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The Three War Plans of the Comrade Stalin

This site, has discussed the Soviet foreign policy from 1939 to June 22 1941 in past. One of the reasons for this is to question and to break the one-sided explanation of Germany as the main perpetrator of the World War II and Soviet Union country striving to preserve peace. After the fall of the Soviet Union the dark shade over the Soviet history was lifted uncovering many  facts that showed the Soviet Union as no better than Nazi Germany. In terms of repressions, genocidal policy towards its own people and nations in Baltic states and Eastern Europe. What was almost impossible some 15 years before now is possible in western historiography to compare Stalinism to Hitlerism  and adequately judge the Soviet history of the WW2, without the “victorious side” guise.  What also begun 20 years ago and slowly starting to gain acceptance in the western and eastern historian cycles is the new understanding of the Soviet foreign policy. The Soviet propaganda showing the Soviet Union as nation struggling to preserve peace, Stalin afraid of Hitler with a weak army is not working anymore. The Soviet foreign policy was aggressive not defensive, despite the  slogan “Socialism within one state”. Stalin had not abandoned the Lenin’s quest for Worldwide Socialist Revolution and dragging Europe into a new global war was his personally defined quest. With so Stalin shares great responsibility of helping Hitler to stir up war in Europe and later holds even greater responsibility to his own people of dragging the Soviet Union in disastrous war with Germany. This article is a small summary based on the works of the Russian historians mainly Mark Solonin who created the theory of the Three Stalin’s War Plans. This topic is important for Latvian history as the Stalin’s aggressive policy affected Latvia directly.

The German attack on Soviet Union on June 22 1941 was completely unexpected turn of events for Stalin. It took some hours for Stalin to react and issue the first orders.  There were many foreign intelligence reports that were ignored by Stalin. The British diplomats in Moscow could not make contact with Soviet foreign commissar Vyacheslav Molotov for many hours. Why the Soviet leadership was so sure that Germany will not attack was a puzzle for many historians. Another puzzle for many is the fact that in May and June 1941 the Red Army was making a major strategical deployment – mobilization of reserves, strategical regroup and operative relocation of the army units. All this happened in depth secrecy.

The Soviet troops deployed near border only moved during the night-time, at daylight they took cover in the woods. The command staffs were moved to close border areas, in sealed trains and the even the commanders did not know where they will be taken and why. The reserves were gathered in covert ways, without no major announcements. Most were called personally for “practice muster”. Soviets gave no official complaints to Germany despite the quite uneasy mutual relations during the last months and military suspicion. Soviet Union on June 1941 was preparing for a major war, but tried to it secretly as possible. This all lead to one question – if Stalin was not expecting the German invasion, why he needed to deploy massive echelons of  troops and establish field front command posts nearby already at June 19?

This question was first answered by KGB defector Victor Suvorov. In his book the Icebreaker that is more a publicist work then an academic research, he explained that Stalin was preparing for war from the very first day. The massive centralization of economy, industrialization and collectivization that destroyed the successful Lenin’s NEP semi-capitalist economy was needed to create  a large war machine. The Great Purge was not just Stalin’s paranoia, but a needed action to gather his party and army for the coming war.   A nation unified by brutal force under the order of one man was set to face the whole capitalist world in final war that would realize the dream of the Socialist world order. On August 1939 Stalin made final decision to support Hitler in same matter as the table supports the hanged man. By dragging UK and France into destructive war with Germany, he then would pick an advantageous moment to strike from behind and finish the war as the victorious liberator. However, nor Stalin, nor UK and France did not expect such a swift German military success, that made him to fasten up the preparations for war. However, the German invasion was a heavy blow to his megalomania.

The Suvorov theory survived and was improved by historians such as V Kisilev, T Busheva, M Meltjukov, V Nevezhin and M Solonin and many others. For the theory was based on hundreds of facts and documents. Suvorov himself has given up on writing new books on his theory since other historians have done more work than him. No other alternative explanation was given, except the Rudolf Hess flight to UK conspiracy theories. Mostly its the traditional soviet explanation that is put against the so-called revisionist side   with lesser success every time.  Also an old arguments that revisionists have no documented evidence are no more relevant, for instance the latest Mark Solonin book “June 1941. The Final Diagnosis” is almost completely based on hundreds of documents from Soviet war archives. At the end the traditionalist side in Russia is showing signs of argumentative defeat by simply trying to punish historians, writers and even TV channels for falsely displaying the history of the Great Patriotic war and “insulting veterans”.

