70 years ago in Vidzeme region 3 Latvian 19th Waffen SS legion grenadier regiments along with 2 artillery regiments faced enormous Soviet offensive heading towards Riga. For five long days and nights the Latvian men fighting within the German lines stopped the attacks by superior Soviet forces. This battle was crucial for complete German evacuation from Northern Latvia and then Riga. If the soviets had managed to break trough the German lines, Riga would face street battles and resort to destruction. Today Latvian army is using the history of this battle as example for operational and tactical training. Therefore as we mark 70 year anniversary of this important event this article will discuss it in detail. Despite the 19th division technically fighting on the German side in the article the Latvian units will be called as Latvians, because these were formed from the Latvian soldiers. Same approach would be taken describing Latvians fighting on the Soviet Army lines.
On September 1944 Soviets after breaking trough Belarus in Summer, had taken over Eastern Latvia, Rēzekne and Daugavpils. For a short time soviets had managed to make a gap between Riga and Courland by reaching Tukums and Jelgava from Lithuanian side. Germans eventually cleared off this threat for soviets had no proper resources to hold this gap and Soviets on the Vidzeme front had tough time capturing towns of Alūksne and Cesvaine. But Soviets were determined to capture Riga and gathered large forces to do this. Germans meanwhile devised Operation Aster to retreat from Estonia to Vidzeme to Riga and to Courland without major casualties. On September 17 Soviets attacked Tallinn and were confused by the orderly retreating Germans. As Germans retreated to Vidzeme, Northern Latvia Soviets chased the Germans, but failed to disrupt their retreat and faced great causalities. On September 25 Soviets reached Sigulda line.
Along with Germans the Latvian Waffen SS 19th division was retreating inland. Many of these man were conscripted, some of them joined the legion freely. Germans never wanted to add non-German soldiers to their armies at the first place. However, after the tides of war turned against them they started to form non-German units among the Waffen SS lines. While technically being auxiliary legions both the Latvian and Estonian legions were made overly from conscripts. As Latvia was occupied in 1940 by the Soviets, many Latvians wanted to rather fight with Germans against the Soviets to prevent another soviet occupation. Despite bearing the fact that Germany cannot win the war, and Germans had no regards for the Latvian independence, Latvians still hoped for the positive turn of events to their side. Latvian soldiers were highly trained in the spirit of the past Latvian army and still had great morale to defend their homeland.
The 19th division on September 25 was stationed at the village of Nītaure where it arrived after withdrawal from Lubāna on August 3. On September 25 the divisional HQ received order to leave Nītaure prior to to occupying the final defense line at More. The 42th, 43th and 43th Grenadier regiment and artillery units were the ones to do so. They covered the German 126th Infantry and Artillery regiment on his route from Nītaure to Sigulda defense line. With Soviets coming close by and making contact the Latvian units together with Germans moved to More on September 26. Latvians had shortage of ammunition that proved t0 be very crucial as the battle developed.
When Latvians arrived at the More they begun to establish defensive positions. Trench lines were already made with the help of the local populace. Machine gun nests were established, 12 MG 42 machine gun was used. Two German 75 m anti tank guns were placed. Also anti tank rockets were used to stop the tanks. Wired telephone communications were established with every platoon commander’s pit. Field radio was used a back up. The communications were crucial to lead the mortar fire and control the battle. Command group set up Command post in the More school-house. Medical Company arrived during the battle. The Latvians were faced by the Soviet 23th Rifle Division, 415th Rifle division, and Penal Companies. Each of the divisions more than 4 regiments and companies.
On 17:oo Soviet advance with tank T-34 support was spotted. T-34 approached 70 m to Latvia positions and 10 m from anti – tank mines. Men armed with panzerfaust anti tank missiles waited to tank to come in within range. Then a tall man with panzerfaust approached the tank looking for the best fire range. Tank moved its turret looking for target and killed the soldier with a main gun. He was the first causality of the Battle of More. The first attacking Soviet infantry detachments were repulsed and tank without getting fired by the anti tank guns reversed back. The tank could not find any targets and the anti tank did not want to reveal their positions prematurely. It was the only the reconnaissance attack to point out the positions. The real attack would begin next day.
After short preparatory fire soviets broke in to defensive point “Mazratnieki” and the 1st platoon sector, but were driven off by the counter attack. Two more attacks came, and without artillery support in the had to hand fighting were driven off. First Aid post was overflowed after first day fighting, the 3th company men were the most to receive wounds. In a night battle the 3th company destroyed a whole enemy battalion. Soviet commander, staff captain, lieutenant and political commissar perished in the battle. Trenches were full of dead Soviet soldiers. 15 men taken as POW”S. On September 28 Soviets broke in again. During the battle men managed to gain important map from shot dead Soviet senior officer that contained important information about the soviet attacks that was vital for assisting the German withdrawal from Vidzeme and Riga.
