Latvian LegionStructure and Formation of the Legion.
The legionaries were required to take an oath, stating that in the struggle against Bolshevism they would unconditionally obey the supreme commander of the German army, i.e., Hitler. The weapons, clothing, and food of the Legion were comparable to that issued to German units. The legionaries wore the following insignia: Besides the insignia denoting rank (the ranks were those of the German SS), on their left sleeves were sewn badges in the colors of the Latvian national flag, topped by the inscription "Latvija." Instead of the SS collar insignia, members of the 15th Division (Latvian numeration, 1st) wore the Latvian rising sun emblem, and those of the 19th Division (Latvian numeration, 2nd), the Latvian fire cross emblem. Border guard units had black insignia. On the whole, pay corresponded to that prescribed by German army regulations. Each soldier received only combat pay (Wehrsold); the basic pay was sent directly to his family, or deposited in a bank account. Until October, 1944 the bank accounts were located in Riga, thereafter in Prague.
The medical personnel of the Legion consisted of Latvians. The wounded and sick soldiers convalesced, for the most part, in Latvia. The Latvian trade unions donated 50,000 Reichsmarks and 250 beds to the Legion, enabling the establishment of a first-class Latvian Legion hospital in Riga on 13 December 1943. In the fall of 1944, it was evacuated to Germany—first to Mecklenburg (in Schwerin), then to Luebeck; there, renamed Latvian Hospital, it continued to serve Latvian refugees and invalids as late as 1951.
Pursuant to a 1 May 1943 order of [General] Dankers, the Latvian Soldiers Aid (LSA) was set up. Its chief was Bruno Pavasars, the secretary general—Evalds Andersons. The task of this organization was to further the national culture. It financed the Legion's official newspaper Daugavas Vanagi [The Falcons of Daugava], provided a front-line theater, established rest homes, collected gift parcels (75,000 were collected in Christmas, 1943 alone), provided for supplementary care of the wounded and the sick, etc. Many other Latvian establishments, organizations, and individuals were engaged in similar work. LSA acquired its funds from donations and from revenues of various events.
Soldiers of the Latvian units were subordinated to German courts. A military court, headed by the divisional commander, was attached to each Latvian division. Where these courts did not exist, the accused were tried by the 16th SS and police court in Riga. Legionaries whose sentences exceeded 3 months imprisonment were sent to the Salaspils concentration camp, administered by Reichssicherheitshauptamt, Berlin. Those receiving light sentences were assigned to a special punishment company stationed in Jelgava, but—as of 1944—to a special punishment battalion in Bolderaja (the so-called "Captain Meier's battalion"). The men arrested and held for court-martial were incarcerated in the Riga Central Prison (a total of some 500 men), or in the army prison in Riga.
A new stage in the formation of the Legion was officially inaugurated on 15 November 1943. General Dankers announced to a large assembly of Latvians gathered in the great hall of the University of Latvia in Riga, that henceforth the Local Authority would itself mobilize citizens of Latvia, under the draft regulations of independent Latvia; General Bangerskis would thus exercise the powers of Minister of War and Commander-in-chief of the Army [as outlined in the constitution of independent Latvia]. Since the Local Authority was not a government, but only an auxiliary organ to the German civil authorities, then its announced mobilizations were just as illegal as the previous one. A special military court, headed by Gen. Bangerskis, was established to try draft-dodgers. Bangerskis also confirmed the verdict of the court, and could reduce or cancel sentences. This military court operated according to the regulations governing proceedings of military courts of [independent] Latvia.
By July 1944, the situation at the front was critical. Therefore, Jeckeln agreed to Bangerskis' proposal to free the soldiers interned in the Salaspils concentration camp, as well as those serving lighter sentences in prisons. From these Latvians, 6 construction battalions were formed; Captain Meier's battalion constituted the seventh. After their formation the battalions were placed at the disposal of the chief of Corps of Engineers. However, due to numerous desertions, the number of men serving in them rapidly decreased. It should also be noted, that in 1943 the Germans had formed two construction battalions from mobilized Latvian HiWi's.
