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Latvian Legion and its History
The following is a brief history of the forming of the Latvian Legion and the battles and their reason they fought them.
                                                Legion on Latvian Independence Day 1943
The Latvian Legion “Latvian, “Latviešu leģions” was a formation of the Waffen-SS during World War II created in 1943 and consisting primarily of ethnic Latvians. The 15th Division was administratively subordinated to the VI SS Volunteer Corps, but operationally it was in reserve or at the disposal of the XXXXIII Army Corps, 16th Army, Army Group North. The 19th Division remained active in the “Courland Pocket” until May 1945, when it was among the last of Nazi Germany's forces to surrender at the close of World War II.
The legion consisted of two divisions of the Waffen-SS:
15th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS “1st Latvian”
19th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS “2nd Latvian”
 Arm shield of Latvian Legionnaires
The Latvian Legion was created in January 1943 on the orders of Adolf Hitler following a request by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. The initial core of the force was provided by Latvian Schutzmannschaft battalions, which were formed several years earlier and had been previously engaged in anti-partisan duties. Thus, technically, it was a volunteer unit, but one month after the unit was founded, German occupation authorities in Latvia started conscripting military age men, as close to none had volunteered. They were given a choice between "volunteering" for SS Waffen legions, serving in the German army “Heer” as "auxiliaries" “laborers behind the front lines”, commanded by German officers and often treated as subhuman’s, or being sent to a slave labor camp in Germany. Those who tried to avoid one of those options were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
As a result, only 15-20% of the soldiers serving in the legion were actual volunteers. 
With Nazi Germany losing the war, conscription was extended to larger and larger numbers of Latvians. The first conscription, in 1943, applied to all Latvian men born from 1919 to 1924. The subsequent conscriptions extended to Latvians born between 1906 and 1928.
The division commanders and most of the staff were German SS officers. The individual combat regiments were typically commanded by Latvian officers.
On the 13th of November 1943, the collaborationist Latvian Self-Administration took over mobilization from the Germans.
On the 1st of July 1944 the Latvian Legion had 87,550 men. Another 23,000 Latvians were serving as Wehrmacht "auxiliaries".
Motivations of Latvian Legion Soldiers
                                                                    Conscription Order
Soldiers serving in the Legion did not necessarily share Nazi ideology and were not completely loyal to Germany. A report by the commander of the 15th Division, Oberführer Adolf Ax on the 27th of January 1945 says: "They are first and foremost Latvians. They want a sustainable Latvian nation state. Forced to choose between Germany and Russia, they have chosen Germany, because they seek co-operation with western civilization. The rule of the Germans seems to them to be the lesser of two evils." For some, this choice was the result of the Soviet occupation between 1940 and 1941, called "The Terrible Year" “Latvian: baigais gads” during which tens of thousands of Latvian families were executed or deported to Siberia. In this one year the dislike between Latvians who were German serfs for 8 centuries and Germans disappeared almost completely.
Some soldiers believed that, if they helped Germany win the war, Latvia might be rewarded by independence or autonomy. This hope was consciously exploited by the legion command, which would emphasize the fact that the legion was fighting against Bolshevism and underemphasize the Nazi ideology.
Another hope was that the legion would fight off the Soviet Union, until it was no longer dangerous to Latvia, and then turn its arms against Nazi Germany, as a repeat of the Latvian War of Independence of 1918-1920, when Latvian forces managed to fight off both the Red Army and German forces. This was reflected in one of the most popular legion songs which went "We will beat the Russians now and we will beat the Germans after that" “with euphemisms for Russians and Germans”. Also Latvians, like Estonians and to lesser degree Lithuanians, believed that Western powers, especially Britain, will come to their aid any time soon, as they did in 1918-1920.
Due to their shortage of manpower in the second half of World War II, the German Army tolerated a less than fully loyal legion.
Military Operations
The first Latvian Legion unit was the 2nd Latvian SS Brigade, created in February 1943. It fought its first battle defending German positions near Leningrad, opposite the Pulkovo observatory on 18 March 1943. It continued fighting around Leningrad until the German forces retreated in January 1944.
