Occupation of Latvia by Soviet Union 1944-1945

The occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union 1944–1945 refers to the re-occupation
Military occupation
Military occupation occurs when the control and authority over a territory passes to a hostile army. The territory then becomes occupied territory.-Military occupation and the laws of war:...

 of Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

 by the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 from 1944 to 1945. Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union...

 was in tatters, and the northern edge of the Soviet assault threatened to trap Army Group North
Army Group North
Army Group North was a German strategic echelon formation commanding a grouping of Field Armies subordinated to the OKH during World War II. The army group coordinated the operations of attached separate army corps, reserve formations, rear services and logistics.- Formation :The Army Group North...

 in a pocket in the Kurland
Courland is one of the historical and cultural regions of Latvia. The regions of Semigallia and Selonia are sometimes considered as part of Courland.- Geography and climate :...

 region. Panzer
A Panzer is a German language word that, when used as a noun, means "tank". When it is used as an adjective, it means either tank or "armoured" .- Etymology :...

s of Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz
Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz
Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz was a German Army officer. Strachwitz saw action in World War I, but rose to fame for his command of armored forces in World War II.-Early life:...

 had been sent back to the capital of Ostland, Riga
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 702,891 inhabitants Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial,...

 and in ferocious defensive battles had halted the Soviet advance in late April 1944. Strachwitz had been needed elsewhere, and was soon back to acting as the Army Group's fire brigade. Strachwitz's Panzerverband was broken up in late July. By early August, the Soviets were again ready to attempt to cut off Army Group North from Army Group Centre.

Battle of the Baltic

A massive Soviet assault sliced through the German lines and Army Group North was completely isolated from its neighbour. Strachwitz was trapped outside the pocket, and Panzerverband von Strachwitz was reformed, this time from elements of the 101st Panzer Brigade of panzer-ace Oberst Meinrad von Lauchert
Meinrad von Lauchert
Meinrad von Lauchert was a highly decorated Generalmajor in the Wehrmacht during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves...

 and the newly formed SS Panzer Brigade Gross
SS Panzer Brigade Gross
SS Panzer Brigade Gross. was a formation of the Waffen SS during World War II. It was formed in 1944, from the SS Training and Reserve Regiments based in Latvia, to keep the road to Riga open and to counter the Red Armys summer offensive, which had captured Mitau and Tukums and putting the whole...

 under SS-Sturmbannführer Gross. Inside the trapped pocket, the remaining panzers and StuG IIIs of the Hermann von Salza and the last of Jähde's Tigers
Tiger I
Tiger I is the common name of a German heavy tank developed in 1942 and used in World War II. The final official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E, often shortened to Tiger. It was an answer to the unexpectedly formidable Soviet armour encountered in the initial months of...

 were formed into another Kampfgruppe to attack from the inside of the trap. On 19 August, 1944, the assault, which had been dubbed Unternehmen Doppelkopf (Operation Doppelkopf
Operation Doppelkopf
Operation Doppelkopf and the following Operation Cäsar were German counter-offensives on the Eastern Front late in 1944 in the aftermath of the major Soviet advance in Operation Bagration....

) got underway. It was preceded by a bombardment by the cruiser
A cruiser is a type of warship. The term has been in use for several hundreds of years, and has had different meanings throughout this period...

 Prinz Eugen's
German cruiser Prinz Eugen
Prinz Eugen was an Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruiser, the third member of the class of five vessels. She served with the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. The ship was laid down in April 1936 and launched August 1938; Prinz Eugen entered service after the outbreak of war, in August 1940...

 203mm guns, which destroyed forty-eight T-34
The T-34 was a Soviet medium tank produced from 1940 to 1958. Although its armour and armament were surpassed by later tanks of the era, it has been often credited as the most effective, efficient and influential design of World War II...

s assembling in the square at Tukums
Tukums is a town in Latvia. Three regions of Latvia meet in the vicinity of Tukums – Vidzeme, Zemgale and Courland. The city was host to the Cold War facility Tukums air base.- History :...

