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

1 | War breaks out

When war actually broke out against Germany in 1914 it was supported by a significant proportion of the population. Nine years prior Russia had experienced a wave of revolution, particularly in the west of the Empire. Now, particularly in the west, there had been that "closing of ranks around the throne" in the interests of total victory, which had expressed itself in patriotic demonstrations. The reference to this helps one to appreciate Briedis' enterprise in the bold movements of his scouts, which correctly took into consideration the likelihood of support from the population.

The 25th Division, to the staff of which Briedis had been assigned, formed part of the Niemen Army of Paul Von Rennenkampf.[1] Already less than a month after the start of the war the Russian Army had invaded East Prussia and had reached Königsberg. Briedis' patrolling activities were carried on with marked audacity, passing through the enemy lines and returning with important information and sketches of the positions. The incident is often related in a variety of different ways—not by Briedis himself, but by a variety of sources—confusing the events of one patrol with another. It is clear that the patrol took place on his own initiative and had been thought up by him. This indicates Briedis understood German well (preparing for the Staff College?—the so-called "schuldeutsch"[2] alone did not give one a good understanding of the language) and it was one of the reasons given why he was ready to run such risks. Briedis took along with him three soldiers whom he had selected from his own 99th Ivangorod Regiment. He had told his family at Ķlenoviki before his departure: "I am setting off on an important task. The result could turn out fifty-fifty. All is in God's hands. If it ends well I'll let you know straightaway.".

 12  The scouts managed to pass unnoticed through the German defense line, and, avoiding the sentries, penetrated quite far to take up a position of observation. Lying concealed in the vicinity of the main road, observing the columns, transport waggons, listening to conversations, Briedis got the impression that on the German side too all was not going absolutely smoothly. In a word Briedis acquired a lot of information about what was happening in the German rear close to our front. The return was more difficult, They had to swim across the River Pregel. Briedis and two of his men made it, but the fourth drowned.[3]

News of the information acquired also brought the division much prestige throughout the army, and drew widespread attention, as in the past, to the young officer who showed such boldness and initiative. Briedis was awarded the George medal, the so-called golden sword. The Imperial Citation said: By order of the divisional Commander, an officer of the 99th Ivangorod Regiment, Lt Briedis, receives this award, because on the 30th August 1915 in the region of Tapiau he did slip out with his patrol through the enemy lines. He reached enemy controlled territory and stayed there for 24 hours, bringing back detailed and accurate information about the enemy positions, on this occasion successfully furthering our subsequent operations.[4][5]

Having defeated Samsonov, the Germans turned to Rennenkampf and hurled him back beyond his own frontier, where the Russians came to a halt behind the Niemen. It was urgent to ascertain what German forces faced the 25th Division and its neighbors in the region Marijampolė-Virbali-Vladislavov. The divisional staff called on the regiments for volunteers for the task of seeking information about the situation in the enemy rear, that is, to follow the model set by Briedis. Illness prevented Briedis from volunteering, but others did so. Then Briedis volunteered again, though he was still unwell. At that time his example was followed by an officer in the infantry and by another in the Cossacks.

Each officer was to be accompanied by eight soldiers, and on the night of 28 September three patrols were sent off towards the German positions, each in a different direction. Two patrols set off on horseback but Briedis decided that horses would just be a hindrance in such terrain and set off on foot. The point of departure was the right bank of the Niemen. The German frontier was not far off, but in the frontier area lived Lithuanians whom the Germans 13 had tried to germanise. Therefore Briedis counted on the help of the local inhabitants, a hope which was to be fully justified.

Briedis' reappearance after nine days wandering in the German rear—a reappearance, moreover, with all his soldiers fresh and unhurt—was a real sensation at the front. There was much talk about it, often exaggerating the number of scouts involved and the time spent in the rear. That attention should be given to this successful patrol of Briedis, which gave a perfect picture of the enemy division and corps in front, which allowed further comparative conclusions to be drawn, is even more understandable when placed against the utter failure of the other two groups. Not a single survivor came back from the Cossack group. A single soldier returned from the third patrol, who was able to say only that the others had been killed or captured.