Already on 29 November 1943, General Dankers, General Director for Internal Affairs [of the Latvian Local Authority] ordered the mobilization of all former Latvian army officers and NCO's, as well as the men born between 1915 and 1924. In January 1944, with the retreat of the German 16th and 18th armies from Leningrad, fear arose of a possible Red Army invasion of Latvia. In order to avert this danger, the Local Authority decided to form 6 border guard regiments. For this purpose, Dankers' 2 February 1944 order mobilized—the men born 1910-1914, and that of 5 February 1944—the men born 1906-1909. However, already during the second half of March and the beginning of April, three of these regiments (1st, 2nd, 3rd) were sent to the front and placed at the disposal of the VI SS Corps; meanwhile, a new 2nd regiment was formed [in Latvia]. The men living near the Latvian–Russian border, being politically unreliable, were assigned to 2 construction battalions; the battalions were placed at the disposal of the commander of the Corps of Engineers. The remaining 4 [border guard] regiments were in training; however, already on 16 April the 2nd Regiment was sent to the front in the Drisa region [near the Latvian–Russian border]. The other regiments went into action in the beginning of July in the vicinity of Daugavpils. There, they suffered heavy losses. The regiments then were withdrawn from the front. The 2nd and 5th regiments were merged into a single regiment, the 7th; this unit, renamed the 106th grenadier regiment, then was assigned to the VI SS Corps. The remnants of the remaining 2 [border guard] regiments were either assigned to the 19th Division [of the Latvian Legion], or sent to Germany.
On 14 February 1944, Jeckeln liquidated SS Ersatzkommando Ostland. It was replaced by SS Ersatzkommando Lettland with Bangerskis as chief. However, actual direction of the mobilization remained in German hands. Bangerskis repeatedly protested to Jeckeln and Drechsler, pointing out the illegal and disorderly acts which the German authorities committed by the virtue of their position and the incorrect mobilization systems; the aim of these [Germans] was to reduce the authority of the Inspector General. In the course of mobilizing the men born between 1915 and 1924, only 3,500 out of a total of 9,200 were assigned to the Legion; the rest had either not registered, or received the so-called "UK cards," which exempted one from military service. Therefore, on 18 March 1944 Bangerskis forwarded the following memorandum to Jeckeln: "It is well known, that the recent mobilization of men born between 1910 and 1924 has created much unrest. The orders of the various German institutions, exempting a number of enterprises from the mobilization, created a situation where the employers themselves decided which employees 'were to receive UK cards and which ones weren't; thus, they could exempt their friends and relatives. As a result of such measures, in the countryside, the land proprietors were exempted, and the workers and the poor were mobilized." In a 21 March 1944 meeting Jeckeln admitted, that bribery had existed in the district draft boards, and that only the poor had been mobilized. Bangerskis then pointed out, that if only 32,000 men were to be mobilized, it had been unnecessary to require 120,000 to register; the boards could thus draft only every fourth individual—and the decision was entirely up to them [which one]. The Inspector General received bitter letters, pointing out, that "instead of youths, pieces of bacon were mobilized." As the results of the mobilization of the men born between 1906 and 1924 (totals 181,439) came in on 10 June 1944, it turned out, that a total of 43,223 men—serving in the police, as prison guards, border guards, or in the railroad service—had either not been required to register, or had received exemptions. Mobilization was postponed for 50,500 of the men examined; 18,772 were judged unfit for military duty; 23,000 were assigned reserve status; some 7,000 were given sick leave; and 4,774 were turned over to doctors for further examination. Thus, this mobilization gave only 34,000 men for active service.
In order to augment the ranks of the 15th Division, Dankers on 21 June 1944 ordered all men born in 1925 and 1926 to be mobilized; in addition, towards the end of that summer, youths and students born in 1927 and 1928 were mobilized. The latter measure the Germans had already demanded previously. The agencies holding joint responsibility for the last-mentioned mobilization were the German aviation commission and the Latvian Youth Organization; the youths were assigned to German, anti-aircraft and searchlight units. At the time of the German surrender, there were some 600 such "air force auxiliaries" in the city of Liepaja (Courland) alone. Approximately 2,500 were sent to Germany, where they were taken prisoner. The Germans suffered great manpower losses in the summer of 1944. Subsequently, all [Latvian] ground crews of airfields were placed at the disposal of the Germans; they were replaced by non-combatants and persons judged able to work (the so-called "av" category); Jeckeln demanded that the Local Authority assign to air force auxiliaries all the men born between 1909 and 1926 who held either draft status mentioned [in the previous sentence]. After extended talks, Dankers yielded, and issued the necessary mobilization order in August 1944. These draftees were either sent to Germany to serve as airfield crews, or assigned to German parachute units. A part of the Latvian "air force auxiliaries" were sent to various air-fields in Italy; there, they eventually became prisoners of war and for the most part returned [to Soviet-occupied Latvia] after the war.
