Latvian War of Independence
Part of Russian Civil War and Polish–Soviet War

The North Latvian Brigade entering Riga in 1919
Date5 December 1918 – 11 August 1920
(1 year, 8 months and 6 days)

Latvian victory

Independence of Latvia
1918–April 1919 1918–April 1919
April–July 1919 April–July 1919 April–July 1919
July 1919–1920 October–December 1919 July 1919–1920
Commanders and leaders
Latvia Kārlis Ulmanis
Latvia Oskars Kalpaks
Latvia Jānis Balodis
Latvia Dāvids Sīmansons
Latvia Jorģis Zemitāns
Latvia Roberts Dambītis
Estonia Ernst Põdder
Estonia Viktor Puskar
Denmark Iver de Hemmer Gudme
Denmark Richard Gustav Borgelin
Second Polish Republic Edward Rydz-Śmigły
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Harold Alexander
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Hubert Gough
German Empire Rüdiger von der Goltz
German Empire Alfred Fletcher
German Empire Josef Bischoff
Russia Pavel Bermondt-Avalov
German Empire Walter von Eberhardt
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Jukums Vācietis
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Sergei Kamenev
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Dmitry Nadyozhny
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Vladimir Gittis
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Pēteris Slavens #
Latvia 69,232 (January 1920)[1] unknown unknown
Casualties and losses
Latvia 3,046 killed
4,085 wounded[2]
Estonia 115 killed
500 wounded (June 1919)
German Empire 840 killed
3,000 wounded[3]
at least 2000 captured
11 executed
  1. ^ a b All Latvian national units with formal allegiance to Latvian Provisional Government were under German and Estonian military commands at this period.
  2. ^ a b Fought only against Soviets.
  3. ^ Formed from merger of (South) Latvian Independent Brigade and North Latvian Brigade.
  4. ^ a b Naval support.
  5. ^ Fought only against Latvia and its allies.

The Latvian War of Independence (Latvian: Latvijas Neatkarības karš), sometimes called Latvia's freedom battles (Latvijas brīvības cīņas) or the Latvian War of Liberation (Latvijas atbrīvošanas karš), was a series of military conflicts in Latvia between 5 December 1918, after the newly proclaimed Republic of Latvia was invaded by Soviet Russia, and the signing of the Latvian-Soviet Riga Peace Treaty on 11 August 1920.[4]

The war can be divided into a few stages: Soviet offensive, German-Latvian liberation of Kurzeme and Riga, Estonian-Latvian liberation of Vidzeme, Bermontian offensive, Latvian-Polish liberation of Latgale.

The war involved Latvia (its provisional government supported by Estonia, Poland and the Western Allies—particularly the navy of United Kingdom) against the Russian SFSR and the Bolsheviks' short-lived Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic. Germany and the Baltic nobility added another level of intrigue, initially being nominally allied to the Nationalist/Allied force but attempting to jockey for German domination of Latvia. Eventually, tensions flared up after a German coup against the Latvian government, leading to open war.

Following a cease-fire, a ploy was developed by the Germans, nominally dissolving into the West Russian Volunteer Army led by Gen. Pavel Bermont-Avalov. This West Russian Volunteer Army included Germans and former Russian prisoners of war nominally allied with the White Army in the Russian Civil War, but both Bermondt-Avalov and von der Goltz were more interested in eliminating the nationalists than fighting the Bolsheviks.

Certain episodes of the Latvian Independence War were also part of the Polish-Soviet War, particularly the Battle of Daugavpils.

Soviet offensive

On 18 November 1918 the People's Council of Latvia proclaimed the Independence of the Republic of Latvia and created the Latvian Provisional Government headed by Kārlis Ulmanis.

On 1 December 1918, the newly proclaimed republic was invaded by Soviet Russia. Much of the invading army in Latvia consisted of Red Latvian Riflemen, which made the invasion easier. The Soviet offensive met little resistance.

