by Shawn Bohannon

It transferred from Silesia to Courland in January 1919 to control the German, Latvian nationalist and White Russian forces defending Latvia from the Bolsheviks. By this time, only the southwestern corner of Latvia, including the seaport of Libau, remained free of Bolshevik control. (By late December 1918, the German 8. Armee under Generalleutnant Ludwig von Estorff had withdrawn from Estonia and eastern Latvia. Advancing in the wake of the withdrawing Germans, the Latvian Bolsheviks, backed by the Red Army, overran most of the country by the end of January 1919.)

Upon arriving in Courland in February 1919, the newly appointed German commander of the VI. Reservekorps, Generalmajor Rüdiger Graf von der Goltz, began organizing his forces—including Latvia’s national defense force, the Baltische Landeswehr — for an offensive to free the Baltic States from Bolshevik domination. However, as the Allies and the German government would soon come to realize, Graf von der Goltz harbored his own political agenda of establishing a German controlled redoubt in the Baltic. Launching a three-phased offensive on 3 March 1919 (Operations “Tauwetter,” “Eisgang” and “Frühlingswind”), the VI. Reservekorps pushed eastwards in stages freeing Goldingen, Windau, Talsen and Tukkum. The final phase of the offensive reached a crescendo on March 18th with the capture of Mitau.

After two months of holding the line at Mitau, during which time the Baltic German land barons overthrew the Latvian government of Karlis Ulmanis (who escaped to British protection) and installed their own puppet, Graf von der Goltz prepared to move on his next objective: Riga. Under pressure from the British, the German government had ordered Graf von der Goltz to refrain from further offensive action. However, recognizing the Baltische Landeswehr as a Latvian force, the German government indicated it would not oppose actions undertaken by that organization.

Attacking with the Baltische Landeswehr in the fore, the VI. Reservekorps captured Riga on 22 May 1919. Continuing the advance, the Baltische Landeswehr pushed towards Estonia with the ostensible aim of linking up with General of Infantry Nikolai Nikolaevich Iudenich’s Northwestern White Army for a joint offensive against Petrograd, Russia. However, Graf von der Goltz’s plans were thwarted when an Estonian-Latvian army attacked and defeated the Baltische Landeswehr at the Battle of Wenden, 19-21 June 1919.

In the meantime, an Allied military mission under British Lieutenant-General Sir Hubert de la Poer Gough had arrived in the Baltic with the task of clearing the Germans from the region and organizing native armies for the Baltic States. On 5 July 1919, the Allied mission forced the Germans to evacuate Riga (to which the Ulmanis government returned) and, shortly thereafter, Windau. Later that month, the Germans likewise evacuated Libau and withdrew to the interior of Latvia where they bided their time. To ensure its return to Latvian control, the Baltische Landeswehr was placed under British authority with Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Alexander, the future Field Marshal the Earl Alexander of Tunis and Governor General of Canada (1946-1952), taking command in mid-July.

As the Allies increased pressure on Germany to withdraw its troops from the Baltic, Generalmajor Graf von der Goltz stalled for time during the summer of 1919 as he sought a means of continuing the quest to carve out a German enclave in the region. He recognized just such an opportunity in Colonel Prince Pavel Mikhailovich Avalov-Bermondt. A Russian adventurer and self-styled aristocrat, Avalov-Bermondt had taken command of the White Russian forces in Courland from Prince Anatolii Pavlovich Liven (who had commanded a battalion in the Baltische Landeswehr) when that officer left in late June 1919 to join the Northwestern White Army based in Estonia. By transferring the German volunteer units to Russian command, Graf von der Goltz reasoned the campaign could continue while, at the same time, placating the Allies and his own government. Despite the utter transparency of the scheme, the German government agreed it would have no authority over a private, Russian controlled army.

Faced with the prospect of economic sanctions, the German government finally bowed to Allied demands and ordered its Baltic volunteers home. However, the reaction amongst German “Baltikumers” to the recall order from Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert (whose government had accepted the despised Treaty of Versailles) was not, in retrospect, entirely surprising. On 24 August 1919, the Eiserne Division revolted in Mitau and refused to return to Germany. The next day, various Freikorps leaders gathered in the city and established the Deutsche Legion. On 21 September 1919, Generalmajor Graf von der Goltz officially handed over command of the German volunteers to Colonel Prince Avalov-Bermondt. Thus, the unique Freiwillige Russische Westarmee was born with a Russian colonel in titular command and Graf von der Goltz continuing to pull the strings in the background.


