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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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If War Comes Tomorrow 1938 Soviet Movie that predicted the World War II

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On 1938 whole Europe was worried about possible second full scale war. Hitlers troops had already marched into Austria and later Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile in Soviet Union the saw again the possibility to trigger new Worldwide Socialist revolution. According to Stalin’s understanding there were two ways of how do it – first drag the capitalist countries against each other in a full scale war, but don’t take part in it until the most favorable moment.  Other way was to provoke the enemy to attack USSR and then defeat the enemy in their own territory. And that is how it was shown movie made in 1938 called If the War Comes Tomorrow (Если завтра война). The movie quickly became long forgotten after Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and later after the war. However, the movie has been fully preserved and available to us all in here

The movie was directed by Efim Dzigan. He made Stalinist style propaganda movies like We from Kronstatd (1936) and the First Cavalry (1941). However, If the War Comes tomorrow was his most famous work of propaganda art. One of the main features of this movie was the main theme song of the same name composed by Vasily Lebedev-Kumach. Later he wrote the legendary song “The Holy War”.

It the War comes tomorrow lacked same artistic and dramatic depth as Sergei Eisenstein movie “Alexander Nevsky” that also had very similar message- he who comes to Russia with spear dies from spear. Dzigan movie characters were shown as simple and brave soviet citizens fully loyal to the Soviet power and the leader Stalin. In fact the movie had no in depth characters in whole. Dramatic dialogs were only needed to illustrate the massive battle scenes that took great part in this movie.

The movie plot starts in the New Year anniversary in Moscow. Since the Christmas was officially removed from the holiday list, the New Yer celebrations became widely popular. A dialog between two retired males about their children in the Red Army is shown. One brags about his four sons who are in the Red Army tank force and forms a family tank crew, other talks about his daughter in the army, who is also a wife of the border guards commander. Occasionally the propaganda voice talks about the great Soviet achievements and  large tall structure that proves the Soviet greatness. It could be that this large structure was the intended Palace of Soviets a gigantic 415 m structure that would became the tallest building in the world. The construction was begun on 1937, but the war canceled this grandiose plans. Right now its foundations have been turned in to worlds largest swimming pool.  But, then the propaganda voice alarms everyone about the uneasy situation in the border areas caused by foreign powers and the growing fascist threat”.

Movie then switches to USSR border areas in the night before the dawn. A enemy troops speaking in German gathers up the forces for the attack. Their symbol is swastika however its displayed different than official Nazi Germany symbol. One of their officers have a mustache just like Adolf Hitler, although the toothbrush mustache was quite popular among many before the WWII the occasional movie viewer would understand what the movie is trying to show. However, the “Fascist’ soldiers whose country and nationality is not shown, but speaks in German looks more like WWI British or French soldiers. A another message – the Soviet enemy is not just “Fascists” but also capitalists. Enemy uses an outdated TS-18 (MC-1) tank that was also the very first Soviet built tank.

The "Fascist" invader symbol

The “Fascist” invader symbol

On 1938 the Soviet Union had no border with Germany or any other “Fascist” country. So according to this movie at least Poland was no longer existent in this war. For many Soviet citizens who were unaware of the European geography or political situation this might be a missed spot. But, from our perspective this detail is pretty important. The fate of Poland was long decided in the Kremlin.

Enemy soldier with peculiar mustache

Enemy soldier with peculiar mustache

The enemy is striving for a surprise attack however, Soviets aware of the alarming situation have sent reinforcements. And so the first attempt of the border crossing fails – the Fascist infantry lead by Hitler like captain is forced to retreat. The enemy attempt on crossing the border is shown in pretty vague WWI tactic style in heavy contrast to later massive Soviet attack shown in the movie. When the land attack fails, Fascists sends bombers to Minsk and Kiev. According to research made by historian Mark Solonin Stalin had planned to make fake bombing raids on his own cities, to justify his attack on Germany. To fight the enemy aircraft, Soviets sends their fighters. After the enemy bombers are destroyed, S0viet Pe-8 bombers takes flight to bomb the enemy airfields. Pe-8 was one of the heaviest long range bombers of those times. It could reach Berlin and even London. Interesting that the leading pilot of the bomber squad is called “Gromov” Interesting that the Soviet plan for aggression against Germany made in May 15 1941 is also called “Grom” (Thunder).  Actually this name went well with the people of those times, since the idea of fast and decisive strike was very popular both in Germany and USSR. The Soviet concept of the “deep operations” was published in book by N Shpanov “First Strike”.

