Tag Archives: WW2

Ciltvaira – The Lost Ship of The Latvian National Navy

Ciltvaira_ship

Ciltvaira before WW2

During the times of the Soviet Occupation the Soviet propaganda made movies like “Tobago Changes its Course” (1965) that depicted the mutiny on the Latvian trade ship Tobago on the behalf of the new Soviet government. The story was based on real Latvian naval cargo ship “Hercogs Jēkabs” (Duke Jacob)  whose captain choose to subordinate to the new Latvian Soviet government and from Cavalyo, Peru tried to sail back to Latvia. Despite the attempts of the Latvian Embassy in Washington to cancel its route to USSR and the temporary arrest, it made its way to Vladivostok. It was renamed Sovetskaya Latvia  and used for ammunition transfer. After the war it was used as prisoner transfer ship in the Sea of Okhotsk.  But, this was one of the rare examples that soviets could use. In fact most Latvian trade navy ships defied the soviet order to turn back to occupied Latvia. They still kept its allegiance to the Republic of Latvia and stayed on the western shores. Despite the fact that Latvia had no government in exile, only legitimate diplomatic embassies in US and UK, the western powers refused to turn over these ships to USSR. Most of these ships could not survive the war.  One of them was Ciltvaira.

Latvia as a country with long coast line with the Baltic Sea had long naval traditions. Before the arriving of Crusaders , the ancient Curonian and Livonian tribes made first trade voyages and raiding parties. At the start of the 19th century when serfdom was abolished, Latvians started to form their own naval schools and built their ships. At the start of the 20th century  under the flag of the Russian Empire Latvians had some 550 vessels, stationed at the ports of Ainaži, Rīga, Roja, Pāvilosta, Liepāja and Venstpils. The main Latvian shipbuilding company was Austra, at Ainaži the well-known Latvian intellectual opened a naval school. Liepaja had constant passenger routes to New York. On 1914 within the Latvian ports 333 ships were registered.

The World War I made great damage to Latvian ports, as Germans captured the Liepāja and Ventspils harbors and limited access to Riga port. Third of the Latvian ships were lost. Then on 1918 after World War I ended and Russian Empire had ceased to exist, Latvian sailors had chance to raise the flag of the new-born Republic of Latvia. First vessel to do so was a steamship Maiga, next was Saratov that was used by the Latvian Provisional government. After the end of the War for Freedom, Latvia regained 8 ships from Petrograd (St. Petersburg), but all ships taken by Germany were lost. Latvians begun to form their own trade fleet. Most Latvian steamers were used before WWI, only new built one was icebreaker Krišjānis Valdemārs.   Latvian vessels carried Latvian goods – wood, flax, butter and many other products. Passenger lines went to London, Hamburg and Stockholm.

Latvia was just beginning its naval modernization when the World War I broke out. Latvia had 103 trade ships on January 1939, leaving the ship on duty was forbidden.  On 1939 no ship was lost as many them carried their duties across the seas as usual. On June 1940 Soviet Union occupied Latvia and started took over all Latvian navy. Those who were stationed at Latvian shores had no real chance to resist. But, those who were sailing at the oceans had a choice – go back to Latvia and became part of the USSR navy or keep the Latvian banner within western shores. Both choices were grim. The Soviets could arrest some of the sailors and send the ships far away, but as there was no Latvian government in exile, only still acting diplomatic envoys, staying on Latvian side was dangerous because Latvia was no longer recognized as de facto sovereign country.

The freight steamer Ciltvaira was built on 1905 at the Sunderland, Great Britain. Before it came under the Latvian banner it was known as Twyford, Vironia for Estonia, President Bunge for Belgium and Endsleigh for Great Britain again. On 1935 it was acquired by Latvian owners J Zalcmanis, J Freimanis and K. Jansons. The first captain was K A Kaktiņš, later M A Osis, A P Galdiņš and K Šķenbergs. Ship made numerous long routes to North Sea, Mediterranean Sea ad Soviet Northern harbors. When Word War II started the ship stayed within the waters of the Western Hemisphere.

When Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union, none of the Western powers did not rush to acknowledge this as legitimate act. The most strongest response was from US , that issued a resolution that condemned the annexation of the Baltic States. Latvian gold assets  worth of 17 890 422 was frozen and Latvian consulates continued their work. 8 Latvian ships were within the American shores and stayed under the Latvian flag-  “Everasma”, “Abgabra”, “Reģents”, “Everelza”, “Evaragra” and “Ķegums”. And also Ciltvaira.

