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On 9 September 1944, SS-Obergruppenführer Jeckeln, the Higher SS and Police Leader for the Baltic States ordered all Latvian Police Regiments not engaged in combat to relocate to the SS Camp “Seelager” at Dondangen (Dundaga) on the Latvian coast.

Units affected included the 1st Police Rgt. in Riga and the surviving portions of the 2nd and 3rd Latvian Police Regiments. At the end of September they were joined by the Field Replacement Depot of the 19th Latvian SS Division.

In early October 1944 both groups were transported from Windau (Ventspils) by sea to West Prussia for use in the reformation of the 15th Latvian SS Division. The best soldiers only were screened out to go to the division with the rest being assigned to construction battalions and regiments to be used in fortifying rear area positions. In sum total, five Latvian Construction Regiments were formed in affiliation with 15th SS Div., although they were in fact subordinated to the Army Military Construction Staff in Danzig. One of the regiments was stationed in Rummelsburg while the other four were at Thorn.

The 10,000 members of the Latvian Construction Regiments proved to be quite a burden on the supply services of the already shortchanged 15th SS Div., so the divisional CO (SS- Oberführer Obwurzer) decided to get some more use out of them by combining them into a replacement brigade. This act was formalized on 29 November 1944 when the regiments became part of the “Waffen-SS Latvian Field Replacement Depot.” The first commander was SS-Oberführer Martin.

The mission of the depot was to sort and train Latvians for military service and channel those who were not fit for soldiering back into construction units and/or the armaments industry. The depot was loosely organized as a two-regiment brigade as follows:

W-SS Latvian Field Replacement Depot Rgt. 1

  1. to V. Battalions each with four 200 man companies.

W-SS Latvian Field Replacement Depot Rgt. 2

  1. to V. Battalions each with four 200 man companies.

Waffen-SS Grenadier Rgt. 3

There was such a large number of men on hand that a third regiment had to be formed and it was known only as a W-SS Grenadier Regiment. Despite their upgrading all three Latvian regiments were still used largely for construction work.

In the Latvian depot units, there were severe shortages of clothing and equipment; housing was poor and field kitchens had to be borrowed from the local Volkssturm militia. A shortage of food transport utensils meant that adequate food distribution was erratic at best. This meant that many of the Latvians were obliged to adopt a “self-service” approach by foraging and stealing food from whatever source necessary. Soldiers taken ill had to be kept in battalion “sick rooms” as it was usually too difficult to transport them to military hospitals.

Each depot company was supposed to be fully equipped with carbines, but most had little or none of these as the field fighting units had first claim to all weapons. The general situation for the Latvian-SS Field Replacement Depot was therefore not a good one and it soon got worse rather than better. On 12 January 1945 the Soviets began their mammoth Vistula Offensive and were soon driving deep into West Prussia. On 20 January the 1st and 2nd Depot Rgts. began a foot march through Bromberg to the west to get out of the way. The march was hindered by floods of refugees and heavy snow.

The V. Btl./Latvian SS Depot Rgt. 1 reached Nauheim on the night of 22 January. After a pause the march was resumed at 2130 hours. An armored column with 15 tanks and assorted armored personnel carriers approached from the distance. It was simply assumed by the Latvians that this was a German force. Fatal mistake! It was a Soviet unit and it quickly got into position and opened up a horribly destructive fire on the battalion. About 60 to 70 of the Latvian survivors attempted to surrender but they were shot down in cold blood by the communists.

At the same time, enemy tank units trapped the 2nd Latvian SS Depot Rgt. at Immenheim and took most of it prisoner. Fortunately, no one was executed on the spot and the regiment was liberated on the next day (23 January) by a swift counterattack of the Latvian SS Fusilier Btl. 15. During the next days the two regiments marched through Zempelburg and Schlochau to Hammerstein, where they were located at the end of January. From here they provided their first replacements to the 15th SS Division.

At the beginning of February 1945, a force of 2,500 men from the Depot “Brigade” led by Waffen-Obersturmbannführer Rumanis, was readied to be sent to the 19th Latvian SS Div. in Kurland. No one knew that it would take them more than two months to get there! The main Latvian SS Field Depot force remained in Hammerstein until 19 February when it was transported by rail to Stettin. From here the 1st Rgt. was sent to Swinemuende and then to the island of Wollin where it was set to work building fortified positions. The 2nd Rgt. was kept south of Stettin where it worked at constructing positions on the west bank of the Oder River.