Soviet bomber squad leader Gromov

Soviet bomber squad leader Gromov

Soviets issue a full mobilization. A grandiose parade is gathered in the Red Square. This parade actually took place on May 1 1938 with the presence of Stalin and the chief commander Voroshilov Millions are rushing to join the Red Army including 12 old boy and the old man seen in the movie opening. He wants to support his four sons who are already in the army. Many woman joins too. Then movie switches to Uzbekistan, Georgia, Ukraine and other Soviet republics that also joins the  fight. And then the most interesting thing happens: a large movie comment appears declaring that “From the Black Sea, to the Arctic  from the Baltics to the Pacific Ocean millions of sons joins the fight”. The Baltic States were still independent from USSR on 1938. So we suppose that the fate of the Baltic States was also decided in this movie.

From the Black Sea to

“From the Black Sea, to the Arctic  from the Baltics to the Pacific Ocean millions of sons joins the fight

Movie then goes back to battlefield showing grandiose scenes of the Fascist attack and the Soviet counter attack. The enemy uses a French Renault FT-1 tanks. They get easily beaten. In return Soviets sends a horde of the BT-7 tanks. BT-7 was one of the fastest tanks of those times. According to some authors, this tanks were only good for the Western roads and therefore were  only used for aggressive purposes.  After the German invasion on 1941 large part of these tanks were made useless, destroyed and abandoned. Here the tanks are shown in their best – in fast speed they escape the enemy cannon fire and break their lines. In one of those tanks all four brothers mentioned earlier attacks. Its quite true that until 1941 the German tanks were quite lighter than the Soviet tanks. After meeting heavier Soviet counterparts Germans switched to more heavier models.

Soviet main battle tank BT-7 attacks

Soviet main battle tank BT-7 attacks

The desperate enemy uses chemical weapons to stop the Soviets. Chemical weapons were never used by the Nazi Germany at least in the battlefields. This movie still was in the spirit of the WWI when chemical weapons were occasionally used. However, Soviets have gas masks and all the necessary equipment to survive a gas attack. Under the white smoke they gather up their attack fore.

Enemy gas attack

Enemy gas attack

Fascists sends reinforcements and that is where the Soviet paratroopers comes in. With the help of the Pe-8 bombers they land behind the enemy lines and ambushes the fascist reinforcements.   The enemy staff is alarmed that the paratroopers are near their positions. The Soviet paratroopers were not just an empty brag. Actually the Soviet Union had a force of 1 million of them. Since the paratroopers were almost impossible to use in the defensive actions it was obvious that their sole purpose was  to penetrate the enemy from behind. In the movie showed how it should be done.

Soviet paratroopers takes of from Pe-8 bomber

Soviet paratroopers takes of from Pe-8 bomber

Soviets accompanied by tanks, aircraft and even  cavalry starts a massive attack. Enemy is routing in panic. Cavalry lead by Marshal Budyonni chases them, Fascists sends they own cavalry resulting a bloody battle. Already after the Polish campaign it was clear that the cavalry is useless in this new kind of warfare.

Then something that the Soviets had long desired happens in the main Fascist capital. The “proletariat” the workers starts marching under the red banner. Police and army (interesting that soldiers shown there have a Nazi style helmets while soldiers shown in the front line have a British style helmets) fires at the crowd a desperate battle for red flag erupts. In the end the crowds march in the streets with the Soviet flag. That was according to long time Soviet belief made by Lenin, that the world war will cause a socialist uprising in the capitalist centers before the Soviet tanks reach them.

Proletarians takes over the streets

Proletarians takes over the streets

And the Soviet tanks are marching in masses accompanied by grandiose hordes of bombers. Captured Fascist generals are watching this with the fear and disbelief. In the end the massive hordes of the Red Army is shown. The slogan reads “The First attack of the enemy has been beaten. In such way the war might start that would lead to the destruction of the capitalist world” And the song plays warning that there is no such force to destroy the Soviet Union.