There is a little argument now that Stalin’s policy was aggressive. The date  of possible attack remains a question. For, the Stalin’s aggressive plan was not constant and changed three whole plans. Because the theory never works in practice in strategical political affairs. Neither Hitler was ever able to fulfill his foreign policy according to his Mein Kamph and his Second Book, because of real strategical situation and neither Stalin who also published many books and speeches about the coming war.

First Stalin’s war plan was quite simple based on his understanding of the Socialist Worldwide Revolution doctrine. It was nothing new as Lenin also predicted the next capitalist global conflict that would cause Socialist ultimate victory. According to Stalin’s speech on August 19 1939 that has now been recognized as true fact by historians such as Simon Sebag Montefiore a Stalins biographer who included this speech in his collection of the most important speeches of the XX century (his interpretation of this speech however serves the traditional soviet explanation), the pact with Germany would cause war within the capitalist states that would be long and destructive. And then Soviet Union would regain the lost territories of the Russian empire and play the decisive role in the end of the war. Stalin had real chance to sign a deal with UK and France to make a united front against Germany. It would possibly prevent Hitler from attacking Poland and place him into isolation. The Baltic States would  possibly still lose their independence or at least sovereignty.  But Stalin had clearly stated that such outcome would be disadvantageous  for the interests of the Soviet Union.

The plan brought its “fruits” – Eastern Poland was occupied, Baltic States and Bessarabia was taken without a force. The war in Finland although disastrous for the Red Army, allowed to gain many important industrial regions from Finland that she had to give up. Some documents like the note by executive of the Special Chamber of the NKVD Main Administration major Osterov in March 5 1940 claims that global conflict in the summer of 1940 will fought between USSR allied with Japan and Germany against the UK and France. The war will take a long time. However another document states when the British were considering sending a military support to Finland, the Soviet navy received directly that their main enemies are not British but Germany and Italy. Its shows a nature of double speak and deception within the official soviet communications.

Weather fighting the capitalists or the Nazis, Soviets made active preparations for the war right from 1939. The large strategical PE-8 (TB-7) bombers with bomb storage of 1 tons and maximal flight distance 3300 km (German HE-111 could reach 2700 km at that time), and that was not enough – a bomber with 5000 km was issued by Stalin. Such flight distance was not needed for defending Soviet Union, or even bombing Germany. Reaching London or Paris with them was more appropriate. Also a large paratrooper force was organized and PE-8 bombers were also meant as air landing party planes. A diving four motor heavy PB-4 bomber was in the works. Soviet war fleet was in the making. Soviets had 267 submarines, while Germany 57, Italy -68 and Japan 63. A such a large submarine force for country with less war ports on June 1941 showed a sign of weapons mania. On 1940-1941 the Soviet Air Force main Naval headquarters marked the Mediterranean ports as the main bombing targets. That were controlled by UK and France.

However, for many including Stalin, Nevil Chamberlain and French leaders was an unbelievable sight when weakened by the Versailles treaty and arms restrictions the German Wehrmacht managed to enter Paris no less than two weeks. Stalin had complained on April 17 1940 a month before the invasion in France that imperialist forces are not really fighting, but rather are playing cards. The German army on 1940 in technical sense was less advanced than France and UK. However, the France and UK soldiers and commanders had very less will to fight, while Germans had great discipline and high attack morale. In following months Germany had seized the control over the Eastern Europe and showed dissatisfaction with Soviets occupying and annexing the Baltic States and Romanian province of Bessarabia. The first Stalin’s plan had failed.

The Second War plan is more concrete and known to historians. The plan is preserved in documents and published. The two-volume “Russia XX Century.Documents of the 1941” published on 1998 in Russian, holds important documents about Soviet strategical deployment and plan to fight against Germany on May 15 1940. The documents show that the plan for the major war existed and all of this plans were based only on major attack outside the Soviet borders. As on August 23 1939 Stalin had said to Ribbentrop that is important that Soviet Union establishes a common border with Germany – and on 1941 this was realized – the only two countries that would face such attack was Germany, Romania and Finland. The documents indicate targets like Lublin, Krakov, Vistula river and Warsaw all within German control. Two possible attack routes were made- the Northern path trough East Prussia and Northern Poland and the South path trough Lviv. At the end of the Lviv path was chosen. A war games was played out on both variants and contrary to self praising deceitful Zhukov memoirs no defensive games took place. It was Zhukov himself who was playing German side in the war games and lost to general Pavlov who was later shot after German invasion. One can say that this has no real significance – all major military powers conduct an attack plans just in case. However, Soviets were really trying to fulfill this plan and started to gather troops for the battle in masses. And that lead to disastrous events in June-July 1941 when millions of Soviet soldiers were killed and captured without a fight and massive stockpiles of tanks, airplanes and guns abandoned. The army was prepared for massive attack, of which the common soldiers and officers knew very less and were caught in disastrous rout after they were unexpectedly attacked.

