Landeswehr/Freikorps in the Baltics, 1919

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Landeswehr/Freikorps in the Baltics, 1919

Post by Marcus » 04 Apr 2003 21:57

Looking through my files, I found a copy of an old post by Arvo L. Vercamer, that I think you might find interesting:

Arvo L. Vercamer wrote:Esteemed Sir;
In regards to the posted query on German “Freikorps” activities in Riga shortly
after the end of the First World War of a short while ago, I would like to offer
the following for your consideration. This posting will focus on the two German
combat formations raised and used shortly prior to and shortly after the month
of November, 1918.
The “Baltenregiment” in Estonia; and
“Die Baltische Landeswehr” in Couronia and Livonia (better known as Latvia
It need be noted that both of these entities were not considered to be
“Freikorps” formations, rather, they were “Landeswehr” forces (Landeswehr
truppen). In a few months time, the Landeswehr forces received reinforcements
from numerous “Freikorps” units and members from Germany proper.
In both of these formations, the composition of the men spanned from the very
youngest of “Deutschbalten” to the most elders of the German nobles.
In 1919, the German Landeswehr would be amalgamated into the forces of the
German “Iron Division” operating in the Baltics. The Germans were defeated
during the summer of 1919 by a combined Estonian-Latvian army supported by
Allied (primarily British) military supply and political pressure efforts.
To more optimally understand the situation of the German minority in the Baltics
after 1918, I opine that one should understand what happened to them during the
course of the First World War.
When the First World War war broke, Imperial Russian moved quickly to neutralize
any possible problems associated with German communities located within the
empire. In the Baltics, the Czar’s government quickly suppressed the
“Balten-Deutsche” people. German schools were closed, it was forbidden to speak
German on the streets, letters (personal correspondences) could not be written
in German, local German language newspapers were shut down, etc. In short, all
of the “special” privileges the German community in the Baltics had enjoyed
since 1721, were essentially voided by the Russians. Even the Baltic-German
“Hilfswerk” in Moscow, the organizations helping German POW’s survive in Russian
camps, was ordered to cease its activities within a short time of being
established. On 15 February 1915, all German properties were to be transferred
to Russian control. St. Petersburg became St. Petrograd, an attempt to give the
city’s name a more “Russian” character.
In terms of the number of “Baltendeutsche” involved; in 1914 there were
approximately 127.000 Germans living in Couronia and Livonia and approximately
35.000 Germans in Estonia. They held the key positions in nearly all economic,
scientific and social fields of life in the Baltics.
By the spring of 1915, German forces were advancing rapidly (well, as rapidly as
possible in those days), deeper into the Baltics. Liepaja (Libau) fell to the
Germans on 08 May 1915. Mitva (Mitau) fell to the Germans on 01 August 1915.
Thus by the fall of 1915, most of Livonia (western and southern Latvia) was
under firm German control.
The German conquest came at a bitter cost to the Latvian people and to the
German minority residing in the area.
The Russians had essentially cleared the region of people before the German
military forces entered the region. Over 500.000 Latvians, that is about one
third of the total Latvian population, was expelled from Livonia by the Russians
in 1915. To make matters worse, the Russians were not in an optimal position to
fully resettle the expelled population - the expelled people were essentially
left to their own devices.
There was however one positive factor in this situation. The harsh Russian
actions had a galvanizing effect on the entire Latvian nation. Latvian relief
agencies quickly sprung up and numerous Latvian support organizations quickly
swung into action. Without realizing it, the Russians had allowed the Latvians
to form their own political power structure - this they could use to demand
their independence with, this they could use to govern a free Latvia with.
Try as they might, the Russians were not able to break the German advance on
Riga itself. In March and July, the Russian Army tried to counter-attack the
Germans and failed. Again in January of 1917, the Russians tried and again they
failed. But the Germans too could not break through the Russian defensive lines.
One of the primary reasons for the early German failures to break through the
Russian lines were the heroic and stubborn defensive and offensive actions of
the seven Latvian Rifle Regiments of the Imperial Russian Army assigned to
defend the Riga front. General Hindenburg praised their valiant efforts, stating
in his memoir’s that he would have captured Riga much earlier if it were not for
the seven stars in the heavens (the seven Latvian Rifle Regiments). That said,
on 03 September 1917, the Germans were able to finally take Riga.
On 30 March 1917, the provisional government of Russia, under Kerenski, combined
some of the Baltic provinces into larger administrative regions. The Estonian
islands, the province of Estonia and northern Livonoa became “Estonia”, and
southern Livonia along with Couronia now became “Latvia”. But these actions did
not stop the German advance. Tartu (Dorpat) fell to the Germans on 24 February
1918. Tallinn (Reval) a day later. On 04 March 1918, Narva (Narwa) was in German
