November 11- The Bear Slayer Day

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The military order of Bear Slayer

The date November 11  is a landmark date for Latvian Freedom Fighters. In this day the defenders of Riga defeated the pro-German Voluntary Western Russia army or simply the army of Bermont.

On 1918 November 18 the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed in Riga. First year of Latvian state was troublesome, because it had many enemies. The Baltic Germans wanted Latvia as German state, the Soviets in Russia wanted to establish a soviet regime.

At first Germans were forced to acknowledge new state but secretly conspired against it. Germans were aware of the growing threat from the Soviets. In December Soviets came to Latvia. Latvian state had small military forces and they were dependent on German soldiers who remained there after the capitulation of German Empire. But the Soviet forces were all too strong and Latvians along with Germans retreated to Courland.  Soviets established  red government in Riga. The government by Pēteris Stučka tried to make social reforms, and made full scale nationalization of farm lands. At first simple Latvians greeted the Soviets, because they offered bread and land. What Karlis Ulmanis national government offered was not enough for them. But soon the peasants became disappointed because of land nationalization and growing protests forced the Soviets to start Red Terror.

At the same time the Latvian national government was at Liepāja. The commander of German armed forces Ridiger Fon der Gotlz planned to overthrow the national government. In 1919 April 16 Germans tried to arrest the Karlis Ulmanis government, but the whole government except two MP’s escaped to ship Saratov. Despite the failure, Germans made new government lead by Clergyman Andrievs Niedra. At this time in Latvia were three governments, Latvian, Soviet and German. The Germans captured Riga and started the White Terror. Goltz ordered his forces to march into Estonia. He wanted to get rid both Latvian and Estonian governments. But this ended in failure as Estonian- Latvian forces defeated Germans in May 22 at Cesis.

The pro – German government ceased to exist and Germans were ordered to leave. The Western Allied powers choose to support Latvian government. In the mean time Soviets were still at Latgalia. Latvians planed to drive them out. But Germans got other plans.

Bermont-Avalov

Bermont-Avalov

In August Germans  allied with Caucasian Cossack adventurer Pavel Bermont-Avalov. He was a Munchausen type adventurer who claimed that he is a  Count. In reality he was a puppet of Goltz  and was dilettante commander. Germans planed that the Bermontd army will disguise as White Guard army against Soviets. Bermont demanded that his army crosses the river Daugava to enter Russia. This meant that his army will take over most parts of Latvia and probably will destroy the Latvian government.

 Karlis Ulmanis rejected this. Bermont army consisted German soldiers and Russian prisoners of war. They had tanks, artillery and airplanes. Latvian army was weak, they had bad equipment, short of cannons and even lacked boots. But the Latvian army was not so weak as shown in the movie The Guards of Riga, it was assembled and ready for war and deeply patriotic. The government was sure of their selves, there was no one to object need to defend Riga. The unpatriotic and cowardly statesman Niedre in the movie the The Guards of Riga is the bad taste of fiction.

Bemont army had 50,000 men, Latvia had 39, 000 men. Bermont army  seized Courland and marched to Riga. At October his army entered the outskirts of Riga. But the  Latvian army managed to cut bridge over river Daugava so Bermont could not pass. The bridge was not destroyed completely as the movie shows, but just cut in half.

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Latvian soldiers in positions at days of fighting

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The soldiers defending the Town Square

Bermont and Goltz were surprised that Allies showed support to the Latvian army. Their troops could not seize Riga. Then the allied battleships arrived and started to shell the Bermont army. On November 10-11 Latvians with the support of Allied battleships and Estonian armored trains crossed the river and encircled Bermontians and they were forced to flee.

The day of victory is celebrated as the Bear Slayer day. This is because of the new military award the Order of Bear Slayer was established to honor the soldiers. The name of the order comes from 19th century heroic epoch “Bear Slayer” by Andrejs Pumpurs.

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After the victory soldiers are awarded with Order of Bear Slayer

Selected Sources:

Pētersone, Inga. (1999)  Latvijas Brīvības cīņas, 1918-1920 : enciklopēdija. Riga: Preses Nams.

Bērziņš, Valdis. (2000) 20. gadsimta Latvijas vēsture. I, Latvija no gadsimta sākuma līdz neatkarības pasludināšanai, 1900-1918. Riga: Latvijas vēstures institūta apgāds.

Lācis, Visvaldis (2001) Latviešu zemes un tautas vēsture. Rīga : ASF Saules koks : Vieda.

Bleiere, Daina, Butulis, Ilgvars, Stranga, Aivars, Feldmanis, Inesis and Zunda, Antonijs. (2006) History of Latvia : the 20th century. Riga: Jumava.

 

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