11 August 1944

11 August 1944

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11 August 1944



War at Sea

German submarine U-385 sunk off La Rochelle

Western Front

The Falaise gap is reduced to 20 miles in width

Eastern Front

Soviet offensive begins near Pskov


8th Army reaches Empoli


In August 1944 the historic walled city of Saint Malo, the brightest jewel of the Emerald Coast of Brittany, France, was almost totally destroyed by fire. This should not have happened.

If the attacking U.S. forces had not believed a false report that there were thousands of Germans within the city it might have been saved. They ignored the advice of two citizens who got to their lines and insisted that there were less than 100 Germans -- the members of two anti-aircraft units -- in the city, together with hundreds of civilians who could not get out because the Germans had closed the gates.

A ring of U.S. mortars showered incendiary shells on the magnificent granite houses, which contained much fine panelling and oak staircases as well as antique furniture and porcelain zealously guarded by successive generations. Thirty thousand valuable books and manuscripts were lost in the burning of the library and the paper ashes were blown miles out to sea. Of the 865 buildings within the walls only 182 remained standing and all were damaged to some degree.

Churchill, in his History of the Second World War,, said two armored and three infantry divisions were detached by Patton from the American assault forces in Normandy to clear the Brittany peninsula. The Germans, he said, "were pressed into their defensive perimeters of Saint Malo, Brest, Lorient and Saint Nazaire."

"Here," he added, "they could be penned and left to wither, thus saving the unnecessary losses which immediate assaults would have required."

This "leaving to wither" hardly happened at Saint Malo. Martin Blumenson in his book Breakout and Pursuit said few of the Americans who set out to take Saint Malo thought it would be a difficult task. But it wasn't long before the 8th Corps, and particularly the 83rd Ohio Division under General Macon, realized they had "a nasty job ahead of them."

The Germans' main defense was concentrated in five strongpoints built by the Todt Organization: to the west of the city, the La Cite fort, a vast subterranean complex carved out of a peninsula between the Rance estauary and the Bay of Saint Servan in the Bay of Saint Malo, two fortified islands, Cezembre and the Grand Bey and to the east, the Montaigne Saint Joseph and the La Varde fort, natural geographical features fortified with concrete, which were the first stubborn pockets of resistance encountered by the U.S. forces coming from that direction.

The garrison commander, Colonel Andreas von Aulock, a European representative of General Motors before the war, directed operations from the underground complex. The two AA sites within the city were operated by the Luftwaffe. One, on the walls of the castle at the eastern end, was commanded by Lieutenant Franz Kuster, a pre-war lawyer who subsequently became a judge in West Germany, and the other, in a little public garden facing the sea, was run by an Austrian sergeant.

To this day, a proportion of the citizens of Saint Malo believe the Germans deliberately burnt the city as an act of spite when they realized they were defeated. But all the evidence is against this.

There were many eye-witnesses to the shower of incendiaries launched by the Americans from the east, south and west of the city and the remains of a large number of these missiles were subsequently found in the ruins and identified by experts. There was no evidence of any German incendiary device having been used. In any case, it would have been illogical for Von Aulock, who certainly wasn't a fanatic, to try to burn out the city when he knew the AA units were still there. Besides, he had on the whole been attentive to the safety of the people. He had urged them on several occasions to leave the city, warning them of the horror of street fighting such as he had witnessed at Stalingrad. But a large proportion had preferred to stay because they felt they would be safer in the vast deep cellars created by Saint Malo's famed corsairs for storing their booty, than in the open country which might be transformed into a battlefield. They also feared that their houses might be looted of their valuables if left empty. Von Aulock decreed that any of his men caught looting would be shot, as would any NCO or officer who neglected his duty in this respect. Looting did take place, but the culprits were mainly civilians.

The Germans did, however, cause considerable damage in other respects. On 6 August, a minesweeper in the harbor shelled the cathedral spire which fell, causing extensive damage to the fabric. The excuse was that the spire was being used as an observation post by "terrorists." Von Aulock was furious and told Commander Breithaup, of the 12th minesweeper flotilla that the act "hardly covered the German navy with glory."

The harbor installations, including the massive lockgates, were blown up by the Germans on 7 August, and a number of vessels were scuttled there, thus ensuring that the port could not be used by the Allies.

Another German act was the rounding up of all the men between 16 and 60 in the city for internment at the Fort National, an historic fort on an islet near the castle, only accessible at low tide. This was Von Aulock's revenge for a skirmish which took place in the city on the night of 5-6 August. He was told that "terrorists" had fired on Germans. The French said it was a fight between German soldiers and mutinous sailors there had been a marked slackening of discipline in the navy.

Unfortunately the fort was in the line of fire between the Americans coming from the east and the fortified island known as Le Grand Bey and inevitably a shell eventually fell in the midst of the several hundred hostages killing or mortally wounding 18.

The old city itself suffered from the exchange of fire between the Americans and the big guns in the underground fort. Many buildings were hit by shells as well as bombs dropped by aircraft.

However, if the damage had been restricted to shells and bombs, most of the city would have been spared. It was the concentrated attack with incendiary mortar shells which destroyed most buildings.

The Americans' belief in the presence of a large number of Germans within the city was fortified by two incidents. On 10 August, two jeeps carrying four Americans and five Frenchmen tried to enter the city by the main gate. The party was under the mistaken impression that it had been liberated. They came under a hail of machinegun fire. An American officer and two of the French were killed and the others taken prisoner.

The following day a truck carrying clothing and ammunition for the Resistance also tried to get in. The two occupants were captured and the vehicle was burnt.

These attacks were the work of the Luftwaffe men on the AA sites but the Americans watching about 500 yards away could well have thought in the confusion of the incidents that the defenders were a much larger force.

However, it is hard to understand why they were scornful of the news brought by the two French emissaries from the city. Yves Burgot and Jean Vergniaud were sent from the castle where they had been sheltering to ask for morphia for the wounded Americans and Germans. They were received coolly by an officer who asked how many Germans remained in the city. They told him there were less than a hundred but he would not accept this and the shelling and burning continued.

A truce was arranged on 13 August to allow the people to get out of the city. By this time a large part of it was either in flames or had been destroyed. The firemen could do little to prevent the spread of the fires as the Americans had severed the water main.

The Americans attacked with tanks on 14 August and, to their undoubted surprise, found the burning city almost empty.

The underground fortress continued to fight until August 17 when Von Aulock surrendered. He was subsequently accused of "the barbaric act of burning the corsairs' city," but after an examination of the ruins including the remains of incendiary shells and the questioning of witnesses, he was vindicated.

From The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1981 (Vol. 2, No. 4), page 301-304.

About the Author

Philip Beck was an English journalist, historian, artist, actor and theatrical director. For years he lived in the Vale of Evesham (England). He was editor of Berrow's Worcester Journal, and sub-editor of the Evesham Journal. Among his published works were Oradour: The Death of a Village, and The Burning of Saint-Malo, of which this article is a condensation or summary. He and his French wife, Marie-Cecile, were both bi-lingual. He died in 2007, age 92, at his home in Saint Malo (France).

Today in World War II History—August 11, 1944

Map depicting the Allied breakout in Normandy, France, 1-13 Aug 1944 (US Military Academy)

75 Years Ago—August 11, 1944: In France, US Third Army crosses the Loire River.

At Nantes, France, Germans scuttle ships as Allies approach.

Fifty black sailors who survived the Port Chicago Explosion still refuse to load munitions and are charged with mutiny. [see Port Chicago: The Work Stoppage ]

Damage to rail cars at US Naval Magazine, Port Chicago from 17 July 1944 explosion (US Naval History and Heritage Command)

Wheels West Day in Susanville History – August 11th, 1944

The auditorium in the Story Club taken in the early 1920’s.

Lassen Historical Society photo

$37,500 Fire at Story Club In Susanville
August 11th, 1944

Early Monday morning, fire was discovered in the kitchen of the Study club by passerby and spread with great rapidity.

The Fruit Grower Supply Company fire department, with 50 men using seven streams of water, was supplemented by trucks and men from the Red River Lumber Company and the State division of forestry. The blaze was “brought to the ground” at 4 a.m.

The fire which blazed with such fury, threw shingles as far as the Lincoln School building on Main Street, over half a mile from the scene of the conflagration.

According to T. K. Oliver, the estimated loss on the building is approximately $35,000, which does not include $2500 worth of bar equipment, soft drinks, beer and tobacco owned by Stanley Arnold, lessee of the club room, and the loss of the kitchen which had been operated since 1925 by Mrs. Oscar Lindquist.

Another loss incurred by the fire was a drum and trap-set owned by Thomas Bennett, well known musician, who had played at a dance at the club Saturday night preceding the fire.

The club room, and the kitchen which fed 40 men, were only two rooms in this recreation center, which included the popular roller skating rink, dance hall, ladies club room, CIO headquarters and library.

The Story Club was built by the Fruit Growers Supply Company in April 1922, and several local residents who attended the 1922 opening of the club, danced there on Saturday night, August 12, the night before it was destroyed by the fire.

No plans have been made for rebuilding of the Story Club, which was covered by insurance.

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The name Latvija is derived from the name of the ancient Latgalians, one of four Indo-European Baltic tribes (along with Couronians, Selonians and Semigallians), which formed the ethnic core of modern Latvians together with the Finnic Livonians. [20] Henry of Latvia coined the latinisations of the country's name, "Lettigallia" and "Lethia", both derived from the Latgalians. The terms inspired the variations on the country's name in Romance languages from "Letonia" and in several Germanic languages from "Lettland". [21]

Around 3000 BC, the proto-Baltic ancestors of the Latvian people settled on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. [22] The Balts established trade routes to Rome and Byzantium, trading local amber for precious metals. [23] By 900 AD, four distinct Baltic tribes inhabited Latvia: Curonians, Latgalians, Selonians, Semigallians (in Latvian: kurši, latgaļi, sēļi and zemgaļi), as well as the Finnic tribe of Livonians (lībieši) speaking a Finnic language. [ citation needed ]

In the 12th century in the territory of Latvia, there were lands with their rulers: Vanema, Ventava, Bandava, Grauzējupe, Piemare, Duvzare, Dirsupe, Sēlija, Koknese, Jersika, Tālava and Adzele. [24]

Medieval period Edit

Although the local people had contact with the outside world for centuries, they became more fully integrated into the European socio-political system in the 12th century. [25] The first missionaries, sent by the Pope, sailed up the Daugava River in the late 12th century, seeking converts. [26] The local people, however, did not convert to Christianity as readily as the Church had hoped. [26]

German crusaders were sent, or more likely decided to go on their own accord as they were known to do. Saint Meinhard of Segeberg arrived in Ikšķile, in 1184, traveling with merchants to Livonia, on a Catholic mission to convert the population from their original pagan beliefs. Pope Celestine III had called for a crusade against pagans in Northern Europe in 1193. When peaceful means of conversion failed to produce results, Meinhard plotted to convert Livonians by force of arms. [27]

At the beginning of the 13th century, Germans ruled large parts of what is currently Latvia. [26] Together with southern Estonia, these conquered areas formed the crusader state that became known as Terra Mariana or Livonia. In 1282, Riga, and later the cities of Cēsis, Limbaži, Koknese and Valmiera, became part of the Hanseatic League. [26] Riga became an important point of east–west trading [26] and formed close cultural links with Western Europe. [28] The first German settlers were knights from northern Germany and citizens of northern German towns who brought their Low German language to the region, which shaped many loanwords in the Latvian language. [29]

Reformation period and Polish–Lithuanian rule Edit

After the Livonian War (1558–1583), Livonia (Northern Latvia & Southern Estonia) fell under Polish and Lithuanian rule. [26] The southern part of Estonia and the northern part of Latvia were ceded to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and formed into the Duchy of Livonia (Ducatus Livoniae Ultradunensis). Gotthard Kettler, the last Master of the Order of Livonia, formed the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia. [30] Though the duchy was a vassal state to Lithuanian Grand Duchy and later of Polish and Lithuanian commonwealth, it retained a considerable degree of autonomy and experienced a golden age in the 16th century. Latgalia, the easternmost region of Latvia, became a part of the Inflanty Voivodeship of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. [31]