The captain of the Ciltvaira M A Osis received an order from Latvian Soviet government to head to Murmansk, Soviet Union. Osis decided to follow this order.  However, Latvian consulate demanded to stop the ship until the change of the captain. This was done at the port of Rio de Janeiro and ship was taken to US. Captain Osis and 12 other sailors went back to Soviet occupied Latvia and were involved in the World War II activities.

Captain of Ciltvaira Augusts Galdins circa 1945

Captain of Ciltvaira Augusts Galdins circa 1945

The new captain of the Ciltvaira was Pēteris Augusts Galdiņš. Born in 1904 at Mazsalaca – a small port town at Vidzeme region. Took part in the War for Freedom within Latvian ranks, wile being only 14-year-old. Was a steerman at Evarlda, and Ķegums from 1939. While at Argentina, he received order from Latvian US Envoy A Bīlmanis to head to Uruguay and take over ship of Abgara, that also was prevented from leaving off to Latvia. On 1941 he was called to captain the Ciltvaira. Galdiņš acquired US  residence permit and later US citizenship and had US long freighter captain diploma. After Word War 2 he worked in Panama-Scandinavian lines and on Chinese ships.

Photo from NY Times - 1/22/1942

Photo from NY Times – 1/22/1942

The Ciltvaira was operating under the US commands, but as Latvian ship. After Germany declared war on US, the German U-boat submarines started to hunt for US trade ships that sent goods to Great Britain and USSR. Since Latvia was occupied then by Germans, they had no respect for the Latvian banner if it was within allied command. On January 19 1942 Ciltvaira was heading from Norfolk to Savannah with a load of paper. At that point the new captain was Karlis Šķembergs. The German U-123 sub led by captain Reinhard Hardegen spotted the ship and struck it with a torpedo at 5:00 AM. Boiler room and room N0.2 was flooded. Two men were killed instantly –  firemen: Carl Gustaefssen and Rolf Semelin. Radio Operator Rūdolfs Musts was left stuck in his room due to the door being after the hit. The ship had no escorts and no arms to defend itself and was not part of the lend-lease program.

Captain Šķembergs ordered to abandon ship. The survivors abandoned ship in both port lifeboats when she settled by the head with a list to port after the boiler room and #2 hold were flooded. About 14.00 hours, the wreck was sighted by the northbound Coamo which avoided the area at full speed as she was in danger of being torpedoed herself, but the American steam tanker Socony-Vacuum stopped and picked up all survivors. Because the Ciltvaira had remained afloat, the master and eight volunteers returned to the ship while the tanker brought the rest of the crew to Charleston, South Carolina. At 16.00 hours, the Brazilian steam merchant Bury arrived and her master agreed to take the ship in tow for Norfolk. Four men from the Brazilian ship went aboard to help the few men with the ropes after the tow parted several times and they finally got underway. However, the following evening the salvage operation was stopped because the ships were only proceeding at 2 knots or less and all men taken off and eventually landed at New York.

The USS Osprey (AM-56) arrived and stood by until the ocean-going tug USS Sciota (AT-30) could resume the tow. What happened next is somewhat sketchy. One report indicates it remained afloat and drifting for two days. Another report states a number of different variations from it be torpedoed a second time to ship while being towed lost in heavy seas. The current location of the wreck is unknown.  Its claimed to be 120 feet under near Nags Head diving center and filled with marine life.The community of Nags Head has a street named after the Ciltvaira.

Latvian sailors who refused to leave the doomed ship as still wanted to save her, were greeted as heroes.  New York Times 22 January issue wrote that Latvian men being two years on the sea still wants to go back to the ships, no matter how many of them could be lost as long as Latvia regains its freedom. The Charleston newspaper “The News and Courier” made interviews with rescued sailors who showed no fear of German subs and said that  next time their ship will be armed. Meanwhile the Nazi controlled Latvian newspapers in Latvia, condemned the Americans for using Latvian ship and placed it on the another successful German U-boat hit list.

The Ciltvaira was not the last German victim. Five of the eight Latvian ships were sunken.   One was sunk by Italian submarine. Many Latvian and foreign sailors abroad the Latvian ship lost their lives. Only two Latvian ships made it to the end of the war. The ship “Regent” lost 14 out of 35 men. Everelza was sunk taking 19 men with it. Ķegums survived the war as convoy ship, but crushed at thick fog on 1948 at the Bay of Biscay. The Evaragra was hit by torpedo on 1943 but survived.

