Latvian arrows in combat positions
Exactly one hundred years ago, the whole Russian Empire learned about who the Latvian arrows are. In September, 1916-th on the "Island of Death" near Riga were fierce battles with the troops of the Kaiser. Latvians showed real heroism and did not allow the invaders to their capital. "Lenta.ru," remembered the exciting and dramatic history first Latvian military units.
“The First World War came to Latvia on August 2 (July 20 old style) 1914 of the year, when Port Libava (now Liepaja) was fired upon by the German cruisers Augsburg and Magdeburg. The initial patriotic upsurge of the Latvians turned out to be extraordinary, ”Riga historian Oleg Puhlyak told Lenta.ru. But what State Duma of the Russian Empire (GDRI) from the Province of Courland Janis Goldmanis wrote about those events, in 1920, he became the Minister of Defense of the Republic of Latvia: “There is not a single person among Latvians and Estonians who do not understand that they achieved in terms of welfare, achieved under the protection of the Russian Eagle. That all that Latvians and Estonians should still achieve is possible only when the Baltic region and in the future will be an inseparable part of Great Russia. ”
The idea of creating Latvian formations came from the commander of the North-Western Front, Mikhail Alekseev, after German forces invaded Kurland in the first half of 1915, seized Libava, Tukkum, Windavu, and threatened Riga. Prior to that, the Latvians were distributed in "ordinary" military units and recruited volunteer units of the national teams. However, patriotic Latvians, especially from among the students, have repeatedly advocated the creation of national units. In the end, the troops of the Kaiser trampled their land, and in general the attitude towards the Germans, as well as towards their own barons, was the most negative. Under the conditions of the German offensive, watching the front burst under enemy onslaught, General Alekseev 1 August (July 19 old style) 1915 of the year signed the famous Order No. 322 (848-3287) about the creation of eight infantry battalions. At the same time, the deputies of the GDRI, Janis Goldmanis and Janis Zalitis, published an appeal to their compatriots: “Get together under the Latvian flags!”
Mobilization was successful, and by the end of 1916, the total number of soldiers in the Latvian units reached 39 thousands. Their first experience of participation in battles turned out to be positive, but the real baptism of the riflemen took place in September on the “Island of Death” near the left bank of the Daugava. This tiny piece of land near the station Ikskile served as a springboard for fierce fights. On September 25, the Germans conducted a gas attack here, and around 1400 the soldiers and officers who did not have gas masks were poisoned. The Kamenetz Infantry Regiment on the island was almost completely killed.
After that, the Latvian riflemen were transferred here. They had gas masks, but they did not save them completely from poisonous gases. Eight days 2-th Riga battalion withstood the attacks of the soldiers of the Kaiser, 120 fighters got poisoned. In total, 167 people were killed here in those days.
Latvian arrows with a national banner
Island of the Living Dead
The famous writer Vilis Latsis described the battles for “The Island of Death”: “... People with torn heads, torn sides, from which entrails tumble out, youths with disfigured faces, without a nose and mouth; people whose lungs are poisoned by poisonous gases wriggle in terrible convulsions with bloody foam on their lips, their torment can only be relieved by death. Crows and rats tormented the dead, whose bodies did not have time to bury. Even the living smelled of corpses, people live in a semi-bred state. Gradually, they become accustomed to danger, because there is no point in being afraid, if you know that you cannot get rid of it ... ”
The arrows fought and died under enemy hurricane fire, in poisoned air, without removing their gas masks from their faces. In spite of everything, “The Island of Death” held on, representing a dangerous sting in the body of the German army, blocking the way around Riga and threatening the forces of Wilhelm II with a front breakthrough. Somewhat later, at the end of 1916 and the beginning of 1917, battles with the participation of Latvian riflemen occurred near the Tyrela swamps, between Lake Babite and Olaine, and near the famous “Machine-gun hill”.
