The Latvians organize
General Bangerskis said, while giving some of his reflections to Latvian battalions in the middle of August 1915 when he had been appointed to the staff of 5th Army, that Latvians alone could be relied upon not to repeat 1905. 'One thing seemed clear', began the general, 'German victories would to a very considerable extent strengthen the gentry and especially the German position in the Baltic now that it had been much weakened and where the Latvians have gained a position for themselves like the others.' So, there was no doubt that they must fight against Germany and, hopefully, the Riflemen would do it too. But could not certain cunning prophets be found who would bring about some irrational trick and thus sabotage the scheme for the Latvian Riflemen which had been so well thought out, to injure in this way the Latvian people for political reasons? With such reflections in my mind I found myself in Riga and made for the fortress of Daugavgrīva where I had been summoned. At the carriage I was met by a young lieutenant whose chest was adorned with the order of St George and at whose side hung the sword of St George. That surprised me and I introduced myself to him. That was the first occasion when I met and made the acquaintance of the future popular hero - Colonel Briedis.
'The fortress commandant was very pleased when we turned up,
'Briedis, who at this point had not the ghost of a chance of remaining in the post of battalion commander, refused and asked to be given the post of company commander in the first battalion. There were great difficulties with organisation and training. There were no officers, instructors were lacking, and uniforms and weapons were in short supply. Only gradually did these things turn up: beginning with Lt Būriņš and 2nd Lts. Dardzāns and Ilziņš. Though we got round the organisation of the work, we waited in vain for the uniforms and weapons. We just did the training without weapons, and only for musketry instruction were we able to obtain a few rifles from the commandant's fortress company. Some men could not take part in the instruction because of lack of footwear. This began to affect the state of the men's morale. Also this called to mind a conversation with General Cheremisov at 5th Army staff.'
Captain (as he then was) Bangerskis with the help of the fortress commander was sent on a mission to the staff of the NW Front where he was to inform them of the situation. The Chief of Staff questioned him and then told him to put forward a proposal for the employment of the battalion, which Bangerskis proceeded to do in agreement with the Organisational Committee. Immediately afterwards there began to appear a sufficiency of uniforms and footwear, Winchester Rifles and, finally, Maxim machine-guns. Until the battalion left for the front there were still shortages, particularly in uniforms. Still nothing could be done about this.
|||The population of Latvia (along with Estonia) contained a sizeable population of Germans. These had been there since the Middle Ages and generally represented the upper class over a Latvian (or Estonian) peasantry. Until the reign of Alexander III they had served the Tsarist regime with exemplary loyalty. The policies of that Tsar, which favoured ethnic Russians and the Orthodox religion, alienated many of these Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans), and their sympathies turned towards the Central Powers, in particular Imperial Germany. Naturally the native Latvians felt they were threatened by a combination of local Germans allied with the Imperial German forces. The only other option was to fight for Imperial Russia, in the hope, eventually, of autonomy or independence. The danger from the German side was not imaginary. Pan-Germans in the German High Command and Governing circles had plans to annex these provinces of the Russian Empire as Crown Lands or, alternatively, to turn them into vassal states, with, as rulers, junior members of the German royal families.—D.G. (original footnote)|