This was a price for lost Latvian independence and the non recognition policy. While US was unable to liberate Latvia from Soviet occupation, it did anything it could to defend  the Latvian patriots and their property from the Soviets. Many of them did not live till 1991 when Latvia regained independence. In the pictures are the personal belongings of the Ciltvaira captain Augusts Pēteris Galdiņš. A silver platter that the crew of the Ciltvaira gave to Gustav in honor of his leadership and heroism for standing up to the Russians, a platter hastily but skillfully engraved by hand with a knife, dated before the Ciltvaira made it to the US but after it defected. It was presented at a time when quite literally the Ciltvaira, the 7 other vessels and the Latvian Embassies in Washington, DC and London were the only elements of the Latvian sovereignty. The platter is stamped and I think purchased in Newfoundland, perhaps as they made their way to the US, and was hand-carved and presented to Gustav before they landed in the US. It now belongs to his close family friend in US. Galdiņš retired on 1970 and lived in Santa Clara California where he died on 1988.  Pictures are posted by his permission. Latvians are said to be a farmer nation, but Latvians are pretty much can be called as sailor nation. The Ainaži naval school was one of the beginnings of the Latvian national awakening and naval carrier was a motivation for many young Latvians to explore the world and gain education. Today Latvian sailors sail on board of many countries ships. Many Latvian owned vessels are under third party country flag like Panama and Cyprus. But Latvian naval life is still active and its history of the heroic Latvian sailors of the WW2 is story to be remembered.

The Ciltvaira silver platter

The Ciltvaira silver platter

 

Ciltvaira platter 3

Selected Sources:

Ilze Bernsone, Inta Sīpola. (2003) Latvijas jūrniecības vēsture : 1850-1950 . Riga.Rīgas vēstures un kug̦niecības muzejs

http://www.diena.lv/arhivs/sos-glabiet-musu-dveseles-11643392

http://sunkenshipsouterbanks.com/ciltvaira.html

http://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/ships/1267.html

http://www.uboat.net/boats/u123.htm

https://latvianhistory.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2609&action=edit

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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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The Soviet Victory Monument in Riga

uzvaras_parks

Many who visits Riga surely will notice the large National Library building still under construction, at the opposite bank of river Daugava. A large scenic glass building resembling the Hill of Glass from the famous play by Rainis The Golden Horse. But, they might notice a tall phallic spire just behind the National Library building. This large spire monument that for some resembles the Citadel complex from the game Half Life 2. Who knows since many say that Half Life 2 game environment was inspired by the city of Riga, this large spire might be a prime inspiration for the Citadel complex.

The Similarities between the Victory monument and Half Live 2 citadel

The Similarities between the Victory monument and Half Live 2 citadel

But, what the spire stands for? The answer is the Soviet Victory in the WW2 and the “liberation of Riga”. Last 20 years this monument with its park called Victory park, has become the object of political controversy, the symbol of national collisions between the Latvian society. For some see this a symbol of the soviet occupation, when others considers it as sacred site for their relatives who fought in WW2 and symbol of “good soviet times”. There have been attempts to blow up this monument, many important statesmen including the Minister of Defense Artis Pabriks have suggested to remove this monument. Recently a petition calling for removal of this monument has gathered 11471 sign ups within the social initiative platform enough to send it to Latvian parliament Saeima. The supporters of this monument who gather near it every May 9, including major of Riga Nil Ushakov has reacted angrily expressing insults like “the initiators of this petitions belongs to the zoo”. Radical Russian nationalists have even threatened with  blood if anyone dares to harm the “Russian monument”. Meanwhile the Latvian Foreign Ministry is worried that treaty made with Russia in 1994 actually prevents the demolition of this monument. However, the historical background of this monument and its park is long and complicated and will be explained here.

The territory where the park and monument now stands before WWI was simply a wide empty space. It was called the Peter Park and was not within no plans of construction. After the Riga became the capital of Latvia, some suggested to turn it into building space. However, clear plan was not set and for many years this territory remained as a space for private gardening. However, after 1934 when Kārlis Ulmanis took power by coup the Peter Park was destined for grand transformations. Kārlis Ulmanis was inspired by grandioze buildings in Nazi Germany and Soviet Union as it was common trend to build gigantic buildings that represents the regime.