The 15th Waffen-SS Division was formed and sent to the front in November 1943. Originally, it was sent to the Ostrov and Novosokolniki districts of Pskov Oblast, but after the German army suffered setbacks there, was moved to positions in the Belebelka district of Novgorod Oblast in January 1944. It retreated from there a month later.
At the end of February 1944, both units took joint defensive positions on the Sorota and Velikaya rivers. At that time, the 2nd Brigade was renamed the 19th Waffen-SS division. Over the next two months, these positions saw intense fighting.
In April 1944, the legion was replaced by other units and moved to less active positions in Bardovo-Kudever, 50km east of Opochka. It came under attack there in June 1944 and started to retreat on the 10th of July 1944, crossing the Latvian-Russian border on the 17th of July.
In August and September 1944, the 15th Division was moved to Prussia, for replenishment with new recruits. It was in training near Danzig until being ordered into battle on 22 January 1945. At that time, the division consisted of about 15,000 soldiers. It fought near Danzig in January and February, retreating to Pomerania in early March. By early April, the division was reduced to 8,000 men. About 1,000 were sent by sea to replenish the forces in the Courland Pocket, the rest were lost during the fighting. On the 11th of April, the division was told about plans to transfer the entire division to Courland. Seeing that the war was lost and understanding that being sent to Courland would mean eventually having to surrender to the Soviets (infamous for abuse and murder of war prisoners), the division decided to surrender to the Western Allies instead, disobeying German orders to the contrary, when necessary.
The 19th Division continued to fight in Latvia. In October 1944, Soviet advances in Lithuania cut off it and other units in the Courland Pocket from the rest of the German forces. It was a part of the six Grand Battles between Soviet and German armies in the Courland Pocket in 1944 and 1945. During the third Grand Battle in December 1944, the opposing Soviet units included two Latvian divisions, the 43rd and the 308th, formed from recruits drafted in Soviet occupied Eastern Latvia. When the Latvian units on both sides of the front faced one another, they were quite unwilling and occasionally disengaged without firing a shot. The Soviet command would transfer the Latvian divisions elsewhere after a few days.
Together with other units in the Courland Pocket, the 19th division surrendered to the Soviets at the end of the war on 9 May 1945. Some of the Legion soldiers continued fighting the Soviets as Forest Brothers for up to 10 years after the end of the war.
War Crimes Involvement
The involvement of the Latvian Legion in war crimes is a matter of controversy. Many Latvian historians maintain that the Latvian Legion itself was only a combat unit and did not participate in any war crimes. The Latvian Legion was not directly involved in the Holocaust, since it was founded more than a year after Latvian Jewish people were executed or sent to concentration camps. On the other hand, Russian historians who claim that the legion burned villages and conducted mass executions of Russian civilians during the operations against guerrilla fighters in the parts of USSR occupied by Nazi Germany.
Additionally, the Latvian Schutzmannschaft police battalions which had provided the basis on which the Legion was formed, had previously participated in the mass murder of Jews in Latvia, and were heavily involved in massacres and deportations of civilians in the German-occupied areas of Russia and Belarus. Hence, many of the Legion's soldiers did commit war crimes, though not while being part of the Legion.
After World War II
In 1946, the Nuremberg Tribunal declared the Waffen-SS to be a criminal organization, making an exception of people who were forcibly conscripted. Throughout the post-war years, the Allies would apply this exception to the soldiers of the Latvian Legion and the Estonian Legion. The US Displaced Persons Commission in September 1950 declared that.
"The Baltic Waffen SS Units "Baltic Legions" are to be considered as separate and distinct in purpose, ideology, activities, and qualifications for membership from the German SS, and therefore the Commission holds them not to be a movement hostile to the Government of the United States".
Even before this decision, around 1,000 former Latvian Legion soldiers had served as guards at the Nuremberg Tribunal, guarding Nazi war criminals. Afterwards, during the Berlin Blockade, they took part in securing Allied facilities involved in the Berlin Airlift and later also were guarding USA Army headquarters. 