In the 17th and early 18th centuries, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sweden, and Russia struggled for supremacy in the eastern Baltic. After the Polish–Swedish War, northern Livonia (including Vidzeme) came under Swedish rule. Riga became the capital of Swedish Livonia and the largest city in the entire Swedish Empire. [32] Fighting continued sporadically between Sweden and Poland until the Truce of Altmark in 1629. [33] [ citation needed ] In Latvia, the Swedish period is generally remembered as positive serfdom was eased, a network of schools was established for the peasantry, and the power of the regional barons was diminished. [34] [35]

Several important cultural changes occurred during this time. Under Swedish and largely German rule, western Latvia adopted Lutheranism as its main religion. The ancient tribes of the Couronians, Semigallians, Selonians, Livs, and northern Latgallians assimilated to form the Latvian people, speaking one Latvian language. Throughout all the centuries, however, an actual Latvian state had not been established, so the borders and definitions of who exactly fell within that group are largely subjective. Meanwhile, largely isolated from the rest of Latvia, southern Latgallians adopted Catholicism under Polish/Jesuit influence. The native dialect remained distinct, although it acquired many Polish and Russian loanwords. [36]

Livonia & Courland in the Russian Empire (1795–1917) Edit

The capitulation of Estonia and Livonia in 1710 and the Treaty of Nystad, ending the Great Northern War in 1721, gave Vidzeme to Russia (it became part of the Riga Governorate). [ citation needed ] The Latgale region remained part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth as Inflanty Voivodeship until 1772, when it was incorporated into Russia. The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia became an autonomous Russian province (the Courland Governorate) in 1795, bringing all of what is now Latvia into the Russian Empire. All three Baltic provinces preserved local laws, German as the local official language and their own parliament, the Landtag. [ citation needed ]

During the Great Northern War (1700–1721), up to 40 percent of Latvians died from famine and plague. [37] Half the residents of Riga were killed by plague in 1710–1711. [38]

The emancipation of the serfs took place in Courland in 1817 and in Vidzeme in 1819. [ citation needed ] In practice, however, the emancipation was actually advantageous to the landowners and nobility, [ citation needed ] as it dispossessed peasants of their land without compensation, forcing them to return to work at the estates "of their own free will". [ citation needed ]

During these two centuries Latvia experienced economic and construction boom – ports were expanded (Riga became the largest port in the Russian Empire), railways built new factories, banks, and a university were established many residential, public (theatres and museums), and school buildings were erected new parks formed and so on. Riga's boulevards and some streets outside the Old Town date from this period. [ citation needed ]

Numeracy was also higher in the Livonian and Courlandian parts of the Russian Empire, which may have been influenced by the Protestant religion of the inhabitants. [39]

National awakening Edit

During the 19th century, the social structure changed dramatically. [ citation needed ] A class of independent farmers established itself after reforms allowed the peasants to repurchase their land, but many landless peasants remained. [ citation needed ] There also developed a growing urban proletariat and an increasingly influential Latvian bourgeoisie. The Young Latvian (Latvian: Jaunlatvieši) movement laid the groundwork for nationalism from the middle of the century, many of its leaders looking to the Slavophiles for support against the prevailing German-dominated social order. [ citation needed ] The rise in use of the Latvian language in literature and society became known as the First National Awakening. Russification began in Latgale after the Polish led the January Uprising in 1863: this spread to the rest of what is now Latvia by the 1880s. [ citation needed ] The Young Latvians were largely eclipsed by the New Current, a broad leftist social and political movement, in the 1890s. Popular discontent exploded in the 1905 Russian Revolution, which took a nationalist character in the Baltic provinces. [ citation needed ]

Declaration of independence Edit

World War I devastated the territory of what became the state of Latvia, and other western parts of the Russian Empire. Demands for self-determination were initially confined to autonomy, until a power vacuum was created by the Russian Revolution in 1917, followed by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between Russia and Germany in March 1918, then the Allied armistice with Germany on 11 November 1918. On 18 November 1918, in Riga, the People's Council of Latvia proclaimed the independence of the new country, with Kārlis Ulmanis becoming the head of the provisional government. [ citation needed ] The General representative of Germany August Winnig formally handed over political power to the Latvian Provisional Government on 26 November.

The war of independence that followed was part of a general chaotic period of civil and new border wars in Eastern Europe. By the spring of 1919, there were actually three governments: the Provisional government headed by Kārlis Ulmanis, supported by Tautas padome and the Inter-Allied Commission of Control the Latvian Soviet government led by Pēteris Stučka, supported by the Red Army and the Provisional government headed by Andrievs Niedra and supported by the Baltische Landeswehr and the German Freikorps unit Iron Division. [ citation needed ]

Estonian and Latvian forces defeated the Germans at the Battle of Wenden in June 1919, [40] and a massive attack by a predominantly German force—the West Russian Volunteer Army—under Pavel Bermondt-Avalov was repelled in November. Eastern Latvia was cleared of Red Army forces by Latvian and Polish troops in early 1920 (from the Polish perspective the Battle of Daugavpils was a part of the Polish–Soviet War). [ citation needed ]

A freely elected Constituent assembly convened on 1 May 1920, and adopted a liberal constitution, the Satversme, in February 1922. [41] The constitution was partly suspended by Kārlis Ulmanis after his coup in 1934 but reaffirmed in 1990. Since then, it has been amended and is still in effect in Latvia today. With most of Latvia's industrial base evacuated to the interior of Russia in 1915, radical land reform was the central political question for the young state. In 1897, 61.2% of the rural population had been landless by 1936, that percentage had been reduced to 18%. [42]

By 1923, the extent of cultivated land surpassed the pre-war level. Innovation and rising productivity led to rapid growth of the economy, but it soon suffered from the effects of the Great Depression. Latvia showed signs of economic recovery, and the electorate had steadily moved toward the centre during the parliamentary period. [ citation needed ] On 15 May 1934, Ulmanis staged a bloodless coup, establishing a nationalist dictatorship that lasted until 1940. [43] After 1934, Ulmanis established government corporations to buy up private firms with the aim of "Latvianising" the economy. [44]

Latvia in World War II Edit

Early in the morning of 24 August 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a 10-year non-aggression pact, called the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. [45] The pact contained a secret protocol, revealed only after Germany's defeat in 1945, according to which the states of Northern and Eastern Europe were divided into German and Soviet "spheres of influence". [46] In the north, Latvia, Finland and Estonia were assigned to the Soviet sphere. [46] A week later, on 1 September 1939, Germany and on 17 September, the Soviet Union invaded Poland. [47] : 32

After the conclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, most of the Baltic Germans left Latvia by agreement between Ulmanis' government and Nazi Germany under the Heim ins Reich programme. [48] In total 50,000 Baltic Germans left by the deadline of December 1939, with 1,600 remaining to conclude business and 13,000 choosing to remain in Latvia. [48] Most of those who remained left for Germany in summer 1940, when a second resettlement scheme was agreed. [49] The racially approved being resettled mainly in Poland, being given land and businesses in exchange for the money they had received from the sale of their previous assets. [47] : 46

On 5 October 1939, Latvia was forced to accept a "mutual assistance" pact with the Soviet Union, granting the Soviets the right to station between 25,000 and 30,000 troops on Latvian territory. [50] State administrators were murdered and replaced by Soviet cadres. [51] Elections were held with single pro-Soviet candidates listed for many positions. The resulting people's assembly immediately requested admission into the USSR, which the Soviet Union granted. [51] Latvia, then a puppet government, was headed by Augusts Kirhenšteins. [52] The Soviet Union incorporated Latvia on 5 August 1940, as The Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The Soviets dealt harshly with their opponents – prior to Operation Barbarossa, in less than a year, at least 34,250 Latvians were deported or killed. [53] Most were deported to Siberia where deaths were estimated at 40 percent. [47] : 48

On 22 June 1941 German troops attacked Soviet forces in Operation Barbarossa. [54] There were some spontaneous uprisings by Latvians against the Red Army which helped the Germans. By 29 June Riga was reached and with Soviet troops killed, captured or retreating, Latvia was left under the control of German forces by early July. [55] [47] : 78–96 The occupation was followed immediately by SS Einsatzgruppen troops who were to act in accordance with the Nazi Generalplan Ost which required the population of Latvia to be cut by 50 percent. [47] : 64 [47] : 56

Under German occupation, Latvia was administered as part of Reichskommissariat Ostland. [56] Latvian paramilitary and Auxiliary Police units established by the occupation authority participated in the Holocaust and other atrocities. [43] 30,000 Jews were shot in Latvia in the autumn of 1941. [47] : 127 Another 30,000 Jews from the Riga ghetto were killed in the Rumbula Forest in November and December 1941, to reduce overpopulation in the ghetto and make room for more Jews being brought in from Germany and the West. [47] : 128 There was a pause in fighting, apart from partisan activity, until after the siege of Leningrad ended in January 1944 and the Soviet troops advanced, entering Latvia in July and eventually capturing Riga on 13 October 1944. [47] : 271

More than 200,000 Latvian citizens died during World War II, including approximately 75,000 Latvian Jews murdered during the Nazi occupation. [43] Latvian soldiers fought on both sides of the conflict, mainly on the German side, with 140,000 men in the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS, [57] The 308th Latvian Rifle Division was formed by the Red Army in 1944. On occasions, especially in 1944, opposing Latvian troops faced each other in battle. [47] : 299

In the 23rd block of the Vorverker cemetery, a monument was erected after the Second World War for the people of Latvia, who had died in Lübeck from 1945 to 1950.

Soviet era (1940–1941, 1944–1991) Edit

In 1944, when Soviet military advances reached Latvia, heavy fighting took place in Latvia between German and Soviet troops, which ended in another German defeat. In the course of the war, both occupying forces conscripted Latvians into their armies, in this way increasing the loss of the nation's "live resources". In 1944, part of the Latvian territory once more came under Soviet control. The Soviets immediately began to reinstate the Soviet system. After the German surrender, it became clear that Soviet forces were there to stay, and Latvian national partisans, soon joined by some who had collaborated with the Germans, began to fight against the new occupier. [58]

Anywhere from 120,000 to as many as 300,000 Latvians took refuge from the Soviet army by fleeing to Germany and Sweden. [59] Most sources count 200,000 to 250,000 refugees leaving Latvia, with perhaps as many as 80,000 to 100,000 of them recaptured by the Soviets or, during few months immediately after the end of war, [60] returned by the West. [61] The Soviets reoccupied the country in 1944–1945, and further deportations followed as the country was collectivised and Sovieticised. [43]

On 25 March 1949, 43,000 rural residents ("kulaks") and Latvian nationalists were deported to Siberia in a sweeping Operation Priboi in all three Baltic states, which was carefully planned and approved in Moscow already on 29 January 1949. [62] This operation had the desired effect of reducing the anti Soviet partisan activity. [47] : 326 Between 136,000 and 190,000 Latvians, depending on the sources, were imprisoned or deported to Soviet concentration camps (the Gulag) in the post war years, from 1945 to 1952. [63]

In the post-war period, Latvia was made to adopt Soviet farming methods. Rural areas were forced into collectivization. [64] An extensive program to impose bilingualism was initiated in Latvia, limiting the use of Latvian language in official uses in favor of using Russian as the main language. All of the minority schools (Jewish, Polish, Belarusian, Estonian, Lithuanian) were closed down leaving only two media of instructions in the schools: Latvian and Russian. [65] An influx of new colonists, including laborers, administrators, military personnel and their dependents from Russia and other Soviet republics started. By 1959 about 400,000 Russian settlers arrived and the ethnic Latvian population had fallen to 62%. [66]

Since Latvia had maintained a well-developed infrastructure and educated specialists, Moscow decided to base some of the Soviet Union's most advanced manufacturing in Latvia. New industry was created in Latvia, including a major machinery factory RAF in Jelgava, electrotechnical factories in Riga, chemical factories in Daugavpils, Valmiera and Olaine—and some food and oil processing plants. [67] Latvia manufactured trains, ships, minibuses, mopeds, telephones, radios and hi-fi systems, electrical and diesel engines, textiles, furniture, clothing, bags and luggage, shoes, musical instruments, home appliances, watches, tools and equipment, aviation and agricultural equipment and long list of other goods. Latvia had its own film industry and musical records factory (LPs). However, there were not enough people to operate the newly built factories. [ citation needed ] To maintain and expand industrial production, skilled workers were migrating from all over the Soviet Union, decreasing the proportion of ethnic Latvians in the republic. [68] The population of Latvia reached its peak in 1990 at just under 2.7 million people.

