Table of contents        Chapter IV        Chapter VI

[page 25]



The disarray and confusion of Russia after the downfall of the Czar gave Lenin and his Bolshevik minority a chance to grab power. When he did succeed in the establishment of a Bolshevik government, few people expected that to last longer than a few weeks. It did last longer than that largely because he had a military force - the Latvian Rifles - which was unbeatable at the crucial early moments of the birth of the Soviet Union. The force was small, but even a small force can prevail in a power vacuum. The Russian Army melted away. The tired soldiers “demobilized” themselves, sometimes killing their officers. The peasants went home to take part in the seizures of the estates of large landowners; the workers went home to seize factories. Yet the Latvian Rifles had no place to go; Latvia was mostly under German occupation. Lenin promised them a free Latvia through world revolution and revenge against the traitors and bunglers who had spilled Latvian blood in a useless war. When the Latvian Rifles finally realized that there was a huge gap between Lenin’s theory and practice, most of them also demobilized themselves, but by then it was too late. Lenin was firmly in power. A large part of the Rifles never followed Lenin and stayed in Latvia even if it meant a prisoner-of war camp in Germany. Of those who trusted in Lenin's fables a large fraction found death on foreign battlefields, a lot of them returned to Latvia later to fight for independence, and some stayed in the Soviet Union, enticed by positions [page26] of power earned by the services rendered in the early days of the revolution.


While at the beginning the Petrograd Soviet was dominated by Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks gradually gained ground and on October 8 the Bolshevik Trotsky was elected President of the Petrograd Soviet[1] [2]. Kerensky and the rest of the Provisional Government became the impotent prisoners of the Soviet and of the Red Guards who had been armed to oppose Kornilov’s attempt to take Petrograd. On October 23 (10) Lenin convinced the majority of the Bolshevik Central Committee that “an armed insurrection is inevitable and the time is quite ripe for it”[3]. A Military Revolutionary Committee was organized on October 25 to guide the uprising against the Provisional Government.

The 12th Army (which included the Latvian Rifles) was the major front-line unit nearest to Petrograd and, therefore, had to be held in check. Lenin sent a member of the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee, Antonov-Ovseenko, to a special conference of the Latvian Bolsheviks on October 29 (16) with instructions for the uprising. The conference agreed to organize illegal Military Revolutionary Committees in each of the Latvian Rifle regiments and also one for the whole 12th Army, to occupy strategic railroad junctions at the proper time to prevent movement of troops to Petrograd, and to prepare two regiments for duty in Petrograd[4] [5].

The Military Revolutionary Committee of the 12th Army was organized on October 31 (18) with a Latvian chairman Juris Čariņš and mostly Latvian members[4], [6]. At the last moment Kerensky tried to improve his relations with the Latvians by authorizing the unification of the regiments into a Latvian Rifle Corps, something which Colonel Vācietis and other officers had sought for a long time[7]. However, this gesture was too little too late. It could not eradicate the bitterness generated previously by Kerensky’s hostility toward non-Russian nationalities.

The Bolshevik uprising in Petrograd took place during the night from November 6 to 7 (old style calendar, October 24 to 25, hence it is called the October Revolution). Troops loyal to Bolsheviks occupied railway stations, banks, and the telephone exchange. Kerensky fled for the front. The Provisional Government in the [page 27] Winter Palace surrendered during the night from November 7 to 8 to a force of Red Guards, sailors, and soldiers. The sailors were led by the Latvian Eižens Bergs[8].

The Second Congress of Soviets met in the great hall of the Smolny Institute in the evening of November 7 while the Winter Palace was still under siege. The Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries denounced the uprising. A delegate from the 12th Army protested the revolution as a stab in the back of the army and a crime against the people. Khinchuk, an officer from the 5th Army, declared that the Congress of Soviets was not necessary because a Constituent Assembly was scheduled to be held in three weeks. Khinchuk read a Menshevik declaration of withdrawal from the Congress. The delegates hesitated - perhaps the Bolsheviks did stand alone, and perhaps the army was marching on Petrograd. Then, as described by the American correspondent John Reed[9], a delegate of the Latvian Rifles, Kārlis Pētersons, leaped upon the speaker’s platform:

“Comrades!” he cried and there was a hush. “My name is Pētersons - I speak for the 2nd Latvian Rifles. You have heard the statements of two representatives of the Army committees; these statements would have some value if their authors had been representatives of the Army.” Wild applause. “But they do not represent the soldiers! … Our Committee refused to call a meeting of the representatives of the masses until the end of September, so that the reactionaries could elect their own false delegates to this Congress. I tell you now, the Latvian soldiers have many times said, ‘No more resolutions! No more talk! We want deeds-the Power must be in our hands!’ Let these impostor delegates leave the Congress! The Army is not with them!”

According to John Reed the hall rocked with cheering and suddenly the delegates stopped wavering-this seemed to be the voice of soldiers. In reality most of the 12th Army was either neutral or against the Bolsheviks, and the Latvian Rifles (plus a few Russian regiments) were the only ones actively supporting them, misled by Lenin’s promises of self-determination for all nationalities.

