1880-1914






German stamps overprinted Postgebiet Ober-Ost (postal area upper east).
For use in occupied Lithuania and Courland



Courland in World War I



When World War I broke out in 1914, the Courlanders, as subjects of the Russian Empire, were expected to join the Russian war effort. The country's ethnically German minority, however, was in an awkward position, as Russia waged war against both Germany and (ethnically German ) Austria. Furthermore, the Courland Germans over the last decades had learned to suspect the Russian administration which had taken away many of their privileges, and the Russification policy of which had threatened their political and economical domination of the country.
When initial Russian successes on the ground turned into disastrous, costly defeats, POGROMS against the Jewish community of Courland were organized, causing a severe refugee problem. The Courland Ritterschaft began to secretly correspond with German authorities. By September 1915 German forces had occupied much of Courland. The German military administration for Courland established her seat in Mitau (Jelgava); Courland was a part of Ober-Ost, a region created by the frontline. Courland in 1917 had about 270,000 inhabitants (a considerable part of the prewar population had been displaced).
Many Latvians, fearing the reestablishment of German control, offered to serve as volunteers in Russia's army, but wished to form a separate Latvian regiment, which came into being in 1916.
The German government drew up plans for a Courland independent from Russia and closely linked to Germany, a state in which the ethnically German minority undoubtedly would play a dominating role.

In 1917 the Russian Revolution broke out. In March 1918 Russia signed the PEACE OF BREST-LITOVSK, ceding, among others, Courland. In November 1918, Germany asked for a truce; the Entente demanded that all German troops were recalled from foreign soil and Germany's armed forces to be reduced to 100,000 men.
With the Russian Revolution going on and the political situation in the Baltic region unclear, many German soldiers, released from the army, joined the FREICORPS (free corps) which were in fact unofficial army units. Freicorps units under the command of RÜDIGER VON DER GOLTZ held on to much of Russia's Baltic Provinces, fended off incursions of the Red Army, until diplomatic pressure forced Germany to recall them in 1919/1920.
Here in Courland, the white WESTERN ARMY under Col. Avalov-Bermondt was formed.
Courland ceased to exist as a political unit; it was incorporated into the new state of LATVIA



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EXTERNAL
LINKS
Western Army, white Russian forces 1919 under the command of Colonel Avalov-Bermondt, from Russian Philately, Stamps and Postal History; the Western Army was formed in Courland
Latvian Soldiers in World War I, from Latvian War Museum
DOCUMENTS An Ambassador's Memoirs, by Maurica Paleologue, Ch.1 : June 3rd-August 24th 1915, on pogroms against the Courland Jews and the refugee problem
Den Haag, US minister in the Netherlands, Garrett, to Secretary of State, March 19th 1918, sends script of Hertling speech in Reichstag, in which Germany announces recognition of autonomy of Courland, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Latvia banknotes 1915-1991, from Wad Nensberg's Collection of Russian Banknotes, contains a number of notes issued in Mitau resp. Libau (Courland) in 1915
Banknotes German Occupation Ober-Ost, from Geldscheine Online, comment in German
REFERENCE David G. Kirby, The Baltic World 1772-1993, London : Longman 1995
Presseabteilung Ober-Ost (ed.) : Das Land Ober-Ost. Deutsche Arbeit in den Verwaltungsgebieten Kurland, Litauen und Bialystok-Grodno (The Land Ober-Ost : German Effort in the Administrative Regions of Courland, Lithuania and Bialystok-Grodno), Stuttgart : Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 1917; an official publication by the military administration of the occupied region


This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 11th 2004

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