During the period of diarchy
The revolutionary shooters of the Bolsheviks, the Latvian arrows, mostly from the lower classes, were enthusiastically received. In a country that had already thrown off the power of the emperor, a dual power was established: on the one hand, the Provisional Government, on the other, the Soviets of Workers, Soldiers and Peasant Deputies. Oleg Pukhlyak tells Lente.ru: “The ill-considered orders of the Provisional Government, headed by Alexander Kerensky, undermined discipline among the troops, the rallies were followed by demonstrations. The commanders of the regiments were deprived of the ability to order and could only call to fight "for the salvation of the motherland and freedom." In these circumstances, the main part of the Latvian riflemen went over to the side of the Bolsheviks, setting as a goal the creation of Latvian and Latgalian autonomies within Russia. ”
Latvian arrows in Moscow, 1918 year
In the autumn of 1917, the Chief of Staff of the Northern Front, General Sergei Lukirsky, reported to Commander-in-Chief Nikolai Dukhonin: “As for the Latvian riflemen, it was they who corrupted the whole army and are now leading it.” Taking advantage of the fall of discipline in the army and the collapse of the front, the Germans on September 1 launched an offensive on Riga. The Russian army escaped encirclement thanks to the selfless resistance of its units in the Malaya Jugla region. In these battles, Commander 5 of the Zemgale Latvian Latvian Rifle Regiment distinguished himself Joakim Vatsetis (later the first commander-in-chief of the Red Army). September 3 German troops managed to occupy Riga. And in Russia soon there was another change of power.
In the days of the October Revolution, the arrows disrupted the sending of troops from the Northern Front to Petrograd, which remained loyal to the government. By that time, they had acquired their own governing body called the Executive Committee of the Latvian Riflemen. The Committee ordered the dispatch of one of the Latvian regiments to the capital, whose fighters were distinguished by "exemplary discipline and proletarian consciousness" to strengthen the revolutionary garrison. In the days of the revolution, it was precisely the Latvians in uniform who, acting on instructions from the Central Committee of the RSDLP, occupied the most important railway junctions around Petrograd and thus prevented the Provisional Government from tightening up its loyal troops. They also blocked bridges, telegraph and telephone exchanges, stations in the capital, and in January 1918 participated in the dispersal of the All-Russian Constituent Assembly, after which power finally passed to the Bolsheviks.
On guard of the revolution
Then a civil war broke out in Russia, during which the Bolsheviks (the “reds”) fought with supporters of alternative state-building projects (the “whites”). Most of the Latvian riflemen were on the red side. They protected the first persons of the young Soviet Republic (including Lenin), participated in military and punitive operations, displaying boundless bravery and along with it inhuman cruelty. The Soviet command threw Latvian units into operations against the White Guard general Kaledin on the Don, against captured Czechs and Slovaks who had risen in the Volga region, and fought with the forces of generals Denikin and Wrangel in southern Russia, in the Crimea.
Guarding the V Congress of the Soviets, July 1918
At the same time, the arrows distinguished themselves by participation in the terror unleashed by the Reds against those whom the Communists considered to be the “hostile element”: on the Don, in Rostov, in Belarus, Moscow, Yaroslavl, Murom, Rybinsk, Kaluga, Saratov, Nizhny Novgorod, in the Tambov region, in Kronstadt. A large number of Latvians were taken to the organs of the Cheka, others made a “bloody career” there. For example, the name of Jacob Peters, one of the creators of the Cheka, at that time frightened children. He was called the executioner and the sadist, he sent people to execute in large quantities. “The role of the mass influx of Latvians in the Cheka was also played by the fact that Peters became the second person in the proletarian massacre department, widely attracting his comrades and fellow countrymen to the KGB ranks,” historians recall the events of those days. Even nowadays, the famous Latvian composer Raymond Pauls in one interview said: “I studied a little what happened in 1917 and 1918. Who were the main killers? Our compatriots.
In fairness it should be noted that his Latvian battalion was also part of the forces of the “white” admiral Kolchak. After the civil war, the personal fate of the shooters evolved differently. Some remained in the USSR — many of them, including the aforementioned Vatsetis and Peters, were shot in Stalin's times. Many shooters returned to their homeland - either at the end of 1918 of the year (they managed to take part in the battles for the short-lived first version of Soviet Latvia), or already in 1920's. Here they were also not met with bread and salt, but with courts and prisons - as accomplices of the enemy state. And only a few survived until the mid-20th century, when in the USSR around the Latvian riflemen they began to create a heroic legend, opening museums and erecting monuments, generously hanging awards on their chests.
Today, the attitude towards these people in their homeland is controversial. On the one hand, they were representatives of the first national military formations. On the other hand, in modern Latvia they cannot forget that the arrows were directly involved in the formation of Soviet power. Because they prefer to once again not to remember.