The Grand project of the Victory park

The Grand project of the Victory park

On 1936 Kārlis Ulmanis issued a law about the building of the Victory Square. The victory for those days were considered the Latvian and allied forces victory over the Army of Bermnont-Avalov on 1919. On 1938 a project competition  was issued. The guidelines suggested a set of gigantic buildings that would oversize the Berlin Olympic stadium of 1936. The celebration square fit for 200 000 visitors, stadium with 25 000 seats, sports fields, velodrom, swimming pool, shooting range, port in the bay of Āgenskalns, the Assembly Hall  with 10 000 seats and central memorial sign.  Such ambitious project as mentioned were nothing uncommon in those days. Hitler and Stalin both had plans for their own fantasy buildings. While Ulmanis was neither a Nazi or a Communist, the monumentalism was imperative in his propaganda. He also wanted to build a new town hall in the opposite site with a large tower that would be tallest building in Riga in those days.

The Song and Dance Festival in the new Victory Square

The Song and Dance Festival in the new Victory Square

Few weeks after the project competition was issued in the territory of the new Victory Square the IX Annual Song and Dance festival was held with portable arena with seats and infrastructure. 44 projects were sent to competition. The prize for three first awards were 4000 Lats, while three secondary awards were 3000 Lats each. The winners were three  collectives of G Dauge, F Skujiņš, J Leimanis,  student E Krūmiņš, V Paegle. The further realization of the project was given to F Skujiņs who already was known for his Court Palace building. Skujiņš and Dauge visioned a Victory Alley that would continue the Ponton Bridge (now the Stone Bridge). From the main Victory Alley all main traffic routes around the Victory Square would alling. In case of mass festivities tram lines would circulate around it. The Square would contain flower gardens and water pools with fountains. At the end of the victory alley a 60 meter tall Victory tower would be built. Underneath it a Commemorative Shrine for the heroes of the Latvian nation. At the top of the tower an eternal flame would rise. A symbolic Torch Rally would end there. On the left side of the Valley a large walled representative parade square was to placed. At the right side large Song and Festival arena was intended.

The intended shrine for the Victory Square

The intended shrine for the Victory Square

  Also a Sports Palace, sports field, gardens, and swimming pools. And to add the least the bay of Āgenskals would be turned in to yachtclub. If this plan would ever be realized it would make one part of left bank of Riga into grandioze complex. No doubt the Victory Square project was intended as the main center of the Kārlis Ulmanis cult of personality. The preparations for project were underway. Massive “voluntary fund-raising” was underway. Every school including very small and poorly funded Jewish School in Viesīte gave their share of donations to the Victory monument project. If the WW2 had never occurred this project would be realized in complete or in smaller scale. For instance the foundations for Riga Town Hall tower were erected on 1940.

However, after occupation of Latvia on 1940, the Soviets cancelled these plans. The Square was left empty during both Soviet and Nazi Occupation. On 1944 Soviets kept the Victory Square name, but now it was no longer 1919 victory over Bermont-Avalov it was victory over Nazi Germany. On February 3 1946 in front of some 4000 spectators the Nazi war criminal SS Obergruppenfuhrer Friedrich Jeckeln along with four others were hanged in the Victory Square. It was last public execution in Riga. Jeckeln was responsible for Babi-Jar massacre in Ukraine and Rumbula massacre in Latvia.

The execution of Friedrich Jeckeln on 1946

The execution of Friedrich Jeckeln on 1946

After the end of the war nobody rushed to create a new victory square since the ideology of the Great Soviet Victory was not fully designed. Neither Stalin or Khrushchev regarded May 9 as festivity. Instead architect V Shnitikov suggested to build massive Song and Dance festival arena. However, the communist party decided to build the arena in Mežaparks instead. On 1961 during the Khrushchev Thaw the park was renamed to Soviet Socialist Communist Party XXII congress park. XXII congress was important for the ruling elite as it set the new plans for future Soviet policy. It was designed as a park with lots of green areas, playing fields, assembly hall with cafeterias. The project was partly realized, as the ideas for buildings and pavilions were abandoned.

