National partisans

National partisans
With the second Soviet occupation of Latvia in autumn 1944 an armed resistance movement began. Its members – national partisans – were people hoping to regain independence for Latvia, or who were in danger of being arrested. After capitulation of the German army in Kurzeme on 8 May 1945 many Latvian legionnaires joined the national partisans.

The national partisans, as well as a large portion of Latvians in general, believed that soon a war would start between the Western allies and the USSR, which could, as in the battles of liberation in 1918-1920, result in regaining the independence of Latvia by armed struggle. The fighters called themselves "national partisans", but the public at large called them „forest brethren" or „forest men". The Soviet authorities called them „bandits".

Organisers of the National Partisans groups in Vidzeme and Latgale were people considered to be of the regional intelligentsia – teachers, employees of the parish councils, foresters, policemen – while in Kurzeme they were junior officers and instructors of the Latvian Legion.

Daily life of the national partisans was in the forest. They regularly relocated their encampments to avoid discovery by the authorities. In winter they lived in underground bunkers that they built and carefully camouflaged in late fall in hard to access forest thickets. Survival in the harsh conditions depended on widespread support by the local inhabitants.

During their active period the national partisans captured at least 40 civil parish centres in Latvia, temporarily paralysing their functions. In active clashes or from sniper positions the partisans killed 370 State Security Ministry soldiers and officers, 735 soldiers of the „destroyer" battalions (istrebiteli in Russian), as well as 1,070 supporters of the Communist regime – members of the Communist party and functionaries.

In 1944-1945 the partisans planned to unite all the resistance groups. The Soviet security agencies thwarted these efforts. In Latvia a single resistance centre did not develop, but there were several regional organisations. The largest was the Latvian National Partisans Organisation (in Kurzeme), the Latvian National Partisans Association (in Vidzeme and the northern part of Latgale), as well as the Fatherland Guards Association (in the southern part of Latgale). There were also smaller national partisan organisations.

Altogether there were some 12,000 to 13,000 members in the partisan movement. Considering the huge losses during the war, this is a significant number. They had the support of a large part of farmers. This support was reduced with the mass deportations of well-to-do farmers in 1949, and the partisan activities declined. Nevertheless, armed resistance in Latvia continued until 1956.