Shortly before the German advance past Riga and into southern Estonia, the
Russian government imprisoned most of the leading German nobles in the Baltics
and sent them either to Siberia or the Urals; Russia intended to use them as
hostages. Included in this lot was “Ritterschaftshauptmann” Ed. Frh. von
Dellingshausen - the highest-ranking German noble in the Baltics. The
Bolsheviks, who organized most of this, declared that the German nobles had no
rights and privileges - they could be dealt with freely by “communist” legal
actions. But fortune was with the Baltic Germans. As a result of the
Brest-Litovsk treaty (paragraph 6), Moscow was required to return all of the
hostages promptly. Reluctantly, the Russians complied and by late August of
1918, the Baltic German hostages were back in their home areas. On 15 September
1918, the University of Tartu (Dorpat) was opened again by the Germans. Most of
the German nobility left in the Baltics believed that the Baltics were now an
inseparable part of the German Reich, just as its association was in the year
1561. They based this belief in part on the “treaty of understanding” which was
signed by Heinrich von Styrk, representing the German nobles, and the Russians
on the other hand - the Baltic nobles were to have all of their pre-1914 rights
But now, Estonian and Latvian political aspirations threw a monkey wrench into
the plans of the Baltic German nobility. On 28 November 1917, the Estonian
National Council declared that it was the highest governing body in the land. On
24 February 1918, one day before the German entered Tallinn (Reval), the
Estonians declared their independence. The Germans basically ignored this
declaration, as did nearly everyone else. The Latvians were marching in
political tune with the Estonians - with similar results.
Germany’s political position was that, as a result of the Brest-Litovsk treaty,
the Baltics were removed from Russian control. The region now reverted to full
German control. On 27 August 1918, per Article 7 of the “supplement”
Brest-Litovsk treaty, Russia relinquished interest in the Baltic forever.
With this type of a political arrangement, that is, Estonians and Latvians
demanding freedom on one side, and the Germans wanting to formally annex the
Baltics to the German Empire on the other, and the Bolsheviks making no bones
about their desire to re-conquer the Baltics - well, it made for a most volatile
political environment to say the least. A compromise of some sort was however
reached. The unified German “Landesrat” elected three German, two Latvian and
three Estonian “branches” to its structure on 07 November 1918. At the same
time, Estonian and Latvian democrats were busily engaging themselves in their
efforts to secure Allied recognition of Estonian and Latvian independence (free
of German control).
By this time, the Germans also saw the writing on the wall. On 11 November 1918,
Germany surrendered to the Allied Powers. In the Baltics, on 12 November 1918,
the German civilian administration in Estonia began to turn over its power to
the provisional Estonian government. On 17 November 1918, the first (democratic)
Latvian parliament was established in Riga, on 18 November 1918, Latvia declared
its independence as a sovereign nation.
The end of the First World War brought nothing but chaos to Germany’s eastern
front. Per article XII of the Versailles Treaty, German forces were to withdraw
immediately to Germany (with Allied co-ordination). In addition, Germany was
forced to void terms of the Bucharest peace treaty and terms of the
Brest-Litovsk treaty. However, the direct problem confronting the Germans was
that as of 27 August 1918, Russia had relinquished its rights forever in Estonia
and in Livonia (as well as Couronia). The fledgling Baltic governments were
hardly in a position to enforce their national claims. Who then was really “in
charge” of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania?
The commander of the German Ober-Ost-Gebiet, General von Kathen, recommended a
slow and calculated withdrawal from the region. To complicate his thought
process, on 11 November 1918, the “Baltische Regentschaftsrat (the German Baltic
Nobility Council) (in Riga) demanded that the German Army remain as long as
possible to protect existing German interests in the Baltics. Interestingly, the
German nobles now saw themselves as the sole legitimate governing body in
Estonia and Latvia. Towards the end of November 1918, the “Regentschaftsrat”
established a “Baltische Landeswehr” comprised of approximately 1.000 men. On 17
November 1918, a German Stosstrupp was also created. Towards the end of November
and early December 1918, numerous German “Freiwilligenabtailungen” existed
throughout the Baltics. One of the more famous Landeswehr units was the
“Kompanie Rahden” in Mitva (Mitau).
Although Germany may have encountered many political quandaries, the German
military did in fact still have a rather sizeable force in the region; six
infantry divisions, one independent cavalry brigade, nine Landsturm regiments as
well as numerous smaller construction/work details. That said, one must note
that this “army” was on the average, rather on the “aged” side. Most of the
younger soldiers were culled out during the spring and summer of 1918 and
transferred to the western front. Thus, one can say with a good deal of
confidence that the German forces in the Baltics best resembled a
“Landsturmarmee” commanded by a small cadre of young professional soldiers. The
Germans troops in the Baltics were also regretfully rather undisciplined; a