The movie failed to prove its point. Despite the enormous resources gathered by the Red Army, on 1941 Germans managed to advance all the way to Moscow. Red Army needed not two days to beat of the enemy aggression, but four years. But in therms of destruction of Poland and the Baltic States the movie was right. Poland and the Baltic states were in between Germany and USSR. Only way to attack Soviet Union or Soviet Union to attack Germany was to remove these buffer states. And that was done by signing the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact on August 23 1939. But, the main movie slogan the destruction of the capitalist order left unfulfilled.

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The Kremlin Conspiracy August 1991

The leaders of the August Coup in 1991: Boris Pugo, the Minister of the Interior Affairs of the USSR (to the left); Gennady Yanayev, the Vice President of the Soviet Union (in the middle) and Oleg Baklanov, First Deputy Chairman of the Defense Council of the USSR (to the right).

The leaders of the August Coup in 1991: Boris Pugo, the Minister of the Interior Affairs of the USSR (to the left); Gennady Yanayev, the Vice President of the Soviet Union (in the middle) and Oleg Baklanov, First Deputy Chairman of the Defense Council of the USSR (to the right).

On August 18 1991 the conspiracy by the high rank officials of the Kremlin and the KGB took place. A group of Soviet hardliners tried to avert the fall of the Soviet Union. In the end because of their incompetence, cowardice in contrary to the bravery of Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yelstsin and the defenders of the White House their plot failed. Soviet Union collapsed anyway and Latvia could once again regain its independence.

The KGB 9th division was responsible for guarding and escorting the Soviet leaders and high rank officials. In Foros, Crimea where the president of the USSR resided, his guard Vasili Kravets was in his usual duty. His everyday duty was fulfilling the needs of the officials who rested in this governmental resort. Like sending back to Moscow two jackets that the Minister of the Interior affairs Boris Pugo forgot. Or arranging a limo for one guest to visit another. Suddenly in his control system the red alarm signal of the radio station “Alternativa” (Alternative) begun to flash. This meant that there is a failure in the communication line with the mansion of the president of the USSR. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Kravets immediately made contact with KGB 21st division responsible for governmental communications. They said: “We will check!”. The red signal continued to flash even more. Kravets again made contact he received the answer: “The communications have been disrupted by hill landslide, the repair works have begun!”. It was Sunday August 18 1991.

At this same moment the gates of the presidential mansion opened. The KGB codenamed this mansion as the “object Zarya”. Five Volga limos entered the mansion without invitation or announcement. The security guards could not allow such trespassing, but from the first limo the head of the KGB Security Service Yuri Plehanov and the major Vyacheslav Generalov the chief of the technical authority and the Crimea KGB chief from 9th Division colonel Lev Tolstoy stepped out. From other cars many more important Soviet officials came out. The security guards where ordered to lay down their arms and not to forget Romania where the guards defended their dictator Ceausescu and how it ended. The guards were in complete incomprehension- what it had to with Romania? There the president was deposed and the guards defended him and perished with him altogether. But here everything was suppose to be alright?

The mansion was sealed with additional guards from Moscow. The telephone lines were disrupted. Unimaginable, but the presidential mansion guarded by 500 well armed men, three defense lines, 34 border guard posts, special task force Alfa and air fleet in the Black Sea. However, all this defense personal was not really subordinated to the president himself. They were the employees of the KGB. And it was the KGB that decided to turn the tables on the Mikhail Gorbachev who got him effectively trapped in the “Golden cage”.

The president was worried about this sudden visit. He either thought they going to put a pressure again, or try to depose him from power. The two men who trapped the Gorbachev were: Vyachelav Generalov the head of the KGB special maintenance and technical authority. His task was to take over the presidential mansion and keep the president imprisoned there. He knew everything about the mansion and was fiercely loyal. His chief was Yuri Plehanov general lieutenant the head of the KGB security service.

