Latvian Legion[1]Path to creation

After the 13–14 June 1941 deportations [of Latvians by Soviets], former officers and non-commissioned officers of the Latvian army, as well as former policemen and Aizsargi [national guard/army auxiliary] sought refuge in the forests; there, partisan units of various sizes were formed. Some of these units were sizeable—as for example, the one operating in the vicinity of Gulbene—and consisted of deserters from the territorial corps [following the invasion and annexation of Latvia by the USSR, the former Latvian army was included as a territorial corps in the Red Army]. The partisans attacked NKVD forces, and, after the beginning of the Russo-German war, also retreating units of the Red Army; thus, the Russian rear was made insecure, and their retreat speeded up. In such a manner, further deportations, robbing, and destruction of houses was avoided.

The partisans established contact with German army units; next to the German Kommandantura's the Latvians established also their own. In the beginning, the latter carried out all the tasks of the uniformed police. However, this collaboration ceased immediately after the arrival of German Sonderfuehrer's, Generalkommissar Drechsler, and the commanders of the SS police forces. The chief of the latter in July, 1941 abolished all Latvian units, forbade the wearing of Latvian uniforms, and ordered, on pain of death, all arms to be turned in. The Latvian Kommandantura's were reorganized: police prefectures were re-established in the cities of Riga, Daugavpils, and Liepaja, and district [police] chiefs were appointed.

Dno and Staraya Russa relative
to the Baltic states

The Germans formed a 500-man Rekrutierungsreserve, ostensibly for guarding important objects in Riga. These officially recognized Latvian companies were then united into the 16th Police Battalion. A verbal order was issued, to the effect that the battalion should be prepared to be sent to the front "to fight Bolshevism." Thereafter, two more battalions were formed, one in Riga and one in Liepaja. There was no lack of volunteers, since the people hated the Bolsheviks; the relatives of those deported and tortured to death in prisons during the Year of Horror [reference to Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940-41] sought revenge. On 22 October 1941, the 16th Police Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Mangulis, was sent to the Eastern Front. Initially, its task was to guard the DnoStaraya Russa railroad; however, soon one company and several platoons were assigned to German front-line units. Meanwhile, the formation of two additional battalions in Riga was ordered.

Satellite view of the Dno to Staraya Russa rail line today

On 16 February 1942, General Jeckeln, chief of the Ostland SS and police, ordered the formation of 11 additional Police Battalions. The Internal Affairs Directorate of the Latvian Local Authority [reference to Landeseigene Verwaltung, a Latvian agency with limited administrative powers] participated in this action through establishment of a "Chief Committee of the Latvian Volunteers Organization," headed by Gustavs Celmins. The Latvian police headquarters in Riga (located in Anna Street) supervised the formation of these battalions. These poorly trained and ill-equipped battalions were sent to distant sectors of the front, scattered through German army units from the Finnish Gulf to the Black Sea. Although nominally these battalions were under Latvian command, in practice, their actual commanders were German liaison officers.

Latv. kārtības dienesta bat. nosūtīšana uz fronti 1941 g.
Latvian police battalion being sent to the front in 1941. at page 1289 Latv. Enc.

The flow of volunteers ebbed already during the second half of 1942, because Nazi activities in Latvia differed little from those of the Bolsheviks: the [Communist] nationalization decrees remained in force, persecution of Latvian patriots continued; as regards food, supplies, wages, and other rights, Latvians were considered to be on the level of the so-called "Eastern" peoples. The [Nazi] Party and civilian authorities did not hide the fact, that after the war the Baltic States would be colonized by Germans.

Although the police battalions were formed for the ostensible purpose of securing order in Latvia, they were sent to Russia and were not released after the decreed one year of service. Until March, 1943, the formation of Latvian units was "voluntary;" in practice, this term had the same connotations as in the Bolshevik jargon. The German authorities decreed, that all aizsargi were to be subordinated to the police; they were named "Type C Auxiliary Police." They were first gathered together in each district; then, their ranks were augmented by policemen on independent duty in towns and the countryside; finally, it was announced, that for "training purposes" all were assigned to a police battalion. Many of the men mobilized in such a manner were ill and unfit for military duty. Including reserves, a total of 38 such battalions were formed in 1941-1944. Later, some of the battalions, decimated in battles, were united. 11 battalions were assigned to police regiments, and 9—to the Latvian Legion.

