukov memoirs no defensive games took place. It was Zhukov himself who was playing German side in the war games and lost to general Pavlov who was later shot after German invasion. One can say that this has no real significance – all major military powers conduct an attack plans just in case. However, Soviets were really trying to fulfill this plan and started to gather troops for the battle in masses. And that lead to disastrous events in June-July 1941 when millions of Soviet soldiers were killed and captured without a fight and massive stockpiles of tanks, airplanes and guns abandoned. The army was prepared for massive attack, of which the common soldiers and officers knew very less and were caught in disastrous rout after they were unexpectedly attacked.

At first soviet planners were still optimistic about the attack date. One document on March 11 1941 in bold text notes to “attack on 12.6.” Was this June 12 1941, or more likely June 1942. As some of the Red Army units mentioned in the document were still far from being fully deployed. The full tank deployment of KV and T-34 were still underway and could only happen on 1942 or later. Soviets had already a fast mobile tanks like BT-7 and T-26 and many heavy KV tanks. If used correctly in fast attack tactics even the small T-26 and heavy T-35 was a destructive force. There is some truth in Soviet propaganda saying that Stalin expected attack on 1942, because he was still doubtful about the German military capabilities and wanted to improve his already enormous army.

However, because of rapidly changing situation Stalin came to conclusion that there is no time, and the attack must take place on Summer 1941. Was the worsening relations with Germany or the intelligence reports that made him think so remains a question. Or it was growing impatience to realize his grand plan. The Third War plan had begun. The pro allied coup on March 26-27 1941 in Yugoslavia  and mutual assistance pact with Belgrade and Moscow on April 6 protested by Germany was a major trigger for it. In just few hours Germany invaded Yugoslavia. Soviet Union was supposed to help its new allies. Instead the Moltov told the German ambassador Shulenburg that he is sad that it all turned out this way.

Was the coup in Belgrade supported by Soviet or UK secret service. If by the first, the Stalin was surprised by this and could not react adequately, if the second – Soviets had managed to stir up Hitler against them even more. On April 13 1941 Soviets signed non aggression pact with Japan. The Eastern front was now secured, and Japan had fulfilled this pact right t0 very end of 1945, when Soviets broke it. Soviet and German relations had reached the lowest point. Both sides understood that and started to prepare for war. The German Plan Barbarossa was issued January 31 1941, but as noted to be realized only in the case of need. On April 30 Hitler realized that there is such need and made final decision.

On May 15 1941 Soviet command made final instructions on deployment of the Red Army forces. It was noted in the text that Germany is capable of strike  the Soviets first and made a surprise attack. The attack must took place when German army is having strategical deployment to gain first strike initiative. On May 24 1941 Stalin gathered all the main commanders, and Molotov and Beria a head of NKVD. There is no transcript or concrete info of what was said in the war conference. Possibly Stalin had possibly ordered to finish the deployment and start the war no earlier than middle June or late August 1941. If Stalin still wanted to attack on 1942, then holding a top secret meeting with all main officers in May 1942 would be irresponsible. It would be early and may result a leak of information. If during this meeting the general attack plan was laid out as indicated by the supreme secrecy the attack was meant to be on Summer of 1941. On the same time Germans wanted to attack too.

A large but secretive troop deployment took place. The troops were expected to be moved  to border areas at least to July 10. If so then the real attack must took place on 15-20 July when troops were deployed and ready. And that was too late for defensive actions. Hitler missed the chance to attack on May 15 because of the Balkan front. Hitler could only attack on no later than late July because of the climate conditions.

Both Stalin and Hitler were gambling on massive operation. German army despite well-trained and equipped was not greater in size and weapons power than Red Army and was tasked to reach Moscow in three-month time. Red Army had poor discipline and  morale, but large in numbers and heavy machinery. It was supposed to break trough Poland, then to Czechoslovakia, Balkans and to Berlin at the end. Both were short on time. If the Soviet attack was expected at the end of June or July, no later than September – then they also needed to face the winters of the Eastern Europe more harsher then now.

Was the attack intended on July or no less than August, or maybe even on June 23 as some claim, it was too late. Stalin had lost his Great game of 1939-1941. The outcome was horrific not fully deployed masses of the Red Army was running away, surrendering and leaving the whole airfields and tanks to enemy hands. It was not just the effectiveness of the German Blitzkrieg that made Germans reach Moscow in four months. It was again the inability to resist enemy invasion by the soviet troops who pushed the enemy more inwards in their land.  Red Army lost 900-1000 thousand man in summer while Germans 25-30 thousand men. 1 German to 35 Soviet soldiers. 3 million were captured. Large size of soldiers count in as Missing in Action. A great numbers of Soviet civilians perished. Stalin had sacrificed millions of his country men for the sake of megalomaniac insane dream of the Worldwide Socialist Revolution. Also blame of starting  World War II lays on Stalin’s just as Hitlers hands for the both dictators were genocidal megalomaniacs who  turned the whole Europe into bloodland. The lesson from this is to not allow the return of such people who holds control of such destructive forces in their hands.