At first soviet planners were still optimistic about the attack date. One document on March 11 1941 in bold text notes to “attack on 12.6.” Was this June 12 1941, or more likely June 1942. As some of the Red Army units mentioned in the document were still far from being fully deployed. The full tank deployment of KV and T-34 were still underway and could only happen on 1942 or later. Soviets had already a fast mobile tanks like BT-7 and T-26 and many heavy KV tanks. If used correctly in fast attack tactics even the small T-26 and heavy T-35 was a destructive force. There is some truth in Soviet propaganda saying that Stalin expected attack on 1942, because he was still doubtful about the German military capabilities and wanted to improve his already enormous army.

However, because of rapidly changing situation Stalin came to conclusion that there is no time, and the attack must take place on Summer 1941. Was the worsening relations with Germany or the intelligence reports that made him think so remains a question. Or it was growing impatience to realize his grand plan. The Third War plan had begun. The pro allied coup on March 26-27 1941 in Yugoslavia  and mutual assistance pact with Belgrade and Moscow on April 6 protested by Germany was a major trigger for it. In just few hours Germany invaded Yugoslavia. Soviet Union was supposed to help its new allies. Instead the Moltov told the German ambassador Shulenburg that he is sad that it all turned out this way.

Was the coup in Belgrade supported by Soviet or UK secret service. If by the first, the Stalin was surprised by this and could not react adequately, if the second – Soviets had managed to stir up Hitler against them even more. On April 13 1941 Soviets signed non aggression pact with Japan. The Eastern front was now secured, and Japan had fulfilled this pact right t0 very end of 1945, when Soviets broke it. Soviet and German relations had reached the lowest point. Both sides understood that and started to prepare for war. The German Plan Barbarossa was issued January 31 1941, but as noted to be realized only in the case of need. On April 30 Hitler realized that there is such need and made final decision.

On May 15 1941 Soviet command made final instructions on deployment of the Red Army forces. It was noted in the text that Germany is capable of strike  the Soviets first and made a surprise attack. The attack must took place when German army is having strategical deployment to gain first strike initiative. On May 24 1941 Stalin gathered all the main commanders, and Molotov and Beria a head of NKVD. There is no transcript or concrete info of what was said in the war conference. Possibly Stalin had possibly ordered to finish the deployment and start the war no earlier than middle June or late August 1941. If Stalin still wanted to attack on 1942, then holding a top secret meeting with all main officers in May 1941 would be irresponsible. It would be early and may result a leak of information. If during this meeting the general attack plan was laid out as indicated by the supreme secrecy the attack was meant to be on Summer of 1941. On the same time Germans wanted to attack too.

A large but secretive troop deployment took place. The troops were expected to be moved  to border areas at least to July 10. If so then the real attack must took place on 15-20 July when troops were deployed and ready. And that was too late for defensive actions. Hitler missed the chance to attack on May 15 because of the Balkan front. Hitler could only attack on no later than late July because of the climate conditions.

Both Stalin and Hitler were gambling on massive operation. German army despite well-trained and equipped was not greater in size and weapons power than Red Army and was tasked to reach Moscow in three-month time. Red Army had poor discipline and  morale, but large in numbers and heavy machinery. It was supposed to break trough Poland, then to Czechoslovakia, Balkans and to Berlin at the end. Both were short on time. If the Soviet attack was expected at the end of June or July, no later than September – then they also needed to face the winters of the Eastern Europe more harsher then now.

Was the attack intended on July or no less than August, or maybe even on June 23 as some claim, it was too late. Stalin had lost his Great game of 1939-1941. The outcome was horrific not fully deployed masses of the Red Army was running away, surrendering and leaving the whole airfields and tanks to enemy hands. It was not just the effectiveness of the German Blitzkrieg that made Germans reach Moscow in four months. It was again the inability to resist enemy invasion by the soviet troops who pushed the enemy more inwards in their land.  Red Army lost 900-1000 thousand man in summer while Germans 25-30 thousand men. 1 German to 35 Soviet soldiers. 3 million were captured. Large size of soldiers count in as Missing in Action. A great numbers of Soviet civilians perished. Stalin had sacrificed millions of his country men for the sake of megalomaniac insane dream of the Worldwide Socialist Revolution. Also blame of starting  World War II lays on Stalin’s just as Hitlers hands for the both dictators were genocidal megalomaniacs who  turned the whole Europe into bloodland. The lesson from this is to not allow the return of such people who holds control of such destructive forces in their hands.

