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

 15 

2.

The Latvians organize

T
he Latvian Rifle Battalions were born of the all-embracing patriotism of that time, which the Latvians too saw no reason to reject; quite the contrary, they wished to demonstrate their own particular loyalty to Russia and its unity, hoping of course that this would help them to achieve the national consolidation they needed. Did that blazing hatred throughout the world against the Germans, which met a particular response among the Latvians, provide one of the more distinctive psychological foundations for the creation of unity in the Latvian armed forces, did it help to overcome resistance? He who thinks about these times and the harshness of the wartime circumstances, cannot but admit that the Latvians (after 1905) had indeed shown their own particular loyalty and that here there was an achievement and opportunity which could inspire and give hope to wider aims.

General Bangerskis said, while giving some of his reflections to Latvian battalions in the middle of August 1915 when he had been appointed to the staff of 5th Army, that Latvians alone could be relied upon not to repeat 1905. 'One thing seemed clear', began the general, 'German victories would to a very considerable extent strengthen the gentry and especially the German position in the Baltic now that it had been much weakened and where the Latvians have gained a position for themselves like the others.'[1] So, there was no doubt that they must fight against Germany and, hopefully, the Riflemen would do it too. But could not certain cunning prophets be found who would bring about some irrational trick and thus sabotage the scheme for the Latvian Riflemen which had been so well thought out, to injure in this way the Latvian people for political reasons? With such reflections in my mind I found myself in Riga and made for the fortress of Daugavgrīva where I had been summoned. At the carriage I was met by a young lieutenant whose chest was adorned with the order of St George and at whose side hung the sword of St George. That surprised me and I introduced myself to him. That was the first occasion when I met and made the acquaintance of the future popular hero - Colonel Briedis.

First Lieutenant, No. 1. Daugavgrīva Latvian riflemen battalion, 1. Company.

'The fortress commandant was very pleased when we turned up, 16  for, as he said, the troops are there, what we need are commanders. Volunteers are already beginning to arrive, but we were the first officers. He immediately offered us both a provisional command: - me the 1st Daugavgrīva, Briedis the 2nd Riga battalion.

'Briedis, who at this point had not the ghost of a chance of remaining in the post of battalion commander, refused and asked to be given the post of company commander in the first battalion. There were great difficulties with organisation and training. There were no officers, instructors were lacking, and uniforms and weapons were in short supply. Only gradually did these things turn up: beginning with Lt Būriņš and 2nd Lts. Dardzāns and Ilziņš. Though we got round the organisation of the work, we waited in vain for the uniforms and weapons. We just did the training without weapons, and only for musketry instruction were we able to obtain a few rifles from the commandant's fortress company. Some men could not take part in the instruction because of lack of footwear. This began to affect the state of the men's morale. Also this called to mind a conversation with General Cheremisov at 5th Army staff.'

Captain (as he then was) Bangerskis with the help of the fortress commander was sent on a mission to the staff of the NW Front where he was to inform them of the situation. The Chief of Staff questioned him and then told him to put forward a proposal for the employment of the battalion, which Bangerskis proceeded to do in agreement with the Organisational Committee. Immediately afterwards there began to appear a sufficiency of uniforms and footwear, Winchester Rifles and, finally, Maxim machine-guns. Until the battalion left for the front there were still shortages, particularly in uniforms. Still nothing could be done about this.


[1]The population of Latvia (along with Estonia) contained a sizeable population of Germans. These had been there since the Middle Ages and generally represented the upper class over a Latvian (or Estonian) peasantry. Until the reign of Alexander III they had served the Tsarist regime with exemplary loyalty. The policies of that Tsar, which favoured ethnic Russians and the Orthodox religion, alienated many of these Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans), and their sympathies turned towards the Central Powers, in particular Imperial Germany. Naturally the native Latvians felt they were threatened by a combination of local Germans allied with the Imperial German forces. The only other option was to fight for Imperial Russia, in the hope, eventually, of autonomy or independence. The danger from the German side was not imaginary. Pan-Germans in the German High Command and Governing circles had plans to annex these provinces of the Russian Empire as Crown Lands or, alternatively, to turn them into vassal states, with, as rulers, junior members of the German royal families.—D.G. (original footnote)
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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