Latvian LegionThe 15th Division's battles in Germany.
After its arrival in Gotenhaven and Danzig, the remainder of the 15th Division at the end of August 1944, was shipped to the West Prussian training area between Bietow and Behrendt. Here, the Division's ranks were augmented with men born in 1925 and 1926 (part of these Latvians were already in Germany, having been drafted into the Reichsarbeitsdienst, or RAD). Unfortunately, training was hampered by lack of weapons and other battle equipment. The Division was not yet ready, when on the night of 21/22 January 1945 it was ordered to move South via Konitz and to organize a line of defense along the Oder–Vistula canal; the 15th Division's left flank was to be in contact with the German garrison of the city of Bromberg.
On 12 January, the great Russian offensive had begun. Having broken through the German front, the Red Army rapidly pushed westward, simultaneously also widening the breach towards the Northwest. Already in the second half of January it was approaching West Prussia and Pomerania.
Going into battle, the 15th Division had only 58% of the required vehicles and 64% of the required horse transport. Due to lack of fuel, the Division already in the first days of fighting lost many heavy weapons—there simply was no way to move them. The soldiers had no winter clothing, and their boots and uniforms were badly worn. Many lacked helmets. The 15th Artillery Regiment had started to form late; only in December 1944, did it receive cadres from the Latvian artillery units stationed in Kurzeme. The Division had to reorganize its regiments from 3 to 2 battalions within the space of a few hours; instead of a whole artillery regiment, only one unit with 4 batteries could be set up.
The 15th Reconnaissance Battalion was the first one to be sent to the front; it arrived there by motor transport on 22 January. Already on 23 January, it met Russian resistance. Our troops took Immenheim by storm; there, they freed some 1,000 construction regiment soldiers from captivity. On 24 January, the 3rd Regiment, together with the 15th Sapper battalion, took the town of Nackel. Street fighting there lasted until the morning of 25 January. The rest of divisional units arrived peacemeal [sic.] and took up positions East of Nackel. The 15th Division could not completely accomplish its assigned task, since the Russians had already taken Bromberg, and their motorized units threatened the Division's open left flank. Simultaneously, the Russian frontal pressure against the 15th Division increased. On 25 January, they broke in the Hochenberg area, completely scattering the 15th Reconnaissance battalion.
On 26 January, the commander of the 15th Division, von Obwurzer, was reported to be missing in action. The units of the 15th Division managed to break out of the encirclement, but at cost of heavy losses. Only the 4th Regiment, after bitter fighting, on 26 January managed to frustrate Russian efforts to envelop the Division's left flank. During the night of 26/27 January this regiment retreated to a new position, and later, to a neck of land between the Weilensee lakes. On 27 January, our dispersed units could not resist the enemy. Enveloping the open left flank of the Division, the Russians cut the Immenheim–Wandsburg road, i.e., the Division's route of retreat. Since Russian tanks had also been spotted between Wandsburg and Konitz, the Division retreated West, towards Flatow. On the morning of 28 January the remnants of the Division took up a new defensive position on both sides of the Wandsburg–Wilkenswald highway. With this, ended the so-called "Nackel battle" which caused heavy losses to the Latvian soldiers. Yet, although lacking proper clothing and weapons, in great cold and snowstorms, our young men tenaciously fought against an enemy much stronger in numbers and equipment. Only 2 Latvian batteries took part in the fighting (they had been motorized on the way to the front), while the other two, horse-drawn, arrived only on 27 January, when the 15th Division was already retreating. Moreover, our artillery was handicapped by lack of ammunition.
Already on 29 January, Russian forces, supported by tanks, attacked the Wilkenswald position and forced the units of the 15th Division to retreat to Kujan creek during the day; in the afternoon, Russian tanks once more pushed back the dispersed and exhausted units. Moving cross-country, our troops reached Flatow on the morning of 30 January; there, they took up positions about 2 km East of the town. During the night of 30/31 January the remnants of the 15th Division retreated to Jastrow. There, it was found out, that Russian mechanized forces had already encircled the Division, and that the ring was constantly growing tighter. The Division had lost its antitank guns during the previous battles; our motorized transport capacities, already reduced, were overtaxed with more than 500 wounded. The 15th Division's battle strength had been sharply reduced: For example, in Jastrow the 4th Regiment could only form a company each from 2 battalions.
