BriedisKārlis Lobe, 1963—David Guild, 1993


2 | Master tactician

On the night of 23 November a 'Briedis day' came again. This was one of the more remarkable of Briedis' actions in the autumn of 1915, and it illustrated once more Briedis' ability to organise and lead an operation. The Russian and German positions in the region of Veisu Mājas were separated by the R. Misa, which was deep and had steep banks. On both sides of the river was a wood, but now the trees had been sawn down and smashed to pieces in a zone 300-500 metres along both banks. The Russian positions ran here along the edge of the wood; the German likewise, along the edge of the wood 22  on the other side. In this region Briedis' company was ordered to carry out a reconnaissance and take some prisoners, because information had come in that the Germans in this vicinity were concentrating their forces in order to go over to the attack.

Over three or four nights Briedis carried out a reconnaissance with his entire company, sending out patrols of six to eight volunteers. In this way he discovered that Veisu Mājas at the edge of the German positions had been destroyed, but the Germans had organised a fortified advance post on a village hillock, 200-300 metres in advance of their main position. Briedis decided to attack Veisu Majas, though it meant crossing a fairly deep and not yet frozen river and even though the fortifications around the ruins of the village were linked to the main position through a horseshoe-shaped communication trench. He set up a listening post to observe German activity in the daytime, among the smashed trees. His plan of attack was as follows: two patrols of volunteers were to get across the Misa and cut the wire fence running along the double horseshoe-shaped communication trench which linked the outpost with the main German position, each patrol from its own side, so as to enter the German outpost from the rear. Two platoons were to attack the 'horseshoe' from the west (it was here that one might expect German reinforcements to come up, and the German machine-guns were also nearer here), while one platoon was to attack from the east. Briedis kept the fourth platoon on both sides of the river to reinforce the attack or to cover a retreat. He had also worked out a detailed plan, showing who should do what, from where the attack should start and where it was to finish. He himself would remain with the group which would cover the retreat.

On the night of 22 November, at approximately 10 o'clock, Briedis had brought his company forward to the Misa. About an hour later the scouts had crept up to the wire behind Veisu Mājas from the east, but the Germans had noticed and opened fire. The scouts crept back 50 paces. The German fire lasted half an hour and then fell silent; Briedis had forbidden his own men to return fire in such a situation.

After a while when there was silence again, Briedis gave the order to crawl forward again and cut the wire. This was done and they cut a gap in the fence two or three feet wide. Briedis told them to widen this gap which they did after crawling forward once more. The barbed wire fences turned out to be 20-30 metres distant from the communication trench along which the Germans had carried knife rests,[1] that is, devices made of logs round which wire had been wound.

 22  Briedis now withdrew the wire-cutters, instructing them to destroy the machine-gun of which the location was known with hand-grenades during the attack. It was more or less in this way that Briedis now ordered the rolling up of the fence and the attack of the larger group to come in from the west. Here Briedis laid down a smokescreen to give protection against machine-guns, two of which had been located on this side of the main position.

After the launching of the attack on this side, a platoon had also broken into the German trenches from the other: following Briedis' plan they overwhelmed the German machine-guns with handgrenades. In less than half an hour the fortification at Veisu Mājas had been occupied; 11 prisoners, 11 rifles and one machine-gun were seized.

At the start of the attack the Russian artillery had been ordered to open fire on the main German position. Our losses were two wounded (according to another report - only one slightly wounded, in the hand). The corps staff which had organised the arrival in this sector of the Latvian battalion had never seen a single German prisoner.[2] Now pretty large groups of these were to be seen. Wasn't this strange! And what sort of people were these who were not afraid of the Germans. It seemed like a miracle at the time, especially to the troops in the trenches.

Not only to them. Dynamic German leadership in battle and their military qualities had been shown to be a myth: the Latvians together with Briedis had appeared as a warning that one should not think of the Germans as miracle workers. They were just men like all the others, with all the same qualities. For his own part, Briedis himself, without wanting to, became the founder of a Latvian myth - the same myth which would in the end bring about his murder.

[1]'Knife rests' were a standard feature of trench warfare which were used for blocking off sections of trench to contain enemy penetrations. These forced the enemy to pass them above ground thereby exposing him to the fire of the defenders. They are probably linear descendants of the chevaux de frise.—D.G. (original footnote)
[2]This is not an unlikely scenario. While the Russian armies were generally a match for those of Austria-Hungary, with their often disaffected units made up of non- German recruits, their attacks against the Germans in the north were often disasters. One reason commonly advanced, though it is not the only one, was bad planning and sloppy staff work (incidentally, Gough's 5th Army in the West was faced with the same accusations). Curiously enough, Briedis with his insistence on good preparation and adequate reconnaissance, is displaying German characteristics!—D.G. (original footnote)
Under Swedish copyright law, "Briedis," including all derivative works, remains under copyright by the original rights holder until 2067, regardless of copyright by Taylor and Francis of David Guild's translation. Our corrected and annotated version of that translation is reproduced by express permission of the late author's wife, Heather Guild. Without prejudice to other rights accorded, "Briedis" is presented here for informational, educational, and research purposes under §20. and §21. of Latvian copyright law and as a protected derivative work under §5. The Goppers archive resides in the Latvian National Library.

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