Soviets fired endlessly with mortars towards Latvian positions sometimes not even hitting trenches, but area behind them. Direct frontal attacks were driven off with great causalities. Fields were covered with bodies of fallen Soviet soldiers. Tanks were stopped although the anti-tank units armed with panzerschreck’s were ill-equipped.
During the third day the defense points Mazratnieki and Mazkacēni changed hands many times. Soviet T-34 tanks came in support, 4 of them were destroyed with anti tank rockets. The tank who made the first Latvian causality on first day was finally destroyed with a direct hit of the artillery round. The score was settled. Without time to rest and eat the men had to fight off attacks day and night. Even night attacks proved fruitless, trenches were full of bodies. Soviets finally broke trough in the night of September 27/28. However, they did not get far and remained in the minefield and those who survived dug in. In great difficulty they were driven away from their positions.
Fourth day at the noon of 28 September Mazratnieki was again penetrated by the Soviets. And again pushed back. Repeated attacks accompanied by the artillery fire continued. Latvian artillery fought back. Air attacks against Latvians were also used without any friendly air support.
The fifth day battles evolved most fiercely around Kartūži estate. 42th regiment defended it. Soviets wanted to change attack route and come across the swamp to Kartūži. They managed to break in the positions and endanger the flanks but in another fierce battle were driven off. Soviets brought more supplies. But, the defense line despite great causalities was still mostly intact.
On September 30 the Latvians were ready to withdraw that commenced on October 5. Enemy attacks became more weaker. A weaponless wandering soviet soldier was captured without food or shelter. Artillery attacks became more weaker and were more down to harassment. Latvians gave their life’s in desperate fights, to keep the 18th German army withdrawal behind open. So Germans could march back to Riga. By October 2 most 18th German army units passed the Latvian 19th divison. The German 16th army of which 19th division belonged started to shorten their defensive line. On October 2 19th division was ordered to extend its line to far north lake Ummuri. Until October 5 Soviets battles became passive. On October 6 the 19th division left the More. On October 7 19th division was within the lake of Jugla in the Riga outskirts. As Soviets marched to Riga, Germans issued Riga an open city and so the 19th division moved to Courland. On October 13 Riga was entered by the Soviet forces. In Moscow fireworks were fired to mark the liberation of the “soviet” city Riga. But, the 19th division man had done their job. Allied German forces could withdraw from Vidzeme and Riga. And most important heavy battle for Riga was avoided as glory hungry soviet generals wanted to encircle Germans in Riga and make another Stalingrad. Riga would face the same destruction as Jelgava that was wiped out during fights in summer. All this with a heavy prize- 186 men were lost, 650 wounded. Soviets lost 2736 men, 9,576 were wounded. 1 transport plane and 1 IL-2 dive bomber was lost. Also those missing in action are not counted in.
Such enormous Soviet losses comparing to Latvian losses can be explained by the poor soviet attacking tactics. Soviets had clear majority and full equipment. Tanks and air support. However, their horde style attacks often directly to enemy lines and machine gun nests ended in complete disarray. After reaching the enemy lines the hordes became disorganized and it was every soldier for himself. Latvians and their German colleges used extensive defensive tactics and ensured on the individual action and discipline. Latvian soldiers also showed great endurance and were ready to defend at all costs while soviets were quick to rout. Coincidentally Latvian soldiers fighting on Russian, Soviet and German side in both World wars have always surprisingly fared better than their native colleges in arms. Russians always boast about the high number of casualties on their side to counter any criticism about their war history. However, they should note that large numbers of these casualties were lost due the poor commanding and tactics. With a great manpower, supplies the soviet command felt no remorse of sacrificing so many soldiers life’s. And same as Latvians, Germans they were not just numbers on the causality report. They were sons, husbands,fathers, all lost for the cause of a brutal totalitarian regime fighting in a rogue land.
Today there is Memorial Museum at More. Commemorations takes place there today. Despite fighting on the Nazi German lines these men defended their homeland. Nazi Germany is the evil of the World War 2, but the Soviet Union is the second evil of the World War 2. For its actions on 1939-1941 were the main reason why the Latvian soldiers in German uniforms had to fight with the Soviet soldiers. Today as the new danger looms, the Latvians should set the Battle of More as example for defending homeland against the aggressor. Hopefully, we will not see the second Battle of More, but this time we will defend our country in the uniform of the Latvian Armed Forces.
Kovtuņenko, Rolands (2009) Battle at More. Riga. Apvienība Timmermanis un Vējiņš.
Pētersons, Aivars. (2007) Krustugunīs. 60 gadus no tautas slēptais. 1940-1945. Rīga.