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

 28 

3.

Battle at Veiss homestead...and a grave injury

T
he 1st Daugavgrīva Battalion remained in service under the 12th Siberian Division until 16 March 1916. Turn and turn about the units of the battalion would carry out a reconnaissance at night or they would remain in reserve, engaged in intensive training. The Germans behind the Misa had fortified their positions and now it was more difficult to take prisoners.

On the night of 13 March Briedis again tried to break into the Veiss homestead to pick up some prisoners. The company had stealthily crept up to the wire fence and volunteers had already all but rushed out to cut a path when the Russian artillery opened fire prematurely; the Germans caught sight of the attackers and opened a ferocious fire. The attack was not going to achieve the success hoped for, so Briedis ordered a withdrawal. Six riflemen were wounded. Once again Briedis became convinced that artillery fire can throw into confusion plans which depend on secrecy and, along with that, ruin the whole enterprise. The fault did not lie with the artillery alone — a rifleman could throw a grenade too soon. After 16 March the battalion was transferred to the 13th Siberian Division.

The year 1915 had ended, the Russians as well as the German front-lines had stabilised and passed to a war of positions. Were the pressure on the Western Allies to become too strong they would exert pressure on us to go over to the attack. But the Russians too from the beginning of spring 1916 wanted to go over to the offensive although previous experience had shown that the Russians were better suited to the trenches than to the open field.

On the morning of 20 March Lt.-Col. Francis, the commander of the 2nd battalion, was entrusted with the joint command of both battalions, which protected the left flank of the 51st Regiment. He was to occupy the exit position between the Ķekava river and the Bauska highway until 5 o'clock on the 21st and, when the Siberian regiment began its attack after an artillery preparation, towards Franci, Gugi, Villas. At night reconnaissance patrols were to gather information or to sabotage the barbed wire.

 29  Bangerskis described the subsequent events in this way: 'For several days beforehand, taking advantage of the fairly frequent morning mist, Briedis and I carried out a reconnaissance to find out the most favourable approach. Unfortunately such an approach was virtually not to be found. In part we might use the highway ditch, but that was full of frozen snow. To clean it out now would mean attracting the attention of the enemy. We decided that it could probably be done shortly before the start of the attack. I decided to attack with two companies in the first wave and with the remaining two in support, advancing along behind. Each group had its own good points and bad points. And, taking note of the excellent performance of the first company, I wished to give Briedis the opportunity to choose; but he answered that it should be carried out just as ordered. He also spoke out against choosing who were to be named as company commanders by lot. After Briedis' statement and his efforts at clearing the snow from the highway ditch. I saw that he would willingly go in the first wave, if such were the orders, but he himself shunned the drawing of lots . . . So I then ordered the 1st and 2nd companies to be allocated to first wave.

'On the morning of 21 March a hurricane barrage by the Russian artillery began all along the front. This flattened the strongpoint, the goal of the battalion's attack. Straightaway the German artillery began to reply. When the artillery duel had lasted for about 15-20 minutes the attack went in.

'Wishing to exchange a few words with Briedis before the battle, I went to look for him as the fire of our artillery started up. I found him alone with his runner in a very small bunker where you could only lie prone or take up a sitting position. Briedis was in the lying position with his hands covering his face. If I had not known Briedis so well, I might have thought that he was in a dreadful state of panic before the battle. In reality what Briedis was doing in this tiny little dug-out, was sinking himself in meditation and giving himself up to the power of the one who decides our fates. I knew that Briedis had given himself up to a diligent study of the science of yoga and to the demands both of a physical and psychic nature which it makes of one, particularly at decisive moments in one's life.

'Shortly before the Russian fire lifted from the wire to the trenches, Briedis' riflemen were actively clearing the snow from the ditch along which the 1st company and also Briedis were to pass. The 2nd company went to the left, using a dip in the ground. The capture of the first line of communication trenches now made the attack easier. 30  They advanced along these with hand grenades and managed to win back one line of bunkers after another, and one bunker after another. The attack in the sector of the 2nd battalion was also successful and by midday all the strong-points were in Latvian hands. The losses in the attack were not severe; the most grievous fact was that Briedis was among the wounded. The Germans, when all was said and done, had rebuilt the position in this as in those other sectors attacked on 21 March; attacks there had little success right from the start. The losses in the whole operation were very heavy: in the first company all the officers, senior-sergeants and instructors were put out of action. The losses of the whole battalion came to: three officers dead and 109 instructors and men; seven officers wounded (three seriously, among them Briedis) and 203 instructors and soldiers; missing -27.'

So, the battalion was short of ten officers and 339 other ranks on the second day after this battle, which was the first in which they were given the standard combat tasks, operating as part of a larger unit and not in a reconnaissance role as had initially been envisaged. That Briedis looked on this without enthusiasm, even if he carried out his orders to the letter, would seem to emerge from what the battalion commander said . . . The battalion's gains were 20 prisoners, one searchlight and a drum of telephone wire. Briedis had gone to Lt.-Col. Francis' HQ, where he sketched the situation (speaking was impossible); he then received first aid and was conveyed to the Riflemen's hospital at Riga.

It turned out that the bullet had hit his left cheek, and smashed the jaw and, breaking up, had gone out through the jaw in three places. The operation was difficult especially because it had to be performed without anaesthetic. Dr Jankovskis said: 'Rarely have I seen a man who suffered the greatest pain in this way. Briedis is not only a great soldier but he is great in other ways.'

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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