In late 2018 the National Archives of Latvia released a full alphabetical index of some 10,000 people recruited as agents or informants by the Soviet KGB. 'The publication, which followed two decades of public debate and the passage of a special law, revealed the names, code names, birthplaces and other data on active and former KGB agents as of 1991, the year Latvia regained its independence from the Soviet Union.' [69]

Restoration of independence in 1991 Edit

In the second half of the 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev started to introduce political and economic reforms in the Soviet Union that were called glasnost and perestroika. In the summer of 1987, the first large demonstrations were held in Riga at the Freedom Monument—a symbol of independence. In the summer of 1988, a national movement, coalescing in the Popular Front of Latvia, was opposed by the Interfront. The Latvian SSR, along with the other Baltic Republics was allowed greater autonomy, and in 1988, the old pre-war Flag of Latvia flew again, replacing the Soviet Latvian flag as the official flag in 1990. [70] [71]

In 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted a resolution on the Occupation of the Baltic states, in which it declared the occupation "not in accordance with law", and not the "will of the Soviet people". Pro-independence Popular Front of Latvia candidates gained a two-thirds majority in the Supreme Council in the March 1990 democratic elections. On 4 May 1990, the Supreme Council adopted the Declaration on the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia, and the Latvian SSR was renamed Republic of Latvia. [72]

However, the central power in Moscow continued to regard Latvia as a Soviet republic in 1990 and 1991. In January 1991, Soviet political and military forces tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the Republic of Latvia authorities by occupying the central publishing house in Riga and establishing a Committee of National Salvation to usurp governmental functions. During the transitional period, Moscow maintained many central Soviet state authorities in Latvia. [72]

In spite of this, 73% of all Latvian residents confirmed their strong support for independence on 3 March 1991, in a non-binding advisory referendum. [ citation needed ] The Popular Front of Latvia advocated that all permanent residents be eligible for Latvian citizenship, helping to sway many ethnic Russians to vote for independence. However, universal citizenship for all permanent residents was not adopted. Instead, citizenship was granted to persons who had been citizens of Latvia at the day of loss of independence at 1940 as well as their descendants. As a consequence, the majority of ethnic non-Latvians did not receive Latvian citizenship since neither they nor their parents had ever been citizens of Latvia, becoming non-citizens or citizens of other former Soviet republics. By 2011, more than half of non-citizens had taken naturalization exams and received Latvian citizenship. Still, today there are 290,660 non-citizens in Latvia, which represent 14.1% of the population. They have no citizenship of any country, and cannot vote in Latvia. [73]

The Republic of Latvia declared the end of the transitional period and restored full independence on 21 August 1991, in the aftermath of the failed Soviet coup attempt. [4]

The Saeima, Latvia's parliament, was again elected in 1993. Russia ended its military presence by completing its troop withdrawal in 1994 and shutting down the Skrunda-1 radar station in 1998. The major goals of Latvia in the 1990s, to join NATO and the European Union, were achieved in 2004. The NATO Summit 2006 was held in Riga. [74]

Vaira Vike-Freiberga was President of Latvia since 1999 until 2007. She was the first female head of state in former Soviet block state. She was active in Latvia joining both Nato and the European Union in 2004. [75]

Language and citizenship laws have been opposed by many Russophones. Citizenship was not automatically extended to former Soviet citizens who settled during the Soviet occupation, or to their offspring. Children born to non-nationals after the reestablishment of independence are automatically entitled to citizenship. Approximately 72% of Latvian citizens are Latvian, while 20% are Russian less than 1% of non-citizens are Latvian, while 71% are Russian. [76] The government denationalized private property confiscated by the Soviets, returning it or compensating the owners for it, and privatized most state-owned industries, reintroducing the prewar currency. Albeit having experienced a difficult transition to a liberal economy and its re-orientation toward Western Europe, Latvia is one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union. In 2014, Riga was the European Capital of Culture, [77] Latvia joined the eurozone and adopted the EU single currency euro as the currency of the country [78] and a Latvian was named vice-president of the European Commission. [79] In 2015 Latvia held the presidency of Council of the European Union. [80] Big European events have been celebrated in Riga such as the Eurovision Song Contest 2003 [81] and the European Film Awards 2014. [82] On 1 July 2016, Latvia became a member of the OECD. [83]

Regional timeline Edit

Affiliations of the areas that comprise modern Latvia in historical & regional context:

North Estonia South Estonia North Latvia South Latvia North Lithuania South Lithuania
10th Finnic tribes Baltic tribes
11th Ancient Estonia
13th Danish Estonia Livonian Order Duchy of Lithuania
14th Grand Duchy of Lithuania
16th Swedish Estonia Duchy of Livonia
17th Swedish Livonia
18th Governorate of Estonia Governorate of Livonia Duchy of Courland and Semigallia
19th Courland Governorate Government of Kaunas Vilna Governorate
20th Republic of Estonia Republic of Latvia Republic of Lithuania
21st Republic of Estonia (EU) Republic of Latvia (EU) Republic of Lithuania (EU)

Latvia lies in Northern Europe, on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea and northwestern part of the East European Craton (EEC), between latitudes 55° and 58° N (a small area is north of 58°), and longitudes 21° and 29° E (a small area is west of 21°). Latvia has a total area of 64,559 km 2 (24,926 sq mi) of which 62,157 km 2 (23,999 sq mi) land, 18,159 km 2 (7,011 sq mi) agricultural land, [84] 34,964 km 2 (13,500 sq mi) forest land [85] and 2,402 km 2 (927 sq mi) inland water. [86]

The total length of Latvia's boundary is 1,866 km (1,159 mi). The total length of its land boundary is 1,368 km (850 mi), of which 343 km (213 mi) is shared with Estonia to the north, 276 km (171 mi) with the Russian Federation to the east, 161 km (100 mi) with Belarus to the southeast and 588 km (365 mi) with Lithuania to the south. The total length of its maritime boundary is 498 km (309 mi), which is shared with Estonia, Sweden and Lithuania. Extension from north to south is 210 km (130 mi) and from west to east 450 km (280 mi). [86]

Most of Latvia's territory is less than 100 m (330 ft) above sea level. Its largest lake, Lubāns, has an area of 80.7 km 2 (31.2 sq mi), its deepest lake, Drīdzis, is 65.1 m (214 ft) deep. The longest river on Latvian territory is the Gauja, at 452 km (281 mi) in length. The longest river flowing through Latvian territory is the Daugava, which has a total length of 1,005 km (624 mi), of which 352 km (219 mi) is on Latvian territory. Latvia's highest point is Gaiziņkalns, 311.6 m (1,022 ft). The length of Latvia's Baltic coastline is 494 km (307 mi). An inlet of the Baltic Sea, the shallow Gulf of Riga is situated in the northwest of the country. [87]

Climate Edit

Latvia has a temperate climate that has been described in various sources as either humid continental (Köppen Dfb) or oceanic/maritime (Köppen Cfb). [88] [89] [90]

Coastal regions, especially the western coast of the Courland Peninsula, possess a more maritime climate with cooler summers and milder winters, while eastern parts exhibit a more continental climate with warmer summers and harsher winters. [88]

Latvia has four pronounced seasons of near-equal length. Winter starts in mid-December and lasts until mid-March. Winters have average temperatures of −6 °C (21 °F) and are characterized by stable snow cover, bright sunshine, and short days. Severe spells of winter weather with cold winds, extreme temperatures of around −30 °C (−22 °F) and heavy snowfalls are common. Summer starts in June and lasts until August. Summers are usually warm and sunny, with cool evenings and nights. Summers have average temperatures of around 19 °C (66 °F), with extremes of 35 °C (95 °F). Spring and autumn bring fairly mild weather. [91]

Weather records in Latvia [92]
Weather record Value Location Date
Highest temperature 37.8 °C (100 °F) Ventspils 4 August 2014
Lowest temperature −43.2 °C (−46 °F) Daugavpils 8 February 1956
Last spring frost large parts of territory 24 June 1982
First autumn frost Cenas parish 15 August 1975
Highest yearly precipitation 1,007 mm (39.6 in) Priekuļi parish 1928
Lowest yearly precipitation 384 mm (15.1 in) Ainaži 1939
Highest daily precipitation 160 mm (6.3 in) Ventspils 9 July 1973
Highest monthly precipitation 330 mm (13.0 in) Nīca parish August 1972
Lowest monthly precipitation 0 mm (0 in) large parts of territory May 1938 and May 1941
Thickest snow cover 126 cm (49.6 in) Gaiziņkalns March 1931
Month with the most days with blizzards 19 days Liepāja February 1956
The most days with fog in a year 143 days Gaiziņkalns area 1946
Longest-lasting fog 93 hours Alūksne 1958
Highest atmospheric pressure 31.5 inHg (1,066.7 mb) Liepāja January 1907
Lowest atmospheric pressure 27.5 inHg (931.3 mb) Vidzeme Upland 13 February 1962
The most days with thunderstorms in a year 52 days Vidzeme Upland 1954
Strongest wind 34 m/s, up to 48 m/s not specified 2 November 1969

2019 was the warmest year in the history of weather observation in Latvia with an average temperature +8.1 °C higher. [93]

Environment Edit

Most of the country is composed of fertile lowland plains and moderate hills. In a typical Latvian landscape, a mosaic of vast forests alternates with fields, farmsteads, and pastures. Arable land is spotted with birch groves and wooded clusters, which afford a habitat for numerous plants and animals. Latvia has hundreds of kilometres of undeveloped seashore—lined by pine forests, dunes, and continuous white sand beaches. [87] [94]

Latvia has the 5th highest proportion of land covered by forests in the European Union, after Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Slovenia. [95] Forests account for 3,497,000 ha (8,640,000 acres) or 56% of the total land area. [85]

Latvia has over 12,500 rivers, which stretch for 38,000 km (24,000 mi). Major rivers include the Daugava River, Lielupe, Gauja, Venta, and Salaca, the largest spawning ground for salmon in the eastern Baltic states. There are 2,256 lakes that are bigger than 1 ha (2.5 acres), with a collective area of 1,000 km 2 (390 sq mi). Mires occupy 9.9% of Latvia's territory. Of these, 42% are raised bogs 49% are fens and 9% are transitional mires. 70% percent of the mires are untouched by civilization, and they are a refuge for many rare species of plants and animals. [94]

Agricultural areas account for 1,815,900 ha (4,487,000 acres) or 29% of the total land area. [84] With the dismantling of collective farms, the area devoted to farming decreased dramatically – now farms are predominantly small. Approximately 200 farms, occupying 2,750 ha (6,800 acres), are engaged in ecologically pure farming (using no artificial fertilizers or pesticides). [94]

Latvia has a long tradition of conservation. The first laws and regulations were promulgated in the 16th and 17th centuries. [94] There are 706 specially state-level protected natural areas in Latvia: four national parks, one biosphere reserve, 42 nature parks, nine areas of protected landscapes, 260 nature reserves, four strict nature reserves, 355 nature monuments, seven protected marine areas and 24 microreserves. [98] Nationally protected areas account for 12,790 km 2 (4,940 sq mi) or around 20% of Latvia's total land area. [86] Latvia's Red Book (Endangered Species List of Latvia), which was established in 1977, contains 112 plant species and 119 animal species. Latvia has ratified the international Washington, Bern, and Ramsare conventions. [94]

The 2012 Environmental Performance Index ranks Latvia second, after Switzerland, based on the environmental performance of the country's policies. [99]

Access to biocapacity in Latvia is much higher than world average. In 2016, Latvia had 8.5 global hectares [100] of biocapacity per person within its territory, much more than the world average of 1.6 global hectares per person. [101] In 2016 Latvia used 6.4 global hectares of biocapacity per person - their ecological footprint of consumption. This means they use less biocapacity than Latvia contains. As a result, Latvia is running a biocapacity reserve. [100]

Biodiversity Edit

Approximately 30,000 species of flora and fauna have been registered in Latvia. [103] Common species of wildlife in Latvia include deer, wild boar, moose, lynx, bear, fox, beaver and wolves. [104] Non-marine molluscs of Latvia include 159 species. [ citation needed ]

Species that are endangered in other European countries but common in Latvia include: black stork (Ciconia nigra), corncrake (Crex crex), lesser spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina), white-backed woodpecker (Picoides leucotos), Eurasian crane (Grus grus), Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber), Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), European wolf (Canis lupus) and European lynx (Felis lynx). [94]