Remarkably, during the Soviet period it was generally acknowledged that Latvian Legion soldiers were neither Nazis nor war criminals, which sharply contrasts with the current stance of Russia, which uses the Legion issue to assert political and ideological pressure on Latvia on the international scene. For example, the Soviet film I remember everything, Richard ‘also known as Rock and splinters in its uncut release’ made during the 1960s ‘during Cold War’ at the Riga Film Studio, while being full of Soviet propaganda clichés, clearly illustrates recognition of several essential aspects with respect to Legion soldiers, amongst those: that they were front-line soldiers, they were mostly forcefully conscripted, they were not supporters of Nazi ideology, they did not take part in Holocaust.
In 1946 the coalition government of Sweden led by the Social Democrats, despite strong protests from many sectors of Swedish society, extradited soldiers from the Latvian Legion, also some "Estonian Legion and Lithuanian soldiers" who had fled to Sweden and were interned there to the USSR in an event that became known as "Baltutlämningen". In the 1990s the Swedish government admitted that this had been a mistake. Surviving Baltic veterans were invited to Sweden in 1994, where they were met by the King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf and the Minister for Foreign affairs of Sweden Märta Margaretha af Ugglas and participated in various ceremonies commemorating the events surrounding their extradition. Both the King and the Minister for Foreign affairs expressed their regret for Sweden's past extradition of Baltic Legion soldiers to the Stalinist USSR. 
From the 16th to the 18th of March 1944 a heavy battle was fought on the eastern shore of the Velikaya River for Hill "93,4", a strategically important height for both the Soviet and German armies. It was defended by the 15th and the 19th Waffen-SS divisions. On the morning of the 16th of March the Soviet assault began, and the defenders were forced to withdraw, but the Soviets did not manage to break the Latvians' resistance. On the 18th of March in a counter-attack by the 15th Division, led by Colonel Arturs Silgailis, the hill was recaptured with minimal losses. After that the Soviets did not try to attack there again. The 16th of March was the first occasion in World War II when both Latvian divisions fought together in the same battle and was the only battle in World War II led solely by Latvian commanders. Thus in the years after the war, the 16th of March was chosen by the Latvian Legion veterans' organization in Western exile, Daugavas Vanagi, as the day of the Latvian Legion.
In 1990, Legion veterans started commemorating the 16th of March in Latvia. In 1998 Latvia's Saeima “parliament” voted this to be an official national remembrance day. The word "Legion" was, however, excluded from the Remembrance Day’s name, in order to include all those who fought against the Soviets, both during World War II, and as resistance fighters afterwards. "International pressure forced the Latvian Saeima to remove the 16th of March from the list of "State Remembrance Days" in 2000.
16 March events have been quite confrontational in recent years, with Latvian nationalist organizations “such as All For Latvia! and National Power Unity” marching in support of the Latvian legion and predominantly Russian organizations “For Human Rights in United Latvia” holding protests and attempting to block the marches. Latvian politicians regularly attend the memorial events, especially some of the lower-profile the 16th of March events, such as remembrance ceremonies at the “Lestene Cemetery”, the main burial ground of “Latvian Legion Soldiers”.
15th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS “1st Latvian”
The 15th Waffen-Grenadierdivision der SS “lett. Nr. 1” was formed in the Waffen SS's drive for manpower in the wake of Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. After a successful recruitment drive in the Reichskommissariat Ostland "Baltic States" for the Nazi anti-partisan brigades, Heinrich Himmler formed Baltic legions by late August 1942, including the Lettische SS-Freiwilligen-Legion, the nucleus of the later 15th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS.
However the small scale of these Legions were inadequate for widespread Russia and soon merged into divisions with the Lettische SS-Freiwilligen-Legion renamed as the SS-Freiwilligen-Division, with the numerical designation of 15 soon added. To bolster the numbers, Himmler enforced compulsory military service in the Ostland in age groups 1915-1924 in 1943 then 1904-1914 and 1925-1926 in 1944. These Latvian conscripts would form the renamed 15th Waffen-Grenadier-Division of the SS “note 'Voluntary' title dropped” in time for the Soviet attack of 1944. The 15th SS was swept up in the chaos of the collapse of the Eastern Front and lost much of its spirit after the Soviet re-occupation of their homelands. It was soon trapped and decimated in their hopeless defense of Pomerania.