The Gorbachev mansion at Foros or the Object Zarya

The Gorbachev mansion at Foros or the Object Zarya

The main spokespersons of the conspirators were secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee Oleg Shenin and Oleg Baklanov the head of the Military Industrial complex. According to plan Shenin was to speak first, but Gorbachev seized the moment and started to talk with Baklanov who he thought was their leader. They wanted to convince Gorbachev to step down by his own will, implying on his bad state of health and fatigue. Gorbachev said that this was out of the question and reminded about the planned signing of the New Union Treaty on August 20. The Union Law was a last straw for Gorbachev to save the USSR, but everyone knew that the Baltic states will not going to sign it. They said to him that there will be no such treaty and the head of the Russian Federal Socialist Republic Boris Yeltsin is arrested. He then corrected himself: will be arrested! The conspirators shamefully asked “Dear Mikhail Sergeyevich! We don’t ask nothing from you. Remain here for some time. We will do all the dirty work for you!” Gorbachev insisted that he will not resign and go into any ventures. Then the chief of the USSR Land forces general Valentin Varenikov lost his patience and shouted “Resign!”. He shouted angry remarks about the bad shape of the army, the shameful retreat fro East Germany and the nationalists that do what they want. In the end Gorbachev stood firm against the plotters and asked to inform their masters in Moscow to call the Higher Council or the Party Congress. Plotters in shame left the mansion. Despite the enormous force they had, they could not force their president to resign.

The conspirators  in Moscow were anxious.  The Soviet defense minister Dmitri Yazov informed the army command and issued that the state of emergency is possible. Yazov announced that all resources had to be taken control of. All  state services and the civil security. The Moscow Guard 2th mobile riflemen division  and 4th guard tank division had to take over the city. The 106th Tula paratrooper division was called to Moscow. The conspirators who called themselves the State Committee on the State of Emergency (SCTE) (Государственный комитет по чрезвычайному положению, ГКЧП) with the Minister of the Interior an ethnic Latvian Boris Pugo and the chief of the KGB Vladimir Krychkov issued a state of emergency.

These people were the hardline communists or even neo-Stalinists. Dmitri Yazov a WW2 veteran and Soviet patriot could not bear with the changes made by Gorbachev and the direction the Soviet empire is heading to. Soviet army was forced to leave East Germany and other former Eastern European satellites. Soviet army was unable to stop separatism in the Caucasus and in the Baltic states. Both the KGB and the Soviet army were ready to suppress them with extreme force. But, no direct order from Gorbachev ever followed. Gorbachev himself was against the independence of the Baltic states or other republics. But, he was caught up with the promises to the western leaders, his own mistakes and in belief that things can be solved diplomatically. After the events in Riga and Vilnius in January 1991, he was no longer trusted both by the west and his aides. His principal mistake was to fire the liberal reformers with who begun his Perestroika policy and surrounded himself with hardliners from KGB and the army.

The chief of the KGB Valentin Krychkov was constantly afraid from the “influence agents” from abroad who wants to topple the Soviet Union. He blamed them for the rotten state economy. His most paranoid belief that the western countries are trying to artificially downsize the number of the Soviet citizens. According to his “information’ the CIA plans to lower the demographics of the USSR by 150-160 million people. The Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov considered his western counterparts a “saboteurs”. The Soviet Vice President Genady Yanayev was an ambitious man who felt himself endangered by the incoming changes. All these men feared the signing of the New Union Treaty that would make for some of them to lose their jobs.

The New Union Treaty would replace 1922 Treaty on the Creation of the USSR and replace the USSR with a new country Union of Sovereign States. It would be a less centralized state with more freedoms to participating republics. However, the Baltic States, Moldova, Armenia and Georgia were not going to sign therefore fully breaking away from Moscow. Also people such as Yanayev and Pavlov would lose their jobs. After Gorbachev had removed the Communist party monopoly of power, on March 1990 a plot was born to remove the liberal reformers and encircle Gorbachev with hardliners. They succeed by removing a Gorbachev long time ally Alexander Yakovlev. Other two enemies the Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Boris Yeltsin  Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR were far tougher enemies and was on the arrest list.

After the conspirators learned that Gorbachev had rejected a plea to resign by his own will, the conspirators wanted to remove his power because of his illness. After long hesitation Gennady Yanayev wrote the directive of taking the presidential office. They had lost the legitimacy they hoped to get from Gorbachev now they were playing a dangerous game. The speaker of the Soviet parliament Anatoly Lukyanov also was dissatisfied with the New Union Treaty, however when the conspirators informed about their actions and asked to join, he denounced their actions. However, he merely just asked them to remove him from their plotter list.