In the north Alūksne was taken on 7 December, Valka on 18 December, and Cēsis on 23 December, in the south Daugavpils was taken on 9 December, and finally Pļaviņas on 17 December.

Riga was captured by the Red Army on 3 January 1919. By the end of January, the Latvian Provisional Government and remaining German units had retreated all the way to Liepāja, but then the Red offensive stalled along the Venta river.

The Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic was officially proclaimed on 13 January with the political, economic, and military backing of Soviet Russia and on 17 January, a constitution was made for the newly made puppet state.

During this period, on 15 January, occurred the battle of Lielauce, where the Latvian independent battalion, headed by Oskars Kalpaks managed to stop the Soviet offensive. This battle was crucial for the morale of the Latvian soldiers. The German forces on whom the Latvian temporarily relied, however, had lost a battle at Auce, so an order was received to retreat to the river Venta.

14 days later, on 29 January, the Latvian independent battalion was once again fighting a battle, this time near Skrunda. This time, however, Latvian troops were on the offensive. The Soviet forces had managed to establish a bridgehead over the river Venta, capturing the town of Skrunda on 22 January. The Venta defensive line had to be reestablished, so a counter-offensive maneuver was ordered to be overtaken. The Latvian independent battalion managed to retake the town in 3 hours. After the battle was won, the Soviet offensives ceased.

Liberation of Kurzeme and the coup d'etat

Soldiers mobilized by the Provisional Government of Latvia marching along Jūras Street in Limbaži in 1919

On 18 February, an agreement was signed between Latvia and Estonia, starting formation of the North Latvian Brigade led by Jorģis Zemitāns on Estonian territory.

On 3 March, the German and Latvian forces commenced a counterattack against the Red Latvian Riflemen. Tukums was recaptured from the Bolsheviks on 15 March, and Jelgava on 18 March.

On 16 April, the Baltic nobility organised a coup d'etat in Liepāja and a puppet government headed by Andrievs Niedra was established.[5] The provisional national government took refuge aboard the steamship Saratov under British protection in Liepaja harbour.[6]

On 22 May, Riga was recaptured by the Freikorps and organised persecution of suspected Bolshevik supporters began, with an estimated 174 (according to the head of Rīga's Gendarmerie) to 4,000–5,000 people (according to local social democrats and communists) being shot.[7] At the same time the Estonian Army including the North Latvian Brigade loyal to the Ulmanis government started a major offensive against the Soviets in north Latvia. By the middle of June, the Soviet rule was reduced to the area surrounding Latgale.

German–Estonian conflict

After the capture of Riga the Baltische Landeswehr and Iron Division advanced north towards Cēsis. The objective of the Landeswehr and Iron Division had now clearly become the establishment of German supremacy in the Baltic by eliminating the Estonian military and Latvian national units, not the defeat of the Bolsheviks. The Estonian commander General Johan Laidoner insisted the Landeswehr withdraw to a line south of the Gauja River. He also ordered the Estonian 3rd Division to seize the Gulbene railroad station.

On June 19, 1919, the Landeswehr and the Iron Division launched an attack to capture Cēsis. Initially, the Freikorps captured the town of Straupe and continued their advance toward the town of Limbaži. The Estonian division launched a counterattack and drove the Landeswehr out of the town. On June 21, the Estonians received reinforcements and immediately attacked the Landeswehr, who withdrew from an area to the northeast of Cēsis. The Iron Division attacked from Straupe towards Stalbe in an effort to relieve pressure on the Landeswehr. On the morning of June 23, the Landeswehr began a general retreat toward Riga.[8]

The Allies again insisted that the Landeswehr and Iron Division withdraw their remaining troops from Latvia, and on July 3 intervened to impose an armistice between Estonia, Latvia, and the Landeswehr and Iron Division when the Latvians were about to march into Riga. By its terms the legitimate government of Ulmanis was to be restored, the Baltic German Landeswehr be placed under the command of the British officer Harold Alexander and the Iron Division to leave Latvia. The government of Ulmanis returned to Riga on 8 July 1919 and the Landeswehr became a component of the Latvian National Army.

