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The Courland Fortress 1944-1945

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The Map of Courland fortress

The Christmas is getting close this time and spirit of love and joy is in the air. But in 1944 at this time the air was filled with rockets, artillery shells and gunfire. It was the Battle at Courland (Kurzeme) region of Latvia between the trapped German army and advancing Soviet forces. May Latvian soldiers fought there on the both sides. This battle has many names the Courland pocket and the Courland Fortress. I like the therm fortress because the German army defended the Courland like a fortress fighting of six large Soviet offensives. Also Courland was a last stand for many Latvians – those who fought on the German side, those who still believed in independent Latvia and Courland was the last resort for many Latvian refugees who escaped the Soviet regime. Latvian SS Legion veteran and author Visvaldis Lācis has called Courland as the fortress of the Latvian spirit and shelter. This article tells the story of this fortress.

In Summer 1944 Soviet army returned to Latvia. First Soviet forces entered Latgale forcing German forces to give up their positions. In September Soviet forces reached the line that crossed large part of Vidzeme and Semigallia (Zemgale) Then heavy battles were fought by the Soviet advance to Riga. The German army could fight back many Soviet attacks and hold on for a long time. However, the German army was forced to evacuate Riga at  October 13 and it was taken without a fight by the Soviets. Then the Soviet army advanced to west to Mēmele river. Soviets managed to break through to Palanga and Klaipeda (Lithuania) at the Baltic Sea and Rucava at Latvian side. In so the German army group North was trapped in to Courland. Later the group North was renamed as army group Courland. Along with Germans Latvian SS Legion 19th Division was trapped in to Courland fortress.

The Courland fortress had strategical importance. As the Soviet fleet was still unable to move because of the frozen Gulf of Finland, Germany was still able to send evacuation and supply transports to ports of Liepaja and Ventspils. Courland helped the Germans to paralyze the Soviet Baltic fleet and preserve Swedish iron ore exports. The Soviets had to capture Courland to gain control over ice- free harbors and take over the Baltic sea.

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Latvian soldiers in the 19th division

First battles for Courland  started in  October 15 as the Soviets were attacking to Sloka and Dobele. The Latvian 19th Division was set to defend the positions. On  October 11 19th Divison along with German 6 Corpus retreated to Džūkste. Here all main division parts gathered. On October 12 the division received orders to take over defense positions at Lestene command point. On 15 October Soviets were attacking this position with tanks and artillery fire.

The 19th Division survived continuous Soviet attacks from 15 to 22 October. Facing heavy causalities Latvians defended its sector. At Putnukrogs Soviets lost 26 tanks and reported an especially heavy resistance in this sector. At the same time at night to 17 October German units retreated to Tukums line that they held until the end of the war. By  that the Latvian defense line was moved from Līvbērze station to Apšupe station.

Adolf Hitler decided to hold German troops in Courland and defend is as a fortress. Many of the German General staff resisted this including General Heinz Guderian who in the day of his sacking at  March 28 1945 in heavy argument again criticized  Hitler that he had not evacuated the Courland army group. But for Latvian legion it was a relief because many thought that they will have to leave Latvia that cause many to desert the ranks.

On  October 20 after the Soviet attack a front line in length of 218 kilometers from the Gulf of Riga to Žagare had been taken by the Second Baltic front group with six armies and air force army under the command of the general A Yeryomenko. A 80 divisions at whole.  The first Baltic front group was located from Mažeikiai to the coast of the Baltic sea with four armies and air force. The Germans had two field armies with 33 divisions.

First Baltic front planned to crush the fortress with two armies on the direction of the Vaiņode – Skrunda. On the second day including 5 tank guard army to reach Durbe. The Second Baltic front planned to break through to direction of Saldus. This was the first Courland great battle.

In reality the Soviet plans failed. The attack began on October 27. Soviets could not break through the German lines for three days. Only in  November 6 Soviets reached Venta river at Nīgrande. Heavy battles were fought around Auce that was captured but the Soviet attack was stopped. Only Soviet success was capture of  Mažeikiai.