Selected Sources:

Марк Солонин. (2013) Запретная правда о Великой Отечественной. Нет блага на войне! M. Яуза-Пресс

Марк Солонин. (2013) Июнь 41-го. Окончательный диагноз. – М.: Яуза, Эксмо

М. И. Мельтюхов (2000) Упущенный шанс Сталина. Советский Союз и борьба за Европу: 1939-1941 (Документы, факты, суждения). – М.: Вече, 200

Raack, R. (1995) Stalin’s drive to the west 1938-1945. The origins of the cold war. – Stanford.

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The Battle For Riga September-October 1944

Soviet propaganda poster celebrating the "liberation of the Baltic States"

Soviet propaganda poster celebrating the “liberation of the Baltic States”

On October 13 1944 another “liberation” of Riga took place. Similar to July 1 1941 when German army marched in, the “liberators” were greeted with flowers while others were fleeing. Only now there was no sign of Red and White flag or Latvian anthem. Instead the Soviet Red flag and anthem was everywhere. Riga was occupied by the Soviets for the second time. Soviets made no secret they are here to restore Soviet power and made no false illusions as Germans did on 1941. However, in contrast to first battle for Riga on July 1941, the city escaped massive damage and was taken without bitter fight. However, the Soviet political and military leadership wanted to make Riga a – “another Stalingrad”. Luckily thanks to the wise German military leadership Riga escaped this fate. And it was achieved not without the help of Latvian Waffen SS Legion men who gave their lives to help Germans evacuate the city.

On August 1944 the German army on the Eastern front was in grave danger. From July 30 Soviets had managed cut off German north group from the main group by reaching Jelgava and Tukums. The main command in Moscow made numerous calls to make attack on Riga from Madona and South Estonia. Soviets had also successfully defeated Germans in Belarus and Lithuania and headed for German East Prussia. Germans were also involved in relentless fighting with Allied forces in Northern France. So Germans had to give everything they had left. At Klaipēda (Memel) the 3th German tank army was restored. From Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad) a infantry division was send by air to South Estonia. The Riga was cut off from the land roads so small units were sent by sea route and then sent to Madona.

Soviet advance in the Baltic region 1944

Soviet advance in the Baltic region 1944

The Soviet attack group was called the Third Baltic Front. Soviets were confused by the German decision to leave Rēzekne and Daugavpils line. The Soviets overestimated their breakthrough to Šiauliai Lithuania as complete defeat for the German forces. On July 24 Moscow ordered to capture Viru Estonia, Valka and Valmiera in Latvia. However, the German stable line of defense cooled down the attackers. Cesvaine-Alūksne-Alūksne was in German hands till August 19, Cesvaine till September 12. Three soviet corps had a tough time fighting few German divisions and only on August 21 they were beaten.

Soviet 54th Army moved on Latvian soil to Alūksne and threatened to encircle it from the north. On August 17 three divisions from 1sth Shock Army moved to bypass Alūksne on route to Ape. Soviets gathered large forces of tanks and artillery and managed to breakthrough. However, for they faced organized German resistance and failed to encircle the city. Germans themselves left the city on August 19. With heavy casualties Soviets moved forward by August 27 . Soviets lost 4594 men, Germans 945 men according to Latvian Soviet War Commissariat reports. Such heavy casualties were  caused by vague tactics and officer incompetence. Many battalions were destroyed in frontal attacks right in the rear of the enemy positions.

Latvian Waffen SS Legion was fighting at Cesvaine and Nesaule. Soviets failed to bypass them from behind and were halted. After heavy battles at Ērgļi and the breakthrough of the 42th army to Jumurda lake the front in Vidzeme region stabilized. Latvian civilians constructed a defensive position from Lielezere to Lejasciems.

Meanwhile after Soviet victory in Belarus and raid to Tukums on July 30 situation was more dramatic. Germans still controlled Klaipēda and Tilzit (Sovetska) and gathered forces to relieve the Soviet breakthrough.  The Army group North was cut off from the main German forces in Courland. They now were under command of army group Center that operated in long line from the Cape of Kolka to Carpathian mountains. Adolf Hitler wanted to make a last grand tank offensive in the Eastern Front – with two tank corps from the Eastern Prussia, with 39th corps to Jelgava and 40th  corps to Šiauliai. The task was to recapture Tukums and relieve the line of communications from Riga to East Prussia.

