Latvian War of Independence
The Latvian War of Independence (Latvian: Latvijas Neatkarības karš), sometimes called the Latvia's freedom fights (Latvian: Latvijas brīvības cīņas) or the Latvian War of Liberation (Latvian: Latvijas atbrīvošanas karš), was a series of military conflicts in Latvia between 5 December 1918, after the newly proclaimed Republic of Latvia was invaded by Soviet Russia, and the signing of the Latvian-Soviet Riga Peace Treaty on 11 August 1920.
|Latvian War of Independence|
|Part of Soviet westward offensive of 1918–19|
Supported by the Allied Powers:
merged into the
|Commanders and leaders|
Rüdiger von der Goltz|
271 machine guns
321 light machine guns
3 armoured vehicles
5 armoured trains
204 machine guns
2 torpedo boats
2 torpedo boats
20 000 infantry
10 armoured vehicles
3 armoured trains
469 machine guns
3 armoured trains
|Casualties and losses|
|at least 11 captured and executed|
The war can be divided into a few stages: Soviet offensive, German-Latvian liberation of Kurzeme and Riga, Estonian-Latvian liberation of Vidzeme, Bermontian offensive, Latvian-Polish liberation of Latgale.
The war involved Latvia (its provisional government supported by Estonia, Poland and the Western Allies—particularly the navy of United Kingdom) against the Russian SFSR and the Bolsheviks' short-lived Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic. Germany and the Baltic nobility added another level of intrigue, initially being nominally allied to the Nationalist/Allied force but attempting to jockey for German domination of Latvia. Eventually tensions flared up after a German coup against the Latvian government, leading to open war.
Following a cease-fire, a ploy was developed by the Germans, nominally dissolving into the West Russian Volunteer Army led by Gen. Pavel Bermont-Avalov. This West Russian Volunteer Army included Germans and former Russian prisoners of war nominally allied with the White Army in the Russian Civil War, but both Bermondt-Avalov and von der Goltz were more interested in eliminating the nationalists than fighting the Bolsheviks.
On 1 December 1918 the newly proclaimed republic was invaded by Soviet Russia. Much of the invading army in Latvia consisted of Red Latvian Riflemen, which made the invasion easier. The Soviet offensive met little resistance.
Riga was captured by the Red Army on 3 January 1919. By the end of January the Latvian Provisional Government and remaining German units had retreated all the way to Liepāja, but then the Red offensive stalled along the Venta river.
The Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic was officially proclaimed on 13 January with the political, economic, and military backing of Soviet Russia and on the 17th of January a constitution was made for the newly made puppet state.
During this period, on the 15th of January, occured the battle of Lielauce, where the Latvian independent battalion, headed by Oskars Kalpaks managed to stop the a Soviet offensive. This battle was crucial for the morale of the Latvian soldiers. The German forces on whom the Latvian temporarily relied, however, had lost a battle at Auce, so an order was received to retreat to the river Venta.
14 days later, on the 29th of January the Latvian independent battalion was once again fighting a battle, this time near Skrunda. This time, however, Latvian troops were on the offensive. The Soviet firces had managed to establish a bridgehead over the river Venta, capturing the town of Skrunda on the 22nd of January. The Venta defensive line had to be reestablished, so a counter-offensive maneuver was ordered to be overtaken. The Latvian independent battalion managed to retake the town in 3 hours. After the battle was won, the Soviet offensives ceased.
Liberation of Kurzeme and the coup d'etatEdit
On 16 April, the Baltic nobility organised a coup d'etat in Liepāja and a puppet government headed by Andrievs Niedra was established. The provisional national government took refuge aboard the steamship Saratov under British protection in Liepaja harbour.
On 22 May, Riga was recaptured by the Freikorps and an organised persecution of suspected Bolshevik supporters began, with an estimated 174 (according to the head of Rīga's Gendarmerie) to 4,000–5,000 people (according to local social democrats and communists) being shot. At the same time the Estonian Army including the North Latvian Brigade loyal to the Ulmanis government started a major offensive against the Soviets in north Latvia. By the middle of June the Soviet rule was reduced to the area surrounding Latgale.
After the capture of Riga the German forces advanced north towards the Latvian city of Cēsis. The objective of the German forces had now clearly become the establishment of German supremacy in the Baltic by eliminating the Estonian military and Latvian national units, not the defeat of the Bolsheviks. The Estonian commander General Johan Laidoner insisted the Germans withdraw to a line south of the Gauja river. He also ordered the Estonian 3rd Division to seize the Gulbene railroad station.
On June 19, 1919, the Landeswehr and the Iron Division launched an attack to capture Cēsis. Initially, the Freikorps captured the town of Straupe and continued their advance toward the town of Limbaži. The Estonians launched a counterattack and drove the Freikorps out of the town. On June 21, the Estonians received reinforcements and immediately attacked the Landeswehr under Alfred Fletcher, who was forced to withdraw from an area to the northeast of Cēsis. The Iron Division attacked from Straupe towards Stalbe in an effort to relieve pressure on the Landeswehr. On the morning of June 23, the Germans began a general retreat toward Riga.