constant flow of bad news from Germany, discussions with returning German POW’s
on how the Russians treated them and the hostile reception of many an Estonian
and Latvian all contributed to this situation. Too many excesses were committed
by the Germans during this period to endear themselves as “saviours from
Bolshevism” by the locals.
The ongoing Bolshevik revolution also had an immediate impact on the Germans
stationed in the former Imperial Russian provinces in the Baltics. In the
Baltics, the first units to mutiny were German naval units in Liepaja (Libau)
and Ventspils (Wenden). However, with a great deal of slick-talking and
persuasion, the German authorities were able to defuse the very tense
situations. Only in Estonia did the Germans encounter problems. Many German
naval contingents in Tallinn (Reval) in fact joined Estonian communist
sympathizers as they marched through the city. General von Seckendorff, the
German commandant of Tallinn, had recognized the government of the Republic of
Estonia to be the legitimate governing body of the land on 12 November 1918.
Thus, he ordered all German troops to comply with the wishes of the newly formed
Estonian government (the democratic one, not the communist sponsored one). Baron
Pilar von Pilchau protested von Seckendorff’s actions with the CinC
Armeeoberkommando 8, but to no avail. Some damage to Estonian civilian and
German military facilities was however done by the marauding communist
sympathizers. The Tallinn naval-aviation base was damaged. Some German military
goods were looted and quickly sold on the black market by the Germans; they also
destroyed the seaplanes at the base.
On 13 November 1918, General-Fieldmarshal Prince Leopold of Bavaria, CinC
Ober-Ost-Gebiet, ordered all German forces under his command to abide by the
regulations issued by the Kaunas (Kowno) “Soldatenrat”. The Kaunas “Soldatenrat”
in turn obtained its marching orders from the Berlin “Soldatenrat”. Riga, which
was home to a large contingent of German military forces, accepted the edicts of
the “Soldatenrat” with relative ease. Nearly every “Soldatenrat” in the Baltics
focused on over-riding issue - the prompt return of all German forces in the
Baltics back to Germany. Fighting “Bolshevism”, seemed to have lost its urgency.
But now, history and time intervened. Red Army units were rapidly approaching
towards Riga and Tallinn. The Germans in the east began to panic, as they feared
that the Bolsheviks would quickly capture the Baltics and then move on towards
Germany itself. German military officials asked Marshal Foch if German/Allied
ships could be used to secure a number of ports in the Black Sea and in the
Baltic Sea which were used as transfer points to return German forces to
The situation was complicated immensely, because in many areas, such as for
example in Daugavpils and in Pskov, local German “Soldatenraäte” began direct
negotiations with the Red Army. The Germans soldiers in the Baltics did not
really want to fight anyone any more, and they were willing to “withdraw”
peacefully if the Red Army would refrain from attacking the retreating Germans.
The Germans agreed to keep a 10km (6mile) distance between the two forces at all
times to ensure a bloodless retreat. But the Germans also learned very quickly
that the communists could not be trusted to keep their agreements.
The origins of the German Landeswehr units can be traced back to the summer and
fall of 1918. This was when the German military authorities in Latvia allowed
the Latvians to establish small military units. The Latvians strongly advised
the Germans that since they did form the majority of the people of the land,
Latvians should also have a right to form some type of military units, which
would look after Latvian interests. Reluctantly, the Germans agreed and on 18
October 1918, the first “Landeswehr” units were created in Latvia. They all were
to wear Latvian military uniforms; this the result of an important compromise
package - but the Germans were never issued Latvian uniforms, and it is doubtful
that they would have worn them given their anti-Latvian feelings. Thus within
this framework, the Germans erected their own “Landeswehr” units, the Latvians
their own, the Russians their own, and so on.
As far as the Germans were concerned, the following “Landeswehr” units were
In Riga:
-- 3 Infantry Companies (at approximately 250 men each)
-- 1 Artillery Battery
-- 1MG Company (approximately 250 men)
-- 1 Cavalry Squadron
In Liepaja (Libau), Mitva (Mitau) and Vainode (Goldingen) each:
-- 1 Infantry Company (at approximately 250 men)
The Latvians established the following units in Volmars (Wolmar), Ventspils
(Wenden), Mitva (Mitau), Bauske, Tukums (Tuckum) and Vainode (Goldingen):
-- 1 Infantry Company (approximately 250 men)
In Riga:
-- 3 Infantry Companies (at approximately 250 men each)
-- a number of “special” support troops
In Liepaja (Libau):
-- 2 Infantry Companies (at approximately 250 men each)
The Russians were to establish the following:
In Riga:
-- 2 Infantry Companies (at 250 men each)
-- a number of “support” troops
In Liepaja (Libau):
-- 1 Infantry Company (approximately 250 men)
All of the above-cited units were placed under the command of Generalmajor Baron
Leon Freytagh-Loringhoven. Lietenant Baron Heinrich Manteuffel, he would have a
very famous brother in the years to come. The Baron was assigned as the liaison
officer between the Landeswehr and the German Army command in Riga.
For the German community in the Baltics, it was considered an honor to serve in
the Landeswehr units. Many volunteered, anyone between the ages of 18 to 60 was