Selected Sources:

Марк Солонин. (2013) Запретная правда о Великой Отечественной. Нет блага на войне! M. Яуза-Пресс

Марк Солонин. (2013) Июнь 41-го. Окончательный диагноз. – М.: Яуза, Эксмо

М. И. Мельтюхов (2000) Упущенный шанс Сталина. Советский Союз и борьба за Европу: 1939-1941 (Документы, факты, суждения). – М.: Вече, 200

Raack, R. (1995) Stalin’s drive to the west 1938-1945. The origins of the cold war. – Stanford.

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If War Comes Tomorrow 1938 Soviet Movie that predicted the World War II

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On 1938 whole Europe was worried about possible second full scale war. Hitlers troops had already marched into Austria and later Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile in Soviet Union the saw again the possibility to trigger new Worldwide Socialist revolution. According to Stalin’s understanding there were two ways of how do it – first drag the capitalist countries against each other in a full scale war, but don’t take part in it until the most favorable moment.  Other way was to provoke the enemy to attack USSR and then defeat the enemy in their own territory. And that is how it was shown movie made in 1938 called If the War Comes Tomorrow (Если завтра война). The movie quickly became long forgotten after Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and later after the war. However, the movie has been fully preserved and available to us all in here

The movie was directed by Efim Dzigan. He made Stalinist style propaganda movies like We from Kronstatd (1936) and the First Cavalry (1941). However, If the War Comes tomorrow was his most famous work of propaganda art. One of the main features of this movie was the main theme song of the same name composed by Vasily Lebedev-Kumach. Later he wrote the legendary song “The Holy War”.

It the War comes tomorrow lacked same artistic and dramatic depth as Sergei Eisenstein movie “Alexander Nevsky” that also had very similar message- he who comes to Russia with spear dies from spear. Dzigan movie characters were shown as simple and brave soviet citizens fully loyal to the Soviet power and the leader Stalin. In fact the movie had no in depth characters in whole. Dramatic dialogs were only needed to illustrate the massive battle scenes that took great part in this movie.

The movie plot starts in the New Year anniversary in Moscow. Since the Christmas was officially removed from the holiday list, the New Yer celebrations became widely popular. A dialog between two retired males about their children in the Red Army is shown. One brags about his four sons who are in the Red Army tank force and forms a family tank crew, other talks about his daughter in the army, who is also a wife of the border guards commander. Occasionally the propaganda voice talks about the great Soviet achievements and  large tall structure that proves the Soviet greatness. It could be that this large structure was the intended Palace of Soviets a gigantic 415 m structure that would became the tallest building in the world. The construction was begun on 1937, but the war canceled this grandiose plans. Right now its foundations have been turned in to worlds largest swimming pool.  But, then the propaganda voice alarms everyone about the uneasy situation in the border areas caused by foreign powers and the growing fascist threat”.

Movie then switches to USSR border areas in the night before the dawn. A enemy troops speaking in German gathers up the forces for the attack. Their symbol is swastika however its displayed different than official Nazi Germany symbol. One of their officers have a mustache just like Adolf Hitler, although the toothbrush mustache was quite popular among many before the WWII the occasional movie viewer would understand what the movie is trying to show. However, the “Fascist’ soldiers whose country and nationality is not shown, but speaks in German looks more like WWI British or French soldiers. A another message – the Soviet enemy is not just “Fascists” but also capitalists. Enemy uses an outdated TS-18 (MC-1) tank that was also the very first Soviet built tank.

The "Fascist" invader symbol

The “Fascist” invader symbol

On 1938 the Soviet Union had no border with Germany or any other “Fascist” country. So according to this movie at least Poland was no longer existent in this war. For many Soviet citizens who were unaware of the European geography or political situation this might be a missed spot. But, from our perspective this detail is pretty important. The fate of Poland was long decided in the Kremlin.

Enemy soldier with peculiar mustache

Enemy soldier with peculiar mustache

The enemy is striving for a surprise attack however, Soviets aware of the alarming situation have sent reinforcements. And so the first attempt of the border crossing fails – the Fascist infantry lead by Hitler like captain is forced to retreat. The enemy attempt on crossing the border is shown in pretty vague WWI tactic style in heavy contrast to later massive Soviet attack shown in the movie. When the land attack fails, Fascists sends bombers to Minsk and Kiev. According to research made by historian Mark Solonin Stalin had planned to make fake bombing raids on his own cities, to justify his attack on Germany. To fight the enemy aircraft, Soviets sends their fighters. After the enemy bombers are destroyed, S0viet Pe-8 bombers takes flight to bomb the enemy airfields. Pe-8 was one of the heaviest long range bombers of those times. It could reach Berlin and even London. Interesting that the leading pilot of the bomber squad is called “Gromov” Interesting that the Soviet plan for aggression against Germany made in May 15 1941 is also called “Grom” (Thunder).  Actually this name went well with the people of those times, since the idea of fast and decisive strike was very popular both in Germany and USSR. The Soviet concept of the “deep operations” was published in book by N Shpanov “First Strike”.

