Christmas Battles I WW1

Christmas battles have been recorded in the history of Latvia forever as a tragic and at the same time heroic story. On January 5, 1917, an attack by the 12th Russian Army began on the Riga Front, the official name of which was "Operation Jelgava". According to the old style, the attack on the July calendar started on December 23, ie on the eve of Christmas. Consequently, these battles, in which all Latvian rifle regiments took part together for the first time, received the designation "Christmas battles". The Christmas battles and the ensuing January battles were the most tragic and at the same time one of the most heroic pages in the history of Latvian riflemen.

The Russian army planned a major attack on the German imperial army, in which Latvian riflemen were used as the main blow. The leadership of the 12th Army had planned to break the German front in several places in a large area from the left bank of the Lielupe to the Jelgava highway with sudden blows without prior artillery preparation. The attack took place in a swampy area between Babīte Lake and Olaini, which was called Tīreļpurvu. Russia had set a goal to liberate Jelgava and, if successful, all of Zemgale and Kurzeme.

On the front line of the attack, the Russian army tightened its forces, securing the upper hand: a total of almost 100,000 Russian army soldiers against 20,000 German army soldiers. The attack was to take place in 8 places, 2 of which were to be carried out by Latvian rifle regiments divided into two brigades. Both Latvian brigades had long been preparing for the attack. The riflemen were carefully trained to overcome the barbed wire fences and occupy the enemy's fortifications. The mood of the riflemen was very good, everyone hoped for the soon liberation of Zemgale and Kurzeme.

The supply and management of the attack was unfortunately poorly planned and carried out, so the predominance of manpower did not help. The battle took place with attacks and counter-attacks. The 2nd Latvian Rifle Brigade had successfully broken the first line of German fortifications, occupying the southern part of Tīreļpurva. For two days on the island at -36 ° C, the riflemen held the occupied territory, but on January 7 the attack was turned north, on the German fortified Gun Hill, which was occupied on the same day. The next day, January 8, Latvian riflemen repelled several fierce German counterattacks aimed at regaining previously lost positions. The capture of the German Gun Hill became the greatest success of the Christmas battles. Unfortunately, the Russian leadership did not use the capture of Ložmetējkalns to develop an attack on Kalnciems, which could be captured on the same day until the Germans were able to consolidate and bring reserves.

Christmas battles became the most famous and legendary battles of Latvian riflemen. The Latvian riflemen managed to accomplish what no Russian unit on the Riga front had been able to do - to break through the German fortifications and occupy an area of about 30 square kilometers. It was the first time that all Latvian riflemen fought side by side.

During the Christmas battles, both the Russian part and the Latvians had suffered great losses. The 12th Army lost 19,000 troops. From January 5 to 11, Latvian regiments lost 5,364 riflemen, of whom 874 fell and about 400 missing. The benefits of battle were not great. The great losses severely damaged the Latvian loyalty to the authorities of the Russian Empire and marked a turning point in the history of both the Riflemen and Latvia.

 
More information sources

1. The blizzard of souls. Digital Museum. Available: https://www.dveseluputenis.lv/lv/laika-skala/notikums/85/ziemassvetku-kauju-sakums/ [accessed: 05.05.2021].

2. Latvijas Radio 2 Latvian Centennial Story Articles “Christmas Battles”, 2017. Available at: https://lr2.lsm.lv/lv/raksts/latvijas-simtgades-stastu-raksti/ziemassvetku-kaujas.a97478/?highlight=str % C4% 93 people [viewed: 05.05.2021].

Episode of the 3rd lsm.lv program “History Wedge” “Conversation with historian Jānis Šiliņš about Christmas battles and riflemen”, 2017. Available at: https://naba.lsm.lv/lv/raksts/vestures-kilis/saruna-ar- historians-jani-silinu-for-Christmas-fighting-and-str.a79704 /? highlight = str% C4% 93lnieki [viewed: 05.05.2021].

 

Related timeline

Related objects

Machine Gun Hill

Located in Jelgava region, near the A9 motorway.

Ložmetējkalns is a place of World War I fighting, which is the only cultural and historical reserve of national significance in Latvia. It is located on the Long Dune, which is part of the Nordeķi - Kalnciems dune ridge. The name of the machine gun hill originated at a time when there were hard-to-occupy fortifications of the German army, which were defended by a strong machine gun fire.