accepted. Pay was set and five RM per day. The German Army was to provide all of
the needed hardware (guns, ammo, etc.). All recruits were divided into three
Category I - available for front-line duties.
Category II - available for garrison duties.
Category III - suitable only for local police or “Selbstschutz” duties (due to
their higher ages).
On 11 November 1918, the German command in Riga officially sanctioned the
creation of Landeswehr units. A “Landeswehrkommission” was quickly established
which essentially functioned like an independent Department of War.
By 06 January 1919, the German Landeswehr units had been expanded. The following
thus applies:
1st “Riga” Infantry Company (Pionieroberst Bornhaupt commanding)
--1st Platoon
--2nd Platoon
--3rd Platoon
2nd “Riga” Infantry Company (Gardenschütze Baron Alexander Dellingshausen
--1st Platoon
--2nd Platoon
--3rd Platoon
--4th Platoon
3rd “Riga” Infantry Company (Oberst Konopak commanding)
--1st Platoon
--2nd Platoon
--3rd Platoon
Offiziers MG Abteilung (Stabsrittermeister Degner commanding)
This formation was quickly disbanded and distributed to the infantry units.
Baltische Haubizbatterie (established 16 December 1918)
Batterie “Schmidt”
Stosstrupp z.b.V. (established 17 November 1918) (originally intended as a
cavalry formation, quickly re-designated as an infantry unit although the
companies were still designated as “squadrons”.
--1st Squadron
--2nd Squadron
--one artillery train
Kavallerie-Abteilung “Engelhardt” (established 19 December 1918; Baron
Engelhardt commanding - the only “civilian” commander of the Landeswehr in that
he had no formal military background)
Kavallerie-Abteilung “Drachenfels” (established in December of 1918;
Oberstleutnant Baron Walter Drachenfels commanding).
Streifabteilung “Kurland”
In addition to these forces, primarily in Riga, other German Landeswehr forces
were also established. The following thus applies:
“Kontingent Kurland”
--Infantry Company “Rahden (in Mitva)
--Infantry Company “Kleist”
--Independent Stosstruppe
--Cavalry Abteilung “Hahn”
The flag of the German Landeswehr forces was taken from the colors of the City
of Riga; blue and white. The German Landeswehr units wore German army uniforms.
A light blue piping was placed around all cloth hats and caps. The cockade was a
blue-white disc; a deaths-head was later placed above the cockade and later
still, the German “Deutschordenskreuz” replaced the deaths-head.
Unfortunately, the Latvians were only able raise a very small number of
“Landeswehr” units (those named above); and they, for the most part were
strongly influenced by Bolshevik propaganda. The Germans realized this, and
quickly established a few new Latvian units having no communist influences - but
most of these men were killed (or went their own way) fighting the Red Army. The
Russian units were for the most part considered not combat ready and unreliable;
they did not number more than 70 men; Captain Didorov commanding.
As in Latvia, the Germans in Estonia also formed “Landeswehr” units. But as can
be understood, with a much smaller ethnic population base to work from, German
“Landeswehr” formation efforts were much smaller than their counterparts in
On 27 November 1918, the first German Landeswehr unit was established in Rakvere
(Wesenberg). This was a small MG command. This was also the day that the Germans
established their “Baltenregiment” in Estonia.
Of note is that unlike in Latvia, where the Germans allowed ethnic Germans to
serve in Latvian units - the German 8th AOK in Tallinn (Reval) forbade German
Army officers and soldiers to serve in Estonian military units. This naturally
created many problems for the Germans in Estonia who were generally more
pro-Estonian than their cousins in Latvia were pro-Latvian.
On 11 November 1918, Estonia once again declared its sovereignty. A few days
later, on 16 November 1918, Estonia declared that it was creating an Estonian
Army whose aim it was to clear Estonia of all “aggressors”. Estonia also
declared that only bona-fide Estonian nationals were eligible to serve in the
Estonian armed forces. But the pragmatics of reality quickly replaced utopian
daydreams. The Red Army was close to the gates of Tallinn (Reval) and action had
to be taken immediately by Estonians and Germans alike.
In short, many Germans residing in Estonia elected to serve in a pro-Estonian
oriented “Baltenregiment”. Interestingly, the German manned “Baltenregiment” was
quickly placed at the disposal of the newly formed Estonian National Army. On 27
November 1918, a mounted MG company was established by the Germans; a small
infantry unit a short while later. Garde-Oberst Constantin von Weiss formed this
unit in Rakvere (Wesenberg).
Approximately 300 Germans served in the “Baltenregiment”; whereby it need be
noted that this was a very large number considering the pool of available
Germans in Estonia. German and Estonian units, augmented by Danish, Finnish and
Swedish volunteers, played an important role in the defense of Estonia from Red
Army attacks in late 1918 and early 1919.
I hope that the above paragraphs may help to shed additional light on the early
formation period of the German Landeswehr in Estonia and Latvia.
Thank you for the honor of your time.
Arvo L. V.
Reinhardt Wittram - Geschichte der Ostseelande, Livland, Estland, Kurland,
1180-1918; Verlag von R., Oldenburg, Germany, 1940
Claus Grimm - Vor den Toren Europa’s; August Friedrich Velmede Verlag; Hamburg;
Germany; 1963
Eesti Vabadussõda 1918-1920 (Vol. 1 & 2); Estonian History Commission; Tallinn,
Estonia, 1937