Soviet bomber squad leader Gromov

Soviet bomber squad leader Gromov

Soviets issue a full mobilization. A grandiose parade is gathered in the Red Square. This parade actually took place on May 1 1938 with the presence of Stalin and the chief commander Voroshilov Millions are rushing to join the Red Army including 12 old boy and the old man seen in the movie opening. He wants to support his four sons who are already in the army. Many woman joins too. Then movie switches to Uzbekistan, Georgia, Ukraine and other Soviet republics that also joins the  fight. And then the most interesting thing happens: a large movie comment appears declaring that “From the Black Sea, to the Arctic  from the Baltics to the Pacific Ocean millions of sons joins the fight”. The Baltic States were still independent from USSR on 1938. So we suppose that the fate of the Baltic States was also decided in this movie.

From the Black Sea to

“From the Black Sea, to the Arctic  from the Baltics to the Pacific Ocean millions of sons joins the fight

Movie then goes back to battlefield showing grandiose scenes of the Fascist attack and the Soviet counter attack. The enemy uses a French Renault FT-1 tanks. They get easily beaten. In return Soviets sends a horde of the BT-7 tanks. BT-7 was one of the fastest tanks of those times. According to some authors, this tanks were only good for the Western roads and therefore were  only used for aggressive purposes.  After the German invasion on 1941 large part of these tanks were made useless, destroyed and abandoned. Here the tanks are shown in their best – in fast speed they escape the enemy cannon fire and break their lines. In one of those tanks all four brothers mentioned earlier attacks. Its quite true that until 1941 the German tanks were quite lighter than the Soviet tanks. After meeting heavier Soviet counterparts Germans switched to more heavier models.

Soviet main battle tank BT-7 attacks

Soviet main battle tank BT-7 attacks

The desperate enemy uses chemical weapons to stop the Soviets. Chemical weapons were never used by the Nazi Germany at least in the battlefields. This movie still was in the spirit of the WWI when chemical weapons were occasionally used. However, Soviets have gas masks and all the necessary equipment to survive a gas attack. Under the white smoke they gather up their attack fore.

Enemy gas attack

Enemy gas attack

Fascists sends reinforcements and that is where the Soviet paratroopers comes in. With the help of the Pe-8 bombers they land behind the enemy lines and ambushes the fascist reinforcements.   The enemy staff is alarmed that the paratroopers are near their positions. The Soviet paratroopers were not just an empty brag. Actually the Soviet Union had a force of 1 million of them. Since the paratroopers were almost impossible to use in the defensive actions it was obvious that their sole purpose was  to penetrate the enemy from behind. In the movie showed how it should be done.

Soviet paratroopers takes of from Pe-8 bomber

Soviet paratroopers takes of from Pe-8 bomber

Soviets accompanied by tanks, aircraft and even  cavalry starts a massive attack. Enemy is routing in panic. Cavalry lead by Marshal Budyonni chases them, Fascists sends they own cavalry resulting a bloody battle. Already after the Polish campaign it was clear that the cavalry is useless in this new kind of warfare.

Then something that the Soviets had long desired happens in the main Fascist capital. The “proletariat” the workers starts marching under the red banner. Police and army (interesting that soldiers shown there have a Nazi style helmets while soldiers shown in the front line have a British style helmets) fires at the crowd a desperate battle for red flag erupts. In the end the crowds march in the streets with the Soviet flag. That was according to long time Soviet belief made by Lenin, that the world war will cause a socialist uprising in the capitalist centers before the Soviet tanks reach them.

Proletarians takes over the streets

Proletarians takes over the streets

And the Soviet tanks are marching in masses accompanied by grandiose hordes of bombers. Captured Fascist generals are watching this with the fear and disbelief. In the end the massive hordes of the Red Army is shown. The slogan reads “The First attack of the enemy has been beaten. In such way the war might start that would lead to the destruction of the capitalist world” And the song plays warning that there is no such force to destroy the Soviet Union.