After Khrushchev’s demise the new Brezhnev ideology centered around the Great Victory. May 9 became public holiday and monuments commemorating the Soviet soldiers were built-in every major town in USSR. On 1976 new project was set for the Victory monument. The monument was designed by Lev Bukovsky who ironically served the Latvian Waffen SS Legion during the WW2. Even more ironically the 79 meter tall spire was placed at the approximate place where Jeckeln  was hanged. The monument was finished on  1985 during the anniversary of the Great Victory. And once again it was renamed as the Victory park since on 1985 at the height of the stagnation the ideas of XXII congress were no longer realizable. The 1985 was the last mass event of victory celebration as in next year the Gorbachev’s reforms diverted the peoples attention from the Great Victory cult.

A large 79 obelisk a spire as I call it with two stars, two sculptures and a swimming pool was not the center of attention during the National revival. Maybe because of this nobody bordered to remove it after the regaining of independence. People were more concerned with the removal of Lenin’s statue. It may be that if the monument would be removed at the same night as the Lenin’s statue, nobody would not protest.

However, the situation changed during the nighties. People with Soviet nostalgia and resentment about the new Latvian state, started to gather there either at May 9 or October 13 (1944 Soviet “liberation” of Riga). This happened simply these people had no other symbol to identify themselves as all the Lenin monuments were removed. Also the Citizenship law on 1995 boosted the rift in Latvian society. However, these were a small groups of people. The fire was directly set alight by national radical organization “Pērkonkrusts” a revival movement of pre war nationalist movement. On 1997 at the night of June 5 they placed explosives near the spire to blow it up. However, the explosives malfunctioned and killed two plotters on the spot. The spire was damaged, but was still standing. This sparked a massive condemnation from the mainly Russian speaking part of society. The monument started to gain his lost never deserved attention.

Some people suggested to keep the monument, but modify it according to present needs. However, strongest voices called to remove it completely and restore the Ulmanis Victory Square project. Meanwhile the other side of the society became influenced by the revival of the Great Victory cult made by Putin’s regime. The local Russian speaking parties picked this up and used the monument for their festivities. The Harmony Center took the largest share of this and ever since early 2008 used the May 9 celebration as a massive voters boost. Assisted by funds from Russian organizations and using administrative resources the Harmony Center has taken over the May 9 celebrations for their own gain. On every May 9 the Victory Square turns into mass festivity with people celebrating the Great Victory. Portable arena with songs, food and drinks turned the Victory day into Victory Fiesta.

Since then, the monument has been became the symbol of all evil for nationalist Latvians. Since the city of Riga has been ruled for last four years by the Harmony Center the Victory Monument has been the point of rivalry. The 2007 Bronze Soldier riots in Tallinn was a warning sign that similar thing may happen in Riga if someone might try to remove the monument. Bearing the fact that the Bronze Soldier riots were largely inspired by Russia. However, the cross ethnic rivalry in Estonia has not significantly worsened after this event.

Today a petition to remove the Victory monument and realize the original Ulmanis idea has entered the governmental level. The very idea that the Authoritarian style project may be realized in 21st century society sounds schizophrenic just as idea of the Great Soviet Victory. The history was shown that the Victory Square has served as ideological tool for every ruling regime. The best idea is the complete de-ideologization of this memorial complex. How it should be made its for architects and artists. For now the remarks by some people, that the removal of the “Russian monument” might spill blood its ridiculous, as the monument was designed for Soviet soldiers of all nationalities including Latvians. Threats that such move might even cause civil war and Russian interventions adds to the ideological ridicule around this monument.  On the other hand the 2008 signed agreement with Russia about the mutual preservation of the soldiers grave sites that according to Latvian Foreign Ministry also does not do justice. The point 1 of this agreement clearly defines the “Russian burial sites” as sites with graves with soviet soldiers and civilians and the memorial sites built within  these grave sites. As we know already  there are no graves in the Victory Square and its surrounding park territory. So this agreement should not serve as valid argument not to remove the monument. Victory Square is not a grave site therefore does not go within this document if understood properly.

The Victory Square was intended as  cult site for the Kārlis Ulmanis regime and ended up as cult site for the Soviet Victory. Whatever the events bring the best way is to remove all false ideologies from this site and make it apolitical park friendly for all people.

Selected Sources:

Lejnieks, Jānis. (1998) Rīga, kuras nav. Rīga. Zinātne.

Hanovs, Deniss, Tēraudkalns, Valdis. (2012) Laiks, Telpa, Vadonis: autoritārisma kultūra Latvijā 1934-1940. Rīga. Zinātne.