Phytogeographically, Latvia is shared between the Central European and Northern European provinces of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, the territory of Latvia belongs to the ecoregion of Sarmatic mixed forests. 56 percent [85] of Latvia's territory is covered by forests, mostly Scots pine, birch, and Norway spruce. [ citation needed ] It had a 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 2.09/10, ranking it 159th globally out of 172 countries. [105]

Several species of flora and fauna are considered national symbols. Oak (Quercus robur, Latvian: ozols), and linden (Tilia cordata, Latvian: liepa) are Latvia's national trees and the daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare, Latvian: pīpene) its national flower. The white wagtail (Motacilla alba, Latvian: baltā cielava) is Latvia's national bird. Its national insect is the two-spot ladybird (Adalia bipunctata, Latvian: divpunktu mārīte). Amber, fossilized tree resin, is one of Latvia's most important cultural symbols. In ancient times, amber found along the Baltic Sea coast was sought by Vikings as well as traders from Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire. This led to the development of the Amber Road. [106]

Several nature reserves protect unspoiled landscapes with a variety of large animals. At Pape Nature Reserve, where European bison, wild horses, and recreated aurochs have been reintroduced, there is now an almost complete Holocene megafauna also including moose, deer, and wolf. [107]

Administrative divisions Edit

Latvia is a unitary state, currently divided into 110 one-level municipalities (Latvian: novadi) and 9 republican cities (Latvian: republikas pilsētas) with their own city council and administration: Daugavpils, Jēkabpils, Jelgava, Jūrmala, Liepāja, Rēzekne, Riga, Valmiera, and Ventspils. There are four historical and cultural regions in Latvia – Courland, Latgale, Vidzeme, Zemgale, which are recognised in Constitution of Latvia. Selonia, a part of Zemgale, is sometimes considered culturally distinct region, but it is not part of any formal division. The borders of historical and cultural regions usually are not explicitly defined and in several sources may vary. In formal divisions, Riga region, which includes the capital and parts of other regions that have a strong relationship with the capital, is also often included in regional divisions e.g., there are five planning regions of Latvia (Latvian: plānošanas reģioni), which were created in 2009 to promote balanced development of all regions. Under this division Riga region includes large parts of what traditionally is considered Vidzeme, Courland, and Zemgale. Statistical regions of Latvia, established in accordance with the EU Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics, duplicate this division, but divides Riga region into two parts with the capital alone being a separate region. [ citation needed ] The largest city in Latvia is Riga, the second largest city is Daugavpils and the third largest city is Liepaja.

The 100-seat unicameral Latvian parliament, the Saeima, is elected by direct popular vote every four years. The president is elected by the Saeima in a separate election, also held every four years. The president appoints a prime minister who, together with his cabinet, forms the executive branch of the government, which has to receive a confidence vote by the Saeima. This system also existed before World War II. [108] The most senior civil servants are the thirteen Secretaries of State. [ citation needed ] [109]

Political culture Edit

In 2010 parliamentary election ruling centre-right coalition won 63 out of 100 parliamentary seats. Left-wing opposition Harmony Centre supported by Latvia's Russian-speaking minority got 29 seats. [110] In November 2013, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, in office since 2009, resigned after at least 54 people were killed and dozens injured in the collapse at a supermarket in Riga. [111]

In 2014 parliamentary election was won again by the ruling centre-right coalition formed by the Latvian Unity Party, the National Alliance and the Union of Greens and Farmers. They got 61 seats and Harmony got 24. [112] In December 2015, country's first female Prime Minister, in office since January 2014, Laimdota Straujuma resigned. [113] In February 2016, a coalition of Union of Greens and Farmers, The Unity and National Alliance was formed by new Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis. [114]

In 2018 parliamentary election pro-Russian Harmony was again the biggest party securing 23 out of 100 seats, the second and third were the new populist parties KPV LV and New Conservative Party. Ruling coalition, comprising the Union of Greens and Farmers, the National Alliance and the Unity party, lost. [115] In January 2019, Latvia got a government led by new Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins of the centre-right New Unity. Karins’ coalition was formed by five of the seven parties in parliament, excluding only the pro-Russia Harmony party and the Union of Greens and Farmers. [116]

Foreign relations Edit

Latvia is a member of the United Nations, European Union, Council of Europe, NATO, OECD, OSCE, IMF, and WTO. It is also a member of the Council of the Baltic Sea States and Nordic Investment Bank. It was a member of the League of Nations (1921–1946). Latvia is part of the Schengen Area and joined the Eurozone on 1 January 2014.

Latvia has established diplomatic relations with 158 countries. It has 44 diplomatic and consular missions and maintains 34 embassies and 9 permanent representations abroad. There are 37 foreign embassies and 11 international organisations in Latvia's capital Riga. Latvia hosts one European Union institution, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC). [117]

Latvia's foreign policy priorities include co-operation in the Baltic Sea region, European integration, active involvement in international organisations, contribution to European and transatlantic security and defence structures, participation in international civilian and military peacekeeping operations, and development co-operation, particularly the strengthening of stability and democracy in the EU's Eastern Partnership countries. [118] [119] [120]

Since the early 1990s, Latvia has been involved in active trilateral Baltic states co-operation with its neighbours Estonia and Lithuania, and Nordic-Baltic co-operation with the Nordic countries. The Baltic Council is the joint forum of the interparliamentary Baltic Assembly (BA) and the intergovernmental Baltic Council of Ministers (BCM). [121] Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB-8) is the joint co-operation of the governments of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden. [122] Nordic-Baltic Six (NB-6), comprising Nordic-Baltic countries that are European Union member states, is a framework for meetings on EU-related issues. Interparliamentary co-operation between the Baltic Assembly and Nordic Council was signed in 1992 and since 2006 annual meetings are held as well as regular meetings on other levels. [122] Joint Nordic-Baltic co-operation initiatives include the education programme NordPlus [123] and mobility programmes for public administration, [124] business and industry [125] and culture. [126] The Nordic Council of Ministers has an office in Riga. [127]

Latvia participates in the Northern Dimension and Baltic Sea Region Programme, European Union initiatives to foster cross-border co-operation in the Baltic Sea region and Northern Europe. The secretariat of the Northern Dimension Partnership on Culture (NDPC) will be located in Riga. [128] In 2013 Riga hosted the annual Northern Future Forum, a two-day informal meeting of the prime ministers of the Nordic-Baltic countries and the UK. [129] The Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe or e-Pine is the U.S. Department of State diplomatic framework for co-operation with the Nordic-Baltic countries. [130]

Latvia hosted the 2006 NATO Summit and since then the annual Riga Conference has become a leading foreign and security policy forum in Northern Europe. [131] Latvia held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2015. [132]

Military Edit

The National Armed Forces (Latvian: Nacionālie Bruņotie Spēki (NAF)) of Latvia consists of the Land Forces, Naval Forces, Air Force, National Guard, Special Tasks Unit, Military Police, NAF staff Battalion, Training and Doctrine Command, and Logistics Command. Latvia's defence concept is based upon the Swedish-Finnish model of a rapid response force composed of a mobilisation base and a small group of career professionals. From 1 January 2007, Latvia switched to a professional fully contract-based army. [133]

Latvia participates in international peacekeeping and security operations. Latvian armed forces have contributed to NATO and EU military operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1996–2009), Albania (1999), Kosovo (2000–2009), Macedonia (2003), Iraq (2005–2006), Afghanistan (since 2003), Somalia (since 2011) and Mali (since 2013). [134] [135] [136] Latvia also took part in the US-led Multi-National Force operation in Iraq (2003–2008) [137] and OSCE missions in Georgia, Kosovo and Macedonia. [138] Latvian armed forces contributed to a UK-led Battlegroup in 2013 and the Nordic Battlegroup in 2015 under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union. [139] Latvia acts as the lead nation in the coordination of the Northern Distribution Network for transportation of non-lethal ISAF cargo by air and rail to Afghanistan. [140] [141] [142] It is part of the Nordic Transition Support Unit (NTSU), which renders joint force contributions in support of Afghan security structures ahead of the withdrawal of Nordic and Baltic ISAF forces in 2014. [143] Since 1996 more than 3600 military personnel have participated in international operations, [135] of whom 7 soldiers perished. [144] Per capita, Latvia is one of the largest contributors to international military operations. [145]

Latvian civilian experts have contributed to EU civilian missions: border assistance mission to Moldova and Ukraine (2005–2009), rule of law missions in Iraq (2006 and 2007) and Kosovo (since 2008), police mission in Afghanistan (since 2007) and monitoring mission in Georgia (since 2008). [134]

Since March 2004, when the Baltic states joined NATO, fighter jets of NATO members have been deployed on a rotational basis for the Baltic Air Policing mission at Šiauliai Airport in Lithuania to guard the Baltic airspace. Latvia participates in several NATO Centres of Excellence: Civil-Military Co-operation in the Netherlands, Cooperative Cyber Defence in Estonia and Energy Security in Lithuania. It plans to establish the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Riga. [146]

Latvia co-operates with Estonia and Lithuania in several trilateral Baltic defence co-operation initiatives:

  • Baltic Battalion (BALTBAT) – infantry battalion for participation in international peace support operations, headquartered near Riga, Latvia (BALTRON) – naval force with mine countermeasures capabilities, headquartered near Tallinn, Estonia (BALTNET) – air surveillance information system, headquartered near Kaunas, Lithuania
  • Joint military educational institutions: Baltic Defence College in Tartu, Estonia, Baltic Diving Training Centre in Liepāja, Latvia and Baltic Naval Communications Training Centre in Tallinn, Estonia. [147]

Future co-operation will include sharing of national infrastructures for training purposes and specialisation of training areas (BALTTRAIN) and collective formation of battalion-sized contingents for use in the NATO rapid-response force. [148] In January 2011, the Baltic states were invited to join NORDEFCO, the defence framework of the Nordic countries. [149] In November 2012, the three countries agreed to create a joint military staff in 2013. [150]

Human rights Edit

According to the reports by Freedom House and the US Department of State, human rights in Latvia are generally respected by the government: [151] [152] Latvia is ranked above-average among the world's sovereign states in democracy, [153] press freedom, [154] privacy [155] and human development. [156]

More than 56% of leading positions are held by women in Latvia, which ranks 1st in Europe Latvia ranks 1st in the world in women's rights sharing the position with five other European countries according to World Bank. [157]

The country has a large ethnic Russian community, which was guaranteed basic rights under the constitution and international human rights laws ratified by the Latvian government. [151] [158]

Approximately 206,000 non-citizens [159] – including stateless persons – have limited access to some political rights – only citizens are allowed to participate in parliamentary or municipal elections, although there are no limitations in regards to joining political parties or other political organizations. [160] [161] In 2011, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities "urged Latvia to allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections." [162] Additionally, there have been reports of police abuse of detainees and arrestees, poor prison conditions and overcrowding, judicial corruption, incidents of violence against ethnic minorities, and societal violence and incidents of government discrimination against homosexuals. [151] [163] [164]

Latvia is a member of the World Trade Organization (1999) and the European Union (2004). On 1 January 2014, the euro became the country's currency, superseding the Lats. According to statistics in late 2013, 45% of the population supported the introduction of the euro, while 52% opposed it. [165] Following the introduction of the Euro, Eurobarometer surveys in January 2014 showed support for the euro to be around 53%, close to the European average. [166]

Since the year 2000, Latvia has had one of the highest (GDP) growth rates in Europe. [167] However, the chiefly consumption-driven growth in Latvia resulted in the collapse of Latvian GDP in late 2008 and early 2009, exacerbated by the global economic crisis, shortage of credit and huge money resources used for the bailout of Parex bank. [168] The Latvian economy fell 18% in the first three months of 2009, the biggest fall in the European Union. [169] [170]

The economic crisis of 2009 proved earlier assumptions that the fast-growing economy was heading for implosion of the economic bubble, because it was driven mainly by growth of domestic consumption, financed by a serious increase of private debt, as well as a negative foreign trade balance. The prices of real estate, which were at some points growing by approximately 5% a month, were long perceived to be too high for the economy, which mainly produces low-value goods and raw materials. [ citation needed ]

Privatisation in Latvia is almost complete. Virtually all of the previously state-owned small and medium companies have been privatised, leaving only a small number of politically sensitive large state companies. The private sector accounted for nearly 68% of the country's GDP in 2000. [ citation needed ]

Foreign investment in Latvia is still modest compared with the levels in north-central Europe. A law expanding the scope for selling land, including to foreigners, was passed in 1997. Representing 10.2% of Latvia's total foreign direct investment, American companies invested $127 million in 1999. In the same year, the United States of America exported $58.2 million of goods and services to Latvia and imported $87.9 million. Eager to join Western economic institutions like the World Trade Organization, OECD, and the European Union, Latvia signed a Europe Agreement with the EU in 1995—with a 4-year transition period. Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on investment, trade, and intellectual property protection and avoidance of double taxation. [171] [172]

In 2010 Latvia launched a Residence by Investment program (Golden Visa) in order to attract foreign investors and make local economy benefit from it. This program allows investors to get a Latvian residence permit by investing at least €250,000 in property or in an enterprise with at least 50 employees and an annual turnover of at least €10M.