The second great battle for Courland took place at 19 to 27 November. Soviets again tried to achieve what they did not in the first place. First Baltic front advanced to Skrunda, but was stopped at Pampāļi. Second Baltic front attacked Auce- Zvārde. Soviets captured Ezere but were halted by Germans. Soviet commanders blamed the lack of ammunition and because of the winter mud the artillery was unable to move. Also the thick clouds and fog made air force unable to operate.  Air force commanders said that had enough flights. While German planes were out of fuel their only hope as anti-air guns that many Latvians operated including boys.

Soviets were too sure about themselves and underestimated the Germans. After first two failures the marshal M Vasilevsky came to conclusion that Latvian 130 Rifleman corps will be best units to break through the German lines. The corps had two divisions 43 guards division with 8276 men and 308 guards division with 7128 men. They would have to fight against their nationals in the Latvian Legion. Vasilevsky ordered to attack the direction to Saldus with Latvian divisions attacking to Lestene, Irlava and Kandava and Ventspils. The corps was commanded by major general Detlavs Brantkalns with chief of staff colonel Pēteris Baumanis. Once again the Soviets relaid on the Latvian soldiers.

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The 130 Latvian Rifleman Corps

In the line of the Soviet attack the Latvian SS 19th Division stood against. The Frontline was fortified and well prepared for soviet attack. The Germans had no idea where the next attack will take place and it will be watched by chief of Soviet General Staff Vasilevsky himself.

After month of preparation at December 21 the third great Battle for Courland started. With three armies with 44 divisions Soviets could only capture Pampāļi and reach Zvārde. Soviets opened a heavy artillery fire dropping 177 000 shells and 1600 air attacks. Latvians lost all of their fortifications, almost all officers were hurt or killed. All transport cars were destroyed.

The Soviet attack went as planned with 43 Latvian rifleman guards attacking. However, the 312 mobile artillery corps that was sent as tank replacement became stuck in first ditches and was stopped at the anti – tank ditch. Same happened with 19th tank corps. At 106 corps sector Soviet tanks came trough legionaries positions because there was no more any communications with artillery. Only then the tanks were discovered by Latvian artillery and great duel between tanks and artillery started. 14 tanks were shot and Latvian rifleman was tied to the ground because of opposing Latvian artillery and gun fire. Latvian artillery also had heavy causalities only 5 cannons out of 24 were still in order.

Soviets made a breach and Germans added reinforcements. Soviets were unable to move further in the dead of the night. Latvian legion lost 40% of its man. In exchange of attacks and counterattacks both sides suffered great casualties. Latvian rifleman was unable to attack and tanks were crushed. At  December 29 Latvian rifleman was replaced with units from 1ts strike army. The fire ceased at December 31 with Soviet offensive stopped again with great cost.

The fourth great battle took place in 5-7 January. Germans aware that Latvian rifleman was removed from their captured positions intended to counter attack and take them back. With three tank battalions with Latvian grenadiers. But the Soviets had already swapped Latvian rifleman with four divisions and artillery support. Thrusting into Soviet positions German tanks directly came over Soviet artillery and Soviets needed 30 shots to destroy them. Germans could not fulfill their goals completely.

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The Badge for wounded soldiers in Courland

In December 16 Germans started their last offensive in the Ardennes hoping to beat the Allied forces to free more forces at the Eastern front. With surprise to allies Germans managed to break through behind the Allied lines at 100 km where they stopped because of the lack of ammunition. British prime minister Winston Churchill was forced to ask Stalin to fasten up his attack on the Eastern front. Really since September the Eastern front was stranded. Stalin agreed and on 12- 14 January Soviets attacked region between Visla river, Oder river and East Prussia. Within six days in heavy fights Soviets crushed the German defense and Soviet first line units even reached the Oder. It affected the Courland as the commander in charge general Sherner was moved to command group Center and was replaced with general Hilpert. The army group North was renamed as the Army Group Courland. Also some units were moved to Germany from Courland.