Zeļča, Vita, Muižnieks, Nils. (Ed) (2011) Karojošā piemiņa. 16. marts un 9. maijs. Rīga. Zinātne.

LATVIJAS REPUBLIKAS VALDĪBAS UN KRIEVIJAS FEDERĀCIJAS VALDĪBAS VIENOŠANĀS PAR LATVIJAS APBEDĪJUMU STATUSU KRIEVIJAS FEDERĀCIJAS TERITORIJĀ UN KRIEVIJAS APBEDĪJUMU STATUSU LATVIJAS REPUBLIKAS TERITORIJĀ http://likumi.lv/doc.php?id=179009

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The Battle For Riga September-October 1944

Soviet propaganda poster celebrating the "liberation of the Baltic States"

Soviet propaganda poster celebrating the “liberation of the Baltic States”

On October 13 1944 another “liberation” of Riga took place. Similar to July 1 1941 when German army marched in, the “liberators” were greeted with flowers while others were fleeing. Only now there was no sign of Red and White flag or Latvian anthem. Instead the Soviet Red flag and anthem was everywhere. Riga was occupied by the Soviets for the second time. Soviets made no secret they are here to restore Soviet power and made no false illusions as Germans did on 1941. However, in contrast to first battle for Riga on July 1941, the city escaped massive damage and was taken without bitter fight. However, the Soviet political and military leadership wanted to make Riga a – “another Stalingrad”. Luckily thanks to the wise German military leadership Riga escaped this fate. And it was achieved not without the help of Latvian Waffen SS Legion men who gave their lives to help Germans evacuate the city.

On August 1944 the German army on the Eastern front was in grave danger. From July 30 Soviets had managed cut off German north group from the main group by reaching Jelgava and Tukums. The main command in Moscow made numerous calls to make attack on Riga from Madona and South Estonia. Soviets had also successfully defeated Germans in Belarus and Lithuania and headed for German East Prussia. Germans were also involved in relentless fighting with Allied forces in Northern France. So Germans had to give everything they had left. At Klaipēda (Memel) the 3th German tank army was restored. From Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad) a infantry division was send by air to South Estonia. The Riga was cut off from the land roads so small units were sent by sea route and then sent to Madona.

Soviet advance in the Baltic region 1944

Soviet advance in the Baltic region 1944

The Soviet attack group was called the Third Baltic Front. Soviets were confused by the German decision to leave Rēzekne and Daugavpils line. The Soviets overestimated their breakthrough to Šiauliai Lithuania as complete defeat for the German forces. On July 24 Moscow ordered to capture Viru Estonia, Valka and Valmiera in Latvia. However, the German stable line of defense cooled down the attackers. Cesvaine-Alūksne-Alūksne was in German hands till August 19, Cesvaine till September 12. Three soviet corps had a tough time fighting few German divisions and only on August 21 they were beaten.

Soviet 54th Army moved on Latvian soil to Alūksne and threatened to encircle it from the north. On August 17 three divisions from 1sth Shock Army moved to bypass Alūksne on route to Ape. Soviets gathered large forces of tanks and artillery and managed to breakthrough. However, for they faced organized German resistance and failed to encircle the city. Germans themselves left the city on August 19. With heavy casualties Soviets moved forward by August 27 . Soviets lost 4594 men, Germans 945 men according to Latvian Soviet War Commissariat reports. Such heavy casualties were  caused by vague tactics and officer incompetence. Many battalions were destroyed in frontal attacks right in the rear of the enemy positions.

Latvian Waffen SS Legion was fighting at Cesvaine and Nesaule. Soviets failed to bypass them from behind and were halted. After heavy battles at Ērgļi and the breakthrough of the 42th army to Jumurda lake the front in Vidzeme region stabilized. Latvian civilians constructed a defensive position from Lielezere to Lejasciems.

Meanwhile after Soviet victory in Belarus and raid to Tukums on July 30 situation was more dramatic. Germans still controlled Klaipēda and Tilzit (Sovetska) and gathered forces to relieve the Soviet breakthrough.  The Army group North was cut off from the main German forces in Courland. They now were under command of army group Center that operated in long line from the Cape of Kolka to Carpathian mountains. Adolf Hitler wanted to make a last grand tank offensive in the Eastern Front – with two tank corps from the Eastern Prussia, with 39th corps to Jelgava and 40th  corps to Šiauliai. The task was to recapture Tukums and relieve the line of communications from Riga to East Prussia.