A part of the dissenting delegates left the Congress. The next day the Congress accepted Lenin’s proposal for immediate peace negotiations and a decree abolishing all private ownership of land. A new government was formed exclusively from Bolsheviks, called People’s Commissars.

[page 28]

However, the Bolshevik foothold in Russia was still small and precarious. The Menshevik majority in the Executive Committee of the Soldiers’ Soviet of the 12th Army in the Latvian town of Valka declared itself against the new Bolshevik government on November 8[10]. However, the Latvian Rifles purged their regiments of anti-Bolshevik officers and occupied Cēsis on November 9, Valmiera on November 11. They frustrated the attempts of the 12th Army Headquarters to send troops to Petrograd and, in the words of the Russian General Baronovskii, terrified the whole 12th Army[11]. The reserve regiment, stationed in Estonia, secured the town of Tartu. The last stronghold of the anti-Bolsheviks, the 12th Army Headquarters in Valka, was occupied by Latvian Rifles on November 20 [12]. To avoid the appearance of ethnic warfare, a Russian regiment was sent along. The planner of the seizure of Valka, Colonel Vācietis, was appointed Commander of the 12th Army[13].

Kerensky had gathered a small force and clashed with Red Guards southwest of Petrograd on November 12-14 while officer cadets attempted an unsuccessful uprising against the Bolsheviks inside the city. Defeated, Kerensky fled into exile.

In Moscow the Latvian Ensign O.Bērziņš became the Bolshevik commandant of the Kremlin on November 7 [14]. The Kremlin was important both as a fortress and as an arsenal for the Red Guards. The Chief of Staff of the Moscow Red Guards was the Latvian Jānis Pieče[15]. Fighting between Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik forces ended on November 15 with victory by the Bolshevik Red Guards.

Since the German occupation of Latvia had dispersed Latvians throughout Russia, they were active in the October Revolution from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Ivars Smilga was the head of the Regional Soviet Committee in Finland[16], [17]. Roberts Eidemanis was the vice-chairman of the Siberian Executive Committee[18]. The chairman of the Crimean Military Revolutionary Committee was Juris Gavēnis[19]. The Commandant of Petrograd was Augusts Kļavs-Kļaviņš[20]. Mārtiņš Lācis[21], Jēkabs Peterss[22], Kārlis Pētersons, and Pēteris Stučka were members of the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee[23]. Stučka became Commissar of Justice (equivalent to a cabinet minister) at the end of November[24] [25]. In general the oppressed non-Russians were prominent in the October Revolution: Stalin and Ordzhonikidze were Georgians; Sverdlov, Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Sokolnikov, and Radek were Jews[26]; etc.

[page 29]

During Kerensky’s attack several regiments of the Petrograd garrison had refused to take part in the battle against Kerensky[27]. The Russian soldiers were disorganized, the Kronstadt sailors were reluctant to accept any authority, and the Red Guards were militarily weak. To secure the Bolshevik position the Military Revolutionary Committee asked for a transfer of some Latvian Rifle units to Petrograd. Antonov-Ovseenko requested such units by telegram on November 19 [28]. A special selected company for guard duty at the Smolny Institute (the location of Lenin’s government) arrived in Petrograd on December 9. The 6th Latvian Rifle Regiment arrived on December 8 to perform general guard duty in Petrograd[29]. Similar requests for Latvian Rifles came from Moscow and other cities because of their reputation as elite units. At first the Rifles resisted such dismemberment into small detachments scattered all over Russia, but by 1918 one could find Latvian regiments on all fronts of the ensuing civil war.


Since Latvians were divided by the front line, the nationalists took two different roads towards independence. At the end of September, 1917, the Democratic Bloc (DB) (a coalition of representatives of various parties) in German-occupied Rīga petitioned the German government to allow the formation of a neutral autonomous state, guaranteed by international law[30] [31]. In November, 1917 a Latvian Provisional National Council (LPNC) of representatives of various groups met in Russian-held Valka and declared on December 1 (November 18) that Latvia was an autonomous and indivisible nation. Its internal structure and foreign relations would be determined by a constitutional convention [30] [31] [32].

Of course, the Germans ignored the petition by DB since they expected to annex at least Courland (perhaps with Kaiser Wilhelm as the Duke of Courland[33]) and possibly the rest of Latvia. The leaders of DB were Kārlis Ulmanis (chairman of the Latvian Agrarian Union, in exile after 1905, returned to Latvia in 1913 from USA), Miķelis Valters (a Socialist Revolutionary, returned from exile in Switzerland, who agitated for an independent Latvia already in 1905), Fricis Menders (Social Democrat-Menshevik), and Pauls Kalniņš (Social Democrat-Menshevik, a leader of the 1905 uprising). The petition to the Germar. government eventually became known to [page 30] the Allies who interpreted it as a petition for an autonomous Latvia aligned with Germany and under German protection. Furthermore, the Allied copy of the petition was signed “Representatives of politically leading circles of the Latvian nation” which the Allies suspected meant LPNC. Since LPNC was negotiating with the Allies for support of an independent Latvia aligned with the Allies, this would have meant double-dealing[34]. It required a considerable effort and a long time to convince the Allies that LPNC was innocent.