Christmas battles are probably the best known and most dramatic event of World War I in the history of Latvia. It occupies a special place in the military and cultural history of Latvia. In 1917, the Latvian Rifle and Siberian units of the Russian army attacked Ložmetējkalns and occupied it. At least 600 opponents were captured, as well as valuable trophies, such as 19 machine guns. This was the most significant success of the Christmas battles and the greatest gain that the Russian troops had achieved on the Riga front. Latvian riflemen believed that they deserved the honor of the conquerors of the highlands.

Today, there is a lookout tower with views of former battles. Memorials and wartime evidence can be seen in the area. The Silenieki Brothers Cemetery is nearby.

Latvian soldiers’ former medical warehouse

Located in Babīte district, near the Antiņi soldiers cemetery and restored trenches.

During World War I, from 1915, defensive positions of the army of the Russian Empire were located in this area. In 1917, during the Christmas battles, at the Antiņi house was the headquarters of the 5th Zemgale Latvian Rifle Regiment and an infirmary with a medicine warehouse, which was headed by the prominent Latvian military doctor Pēteris Snīķeris.

During the Christmas battles, the attacks of Latvian riflemen on German army units took place in particularly harsh and unfavorable conditions. The injuries sustained in the fighting were of all kinds - wounds, contusions and injuries caused by firearms, as well as frostbite. Thousands of Latvian soldiers had to be provided with timely medical assistance. It was organized so that the injured received care as soon as possible. There were unarmed paramedics on the battlefield who provided first aid and removed the wounded from dangerous places. Dressing points were set up in the vicinity of the battlefields, where care was continued and sorting was carried out. Severely wounded soldiers were evacuated to hospitals or hospitals in carts and cars. Cemeteries were set up near Lazarete, where the dead were buried.

Nowadays you can see the old medicine store. The Antiņi Soldiers Cemetery is nearby, as are World War I trenches and dugouts. The environment is suitable for walks in the woods, revealing vivid evidence of military heritage.

 

 
Latvian riflemen positions and trenches in Tīreļi

Latvian Riflemen dugouts and trenches in Tīreļi are located in Babīte parish, Mārupe municipality, in the vicinity of the Antiņi Latvian Riflemen Cemetery and the former medicine warehouse. During World War I this was the defensive position of Latvian Riflemen of the Russian Imperial Army. A complex of trenches and surface dugouts was built in the sandy hills. Trench or positional warfare is the best way to accurately describe World War I and emphasise the importance of fortifications. They were based on the research of military engineers and adapted to the environment and the development of new weapons. The everyday life of a soldier is a continuous improvement of defensive fortifications. Sometimes soldiers would give the dugouts names that reminded them of their homes and would help to forget about the reality of the war. Trench lines were complex defensive systems that were hard for the enemy to take. With the development of weapons these defences became even more sophisticated. The roofs of dugouts were reinforced to withstand artillery shells. Trenches were made in changing patterns and directions so that explosions would cause as little damage as possible. Movement passages had pockets that were used as short-term hiding spots during artillery fire, because they protected soldiers from shrapnel and rubble. Today part of the fortification has been restored and you can visit 3 restored dugouts and a 100 m long section of the trenches.

The Christmas Battle museum and outdoor exhibition

The Christmas Battle Memorial Park and Museum is located in Jelgava municipality, Valgunde parish, in the Mangaļi homestead. This museum is a branch of the Latvian War Museum. It was opened in 2005 and is located in the area where Christmas Battles took place. Unique World War I fortifications still remain in locations where battles took place. The indoor exhibit contains objects found in the battlefield. The open-air exposition has reconstructed fortifications. There are tourist routes and informative trails in the vicinity of the museum. The open-air exposition of World War I fortifications and indoor exhibits are available to visitors every day. Unique evidence of World War I fortifications can still be found in the vicinity of Ložmetējkalns. There is a 27 m tall observation tower that provides a panoramic view of the area where the Christmas Battle took place. The Christmas Battle is probably the best known and most dramatic event of World War I in Latvia. It has a special place in Latvia’s military and cultural history. This engagement is mainly associated with the attack of Latvian Riflemen on the German Army units in extremely harsh and unfavourable conditions. And it was also a unique situation where a large-scale combat operation was started without artillery support.