Tapani K.
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Post by Tapani K. » 09 Apr 2003 14:31

I believe ther is at least one mistake in this otherwise excellent article since it seems that there were about 1300 men who at one time or other were members of the Balti Pataljon or Baltenregiment and not 300 as mr. Vercamer claims. Maybe just a typo?

Also, while I am at it, I might point point out that the Balti Pataljon was actually quite large for a battalion and that it had e.g an artillery detachment of its own making it actually something like a smallish brigade.

Tapani K.

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Post by Durand » 12 Apr 2003 12:12

Hallo Marcus,

Thank you for posting Mr. Vercamer's article.



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Post by Marcus » 24 Jul 2005 09:48

Since this thread was posted two years before this became a section of its own, I thought it was time to revive it.


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Post by Reigo » 24 Jul 2005 17:40

About the number of Germans in the Baltic Regiment. I don't remember seeing any data about this but 300 seems indeed too little. However 1300 again seems to be too much. It should be noted that the regiment contained also Russians (for example the 3rd Company was mostly formed from Russians in May 1919; at the end of 1919 several hundred Russians from the North-Western Army were added) and Estonians.

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Post by Tapani K. » 25 Jul 2005 07:38

Reigo, I found the number 1300 in a book that I happened to browse in the Kuressaare library. However, that was two years ago and unfortunately I have no idea what the book was. Also, I am not sure if the 1300 meant the total stregth or just the Germans; in light of what you wrote, it seems that it would have been the total strength.

Tapani K.

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Post by RCW Mark » 26 Jul 2005 10:51

As I read it, "served in" means passed through its ranks at any one time. Therefore 1,300 men might have "served in" the regiment without it ever getting over 800 men strong -- at a guess.

Nice article by the way. He didn't follow it up with more info about the fate of the units he mentions did he?


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Post by panzerkrieg » 27 Feb 2006 09:17

were any german naval ships involved in these operations like the pre-dreadnoughts?

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Post by RCW Mark » 27 Feb 2006 10:22

The Allied navies (mostly British) cleared the Baltics of German ships and kept them clear. I think this may have been in the armistice terms. For a major vessel to sail out would have been considered a major provocation and quite possibly restarted WWI.

When one torpedo boat slipped through to Liepaja (Libau) in mid-1919 the British and French threw a fit and demanded it return to Germany immediately: which it did.

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Re: Landeswehr/Freikorps in the Baltics, 1919

Post by Nicole S. » 19 Oct 2009 16:27

Here a photo of a Kavallerie-Abteilung der Baltischen Landswehr!

Baltische Landeswehr - Kavallerie Abteilung.jpg

Source: Das Buch vom deutschen Freikorpskämpfer by Ernst von Salomon.


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