The Division fought on the "Pomeranian Wall" defenses. At Podgaje, on the 2nd of February 1945, men of that division performed a war crime on Polish prisoners of war, burning in a barn with 32 soldiers from 4th company, 3rd regiment infantry 1st Division Polish First Army tied up with a barbed wire.
However out of fear of Russian revenge, it fought well in the last months of the war, with a surviving battalion in the last defense of Berlin in mid-1945. Other remnants under Waffen-Standartenführer Vilis Janums surrendered to the advancing Americans at Güterglück near the Elbe River.
  • SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor Peter Hansen 25 February 1943 – 1 May 1943”
  • SS-Gruppenführer und Generalmajor Carl Graf von Pückler-Burghauss “1 May 1943 – 17 February 1944”
  • SS-Oberführer Nikolaus Heilmann “17 February 1944 – 21 July 1944"
  • SS-Oberführer Herbert von Obwurzer “21 July 1944 – 26 January 1945”
  • SS-Oberführer Dr. Eduard Deisenhofer “26 January 1945”
  • SS-Oberführer Adolf Ax “26 January 1945 – 15 February 1945”
  • SS-Oberführer, later Brigadeführer und Generalmajor Karl Burk “15 February, - 2 May 1945”  
Order of Battle  
  • Waffen Grenadier Regiment of SS 32
  • Waffen Grenadier Regiment of SS 33
  • Waffen Grenadier Regiment of SS 34
  • Waffen Artillery Regiment of SS 15
  • Waffen Füsilier Battalion of SS 15
  • Waffen Flak Battalion of SS 15
  • Waffen Signals Battalion of SS 15
  • Waffen Pionier Battalion of SS 15
  • Waffen Panzerjäger Battalion of SS 15
  • SS Medical Battalion 15
  • SS Nachschub Troop 15
  • SS Feldpost Department 15
  • SS Veterinary Company 15
  • SS Wirtschafts Battalion 15
  • SS Bau Regiment 1 of 15. SS-Division
  • SS Bau Regiment 2 of 15. SS-Division
  • SS Feldersatz Battalion 15
  • SS Waffen Feldgendarmerie Troop 15
  • SS War Reporter Troop 15  
19th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS “2nd Latvian”
The 19th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS “2nd Latvian” was an Infantry Division of the Waffen SS during World War II. It was the second Latvian division formed in January 1944, after its sister unit, the 15th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS “1st Latvian”. It was surrounded in the Courland Pocket at the end of the war when it surrendered to the Red Army.
The 19th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS “2nd Latvian” was formed in January 1944, from 2 SS Infantry Brigade with the addition of a newly raised third regiment Waffen Grenadier Regiment 46 “Latvian No. 6”. Simultaneously, the designations of the two other grenadier regiments were changed from 39 and 40 to 42 and 43 respectively.
The Honor titles Voldemars Veiss and Hinrich Schuldt were received for the regiments' valour in combat during battles in Courland.
The commander of the 2nd SS Infantry Brigade, SS-Oberführer Hinrich Schuldt became the first commander of the division. After Schuldt was killed in action on the 15th of March 1944, SS-Standartenführer Friedrich-Wilhelm Bock temporarily took command, being replaced on the 13th of April by SS-Oberführer Bruno Streckenbach, who led the division until the end of war.
For combat history of the division and more information of Latvian units during the World War II, see Latvian Legion.
Order of Battle  
  • Waffen-Grenadier Regiment der SS 42, “Voldemars Veiss”
  • Waffen-Grenadier Regiment der SS 43, “Hinrich Schuldt”
  • Waffen-Grenadier Regiment der SS 44
  • Waffen Artillerie Regiment 19
  • SS Füsilier Battalion 19
  • SS Panzerjäger Battalion 19
  • SS Flak Batallion 19
  • SS Pionier Batallion 19
  • SS Nachschub Troop 19
  • SS Medical Battalion 19
  • SS Field Post Department 19
  • SS Signals Battalion 19  
Courland Pocket
“The Courland Pocket” referred to the Red Army's blockade or encirclement of Axis forces on the “Courland peninsula” during the closing months of World War II. Its commander was General Bagramyan “later Marshal Bagramyan”.