But, Germans lacked forces to do this. There were just two Latvian and German battalions with few flak cannons, and very small SS tank brigade with some 10 tanks. But, Soviets had no proper fores on their own since the capture of Tukums was a great venture that succeed because there were no proper German forces to defend it. But, Soviets lacked fuel to move their tanks further. Now Germans formed two tank groups – Liepaja and Tauraģe tank group. To Taurage a 40th tank corps staff was moved from Romania. The operation was lead by talented general Heinz Guderian. Hitler took a close eye on this operation and sent the best Pz V type tanks. Latvian Artillery Division also joined.

On August 16 the attack started. Heavy battles took place involving heavy German Panther tanks. 39 Soviet tanks including 17 heavy tanks were destroyed. Germans however, failed to reach Jelgava. Meanwhile the forces heading to Sloka and Ķemeri to bypass Tukums managed to encircle the two soviet divisions. In so the gap between Riga and Courland was eliminated. That lead to the beginning of the Battle of Riga.

Soviets now planned to start a massive operation to capture Riga First Baltic Front with five armies and 44 divisions, Second Baltic Front with 33 divisions and Third Baltic Front and 29 divisions.Germans had army group North with two armies without proper reserves. On the morning of September 14 Soviet started operation to capture Riga.

The initial success was rather light. The Third Baltic front became stuck in South Estonia. The Second Baltic Front charged in Vidzeme. Along with them the Latvian 43th Guard Division made the most of the battle. However, as usual their Soviet comrade divisions were less successful and limited the offensive. From Iecava to Ķekava in route to Pārdaugava 43th army with 4th Shock army with 476 tanks was stopped at the very first day.

Soviet troops moving towards Riga

Soviet troops moving towards Riga

On September 15 the Latvian 2th Borderguard regiment was sent to halt the Soviets. On the night of September 16 with the help of German cannonade Latvia borderguards made a counter attack and took the defensive position  at the Riga-Ķekava highway. Soviets reached Baldone and made the Baldone-Ķekava route as the main position. Large forces were gathered here. Germans knew about this and planned to avoid casualties and evacuate.

On September 15 German army group North commander in charge Ferdinand Shorner made personal report to General Guderian and asked to start evacuation. His plan was to retreat from whole Northern Baltic region, from Narva to Cēsis. On September 16 Shorner visited the German general Staff. Hitler was very found of Shorner as fanatic Nazi and allowed him to carry out this operation. On September 19 Operation Aster was called to start.

On September 17 the Lenningrad Front opened offensive to capture Tallinn. Germans moved away from Narva to the port of Tallinn. Soviets were caught by surprise and was not even ready to chase the retreating Germans. Germans started to move to Sigulda and beat off the chasing soviets. Soviet commanders did not dare to inform Stalin about this evacuation and instead made tales of “massive attack operation”.   Germans retreated orderly by destroying all bridges and railroad lines. Many places were mined. Despite Jelgava being controlled by Soviets, Germans managed to build railroad from Riga to Liepaja.

From Northern Vidzeme Germans started to move on September 19. Soviets moved fastly but failed to break up the evacuation. On September 23 Germans left Parnu Estonia and Streņči in Latvia. Soviets faced heavy defeat near Ērģeme on September 20. Soviets also lost many men in unsecsuff raid to Valmiera. On September 25 Germans reached defensive position at Sigulda.

Latvian 19th Waffen SS Legion also retreated with the rest of the Germans. Many of these men hoped to fight for free Latvia. As the front was breaking, the goal seemed hopeless. Still without dissent they carried out their task and on September 24 -25 at night reached Sigulda defense position. They stationed near More school house blocking the Nītaure-Sigulda highway. And that was the main attack route for three heavy armed soviet regiments. Latvians had 44th, 42th and 43th regiment against large Soviet forces.

Soviet forces approached on September 26 and made fast attack with tanks. Soviets attacked directly at More were Latvians resisted fiercely. Soviets sent never ending attacks with artillery support and tanks. But, Latvians stopped every attack. All reserves of 44th regiment were depleted, the second echelon of the 43 regiment were sent to fight. Latvian artillery were out of ammunition. At September 28 Latvians were still holding their positions. Soviets made a small success by changing the attack route and trough the swamp and forest invaded Kartūži. However, they were beaten off. Small attacks continued until September 30. But, they all were stopped.