Soviets saw this a new chance to attack and in 21 January 1945 again attacked in whole front but were halted after two days. In 25 to 26 January Germans left Klaipeda that was still under their control. Soviets fired all of their shells at the besieged city.

Soviets united two Baltic fronts in one army group under the command of Marshall L. Govorov. New commander wanted to split German forces in half from Irbene to Skrunda. He wanted to that with two armies and one tank corps.

The attack began on February 16. Soviets headed to Liepaja but were stopped after five days. The only achievement was capture of Priekule with two armies in five days. Soviets lost the greatest number of casualties in all the war times in the Baltic region. In war cemeteries of Priekule, Vaiņode 29 188 were buried. At Ventas Pampāļi a 7 361 men were lost but at Rucava 1174 more.

The last six great battles started on March 4 . The objective was to reach the line between Kandava – Saldus. 22th army with 130 Latvian Rifleman corps started the attack but was stopped again. On March 13 the attacking forces were regrouped and 8 Estonian rifleman corpus was added and from Latvians and Estonians the 42 Army Baltic shock group was formed.

Battle took place during spring when ice melting caused floods with only roads used for moving around who also were in bad condition. A week break was taken by both sides until in March 16 battle restarted again. The route of attack was intended to Kuldīga. Because of thick spring fog the attack was postponed to 17 March. In three days of fighting both Latvian and Estonian corpus’s reached Dobele-Saldus railroad, while Russian divisions were unable to move. The Germans suffered great casualties and Latvian 19th Grenadier division was called to help also 43 legion corps came along. With great losses on the both sides again the Soviet offensive was stopped at 3 April. Soviet staff removed the Baltic Front and joined it with Leningrad front.

On April 4l Allied forces reached the River Elbe and stopped. On  April 16 Soviets started an offensive against Berlin. 23 to 26 April the encirclement of Berlin was complete. Hitler made suicide on  April 30. On May 7 the act of capitulation was signed in Reims.

On May 3 decision was made to evacuate from Courland as much as possible. In 7 and 8 May 26 000 men were evacuated with all possible ships in Courland harbor. Some Latvian motorboats reached Sweden while others were intercepted by Soviet ships and taken back to Ventspils.

On May 7 the Leningrad front command sent a radio message to Courland command that contained the terms of capitulation. Germans made radio contact with Govorov staff  at 7:00 local time. Govorov demanded to cease-fire on 14:00. At 18:00 at Ezere both staffs met and signed to halt warfare on land, air and sea at 23:00 Central European time.

Using the unset time on 8 May at 12:00 Soviet bombers attacked the Liepaja harbor. All German aviation excluding the damaged planes already left for Germany while anti-air guns still intact. Three soviet bombers fell into the sea. 32 transport planes Ju-52 took part in the evacuation and were destroyed by the Soviets on their way back. Even if technically the May 7 capitulation in Reims was signed also by Soviet general Sulsoparov the Soviets still fired on German forces. To escape further causalities Germans retreated from Tukums, Saldus and Brocēni.

On May 9 last capitulation was  signed in Berlin the war was over. Soviets reported that 181 032 soldiers and sergeants, 8038 officers and 42 Generals were taken captive in the Courland front. 130 Latvian rifleman corps disarmed 4172 soldiers from 24 German infantry division and also 16 officers 170 junior officers and 1291 legionaries from 19th division. Most of the legion disbanded few made it to Sweden and Denmark. There were 14 00 Latvian soldiers in Courland still remaining – 5200 at 19th division and 2500 in Rusmanis combat group. Soviets also detained all adult males in Courland and sent to filtration camps.