Economic contraction and recovery (2008–12) Edit

The Latvian economy entered a phase of fiscal contraction during the second half of 2008 after an extended period of credit-based speculation and unrealistic appreciation in real estate values. The national account deficit for 2007, for example, represented more than 22% of the GDP for the year while inflation was running at 10%. [173]

Latvia's unemployment rate rose sharply in this period from a low of 5.4% in November 2007 to over 22%. [174] In April 2010 Latvia had the highest unemployment rate in the EU, at 22.5%, ahead of Spain, which had 19.7%. [175]

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Laureate in economics for 2008, wrote in his New York Times Op-Ed column on 15 December 2008:

The most acute problems are on Europe's periphery, where many smaller economies are experiencing crises strongly reminiscent of past crises in Latin America and Asia: Latvia is the new Argentina [176]

However, by 2010, commentators [177] [178] noted signs of stabilisation in the Latvian economy. Rating agency Standard & Poor's raised its outlook on Latvia's debt from negative to stable. [177] Latvia's current account, which had been in deficit by 27% in late 2006 was in surplus in February 2010. [177] Kenneth Orchard, senior analyst at Moody's Investors Service argued that:

The strengthening regional economy is supporting Latvian production and exports, while the sharp swing in the current account balance suggests that the country's 'internal devaluation' is working. [179]

The IMF concluded the First Post-Program Monitoring Discussions with the Republic of Latvia in July 2012 announcing that Latvia's economy has been recovering strongly since 2010, following the deep downturn in 2008–09. Real GDP growth of 5.5 percent in 2011 was underpinned by export growth and a recovery in domestic demand. The growth momentum has continued into 2012 and 2013 despite deteriorating external conditions, and the economy is expected to expand by 4.1 percent in 2014. The unemployment rate has receded from its peak of more than 20 percent in 2010 to around 9.3 percent in 2014. [180]

Infrastructure Edit

The transport sector is around 14% of GDP. Transit between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan as well as other Asian countries and the West is large. [181]

The four biggest ports of Latvia are located in Riga, Ventspils, Liepāja and Skulte. Most transit traffic uses these and half the cargo is crude oil and oil products. [181] Free port of Ventspils is one of the busiest ports in the Baltic states. Apart from road and railway connections, Ventspils is also linked to oil extraction fields and transportation routes of Russian Federation via system of two pipelines from Polotsk, Belarus. [ citation needed ]

Riga International Airport is the busiest airport in the Baltic states with 7.8 million passengers in 2019. It has direct flight to over 80 destinations in 30 countries. The only other airport handling regular commercial flights is Liepāja International Airport. airBaltic is the Latvian flag carrier airline and a low-cost carrier with hubs in all three Baltic States, but main base in Riga, Latvia. [182]

Latvian Railway's main network consists of 1,860 km of which 1,826 km is 1,520 mm Russian gauge railway of which 251 km are electrified, making it the longest railway network in the Baltic States. Latvia's railway network is currently incompatible with European standard gauge lines. [183] However, Rail Baltica railway, linking Helsinki-Tallinn-Riga-Kaunas-Warsaw is under construction and is set to be completed in 2026. [184]

National road network in Latvia totals 1675 km of main roads, 5473 km of regional roads and 13 064 km of local roads. Municipal roads in Latvia totals 30 439 km of roads and 8039 km of streets. [185] The best known roads are A1 (European route E67), connecting Warsaw and Tallinn, as well as European route E22, connecting Ventspils and Terehova. In 2017 there were a total of 803,546 licensed vehicles in Latvia. [186]

Latvia has three big hydroelectric power stations in Pļaviņu HES (825MW), Rīgas HES (402 MW) and Ķeguma HES-2 (192 MW). In the recent years a couple of dozen of wind farms as well as biogas or biomass power stations of different scale have been built in Latvia. [ citation needed ]

Latvia operates Inčukalns underground gas storage facility, one of the largest underground gas storage facilities in Europe and the only one in the Baltic states. Unique geological conditions at Inčukalns and other locations in Latvia are particularly suitable for underground gas storage. [187]

The total fertility rate (TFR) in 2018 was estimated at 1.61 children born/woman, which is lower than the replacement rate of 2.1. In 2012, 45.0% of births were to unmarried women. [188] The life expectancy in 2013 was estimated at 73.19 years (68.13 years male, 78.53 years female). [173] As of 2015, Latvia is estimated to have the lowest male-to-female ratio in the world, at 0.85 males/female. [189] In 2017, there were 1,054,433 females and 895,683 males living in Latvian territory. Every year, more boys are born than girls. Until the age of 39, there are more males than females. From the age of 70, there are 2.3 times as many females than males.

Ethnic groups Edit

Latvia's population has been multiethnic for centuries, though the demographics shifted dramatically in the 20th century due to the World Wars, the emigration and removal of Baltic Germans, the Holocaust, and occupation by the Soviet Union. According to the Russian Empire Census of 1897, Latvians formed 68.3% of the total population of 1.93 million Russians accounted for 12%, Jews for 7.4%, Germans for 6.2%, and Poles for 3.4%. [190]

As of March 2011, Latvians form about 62.1% of the population, while 26.9% are Russians, Belarusians 3.3%, Ukrainians 2.2%, Poles 2.2%, Lithuanians 1.2%, Jews 0.3%, Romani people 0.3%, Germans 0.1%, Estonians 0.1% and others 1.3%. 250 people identify as Livonians (Baltic Finnic people native to Latvia). There were 290,660 "non-citizens" living in Latvia or 14.1% of Latvian residents, mainly Russian settlers who arrived after the occupation of 1940 and their descendants. [191]

In some cities, e.g., Daugavpils and Rēzekne, ethnic Latvians constitute a minority of the total population. Despite the fact that the proportion of ethnic Latvians has been steadily increasing for more than a decade, ethnic Latvians also make up slightly less than a half of the population of the capital city of Latvia – Riga. [192]

The share of ethnic Latvians had fallen from 77% (1,467,035) in 1935 to 52% (1,387,757) in 1989. [193] In 2011, there were even fewer Latvians than in 1989, though their share of the population was larger – 1,285,136 (62.1% of the population). [194]

Language Edit

The sole official language of Latvia is Latvian, which belongs to the Baltic language sub-group of the Balto-Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family. Another notable language of Latvia is the nearly extinct Livonian language of the Finnic branch of the Uralic language family, which enjoys protection by law Latgalian – as a dialect of Latvian is also protected by Latvian law but as a historical variation of the Latvian language. Russian, which was widely spoken during the Soviet period, is still the most widely used minority language by far (in 2011, 34% spoke it at home, including people who were not ethnically Russian). [195] While it is now required that all school students learn Latvian, schools also include English, German, French and Russian in their curricula. English is also widely accepted in Latvia in business and tourism. As of 2014 [update] there were 109 schools for minorities that use Russian as the language of instruction (27% of all students) for 40% of subjects (the remaining 60% of subjects are taught in Latvian).

On 18 February 2012, Latvia held a constitutional referendum on whether to adopt Russian as a second official language. [196] According to the Central Election Commission, 74.8% voted against, 24.9% voted for and the voter turnout was 71.1%. [197]

Beginning in 2019, instruction in Russian language will be gradually discontinued in private colleges and universities in Latvia, as well as general instruction in Latvian public high schools, [198] [199] except for subjects related to culture and history of the Russian minority, such as Russian language and literature classes. [200]

Religion Edit

The largest religion in Latvia is Christianity (79%). [173] [2] The largest groups as of 2011 [update] were:

In the Eurobarometer Poll 2010, 38% of Latvian citizens responded that "they believe there is a God", while 48% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 11% stated that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force".

Lutheranism was more prominent before the Soviet occupation, when it was a majority religion of

60% due to strong historical links with the Nordic countries and to the influence of the Hansa in particular and Germany in general. Since then, Lutheranism has declined to a slightly greater extent than Roman Catholicism in all three Baltic states. The Evangelical Lutheran Church, with an estimated 600,000 members in 1956, was affected most adversely. An internal document of 18 March 1987, near the end of communist rule, spoke of an active membership that had shrunk to only 25,000 in Latvia, but the faith has since experienced a revival. [201]

The country's Orthodox Christians belong to the Latvian Orthodox Church, a semi-autonomous body within the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2011, there were 416 religious Jews, 319 Muslims and 102 Hindus. Most of the Hindus are local converts from the work of the Hare Krishna movement some are foreign workers from India. [2] As of 2004 there were more than 600 Latvian neopagans, Dievturi (The Godskeepers), whose religion is based on Latvian mythology. [202] About 21% of the total population is not affiliated with a specific religion. [2]

Education and science Edit

The University of Latvia and Riga Technical University are two major universities in the country, both established on the basis of [ clarification needed ] Riga Polytechnical Institute and located in Riga. [203] Other important universities, which were established on the base of State University of Latvia, include the Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies (established in 1939 on the basis of the Faculty of Agriculture) and Riga Stradiņš University (established in 1950 on the basis of the Faculty of Medicine). Both nowadays cover a variety of different fields. The University of Daugavpils is another significant centre of education.

Latvia closed 131 schools between 2006 and 2010, which is a 12.9% decline, and in the same period enrolment in educational institutions has fallen by over 54,000 people, a 10.3% decline. [204]

Latvian policy in science and technology has set out the long-term goal of transitioning from labor-consuming economy to knowledge-based economy. [205] By 2020 the government aims to spend 1.5% of GDP on research and development, with half of the investments coming from the private sector. Latvia plans to base the development of its scientific potential on existing scientific traditions, particularly in organic chemistry, medical chemistry, genetic engineering, physics, materials science and information technologies. [206] The greatest number of patents, both nationwide and abroad, are in medical chemistry. [207]

Health Edit

The Latvian healthcare system is a universal programme, largely funded through government taxation. [208] It is among the lowest-ranked healthcare systems in Europe, due to excessive waiting times for treatment, insufficient access to the latest medicines, and other factors. [209] There were 59 hospitals in Latvia in 2009, down from 94 in 2007 and 121 in 2006. [210] [211] [212]

Traditional Latvian folklore, especially the dance of the folk songs, dates back well over a thousand years. More than 1.2 million texts and 30,000 melodies of folk songs have been identified. [213]

Between the 13th and 19th centuries, Baltic Germans, many of whom were originally of non-German ancestry but had been assimilated into German culture, formed the upper class. [ citation needed ] They developed distinct cultural heritage, characterised by both Latvian and German influences. It has survived in German Baltic families to this day, in spite of their dispersal to Germany, the United States, Canada and other countries in the early 20th century. However, most indigenous Latvians did not participate in this particular cultural life. [ citation needed ] Thus, the mostly peasant local pagan heritage was preserved, partly merging with Christian traditions. For example, one of the most popular celebrations is Jāņi, a pagan celebration of the summer solstice—which Latvians celebrate on the feast day of St. John the Baptist. [ citation needed ]

In the 19th century, Latvian nationalist movements emerged. They promoted Latvian culture and encouraged Latvians to take part in cultural activities. The 19th century and beginning of the 20th century is often regarded by Latvians as a classical era of Latvian culture. Posters show the influence of other European cultures, for example, works of artists such as the Baltic-German artist Bernhard Borchert and the French Raoul Dufy. [ citation needed ] With the onset of World War II, many Latvian artists and other members of the cultural elite fled the country yet continued to produce their work, largely for a Latvian émigré audience. [214]

The Latvian Song and Dance Festival is an important event in Latvian culture and social life. It has been held since 1873, normally every five years. Approximately 30,000 performers altogether participate in the event. [215] Folk songs and classical choir songs are sung, with emphasis on a cappella singing, though modern popular songs have recently been incorporated into the repertoire as well. [216]