Bermondt offensive

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The Iron Division, however, did not leave Latvia. Instead Major Bischoff created a German and Russian united Legion from over a dozen Freikorps units and Russian volunteers, then he turned the units over to the West Russian Volunteer Army which was commanded by Pavel Bermondt-Avalov. In total, the Iron Division transferred over 14,000 men, 64 aircraft, 56 artillery pieces, and 156 machine guns. Six cavalry units and a field hospital were also transferred. Together with the other German units Bermondt had 30 000 men strong army only 6000 of whom were Russians.

On October 8 the West Russian Volunteer Army started offensive against Riga. The offensive in the beginning saw huge potential, the Latvian government evacuated from Riga, and the left bank of Daugava river in Riga got captured by the Bermondt forces. However, on October 15 Latvians crossed Daugava river north of Riga and captured Bolderāja and Daugavgrīva fortress. On November 10–11, 1919, the Latvian Armed Forces started a day long counter-offensive, the outnumbered Latvians managed to push the Bermondt forces out of Riga, after which the Latvian government returned back to Riga. Jelgava was also captured by the Latvians in loss-making fights and by early December the entire West Russian Volunteer Army got pushed out of Latvia.

Liberation of Latgale

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Signing of the Latvian-Soviet Russian Peace Treaty in Riga, 1920

In January 1920 the joint forces of Latvia and Poland launched an attack on the Bolsheviks in Latgale and took Daugavpils. The Soviet Latvian government escaped to Velikiye Luki where it announced its dissolution on January 13. Units from the Estonian and Lithuanian armies also saw action alongside the Latvians, as well as Latvian partisans. The push continued until Latvian forces took hold of Zilupe on February 1 with some skirmishes continuing a few days afterwards, since a secret truce had been agreed on by the Latvians and Soviet Russia on January 30.

Peace talks began on 16 April 1920 with the Latvian–Soviet Peace Treaty being signed on 11 August 1920, officially ending the war.


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In fiction



See also


  1. ^ Latvijas Atbrīvošanas kaŗa vēsture Archived 2011-07-13 at the Wayback Machine (in Latvian)
  2. ^ Latvijas Brīvības cīņas, page 15 (in Latvian)
  3. ^ Hans von Rimscha, Hellmuth Weiss (1977). Von den baltischen Provinzen zu den baltischen Staaten 1918-1920. J. G. Herder-Institut. p. 61.
  4. ^ (in Latvian)Freibergs J. (1998, 2001) Jaunāko laiku vēsture 20. gadsimts Zvaigzne ABC ISBN 9984-17-049-7
  5. ^ a b Šiliņš, Jānis (18 April 2019). "The republic on the sea: The 1919 coup that exiled the Latvian government to a steamboat". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  6. ^ a b LtCol Andrew Parrott. "The Baltic States from 1914 to 1923: The First World War and the Wars of Independence" (PDF). Baltic Defence Review. 2/2002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-19.
  7. ^ Šiliņš, Jānis (24 May 2019). "Shooting the Bolsheviks: White terror after freeing Rīga". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. Retrieved 26 May 2019.
  8. ^ Estonian War of Independence 1918–1920. Jyri Kork (Ed.). Esto, Baltimore, 1988 (Reprint from Estonian War of Independence 1918–1920. Historical Committee for the War of Independence, Tallinn, 1938)
  9. ^ Rusteiķis, Aleksandrs (1930-03-03), Lāčplēsis (Action, Fantasy, History), Lilita Bērziņa, Voldemārs Dimze, Kristaps Kreicbergs, retrieved 2023-07-21
  10. ^ "Lāčplēsis (1930)". (in Latvian). Retrieved 2023-07-21.