Liberation of Riga from the Bolsheviks in 1919
I Wars of Independence

At the end of World War I, the whole of Latvia was controlled by the German 8th Army. In such circumstances, on November 18, 1918, the independent Republic of Latvia was declared in Riga. The invasion of Soviet Russia's Red Army began a few days later. This is how the struggle of less than two years or the War of Independence of Latvia began.

In December 1918, the Red Army of the Russian Bolsheviks entered the territory of Latvia. Although the Bolsheviks acknowledged in words the right of peoples to self-determination, in their works they tried to preserve the indivisibility of Russian territory with the help of military force. Latvian rifle units also returned to Latvia as part of the Red Army. Separated from their homeland, they did not understand the transformation taking place in Latvia and thought that they would fight against the Germans. The troops were also accompanied by the government of the Latvian Bolsheviks organized in Moscow, led by Lenin's comrade Peter Stuck. Most of the territory of Latvia came under the control of the Bolsheviks, except for the Liepāja area.

On the evening of January 3, 1919, the first units of the Soviet Latvian Army arrived in Riga. As the Bolsheviks approached Riga, the German units of the Baltic Landesver took part in the battles. On March 3, 1919, anti-German forces launched an attack on the Kurzeme front. Already on March 15, Landeswer took over Tukums and on March 18 Jelgava. The capture of Jelgava put Soviet Latvia on the brink of collapse. The Bolsheviks did their best to protect their power in Latvia. In order to replenish the army, he began a general mobilization, recruiting all the men who were able to fight in Latvia.

In the early morning of May 22, 1919, anti-great forces attacked the front of Riga. The resistance of the poorly supplied, trained and demoralized Soviet Latvian army was quickly broken. Latvian rifle regiments showed only symbolic resistance to the enemy and fled the battlefield. Many riflemen surrendered or deserted from their units. Early in the afternoon of the same day, the first units of Landeswehr reached Riga.

The street fighting in Riga continued until the morning of May 22. Separate units of armed Bolsheviks, militias and small troops tried to delay the progress of the Landeswehr and Iron Divisions. The Soviet authorities and their employees also left the city in a great hurry. Their escape was often accompanied by shots from the windows of houses. On May 23, the last Bolshevik units retreated behind Jugla. At the same time, the Separate Latvian Brigade, commanded by Jānis Balozs, arrived in Riga and was delayed in battles with the Bolsheviks in the northwest of Riga.

After the May 22 fighting, more than two hundred fallen Bolsheviks remained on the streets of Riga. In the following days, the city cracked down on the victors' repression against the Bolsheviks who had remained in the city and those suspected of collaborating with them. The so-called "White Terror" began. Many innocent people suffered from these repressions and they were of a very ethnic nature - almost all the victims were Latvians. The exact number of victims of "White Terror" in Riga is unknown. Their estimates range from 500-700 to 5,000 people.

More information sources

1. The blizzard of souls. Digital Museum. Available: https://www.dveseluputenis.lv/lv/laika-skala/notikums/111/pretlielinieciskie-speki-ienem-rigu/ [accessed: 08.05.2021.].

2. Ciganovs J. 1918-1920. Liberation struggles, 15.12.2010. Available: https://www.sargs.lv/lv/latvijas-neatkaribas-kars/2010-12-15/1918-1920-atbrivosanas-cinas [accessed: 08.05.2021].

3. National Armed Forces website. Available: https://www.mil.lv/lv/latvijas-neatkaribas-kars [accessed 08.05.2021].

Related objects

Latvian War Museum

The Latvian War Museum is located in the Old Town not far from the Freedom Monument in a historic defence building called the ‘Powder Tower’. There are 11 exhibits in the museum. There are various weapons, documents, uniforms, awards, badges and other items detailing the everyday life of a soldier in war. The Latvian War Museum is one of the oldest museums in Latvia. Its origins can be found in World War I. Museum’s collection was made up mainly of personal items of soldiers or items found on battlefields. After Latvia gained its independence the main goal of the museum became to create an exposition on the military history of Latvia and the active role of the population in protecting their land. In 1937 the museum was expanded and was technically one of the most modern museums in Europe at that time. The Powder Tower was one of the fortification towers of Riga. Some evidence dates back to 1330 where it has been mentioned as the ‘Sand Tower’. The tower was destroyed in 1621 when Riga was besieged by the Swedish Army. But in 1650 a new tower for storing gunpowder and weapons was built. After the city’s fortifications were taken down, the Powder Tower remains as one of the most important pieces of evidence of the Riga defence system.

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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.