  The operation Aster was successful. But it was at the expense of the Latvian casualties at More.  The leading officers Rudolfs Kociņš and Nikolajs Galdiņš were awarded.  Soviets lost 2736 men, Latvians 186 men. The Battle of More was the most heaviest experience for the Latvian Waffen SS Legion. These men were not ready to give up any inch of their land.

The Commemorative event for the fallen in the Battle of More

The Commemorative event for the fallen in the Battle of More

Soviets came to conclusion that the German forces had successfully left the encirclement. Still in hopes for the “Second Stalingrad” Soviet attacked Klaipēda . Germans in response initiated operation Donnner to move German armies from Riga to Courland. This was one of the most successful military evacuation operation in the military history. 29 divisions, 2 brigades, 28 artillery units, 190 Anti-air units, 68 engineer battalions, all the civil authorities and 100 000 civil refugees were evacuated.

Germans also forcibly moved 20 000 Latvians from Riga to Germany for “work service”. Meanwhile the 19th Latvian Waffen SS Division on October 6-7 moved from Sigulda and head to Džūkste region in Courland. Last to leave Riga was the 227th infantry division. On 1:144 October 13 the bridges over Daugava were blown up. 87th division had to maneuver through the land strait  between lake Ķīšezers to Daugavgrīva. By the help special ferries they moved 5000 men and 160 armed trucks 20 cannons to other side of river Daugava.

Soviets entered Riga when nearly all Germans had left the scene on October 13. At 23:00 in Moscow 24 cannons fired to celebrate the “liberation of Riga”. There were gunfights in Pārdaugava for three days until all Germans left the left bank of the river Daugava completely. So officially the Riga was captured completely on September 15. However, Joseph Stalin had insisted that celebrations must begin allready on October 13.

Soviet Soldiers near the Monument of Freedom

Soviet Soldiers near the Monument of Freedom

Latvians were fighting on Soviet side as well and were just as good as the Latvian Waffen SS men. However, while it was technically possible and ideologically necessary the Latvian Soviet Soldiers were not the ones to first parade in Riga. Instead the 130th Latvian Rifleman corps were directed away from Riga to the swamps of Oilaine. Only after it became clear that the German evacuation had succeeded the Latvian Soviet soldiers were called to parade in Riga on October 16.

Soviets were heavily disappointed about the way the Riga was captured. Soviets commanders wanted to impress Stalin with complete destruction of the German forces and great street battles in Riga. Soviets wanted to encircle Germans in Riga. Soviets had intended to use heavy artillery and air fire that would result complete destruction of the Riga historical center. If such event would happen Riga would be just like Koenigsberg or Kaliningrad today.

Despite that Soviet propaganda made tales of “grandioze landing platoon operation over the lake of Ķīšezers” and the “battle for every house and street corner”. Those who were wise enough knew that there was no German troops from the early morning of October 13 that Soviets could fight with. Large painting showing Soviet soldiers fighting on streets of Riga was displayed. There was even plea to make Riga a “Hero Town” just like Stalingrad. In the end a large phallic monument was build to commemorate the “liberation of Latvia”. A move called “Spear and Rose” tried to convince that Germans had planned to blow up Riga in their way of retreat.

The real battle for Riga was fought on the roads Northern Vidzeme, More, Ķekava and Baldone. Outnumbered German and Latvian forces managed to stop Soviet forces and allowed others to escape. Soviets had enormous forces and resources. But, they level of military tactical knowledge was still 1939 level. German army despite many defeats all the way to 1945 suffered less losses than the victorious soviets.  And well motivated and disciplined Latvian Waffen SS 19th division was also one of the reasons why Riga was saved from being “second Stalingrad”. Their fight in More should be remembered and set as example for Latvian military bravery.

Selected Sources:

Pētersons, Aivars. (2007) Krustugunīs. Rīga.

Feldmanis, Inesis, Butulis, Ilgvars,Bleiere,Daina,Zunda, Antonijs. (2008)  Latvija Otrā Pasaules karā (1939-1945) Rīga. Jumava.