But, Germans lacked forces to do this. There were just two Latvian and German battalions with few flak cannons, and very small SS tank brigade with some 10 tanks. But, Soviets had no proper fores on their own since the capture of Tukums was a great venture that succeed because there were no proper German forces to defend it. But, Soviets lacked fuel to move their tanks further. Now Germans formed two tank groups – Liepaja and Tauraģe tank group. To Taurage a 40th tank corps staff was moved from Romania. The operation was lead by talented general Heinz Guderian. Hitler took a close eye on this operation and sent the best Pz V type tanks. Latvian Artillery Division also joined.

On August 16 the attack started. Heavy battles took place involving heavy German Panther tanks. 39 Soviet tanks including 17 heavy tanks were destroyed. Germans however, failed to reach Jelgava. Meanwhile the forces heading to Sloka and Ķemeri to bypass Tukums managed to encircle the two soviet divisions. In so the gap between Riga and Courland was eliminated. That lead to the beginning of the Battle of Riga.

Soviets now planned to start a massive operation to capture Riga First Baltic Front with five armies and 44 divisions, Second Baltic Front with 33 divisions and Third Baltic Front and 29 divisions.Germans had army group North with two armies without proper reserves. On the morning of September 14 Soviet started operation to capture Riga.

The initial success was rather light. The Third Baltic front became stuck in South Estonia. The Second Baltic Front charged in Vidzeme. Along with them the Latvian 43th Guard Division made the most of the battle. However, as usual their Soviet comrade divisions were less successful and limited the offensive. From Iecava to Ķekava in route to Pārdaugava 43th army with 4th Shock army with 476 tanks was stopped at the very first day.

Soviet troops moving towards Riga

Soviet troops moving towards Riga

On September 15 the Latvian 2th Borderguard regiment was sent to halt the Soviets. On the night of September 16 with the help of German cannonade Latvia borderguards made a counter attack and took the defensive position  at the Riga-Ķekava highway. Soviets reached Baldone and made the Baldone-Ķekava route as the main position. Large forces were gathered here. Germans knew about this and planned to avoid casualties and evacuate.

On September 15 German army group North commander in charge Ferdinand Shorner made personal report to General Guderian and asked to start evacuation. His plan was to retreat from whole Northern Baltic region, from Narva to Cēsis. On September 16 Shorner visited the German general Staff. Hitler was very found of Shorner as fanatic Nazi and allowed him to carry out this operation. On September 19 Operation Aster was called to start.

On September 17 the Lenningrad Front opened offensive to capture Tallinn. Germans moved away from Narva to the port of Tallinn. Soviets were caught by surprise and was not even ready to chase the retreating Germans. Germans started to move to Sigulda and beat off the chasing soviets. Soviet commanders did not dare to inform Stalin about this evacuation and instead made tales of “massive attack operation”.   Germans retreated orderly by destroying all bridges and railroad lines. Many places were mined. Despite Jelgava being controlled by Soviets, Germans managed to build railroad from Riga to Liepaja.

From Northern Vidzeme Germans started to move on September 19. Soviets moved fastly but failed to break up the evacuation. On September 23 Germans left Parnu Estonia and Streņči in Latvia. Soviets faced heavy defeat near Ērģeme on September 20. Soviets also lost many men in unsecsuff raid to Valmiera. On September 25 Germans reached defensive position at Sigulda.

Latvian 19th Waffen SS Legion also retreated with the rest of the Germans. Many of these men hoped to fight for free Latvia. As the front was breaking, the goal seemed hopeless. Still without dissent they carried out their task and on September 24 -25 at night reached Sigulda defense position. They stationed near More school house blocking the Nītaure-Sigulda highway. And that was the main attack route for three heavy armed soviet regiments. Latvians had 44th, 42th and 43th regiment against large Soviet forces.

Soviet forces approached on September 26 and made fast attack with tanks. Soviets attacked directly at More were Latvians resisted fiercely. Soviets sent never ending attacks with artillery support and tanks. But, Latvians stopped every attack. All reserves of 44th regiment were depleted, the second echelon of the 43 regiment were sent to fight. Latvian artillery were out of ammunition. At September 28 Latvians were still holding their positions. Soviets made a small success by changing the attack route and trough the swamp and forest invaded Kartūži. However, they were beaten off. Small attacks continued until September 30. But, they all were stopped.