The leaders of LPNC were the members of the Duma and organizers of Latvian Rifles Jānis Goldmanis and Jānis Zālītis, vice-chairmen of the Latvian Agrarian Union Ādolfs Klīve and A.Brēmers, the High Commissioners of the Provincial Territorial Councils for Courland and Latgale Jānis Čakste and Jāzeps Rancāns, member of the Council for Vidzeme Zigfrīds Meierovics, writers Kārlis Skalbe and Jānis Akurāters, ets. To appease the Allies who claimed that they could not support Latvian independence until Germany was defeated because the Allies did not want to enfeeble Russia militarily, LPNC omitted the word “independent” from its declaration[35]. The English consulate in Moscow began to aid LPNC financially during the peace negotiations in Brest-Litovsk[36].

However, neither LPNC nor DB could do much else than issue declarations. The real power in the Baltic at the end of the year 1917 was the German Army, and it held more than half of Latvia. At least LPNC was able to contact the Allies even though the Bolsheviks made it difficult. DB was isolated from the rest of the world by the German front line.

While some Latvian officers such as Colonels Jukums Vācietis and Gustavs Mangulis (Commander of the 7th Regiment[37]) declared that they would remain with their Bolshevik-dominated regiments regardless of where they were sent, most of the officers left the Latvian rifles after the October Revolution and joined the Latvian nationalists or the anti-Bolshevik Russian movements such as the Committee for the Salvation of the Country and the Revolution. Some, such as the two brigade commanders Mārtiņš Peniķis and Ansis Lielgalvis, were arrested but later again released[38]. Goppers collected about 120 Latvian officers in Petrograd for the defense of the Russian Constituent Assembly. Briedis organized anti-Bolshevik teams of Latvian officers in the officer reserve unit at Vitebsk[39].

Briedis was the irrational hope of the Latvians under German occupation. The popular officer was equated to Lāčplēsis [Bearslayer], [page 31] an ancient hero who, according to a legend, will return from death to rid Latvia of foreign oppressors. Rumors were plentiful in news-starved Riga: Briedis is coming with a force of 100,000; the English are landing on the coast[40]. Dreams let the Latvians endure the reality of Latvia under the German iron fist.


On December 15 the Bolsheviks concluded an armistice with the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria); peace negotiations started December 22 in Brest-Litovsk[41]. The Ukrainians declared independence on January 22 and signed a separate peace with the Central Powers on February 9 [42]. The Bolsheviks clashed with the Ukrainians and with an anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army in the Don Cossack region in December, marking the beginning of a civil war which lasted until 1921. Challenges to Bolshevik power arose in north and south, east and west.

The Russian Constituent Assembly convened on January 18 in Petrograd to write the new constitution. The elections had given the Bolsheviks only 24% of the vote; the Socialist Revolutionaries had received 58% [43]. The Bolsheviks had supported the Assembly when they had hopes of dominating it. Now they dispersed it by force, using sailors and Latvian Rifles[44].


The Latvian Rifles in Petrograd guarded not only Lenin and his government but also the Czar’s treasures, banks, warehouses and stores. Among the more dangerous tasks were the almost daily skirmishes with drunken armed crowds which looted wine cellars and liquor warehouses[45] and clashes with armed soldiers and sailors who had “demobilized” themselves and tried to leave Petrograd with their loot by commandeering railroad trains by force[46].

January 22 some units from the 1st and 4th Latvian Rifle Regiments were sent to the civil war front in Rogachev[47]. This marked the beginning of the dispersal of the Rifles over the vast fronts of the civil war. Instead of the promised peace, Russia had three more years of war ahead.


While Lenin wanted an immediate peace treaty with the Germans, Trotsky (the Commissar for Foreign Affairs) and some others tried to stretch out the negotiations as long as possible since they seriously expected to incite the workers of both the Central Powers and of the Allies to revolt[48]. Some Latvian Rifles threatened an independent war against the Germans if Lenin concluded a peace at Brest-Litovsk[49]. The Germans demanded huge territorial concessions. When Trotsky ran out of excuses for delays (he announced on February 10 that he would not sign the peace treaty; yet the Bolsheviks would not continue the war either), a general demobilization was proclaimed. However, the Germans were not satisfied with such a neither-peace-nor-war solution and, to pressure the Bolsheviks, advanced further into Russia on February 18 [50]. The Latvian town of Daugavpils (Dvinsk) was occupied on the first day; Valka fell on February 22. The few Latvian Rifle Regiments still in the area retreated before the superior strength of the Germans since none of the Russian units offered any resistance. The 7th and 8th Regiments were surrounded. They broke through the encirclement at the town of Pskov during the night from February 24 to 25 [51]. On March 3, 1918 the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed. Russia lost an area of 1,267,000 square miles with 62 million people[52], including Finland, the Ukraine, and the Baltic provinces. Courland and Rīga became a German protectorate. Vidzeme and Estonia were occupied by a German police force until “the country’s institutions guarantee security and political order is restored”[53]. Latgale was left to Russia. Thus Latvia was dismembered into three parts.