The Courland fortress was never conquered it survived until the last day of the war. Soviets with their flawed planing and underestimation of the German forces took great casualties. It was a tragedy for Latvians as the 19th Latvian SS division  had to fight against the 130 Latvian rifleman corps. Brothers fought against brothers, fathers against sons. In a Lestene largest war cemetery for fallen Latvian legion soldiers was unveiled after the regain of independence. Many cemeteries for Soviet soldiers are all around these places. Today German organizations are coming to Latvia to take care of fallen German soldiers. The forests of Courland are still full of war relics, one can find shells, rusted medals and human bones… The bravery and tragedy on the both sides in the Courland fortress can never be forgotten.

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The war cemetery and memorial at Lestene where the heaviest battles took place

Selected Sources:

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

Kurowski,Franz. (2002)Bridgehead Kurland: The Six Epic Battles of Heeresgruppe Kurland. Fedorowicz (J.J.) Canada
Lācis, Visvaldis (2010) Kurzeme (1944-1945) Latviešu gara un patvēruma cietoksnis. Rīga. Jumava.

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Latvian Waffen SS Legion

The March 16 the day of remembrance is heading closer. It will be again the day of controversy mainly caused by Russian state propaganda against Latvia and western misunderstanding. It is sad and absurd when people who come to commemorate the fallen Latvian soldiers, who can be called the victims of the Nazi regime are labeled “fascists” and Nazis in the international media. This article will tell why Latvians fought on the German side and why people still remember them.

Latvia gained its independence with war in 1920. It was war against two main enemies- the Russian Bolsheviks and German forces. Both sides were against the idea of Latvian state. Bolsheviks dreamed of world revolution, while Germans hoped for restoration of the German state within Latvia and Estonia. While Latvians fought the Bolsheviks with large patriotism, even more eagerly they fought the Germans. The army of Bermont was assembled to crush the Latvian state. Their soldiers later wrote in their memoirs: “We killed Latvians like rabbits we chased them and burned their homes!”. Some historians say that German victory in the war of Independence will mean the genocide of the Latvian people. Luckily Germans were defeated and Latvia gained its independence. During the time of freedom Latvia feared both Germany and Soviet Union. Sympathizers in Germany were the minority. Even the hardcore antisemitic Latvian nationalists were against Germany. When in 1933 Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany it was met with backlash by a majority of Latvians. Latvian supporters of Nazi Germany were marginal. Even the radical organization Thundercross stated that they will battle Germans as much as the Jews. The Latvian government was also more suspicious to Germany more than the Soviet Union. The fact that military defense plans were made mainly against Germany not Soviet Union shows the point.

But the 1939 changed everything. The nightmare situation- the pact between Nazi Germany and Soviet Union made Soviet Union the main Latvian enemy. When in 1939 by Hitlers orders German minority of Latvia repatriated to Third Reich it was met with excitement by Latvians that the old enemies have left. A year later in June 17 Soviet Union occupied Latvia. Soviets removed Latvian president Kārlis Ulmanis from the office and established their puppet government. To “justify” the occupation an election with only one official communist list were made. All attempts to form another list were halted with repressions. After the that the new “Peoples parliament” “asked” comrade Stalin to  allow Latvia to become a member of the Soviet Union.

The year 1940 was the hardest time for Latvia. Soviets disbanded the Latvian army, repressed the political elite and took Latvian land and property.  Bloody outrages happened in the dark chambers of NKVD the Cheka. Patriots were killed and mutilated. On June 14 1941 massive deportation of Latvian citizens to Siberia took place. All this was a massive blow to Latvian youth, they were educated as patriots of Latvian country. The patriotic education in prewar Latvia was more common than now and made the majority the youngsters born in those times a fanatic supporters of Latvia.

Scenes like this made Latvians strongly against the Soviets

The German invasion on June 22 1941 was met with excitement in all three Baltic states. Lithuanians started a massive national uprising against the Soviets and established national provisional government. The rise of national partisans started in Latvia also. Partisans attacked retreating Soviet army and helped the Germans to defeat the Soviets. In July  1 German army entered Riga. A large manifestations greeting Germans were a proof that Soviet occupation left a deep scar in Latvian minds. Germans revealed the mass graves left by the Soviets. Images of mutilated bodies raised the  anti-soviet feeling in the majority of Latvians.