After incorporation into the Soviet Union, Latvian artists and writers were forced to follow the socialist realism style of art. During the Soviet era, music became increasingly popular, with the most popular being songs from the 1980s. At this time, songs often made fun of the characteristics of Soviet life and were concerned about preserving Latvian identity. This aroused popular protests against the USSR and also gave rise to an increasing popularity of poetry. Since independence, theatre, scenography, choir music, and classical music have become the most notable branches of Latvian culture. [217]

During July 2014, Riga hosted the 8th World Choir Games as it played host to over 27,000 choristers representing over 450 choirs and over 70 countries. The festival is the biggest of its kind in the world and is held every two years in a different host city. [218]

Starting in 2019 Latvia hosts the inaugural Riga Jurmala Music Festival, a new festival in which world-famous orchestras and conductors perform across four weekends during the summer. The festival takes place at the Latvian National Opera, the Great Guild, and the Great and Small Halls of the Dzintari Concert Hall. This year features the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Russian National Orchestra. [219]

Cuisine Edit

Latvian cuisine typically consists of agricultural products, with meat featuring in most main meal dishes. Fish is commonly consumed due to Latvia's location on the Baltic Sea. Latvian cuisine has been influenced by the neighbouring countries. Common ingredients in Latvian recipes are found locally, such as potatoes, wheat, barley, cabbage, onions, eggs, and pork. Latvian food is generally quite fatty, and uses few spices. [220]

Grey peas and ham are generally considered as staple foods of Latvians. Sorrel soup (skābeņu zupa) is also consumed by Latvians. [221] Rupjmaize is a dark bread made from rye, considered the national staple. [222] [223]

Sport Edit

Ice hockey is usually considered the most popular sport in Latvia. Latvia has had many famous hockey stars like Helmuts Balderis, Artūrs Irbe, Kārlis Skrastiņš and Sandis Ozoliņš and more recently Zemgus Girgensons, whom the Latvian people have strongly supported in international and NHL play, expressed through the dedication of using the NHL's All Star Voting to bring Zemgus to number one in voting. [224] Dinamo Riga is the country's strongest hockey club, playing in the Kontinental Hockey League. The national tournament is the Latvian Hockey Higher League, held since 1931. The 2006 IIHF World Championship was held in Riga.

The second most popular sport is basketball. Latvia has a long basketball tradition, as the Latvian national basketball team won the first ever EuroBasket in 1935 and silver medals in 1939, after losing the final to Lithuania by one point. Latvia has had many European basketball stars like Jānis Krūmiņš, Maigonis Valdmanis, Valdis Muižnieks, Valdis Valters, Igors Miglinieks, as well as the first Latvian NBA player Gundars Vētra. Andris Biedriņš is one of the most well-known Latvian basketball players, who played in the NBA for the Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz. Current NBA players include Kristaps Porziņģis, who plays for the Dallas Mavericks, Dāvis Bertāns, who plays for the Washington Wizards, and Rodions Kurucs, who last played for the Milwaukee Bucks. Former Latvian basketball club Rīgas ASK won the Euroleague tournament three times in a row before becoming defunct. Currently, VEF Rīga, which competes in EuroCup, is the strongest professional basketball club in Latvia. BK Ventspils, which participates in EuroChallenge, is the second strongest basketball club in Latvia, previously winning LBL eight times and BBL in 2013. [ citation needed ] Latvia was one of the EuroBasket 2015 hosts.

Other popular sports include football, floorball, tennis, volleyball, cycling, bobsleigh and skeleton. The Latvian national football team's only major FIFA tournament participation has been the 2004 UEFA European Championship. [225]

Latvia has participated successfully in both Winter and Summer Olympics. The most successful Olympic athlete in the history of independent Latvia has been Māris Štrombergs, who became a two-time Olympic champion in 2008 and 2012 at Men's BMX. [226]

In Boxing, Mairis Briedis is the first Latvian to win a boxing world title, having held the WBC cruiserweight title from 2017 to 2018, and the WBO cruiserweight title in 2019.

In 2017, Latvian tennis player Jeļena Ostapenko won the 2017 French Open Women's singles title being the first unseeded player to do so in the open era.

The Tale of Eleven

October 1942 was a month of decision in World War II. In Egypt, British and Axis forces clashed at the Second Battle of El Alamein. The Soviet Union and Germany were locked in a bitter struggle at Stalingrad. Meanwhile, a large U.S. armada left East Coast ports bound for the invasion of French Morocco.

More immediate for the U.S. Navy, a land-sea-air campaign at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands was well into its third month. The naval Battle of Cape Esperance on 11 October was a rare U.S. victory.

Meanwhile, across the international date line at Naval Air Station (NAS) San Diego, a new command was being established. Carrier Air Group (CVG) 11 was unusual in receiving a number rather than a ship name because the United States was running out of prewar flight decks: Three of the six Pacific Fleet flattops had been lost in six months.

Squadrons and Leaders

Most of the air group’s senior officers were U.S. Naval Academy men. The group commander (CAG-11) was Commander Paul Ramsey, who had graduated near the top of the class of 1927. A highly respected commanding officer (CO) of the famous Fighting Squadron (VF) 2 “Flying Chiefs” on board the USS Lexington (CV-2), he had survived her sinking at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May. Ramsey led four squadrons, the norm for fleet carrier air groups at the time. Two flew the vaunted Douglas SBD Dauntless scout-bomber.

Bombing Squadron (VB) 11 was formed around five veterans of VB-2, also displaced from the Lexington. Bombing Two’s skipper, Lieutenant Commander Weldon Hamilton, a year behind Ramsey at the Academy, had lateraled to lead VB-11, taking VB-2’s Pegasus identity with him. According to a contemporary account, “He was a 4.0 skipper.” Lieutenant Commander Hoyt D. Mann was the junior CO, hailing from the class of ’36. His Scouting Squadron (VS) 11 also had SBDs, usually flying the same missions as the bombing squadron.

Torpedo Squadron (VT) 11 received Grumman TBF-1 Avengers, the newest carrier aircraft. Bigger, faster, and longer ranged than the Douglas TBD-1 Devastator, the Avenger had a three-man crew of pilot, radioman, and turret gunner. The squadron’s CO, Lieutenant Commander F. L. Ashworth, had graduated in the Annapolis class of 1933.

The fighter skipper was well experienced. Lieutenant Commander Charles R. Fenton (class of ’29) had led VF-42 from the USS Yorktown (CV-5) at Coral Sea. Fighting 11 benefited from three other combat-experienced pilots, including the flight officer, Lieutenant William N. Leonard, with victories at Coral Sea and Midway.

Air Group 11 was slated to board the USS Hornet (CV-8), famous for launching the Doolittle Raid against Japan in April 1942. But the plan was short-lived: The Hornet was sunk at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October, leaving the air group without a potential ship while the Enterprise (CV-6) remained the only operational big-deck carrier.

Ramsey and company deployed to the Pacific late that month. In Hawaii, the squadrons flew from Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, then from newly expanded NAS Barbers Point. Paul Ramsey rolled out in February 1943, succeeded by Weldon Hamilton as CAG.

While in Hawaii, VF-11 established its identity—the “Sun Downers,” for both the mission of downing Japanese “suns” and the old nautical term for a hard worker. Over the ensuing decades the name became Sundowners. Robert “Boy” von Tempsky and his sister, Alexa, extended rare hospitality to the Sun Downers, who enjoyed the family’s Maui ranch on the slopes of Mount Haleakala. The family flew an “all clear” flag for visiting aviators to buzz the house, with Alexa and her brother sharing the title “ComWolfPack.”

Flying from ‘The ’Canal’

After further training in the Fijis, the air group set out for Guadalcanal, arriving on 26 April. The SBDs and TBFs landed at Henderson Field, while VF-11’s F4F Wildcats settled at the fighter strip west of Henderson. Shortly before arriving, the fighting squadron’s skipper, Charles Fenton, was recalled to Washington, replaced by his executive officer (exec), Lieutenant Commander Clarence M. White Jr., class of ’33.

In March, Scouting 11 had been redesignated Bombing 21 in a Navy-wide policy of folding carrier scout squadrons into the dive bombers. When the air group moved to Guadalcanal, the four squadrons totaled 88 aircraft: 35 F4F-4 Wildcats, 35 SBD-3 Dauntlesses in two squadrons, and 18 TBF-1 Avengers.

By June, the air group had ballooned to 106 aircraft, largely because of an influx of fighters. Some thought VF-11 and two other fighting squadrons were to “use up” the remaining inventory of Wildcats. As Bill Leonard recalled: “Committed to the F4F, we would not let our minds dwell too much on its deficiencies. VF-11 felt sensitive flying an obviously outdated machine but we were loyal to the F4F.”

On Guadalcanal, the dangers were not limited to enemy action. When Weldon Hamilton was promoted to CAG, Lieutenant Commander Raymond Jacoby relieved him at the helm of VB-11, but his tenure was short-lived. Jacoby succumbed to a falling coconut, sustaining injuries that would bench him for the duration of the tour. He was briefly succeeded by Lieutenant C. A. Skinner before Lieutenant Commander Lloyd A. Smith (class of ’35) assumed command.

Triumphs and Losses

TBFs flew conventional missions and also delivered mines in Japanese-controlled waters. “Dick” Ashworth’s Distinguished Flying Cross citation included:

During the nights of 18, 20 and 23 May, Lieutenant Commander Ashworth led his squadron in mine laying missions in the Kahili-Shortland area, south Bougainville. It was necessary that level flight at one thousand feet, constant speed and steady course be maintained for up to one and one-half minutes approximately one thousand yards from heavily-fortified Japanese positions. His plane made the longest run on each mission and despite illumination by a concentration of enemy searchlights and heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire these extremely hazardous missions were carried out effectively.

Lieutenant (junior grade) Edwin M. Wilson was a VB-11 stalwart and arguably the best bomber in the squadron. “Big Ed,” who had dropped out of Duke University to enlist, got saltwater on his hands in a series of shipping strikes from Guadalcanal. He made a direct hit on a Japanese destroyer (probably the Kuroshio or Oyashio) in Blackett Strait on 8 May and scored on a large 17 July joint mission with Marines that claimed four destroyers and damaged a light cruiser at Buin Harbor, Bougainville. Actual results were a destroyer sunk plus damage to two more and a minesweeper.

CAG Weldon Hamilton, along with 16 pilots and aircrewmen from VT-11, died in a transport accident en route to Sydney on 8 June. Over the next 17 months, he was succeeded by two other Naval Academy alumni, Lieutenant Commander John Hulme (class of ’30) and Ray Jacoby—he of the falling coconut.

When the air group’s tour ended in August, the SBDs had logged more than 30 attack missions plus scouting and antisubmarine patrols. The Sun Downers left Guadalcanal with 55 rising suns painted on propeller blades before the squadron tent. Three pilots had made ace, including Lieutenant (junior grade) Vernon Graham, who turned the trick in one epic mission on 12 June. Among 16 Wildcats returning from a PBY escort near the Russell Islands, Graham led his wingman in assisting badly outnumbered Marine Corps Corsairs and gunned down five Zeros. But he ran out of fuel, sustaining injuries in a forced landing. Other Sun Downers accounted for nine more kills in exchange for three other Wildcats, with all VF-11 pilots safe.

Only four days later, the squadron beat its own record and then some. Repulsing the last major strike on Guadalcanal, Clarence White scrambled with 27 other Sun Downers to intercept 94 inbound Japanese. In widespread attacks, the Wildcats claimed 31 kills against three pilots lost, apparently all in collisions. Combined Navy, Marine Corps, and Army fighters destroyed nearly all the attackers, a heavy blow to Japanese air power. Rear Admiral Marc Mitscher, Commander Air Solomon Islands, sent two cases of whiskey to VF-11 for its major role in the mission.

The squadron’s other aces were Lieutenants (junior grade) Charles “Skull” Stimpson and James S. Swope. They formed a potent team: Between them the pair would account for 26 downed enemy aircraft during the squadron’s two tours.

Romanian Carpathians offensive August-September 1944

Post by PanzerVI » 12 Apr 2021, 22:52

Good evening esteemed gentlemen

It has been quite awhile since I haven't posted anything here altough an old and proud member since 2002.

One of my latest chores is to properly compile a theater of operations situation of the soviet offensive (with a small aid from romanian shattered forces as newly installed allies on the 23rd August 1944).

Got a large scale map from Platt's book of the 3rd Geb Division (mainly with it's 137 and 138 Gebirgs Regiments and small auxiliary abteilungen) which indicate clearly thrusts coming from the soviet 240th rifle division, 38 rifle Division, 133 rifle division, 42 rifle division and 159 BEF. AB. Many of these have been havily involved in the battles of Targu Frumos and Iasi and I am guessing all under the 50 soviet army corps ?