. Strachwitz and the Nordland
is a county in Norway in the North Norway region, bordering Troms in the north, Nord-Trøndelag in the south, Norrbottens län in Sweden to the east, Västerbottens län to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The county was formerly known as Nordlandene amt. The county administration is...

remnants meet on the 21st, and contact was restored between the army groups. The 101.Panzerbrigade was now assigned to the army detachment "Narwa active at the Emajõgi River Front, bolstering the defenders' armour strength. Disaster had been averted, but the warning was clear. Army Group North was extremely vulnerable to being cut off. In 1944, the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 lifted the siege of Leningrad and re-conquered the Baltic area along with much of Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 and Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...


However, some 200,000 German troops held out in Courland
Courland is one of the historical and cultural regions of Latvia. The regions of Semigallia and Selonia are sometimes considered as part of Courland.- Geography and climate :...

 along with Latvian forces resisting Soviet reoccupation. They were besieged with their backs to the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

. The Red Army mounted numerous offensives at massive losses but failed to take the Courland Pocket
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...

. Colonel-General Heinz Guderian
Heinz Guderian
Heinz Wilhelm Guderian was a German general during World War II. He was a pioneer in the development of armored warfare, and was the leading proponent of tanks and mechanization in the Wehrmacht . Germany's panzer forces were raised and organized under his direction as Chief of Mobile Forces...

, the Chief of the German General Staff
German General Staff
The German General Staff was an institution whose rise and development gave the German armed forces a decided advantage over its adversaries. The Staff amounted to its best "weapon" for nearly a century and a half....

 insisted to Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 that the troops in Courland should be evacuated by sea and used for the defence of the Third Reich; however, Hitler refused and ordered the German forces in Courland to hold out. He believed them necessary to protect German submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...

 bases along the Baltic coast.

On January 15, 1945, Army Group Courland
Army Group Courland
Army Group Courland was a German Army Group on the Eastern Front which was created from remnants of the Army Group North, isolated in the Courland peninsula by the advancing Soviet Army forces during the 1944 Baltic Offensive of the Second World War. The army group remained isolated until the end...

 (Heeresgruppe Kurland) was formed under Colonel-General Dr. Lothar Rendulic
Lothar Rendulic
Generaloberst Lothar Rendulic was an Austro-Hungarian and Austrian Army officer of Croatian origin who served as a German general during World War II. He commanded the 14. Infanterie-Division, 52. Infanterie-Division, XXXV Armeekorps, 2. Panzer-Armee, 20...

. Until the end of the war, Army Group Courland (including divisions such as the Latvian Freiwiliger SS Legion) successfully defended the Latvian peninsula. It held out until May 8, 1945, when it surrendered under Colonel-General Carl Hilpert
Carl Hilpert
Carl Hilpert was an officer in the German Army during World War II.Hilpert was born in Nuremberg, Bavaria....

, the army group's last commander. He surrendered to Marshal Leonid Govorov
Leonid Govorov
Leonid Aleksandrovich Govorov was a Soviet military commander. An artillery officer, he joined the Red Army in 1920. He graduated from several Soviet military academies, including the Military Academy of Red Army General Staff. He participated in the Winter War as a senior artillery officer.In...

, the commander of opposing Soviet forces on the Courland perimeter. At this time the group still consisted of some 31 divisions of varying strength. After May 9 1945 approximately 203,000 troops of Army Group Courland began moving to Soviet prison camps in the East. The Soviet Union reoccupied Latvia as part of the Baltic Offensive in 1944, a twofold military-political operation to rout German forces and the "liberation of the Soviet Baltic peoples" beginning in summer-autumn 1944, lasting until the capitulation of German and Latvian forces in Courland pocket
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...

 in May 1945, and they were gradually absorbed into Soviet Union. After World War II, as part of the goal to more fully integrate Baltic countries into the Soviet Union, mass deportations were concluded in the Baltic countries and the policy of encouraging Soviet immigration to Latvia continued. On January 12, 1949 the Soviet Council of Ministers issued a decree "on the expulsion and deportation" from Latvia of "all kulaks and their families, the families of bandits and nationalists", and others. More than 200,000 people are estimated to have been deported from the Baltic in 1940–1953. In addition, at least 75,000 were sent to Gulag
The Gulag was the government agency that administered the main Soviet forced labor camp systems. While the camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners, large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as NKVD troikas and other instruments of...

. 10 percent of the entire adult Baltic population was deported or sent to labor camps. Many soldiers evaded capture and joined the Latvian national partisans
Latvian national partisans
Latvian national partisans were the Latvian national partisans who waged guerrilla warfare against Soviet rule.- Aftermath of World War I :...