Viesturs Sprūde, Latvijas Avīze 1944. gadā Rīgai bija iespēja kļūt par lielu ”staļingradu”

http://gulags.wordpress.com/2009/10/13/1944-gada-rigai-bija-iespeja-klut-par-lielu-stalingradu/

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Latvian Soldiers in the Red Army 1941-1945

Latvian Red Army soldiers in the Battle of Moscow 1941

Latvian Red Army soldiers in the Battle of Moscow 1941

Much has been said about the Latvian soldiers fighting in the German lines. However, there were thousands of Latvians fighting in the ranks of the Red Army. Some of them served the duty with full support of the communist ideas, others were conscripted by force some just wanted to go back to their homeland. During the Soviet times these men were regarded as heroes, however after the regaining of independence they were mostly neglected by the society. The attempts of reconciliation between the veterans of the Legion and Soviet Latvian divisions have been mostly unsuccessful because of the political involvement. These men also deserve to be a part of the Latvian history for their fate and suffering was no less than the Latvian Legion.

The remains of the National Latvian Army were included in the 24th Territorial Corps. On June 22 1941 there 3000 Latvians left in the corps. The corps retreated to Russia, however large part of the soldiers deserted and joined the national partisans. Some were forced to spend many months in the POW camps in Eastern Prussia. Those who made it to Russia faced Germans in the battle of River Velikaya. On Latvian soil many workers guard battalions and the Riga War School faced Germans and were forced to retreat in Estonia. There they were united 1st and 2st Latvian destroyer regiments. They attacked Germans  and also the national partisans and civilians. Later they were included in the regular Red Army ranks, where they suffered heavy casualties near Talinn and Leningrad. On September 1 1940 the surviving men of the 1st regiment were included in the 10th rifleman division 62th rifleman regiment. The 2th destroyer regiment was turned into 76th Special Latvian rifleman regiment, that was completely destroyed and later disbanded.

On August 3 1941 the State Defense Committee and the Latvian Communist Party, issued an order to form a Latvian Rifleman division out of surviving worker guards, militiamen, party members and other Latvian citizens. There were many volunteers who wanted to escape the hard life in the soviet kolhozus. Latvian refugees were suffering from starvation and wanted to get back to Latvia. Women also joined in medical and communication ranks. There were also female snipers. The orders were given in Russian, but many soldiers still used Latvian in their conversations. Because of the Great Purge of 1937-1938 there was a lack of qualified Latvian officers.

The new formation was called 201th Latvian Rifleman division commanded by colonel Janis Veikins. The starting point was the Gorohoveca training camp in Ivanovo region near Gorky. On 12 September 1941 the oath was given and flags were received making one of the first national formations in the war time Red Army. The division consisted of 92th,122th,191th rifleman regiment, 220th artillery regiment, 10th special anti-air battery, 170th special communications battalion, 53th special sapper battalion, 112th special scout company, 43th medical sanitary battalion, and other smaller units. In October there were 10 877 men 1100 of them communists, 940 young communist league members, 70% joined voluntarily. They believed that the victory will come and Latvia will be liberated under the Soviets. At first the division was filled with the communist elite- party member, civil war veterans and Secret police members. Most of them perished in the first years of the war.

On December 1941 the 201th division joined the Battle of Moscow. Under the command of the 33th army their task was to capture the city of Narofominsk. The battle took place in the snowy fields near river Nara. Soldiers had to cross the frozen river. The weather was extreme: -35 on the day and -42 at night. Despite the lack of proper intelligence and artillery support the Narafominsk was captured. 5000 men were either lost or wounded. On January 4 1942 Latvians joined the 33th army and captured Borovsk. 200 Latvians were awarded with orders and medals. On January 16 the division was stationed at Aprelevka and received reinforcements.

In February they were called to join the battle at Staraya Rus. 1st special Latvian rifleman reserve battalion was formed in Gorohovec camp. 33 000 soldiers of them 51% Latvians, 17% Jews, 3% poles and 3% other nationals. After great losses in the Battle of Moscow more non-Latvians were included. Only 60% of the division were from Latvia after the receiving reinforcements. Latvian commander Jānis Veikins was replaced with Russian. Many deserted because of the Russifaction in the division, poor commanding and lack of supplies.

On February-March 1942 201th division took place in the battle of Demyansk. Many villages were captured assisting the encirclement of the German 16th army. The division was positioned in a flooded swamp unable to get supplies by land. Only way to get them was from the air. That was not enough and for many months the division suffered from starvation. Soldiers lived like prehistoric people, eating frogs, horses, birds and gathered nettles, sorrels and berries. 2494 men were taken to hospital because of severe weight loss. In August to September Latvians joined the Battle of Tuganovo. The Junior lieutenant sniper Jānis Vilhelms received the Hero of The Soviet Union tittle and later US medal Distinguished Service Cross.