The movie failed to prove its point. Despite the enormous resources gathered by the Red Army, on 1941 Germans managed to advance all the way to Moscow. Red Army needed not two days to beat of the enemy aggression, but four years. But in therms of destruction of Poland and the Baltic States the movie was right. Poland and the Baltic states were in between Germany and USSR. Only way to attack Soviet Union or Soviet Union to attack Germany was to remove these buffer states. And that was done by signing the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact on August 23 1939. But, the main movie slogan the destruction of the capitalist order left unfulfilled.

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The Latvian Red Rifleman in the Russian Civil War 1917-1922

The Monument of the Latvian Red Rifleman

The Monument of the Latvian Red Rifleman

The formation of the Latvian Rifleman regiments had national causes. Latvian land was invaded by the German army, and large numbers of Latvians applied to make national armed forces in the Russian army. The Czar Nicholas II had doubts about that – he remembered the revolution of 1905 where Latvians took active role. After three years of war his fears became true – Latvian rifleman joined the Bolshevik revolution. Latvian red rifleman is one of the controversial subjects in Latvian history. Praised by Lenin, doomed by Stalin and hated by nationalist Latvians, Latvian rifleman had made their place in Russian history. Their role in the Russian Civil war are often overestimated and filled with many myths. Only in last twenty years we are able to discover who these men really were.

As mentioned the Latvian rifleman regiments were originally formed in 1915 to defend Riga from the Germans and liberate rest of the Latvian land. Latvian rifleman fought in heavy frontline for two years. In the outcome, Germans could not capture Riga, but Russian army also was unable to chase Germans away. Latvian rifleman suffered heavy losses in battles of Island of Death (1916) and the Christmas Battles (1917). Latvians were angered by the incompetence and hypocrisy of the Russian high command. Also the Russian supporting divisions were not much of a help.

On 23-27 February (8-12 March) Czar Nicolay II resigned. Russia was now ruled both by Provisional government and by the Petrograd Soviet. The two government situation led to confusion and rivalry. The armed forces now became center of political fight arena.

The Interim government was ready to continue war, while Bolsheviks promised peace and bread. The leadership of 12th army where Latvians fought tried to establish loyal executive committee called Iskosol. However, Latvians had no interest about it. On 26 March representatives of the rifleman first met at Valmiera and decided that they must continue to fight and support the Petrograd Soviet. They also asked for autonomous Latvia in democratic Russia. Soon the rifleman circles were entered by the Bolshevik agitators. From 9 to 11 April in Riga 1st rifleman congress took place deciding to organize united officer and soldier executive committee or Iskolatsrel.

The Iskolatsrel was ruled by far left-wing majority, however there were calls for Latvian national autonomy. The leading figure was staff captain Ozols. Despite the presence of right wing views among Latvians, the Bolsheviks started to gain upper hand. They were superbly organized and experienced. Their sympathizers were mainly low rank soldiers, while officers were more nationally minded. Also there so-called Mensheviks that fell out with the Bolsheviks and asked to support the Provisional Government. On 29 May at Second rifleman congress conducted a resolution that disapproved the Provisional government and asked the handover of power to the workers, soldiers and peasants.

On spring 1917 the German general staff decided to finally capture Riga and encircle the 12th army. The attack was set at 1 September and Russians were aware of this. However, the army was demoralized and could not withstood the German cannonade and fell back. However, Latvian rifleman continued to resist faced Germans at Mazā Jugla. Facing German majority, Latvian rifleman held of the offensive rescuing the Russian army units who retreated in panic.  Even despite Bolshevik sentiments the Latvian riflemen were ready to defend their homeland. In same time loyal to Russian government units fled without a fight. Latvians managed to hold for 26 hours and then retreated with the rest of the 12th army. The army was saved but Riga was lost.

Meanwhile in Petrograd (Petersburg) the Provisional government started to lose its power. Bolshevik uprising in July and Kornilov Affair in August made Lenin stronger.

When 12th army was in disarray on 25 October (7-8 November) Bolsheviks seized the power by coup and called it an international revolution. Majority of the Latvian rifleman supported this. Only small circle of Latvian officers and nationally minded soldiers gathered in Latvian National Soldiers Union. The Iskolatsrel lead by Bolsheviks turned down the right wing Latvian National Provisional Council.

For a short time a Soviet power was established in Latgalia and much of Vidzeme. Meanwhile in Petrograd it was decided that Red Guards and Sailors are not enough to defend the city. So first Latvian rifleman 6th Tukums regiment was sent to defend the Bolshevik headquarters in Smolny institute. Many Latvians were against this. The new arrived Latvians took part in disbanding the Constituent Assembly 19 January 1918.