The Latvians for the first time went into battle as a closed unit in June, 1942, when the 21st Police Battalion (formed in Liepaja) went into action in the Leningrad front sector. The battalion, though ill-equipped and lacking anti-tank weapons, on 28 July 1942, after bitter fighting, repulsed a Red Army attack launched with strong artillery and tank support. Himmler, on a visit to the Leningrad front at the end of January, 1943, ordered that the international 2nd SS brigade (which included 2 Latvian police battalions) be reorganized into a Latvian brigade. These battalions (the 19th and 21st) which had valiantly fought in the preceding battles, in German staff reports were named as "belonging to Germanic peoples." The 21st battalion was directly subordinated to the commander of the Dutch legion. Both battalions were withdrawn from the front lines and transferred to the Krasnoye Selo region. On 4 February 1943, the 16th battalion, commanded by Maj. Kociņš, also was moved there. All three battalions were renamed: The 21st became the 1st battalion of the Latvian Legion [l/Lett. Legion], the 19th—the second battalion of the Latvian Legion [2/Lett. Legion], and the 16th—the 3rd battalion of the Latvian Legion [3/Lett. Legion].

The Latvian Local Authority was officially informed about the establishment of the Latvian Legion only on 27 January 1943. On that day General Schroeder, chief of the SS and police in Latvia, invited for a meeting all General Directors [of the Local Authority], Col. Silgailis and Col. Veiss, as well as the Latvian Sport Chief R. Plume. Schroeder demanded, that the Latvian authorities aid in the voluntary formation of the Legion. On 29 January, another meeting was called—by Generalkommissar Drechsler. On this occasion, the Local Authority pointed out, that all efforts to gather volunteers would be fruitless, unless Germany gave the following guarantees: That the Legion would fight for a free and independent Latvia; that the properties [nationalized-by Soviets] would be re-privatized; and that the persecution of Latvian patriots would cease. As a result of the meeting, Drechsler decided to abolish the volunteer principle. In spite of this fact, on 10 February 1943, there followed an order signed by Hitler and Himmler (the text of which the Latvians obtained one year later), stating: "I order the establishment of a volunteer Latvian SS Legion. The size and structure of this unit is to depend on the number of Latvian-men available." According to some reports, Hitler had intended to set the strength of the Legion only at 10,000 men; however, Drechsler increased this number.

Immediately afterwards, the German authorities ordered all officers and NCO's of the former Latvian army to register in police precincts. An SS Ersatzkommando Ostland was established in Riga on orders of the Berlin general staff of the SS. Drechsler, on the basis of a 19 December 1941 decree by minister A. Rosenberg, on 23 February 1943 ordered all [Latvian] employment centers to call up for military service all men born between 1919 and 1924, a total of some 58,000. It was intended to divide this number as follows: 25,000 men were to be assigned to army auxiliaries [Hilfswillige, or HiWi's], 16-17,000 were to be included in the Legion, 10,000 in militarized labor units, and 6,000 to strengthen the police battalions. These were the first "full years" following the Latvian War of Liberation, which included the youth grown up during Latvia's independence [reference to increase in birth rate following World War I].

Such a proposed dispersal of Latvians among German units caused a wave of great unease in the nation and forced the Local Authority to agree to the formation of the Latvian Legion in order to at least partially secure Latvian interests. The Local Authority, after discussing the situation, on 23 February 1943 forwarded a memorandum to Reichskommissar Lohse, Drechsler, and Jeckeln. [The memorandum] pointed out the illegality of the proposed mobilization, and emphasized that the attitude of the Latvian authorities would depend on German acceptance of the following minimum demands:

  1. General R. Bangerskis to be appointed as commander of the Legion, with Col. A. Silgailis as the chief of his staff,
  2. Each mobilized Latvian citizen, born 1919-24, to have the right to choose a particular type of service, without the use of compulsion,
  3. The Legion must undergo at least six months of training in Latvia. Only then is it to be put at the disposal—as a single, closed unit—of the German commander-in-chief,
  4. The Legion shall fight only in the Northern sector of the Eastern Front,
  5. The Legion is to receive the same food, provisions, clothing, pay, and rights existing in the German army.
Chilean-born
Brigadeführer Peter Hansen
at forum.axishistory.com

Knowing, that the people opposed the illegal mobilization, and not wishing that it suffer total failure, the Germans delayed their answer. On 2 March, it was announced, that General Hansen, empowered to settle the matter of the Legion, was to arrive from Berlin. The latter announced, that appointment of Bangerskis as commander of the Legion had been approved; yet, the appointment was delayed. On 20 March, it was found that Bangerskis had been appointed commander of only the 1st Division. Finally, on 31 March it became known that even this had been a misunderstanding—the divisional command would be German.