Christmas battles memorial at Antinu Brethren Cemetery

Located in Babīte district, on the side of the road near the former Antiņi house and the old medicine warehouse.

The cemetery of Antiņi or Tīreļi soldiers was established during the First World War. The defense positions of the army of the Russian Empire were located in the area. In 1917, during the Christmas battles, the headquarters of the 5th Zemgale Latvian Rifle Regiment and an infirmary with a medicine warehouse were located nearby.

In the night of January 5, 1917, in the light of eight huge bonfires, 105 fighters of the 5th Zemgale Latvian Rifle Regiment were buried in military honor. They fell in battle against the German army or died from injuries. The funeral ceremony was led by Regiment Commander Jukums Vācietis. In later years, soldiers from other units of the Russian army were also buried in the cemetery. In 1925, a monument to the architect Eizen Laube was unveiled in the cemetery, and the territory was landscaped. Information about the 3,800 soldiers buried in the cemetery can be found in many places, but it must be assessed as unlikely and unverified.

 

 
Brothers' Cemetery in Riga

Riga Brothers’ Cemetery is located in the northern district of Riga. The cemetery extends over an area of 9 ha and is the most outstanding and significant memorial ensemble in Latvia dedicated to the fallen Latvian soldiers. About 3,000 soldiers are buried here. The Brothers’ Cemetery was created during World War I after the first three Latvian Riflemen, who fell in Tīreļpurvs in the battle against the German Army, were buried here. Later Latvian soldiers who had died in other battles and wars would also be buried in the Brothers’ Cemetery. The memorial is based on the design of the sculptor Kārlis Zāle, and is the first memorial ensemble in Europe with such landscape, architecture and sculptural value. It uses elements typical to the Latvian landscape, traditional farmsteads, Latvian folklore and history that praise the characteristics of soldiers and tell the story of the way of the soldier. The memorial was unveiled in 1936 and it has three parts: ‘The Road of Though’ which is a 250 m long alley, ‘Terrace of Heroes’ with the Altar of the Sacred Flame and ensemble the Sacred Oak Grove, and the burial ground with the Latvian wall and a memorial of a mother with her fallen sons.

General L. Bolstein Museum

It is located 17 km from Kandava in Pucesdzirnavai, Matkule parish.

The memorial room of Latvian Army General Ludvig Bolštein was created in the territory of the Pūce mill, in a rest house. The property was once rented by the Bolstein family. Since the 19th century at the end of the century, a sawmill, a grain mill, and sheep's wool were processed here.

Ludvig Bolšteins was one of the most experienced Latvian soldiers who actively participated in the creation of Latvian rifle units. Participated in the War of Independence and the creation of the Latvian state. At the beginning of World War 2, Ludwig Bolstein was an example who demonstrated complete non-cooperation with the Soviet occupation regime. One of the two senior officers of the Latvian Army, who committed suicide because he did not want to cooperate with the Soviet occupying power. The general's letters before his death are a vivid source of history, which allow a better understanding of the personality and the situation in which the country of Latvia was at the beginning of World War II. The letters read: “To your boss. We, Latvians, built a new, stately building - our country. A foreign power wants to force us to tear it down ourselves. I can't participate." On the other hand, the text of another letter was addressed to the mother: "Mother, I'm sorry, I couldn't do it otherwise."

By applying in advance, you can visit the memorial room and familiarize yourself with the exposition dedicated to the general.

Related stories

An entry in the diary of the moment when soldiers learn about preparing for the Christmas battles.

Latvian riflemen and their officers were informed at the last minute about the start of the battle. Rūdolfs Ivanovs, a non-commissioned officer of the 5th Zemgale Latvian Rifle Regiment, described in the diary the last evening before the start of the battle. A short, but bright and authentic text that shows a very important moment for a soldier - learns about the day of battle.

Creation of defensive positions.

The description looks at the battlefield fortification in general. It is based on the experience of the First World War and the situation when it is necessary to organize extensive work on the fortifications.

A commemorative badge dedicated to Admiral Makarov has been found in the courtyard

A small military relic can testify to an extensive historical story. And although the badge represents the events that took place during the Russo-Japanese War, it shows the variegated military history and the involvement of our Latvian riflemen in other military conflicts both before and after the Wars of Independence.