And while the Germans occupied Latvia, the Latvian Rifles were foolishly busy elsewhere. The 3rd Regiment seized Rostov, the capital of the Don Cossacks, from the Volunteer Army and anti-Bolshevik Cossacks on February 22 [54] together with a Red Guard unit commanded by the Latvian Rūdolfs Siverss [55]. The 1st Regiment and a battalion of the 4th Regiment captured Rogachev from an anti-Bolshevik Polish Corps on February 11 [56]. In March and April all Latvian Rifle Regiments were transformed into regiments of a newly formed Russian Red Army and combined into a division, known as Latdivision, commanded by Vācietis. It was the first fully organized division of the new Red Army, although it was scattered all over Russia: the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 9th Regiments were in Moscow, 6th in Petrograd, 5th and 8th in Bologoye, 7th in Novgorod[57] [58]. The division also had units of cavalry, artillery, aviation, and [page 33] engineers. The 9th Regiment was formed from the special company of Lenin’s bodyguards. Lenin and the rest of the government moved to Moscow on March 12 since now the Germans were uncomfortably close to Petrograd.

Quite a few of the Latvian Rifles still believed in Lenin’s words and ignored his deeds. In November 1917 the Council of People’s Commissars (i.e. the Bolshevik Cabinet) had issued a “Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia.” The second item in the declaration established “the right of the peoples of Russia to free self-determination, even to the point of separation and the formation of an independent state”[59]. In January 1918 Stalin, the People’s Commissar for Nationalities, interpreted the above declaration to mean that only the workers of any area have the right to ask for independence. Finland’s independence was reluctantly recognized on December 18, 1917. Yet a few weeks later the Soviet government intervened to support a Bolshevik revolutionary coup in Finland [60]. The same happened in the Ukraine. However, both Finland and the Ukraine became nominally independent under German protection after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk[61]. Consequently, the deeds of the Soviet government clearly showed that “self-determination” was allowed only if the end result was a Bolshevik government subservient to Moscow. Any other result was interpreted as usurpation of the power by non-workers and, therefore, suppressed. However, the right-wing anti-Bolsheviks were not any better. They still stubbornly maintained that their goal was the indivisible pre-war Russia. The left-wing anti-Bolsheviks (Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries) offered the best hope for an independent Latvia. Therefore, some groups of Latvian Rifles (e.g. Goppers and Briedis) had aligned themselves with the secret Union for the Defense of the Motherland and Freedom, headed by the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Boris Saviakov. The Germans offered no hope at all. They occupied the towns of northern Latvia in February and, to make sure that nobody misunderstood who was in power, they hung three or four Latvians in each town in the marketplace while a band played the Latvian national anthem “God, bless Latvia!” as a mockery[62].

Those Latvian Rifles who did not want to join the new Red Army had a choice between starvation in Russia or secret crossing of the German lines back into Latvia. The anti-Bolshevik National Association of Latvian Soldiers provided still another choice: passage to Siberia where some Latvian colonies had been established in the 19th [page 34] century by Latvians fleeing the oppression of the Baltic barons at home[63].

The shrinking regiments of the Latdivision were replenished with recruits from the Latvian factory workers evacuated to Russia. The Latdivision had about 8,000 men in May and June, and 17-18,000 in November[56]. Some Latvian Red Guard units were transformed into Red Army units not attached to Latdivision, such as the Saratov Latvian Regiment[64]. Since the Latvians had earned a reputation as elite forces, the local Soviets in all Russian provinces formed “Latvian” Rifle companies or battalions. In reality they may have included only a few Latvians or even none[65]. Unfortunately, the Latvians also had to share the reputation of the Red terror unleashed by such “Latvian” units during the later stages of the civil war.

Since the total number of Latvian soldiers in the Russian army has been estimated at 150-160,000 (see Chapter III), the 8,000 in Latdivision were a small minority. Yet this small minority changed the course of history, duped by a government founded on lies and false promises of a utopia.


While the Ukrainians had attended the negotiations in Brest-Litovsk, the Latvians did not because LPNC regarded both the Soviets and the Germans as enemies who had no right to decide the future of Latvia. After the Treaty LPNC sent formal protests to both Germany and the Allies[66] [67].

The prison of nations was crumbling. Independence was declared by Kuban Cossacks on February 16, 1918; by Lithuania on February 16; by Estonia on February 24; by Byelorussia on March 25; and by Don Cossacks on May 5[68].

England recognized Estonia as a de facto independent state on May 3[69]. A Trans-Caucasian state in southern Russia had proclaimed independence on April 9; it broke up into three independent states of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaidjan on May 26[70].