Lenin could not legitimize his seizure of power. The Russian army had collapsed and the new Red Guards were poorly disciplined. So Latvian rifleman who still kept relative unity and discipline were summoned to help the Bolshevik revolution. A Latvian revolutionary corpus was made. On 19 February 1918 Germans launched a full-scale attack to capture all parts of Latvia and Estonia. Latvians retreated this time. On March Latvia rifleman marched in Moscow. Russia was already full of Latvian refugees from WWII. Latvian riflemen were forced to abandon their homeland, but their will was still strong and hopes for returning were high.

Latvian Red Rifleman in Red Square at Moscow

Latvian Red Rifleman in Red Square at Moscow

On 3 March Soviet Russia signed peace agreement with Germany. The Russian military command was reorganized; all high command posts were disbanded and staffs were fired. It turned out that of destroyed multi-million Czar army only Latvian rifleman were left intact. At Moscow 5700, at Petrograd, Toroshin and Bologoje – 6000 Latvian man still were ready to fight. Initially an order came to disband the Latvian regiments, however with the lead of commander Jukums Vācietis the order was disputed. While Soviets officially declared that they have an international army, they were forced to include national division in their ranks. Latvians had great reputation and still ready to fight. Also Estonian divisions in the Red Army were formed.

On 13 April 1918 the Soviet Wartime and people’s commissariat issued an order to form Latvian Soviet rifleman division. The commander in charge was Vācietis, and commissars were Pētersons and Dozīte. It was one of the first divisions in the Red Army. Nearly all remaining Latvian men joined, all believed in coming defeat of Germany and the liberation of Latvia. Most of them took the rifleman regiment as their family and had nowhere to go since the border was closed. At the end of 1918 there were 23-24 thousand man in the division along with 400 machine guns, 80 cannons and 20 airplanes.

 One of the first serious Latvian battles in the Russian civil war was the uprising of the Czech legion May 1918. The legion of Czech and Slovak nationals was formed from prisoners of war and included in the Russian army. Soviets initially promised to transport them over Vladivostok to France. However, Soviet war commissar Leon Trotsky ordered to disarm them. A legion of size of 51 000 man revolted and too over large areas from Volga to Far East. After first incidental encounter between Latvians and Czechs, that proved successful for Latvians, more regiments were sent to deal with the enemy.

On 6 July at Moscow the anti-Soviet leftist movement the Socialist Revolutionary Party of so-called Esers, launched a coup against the Soviet government. Latvians took the most important part in defeating the Eser uprising that crushed this important movement completely. Latvians also crushed the Esers at Yaroslavl, where ex Latvian rifleman officer Kārlis Goppers was one of the anti-Soviet leaders. Also another Latvian officer Fridrihs Briedis was arrested by Cheka.

As the situation in the Eastern front was critical Latvian officer Vācietis was appointed as the commander in chief of the whole Red Army. At night between 16 and 17 July Soviets murdered the whole family of Czar Nicholas II. It has been speculated for many years that Latvians took part in the murder. While Latvian historians drastically denies that any Latvian took part in the shooting, Russian historians name at least one Latvian named Celms and claims that five other Latvians refused to fire at the Czar’s children.

Jukums Vācietis - the High commander of the Red Army

Jukums Vācietis – the First Main commander of the Red Army

Latvians took the most part in defending the Kazan. On September British Secret service agent’s ambassador R. H. Bruce Lockhart and Sidney Rielly was provoked by Latvian rifleman in to plot to depose the Soviet government. British believed that the Latvian rifleman will help them to stage a coup, however it was a trap by Cheka and the ambassador was arrested.

Latvians were sent to Southern front to face the Don Cossacks. Latvians remembered the actions done by Cossacks in Latvia in 1905-1907. However in 11 November 1918 Germany surrendered ending the WWI. On 13 November Soviet Russia annulled the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty. Latvians were ready to go back to homeland and make it as Soviet republic. On 18 November in Riga the right-wing Peoples Council proclaimed the Republic of Latvia as national independent state. Soviets saw this as an obstacle. On 23 November the Commissar in the National issues Joseph Stalin ordered to form a provisional soviet Latvian government. That was done in 4 December. Soviets needed the puppet republics to justify the occupation of the Baltic States.

On November Red Army Pskov division entered Latvia. Latvians were still far behind caught up in other sectors of the whole civil war front. Latvian riflemen were told that the democratic Latvian provisional government is actually ruled by German barons and whole idea of sovereign Latvia is just a German trick to annex Latvia. Latvian government was forced to cooperate with Germans and ask for their armed assistance. However, both sides knew that is a temporary union dictated by the Soviet offensive. Latvian government issued a call to Latvian rifleman to join the ranks of the new Latvian army. Rifleman never heard this and it would not change much. On 18 December first red rifleman entered Latvia.