Lithuanians and Latvians hoped that the Germans will give Latvia back its independence. In reality Germans had nothing of this in mind. All three Baltic states became the part of Reichcommisariat Ostland with local German authority. The Germans ordered Latvian partisans to return arms and disband. Surviving Latvian army officers such as Viktors Deglavs and Aleksandrs Plesners demanded Germans to restore Latvian national forces. Deglvavs was found shot in the stairway of his apartment soon after. The radicals of the Thundercross supported the Germans and helped to popularize the actions against the Jews, but also asked to create two divisions of Latvian volunteers to fight the Soviets. In result  Thundercross was banned and their leader Gustavs Celmiņš sent to concentration camp. The Germans only allowed to make completely loyal Latvian self-government that will fulfill their every task. Those national formations that took place in the German army were reduced to such actions as to destroy Jews and other German enemies.

Such actions can be explained by the German beliefs of a quick victory over the Soviet Union. Plans were laid for the Germanization  of Latvia and Latvian deportation to the Ural mountains. The orders of Adolf Hitler clearly stated that non-Germans cannot serve in the ranks of the Wermacht.

However after the failure at Stalingrad Germans started to speculate about non-Germans in the ranks of the Waffen SS. The Waffen SS was chosen because Germans did not want to formally include a non-German into the ranks of Wehrmacht.  But Latvian Waffen SS Legion and other such national legions were completely under the command of Wehrmacht.  Before that Latvians were allowed to fight in Police battalions that took action against Soviet partisans in the Eastern Front. Police battalions were badly equipped. Many were ashamed of the name of their formation. The order of establishing a Volunteer Waffen SS Legion came in 1943, from Hitler by the request of head of the SS Heinrich Himmler.   Similar order was also in Estonia and Lithuania. Contrary to Latvians and Estonians, Lithuanian authorities resisted  to form their legion. They demanded to give Lithuania its independence in order to form the Legion. Since Germans still resisted to do this Lithuanians did not encourage their people to join the legion and the scheme failed.

In Latvia, Latvian authorities were more willing to cooperate with the Germans and asked Latvians to join the legion. However, the size of volunteers was too small to please the Germans. Those who joined by their own will want to fight the Soviets and prevent the return of the Soviet occupation. They were patriotic minded people deeply affected by the images of 1940, called the horrible year. The return of repressions and deportations was feared by them. And since German anti-Latvian plans now seemed impossible the will to fight the Soviet Union was high.

Since only 15% of those who joined were volunteers Germans started the mobilization.  Two formations were made the 15th and 19th division. Also Latvians took part in the German air force. Latvian Soldiers got Armshield showing the Latvian flag and name Latvia. People aged from 1908 to 1926 were conscripted in the Legion. In the very beginning the health checks ruled out people unfit for the war, but when situation begun to get worse in people with tuberculosis and other illness were conscripted. Also schoolboys were taken from their desks and sent to war. While first wave soldiers received proper training the last wave was often sent without any training at all resulting pointless deaths and capture.

Legion consisted of Latvian officers, many of them from the former Latvian Army. But the main orders were directed by Germans. SS Grupenfurhrer Rūdolfs Bangerskis was the general inspector of Latvian Legion but without former rights  to direct his own orders.

The first battles of the Latvian Legion took place at the Leningrad front in 1943. Heavy battles took place near Novgord, Pskov. The Germans gave Latvians the impossible task to halt Soviet army that marched to the Latvian border. Latvian soldiers did this bravely and courageously.  In August and September 1944, 15th division was sent to Prussia for replenishment of new units. It was in training near Danzig and ordered to fight in  January 22 1945. It consisted 15, 000 soldiers. About 1, 000 were sent to Courland that was encircled by the Soviet Army. The rest was lost in fighting with the Soviets in Polish front. On April 11 remaining forces were told to be sent to Courland, seeing that all is lost they resisted and decided to surrender to Western allies.