Maps would be of great help or even war journals with specific battle positions.

Many many thanks and stay safe y'all

Re: Romanian Carpathians offensive August-September 1944

Post by wwilson » 13 Apr 2021, 07:53

May be of some help. Per the Soviet Stavka order of battle.

In 40th Combined Arms Army (part of 2d Ukrainian Front)-- 50th Rifle Corps had 74th and 240th Rifle Divisions. 51st Rifle Corps had 4th Guards Airborne Division, 42d Guards Rifle Division, and 232d Rifle Division. 104th Rifle Corps had 38th and 133d Rifle Divisions. 163d Rifle Division was subordinated directly to army headquarters, as were the 54th and 159th Fortified Regions.

50th Rifle Corps had 133d and 240th Rifle Divisions. 51st Rifle Corps had 38th, 232d, and 42d Guards Rifle Divisions. These corps were subordinated to 40th Combined Arms Army, part of 2nd Ukrainian Front. 40th Army also controlled the 54th and 159th Fortified Regions.

11 August 1944 - History

3rd Infantry Division
Blue and White Devils: The Story of the 3rd Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 3rd Infantry [text only]

4th Infantry Division
Famous Fourth: The Story of the 4th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 4th Infantry [text only]

8th Infantry Division
"These are My Credentials": The Story of the 8th Infantry Division, 1798-1944
Paris: Imprimerie du Centre, 1944.
Online : Lone Sentry: 8th Infantry [text only]

9th Infantry Division
Hitler's Nemesis: The 9th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1944.
Online : Lone Sentry: 9th Infantry [text only]

28th Infantry Division
28th Roll On: the Story of the 28th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 28th Infantry [text only]

29th Infantry Division
29 Let's Go: The Story of the 29th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 29th Infantry

35th Infantry Division
Attack: The Story of the 35th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 35th Infantry

36th Infantry Division
The Story of the 36th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 36th Infantry [text only]

45th Infantry Division
The 45th: The Story of the 45th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 45th Infantry [text only]

66th Infantry Division
66th: The Story of the 66th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 66th Infantry [text only]

70th Infantry Division
Trailblazers: The Story of the 70th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by P. Dupont, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 70th Infantry [text only]

75th Infantry Division
The 75th: The Story of the 75th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 75th Infantry [text only]

78th Infantry Division
Lightning: The Story of the 78th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Curial-Archereau, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 78th Infantry

79th Infantry Division
The Cross of Lorraine Division: The Story of the 79th
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1944.
Online : Lone Sentry: 79th Infantry [text only]

80th Infantry Division
Forward 80th: The Story of the 80th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 80th Infantry

84th Infantry Division
Railsplitters: The Story of the 84th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Curial-Archereau, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 84th Infantry [text only]

87th Infantry Division
Stalwart and Strong: The Story of the 87th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 87th Infantry [text only]

89th Infantry Division
Rolling Ahead: The Story of the 89th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by P. Dupont, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 89th Infantry [text only]

90th Infantry Division
Tough 'Ombres!: The Story of the 90th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1944.
Online : Lone Sentry: 90th Infantry [text only]

94th Infantry Division
On the Way: The Story of the 94th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Draeger, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 94th Infantry [text only]

95th Infantry Division
"Bravest of the Brave": The Story of the 95th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 95th Infantry

97th Infantry Division
Story of the 97th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Draeger, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 97th Infantry [text only]

99th Infantry Division
"Battle Babies": The Story of the 99th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 99th Infantry [text only]

100th Infantry Division
Story of the Century: the Story of the 100th Division
Paris: printed by Curial-Archereau, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 100th Infantry

104th Infantry Division
Timberwolves: The Story of 104th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by Curial-Archereau, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 104th Infantry [text only]

106th Infantry Division
The 106th: The Story of 106th Infantry Division
Paris: printed by P. Dupont.
Online : Lone Sentry: 106th Infantry [text only]

Armored Divisions

3rd Armored Division
Call Me Spearhead: Saga of the Third Armored "Spearhead" Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1944.

4th Armored Division
The 4th Armored: From the Beach to Bastogne
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 4th Armored [text only]

5th Armored Division
The Road to Germany. The Story of the 5th Armored Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1944.
Online : Lone Sentry: 5th Armored [text only]

6th Armored Division
Brest to Bastogne: The Story of the 6th Armored Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 6th Armored

8th Armored Division
Tornado: the Story of the 8th Armored Division
Corbeil: printed by Crete, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 8th Armored [text only]

9th Armored Division
The 9th: The Story of the 9th Armored Division
Paris: printed by P. Dupont, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 9th Armored [text only]

10th Armored Division
Terrify and Destroy: The Story of the 10th Armored Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure/Crete, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 10th Armored [text only]

11th Armored Division
The Story of the 11th Armored Division: Thunderbolt
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 11th Armored [text only]

12th Armored Division
Speed is the Password: the Story of the 12th Armored Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 12th Armored [text only]

Airborne Divisions

82nd Airborne Division
All American: The Story of the 82nd Airborne Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 82nd Airborne

101st Airborne Division
101st Airborne Division: The Story of the 101st Airborne Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 101st Airborne

Air Transport Command
ATC: Air Transport Command in Europe
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.

9th Bombardment Division
Time Over Targets: The Story of the 9th Bombardment Division
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 9th Bombardment [text only]

50th Troop Carrier Wing
Invaders: The Story of the 50th Troop Carrier Wing
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1944.
Online : Lone Sentry: 50th Troop Carrier Wing [text only]

53rd Troop Carrier Wing
Ever First: The Story of the 53rd Troop Carrier Wing
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: 53rd Troop Carrier

IX Tactical Air Command
Achtung, Jabos!: The Story of the IX Tactical Air Command
Paris: printed by Curial-Archereau, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: IX TAC [text only]

XIX Tactical Air Command
Fly, Seek, Destroy: The Story of the XIX Tactical Air Command
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: XIX TAC [text only]

XXIX Tactical Air Command
Mission Accomplished: The Story of the XXIX Tactical Air Command
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: XXIX TAC [text only]


Transportation Corps
Destination &mdash Berlin! The Transportation Corps Will Furnish the Necessary Transportation!
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1944.
Online : Lone Sentry: Transportation Corps [text only]

Corps of Engineers
Engineering the Victory: The Story of the Corps of Engineers
Paris: printed by Curial-Archereau, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: Corps of Engineers

Ordnance Department
Flaming Bomb: The Story of Ordnance in the ETO
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: Ordnance [text only]

Military Police
MP: The Story of the Military Police
Paris: printed by Draeger, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: Military Police [text only]

Signal Corps
Service: The Story of Signal Corps
Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1944.
Online : Lone Sentry: Signal Corps [text only]

Medical Service
That Men Might Live!: The Story of the Medical Service - ETO
Paris: printed by P. Dupont, 1945.
Online : Lone Sentry: Medical Service [text only]

‘For our freedom and yours’: Discovering the transnational dimension of the Warsaw Uprising (August-October 1944)

A Polish souvenir designed as a copy of the famous monument ‘Mały Powstaniec’ (‘The Little Insurgent’) (1983) that commemorates the child resisters who died during the Warsaw Uprising.
Photo by the author (May 2016).

In the third week of August 1944, at about the time the insurrection in Paris was beginning, an unexpected dispatch in Morse code reached the London headquarters of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the British organization that conducted espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in Nazi-occupied Europe. Having been sent in English through previously unknown Warsaw underground radio transmitter, it described the heavy fighting and horror that had reigned over the Polish capital. The SOE realized very quickly that the man behind the dispatch was none other than John Ward, the RAF sergeant and former prisoner of war who successfully escaped the German captivity in 1941 and had been acting ever since as a Polish resistance member. By the end of the month, Ward’s reports were being widely distributed in the British and the Western press. It was only then that the western public developed an awareness of Warsaw’s terrible fate.

A ‘Transnational Gorilla’ in the Uprising’s ‘Historiography Room’

The Warsaw Uprising against the German occupation lasted 63 days, from August 1 until October 2, 1944, resulting in the complete defeat of the resisters and the deaths of 200,000 civilians, has been traditionally almost completely ignored by the Western historiography of WWII. Therefore, the highly controversial The Warsaw Rising of 1944 (1974) by Jan Ciechanowski¹ – the former Polish resister who became after WWII a British historian and the main Uprising’s criticizer – was for three long decades the only comprehensive Western academic publication on this subject and the main source for quotations.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, this historiographical gap has at least been partly filled by a series of Western and translated Polish scholarships, such as Der Warschauer Aufstand 1944 (2001) by Włodzimierz Borodziej,² Rising 󈧰 (2004) by Norman Davies,³ Eagle Unbowed (2013) by Halik Kochanski, 4 and Hitler’s Europe Ablaze (2014) by Philip Cooke and Ben Shepherd. 5 Having been based on newly opened relevant Polish and Western archival collections and numerous personal testimonies of the resisters, they deal broadly with the Polish anti-Nazi resistance, as well as with the Warsaw Uprising per se.

Yet, what remained an almost complete enigma, not only in the West but also in Poland itself, is the Uprising’s transnational dimension. The active participation of hundreds of foreigners (to be described soon), who desperately attempted to liberate the Polish capital from the Nazis, has never been the subject of a separate academic monograph, Polish or Western alike, 6 and was acknowledged and very briefly described by the permanent exhibition and the official website of the state Warsaw Uprising Museum (www.1944.pl) only during the last decade. 7 Alas, the official narrative of the Uprising that serves the Polish educational system is still lacking any mention of any foreign involvement. 8

The matter that seems to be elaborated somewhat better is the SOE’s assistance to the Polish national underground since 1941 and during the Warsaw Uprising in particular. Nonetheless, in this case, too, the above mentioned Western and Polish authors and their colleagues, being satisfied by mostly anecdotal descriptions of the SOE activity, failed to provide a detailed picture and scrupulous scientific analysis based on the primary British and Polish sources. 9

The Red-White International

One of the numerous cites in Warsaw commemorating the AK struggle.
Photo by the author (May 2016).

The exact number of the foreigners, ‘obcokrajowcy’ in Polish, who fought for Poland’s independence, is difficult to determine, taking into consideration the chaotic character of the Uprising that caused very irregular registration of the resisters. By now, it is estimated that they numbered several hundred and represented at least 15 countries – Slovakia, Hungary, Great Britain, Australia, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, the United States of America, the Soviet Union, South Africa, Rumania and even Germany and Nigeria. 10

These people – emigrants who had settled in Warsaw before the war, escapees from numerous POW, concentration and labor camps, and deserters from the German auxiliary forces – were absorbed in different fighting and supportive formations of the Polish underground called ‘Armija Krajova’ (‘The Home Army’) or AK. They wore the underground’s red-white armband (the colors of the Polish national flag) and adopted the Polish traditional independence fighters’ slogan ‘Za naszą i waszą wolność’ (‘For our freedom and yours’), that dates back to the 1831 anti-Russian uprising and has been widely used by the International Brigades in Spain. Some of the ‘obcokrajowcy’ showed outstanding bravery in fighting the enemy and were awarded the highest decorations of the AK and the Polish government in exile.


The current Polish historiography of the Uprising claims that its most numerous foreign participants came from two neighboring Eastern European countries, Slovakia and Hungary. The Slovakian residents of Warsaw, mostly political emigrants, had initiated their first contacts with the AK at the very beginning of the German occupation. In late 1942, they had established the underground Slovakian National Committee (SNK) and its military arm, the ‘Slovakian platoon No. 535’, which was subordinated to the Warsaw’s AK command. Among its 57 fighters only 28 were Slovaks. The rest consisted of other Slavic nationalities (Czechs, Poles and Ukrainians), as well as of Caucasians (Georgians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis). The most numerous were the Georgians who either came to the Polish capital from Russia, following the Bolshevik revolution, or escaped the German camps after being captured as the Red Army soldiers. Eventually, a separate Georgian sub-unit was established under the command of a Soviet POW nicknamed ‘Russjanschvili’ (‘The son of Russia’ in Georgian). 11

The commander of the SNK and the ‘Slovakian platoon’, lieutenant Mirosław Iringh (‘Stanko’) – son of a Slovakian father, a political emigrant from Hungary, and a Polish mother – dedicated his pre-war life to journalism and participated actively in defense of Warsaw, in September 1939. Later on, he acted as a distributer of the Polish and Slovak underground press. During the Uprising, Iringh and his men had taken part in the fiercest street battles. In addition, the young lieutenant meticulously photographed combat scenes as well as the everyday life of the resisters and civilian population. He managed to survive the Uprising’s suppression.