During this time, the divisional commander was an incapable old gentleman who lacked will power. He ordered, that while breaking through the encirclement, the 4th Regiment be assigned to German units at Jastrow. The 5th Regiment, together with the remnants of the 3rd Regiment, were ordered to proceed to Flederborn. Approaching it, the 5th Regiment on the evening of 31 January 1945 ran into Russian forces. Attacking the Russians from the rear, the regiment defeated them, capturing 3 antitank guns and 150 Polish prisoners from the Sikorsky and Koscziuszko divisions. The Russians, however, were still blocking the Division's route of retreat by holding it under artillery fire from the Jastrow heights. The 15th Reconnaissance battalion was ordered to attack these heights. The battalion, at the cost of heavy losses, carried out its task, capturing quantities of weapons. As the enemy ring was progressively growing tighter, the divisional commander ordered the units to retreat to Flederborn and from there to Landeck (except the 4th Regiment, which was to remain in Jastrow as rear guard). Reaching the village of Flederborn during the late afternoon of 2 February, our columns bunched up on the road 3-4 rows deep, since [up ahead] the Russians had cut the road to Landeck. In the evening, the 4th Regiment also retreated from Jastrow. The Russians, having approached from Flederborn, opened concentrated fire from all arms from a distance of 1 km, from both sides of the road, on our bunched-up troops. Immediately they scattered; each sought to escape on his own, running towards Landeck. The losses were extreme. A few kilometers before Wallachsee the mixed-up units of the Division again bunched up on the road, several rows deep, under enemy artillery fire. The battle for the possession of the road lasted 11 hours. Finally, at noon of 3 February the road was cleared and the march could proceed. However, 1.5 km South of Landeck the Russians once more blocked the road. The divisional column bunched up within a space of 1.5 km, which was under direct enemy artillery fire. Throwing our still remaining soldiers into battle, the 15th Division finally broke through the encirclement. In this battle, Maj. Rubenis, commander of the 3rd Regiment, Capt. Eglitis, commander of the 15th Artillery Regiment, the commander of the liaison battalion, and many others, were killed. These were the 15th Division's bloodiest days during the entire Pomeranian campaign.
The remnants of the Division were already on 4 February ordered to take up positions oh the northern shore of Dobrinka, between Landeck and Pruetzenwald. Here, the 3rd Regiment was dissolved; its remaining personnel was assigned to the 4th Regiment. With the help of replacements sent by the Latvian Field Replacement Depot, the 4th and 5th Regiments were brought back up to the strength of 2 battalions each. The remnants of the 15th Artillery Regiment formed 2 batteries. On 10 February, the Division moved to the Kamin area, where it received one more artillery battery. Already on 11 February a Russian attack forced the 5th Regiment to retreat North, and the 4th Regiment to bend back both flanks towards Kamin, where on 13 February the Russians encircled it. But the 4th Regiment broke out, and, as ordered, reached the rendezvous point at Klausfeldt; there the 15th Division stood in reserve until 18 February. On 15 February, Burk was appointed as divisional commander. On 18 February, he ordered the 15th Division to proceed back to Landeck and to man the same Dobrinka positions which had been left on 10 February. As on 24 February the Russians attacked to the left of the 15th Division and penetrated further and further towards the Northwest, the Division during the night of 24/25 February was ordered to retreat to new positions. Unable to effect contact with the French "Charlemagne" division fighting on its left, the 15th Division left this position during the night of 25/26 February, because the Russians—utilizing the wide gap between the ["Charlemagne" and 15th] Divisions—started to encircle the left flank of the 15th Division; on the morning of 26 February enemy tanks had already reached Kl[eine] Kuedde, site of the divisional headquarters. Having beaten off all Russian frontal attacks, the Division in the evening of 26 February retreated to Kl[eine] Kuedde, which already on 27 February was taken by the Red Army. On 27 February, our forces (still small in numbers, since stragglers were yet arriving) gathered in Wurchow. On 28 February, the Division was ordered to man the position Bahnhof Elfenbusch–Kussow; this it held until 3 March 1945. On that day the Russians began a general offensive on the Pomeranian front; its objective was to destroy the German forces East of Stettin. This offensive split the Division into three parts. The headquarters service unit, together with the divisional supply units and the 15th Liaison Battalion, were surrounded in Kolberg. The rest of the service units, together with wagons transporting regimental equipment, managed to break through the encirclement near Swinemuende, and to reach the Neu–Brandenburg area on 6/7 March.