The 19th Division stayed in Latvia all the way and fought the entering Soviet army. Legion fought a heavy battle at More to halt the Soviet advance and allow other German formations to retreat. At the end the Legion was trapped in Courland surrounded by Soviets from all sides. Despite the fact that the Courland pocket was not strategically important Soviets sent six massive attacks from 1944 to 1945. All of them were beaten off by Germans and the Legion.  Soviet armies perished in the fields of Courland and it was never captured by Soviets. Because of that the Courland was called a fortress.

Courland only surrendered on  May 9 1945. All who became POWS of the Soviets, spent years in concentration camps and prisons. Those who managed to get to the western side escaped the Soviet repressions. Allied forces refused to handle Latvian soldiers to the Soviet Union. Only Sweden give up to the Soviet demands and handled the escaped  Latvian soldiers.

Latvian Waffen SS Legion was a pure battle formation.  It did not take any part in Holocaust since the Jewish killings in Latvia ended a year before the legion was formed. It should be seen as different from the other SS formation, because the their attachment to SS was a strict formality. The   American Displaced Persons Commission stated very clearly that “the Waffen-SS units of the Baltic States (the Baltic Legions) are to be seen as units that stood apart and were different from the German SS in terms of goals, ideologies, operations and constitution, and the Commission does not, therefore, consider them to be a movement that is hostile to the government of the United States. When German officers asked Latvian officers who wants to fight Allied forces none rose up.

The Arajs and Valgulāns commando that played important role in the Holocaust where never part of Waffen SS. Its true, that at the end of the war some of men from this formation were sent to Waffen SS. But, that cannot make the whole battlefield formation criminal. Same goes for the soldiers of the Red Army who made crimes against the civilians, but they cannot put the blame on whole Red Army. Every man must take individual responsibility for his bad deeds and not pass to innocent ones.  The Latvian Police Battalions who defended ghettos at Riga and Warsaw or took part in anti-partisan activities also cannot be added to the guilt of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion. None of the members of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion was ever sentenced for war crimes. The main “guilt” of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion was they were forced to fight in the loosing side. If Germany had won the war the Latvian formations in the Red Army would have faced controversy in the same way.

The Latvian Waffen SS Legion was the victims of the World war II and Nazi regime. The absolute majority of Latvian soldiers, believed that are fighting for Latvia and Latvian people. Many believed that the Legion will be the foundation of the Latvian army and the Allies will support Latvian independence. The allies gave Latvia away to the Soviets and this dream was not fulfilled. For Nazis they were a just a another formation to halt the Soviet advance. Many other nations fought in German SS legions. Bosnian Muslims, Turks, Norwegians, Ukrainians. About 1 million Russians served in the German army.

It was a tragedy that Latvians could not defend their homes by their own flag. Soviets sent Latvian Soviet formations against the Legion. Brother fought against brother, son captured his father on the battlefield. A genocide that happened against Latvian nation during World war II must not be forgotten and remembered to  survive in the future.

Veterans of the Legion remembering the Battle of More

Selected Sources:

Silgailis, Arturs (1986) Latvian Legion. San Jose (Calif.) : R. James Bender Publ.

Lācis, Visvaldis (2006) The Latvian Legion : according to independent observers. Riga: Jumava.

Lācis, Visvaldis. (2006) Latviešu leģions patiesības gaismā. Riga: Jumava.

Ezergailis, Andrievs (Ed.) The Latvian Legion : heroes, Nazis, or victims? : a collection of documents from OSS war-crimes investigation files, 1945-1950.Riga : Historical Institute of Latvia.

Bleiere, Daina, Feldmanis, Inesis, Butulis, Ilgvars, Zunda, Antonijs. (2008) Latvija Otrajā pasaules karā : (1939-1945). Riga: Jumava.