The Allies again insisted that the Germans withdraw their remaining troops from Latvia, and on July 3 intervened to impose an armistice between Estonia, Latvia, and the Landeswehr and Freikorps when the Latvians were about to march into Riga. By its terms the legitimate government of Ulmanis was to be restored, the Baltic German Landeswehr be placed under the command of the British officer Harold Alexander and the Iron Division to leave Latvia. The government of Ulmanis returned to Riga on 8 July 1919 and the Landeswehr became a component of the Latvian National Army.
The Iron Division, however, did not leave Latvia. Instead Major Bischoff created a German Legion from over a dozen Freikorps units and turned the units over to the West Russian Volunteer Army. In total, the Iron Division transferred over 14,000 men, 64 aircraft, 56 artillery pieces, and 156 machine guns. Six cavalry units and a field hospital were also transferred. The offensive by the reformed German Army was subsequently defeated by the Latvian Army, which received assistance from British and French warships and Estonian armoured trains.
- 11 November: The German Empire and Allies of World War I sign the November armistice, which marks the end of World War I; Soviet Russia launches an attack on German forces. The British Empire recognizes the de facto independence of Latvia (see Latvian Provisional National Council).
- 17 November: The first legislative institution of Latvia, the People's Council (Tautas Padome) and the provisional government are established. Jānis Čakste becomes the chairman of the People’s Council, while Kārlis Ulmanis becomes prime minister.
- 18 November: The Republic of Latvia is proclaimed in Riga.
- 28 November: The Regency Council of the United Baltic Duchy is dissolved.
- 1 December: The Red Army invades Latvia.
- 17 December: The government of the Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic, headed by Pēteris Stučka, is formed in Russia.
- 5 January: The first military unit of Latvia — the 1st Latvian Independent Battalion, under command of Oskars Kalpaks — is formed. The provisional government retreats from Jelgava to Liepāja.
- 31 January: Most of Latvia is under the control of the Red Army; the Latvian government and German forces control the area around Liepāja.
- 18 February: An agreement is signed between Estonia and Latvia, which provides for the formation of the North Latvian Brigade, led by Jorģis Zemitāns, on Estonian territory.
- 3 March: The united German and Latvian forces commence a counterattack against the forces of Soviet Latvia.
- 6 March: Oskars Kalpaks, commander of all Latvian forces subordinated to German headquarters, is killed by German friendly fire. He is replaced by Jānis Balodis.
- 10 March: Saldus comes under Latvian control.
- 21 March: 1st Latvian Independent Battalion is reformed into the Latvian Independent Brigade.
- 16 April: The puppet Latvian Government established by the Baltic nobility organizes a coup d'etat in Liepāja, the provisional national government of Latvia takes refuge aboard the steamship Saratow under Allied protection.
- 16 May: The Estonian Army starts a major offensive against the Soviets in north Latvia.
- 22 May: The Baltische Landeswehr captures Riga.
- 23 May: The Latvian Independent Brigade marches into Riga.
- 3 June: The Baltische Landeswehr reaches Cēsis.
- 6 June: The Landeswehr's North Latvian campaign begins, commanded by Major Alfred Fletcher.
- 23 June: The Estonian 3rd Division commanded by Gen. Ernst Põdder, including the 2nd Latvian Cēsis regiment of the North Latvian Brigade defeats the Landeswehr in the Battle of Cēsis.
- 3 July: Estonia, Latvia and the pro-German Provisional Government of Latvia sign the Ceasefire of Strazdumuiža.
- 6 July: The North Latvian Brigade enters Riga.
- 5 October: The German mission secretly leaves Riga for Jelgava, where an attack is prepared by the German-established West Russian Volunteer Army on Riga.
- 8 October: The West Russian Volunteer Army attacks Riga, taking the Pārdaugava district.
- 20 October: Battle of Talsi.
- 3 November: The Latvian Army, supported by Estonian armored trains and the British Royal Navy, launches its counterattack.
- 5 November: Battle of Liepāja.
- 11 November: The Latvian Army, supported by Estonian armored trains, the Royal Navy and the French Navy, defeats the West Russian Volunteer Army in Riga. The date is celebrated as Lāčplēsis Day ever since.
- 21 November: The Latvian Army liberates Jelgava from the West Russian Volunteer Army.
- 22 November: The Lithuanian Army defeats the remnants of the West Russian Volunteer Army in Lithuania near Radviliškis.
16 April 1919: In March the united German and Latvian forces (orange and yellow) launch counterattack, taking most of Courland
11 November 1919: Latvian army has taken most of Vidzeme and is attacking the West Russian Volunteer Army, which is forced to retreat.
- 3 January: The joint forces of Latvia and Poland launch an attack on the Bolsheviks in Latgale and take Daugavpils.
- 13 January: The government of the Latvian SSR announces its resignation.
- 1 February: Latvia signs a cease-fire with Soviet Russia.
- 17–18 April: Elections of the Constitutional Assembly of Latvia.
- 1 May: First session of the Constitutional Assembly.
- 15 July: Latvia signs a cease-fire with Germany.
- 11 August: The Latvian-Soviet Riga Peace Treaty is signed.
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