In September 1943, the Germans began to form a Latvian aviation unit named ENO, and established fighter pilot schools in Liepaja and Grobina (Estonian pilots were trained there also). The 3-month long training program began in October, 1943. All former Latvian Army Air Corps pilots, as well as those of the Aizsargi and civil aviation, were assigned to ENO. This organization also accepted students from technical and trade schools. Altogether, three classes were graduated; from these, two night fighter squadrons, each having 18 planes, were formed. In September 1944, the 1st and 2nd night fighter squadrons were merged into the night fighter group no. 12, and that unit received the name Aviation Legion "Latvija." Its task was to conduct low-level operations in the immediate rear of the enemy. Lieut.-col. Rucelis was named commander of the Aviation Legion. However, already on 27 September 1944 the Aviation Legion was transferred to Stettin. The planes were taken away, and the men sent to Denmark for parachute training. Nothing came of this. In December 1944, the Latvian flyers were transferred to Koenigsberg for antiaircraft training. There, in January of 1945, they were captured by the Russians.
Concurrently with formation of the 15th Division [of the Latvian Legion], a training and reserve unit for it was also set up. It was located in Cekule (near Riga) under the command of Lt.-Col. Jansons. Later, it was transferred to Jelgava and renamed the 15th Training and Reserve Battalion. Its sole task was to take care of convalescing legionaries. When the 15th Division left for the front, the battalion was responsible for providing replacements for both divisions [of the Latvian Legion]. In beginning of 1944, the battalion was enlarged into a brigade. Its commander was a German and it consisted of 19 units. In July I944, during the sudden Red Army attack on Jelgava, these units were thrown into battle at Janiski, Lithuania, and lacking weapons, suffered heavy losses and were completely scattered. The remnants were transferred to Berendt, East Prussia, where a new 15th SS Grenadier Training Battalion was formed. Its task again was to retrain convalescing legionaries. Towards the end of January, 1945 this unit was sent to the Danzig region, where, like the other units of the 15th Division left, in that particular area, it was captured by the Russians.
When the Red Army reached the Baltic Seavat Memel (September, 1944), Latvian police units and remnants of other units of a military nature were sent to Germany and placed at the disposal of the 15th Division. Among these men there were many who due to age or health were unfit for front-line duty; therefore, they were assigned to construction units. A total of 3 construction regiments were formed. At the end of 1944, the SS command unified them into the Latvian Field Replacement Depot, whose commander, as well as all of the staff, were Germans. The task of this unit was to gather all Latvian police employees and members of military units sent to Germany. After examinations by doctors, a part of these men were sent to the front; the majority, however, were detailed to construct fortifications. These were the so-called "ditch diggers of Torn." In the beginning of 1945, the 1st and 2nd construction regiments were working in the Torn region, the 3rd—North of Neustettin. The food, clothing, and weapons these men were supplied with was of exceptionally poor quality. This created much bitterness. The soldiers were not even provided with housing. Towards the end of January, 1945, with the Red Army approaching West Prussia, these units retreated westward. The retreat became a catastrophe. The men were completely unarmed, without food, and without transportation. Russian tank columns several times cut the roads, scattering the [Latvian] units and causing them considerable losses. However, most of the men succeeded in avoiding capture, and reached Stettin in the beginning of March; there, they again were put to work digging trenches. In the second half of March, the so-called "Captain Rusmanis' group" (2,500 men) was sent back to Kurzeme [Latvia]. At the end of April, with the Red Army approaching Stettin, the construction units again retreated westward. This time also, Russian tanks cut the retreat routes several times, taking prisoners and causing losses to the units. In the beginning of Kay 1945, the remnants of these units surrendered to the British and Americans near Wismar.