About 35,000 Czecho-Slovaks, residents of Russia and also deserters from the Austro-Hungarian army, had fought against the Central Powers, hoping for independence for Czecho-Slovakia. The Allies planned to bring this corps to the Western Front in France via Siberia, the Pacific Ocean, the Panama Canal, and the Atlantic Ocean. The Soviets agreed. However, an obscure brawl on May 14 [page 35] led to an order from Trotsky (now Commissar of War) on May 25 to disarm the Czecho-Slovaks. They rebelled and by June controlled a huge territory from Samara on the Volga to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean [71]. This was another example of the importance of small but disciplined forces in a power vacuum. Just like the Latvian Rifles, the Czecho-Slovaks exerted an influence far beyond what could be expected under normal circumstances.

Anti-Bolshevik armies and governments sprang up in the Czecho-Slovak rear in Samara and Omsk. In the southeast the Volunteer Army led by Alekseev and Denikin and the Don Cossacks headed by Krasnov had fought the Bolsheviks since November.

In March British marines had landed in the northern port of Murmansk to protect jointly with the local non-Bolshevik Soviet the port and railway against Germans. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk the Germans protested the Allied presence. Moscow ordered the Murmansk Soviet to expel the Allies. When it refused to do so, Moscow severed all relations with it and established a military front against it south of Murmansk. The Allies recognized the Murmansk non-Bolshevik Soviet as the provisional sovereign authority in that region[72].

Thus the weak Bolshevik government was threatened by similarly weak anti-Bolshevik forces throughout Russia. If the Germans had won the war in the west, they probably would have turned east again. None of the forces was strong enough to stop them. However, since in the spring of 1918 their highest priority was in the west, the Germans were quite happy to let the dismembered Russia go through the convulsions of a civil war while Germany was assured of grain from the Ukraine (the Allies had set up a blockade of German ports, and food was in short supply).


The challenges to Bolshevik power which are listed above occurred on the periphery of Russia while Bolsheviks held the center. On July 6 their rule of the center met a serious challenge. By accident two separate armed insurrections took place on the same date: a rebellion by Left Socialist Revolutionaries in Moscow and Petrograd, and uprisings by Savinkov’s Union for the Defense of the Motherland and Freedom in Yaroslavl, Murom, and Rybinsk.

In June Bolsheviks had expelled Mensheviks and Right Socialist [page 36] Revolutionaries from all Soviets, leaving the Left Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) as the only non-Bolshevik legal political party. The latter wanted to resume the war with Germany. Therefore, two Left SR conspirators assassinated the German Ambassador in Moscow, Count Mirbach, on July 6. The Left SRs seized the Moscow telegraph office and sent messages to all Soviets declaring that the SRs were now in power[73]. Troops loyal to the SRs occupied a large part of Moscow and moved on the Kremlin, the seat of the Bolshevik government, guarded by the 9th Regiment of the Latvian Rifles. Other Latvian Regiments were stationed outside Moscow. Lenin placed Vācietis in command of the Bolshevik forces in Moscow[74]. Since the SR troops moved slowly and cautiously, Vācietis was able to bring the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Latvian Rifle Regiments into Moscow during the night and to counterattack on July 7. A Latvian artillery unit, commanded by Eduards Bērziņš, took up a position directly across from the SR Staff Headquarters, and the first shell landed in their conference room[74] [75]. By the end of the day the revolt of the Left SRs was finished. The revolt in Petrograd was put down by the 6th and 7th Latvian Rifle Regiments[76] and other Red Army detachments.

Savinkov’s organization, which staged the other insurrection on July 6, consisted mostly of ex-officers in favor of the Constituent Assembly and was supported by the French[77]. Briedis headed a group of Latvian ex-officers and was Savinkov’s chief of intelligence[78] [79] , while Goppers became the officer-on-duty of the secret staff[80]. The town of Yaroslavl was captured in a surprise attack on July 6 by 300 officers under the command of the Russian Colonel Perkhurov, assisted by Goppers[81]. The attack was supposed to be coordinated with an Allied landing at Archangel so that the Allies could support the advance of the insurgents upon Moscow[82]. However, the Allied landing came only a month later.

The uprising in Rybinsk was unsuccessful, while in Murom Savinkov’s forces held the town for a couple of days. Although the workers and peasants blamed the wide-spread hunger on the Bolshevik government, they were reluctant to side with ex-officers. Yaroslavl was retaken in heavy street fighting July 20-21 by the 6th and 8th Latvian Rifle Regiments and other Red Army forces[83].

Goppers escaped to the east where he joined anti-Bolshevik forces in Siberia[81]. Briedis and several other Latvian ex-officers were arrested in Moscow on July 22. LPNC attempted in vain to save [page 37] Briedis by bribing an official of the Cheka (the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission, the secret police organization which carried out the Red Terror in the coming years) with 60,000 rubles[84]. Briedis was shot August 28 in the infamous Butyrki prison[85].


In July, despite Bolshevik vigilance, LPNC envoys managed to get to Stockholm. Contact with imperialist and capitalist governments was a punishable offense. Stockholm was teeming with diplomats from Germany and Russia. Representatives of the German Baltic barons and of White (anti-Bolshevik) Russians spread their anti-Latvian and anti-Estonian propaganda, hoping to grab both nations for either Germany or Russia. From Stockholm LPNC envoy Meierovics arrived in London on August 12, while the other envoys were refused exit visas by Sweden[86]. Meierovics was able to give the Allies first-hand information about Latvian demands for independence.