First arrests begun on the morning of August 19. The head of the Human rights “Schit” Nikolay Pavlenko met the SCTE men with a tear gas canister and an ax and managed to hurt them before his arrest. However, they could not arrest Yeltsin. He was able to leave his house and with his collage Ruslan Hasbulatov open the extraordinary meeting of the RSFSR Supreme Council. Soviet tanks were present at RSFSR building also called White House, but were not willing to shoot at anyone. Yelstin used this and stepped on one their tanks and declared that the coup has taken place and the legally elected president has been deposed. He asked for all Soviet citizens not to listen to the SCTE. It was a definite movement, the conspirators now encountered a serious enemy. Meanwhile Gorbachev was sealed off from all radio and TV sources and heavily guarded. The head of the Ukrainian SSR   Leonid Kravchuk accepted the coup and did nothing for the president who was imprisoned on his territory.

Boris Yeltsin leading the Russian government

Boris Yeltsin leading the Russian government

However, on August 19 things were still looking bright for conspirators. Except the Baltic States no serious protests took place. Radio stations and newspapers considered rouge were closed. In theory they had enough force to suppress any kind of resistance. But, then on 15:00 first reports of protests and strikes within mainland Russia begun. Yanayev with a shaking hands took a press conference in front of Soviet and foreign journalists. He lied about Gorbachev health state. Meanwhile in the Crimea the major of Yalta where the Gorbachov lived warned Generalov who was responsible for the mansion, that since Gorbachev is no longer in office, the mansion will no longer receive food supplies. To solve this issue, Generalov summoned his employee to Yalta. There Gorbachev ordered to send a letter of two demands – 1) give an airplane to return to Moscow 2) restore communications. This packet was sent and reached Yanayev.

Meanwhile Yelstin had issued that all Interior forces, army and KGB units should subordinate to the president of RSRSR that was Yelstin himself. On the night of 19-20 August the commander of the Taman tank division major Sergei Yevdokimov was not informed why his tanks are in the city center. He only learned the true reason from the crowds that started to gather in thousands. People asked him and his men to join the Yelstin side. They placed metal bars in the tank tracks to make them immobile. He then soon met the RSFSR parliament members who convinced him that this is a conspiracy and Gorbachev is trapped in Crimea. They asked to help him to defend the White House against the possible assault. Major Yevdokimov agreed and when he went back to his men he heard the news on the radio about him joining the Yeltsin forces. He only managed to move six tanks out of 10 because first barricades were built and to escape accidents he left the remaining tanks on the bridge. He himself never acknowledged that he actually joined the Yeltsin ranks, but just agreed to move tanks closer to the White house to escape the civilian causalities.

After watching the infamous press conference on TV Gorbachev asked if Yanayev has received his demands. After not getting any affirmative answer he decided to make an unusual and a desperate step. Since all communication equipment was confiscated he used an amateur TV  camera to record his message to the world. He stated that the reason for his removal was false and its an unconstitutional coup. The message was recorded perfectly, his wife and son in law then dismounted the VHS cassette and planned the way on how to send it to Moscow.

On the morning of 20 August the SCTE was aware of their worse situation. They were unable to impose order in the streets of Moscow and the main rivals were free to whatever they want. Yeltsin who was still free because of the incompetence of the capturing team, was now set to be arrested. Also the parliament building of the RSFRS had to be attacked. The plans were thought out how to do it. The operation was called “Thunder” coincidentally a same name was given to unrealized Stalin’s plan to attack Germany in 1941… However the Generals were worried about the large crowds and barricades and the armed defenders of the White House. The attack was set to start on August 21 at 3:00. The attack would involve regular soldiers, tanks, special forces and snipers.

Yeltsin had called a large rally at 12:00 despite the ban on public gathering thousands came. The Whole Soviet Union was alarmed by the never seen before manifestation. At 20:00 the SCTE held a meeting and realized they are standing on very thin base. Many soldiers joined the protesters. The Eho Moskvi Radio station was not closed because one colonel defended it and now it became the main voice of opposition. The whole square of the White House was filled with large crowds, many were armed with Molotov cocktails.   Then at 21:00 a woman entered the barricades and claimed she has very important information. She was taken to the headquarters of the defenders of the White House.  She claimed her husband a KGB officer has received orders to take part in the attack that would begin at 3:00. Later he masked in hood appeared himself and warned about the special task force Alpha attack. Radio issued all women to leave the square. Defenders gathered in companies and squads made a living defense line. The element of surprise was lost.