Himmler, in an order issued on 24 May 1943, specified that the term "Latvian Legion" was to be a comprehensive denomination for all Latvian units serving in the Waffen SS and police forces. Therefore, Latvian battalions which previously had been called gendarmerie, were renamed Latvian Police Battalions. The formation and training of these battalions since 1942 was entrusted to Lt.-Col. R. Osis, whose chief of staff until November of 1942 was Lt.-Col. K. Lobe. The volunteers had to sign a contract for one year of service.
In addition, the order by Himmler just mentioned contained the following provisions: a) Major Gen. von Scholz was appointed commander of the 2nd Latvian SS brigade; b) Count von Pueckler was appointed commander of the 15th Latvian SS division; c) henceforth, Latvian soldiers were to be decorated with German medals instead of the Ostmedaille; these were to be awarded by Jeckeln. Himmler also issued an order authorizing the sending of the Latvian police battalions to the front. As already mentioned, at first there were 30 such battalions together, they were equal to one infantry division. They were scattered all along the Eastern Front, from Leningrad to the Black Sea. Poorly trained and ill-armed, they were thrown into battle not only against the regular Russian army, but also against partisans in Lithuania, Poland, Belorussia and the Ukraine; they were also utilized to guard POW camps. Repeated protests by Bangerskis were of no avail. On 1 August 1943, four of the police battalions were united to form the 1st (Riga) Police Regiment; its commander was Lt.-Col. Meija. Since December 1942, these 4 battalions, containing many old and sick men, had lost 683 men; the regiment had only 42 officers and 980 men. Only in March 1944, was this regiment withdrawn from the front and sent back to Latvia. In addition, in the beginning of February 1944, the 2nd and 3rd Police regiments were also formed. All three regiments were thrown into battle in July 1944 in the Daugavpils region. They suffered heavy losses. In the course of the fighting, one regiment was surrounded in the Vilnius area. Breaking out, it was decimated: When on 16 August 1944 the battalion arrived in Riga, it contained only 5 officers, one doctor, and 42 men. After the retreat from Daugavpils the [police] regiments were stationed in Bulduri. In the second half of August, all three regiments were merged. In October, this unit was transferred, first of all to Dundaga, then to Germany, where it joined the Latvian Field Replacement Depot.
The Latvian Legion was subordinated to the VI SS Corps, the leadership of which, with the exception of 1-2 Latvian interpreters, was German. The commanders of both Latvian divisions were also Germans; however, the divisional infantry commanders were Latvians (15th Division—Col. Arturs Silgailis; 19th Division—Col. Voldemars Veiss, later Col. Karlis Lobe). They were the highest service commanders of all Latvian soldiers, and therewith, advisers of the divisional commanders in questions of national welfare [Comment: untranslatable—meaning of term can also include culture and ideology] +and training. During battles, the infantry commanders were entrusted with operative leadership of various battle groups. They also had a small staff, consisting of 2 officers and several clerks.
The German command of the Latvian divisions attempted, as much as possible, to ignore the infantry commanders. From the regimental level down, all leadership was in Latvian hands; however, at first each police battalion, construction battalion, and frontier guard regiment had a German liaison officer attached to it. These usually considered themselves to be the direct superiors of the Latvians. Such a situation caused numerous incidents, which sometimes ended with the Latvian officers' being relieved of command, and even with their being court-martialed. Thus, Capt. Praudins, commander of the 19th Police Battalion, was sentenced to death, ostensibly for having committed acts hostile to the Germans.
Bangerskis, in a 21 March 1944 meeting with Jeckeln, protested that the Latvian frontier guards, minus their officers and NCO's, had been sent to Poland to fight guerrillas. The position of the Inspector General was, to say the least, unenviable; often he could not even inspect the regiments. The Latvian regimental commanders were forbidden to give official reports to Bangerskis; they could only contact him privately.
|The Liepaja-Grobina flight school was renamed "Ergaenzungs Nachtschlachtgruppe Ostland"(ENO) as of 1 January 1944. The first class of 25 graduated in February. At latvianaviation.com, retrieved 25 October 2014.—Ed.|