The Allied Intervention in the Russian Civil War started with a landing in Archangel, a northern port of Russia, on August 2. The Allies organized an anti-Bolshevik government. The Allied force included 6,000 British and Canadians and 5,000 Americans[87]. This was the landing which was supposed to support Savinkov’s uprising, but it came much too late.

On August 3 Japanese and British troops landed in Vladivostok, an eastern Siberian port held by the Czecho-Slovak Corps. Two American regiments joined them shortly[88].

On August 15 two Latvians from the Rifles approached Bruce Lockhart, the unofficial British representative in Moscow. The Latvians, a youth named Šmithens (Smidchen according to Lockhart[89]; he was really a Red counterintelligence agent J.Buiķis[90]) and Eduards Bērziņš (the artillery commander who bombarded the Left SR headquarters in Moscow during their rebellion) had a proposition: the Latvian Rifles would surrender to the Allied forces at Archangel. Bērziņš explained that the Rifles were tired of fighting the Bolshevik battles; they wanted to return to Latvia. They expected the Allies to win the war and to decide the future of Latvia. Therefore, they [page 38] did not want to fight General Poole’s forces at Archangel. If they were sent there, they would rather surrender. Could Lockhart arrange safe passage through the Allied lines so that the surrendering Rifles would not be shot down by Allied troops?

Lockhart had met with representatives of LPNC, Klīve and Meierovics, early in 1918, and was supporting LPNC financially[91]. Furthermore, the Allies had frequently asked LPNC to attempt to dissuade the Rifles from Bolshevik service[92]. The appearance of Šmithens and Bērziņš seemed a God-sent opportunity to deprive the Bolsheviks of an important force. Although LPNC warned Lockhart that the proposition of surrender might not be genuine[93], he introduced the Latvians to Sidney Reilly, a Russian Jew in the British Intelligence Service[94]. Furthermore, Lockhart gave them a letter saying: “Please admit bearer, who has an important communication for General Poole, through the English lines,” so that the Latvians could send a messenger to Archangel[95].

Šmithens and Bērziņš suggested to Reilly that the Latvian Rifles might even be willing to stage a counterrevolution in Moscow. According to Lockhart, the Allied representatives in Moscow turned down this suggestion[95]. However, according to Bolshevik sources, Reilly passed 1,200,000 rubles to Bērziņš to finance the counterrevolution[90] [96].

On the morning of August 30 a young officer shot and killed the head of the Petrograd Cheka. On the evening of the same day a woman shot and wounded Lenin. The Bolsheviks responded with mass arrests and shootings, the Red Terror. Lockhart was arrested during the night from August 31 to September 1 and accused of conspiring to kill Lenin and Trotsky and of plotting to set up a military dictatorship in Moscow[97]. His interrogator Peterss produced the letter to Poole which had been given to the Latvians. Moreover, the Moscow press wrote that the “Lockhart plot” had been revealed by the loyalty of the Latvian garrison whom Allies tried to seduce by lavish gifts of money[97]. Consequently, Lockhart concluded that Šmithens and Bērziņš were agents-provocateurs. Bolshevik sources also indicate that the Cheka arranged a fictitious plot[90] [94] [96].

On the other hand, Reilly later speculated that Bērziņš sincerely wanted to avoid fighting the Allies. However, when he realized that the Allied intervention in Archangel was not serious, Bērziņš betrayed Reilly and Lockhart to save his own skin[98]. It was certainly [page 39] true that the Latvian Rifles were getting tired of fighting the Bolshevik battles. On several occasions they had refused to carry out their orders. For example, in April a part of the 6th Regiment refused to occupy the Ino Fortress in the Gulf of Finland[99]. In August-September several hundred Latvian Rifles crossed over to the Czecho-Slovak side during the battle of Kazan[100]. Briedis as chief of intelligence for Savinkov’s plot had managed to place several anti-Bolsheviks in the Cheka[101]. The situation was sufficiently confused with spies and double-agents so that the Cheka could believe that it was creating a fictitious plot, while the plot actually may have been genuine.

The arrested Lockhart was frequently guarded by Latvian Rifles. He observed[102]:

The Letts [Latvians] were the best [sentries]. Most of them were contemptuous of the Russians, whom they regarded as inferiors. One Lett informed me that, if Russia could have put a million non-Russian troops into the trenches, she could not have failed to win the war. Every time the Letts advanced, he said, they were let down by the Russians, who failed invariably to support them. He despised, too, the dirt and laziness of the Russian troops. On the other hand, he had a wholesome respect for the Bolshevik leaders, whom he regarded as supermen.

In October Lockhart and other Allied diplomats were exchanged for Litvinov and other Bolsheviks held in England[103].


The German push on the Western Front was halted short of Paris. Allied counterattacks in July and August drove them back to their starting point. By the end of September the Central Powers were ready to appeal for an armistice.