To mark the achievements in the Battle of Moscow the 201th rifleman division was renamed as the 43th guard Latvian rifleman division. The new commander was major general Detlavs Brantkalns. On 1943 January to February heavy battles took place near Staraya Rus and Nasva. Then it took place in the liquidation of the Demyansk breached. The new flack artillery regiment was made and only national air unit in the Red Army. Latvians had three PO-2 bomber squads that operated at nights in Russia and later Latvia.On January 1944 43th guard division broke trough the German Eastern wall fortifications near Nasva. It was one of the biggest achievements of this division.  On June 1944 Soviets entered Latvia. From the 1sth Special Latvian reserve regiment a 308th Latvian rifleman division was formed. Commander was Voldemārs Danbergs later Mārtiņš Kalniņš. The division consisted of 319,323 and the 325th rifleman regiment, 677th artillery regiment, 377th special anti-tank regiment, 301th special sapper battalion, the 326th medical battalion., 282th special scout company. A 7319 men in whole.

Later, both divisions were joined in the 130th Latvian rifleman corps. The new commander was Detlevs Brantkalns. On 43th guard division there were 47% Russians, 35% Latvians, 8,5% Jews, 2,1% Ukrainians, 3,7% Belorussians, Lithuanians and Tatars. On July 18 this force entered Latvia. They attacked Germans at river Aiviekste and captured Krustpils. Both divisions suffered great casualties, the 43th guard division lost  1192 men, 308th division lost even more. In September 2318 men from Latvia were conscripted into their ranks. All those who were too young to be conscripted by the Germans were now taken to the Soviet army. This was the breach of the 1907 Hague convention that prohibited the conscription of civilians in the occupied lands. Both Soviets and Nazis did this in Latvia. Many deserted, others wanted to get to the hospital as fast as possible.

The 130th Latvian Rifleman corps spent last months in war fighting in Courland. On December 1944 they faced the Latvian Waffen SS 19th division. For the first time Latvians fought each other. The 130th rifleman corps faced great casualties and was unable to break  the German defense line. Battles continued in Courland until May 9 1944 when the war was finally over.

17 368 Latvian Red army soldiers were decorated with Soviet Orders and medals. Jānis Vilhelms, Jānis Rainbergs and Mihails Orlovs received the highest award – The Golden star and became the Heroes of the Soviet Union. 12 men received The Order of Lenin. 80 000- 10 000 men from Latvia fought in the Soviet lines. One part of them were evacuated from Latvia in 1941, the other part was mobilized in Latvia. More than 50 000 men lost their life’s.  While the Latvian Legion members spent their days in Siberian camps and were outcasts of the society; the Red Latvian soldiers enjoyed special social status and propaganda admiration. After the fall of the Soviet Union many of them could not forgive that the state and society’s attention changed positively towards Latvian Legion veterans. We must not forget that both of these groups of people are direct victims of the Nazi and Soviet crimes that forced the Latvian nation to fight under rouge flags.

Selected Sources:

Neiburgs, Uldis. (2011) Latviešu militārie formējumi PSRS un Vācijas bruņotajos spēkos Otrajā Pasaules karā. In:  (Divas) puses. Latviešu kara stāsti : Otrais pasaules karš karavīru dienasgrāmatās. Riga : Mansards.

Kažociņš, Indulis. (1999)  Latviešu karavīri zem svešiem karogiem 1940.-1945. Riga : Latvijas Universitātes žurnāla “Latvijas Vēsture” fonds.

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Nazi Germany Invasion in Latvia 1941

The Soviet fast moving tanks BT-7 abandoned in the streets of Riga

The Soviet fast moving tanks BT-7 abandoned in the streets of Riga

On June 22 the long tensions between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union finally turned into full scale war. Modern research shows that the both countries were planning to attack each other at the same time. In fact the aggressive stance of the Red Army was the cause of the enormous defeats on Sumner of 1941. Gathered across the Western border in large numbers and not prepared for defense and was caught by surprise. Recent studies show that in the first weeks of the war the Red Army was not simply retreating, but running away and deserting in panic. Tanks and airplanes were abandoned and the Germans captured many thousands of POW’s. The most serious cases of resistance were when Red Arny soldiers were simply surrounded and unable to escape. This was the case of the Fortress of Brestlitovsk and the city of Liepāja. This article is about the first war battles in the Soviet occupied Latvia.

The soviets had gathered enormous forces in the Baltic states or the Special Baltic war region lead by colonel-general Kuznetsov. 24 divisions with 375 863 men, 1514 tanks and 1814 airplanes. In Lithuania the 7 Army by Colonel General Sobennikov, the 24 Territorial corpus made out of the surviving ranks of the Latvian Army was under command of the 27 Army of Major General Berzarin. Also 11 army lead by lieutenant general Morozov. Also 16 ad 67 Rifleman division. German military intelligence was well informed about the Soviet military situation and that was the reason for their quick success in the Baltic front.

