Latvian War of Independence

The Latvian War of Independence (Latvian: Latvijas neatkarības karš), sometimes called the Latvia's freedom fights (Latvian: Latvijas brīvības cīņas) or the Latvian War of Liberation (Latvian: Latvijas atbrīvošanas karš, "War of Latvian Liberation"), was a series of military conflicts in Latvia between 5 December 1918, after the newly proclaimed Republic of Latvia was invaded by Soviet Russia, and the signing of the Latvian-Soviet Riga Peace Treaty on 11 August 1920.[12]

Latvian War of Independence
Part of Soviet westward offensive of 1918–19
Date5 December 1918 – 11 August 1920
(1 year, 8 months and 6 days)
Result Latvian victory
Independence of Latvia

Latvian Army
merged from the:

Lieven detachment[nb 3]

Supported by the Allied Powers:

VI Reserve Corps:[2]

merged into the

West Russian Volunteer Army in September 1919
 Russian SFSR
 Latvian SSR
Commanders and leaders
Jānis Balodis
Ernst Põdder
Edward Rydz-Śmigły
Rüdiger von der Goltz
Alfred Fletcher
Pavel Bermondt-Avalov
Jukums Vācietis
Dmitry Nadyozhny
Pēteris Slavens
271 machine guns
321 light machine guns
54 guns
33 mortars[3]
(January 1920)
3 armoured vehicles
5 armoured trains
39 guns
204 machine guns[5]
(June 1919)
1 cruiser
8 destroyers
2 torpedo boats
1 minesweeper
2 torpedo boats
2 gunboats
20 000 infantry
25 tanks
(January 1920)
10 armoured vehicles
3 armoured trains
18 airplanes
100 guns
469 machine guns[5]
(June 1919)
55 machine-guns
42 guns
3 armoured trains[7]
Casualties and losses
3,046 killed
4,085 wounded[8]
300 killed
800 wounded[9]
840 killed
3,000 wounded[10][11]
  1. Part of the Baltische Landeswehr until July 1919.
  2. Under the Estonian 3rd Division command until July 1919.
  3. Part of the Baltische Landeswehr until July 1919, after which it left Latvia.
  4. Included Latvian Independent Brigade until July 1919.

The war can be divided into a few stages: Soviet offensive, German-Latvian liberation of Kurzeme and Riga, Estonian-Latvian liberation of Vidzeme, Bermontian offensive, Latvian-Polish liberation of Latgale.

The war involved Latvia (its provisional government supported by Estonia, Poland and the Western Allies—particularly the navy of United Kingdom) against the Russian SFSR and the Bolsheviks' short-lived Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic. Germany and the Baltic nobility added another level of intrigue, initially being nominally allied to the Nationalist/Allied force but attempting to jockey for German domination of Latvia. Eventually tensions flared up after a German coup against the Latvian government, leading to open war.

Following a cease-fire, a ploy was developed by the Germans, nominally dissolving into the West Russian Volunteer Army led by Gen. Pavel Bermont-Avalov. This West Russian Volunteer Army included Germans and former Russian prisoners of war nominally allied with the White Army in the Russian Civil War, but both Bermondt-Avalov and von der Goltz were more interested in eliminating the nationalists than fighting the Bolsheviks.

Certain episodes of the Latvian Independence War were also part of the Polish-Soviet War, particularly the Battle of Daugavpils.

Soviet offensive

On 18 November 1918 the People's Council of Latvia proclaimed the Independence of the Republic of Latvia and created the Latvian Provisional Government headed by Kārlis Ulmanis.

On 1 December 1918 the newly proclaimed republic was invaded by Soviet Russia. Much of the invading army in Latvia consisted of Red Latvian Riflemen, which made the invasion easier. The Soviet offensive met little resistance.

In the north Alūksne was taken on 7 December, Valka on 18 December, and Cēsis on 23 December, in the south Daugavpils was taken on 9 December, and finally Pļaviņas on 17 December.

Riga was captured by the Red Army on 3 January 1919. By the end of January the Latvian Provisional Government and remaining German units had retreated all the way to Liepāja, but then the Red offensive stalled along the Venta river.

The Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic was officially proclaimed on 13 January with the political, economic, and military backing of Soviet Russia.

Liberation of Kurzeme and the coup d'etat

On 18 February, an agreement was signed between Latvia and Estonia, starting formation of the North Latvian Brigade led by Jorģis Zemitāns on Estonian territory.

On 3 March, the German and Latvian forces commenced a counterattack against the Red Latvian Riflemen. Tukums was recaptured from the Bolsheviks on 15 March, and Jelgava on 18 March.