Rūdolfs Bangerskis
at Latvian Wikipedia

General Bangerskis was informed that he had been named Inspector General of the Legion; on 31 April [sic] 1943, Col. A. Plensners was appointed chief of his staff. Col. A. Silgailis became infantry commander of the 1st (German numeration, 15th) division [of the Legion]. In a special instruction it was promised to delineate the rights and duties of the Inspector General; this, however, never took place, and until the very end of the war his position in regard to representation of Latvian units, was quite unclear and restricted. General Bangerskis was indirectly subordinated to Himmler, and directly to Jeckeln. As formation of the Legion had already begun, and the Local Authority had already issued the corresponding appeals to the people, it now had no choice but to submit to these German directives. The tasks of the Inspector General were: Mobilization of citizens of Latvia (as of 15 November 1943); furthering national culture and ideological leadership of the Legion; inspection of Legion units; handling of funds donated to the Legion; supplementary aid to wounded and ill legionaries, and care of the relatives of those killed in action; representation of the interests of the Legion to the SS and German Army commands; supplementation of the Legion with officers, NCO's and medical personnel; in addition,, as of 20 February 1945 he was also President of the National Committee.

As already stated, the first compulsory mobilization was ordered by German authorities. It was carried out by the following agencies: [Mobilization] for labor service and army auxiliaries—by the staff of the commander-in-chief, Ostland; for the Legion—by SS Ersatzkommando Ostland. On 26 March the Local Authority had empowered the leadership of the Legion to send out individual mobilization "orders,"; the employment administration boards could take steps against those who refused to obey. The men slated to serve in labor units and as HiWi's, were mobilized immediately, but mobilization for the Legion was delayed until late autumn, 1943; a part of the mobilized men were assigned to police battalions.

The [SS] Ersatzkommando [Ostland] ordered the draft boards to assign 25% of the men to the Legion; the rest were assigned individually to German units or police battalions. The 1919-1924 age group, totalling some 27,000—the army auxiliaries (Hiwi's)—was the most unprotected; they were scattered all over the Eastern front. The some 10,000 men assigned to labor units for the most part became HiWi's.

In a breach of promise, the Germans already on 30 March 1943 sent 1,000 Latvian youths to the Krasnoye Selo region; these, drafted only a few days previously, had no training whatsoever, and lacked Latvian officers and NCO's. They were the first supplement to the Latvian brigade forming there. The rest of the men assigned to the Legion, some 14,000 in number, were sent to Paplaka in Courland, where on 23 March 1943 the formation of the 1st Division was begun. Lack of housing and weapons (for example, in Paplaka at times there were 200 rifles per 1,800 recruits) greatly hindered the formation of the 1st Division. However, the chief obstacle was constituted by the fact, that the [division's] trained recruits were sent to the 2nd Brigade, which stood at the front. An 8 November 1943 order renamed the brigade "2. Lettische SS Freiwilligen Brigade;" and the 1st and 2nd Regiments were officially named the 42nd and 43rd volunteer SS grenadier regiments.


[1]English language text is copy-edited from a CIA declassified document which contains a translation of the "Latvian Legion" article contained in "Latvju enciklopēdija", published 1950–1955, Trīs zvaigznes, Stokholm. Illustrations scanned from an original of the encyclopedia noted as such. Declassified document retrieved from www.foia.cia.gov, file HAZNERS, VILIS VOL. 1_0004.pdf, retrieved 23 April 2014. A more readable copy is also filed under: BROMBERGS, ARTURS VOL. 1_0006.pdf, retrieved 19 Oct 2014. Yet another copy is filed under JANUMS, VILIS_0015.pdf, retrieved 25 October 2014.
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