Colonel A. Liberts points to one of the versions that, so to speak, was circulating in the "soldiers' herald" about Briedis' activities in the German rear areas: "When our corps at the beginning of October 1914 went over to the attack and approached the East Prussian frontier, the 100th Infantry Regiment went past us on our way to the front. One of our older officers was able to tell how in that regiment (it was in the same division, but was not Briedis' own regiment), there was a 2nd Lieutenant or Lieutenant who with his own half-company had spent two weeks behind the enemy lines and then rejoined his unit. 'He's certainly a lucky dog!', exclaimed several. 'To remain two weeks without being discovered and taken prisoner!'—That had indeed been the exception since Rennenkampf's army had lost approximately 70,000 men as prisoners."

The awarding to Briedis by Imperial command of the George's Medal for: "volunteering to go on a dangerous patrol, coming at a time when patrolling was risky and not always possible, putting on peasants' clothes in circumstances which endangered his life, he had successfully reached the enemy baggage train at Vilkoviski, from where he had brought back very important information of great value about the enemy, which turned out to be entirely correct, and when our troops attacked was of considerable help to his own division".

Before his transfer to the Latvian Riflemen Briedis had received such awards as: the Vladimir 4th Class with swords and ribbons for merit in the battle of 4/17 August; the  14 Anne 4th Class for the battle of 7/20 August; the Stanislav 3rd Class with swords and ribbons for the fighting round Wola-Szydlowska; and the Anne 3rd Class with swords and ribbons.

Briedis had worked out a plan to move to Galicia and create partisan groups there which would fight in the enemy's rear. The divisional staff dissuaded Briedis and begged him to stay with the division.

The news about the founding of the Latvian battalions, when it became known, greatly interested Briedis. On 19 July/1 August 1915 he happened to be at the Stavka[6], just when the plan for forming the Latvian battalions was presented for confirmation. Briedis was no stranger to the staff, and so he was the first to receive permission to join the Latvian battalions about to be formed. The divisional command was not at all pleased at receiving the order for Briedis' transfer. But there was nothing they could do about it, so they all wished him the best of luck.

As member of the division, Briedis had taken part in 19 major battles, and in all this time it was only in December 1914 that he suffered a minor concussion.[7]


[1]Rennenkampf, Russian Commander of the 1st Army, which together with the 2nd (under Samsonov) invaded East Prussia in 1914. It was hoped that by encircling the much outnumbered German 8th Army they would take pressure off the French and British in the West who were faced by the bulk of the German forces in accordance with the modified Schlieffen Plan. Unfortunately because of disagreements during the Russo-Japanese War, Rennenkampf and his opposite number Samsonov were hardly on speaking terms and they failed to coordinate their attacks. The Germans managed to beat them separately: Samsonov at Tannenberg, Rennenkampf later at the Masurian Lakes. The fact that the Russians lost these battles which they had a good chance of winning points to weaknesses at the top of the Russian officer corps. Thus was created the belief that the Germans were supermen which Briedis was at such pains to dispel.—D.G. (original footnote)
[2]That is, school-German; though Briedis could have learned some German from contacts with his German-speaking co-citizens in Latvia.—D.G. (original footnote)
[3]the original is worded as the "third" of Briedis' three men drowned
[4]This should read 1914 in keeping with the dates of the events recounted here.
[5]Surely the year ought to read 1914. This would conform with the other dates in this section. There are two possibilities, neither very likely: (1) the event is well out of sequence; (2) the date refers to when the award was actually made (though the citation does not say so). The second point is worthy of consideration. In the first year of the war decorations did not come down with the rations, as the German Army used to say of later years. Even so, the gap seems somewhat long.—D.G. (original footnote)
[6]Stavka, The General Headquarters of the Imperial Russian Army. The term was revived in the Second World War.—D.G. (original footnote)
[7]original more literally translates as "contusion to the head"
Under Swedish copyright law, "Briedis," including all derivative works, remains under copyright by the original rights holder until 2067, regardless of copyright by Taylor and Francis of David Guild's translation. Our corrected and annotated version of that translation is reproduced by express permission of the late author's wife, Heather Guild. Without prejudice to other rights accorded, "Briedis" is presented here for informational, educational, and research purposes under §20. and §21. of Latvian copyright law and as a protected derivative work under §5. The Goppers archive resides in the Latvian National Library.

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