Briedis | bit.ly/cfbh_briedisKārlis Lobe, 1963—David Guild, 1993

1 | Graduating at the top of his class

"When the time approached for the senior course to graduate, everyone waited for the results with great interest to see who would come out on top. The situation was the same as at Christmas—senior-sergeant N. and senior-sergeant Briedis had identical placings. The final decision depended on the school's teaching board which went into each cadet's capabilities with a fine tooth comb and from all angles. I too was pleasantly surprised when it became known that the school board had decided: 'The top student for 1909 is senior-sergeant Briedis. His name will be engraved on the marble plaque in the Academy's Great Hall.'

"Afterwards, cadet Zaks and I decided to find out what 9  reasons in particular the teaching board had had to assign first place to Briedis. While helping the school adjutant organise the maps and plans for tactical exercises, I had the opportunity to touch on this question. The adjutant convincingly proved to me that Briedis had been a brilliant senior-sergeant and a brilliant private soldier, adept at solving tactical exercises, and had always obtained the best marks in military subjects. The deciding opinion was given by the tutor in military history, Staff Colonel L. He cast light on Briedis' abilities in examinations in military history. Briedis was faced with explaining the withdrawal of a corps from Liaoyang. Briedis had labeled it a fleeing.[1] The tutor was surprised and asked him to explain. Briedis did not say anything, but took out of his pocket a plan in his own hand and gave it over to the tutor. On the plan he had worked out in detail the order in which the corps had to move in its retreat so as not to suffer losses and also to save its own artillery, which the corps had abandonded to the Japanese. Colonel L made this plan known to the teaching board and at the same time demonstrated Briedis' remarkable grasp of tactics. This fair decision was for Briedis the ultimate justification for his tireless industriousness."

This characterisation of Briedis at the military academy clearly showed to what extent Briedis had striven to steep himself in his chosen profession, to think and live in it with all his quick-wittedness and force of will. Here too was revealed for all to see Briedis' future, the brilliant successes in his thoroughly planned and boldly undertaken enterprises, which—thanks alone to his own extraordinary gifts—singled him out already as a young officer in time of peace and five years later, when the Great War started, at the beginning of that war he was shown to be a real hero. Not only for his personal courage, many others would possess this, but also because of other ideal military qualities which he possessed.

Graduation at all military and cadet schools took place on one day, and every school received in advance a regimental roll where the placements of the new officers, the so-called vacancies, were allocated to the school. One could already get to know of these shortly before graduation. Briedis by finishing in first place in 1909, had the choice of any placement: he could take whichever he wanted. It was not really true, however, that Briedis could have had his choice of any 10  guards regiment if his means had allowed. The guards regiments had their own selection procedures for officers, selecting, moreover, from two of the senior military schools. The final "arming" depended on the family of regimental officers already on the strength after the moment the "candidate" was known.[2] The fact that the guards regiments had vacancies was known but they were not included in the selection process.

As to why Briedis had chosen a regiment in Daugavpils[3], I have not been able to find any expressions of his own views on this. Perhaps it was a recollection of his earlier time in school here, or the nearness of his relatives, perhaps even a romance—he was 21 when he had finished military academy. Briedis, having just graduated military school as a second lieutenant (Podporuchik), joined the Ivangorod regiment[4] in Daugavpils at the end of September. An officer of such good bearing, one might say a model officer, one who had "come from the school's marble plaque," a former cadet senior-sergeant, could not "disappear." He was placed into the the regimental training command, where he prepared instructors for two years. Already in the next year's (1910) shooting competition he won all the three first prizes and in this way he encouraged other officers to spend more time practising on the range. In 1912 Briedis was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (Poruchik).[5] That same year he gave a lecture at an officers' assembly on: "German war tactics principles and a possible war". The Chiefs of Staff also turned up to listen to the lecture. He made rapid progress and in his record was the note: "Noteworthy. Earned nomination to company commander ahead of normal schedule".

In 1913 Briedis, as an outstanding officer, was attached to the staff of the 25th Division.[6]In 1914 he passed the exam for the Vil'na[7] Military District staff and obtained the right to enter the exam for the General Staff College in St Petersburg. Studying and working in this way he moved up another step in his career. At this time changes also took place in his personal life, though war was to draw a line through his staff college career. In the winter of 1913 (1912?) was celebrated his marriage to Ksenija Lībermane, daughter of a railway bookkeeper. It was a love match: the young officer married a girl who had scarcely left the desk of the gymnasium. Next summer they had a daughter Vera, who died after a year. Her death was a bitter experience for the parents. 11 Briedis wrote to his brother: "My little Vera had been very ill but then it seemed that she might get better. However, we had little faith because her organism had been seriously weakened. Yet we wanted to believe that she would pull through. Tonight I received the telegram that she had died. I shall see her to her grave. On that occasion I received from fate another fearful blow which quite shook to its foundations my purpose in life." What this first fearful blow was, we do not know, although I do not think—as I have read it—that it had anything to do with deferring his studies at the college because of the war.[8] Briedis was not the kind of person who, however keen he was on study, would have felt anything to be more tragic than the loss of a child.


[1]The Latvian word used denotes fleeing, as opposed to an orderly retreat.
[2]The system of selection adopted by Russian guards regiments was clearly copied from the German practice and goes back to the eighteenth century when the regiment was the property of the Colonel with other officers as sub-contractors. It was still the practice in German regiments (line as well as guards) for the officers already on the strength to have a say in the selection of new entrants. The system was totally anachronistic and there was a risk that the selection would be made on grounds other than military competence.—D.G. (original footnote)
[3]Daugavpils, also Dünaburg (German) and Dvinsk: as a rule the modern Latvian versions of names will be given except, of course, where there is a standard and acceptable English form, for example Moscow; for the period of this narrative the capital of the Russian Empire was first St Petersburg and then Petrograd. Russian names are transliterated in the normal way, for example Kazan', Iaroslav'. It was not felt necessary to find alternatives for the Latvian names for hamlets in a translated system, even if this were possible. One example is Annas muiža which could be rendered as 'Anna's Manor'.—D.G. (original footnote)
[4]Referring to the 99th Infantry (Ivangorod) Regiment
[5]We should note that Guild uses the proper ranks in translating Podporuchik and Poruchik—Second Lieutenant and Lieutenant, respectively, while the original Latvian renders the same as Lieutenant and First Lieutenant.
[6] 25th Infantry Division (25-я Пехотная Дивизия, 25-ya Pekhotnaya Diviziya). 3rd Army Corps. Headquarters, Dvinsk (Daugavpils):
  • 1st Brigade: 97th General-Field Marshal Graf Sheremetev's Livonia Infantry Regiment, 98th Yurev Infantry Regiment.
  • 2nd Brigade: 99th Ivangorod Infantry Regiment, 100th Ostrov Infantry Regiment.
  • 25th Artillery Brigade.
[7]Vil'na is the Russian name for this city, though the Poles call it Wilno: in modern Lithuanian Vilnius.—D.G. (original footnote)
[8]We think it more likely that Briedis was thinking back to the drunken monks who had set his life on to a completely different path than he had envisioned.
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