On 16 April, the Baltic nobility organised a coup d'etat in Liepāja and a puppet government headed by Andrievs Niedra was established.[13] The provisional national government took refuge aboard the steamship Saratov under British protection in Liepaja harbour.[14]

On 22 May, Riga was recaptured by the Freikorps and an organised persecution of suspected Bolshevik supporters began, with an estimated 174 (according to the head of Rīga's Gendarmerie) to 4,000–5,000 people (according to local social democrats and communists) being shot.[15] At the same time the Estonian Army including the North Latvian Brigade loyal to the Ulmanis government started a major offensive against the Soviets in north Latvia. By the middle of June the Soviet rule was reduced to the area surrounding Latgale.

German–Latvian conflict

After the capture of Riga the German forces advanced north towards the Latvian city of Cēsis. The objective of the German forces had now clearly become the establishment of German supremacy in the Baltic by eliminating the Estonian military and Latvian national units, not the defeat of the Bolsheviks. The Estonian commander General Johan Laidoner insisted the Germans withdraw to a line south of the Gauja river. He also ordered the Estonian 3rd Division to seize the Gulbene railroad station.

On June 19, 1919, the Landeswehr and the Iron Division launched an attack to capture Cēsis. Initially, the Freikorps captured the town of Straupe and continued their advance toward the town of Limbaži. The Estonians launched a counterattack and drove the Freikorps out of the town. On June 21, the Estonians received reinforcements and immediately attacked the Landeswehr under Alfred Fletcher, who was forced to withdraw from an area to the northeast of Cēsis. The Iron Division attacked from Straupe towards Stalbe in an effort to relieve pressure on the Landeswehr. On the morning of June 23, the Germans began a general retreat toward Riga.[16]

The Allies again insisted that the Germans withdraw their remaining troops from Latvia, and on July 3 intervened to impose an armistice between Estonia, Latvia, and the Landeswehr and Freikorps when the Latvians were about to march into Riga. By its terms the legitimate government of Ulmanis was to be restored, the Baltic German Landeswehr be placed under the command of the British officer Harold Alexander and the Iron Division to leave Latvia. The government of Ulmanis returned to Riga on 8 July 1919 and the Landeswehr became a component of the Latvian National Army.

Bermondt offensive

The Iron Division, however, did not leave Latvia. Instead Major Bischoff created a German Legion from over a dozen Freikorps units and turned the units over to the West Russian Volunteer Army. In total, the Iron Division transferred over 14,000 men, 64 aircraft, 56 artillery pieces, and 156 machine guns. Six cavalry units and a field hospital were also transferred. The offensive by the reformed German Army was subsequently defeated by the Latvian Army, which received assistance from British and French warships and Estonian armoured trains.




  • 5 January: The first military unit of Latvia — the 1st Latvian Independent Battalion, under command of Oskars Kalpaks — is formed. The provisional government retreats from Jelgava to Liepāja.
  • 31 January: Most of Latvia is under the control of the Red Army; the Latvian government and German forces control the area around Liepāja.
  • 18 February: An agreement is signed between Estonia and Latvia, which provides for the formation of the North Latvian Brigade, led by Jorģis Zemitāns, on Estonian territory.
  • 3 March: The united German and Latvian forces commence a counterattack against the forces of Soviet Latvia.
  • 6 March: Oskars Kalpaks, commander of all Latvian forces subordinated to German headquarters, is killed by German friendly fire. He is replaced by Jānis Balodis.
  • 10 March: Saldus comes under Latvian control.
  • 21 March: 1st Latvian Independent Battalion is reformed into the Latvian Independent Brigade.
  • 16 April: The puppet Latvian Government established by the Baltic nobility[14] organizes a coup d'etat in Liepāja, the provisional national government of Latvia takes refuge aboard the steamship Saratow under Allied protection.[13]
  • 16 May: The Estonian Army starts a major offensive against the Soviets in north Latvia.
  • 22 May: The Baltische Landeswehr captures Riga.
  • 23 May: The Latvian Independent Brigade marches into Riga.
  • 3 June: The Baltische Landeswehr reaches Cēsis.
  • 6 June: The Landeswehr's North Latvian campaign begins, commanded by Major Alfred Fletcher.
  • 23 June: The Estonian 3rd Division commanded by Gen. Ernst Põdder, including the 2nd Latvian Cēsis regiment of the North Latvian Brigade defeats the Landeswehr in the Battle of Cēsis.
  • 3 July: Estonia, Latvia and the pro-German Provisional Government of Latvia sign the Ceasefire of Strazdumuiža.
  • 6 July: The North Latvian Brigade enters Riga.
  • 5 October: The German mission secretly leaves Riga for Jelgava, where an attack is prepared by the German-established West Russian Volunteer Army on Riga.
  • 8 October: The West Russian Volunteer Army attacks Riga, taking the Pārdaugava district.
  • 20 October: Battle of Talsi.
  • 3 November: The Latvian Army, supported by Estonian armored trains and the British Royal Navy, launches its counterattack.
  • 5 November: Battle of Liepāja.
  • 11 November: The Latvian Army, supported by Estonian armored trains, the Royal Navy and the French Navy, defeats the West Russian Volunteer Army in Riga. The date is celebrated as Lāčplēsis Day ever since.
  • 21 November: The Latvian Army liberates Jelgava from the West Russian Volunteer Army.
  • 22 November: The Lithuanian Army defeats the remnants of the West Russian Volunteer Army in Lithuania near Radviliškis.