The turning point in the Russian civil war came at Kazan, a city [page 40] on the Volga river, east of Moscow[104]. The Red forces who had been retreating from the periphery toward Moscow and Petrograd on all fronts made a stand at Kazan and turned the tide.

Vācietis was appointed as commander of the entire Bolshevik Eastern Front in July[105] with his headquarters in Kazan. The 5th Regiment of the Latvian Rifles was stationed in Kazan and repulsed the initial attack by the Czecho-Slovak Corps on August 4. However, by August 6 the White forces were gradually surrounding the Reds in Kazan, and the city was passing into White hands in heavy street fighting. A White insurgent underground appeared in the rear of the Reds, firing from rooftops and windows[106]. Several Red units, including Latvians, and even some of Vācietis staff officers deserted to the White side[105].

Vācietis had decided to defend Kazan until the last man. His headquarters with 180 Latvian Rifles, 2 artillery pieces, and 2 armored cars was surrounded. He broke through the encirclement with 120 Rifles and tried to reach the Kazan Kremlin (the citadel). However, when they had almost reached it, the Kremlin garrison suddenly opened fire - they had deserted to the Whites. The Rifles broke up into small groups and attempted to fight their way out of Kazan. Vācietis group started out with 27 Rifles; six made it to the Red lines, the rest were killed[107]. The Whites captured Kazan and the former gold reserve of the Imperial Government which the Latvians had transported there from Petrograd.

The Latvians suffered heavy losses at Kazan. Even though they had to surrender Kazan temporarily to the Whites, their stubborn stand gave the Reds a chance to regroup and made the Whites cautious about further advances. In exchange for this blood sacrifice the 5th Regiment was the first in the Red Army to receive the new highest decoration - the Flag of Honor.

Trotsky arrived at Sviyazhsk, near Kazan, and issued an order that commanders and commissars (the Bolshevik political overseers of the professional officers) of regiments which fled would be shot[104]. The Latvian Smilga and some other old Bolsheviks flatly refused to carry out such orders[108].

The 1st and 6th and parts of the 2nd Latvian Rifle Regiment were transferred to Sviyazhsk[106] and stopped a White attempt to capture it on August 28. On September 5 the Latvians counterattacked and retook Kazan on September 10 [107]. It was heralded [page 41] throughout Bolshevik Russia as the first major victory of the Red forces.

Trotsky appointed Vācietis as the Commander-in-Chief of all Armed Forces on September 6 [109].


Several hundred Latvian Rifles from the 5th Regiment had been captured by the Czecho-Slovaks in Kazan. 134 of them signed a resolution addressed to the Latvians in the Red Army which said in part[100]:

We renounce any participation in the civil war…. The Latvian Rifles know that they are the only real force on which the Bolshevik government can rely; the Rifles know also that in the entire Bolshevik army only Latvian regiments do not steal and plunder; however, the Rifles should also know that all outrages and brutalities perpetrated by undisciplined Bolshevik units are blamed on Latvian Rifles. At decisive moments the Red Army Russians flee the battleground, leaving the Latvians alone; thus the latter must endure all the hardships of this nonsensical war alone. It is our duty to call out to our comrades who are still fighting against the [White] people’s army and the Czecho-Slovaks: Comrades, reconsider and leave the battlefield which is none of your business. If the Russian Bolsheviks cannot maintain their government without your help, then let history take its course.

Naturally, the Bolsheviks were upset and claimed that the resolution had been signed under duress. However, anti-Bolshevik Latvian units were organized in the Czcho-Slovak rear. The First Separate Latvian Rifle Battalion was formed in Troitska, Siberia, on October 15, commanded by Captain Pēteris Dardzāns, and popularly known as the Troitska Regiment. At first it was attached to Kolchak’s White army, Yaitska Corps, where Goppers was Chief of Staff, but later it was transferred to the Allied forces in Siberia which were commanded by the French General Janin[110]. A second unit, known [page 42] as the Imanta Regiment, was formed in Vladivostok in November[111].

The Central Powers were disintegrating. Bulgaria capitulated on September 30; Turkey signed an armistice on October 30. World War I was coming to an end.

On October 23 Meierovics presented Latvia’s case for independence to the British Foreign Minister Arthur James Balfour and obtained an oral commitment that England would recognize LPNC as a provisional Latvian government until a peace conference decided Latvia’s future. This was confirmed in writing on November 11 [112] [113] [114].

[1] Chamberlin, vol. I, p.278.

[2] F.L.Schuman, Russia since 1917 (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1957), p.83.

[3] Ibid., p.86.

[4] A.Ezergailis, The October Insurrection in Latvia, A Chronology, J. Baltic Studies, v.3, pp.218-228 (1972).

[5] Ģērmanis, OberstVācietis..., pp.254-5.

[6] Ibid., p,256.

[7] Ibid., p.259.

[8] Ibid., p.275.

[9] J.Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World (Random House, Vintage Books, New York, 1960), pp.129-130.

[10] Ezergailis, The October…, p.223.

[11] Ibid., p.225.