Alas, the Polish new Communist authorities did not prize his contribution as a brave combatant and reporter. Because of his rank within the AK hierarchy, he was constantly denied any significant job and supported his family by working as unofficial street photographer. His health deteriorated and he died of lung cancer in 1985. It was only after the downfall of Communism in Eastern Europe that Mirosław Iringh became an official hero in Poland and Slovakia and had one of Warsaw’s squares named after him. 12

The commemoration wall for Iringh and his comrades.
Source: The official website of the Warsaw Uprising Museum, Poland.

The Hungarians who joined the Polish resisters, and whose exact number is still unknown, were the deserters from the Hungarian military units that had participated in the German crackdown effort. Their comrades who did not desert were mostly sympathetic to the Polish cause and thus tried to preserve neutrality. They deliberately avoided combat with the AK units and frequently helped the insurgents by supplying ordnance and provision. 13

Western Assistance – Intentional and Accidental

The only combat support that Great Britain intentionally provided to fighting Warsaw was a group of up to 100 Polish soldiers who came to the country from France, following its defeat in June 1940, and who were eventually recruited and trained by the SOE as special operations paratroopers. Officially, they had been part of a larger military formation called in Polish ‘Cichociemni’ (‘Silent and unseen’). This was established in 1941, supervised by the Polish General Staff in exile, and performed guerrilla, sabotage and reconnaissance missions in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The ‘Cichociemni’ fighters at the SOE training camp in Scotland.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKrasinski_Adam.jpg

Serving as either field commanders or rank and file fighters during the Warsaw Uprising, the ‘Cichociemni’ fighters made successful use of the knowledge and operational skills they gained from the SOE and taught their fellow combatants. Yet they had paid a heavy personal price for being the vanguard of the resistance: at least 18 of them were killed, and many more were wounded, reported as missing in action or captured by the Germans, and imprisoned and executed. 14

The survivors suffered from the Communists’ persecution, and only a handful of them managed to return to England. Their bravery has been obscured for many years in Poland and England alike, and was finally ‘discovered’ and prized in a few Polish and English books and documentary films in the past three decades. 15 Nevertheless, their story has not yet been adopted by the SOE ‘mainstream narrative’, and, therefore, the most updated biography of the organization’s chief, Major-General Colin Gubbins – SOE’s Mastermind (2016) by Brian Lett – did not mention the Warsaw Uprising and claimed only that the Polish Home Army was quite effective, but the Britons had no real possibility of supporting it. 16

Besides the Poles, who willingly returned from the West in order to restore their motherland’s independence, there were also other uncounted Westerners – mostly escapees form the German POW camps – who found themselves more or less intentionally in the eye of the Uprising’s storm. Probably, the most famous is the story of John Ward, the young RAF sergeant from Birmingham. In May 1940, aged only 21, he was shot down and captured by the Germans in France, sent to a labor camp in Poland, almost immediately escaped, was recaptured, escaped again, and finally found his way to the AK underground. By the outbreak of the Uprising, in August 1944, he had already spent about two long years in the Polish capital, training Polish radio operators, transcribing BBC broadcasts for the underground press, producing his own illegal newspaper and serving simultaneously as a liaison between the AK and the British authorities and a field reporter for the London Times.

Lt. John Ward.
Source: http://polishgreatness.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/warsaw-uprising-1944-september-12-lt.html

During the 63 days of the Uprising, Ward transmitted to the SOE and the British press numerous reports on the combat and humanitarian situation in the Polish capital. Simultaneously, he served as an English-speaking announcer for the underground radio station ‘Błyskawica’ (‘Lightening’). It was to a substantial degree thanks to him that the Western public and the policymakers became aware of the Uprising and its terrible outcome. When the resistance was over, he was captured while posing as a Pole, escaped to the Polish partisans, arrested as a ‘spy’ by the Soviet secret service NKVD, rescued by an American representative and finally left for England via the Soviet Union among a group of former American and British POWs. In the early 1990s, the AK English radio announcer was still alive to witness the downfall of Communism in his beloved Poland. The new Polish government awarded him two high military decorations as recognition of his bravery and contribution to the struggle against the Nazis. 17

Another amazing destiny was that of Walter E. Smith, a signalman of the Australian Expeditionary Force who had been taken prisoner on Crete, in May 1941, sent like John Ward to a POW camp in Poland and managed to escape – at his seventh attempt (!) – using false documents supplied by the local underground. Despite not being involved in active fighting, he nonetheless contributed to the AK propaganda effort by broadcasting their interview with him, which was reported by the Australian press and re-distributed worldwide. Smith too was able to return to his homeland following the German retreat from Poland. 18

There are also several testimonies of the Uprising’s veterans concerning the presence of at least five French comrades among the resisters. Only one of them, Jean Gasparoux, is known by name. Aged about 26, he allegedly spent all the occupation years in Warsaw and, following the Uprising’s breakout, joined the AK ‘Bałtyk’ platoon as a sniper. He was subsequently captured by the Germans and acknowledged by his comrades at a POW prison, but his later fate is unknown. 19

The Russian ‘Ghosts’

The current official Polish Uprising’s historiography has its ‘black hole’ that relates to the contribution of the Soviet prisoners of war. Although their exact number has yet to be established, different estimations speak of up to 60 persons. Among them, 20 Soviet officers, allegedly from the NKVD border guard, who had been released by the AK from one of the German prisons, volunteered to join the resisters and consequently died in heavy street fighting. No names are known, except that of lieutenant Viktor Bashmakov (‘Engineer’), aged 28, who served as a commander of the separate Russian AK platoon and was killed, along with his soldiers on 30 September 1944. 20

Lt. Viktor Bashmakov (the sixth from the left, in the center).
Source: Russian historical website ‘Petr i mazepA’.

In addition, there were a few Russian escapees from the Warsaw concentration camp, as well as deserters from the Wehrmacht’s collaborationist forces (Russians and Caucasians alike) that consisted of former Soviet prisoners of war, who had been assigned to anti-partisan missions in the Polish capital. These people randomly joined different AK units, and most of them died in battles in complete anonymity. 21

From Crematorium to Burning Streets

On 5 August 1944, during the initial phase of the Warsaw Uprising, a battalion of the AK ‘Radosław’ group attacked the ‘Gęsiówka’ concentration camp – a facility in the city center, equipped with a crematorium and populated by slave laborers, mostly Jews form the liquidated Warsaw Ghetto and different European countries. At least 50 of the 348 released Jewish prisoners, males and females, including citizens of Germany, Holland, Greece and Hungary, joined their liberators, mostly as supportive manpower that transported injured fighters, produced arms and munition, fought fires, etc. Most of these people died during the heavy fighting on Warsaw streets or were captured and executed by the Nazis. 22

Jewish women liberated from ‘Gęsiówka’ posing with the AK fighters, 5 August 1944.
Source: The official website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Juliusz Bogdan Deczkowski. https://www.ushmm.org/search/results/?q=98679


During the 1990s, while sharing with historians and journalists their memories about the Warsaw Uprising, some of the still living former Polish resisters recalled that there had been among them an African comrade who had fought bravely. Initially, this claim was dismissed as nonsense, but subsequently discovered archival information and additional testimonies proved its reliability.

His name was August Agbala O’Brown (sometimes referred to as Browne). He was born in Lagos, the largest city of modern-day Nigeria, in 1895. Since there is no information whatsoever about his early life and career, his curriculum vitae starts in 1922, when after stowing away on a sea ship he travelled to Poland via England and the ‘free town’ Danzig (later Polish Gdansk). A short period of hard physical work in the polish docks came to an end when he started to perform as a jazz drummer in the leading Warsaw night clubs and shortly afterwards became a celebrity of the local musical scene. His first album, recorded in 1928, made history, for he was the first West-African jazzman to achieve this. The process of integration into Polish society culminated in O’Brown’s marriage to a Polish girl, who gave birth to two boys. His friends and neighbors at the time remembered him as a very intelligent, courteous person, and a polyglot (he spoke six languages!).

August Agbala O’Brown as a jazz player in 1920s.
Source: http://staraprasa.blox.pl/2012/08/Czarny-powstaniec-August-Browne.html

O’Brown’s wedding ceremony, in the late 1920s.
Source: http://staraprasa.blox.pl/2012/08/Czarny-powstaniec-August-Browne.html

Yet O’Brown’s life was to change drastically in the autumn of 1939. In the face of the Wehrmacht’s rapid advance toward Warsaw, the majority of the tiny local African community – mostly musicians from different Western countries – flew abroad, but the Nigerian jazzman decided to stay with his new Polish family and friends. In the weeks that followed, he participated in the defense of the Polish capital, and after its surrender went underground adopting the alias ‘Ali’. Despite the danger of being caught, because of his obviously ‘non-Aryan’ appearance, he was, on a number of occasions, seen around Warsaw, distributing the AK news-sheet.

O’Brown as a resistance fighter during the Warsaw Uprising.
Source: The official website of the Warsaw Uprising Museum, Poland.

Amazingly, O’Brown succeeded in surviving the next five years of German occupation and actively participated in the Warsaw Uprising, as a common fighter of the AK battalion ‘Iwo’. He had not been injured and had successfully escaped possible German captivity. He soon witnessed the Soviet conquest of the country and the imposing of the Communist regime. The new rulers showed patience by awarding ‘the African comrade’ for his struggle against the Nazis, allowing him to play jazz at Warsaw restaurants and even hiring him as a ‘cultural officer’ for a governmental institution.

O’Brown after WWII.
Source: The official website of the Warsaw Uprising Museum, Poland.

In the mid-1950s, the pioneer of West African jazz and the only African fighter of the Polish underground, August Agbala O’Brown, might still be seen playing music at various Warsaw’s stages. However, by the end of the decade, already aged over 60, he became completely frustrated with the ‘Communist heaven’ and got special permission from the authorities to take his family to England. There he lived anonymously for almost two additional decades and passed away in 1976. 23


Although several hundred foreign fighters made up barely one percent of the total number of Warsaw resisters, their presence converted the Uprising into a unique event in comparison with other, more ‘nationally homogenous’, anti-Nazi and anti-Soviet rebellions in Poland itself and in other countries, except perhaps the almost simultaneous Paris Uprising. Interestingly, it was a continuation of a phenomenon that characterized two Polish anti-Russian mutinies in the 19th century. The latter, which broke out in 1863, attracted up to 1,000 foreign volunteers. 24

There is already sufficient existing knowledge concerning the personal backgrounds of the foreigners who joined the Warsaw Uprising, to allow us to present five different types of routes that brought them to the fighting Polish capital:
• Western and Soviet POWs (sometimes captured at very distant theaters of war, like the Mediterranean) who escaped prior to or had been released during the Uprising
• Deserters from the German auxiliary forces (former Soviet POWs and Hungarians)
• Inmates of the Warsaw concentration camp (mostly foreign Jews)
• Paratroopers sent by the British SOE from England (Poles who had escaped their homeland in Autumn 1939)
• Emigrants (either political or economic) who were living in Poland and its capital before WWII (Slovaks, Georgians, and a Nigerian).

In contrast, our knowledge about the ‘transnationalizing processes’ in the virtual space that embraces the local Polish resisters and their foreign comrades still suffers from many gaps. It is known that there had been a transfer of martial and technical knowledge and skills from the trained and experienced strangers to their hosts, as well as mutual operational activity, but the specific patterns and mechanisms of this amalgamation have yet to be discovered and thoroughly investigated. Unfortunately, the existing Western and Polish secondary sources are of almost no value for this mission, since they have not been resolute in highlighting the transnational dimension of the Warsaw Uprising and contain only sporadic anecdotal descriptions of its expressions. Thus, forthcoming research should concentrate on scrupulous work with relevant primary archival sources and recorded veterans’ testimonies.

In The Years Following Operation Dragoon

Dragoon was a huge success for all the Allied forces. It made it possible to liberate France in just a month and to cause large casualties to all the German forces. The plan had initially planned on the majority of the attack happening on the beaches so there was a shortage of fuel and travel equipment for the land attack. The operation was almost forced to a halt in September of 1944 before the southern ports and The French railway system became useful enough to bring about further supplies.