' resistance that waged unsuccessful guerilla warfare for several years.

Wartime expediency

The precedent under international law
International law
Public international law concerns the structure and conduct of sovereign states; analogous entities, such as the Holy See; and intergovernmental organizations. To a lesser degree, international law also may affect multinational corporations and individuals, an impact increasingly evolving beyond...

 established by the earlier-adopted Stimson Doctrine
Stimson Doctrine
The Stimson Doctrine is a policy of the United States federal government, enunciated in a note of January 7, 1932, to Japan and China, of non-recognition of international territorial changes that were executed by force. The doctrine was an application of the principle of ex injuria jus non oritur...

, as applied to the Baltics in U.S. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles
Sumner Welles
Benjamin Sumner Welles was an American government official and diplomat in the Foreign Service. He was a major foreign policy adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and served as Under Secretary of State from 1937 to 1943, during FDR's presidency.-Early life:Benjamin Sumner Welles was born in...

's declaration of July 23, 1940, defined the basis for non-recognition of the Soviet Union's forcible incorporation of Latvia. Despite Welles's statement, the Baltics soon reprised their centuries-long role as pawns in the conflicts of larger powers. After visiting Moscow in the winter of 1941–1942, British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden
Anthony Eden
Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, KG, MC, PC was a British Conservative politician, who was Prime Minister from 1955 to 1957...

 already advocated sacrificing the Baltics to secure Soviet cooperation in the war. The British ambassador to the U.S., Lord Halifax
E. F. L. Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax
Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax, , known as The Lord Irwin from 1925 until 1934 and as The Viscount Halifax from 1934 until 1944, was one of the most senior British Conservative politicians of the 1930s, during which he held several senior ministerial posts, most notably as...

, reported, "Mr. Eden cannot incur the danger of antagonizing Stalin, and the British War Cabinet have... agree[d] to negotiate a treaty with Stalin, which will recognize the 1940 frontiers of the Soviet Union." By 1943 Roosevelt had also consigned the Baltics and Eastern Europe to Stalin. Meeting with Archbishop Spellman in New York on September 3, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 stated, "The European people will simply have to endure Russian domination, in the hope that in ten or twenty years they will be able to live well with the Russians." Meeting with Stalin in Tehran
Tehran Conference
The Tehran Conference was the meeting of Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill between November 28 and December 1, 1943, most of which was held at the Soviet Embassy in Tehran, Iran. It was the first World War II conference amongst the Big Three in which Stalin was present...

 on December 1, Roosevelt "said that he fully realized the three Baltic Republics had in history and again more recently been part of Russia and jokingly added, that when the Soviet armies re-occupied these areas, he did not intend to go to war with the Soviet Union on this point." A month later, Roosevelt related to Otto von Habsburg
Otto von Habsburg
Otto von Habsburg , also known by his royal name as Archduke Otto of Austria, was the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary from 1916 until the dissolution of the empire in 1918, a realm which comprised modern-day Austria, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia,...

 that he had told the Russians they could take over and control Romania, Bulgaria, Bukovina, Eastern Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and Finland. The future was sealed when on October 9, 1944 Churchill met with Stalin in Moscow and penciled out the post-war state of Europe. Churchill recounts: "At length I said, 'Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed that we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper.''No, you keep it,' said Stalin." The February 1945 Yalta Conference
Yalta Conference
The Yalta Conference, sometimes called the Crimea Conference and codenamed the Argonaut Conference, held February 4–11, 1945, was the wartime meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, represented by President Franklin D...

, widely ascribed as determining the future of Europe, essentially codified Churchill's and Roosevelt's prior private commitments to Stalin not to interfere in Soviet control of Eastern Europe.

Treaties the USSR signed between 1940 and 1945

The Soviet Union joined the Atlantic Charter
Atlantic Charter
The Atlantic Charter was a pivotal policy statement first issued in August 1941 that early in World War II defined the Allied goals for the post-war world. It was drafted by Britain and the United States, and later agreed to by all the Allies...

 of August 14, 1941 by resolution, signed in London on September 24, 1941. Resolution affirmed:
  • "First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other;
  • "Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;
  • "Third, they respect the rights of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them. ..."