  The operation Aster was successful. But it was at the expense of the Latvian casualties at More.  The leading officers Rudolfs Kociņš and Nikolajs Galdiņš were awarded.  Soviets lost 2736 men, Latvians 186 men. The Battle of More was the most heaviest experience for the Latvian Waffen SS Legion. These men were not ready to give up any inch of their land.

The Commemorative event for the fallen in the Battle of More

The Commemorative event for the fallen in the Battle of More

Soviets came to conclusion that the German forces had successfully left the encirclement. Still in hopes for the “Second Stalingrad” Soviet attacked Klaipēda . Germans in response initiated operation Donnner to move German armies from Riga to Courland. This was one of the most successful military evacuation operation in the military history. 29 divisions, 2 brigades, 28 artillery units, 190 Anti-air units, 68 engineer battalions, all the civil authorities and 100 000 civil refugees were evacuated.

Germans also forcibly moved 20 000 Latvians from Riga to Germany for “work service”. Meanwhile the 19th Latvian Waffen SS Division on October 6-7 moved from Sigulda and head to Džūkste region in Courland. Last to leave Riga was the 227th infantry division. On 1:144 October 13 the bridges over Daugava were blown up. 87th division had to maneuver through the land strait  between lake Ķīšezers to Daugavgrīva. By the help special ferries they moved 5000 men and 160 armed trucks 20 cannons to other side of river Daugava.

Soviets entered Riga when nearly all Germans had left the scene on October 13. At 23:00 in Moscow 24 cannons fired to celebrate the “liberation of Riga”. There were gunfights in Pārdaugava for three days until all Germans left the left bank of the river Daugava completely. So officially the Riga was captured completely on September 15. However, Joseph Stalin had insisted that celebrations must begin allready on October 13.

Soviet Soldiers near the Monument of Freedom

Soviet Soldiers near the Monument of Freedom

Latvians were fighting on Soviet side as well and were just as good as the Latvian Waffen SS men. However, while it was technically possible and ideologically necessary the Latvian Soviet Soldiers were not the ones to first parade in Riga. Instead the 130th Latvian Rifleman corps were directed away from Riga to the swamps of Oilaine. Only after it became clear that the German evacuation had succeeded the Latvian Soviet soldiers were called to parade in Riga on October 16.

Soviets were heavily disappointed about the way the Riga was captured. Soviets commanders wanted to impress Stalin with complete destruction of the German forces and great street battles in Riga. Soviets wanted to encircle Germans in Riga. Soviets had intended to use heavy artillery and air fire that would result complete destruction of the Riga historical center. If such event would happen Riga would be just like Koenigsberg or Kaliningrad today.

Despite that Soviet propaganda made tales of “grandioze landing platoon operation over the lake of Ķīšezers” and the “battle for every house and street corner”. Those who were wise enough knew that there was no German troops from the early morning of October 13 that Soviets could fight with. Large painting showing Soviet soldiers fighting on streets of Riga was displayed. There was even plea to make Riga a “Hero Town” just like Stalingrad. In the end a large phallic monument was build to commemorate the “liberation of Latvia”. A move called “Spear and Rose” tried to convince that Germans had planned to blow up Riga in their way of retreat.

The real battle for Riga was fought on the roads Northern Vidzeme, More, Ķekava and Baldone. Outnumbered German and Latvian forces managed to stop Soviet forces and allowed others to escape. Soviets had enormous forces and resources. But, they level of military tactical knowledge was still 1939 level. German army despite many defeats all the way to 1945 suffered less losses than the victorious soviets.  And well motivated and disciplined Latvian Waffen SS 19th division was also one of the reasons why Riga was saved from being “second Stalingrad”. Their fight in More should be remembered and set as example for Latvian military bravery.

Selected Sources:

Pētersons, Aivars. (2007) Krustugunīs. Rīga.

Feldmanis, Inesis, Butulis, Ilgvars,Bleiere,Daina,Zunda, Antonijs. (2008)  Latvija Otrā Pasaules karā (1939-1945) Rīga. Jumava.

Viesturs Sprūde, Latvijas Avīze 1944. gadā Rīgai bija iespēja kļūt par lielu ”staļingradu”

http://gulags.wordpress.com/2009/10/13/1944-gada-rigai-bija-iespeja-klut-par-lielu-stalingradu/

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