The pocket was created during the Red Army's Baltic Strategic Offensive Operation, when forces of the 1st Baltic Front reached the Baltic Sea near Memel during its lesser Memel Offensive Operation phases. This action isolated the German Army Group North “German: Heeresgruppe Nord” from the rest of the German forces between Tukums and Liepāja in Latvia. Renamed “Army Group Courland” “German: Heeresgruppe Kurland” on the 25th of January, the Army Group remained isolated until the end of the war. When they were ordered to surrender to the Soviet command on the 8th of May, they were in "blackout" and did not get the official order before the 10th of May, two days after the capitulation of Germany. It was one of the last German groups to surrender in Europe.
Courland, along with the rest of the Baltic eastern coast and islands, was overrun by Army Group North during 1941. Army Group North spent most of the next two years attempting to take Leningrad, without success. In January 1944, the Soviet Army lifted the siege of Leningrad.
Operation Bagration
On the 22nd of June 1944, the Red Army launched the Belorussian Strategic Offensive, codenamed Operation Bagration. The goal of this offensive was to liberate the Belorussian SSR from the German occupation. Operation Bagration was extremely successful, resulting in the almost complete destruction of Army Group Centre, and ended on 29 August. In its final stages “the Kaunas and Shyaulyay Offensives”, Operation Bagration saw Soviet forces strike deep towards the Baltic coast, severing communications between the German Army Group North and the remnants of Army Group Centre.
After Operation Bagration ended, the Soviets continued the clearing of the Baltic coast, despite German attempts to restore the front “Operation Doppelkopf”. The Red Army fought the Memel Offensive Operation with the goal of isolating Army Group North by capturing the city of Memel “Lithuanian: Klaipėda”.
Battles of the "Courland Bridgehead"
                                      Army Group Courland cuff title
On the 9th of October 1944, the Soviets reached the Baltic Sea near Memel after over-running headquarters of the 3rd Panzer Army. As a result, Army Group North was cut off from a route to East Prussia. Hitler's military  advisors, notably Heinz Guderian, the Chief of the German General Staff urged evacuation and utilization of the troops to stabilize the front in central Europe. However, Hitler refused, and ordered the German forces in Courland and the “Estonian” islands Hiiumaa and Saaremaa to hold out, believing them necessary to protect German submarine bases along the Baltic coast. Hitler still believed the war could be won, and hoped that Dönitz's new Type XXI U-boat technology could bring victory to Germany in the Battle of the Atlantic, forcing the Allies out of Western Europe. This would allow German forces to focus on the Eastern Front, using the Courland Pocket as a springboard for a new offensive.
Hitler's refusal to evacuate the Army Group resulted in the entrenchment of more than 200,000 German troops largely of the 16th Army and 18th Army, in what was to become known to the Germans as the "Courland Bridgehead". Thirty-three divisions of the Army Group Centre commanded by Ferdinand Schörner were cut off from Prussia and spread out along a front reaching from Riga to Liepāja, retreating to the more defensible Courland position, abandoning Riga.
Soviet forces launched six major offensives against the German and Latvian forces entrenched in the Courland Pocket between 15 October 1944, and 4 April 1945.
The German two-phase withdrawals during the execution of the second stage of the Soviet Baltic Offensive “the 14th of September thru the 24th of  November 1944”, subsequent to the pocket being formed in the Baltic Offensive's first stage, the Memel Offensive Operation.
From the 15th thru the 22nd of October 1944 Soviets launched the Riga Offensive Operation on the 15th at 10:00 after conducting a heavy artillery barrage. Hitler permitted the Army Group Commander, Ferdinand Schoerner, to commence withdrawal from Riga on 11 October, and the city was taken by the 3rd Baltic Front on the 13th of October. The front stabilized with the main remnant of Army Group North isolated in the peninsula.
From the 27th of October thru the 25th of November 1944 Soviets launched offensive trying to break through the front toward Skrunde and Saldus including, at one point initiating a simultaneous attack by 52 divisions.
The Soviet 2nd Baltic “northern sector” and 1st Baltic Fronts “southern sector” commenced a blockade, precipitating the German defense of the Courland perimeter during Soviet attempts to reduce it. Serving with the 2nd Baltic Front's 22nd Army was the Latvian 130th Rifle Corps that included two rifle divisions in which served a large number of Latvians in their ranks who would soon be facing their opposites in the Latvian 19th SS Division.