Generalmajor Rüdiger Graf von der Goltz (4 Feb 1919-12 Oct 1919) (also Gouverneur von Libau)
Generalleutnant Walther von Eberhardt (12 Oct 1919-Dec 1919)

Chief of the General Staff

Major Hagemann

First General Staff Officer

Hauptmann Hans-Georg von Jagow

Order of battle (March 1919)

- Pionier-Park
- Munitions- und Geräte-Depot
- Korps-Proviant-Amt
- Panzerzug V
- Panzerzug XXII
- Gendarmerie-Trupp (mounted)
- Feldpolizei Abschnitt Libau
- Gruppen-Nachrichten-Kommandeur 706
- Gruppen-Fernsprech-Kommandeur 706
- Gruppen-Funker-Abteilung (without equipment)
- Gruppenführer der Flieger des VI. Reservekorps
- Freiwilligen Abteilung Böckelmann
- Freiwilligen Kompanie 15
- Freiwilligen Kompanie 16
Subordinate formations
- Baltische Landeswehr: Major Alfred Fletcher
- Eiserne Division: Major Josef Bischoff
- 1. Garde-Reserve-Division: Generalmajor Paul Tiede
- Gouvernement Libau: Generalmajor Rüdiger Graf von der Goltz

Order of battle (25 May 1919)

- Waffen- und Geräte-Depot
- Pionier-Park
- Korps-Proviant-Amt
- Munitions-Depot
- Freiwilligen Bau-Detachement
- Gendarmerie-Trupp (mounted)
- Feldpolizei Abschnitt Libau
- Kartenstelle 4
- Gruppenführer der Kraftwagen 7
-- Armee-Kraftwagen-Kolonne 020
-- Armee-Kraftwagen-Kolonne 021 (detached to Baltische Landeswehr)
-- Kraftwagen-Werkstattzug 01
- Panzerzug V (detached to Eiserne Division)
- Gruppenführer der Flieger 37
-- Feldflieger-Abteilung 433 (detached to Baltische Landeswehr)
-- Ballonzug 102
-- Flakzug 1
- Gruppen-Nachrichten-Kommandeur 706
-- Gruppen-Fernsprech-Abteilung 706
-- Freiwilligen Gruppen-Fernsprech-Abteilung 706
-- schweren Funkstation Windau
-- Telegraphen Bau-Abteilung B
-- Marine Landstation Windau
-- Funk-Empfänger Station
- Abteilung Grabowski (detached to 2. Infanterie-Brigade)
- Eskadron Jäger-zu-Pferd 12 (detached to Brigade Kurland)
- Badisches Freiwilligen Abteilung Medem (detached to Baltische Landeswehr)
- Freiwilligen Fußartillerie-Bataillon des I. Armeekorps (detached to Eiserne Division)
- Freiwilligen Fußartillerie-Batterie des XX. Armeekorps (detached to 2. Infanterie-Brigade)
- Badisches Sturmbataillon Kurland (detached to 2. Infanterie-Brigade)
- Detachement Michael (detached to 2. Infanterie-Brigade)
- Freikorps Weickhmann (detached to Gouvernement Libau)
- Rekruten-Depot Weickhmann
- Kommandantur Windau
- Mobilen Etappen-Kommandantur 501
-- Freiwilliges Jägerkorps Goldingen: Hauptmann der Reserve Berding
Subordinate formations
- Baltische Landeswehr: Major Alfred Fletcher
- Eiserne Division: Major Josef Bischoff
- 1. Garde-Reserve-Division: Generalmajor Paul Tiede
- Brigade Kurland: Oberstleutnant von dem Hagen
- 2. Infanterie-Brigade: Oberst Fleischer
- Gouvernement Libau: Generalmajor Rüdiger Graf von der Goltz

Notable members

Generalleutnant Arnold Freiherr von Biegeleben (Adjutant des VI. Reservekorps)
Charakter als Generalleutnant Rüdiger Graf von der Goltz
Charakter als Generalarzt Dr. med. Maximilian Hinze (Korpsarzt des VI. Reservekorps)
Charakter als Generalleutnant Hans-Georg von Jagow
Generalleutnant Ingo Lindner (Luftwaffe) (Gruppen-Nachrichten-Kommandeur des VI. Reservekorps)
(the ranks are the highest ranks reached in the Third Reich era)

Sources used

Research by Shawn Bohannon

Reference material on this unit

Forschungsanstalt für Kriegs- und Heeresgeschichte/Reichskriegsministeriums – Darstellungen aus den Nachkriegskämpfen deutscher Truppen und Freikorps. Band 2: Der Feldzug im Baltikum bis zur zweiten Einnahme von Riga (Januar bis Mai 1919)
Forschungsanstalt für Kriegs- und Heeresgeschichte/Reichskriegsministeriums – Darstellungen aus den Nachkriegskämpfen deutscher Truppen und Freikorps. Band 3: Die Kämpfe im Baltikum nach der zweiten Einnahme von Riga (Juni bis Dezember 1919)
Rüdiger Graf von der Goltz – Meine Sendung in Finnland und im Baltikum (memoirs)