Soviet tanks near the White House

Soviet tanks near the White House

Meanwhile the Alpha team was uneasy about their given task. Many did not want to kill their own government and the people. Such an attack would cause enormous losses of life’s on both sides. And the mass media attention from the whole world was more than ever. The SCTE order was insane, and even the Alpha team understood this and in the end asked to cancel the order. At 24:20 a brief battle erupted between the Taman tank division and the protesters in the Sadovoje koļco tunnel on the way to the White house. The curfew was issued to prevent the people from entering the White House square. The Taman tank division was tasked to ensure the curfew. As they moved towards the Smolensk square, they were attacked with stones. Armored vehicles broke through the trolleybus barricades. But, a war journalist first rank captain Mihail Glovlko was standing in the way with the raised hands, he was hit by the fast moving vehicle.  At that moment a 23 year old Afghan war veteran jumped Dmitri Kromar on the BMP 536 vehicle and tried to cover its sightseeing hatch to make it “blind.” The BMP tried to steer its turret to get him off and succeed. But by the hitting the  pole the hatch  opened. Kromar chased the BMP and jumped in it trough the open hatch. BMP made a swift move and threw him out, but his clothes get stuck in the open hatch dragging Kromar on the ground as the BMP moved backwards. 37 year old Vladimir Usov rushed to help and was shot dead by the warning shots from BMP crew.  Another protester throwing rocks Krichevsky was also killed.

All this made the General Yazov to finally cancel the order to attack the White House. It was a suicide for him and the whole coup, but it was the only possible solution. Two KGB mobile brigades was just an hour from the main target. Meanwhile, a special task force landed in the Crimea and was ready to storm the Gorbachev mansion. On August 21 Yazov decided to miss the SCTE morning meeting, making things worse. Now the last chance to save something was flying back to Crimea. On 14:15 Yazov, Baklanov, Lukyanov and others took the plane to Crimea.

However, Yeltsin also wanted to visit Gorbachev. Krysckhov chief of KGB did everything to prepare the SCTE visit in time. He received a message that the SCTE time for the Gorbachev visit was over and at 16:00 the Yeltsin delegation will fly to Foros. Krychkow said that he would join the delegation and asked to postpone the flight until the evening. It was a lie and it was only discovered once the SCTE plane was already in the air. Yeltsin was unable to get there before them and only could bring the plane down which he refused. Conspirators landed at the airfield filled with marines ready to strike the presidential mansion. However, they were convinced that they will be greeted peacefully for a cup of tea.

Instead they were greeted with AK-47′s and Gorbachev refused to talk to them before the arrival of the Yeltsin delegation. Meanwhile the Yeltsin TU-154 airplane made circles around the Belbeck airfield. They were refused to land. After Gorbachev’s communications were restored, the plane landed. KGB special forces silently left the airfield. The Russian government were the ones who brought back Gorbachev home to Moscow. But this was no longer the country he once ruled.

The Baltic States declared full independence and were officially supported by the majority of the world countries. All other Soviet republics followed suit. On August 29 the Communist Party was officially shut down and made illegal. On December 8 the USSR was officially dissolved.

Protesters managed to tear down the statue of the KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky. However, the main force behind the August plot the KGB in disguise of FSB still lives on

Protesters managed to tear down the statue of the KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky. However, the main force behind the August plot the KGB in disguise of FSB still lives on

The August Coup attempt was a heavy defeat for the KGB and the ultra patriotic army officials. However, the  KGB survived   and transformed into FSB the Federal Security Service. For many years these people sought to revenge on those who managed to break down the Soviet empire. In the end they succeeded – an ex KGB officer and the director of the FSB Vladimir Putin took over the modern Russia. Since then the Russian policy is based on revenge and revision. It’s a question if a similar situation  where the army and security forces will choose to support the people or to attack the White House like in 1995 by the Yeltsin orders. The Putin’s Russia has not yet reached this critical point and lets hope it will not reach it the same way.

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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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