  1. From 23–31 December 1944
  2. From 23 January-3 February 1945
  3. From 12–19 February 1945
  4. From 17 March-4 April 1945
On the 15th of January 1945, Army Group North was renamed Army Group Courland “Heeresgruppe Kurland” under Colonel-General Dr Lothar Rendulic. Until the end of the war, Army Group Courland “including divisions such as the Latvian Freiwilligen SS Legion” remained blockaded on the Courland peninsula.
On the 8th of May, Germany's Head of State “Staatsoberhaupt” and President “Reichspräsident” Karl Donitz ordered Colonel-General Carl Hilpert the Army Group's last commander, to surrender. Hilpert, his personal staff, and staffs of three Armies surrendered to Marshal Leonid Govorov, the commander of the Leningrad Front. At this time, the group still consisted of the remnants of 27 divisions and one brigade. 
On the 8th of May, General Rauser succeeded in obtaining better surrender terms from the Soviet command. On the 9th of May, the Soviet commission in Peilei started to interrogate the captive staff of Army Group Courland, and general collection of prisoners begun.
By the 12th of May, approximately 135,000 German troops surrendered in the Courland Pocket. On the 23rd of May, the Soviet collection of the German troops in the Courland Pocket was completed. A total of about 180,000 German troops were taken into captivity from the Baltic area. The bulk of the prisoners of war were initially held at the Valdai Hills camps.
Soviet Sources
The Soviet account states that Army Group Courland was blockaded, as the theater was of little strategic importance after the isolation of Army Group North, and the main offensive effort was required for the Vistula-Oder and Berlin Offensives, with correspondingly low casualty figures “these agree with the modern research of Grigoriy Krivosheev, which accounts for 30,501 "irrecoverable" and 130,447 "medical" losses, for a total of 160,948 Soviet casualties between the 16th of February and the 8th of May”. In this account, the Soviet actions in Courland were defensive blockading operations. Hostilities consisted of containing German breakout attempts, and the Red Army made no concerted effort to capture the Courland Pocket.
Western and Baltic Sources
According to the Latvijas Enciklopēdija “Latvian Encyclopedia” by Arveds Švābe the Soviet command attached great importance to the capture of Courland, which held special significance for the Latvians as it was the beachhead from which they had retaken their territory from the Bolsheviks after World War I. Soviet forces launched six major offensives to defeat the German Army Group Courland. Throughout the campaign against the Courland pocket, and despite tremendous losses incurred, Soviet forces did not advance more than 40.234km "25 miles" anywhere along the front, ending no more than a few miles forward of their original positions.
Stalin ordered repeated attacks into the Courland cauldron, disregarding heavy losses. According to a communiqué from the German Courland command of the 16th of March, the Soviet army lost 320,000 soldiers “fallen, wounded, and taken prisoner”, 2,388 tanks, 659 planes, 900 artillery pieces, and 1,440 machine-guns through the first five battles for Courland. The Soviets are estimated to have lost an additional 74,000 with 553 taken prisoner in the sixth and last battle, as waves of tens of thousands of Soviet attackers were slaughtered at Liepāja a total of more than 390,000 Soviet troops killed, wounded, or taken prisoner according to the Germans.
After the 9th of May 1945, according to Russian records, 146,000 German and Latvian troops were taken prisoner, including 28 generals and 5,083 high-ranking officers, and taken to camps in the USSR interior and imprisoned for years. The Soviets detained all males between the ages of 16 and 60, and conducted widespread deforestation campaigns, burning vast tracts of forest, to flush out resisters. More recent scholarship puts the number of German soldiers who surrendered at 181,000 including their commander Generaloberst Hilpert. On the 9th of May 1945, General Hovhannes Bagramyan accepted the surrender of the German forces penned up in Latvia.
Members of the "Latvian Legion who surrendered" along with the Germans or were captured were "treated as traitors under the pretext that Latvia was part of the Soviet Union and summarily executed". Some of those who escaped continued fighting the Soviets as “Forest Brothers”.