The Russians, aided by large artillery and tank concentrations, started their assault on the 15th Division on 3 March. Although the defenders fought doggedly, they were forced back step by step. Having fought desperately in a number of positions taken up one after another, the 15th Division on 4 March stood on the line Damen–Zadtkow. On that day the leadership told the unit commanders, that the Russians had broken through the Pomeranian front, and that enemy tanks had reached the seacoast in two locations—near Kolberg and Kamin (East of Swinemuende). Thereby, the German III Corps (the so-called Tetow corps), which besides the 15th Division also included 3 German divisions and the French "Charlemagne" division, had been surrounded. The corps had planned for each division to retreat separately, unite East of Stettin, and then break out together. The 15th Division on 5 March began to retreat along the Lutzig–Witzmitz road. The "Charlemagne" Division retreated to the North of the 15th Division, and the 3 German ones—to the South. The retreat was very slow, since infantry, motorized columns, and horse-drawn vehicles moved in a single column. The march proceeded by little side roads, where cars often sank into mud and delayed progress; in that case, they were simply pushed into a ditch and abandoned. Long columns of refugees, proceeding by the same route, caused huge traffic jams. Fortunately, the Red Army did not disturb the movement of the 15th Division, with the exception of some aerial attacks. On the evening of 6 March, the Division reached the vicinity of Witzmitz, where, by order of the Corps command, it destroyed all of its heavy weapons, cars, wagons, etc., so as not to hamper the breaking out of small units. However, the 4th Regiment, which formed the rear guard and was not in contact with Divisional headquarters, did not receive this order. On the evening of 7 March, the Division retreated Northwest along the Broitz–Zadtkow road; on 9 March it retreated further to the seacoast at Fischerkaten–Horst, Having reached the seacoast, the Division now was the corps formation which stood furthest to the East; therefore, it was ordered to secure the retreat for the rest of the Corps' units along the coast. To fulfill this task, the 4th Regiment took up defensive positions near Zedlin, and the 5th Regiment—positions a few kilometers East of Horst. On 10 March, both regiments after bitter fighting repulsed several Russian attacks, which were carried out with support of tanks. The Division's situation was desperate. The soldiers, having fought uninterruptedly for weeks, suffering great hunger, were close to collapse. During the last weeks they had been obliged to live off the country. But, since thousands of soldiers and refugees had crossed this area before them, there was nothing left to eat. On the evening of 10 March, the 15th Division was also permitted to retreat West along the coast, in order to slip through the encirclement by passing through a neck of land between a lake and the seacoast. The Red Army attempted to bar the route of retreat, and had to be repeatedly beaten off. The fighting at Hof on 10 and 11 March 1945 was particularly bitter; there, the 15th Airtillery Regiment excelled with its heroism. On 12 March, the 15th Division (minus the 4th Regiment) crossed the bridge across the narrows at Diewenow. The 4th Regiment, which served as the rear guard for the entire Corps, crossed over only during the night of 13 March. With this, ended the battles in Pomerania. Here, Col. V. Janums in particular had showed great coolness of judgment and able leadership; for this, he was awarded the German Cross in gold.