The German attack force was gathered in the army group “Nord”. Its main task was not the capture of Riga, but advance quickly trough the Baltic States to Leningrad. So Daugavpils was more important. The main attack force was the 4 tank group. The leading commander was marshal Leeb, the 4 tank group was lead by colonel general Hepner, and 56 tank group was under the command of colonel general Manstein.

On 4:00 in a morning German aviation made air raids against the main airfields, war ports and railways. There was an occurrence when airfield received warning about the air attack and the joyful Soviet pilots rushed to their planes shouting “It’s time to bomb Germany!”.  After the second air strike and artillery cannonade German infantry moved on the way of Kreitinga-Palanga-Rucava -Liepaja. German army did not bother to meet the Soviets in frontal battles, but tried outmaneuver them and encircle them. That proved successful as the Germans already in June 22 reached Palanga and Rucava. On the next day Germans were around Liepaja and Ventspils. The Red Army was unable adequately react as their airfields were too close to the border and tanks too heavy to move quickly. Even the state of the art fast moving BT-7 tanks suddenly were unable to move on the rotten Soviet roads.

German invasion on 22. June 1941.

German invasion on  June 22 1941.

As the Germans invaded in Lithuania and Latvia a sharp rise of the partisan activity occurred.  However, these people attacked Soviets not Germans. Motivated by the will to avenge the Soviet terror and reclaim independence the Red Army faced even harder times. Important factor in this was the mass deportations in  June 14 that made many to take their arms and chase away the Soviets. After one year of terror the Nazi’s seemed as the lesser evil.

On June 24 Germans reached Liepaja and moved to Daugavpils. The Red Army forces defeated in Lithuania were retreating. One of the first heavy tank battles took place near Šiaulai, where medium level German tank 41 tank corps destroyed 2 Soviet tank division featuring the most modern Soviet tanks. At the start of the war the Soviet tanks were actually heavier and stronger than the German tanks. However, the discipline and maneuverability of these tank corps were quite low. On June 25 Soviets were routed in panic as the Germans entered Ilūkste next to Daugavpils.

The Daugavpils had supreme tactical importance as the main direction of the attack was Pskov and Leningrad. 56 tank corps lead by General Manstein was tasked to capture the bridge over the Daugavpils unharmed. The special task force “Brandenburg” with four captured Soviet trucks and soldiers in the Soviet uniforms headed to the bridge.  The bridge was full of moving Soviet transport. After they attempted to check the fourth truck the fire was opened. After bloody 2o min fire exchange the bridge was captured. The path to Leningrad was clear. Out of 50 Brandenburg group men only 15 survived. General Manstein went over bridge himself and greeted them. A similar attempt was made on the bridge of Jekabpils, however it failed and the bridge was blown in half.

Between June 23-29 June the Battle for Liepaja took place. Despite the usual Soviet stories about the heroic defense of the city in reality the Soviets were desperate to break out of the city. Similar story took place in the famous fortress of Brestlitovsk. Because of the specific planing of the fortress the soldiers could not escape the German encirclement and was forced to fight until the end. Liepaja was the home base for the Red Baltic Fleet. Liepaja was bombed on the first hours of the war. The military command had no plans how to defend the city and the war port. Soon the whole city was under the German siege. The Soviet Soldiers were trying to get rid of their uniforms and leave the city. However, the national partisans were hunting them too. Those who really resisted were the young cadets of the Infantry war school. As all the attempts of breaking out and counter attacks were thwarted the  defense force was broken. In the rush Soviets sunk all the ships and submarines. On the 29 June after chaotic street fights Liepaja was captured.

On June 29 Germans captured Jelgava, before that Saldus and Tukums. Soviet heavy divisions were running trough Riga abandoning their tanks. The only ones who tried to defend Riga was the 5 NKVD regiment. German tanks in many cases draw away 300 km from the infantry units. While German commanders were worried about this, the gap between tanks and infantry was controlled by partisans. The Germans had already made contacts with the most partisan units and gave them orders. Nazi planners had actually included a handful bunch of the Latvian commandos made of the exiles, but they were surprised about the local support. From June 22 to July 1 Soviets had lost 57 207 men, 1087 men were captured. 631 tanks, 40 airplanes and 3 armored trains were captured. On Daugavpils airfield Soviets simply left 30 warplanes to Germans. Soviets were more concerned about saving their skins than tanks, planes and cannons.