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The Problem of Latvian Legion

Veterans of Latvian Legion remembers their fallen comrades

Tomorrow at March 16 the Latvian Waffen SS Legion remembrance day will be celebrated by some and regretted by others. It’s a deeply dividing date in modern Latvian society because the such groups like Russian nationals, Socialists and others see this is a “march of the fascists”. While Latvian nationalists and patriots see this as an important day in Latvia. Occasionally at this day Legion war veterans and their nationalist supporters with flags takes a route from the Dome square to the Monument of Freedom. They put flowers at the monument to remember fallen comrades and remember the hard days of war. But in the recent years they are met by loud and angry so called “anti-fascists” and other protesters. Some of them are sent from Russia. In recent years this date is no longer a remembrance of war victims but rather a fight between radical right-wing groups and their radical left-wing counterparts. One reason why this is happening is an aggressive foreign policy of Russia since Vladimir Putin took president post. The Putin administration has taken a hard-line policy against so-called “rebirth of Nazism” and “rewriting of history”. This is a part strategy of affecting Russian minority in the Baltic states  to separate them from their state. In so they more loyal to Russia rather than their home government. Russia is also panicky afraid of discovery of new historical facts about Soviet involvement in the Second World War. This has caused frustration in Latvians against Russians and that’s why the Soviet Victory day is on  May 9 is met with the same anger as Russians met  March 16.

March 16 is chosen as Legion Remembrance day because on March 16 1944 both Latvian divisions 15th and the 19th division fought together first battle at the Volkhov front in Russia near Leningrad. As many ethnic military formations in German army it was formed to put more living force to German army desperately fighting Soviet Army. It was called “volunteer Legion” but most soldiers were drafted by force. In Western World Latvian Legion is not considered responsible for Nazi war crimes are being ideologically Nazi and are separate entities in the German army. Captured Latvian soldiers  by allies were not prosecuted and given to Soviet Union, they spent years in Western World in freedom. To gather and help veterans an organization “Daugavas Vanagi” (The Hawks of Daugava””.) were established and are still active today.

While most part of the Legion was drafted, those who volunteered were motivated by anger of killings and deportations done by the Soviets in 1940 -1941. Many who joined by their own will wanted to avenge their killed or deported relatives. Others did not want the second Soviet occupation to come. As some historians write it was horrible mass deportation in June 14 1941 that completely made Latvian minds against Soviets. When it was clear that Germany will lose war many soldiers hoped that Western allies eventually turn against Soviets and then the Latvian soldiers would fight for Latvian freedom. But allies never considered such step and neither they were ready to attack Soviets  because of illegal occupation of Baltic States.

We cannot completely deny that there were some Nazi sentiments in Latvians. Before the war there was a radical organization “Thunder cross” , but it was marginal and banned by Ulmanis regime. Antisemitism was present in Latvians, but history shows that Latvian state would never do such steps against Jews as Germany did. The German invasion made possible for some antisemitic killers to fulfill themselves but they would not have such chance if Germans had not helped them. Latvian Jewish killers were not in thousands but in hundreds.  It is known that some of them did joined the Legion but the count was small. Legion was a purely battle formation and should not be mixed with more criminal Latvian formations. There were also Latvian police battalions, some of them were responsible for atrocities in Belarus, but again it was not Latvian Legion.

 March 16 is not a remembrance day of war criminals but simple soldiers fighting in German side. They had tragic fates. Many were captured by the Soviets and sent to POW camps in Siberia. After release their life possibilities were downsized because they fought on the “wrong side.” Lucky ones made way to Western World and lived without any restrictions.  Tragic fate was for those who escaped to Sweden. Cowardly and hypocritical Swedish government despite the protests of their own people returned Latvian soldiers to the Soviets.

The explanation why the Latvian Legion is not understood in Russia or in other parts of the world is because the history is always written by victorious side. If Germany would win this war, then Latvians fighting in Soviet side would be in the same situation as Latvian Legionnaires today.

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