See also


  1. Per Finsted. "Boganmeldelse: For Dannebrogs Ære - Danske frivillige i Estlands og Letlands frihedskamp 1919 af Niels Jensen" (in Danish). Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
  2. "Generalkommando VI Reservekorps". Axis History.
  3. Latvijas Atbrīvošanas kaŗa vēsture Archived 2011-07-13 at the Wayback Machine (in Latvian)
  4. "Iseseisvuse aeg 1941–44". Eesti. Üld. 11. Eesti entsüklopeedia. 2002. pp. 296–311.
  5. Co. Jaan Maide (1933). Ülevaade Eesti Vabadussõjast (1918–1920) (Overview on Estonian War of Independence) (in Estonian). Archived from the original on 2010-08-22.
  6. Mangulis, Visvaldis. Latvia in the Wars of the 20th Century. Princeton Junction: Cognition Books, 1983, xxi, 207p.
  7. "Latvia 1919" (PDF).
  8. Latvijas Brīvības cīņas, page 15 (in Latvian)
  9. Eesti Vabadussõda (in Estonian)
  10. Hans von Rimscha, Hellmuth Weiss (1977). Von den baltischen Provinzen zu den baltischen Staaten 1918-1920. J. G. Herder-Institut. p. 61.
  11. Kaevats, Ülo: Eesti Entsüklopeedia 5, page 396. Valgus, 1990, ISBN 5-89900-009-0
  12. (in Latvian)Freibergs J. (1998, 2001) Jaunāko laiku vēsture 20. gadsimts Zvaigzne ABC ISBN 9984-17-049-7
  13. Šiliņš, Jānis (18 April 2019). "The republic on the sea: The 1919 coup that exiled the Latvian government to a steamboat". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  14. LtCol Andrew Parrott. "The Baltic States from 1914 to 1923: The First World War and the Wars of Independence" (PDF). Baltic Defence Review. 2/2002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-19.
  15. Šiliņš, Jānis (24 May 2019). "Shooting the Bolsheviks: White terror after freeing Rīga". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. Retrieved 26 May 2019.
  16. Estonian War of Independence 19181920. Jyri Kork (Ed.). Esto, Baltimore, 1988 (Reprint from Estonian War of Independence 19181920. Historical Committee for the War of Independence, Tallinn, 1938)


  • Gen. Fürst Awaloff (1925). Im Kampf gegen den Bolschewismus. Erinnerungen von General Fürst Awaloff, Oberbefehlshaber der Deutsch-Russischen Westarmee im Baltikum. Verlag von J.J. Augustin, Glückstadt und Hamburg.
  • Gen. Graf Rüdiger von der Goltz (1920). Meine Sendung in Finland und im Baltikum. Verlag von K.F. Koehler, Leipzig.
  • BischoffJosef, Die letzte Front. Geschichte der Eiserne Division im Baltikum 1919, Berlin 1935.
  • Darstellungen aus den Nachkriegskämpfen deutscher Truppen und Freikorps, Bd 2: Der Feldzug im Baltikum bis zur zweiten Einnahme von Riga. Januar bis Mai 1919, Berlin 1937; Bd 3: Die Kämpfe im Baltikum nach der zweiten Einnahme von Riga. Juni bis Dezember 1919, Berlin 1938.
  • Die baltische Landeswehr im Befreiungskampf gegen den Bolschevismus. Ein Gedenkbuch, herausgegeben vom baltischen Landeswehrein, Riga 1929.
  • Kiewisz Leon, Sprawy łotewskie w bałtyckiej polityce Niemiec 1914-1919, Poznań 1970.
  • Łossowski Piotr, Między wojną a pokojem. Niemieckie zamysły wojenne na wschodzie w obliczu traktatu wersalskiego. Marzec-kwiecień 1919, Warszawa 1976.
  • Paluszyński Tomasz, Walka o niepodległość Łotwy 1914-1920, Warszawa 1999.
  • Von den baltische Provinzen zu den baltischen Staaten. Beiträge zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Republiken Estland und Lettland, Bd I (1917–1918), Bd II (1919–1920), Marburg 1971, 1977.
  • Claus Grimm: "Vor den Toren Europas – Geschichte der Baltischen Landeswehr" Hamburg 1963
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