The 24 Territorial corpus was formed from the remains of the Latvian Army before 1940. The elite officers were already deported or shot. However, the simple soldiers were unwilling to fight and deserted. The Soviet Command in fear of uprising rushed to get them out of Latvia. The 181 division was moved from Litene to Russia where it faced battles and destruction. 183 division moved from Riga and made it to defense lines near Strugi Krasnije and Pavi. The 24 Territorial corpus at  the end was destroyed and disbanded. Later a new national Latvian unit was formed in the Red Army.

On June 29 Germans had captured the main points at the river Daugava. Only Riga was still under the Soviet control. On June 30 Germans advanced to Madona and Gulbene draw back the Red Army group at Rezekne, and bypass Riga from the north and Rezekne from the west. The Germans reached Madona. Soviets left Rezekne, the 28 motorized corps lost nearly all of their tanks in the vain attempt of defense.

Riga on fire 30 June 1941.  The Nazi propaganda blamed Jews and Bolsheviks for the destruction of the St Peters church while actually it was German cannon fire

Riga on fire 30 June 1941.
The Nazi propaganda blamed Jews and Bolsheviks for the destruction of the St Peters church while actually it was German cannon fire

On June 29 Germans entered the Pārdaugava the Riga neighborhood over the west bank of the River Daugava. Germans were intending to assault the bridges of Riga. They were defended by the two workers guard battalions and NKVD guards. Also two armored trains and artillery. 3 German mobile assault cannons managed to cross the river, but the special unit was unable to stop the Soviets from destroying the bridges. Bridges were blown up. Those who managed to cross the river were now involved in heavy firefight. Only few managed to cross the river back to safety. Battles emerged around Pārdaugava as more Germans arrived. The Germans then built a pontoon bridge at Katlakalns and crossed the river. On the night of July 1 the Soviets completely abandoned Riga. The Riga historical center was damaged by the artillery fire. The House of Blackheads, The  Riga Town House and the tower of the Church of the St Peter was in ruins. The whole city was filled with armed national partisans attacking the Soviets and NKVD agents.

The Soviet occupation of the 1940-1941 was the Great Shock for the Latvian nation. Latvians were ready to greet the Germans as liberators. The 700 year old hate was suddenly forgotten. People were gathering in the streets and greeted the German soldiers. Latvian national flags were waved and the anthem of Latvia was sung. Many believed that Germans will restore Latvian independence. Germans used this and posed as liberators, the propaganda on the radio and the press issued that Riga is finally free from the Bolshevism. Pretty soon Germans found the main scapegoats of the 1940 occupation – the Jews. At same time the Germans had no intentions of restoring independent Latvia. The Latvian flags were removed the anthem was forbidden. The conquered territories of Lithuania and Latvia were later included in the new Ostland province. Local self-government of collaborators was made, but it was a merely a puppet government unable to act independently. The national partisans were gathered in self-defense units and were used in the Holocaust and anti-Soviet activities.

Nazi Propaganda showing Germans as the liberators of Riga

Nazi Propaganda showing Germans as the liberators of Riga

After Riga was captured the Soviet army was all about retreating to Tallinn and Pskov. Many cities were taken by the national partisans before the Germans reached them. The Red Army was in disorder and run as fast they could. Soviets were running 50 km in a day and 10 hours in a single day. About 10 000 men were shot for retreating. All Soviet government officials left in a panic. Those  who did not make it were taken by the national partisans and shot. The Latvian Soviet government had already abandoned Riga on June 29. The dramatic breakup of the Red Army can be explained by the bad military training, lack of discipline and morale. The Red Army officers were incompetent and simple soviet soldiers were unwilling to fight.  However, Stalin was actually hoping to use this army to conquer the Western Europe.

After  5 July nearly all territory of Latvia was captured. On July 10 Germans captured Tallinn. Actions against the Jews that already begun in the first days of war is a different story.

Selected Sources:

Strods, Heinrihs. (2002) Sarkanarmijas haotiskā atkāpšanās no Latvijas (1941. gada 22. jūnijs- 5. jūlijs) In: Latvijas Okupācijas Muzeja Gada Grāmata. 2001. Nācija gūstā. Riga: Latvijas 50 gadu okupācijas muzeja fonds.

Pētersons, Aivars. (2007)  Krustugunīs : latviešu karotmāka, 1940-1945 : 60 gadus no tautas slēptais. Riga : Author publication.

Lācis, Visvaldis. (1995) Otrais Pasaules karš 3 daļa. Rīga. Preses Nams.

Солонин, (2009)  23 июня «день М». – Москва,

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