The 3rd Latvian SS Depot Rgt. had been in Pollnow and Sydow when the enemy’s attack into Pomerania began. Under the pressure of the advancing Soviets it passed back through Koelsin towards Kolberg. But Kolberg had been surrounded by the Reds and the regiment found itself cut off from the German lines. However, under the energetic leadership of the regimental commander, the Latvians made their way to freedom, reaching Altdamm near Stettin on 8 March 1945. The 3rd Rgt. was then put promptly to work building up positions around the so-called Altdamm bridgehead.

SS-Kampfgruppe “Rumanis” left Swinemuende on 12 April arriving in Kurland a few days later. It was attached to the 19th Latvian SS Div., the last reinforcement that it would receive in the war (excluding SS-KGr. “Rumanis,” 19th Latvian SS Div. only had a strength of 5,200 men at this time). The number of soldiers in SS-KGr. “Rumanis” has been estimated variously at 1,200, 2,500 or 3,500 men (the middle figure probably being the closest to the truth), and it now made up part of the 14,000 man Latvian force that would fight to the final surrender in Kurland.

On 16 April 1945, the Bolsheviks launched their great Oder Offensive but withdrawal orders didn’t reach the Latvian-SS Field Depot “Brigade” until 27 April. By then it was almost too late since the Stettin area had already been lost to the enemy. Time was running out for the Depot Regiments. Largely unarmed, many of the Latvian depot units were overrun by enemy tank forces and were mostly destroyed or captured in the process.

The 3rd Rgt. had the greatest losses; between Tessin and Schwann it came under communist fire several times and many members of the regiment were captured. Surprisingly though, a majority of the members of the Latvian-SS Depot “Brigade” managed to make their way through Friedland to the Elbe River where they surrendered to the British at Wismar, Dassow and Travemuende. Fortunately, the British resisted demands to turn them over to the Soviets. Those Latvian soldiers who wound up in communist hands were usually killed either on the spot or later on down the line.

The Latvian-SS Construction Battalions in Kurland

  1. Latvian Construction Btl.

Four companies strong as of 14 November 1944. It was thought to be attached to the Army Engineer Btl. 35. The battalion strength as of 14 January 1945 was 144 men.

  1. Latvian Construction Btl.

At the end of November 1944 it was engaged in positional and road building in the vicinity of Priekule (Prekuln). In January 1945 it was attached to the 18th Army and had an estimated strength of 115 men.

III. Latvian Construction Btl.

On 16 February 1944 (27 km from Windau), this battalion, containing 3 companies was attached to the 127th Construction- Engineer Battalion. In mid-January 1945 it was subordinated to the Higher Engineer Command 3. Strength: 262 men.

  1. Latvian Construction Btl.

Containing 3 companies, this unit was subordinated first to the Light Construction-Engineer Btl. 502 (Engineer Rgt. 16) and then to the Higher Engineer Command 3 in mid-January 1945. Shortly before the capitulation the battalion was disarmed by the Germans and the personnel treated as POWs. The reasons for this are unknown. The listed battalion strength was 313 men.

  1. Latvian Construction Btl.

In the middle of January 1945 this battalion came under the staff of 16th Army although a part of the unit was at the disposal of the 221st Security Division. Strength: 201 men.

  1. Latvian Construction Btl.

In Dece.mber 1944 this unit was at work fortifying the banks of the Berta River as part of the 25th German Construction Btl./Engineer-Construction Rgt. 7. In mid-January 1945 it came under the jurisdiction of the Hisher Engineer Command 3. Strength: 286 men.

VII. Latvian Construction Btl.

On 28 October 1944 this battalion was deployed as follows: 1st Co. attached to 5./Engineer Construction Btl. 156, 2nd Co. attached to 5./Engineer Construction Btl. 100 and 3rd Co. attached to 5./Engineer Construction Btl. 680. In mid-January 1945 the battalion was subordinated to the staff of the 16th Army in Kurland. Strength: 364 men.

Latvian-SS Construction Btl. “Klavins”

This unit, led by W-Hstuf. Klavins, was formed on the orders of SS-Oberfhr. Krukenberg from companies from the 2nd and 5th Latvian Border Guard Regiments. It was initially under the command of the Construction Staff in Rochow but in mid-January 1945 was subordinated directly to 16th Army. Strength: 467 men.

Latvian-SS Construction Btl. “Zvaigzne”

Led by W-Ostubaf. Zvaigzne, this unit was also formed from companies of the 2nd and 5th Latvian Border Guards Rgts. and was attached to the staff of 16th Army in mid-January 1945. Strength: 444 men.

Published in „Siegrunen“ Magazine – Volume 6, Number 2, Whole Number 32, October-December 1983

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