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Sources for Latvia 1919

There is precious little in English on the difficult path to independence of Latvia in 1919, but at least there is more than is available for Estonia and Lithuania at the same time. When reading material in English on these campaigns it pays to be very suspicious of any troop numbers quoted – almost all of them are wrong, often dramatically exaggerating the strength of the Freikorps.

The best discussion of the Freikorps in Latvia is a series of articles by Charles L Sullivan:
German Freecorps in the Baltic, 1918-1919 in Journal of Baltic Studies;
The German Role in the Baltic Campaign: Spring 1919 in Baltic Review; and
An article in The Baltic States in Peace and War: 1917-1945 entitled "The 1919 German Campaign on the Baltic: The Final Phase"

An eyewitness to many of the events was the French Military Mission, and I have done a rough translation into English of most of this book, for those that are interested:
L'Aventure Allemande en Lettonie by Lieutenant General du Parquet

Another eyewitness account, useful for the view it gives of the motivation of the German rank and file is:
The Outlaws by Ernst von Salomon

The dated Histoire de l'armée allemande : 1918-1946: vol 2, La Discorde (1919-1925) by Benoist-Méchin has been translated into English, but is hard to find and anyway is not terribly reliable (he follows du Parquet most of the time).

The naval aspects, so important to the battle of Riga, are well covered in:
Cowan’s War: the Story of British Naval Operations in the Baltic, 1918 - 1920 by Geoffrey Bennett, recently reprinted as Freeing the Baltic.

The Estonian official history of the Independence wars is well worth a look (you’ll probably have to buy it, but the new reprint is cheap enough). Really good maps, nice pictures and even some contemporary aerial photographs of the battlefields of the Cesis campaign:
Eesti Vabadussőda 1918 – 1920

The Latvian encyclopaedia of the war is also cheap and has nice maps and photographs too:
Latvijas Brīvības cīņas 1918 – 1920

I have translated into English the orders of battle in the Nazi official history of the Freikorps wars (Darstellungen aus den Nachkriegskämpfen deutscher Truppen und Freikorps) of which two volumes are relevant: Der Feldzug im Baltikum bis zur zweiten Einnahme von Riga (Januar bis Mai 1919) and Die Kämpfe im Baltikum nach der zweiten Einnahme von Riga (Juni bis Dezember 1919). These volumes also have some maps, but they are only detailed for the German victories, most of which were so comprehensive as to be boring gaming.

After that we get down to generalist books (which are not worth the bother if you have read the Sullivan articles listed above) and some specialist literature dealing with small aspects, such as memoirs of members of the Allied evacuation commission.

Several books on the Freikorps have chapters on Latvia, such as Vanguard of nazism : the Free Corps movement in postwar Germany, 1918-1923 by Robert GL Waite and Hitler's heralds : the story of the Freikorps, 1918-1923 by Nigel H Jones but these are not particularly illuminating. In French there are again books on the Freikorps with chapters on the Baltic, such as Baltikum : dans le Reich de la défaite, le combat des Corps-francs, 1918-1923 by Dominique Venner or his Histoire d'un fascisme allemand : les corps-francs du Baltikum et la révolution, which is basically identical in scope.

The Osprey Elite series title The German Freikorps: 1918 – 1923 is nice, if brief, but barely covers the Baltic. It tends to exaggerate the prowess of the Freikorps but is perfectly adequately for uniforms.

Latvia in the Wars of the 20th Century by Visvaldis Mangulis can be found on-line but is not always terribly accurate, at least with regard to the military aspects, and is very patriotically slanted.

L’Indépendance des pays de la Baltique 1918-1920 by Jean-David Avenel and Pierre Giudicelli was one of the most disappointing books I have ever bought, being largely off-topic and very badly produced.

Of course there are an enormous number of books on the topic in German, both histories and memoirs. I have collected most of the important ones, but since I can’t read German, there is not a lot I can do with them.

I also used a number of sources which only supply background or have very small snippets of direct information:
The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926 / Harold J Gordon
The British Navy in the Baltic, 1918-1920 Journal of Baltic Studies 1976 / W A Fletcher
Colonel Emmanuel du Parquet’s Mission in Latvia 1919-1920 Journal of Baltic Studies 1992 / S Champonnois
Alex, The Life of Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis / Nigel Nicolson
L'Evacuation des Pays Baltiques par les Allemands / General A. Niessel, Paris, 1935
L'Intervention navale alliée en Lettonie , Octobre-Novembre 1919, Revue Historique des Armées, n° 1, 1995  / Ludovic Chevutschi
Avec le General Niessel en Prusse et en Lithuanie, la Derniere Defaite Allemande / Captain Rene Vanlande
L’Invasion Moscovite / Georges Popoff
La Pologne en lutte pour ses frontières : 1918-1920 / Adam Przybylski
La république d'Estonie / Henry de Chambon
The Latvian impact on the Bolshevik Revolution : the first phase: September 1917 to April 1918 / Andrew Ezergailis

If you want a copy of the material which is out of copyright – the du Parquet, Darstellungen aus den Nachkriegskämpfen … and various memoirs in German – then contact me.

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