[12] Ibid., p.226.

[13] Ģērmanis, Oberst Vācietis…, p.269.

[14] Chamberlin, vol. I, p.337.

[15] Ģērmanis, OberstVācietis…, p.276.

[16] H.E.Salisbury, Black Night, White Snow: Russia’s Revolutions 1903-1917 (Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, N.Y., 1977), p.472.

[17] Chamberlin, vol. I, p.289.

[18] V.Samsons, ed., Latvijas PSR Mazā Enciklopēdija (The Little Encyclopaedia of the Latvian SSR: in Latvian) (Publisher Zinātne, Rīga, 1967), vol. I, p.448.

[19] Ibid., p.566.

[20] lbid., vol. II, p.83.

[21] Salisbury, p.443.

[22] Reed, p.114 & 234.

[23] Samsons, vol. II, p.40.

[24] Schapiro, p.267.

[25] Ģērmanis, OberstVācietis..., p.269.

[26] Chamberlin, vol. II, p.228 & p.380.

[27] Reed, p.320.

[28] Samsons, vol. III, p.314.

[29] Ģērmanis, Oberst Vācietis…, p.274.

[30] Bilmanis, p.292.

[31] Kavass, Sprudzs, pp.52-5.

[32] Klīve, pp.228-235.

[33] Bilmanis, p.296.

[34] Klīve, pp.272-3 & 464-5.

[35] Ibid., pp.226-8.

[36] Ibid., p.237 & 255.

[37] Ezergailis, Tbe October…, p.224.

[38] Ģērmanis, OberstVācietis..., pp.262-4.

[39] Akmenājs, Plensners, pp.39-40.

[40] Brigadere, pp.81-3.

[41] Chamberlin, vol. I, p.390.

[42] Halecki, pp.365-7.

[43] Moorehead, p.263.

[44] Ibid., pp.266-8.

[45] Porietis, pp.424-9.

[46] Ibid., pp.429-434.

[47] Ibid., p.532.

[48] Moorehead, p.274.

[49] Porietis, p.414.

[50] Chamberlin, vol. I, pp.394-402.

[51] Samsons, vol. II, p.251.

[52] Schuman, p.102.

[53] Bilmanis, p.298.

[54] Porietis, pp.388-9.

[55] Chamberlin, vol. I, pp.381-2.

[56] Samsons, vol. II, p.251.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Porietis, p.373.

[59] Reed, p.345.

[60] Schapiro, p.225.

[61] Chamberlin, vol. I, pp.408-410.

[62] Kroders, pp.217-8.

[63] Plensners, p.119.

[64] Šteins, p.30.

[65] Porietis, p.377.

[66] Klīve, pp.259-260 & pp.270-1.

[67] Bilmanis, pp.298-9.

[68] Smal-Stocki, p.37.

[69] Kavass, Sprudzs, p.30.

[70] Chamberlin, vol. II, p. 410 & 529.

[71] Ibid., pp.1-8.

[72] G.F.Kennan, Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin (Little, Brown and Co., Boston, 1961), pp.69-75.

[73] Chamberlin, vol. II, pp.53-5.

[74] Šteins, p.37.

[75] Porietis, p.381.

[76] Samsons, vol. I, p.484.

[77] Chamberlin, vol. II, pp.57-60.

[78] Plensners, p.119.

[79] Porietis, p.379.

[80] Akmenājs, Plensners, p.42.

[81] U.Ģērmanis, Some Observations on the Yaroslav Revolt in July 1918, J. Baltic Studies, vol. 4, pp.236-243 (1973).

[82] Chamberlin, vol. II, p.58.

[83] Šteins, p.17.

[84] Klīve, p.296.

[85] Akmenājs, Plensners, p.46.

[86] Klīve, p.303.

[87] Chamberlin, vol. II, p.400.

[88] Ibid., pp.10-12.

[89] R.H.B.Lockhart, Memoirs of a British Agent (Putnam, London, 1932), pp.314-5.

[90] Samsons, vol. II, p.417.

[91] Klīve, p.255.

[92] Ibid., p.258.

[93] Kroders, p.264.

[94] Chamberlin, vol. II, pp.68-9.

[95] Lockhart, pp.315-6.

[96] Šteins, pp.37-9.

[97] Lockhart, pp.317-322.

[98] Ibid., p.323.

[99] Šteins, p.15.

[100] Porietis, pp.461-2.

[101] Akmenājs, Plensners, p.43 & 47.

[102] Lockhart, p.333.

[103] Ibid., p.345.

[104] Chamberlin, vol. II, pp.118-120.

[105] Šteins, p.19.

[106] Porietis, pp.384-8.

[107] Šteins, p.21.

[108] Chamberlin, vol. II, p.39.

[109] Samsons, vol. III, p.595.

[110] K.Lauks, Troickas Pulks (Troitska Regiment, in Latvian) (Published by author, Toronto, 1978), pp.27-8.

[111] Ibid., p.46.

[112] Bilmanis, p.299.

[113] Klīve, pp.304-7.

[114] Kavass, Sprudzs, p.59.

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