The Latvian forces surrounded in Kolberg were transported to Swinemuende by the German Navy, on 17 March. However, those units of the Division which remained in the West Prussian training area (CO, Lt.-Col. Rebergs), had to retreat to Danzig and Gotenhaven, where eventually they were taken prisoner by the Russians. Only 176 soldiers managed to escape to Bornholm. After a brief internment, the Swedish government turned them over to Russia.
Having escaped encirclement, the 15th Division now stood some 15 km West of Swinemuende. It was ordered to turn over its weapons to German battle units. This created much dissatisfaction, since the Latvian soldiers had not discarded their weapons, but had carried them out on their backs. During this time our troops were literally starving. The Division received its first food, and even that in ! inadequate quantities, on 16 March. On 20/21 March, the Division was transferred to the Neu-Brandenburg area, where the soldiers rested somewhat. Since our troops had no weapons, the higher German commands wanted to break the Division up and assign our soldiers to German, units, piecemeal. With the intervention of gen. Bangerskis, this fate was avoided.
On 27 March, arrivals of troops from the Latvian Field Replacement Depot allowed the 3rd Regiment to be reconstituted. On 30 March the Division was transferred to the Fuerstenberg–Lichen area (20-25 km from Neu-Strelitz). The unarmed soldiers were alarmed, since on 11 April began the Russian offensive against the Oder position; at the same time, the German plan to transport the 15th Division back to Kurzeme [Latvia] became known. The Latvian commanders decided, that in the latter case they would not obey the order; rather, under the leadership of col. Janums, the Division would proceed West and surrender to the Anglo-Americans. The Inspector General interceded again and managed to secure the [German] command's promise to leave the 15th Division in Germany, and, in case of capitulation, to do everything possible to prevent the Latvian soldiers' being captured by the Russians.
Suddenly, on 19 April, the Division was ordered to set up one battle regiment consisting of 3 battalions. It was to consist of the 15th Reconnaissance Battalion and a battalion each from the 3rd and 4th Regiments. Col. Janums was named commander of this regiment. Only shortly before its departure did it become known, that the regiment was to proceed to Herzfeld, 15 km East of Berlin, to participate in the defense of that city. The 15th Reconnaissance Battalion, which left separately, by motor transport, got lost on the way; no concrete information about its subsequent fate has been found. On 20 April, the rest of the regiment arrived in Herzfeld. Realizing, that remaining in Berlin, would mean the end of the regiment, Col. Janums decided to proceed West. He ordered the battalion commanders to avoid unnecessary engagements; in case of Russian attack, the troops were to retreat, bypassing Berlin from the South. The regiment reached its previously determined rendezvous point at Blankenfeld during the night of 21/22 April. On 22 April, the regiment, after a 65 km march, arrived in Fichtenwald. On 23 April, Russian tanks broke in Fichtenwald, cutting off the regimental headquarters from the body of the troops. In accordance with previous instructions, the units retreated to Freienthal, where on the evening of 23 April the regiment was united again. Moving from one forest to another, the regiment reached Lindau on 26 April. There, it was found that American forces were in Gueterglueck, where the regiment then laid down its arms on 27 April 1945.
On 28 April, when Russian tank columns were already closing in on Neu-Strelitz, the 15th Division was ordered to proceed to Malchiner See, which it reached in the afternoon of 29 April. Fearful of being surrounded, the units of the 15th Division began to retreat westwards, towards Schwinz, on their own. Here for the last time the 15th Division was ordered to take up defensive positions on the line Goldberg–Nienhagen. However, since the commander of the 15th Division knew of the Latvian decision to surrender to the Anglo-Americans, he permitted the order to be disregarded. On 2 May 1945, almost all divisional units had gathered in Schweriner Forst, when it became known that American forces were approaching Schwerin. Having established contact with the Americans, the soldiers of the 15th Division at 6 P.M. that day laid down their arms and began the road to the prisoner-of-war camp. On 2 May 1945, British forces took Luebeck, site of headquarters of the Inspector General of the Latvian Legion.