Most importantly, Stalin personally reaffirmed the principles of the Atlantic Charter on November 6, 1941:
Soon thereafter, the Soviet Union signed the Declaration by United Nations
Declaration by United Nations
The Declaration by United Nations was a World War II document agreed to on January 1, 1942 during the Arcadia Conference by 26 governments: the Allied "Big Four" , nine American allies in Central America and the Caribbean, the four British Dominions, British India, and eight Allied...

 of January 1, 1942, which again confirmed adherence to the Atlantic Charter.

The Soviet Union signed the Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe of February 4–11, 1945, in which Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt jointly declare for the reestablishment of order in Europe according to the principle of the Atlantic Charter "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live, the restoration of sovereign rights and self-government to those peoples who have been forcibly deprived of them by the aggressor nations." The Yalta declaration further states that "to foster the conditions in which the liberated peoples may exercise these rights, the three governments will join ... among others to facilitate where necessary the holding of free elections."
Finally, the Soviet Union signed the Charter of the United Nations on October 24, 1945, which in Article I Part 2 states that one of the "purposes of the United Nations is to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples."

Latvian losses

World War II losses in Latvia were among the highest in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

. Estimates of population loss stand at 30% for Latvia. War and occupation deaths have been estimated at 180,000 in Latvia. These include the Soviet deportations in 1941, the German deportations, and Holocaust victims.

See also

  • Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940
    Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940
    The Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940 refers, according to the European Court of Human Rights, the Government of Latvia, the State Department of the United States of America, and the European Union, to the military occupation of the Republic of Latvia by the Soviet Union ostensibly under the...

  • Occupation of Latvia by Nazi Germany
    Occupation of Latvia by Nazi Germany
    The occupation of Latvia by Nazi Germany was completed on July 10, 1941 by Germany's armed forces. Latvia became a part of Nazi Germany's Reichskommissariat Ostland — the Province General of Latvia...

  • Holocaust in Latvia
    Holocaust in Latvia
    The Holocaust in Latvia refers to the Nazi crimes during the occupation of Latvia by Nazi Germany.- German occupation :The German army crossed the Soviet frontier early in the morning on Sunday, June 22, 1941, on a broad front from the Baltic Sea to Hungary. The German army advanced quickly...

  • Latvian national partisans
    Latvian national partisans
    Latvian national partisans were the Latvian national partisans who waged guerrilla warfare against Soviet rule.- Aftermath of World War I :...

  • January Events
    January Events
    The January Events took place in Lithuania between January 11 and 13, 1991 in the aftermath of the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania. As a result of Soviet military actions, 14 civilians were killed and more than 1000 injured...

  • Litene
    Litene - center of Litenes parish, in Gulbene District, Latvia. Other names: Lytene, Myza Lytene Population - .Notable buildings - Litene Manor .- History :...

  • Occupations of Latvia
  • Population transfer in the Soviet Union
    Population transfer in the Soviet Union
    Population transfer in the Soviet Union may be classified into the following broad categories: deportations of "anti-Soviet" categories of population, often classified as "enemies of workers," deportations of entire nationalities, labor force transfer, and organized migrations in opposite...

  • Rainiai massacre
    Rainiai massacre
    The Rainiai massacre was the mass murder of between 70 and 80 Lithuanian political prisoners by the NKVD, with help from the Red Army, in a forest near Telšiai, Lithuania, during the night of June 24–25, 1941. It was one of many similar massacres carried out by Soviet forces in Lithuania, and...

  • United States resolution on the 90th anniversary of the Latvian Republic
    United States resolution on the 90th anniversary of the Latvian Republic
    The 90th Anniversary of the Latvian Republic was celebrated in 2008. Proclaimed on November 18, 1918, the Latvian republic asserted independence from Imperial Russia...

  • Swedish extradition of Baltic soldiers
    Swedish extradition of Baltic soldiers
    The Swedish extradition of Baltic soldiers, in Sweden known as Extradition of the Balts , is a controversial political event in Sweden that took place in 1945-1946, when Sweden extradited some 150 Baltic soldiers who had been drafted by the Axis against the Soviet Union in World War II.On 2 June...

  • Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
    Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
    Museum of the Occupation of Latvia 1940-1991 is an historic educational institution located in Riga, Latvia. It was established in 1993 to exhibit artifacts, archive documents, and educate the public about the 51-year period in the 20th century when Latvia was successively occupied by the USSR in...

Further reading

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