While the Latvian government had issues forming their own army, red rifleman defeated Germans at Inčukalns. On 3 January 1919 red rifleman brought Soviet power to Riga. A Latvian Soviet Army was formed with Vācietis in charge. The head of the Latvian Soviet government was Pēteris Stučka. Latvian army along with Germans were chased away to Courland and held small strip of land from Ventspils to Liepāja.

However, soon troubling news came from Estonia. Estonian army had defeated the Red Army and head into Northern Latvia. Red riflemen were sent to face the Estonians but were beaten. Estonians had effectively defeated the red rifleman along Valka.

The Soviet plans for communist revolution in Germany crumbled. Latvian Soviet government carried out nationalization angering the peasants who at first believed that Soviets will give them land. Soviets issued a mobilization and gathered a force of 250 000 man – young, untrained without any will to fight. Red rifleman in the end managed to stop Estonians from taking all of Vidzeme. Meanwhile Germany sent a large force of auxiliary forces of the so-called “Iron Divison”.

Germans along with Latvians started the offensive on February. Soviets were defeated in all fronts also Estonians continued to attack at northern Latvia. In April Estonians formed the 1 Valmiera infantry regiment made of Latvians, many of them deserters from the Soviet army. The mobilized Latvians refused to fight and joined the Estonian ranks.

Latvian Soviet republic crumbled. On 22 May Germans captured Riga. Latvian army followed behind but met their fellow Latvians in the battlefield of Kaugurciems. Soviets were chased away from Vidzeme and retreated in Latgalia. After Germans and Latvians turned against each other in the battle of Cesis, the situation stabilized. Meanwhile Moscow was unsatisfied with the red rifleman and renamed the Latvian Soviet Rifleman division to 53 Rifleman Division removing its national status. At last a communist fraction was made within division to suppress any anti-soviet activity.

On July red rifleman were sent to Belorussian front to fight Lithuanians and Poles. Disappointed Latvian rifleman left their homeland for the last time. On September they were sent to fight of White Guard offensive to Moscow. Latvians now fought on the fields of Orla and Kursk. After finishing Denikin Latvians were sent against Yudenich at Tula region. While other Red Guards run off from approaching White Guard tanks, Latvians did not lost courage and stood against them. Latvian rifleman entered Eastern Ukraine and encountered Anarchists lead by Nestor Makhno.

Meanwhile in Latvia at the winter months Latvian army liberated Latgalia. On 1920 news came to faraway rifleman about peace talks between Latvian Republic and the Soviet Russia. It now came to Latvian rifleman that their cause for free Latvia was lost and those who they stood against were the real heroes.  There was no way back they were trapped in Soviet Russia.

The Insignia badge of the Latvian Red Rifleman

The Insignia badge of the Latvian Red Rifleman

Despite that the remaining Latvian forces fought battles in Crimea. After a year of hard battles the remaining Latvian rifleman divisions were finally disbanded. Large numbers of Latvian rifleman choose to move to independent Latvia. Others however stayed. Many of them like Vācietis, Bērziņš, Pētersons and others stayed in Soviet Russia and took high governmental posts. In the purges of 1937-1938 the remaining elite of the Latvian rifleman was eliminated. Soviet leadership disliked the Latvian rifleman from the start, but was forced to relay on them.

Stalin destroyed most of the top Latvian red rifleman. After the occupation of Latvia, the Soviet propaganda remembered about them and used to justify the Soviet power. Monument commemorating them was placed in center of Old Riga. Museum dedicated to them was built nearby which now serves as a museum of occupation.

The reason why the Latvian Red Rifleman is sometimes called the core of the Red Army and the rescuers of communist revolution was their great discipline and will power. The Red Army units were often unorganized and cowardly. The Soviet commanders lacked talent. So the Soviet leadership sent Latvians to the most troublesome spots of the front where other Red Army units could not handle. The main dream of the Latvian rifleman was to liberate Latvia from the Germans. The fate made to fight for Soviets that did not want any independent Latvia. Undoubtedly many really believed the Soviet propaganda, but seeing how many left Russia for Latvia in disappointment shows that real ideal for them was their fatherland. Latvians did took part in many Soviet atrocities, however in overall Latvians were one of the most disciplined in the Red Army. The fate of the Latvian Red rifleman is one of the greatest tragedies of the Latvian nation. 20 years later Latvians again were forced to fight in the Soviet ranks where they met their Latvian brothers in Nazi ranks. Latvians must never again fight in ranks of the totalitarian armies. The main army for Latvia is our National Armed Forces that is a pride of our nation.

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