Latvian Riflemen


Riflemen – the loudest scream
Of nation choked for 700 years
The secretly ground knife
That cut ropes to make breathe free

At midnights ghastly and blind
By Veisi, by Iecava, Sloka and Smārde
In the Tīrelis swamps
Pale as ghosts you went to die

Proud Riflemen, you guys from
Latvian meadows and forests

All day and night beside the river Jugla
Mad and black like casted in cast-iron
You stood against the predominance
Of German guardsmen

Dry and thirsty lips
Of dirty Russian streets
You kissed with your blood –
Just for freedom

Guys from Nordeķi
Zvaigžņu and Rēveles streets

I see in the nightly sky
Where clouds are digging the moon
Regiment after regiment comes in the time
Of kingdom to come

They are Riflemen who are no more
And who will never be again
But their everlasting glory
Will keep the nation like burning flag



Those were first battles won by Latvian Riflemen on
October 29 and November 23, 1915 which helped to stop the
advance of German army for a while. The first company of the
1st Daugavgrīva Riflemen battalion lead by officer Fridrihs
Briedis defeated four times larger German forces.

In the darkest of nights you were born
The urchins of streets and gutters
But nevertheless you are great
‘Cause you were the first who went at dawn
To the battle of Plakani, the battle of Veisi
From small and crooked houses
Along the smiling rivers Misa and Iecava
With the only thought in your mind –
To defend the road to Riga

Battle of Plakani, battle of Veisi
The first one, the shining, the lucky.
Hear, the steps of the battle leading
First company and their leader Briedis
Coming from marshlands pound into eternity…

“Hey, guys, where want you to go now
We know those places, you’d better stay –
Ahead there are only swamps and death!”
But you just laughed for a while and said:
“Hey, chicks not men” –
And crept across the swamp that night
Without stopping
‘Cause your hate and tenacity turned
The muddy marsh water into a glimmering floor

But now I say wherever I stand
From Iecava, Jugla and Tīrelis I feel
A strange current flowing inside of me
It makes my heart and muscles rising above
And I scream “Remember Misa and Iecava
Remember all eight your own regiments!”

Battle of Plakani, battle of Veisi
It turned the blood of Riflemen into a legend
Battle of Plakani, battle of Veisi
The first one, the shining and lucky!



In support of the Allies (England and France) the
Russian 12th army got ready for the offensive in March
of 1916. Latvian battalions joined forces with the Russians
units in a battle on an open field near Iecava village.

It is the March of 1916
To the positions near Iecava, where Riga–Bauska road
Through the paths full of snow and mud
The battalions of Latvian Riflemen wade
A fierce battle is waiting for them now
And many will go through fire for the first time
But urchins from Riga rush forward in fight themselves
For they safely believe that the enemy will be put to flight

By the high generals of Czar is decided
In the main assault group shall go
Latvian battalions of Riga and Daugavgrīva
Together with Siberian regiments
Yet in the night of 20th March
They take their places in the first trenches
Time passes in excitementful expectations
Standing in mud or sleeping in wet grenade pits

Till in the half past five of morning
First Russian cannons start to roar
And hurricane fire sets in
92 gun tubes are shooting and German positions
Are boiling like a cauldron
Then Siberians rise for the battle
And order is heard: “Latvians, forward!”

The enemy front is broken already
And many yells loudly “hurrah!”
But Riflemen farther can’t reach
German machine-guns start to break their ranks
And there is no way back either
The wall of fire by artillery is built
The Siberians cannot endure – they flee
And Germans then sweep them in piles of corpses
But Latvians still stand!

And only with the dark of night survivors crawl back
The wounded ones moan on the field for a long
From high generals was destined thus
For many to stay in the grenadestorm of March



From the spring till autumn of 1916 the 2nd and
the 3rd battalions of Latvian Riflemen together with
Russian units were defending small fortifications on
the left bank of the Daugava river – there was the enemy
in front, the river in back and the open, rocky field on
both sides. Germans attacked with poison gas and
Riflemen took a heavy toll therefore the place
had been called – Death Island.

Dark flow the river Daugava
Hard, black waves it rolls
Loud roar of guns
From the other bank is brought

There in the fire field of Death Island
Only bullets sing their songs
And shells filled with poison gas
Take away the breath of man

Yet Riflemen don’t weep or wail
Under grenade fire they jolly laugh
For they know that their blood
Is spilled for a right thing



July 16-22, 1916 – six days of the desperate
July battles on an open field at the same
surroundings of the March battles near Ķekava.
1st, 6th and 7th Latvian battalions made for
a battle together with Russian units.

Hot sun of July
Still shines bright
Over the forests and meadows
Where soon in mad assault
Latvian Riflemen will rush

The quiet river Iecava
Still clear flow your water
But soon it will be painted
By the red colour of blood

The light evening wind
Still shakes the leaves of birch trees
Soon under the bare stems of those
The soldiers’ graves will be dug

The bright eyes of mine
Still gladly watch this world
But deep inside dark voice whispers-
Soon you must close them for ever

Gray and rainy comes July 16th
Still silence is here, but then at once
Hell will break loose and blood will start flow
For many dreams and hopes the end will come
When mowers of death start mince human bodies

But forward now, no more time for thoughts
Like madman you run over the meadow
Bullets whine all around, the Earth shakes and swings
And falling beside you one calls for his mother

The world spins around with howling
Steel rain is falling from the sky
Mud, trees and soil are flying
And human limbs along with them

In daylight upon an open field
Through barbed wires and machine guns
Under the fire of shrapnels and grenades
The run of Riflemen begins

Assault full of rage
Not to be stooped, yet finally useless
Six days and nights long madness
For one reason only –
To see their own land free
Let hundreds and thousands can live there in peace!



Fridrihs Briedis (1888-1918) – one of the most
outstanding officers of Latvian Riflemen who became a
legend during his lifetime giving an inspiration to others.

When hard times set in for homeland
You were the first one who stood up
First entered the ranks of Riflemen
The muddy entrenchments became your home

You were the first who rushed
In most bitter battle
With shining officer’s sabre in hand
Through fire circles of bullets and grenades

Colonel Briedis – the best example for your soldiers
Courageous they always followed you
Colonel Briedis – your life continues even after your death
Together with ancient chiefs you stand now

Fearless you were staring in the eyes of death
No matter what the history will tell about you
‘Cause neither for orders, for Tsar nor for fame
But only for the land of your fathers you fought

And didn’t hide behind
The back of your soldiers
‘Cause only in whirlwind of most raging battle
You felt yourself really happy

When blood, soil and fire are splashing
When bullet rain drips upon men
When biggest fears must be conquered
The real life begins then for you



The legendary Christmas battles commenced on December 23,
1916 at surroundings of the Tirelis swamp near Machinegun hill – it
was the largest assault of the Russian 12th army in which Latvian
Riflemen bore the brunt. After week long fights the combat mission
of winning back Machinegun hill was fulfilled, but due to an
inefficient action of Russian generals more than five
thousands of Latvian Riflemen were dead…

Narration: We don’t talk about World War I,
we have forgotten about it, forgotten those our friends
who fell then. It seems to me completely wrong…
We didn’t defend Czar, no! We did defend our land!
And every place where we fought, where our battle-mates
have stayed, that is unforgettable, sacred place…
The Northwind howls like wounded beast
And turns snowstorm across the swamp
It disturbs the rest of silent shapes
And throws wet snow in their faces

Side by side, hundreds they sleep
And look at the sky with empty eyes
Who will dare to go and tell their mothers
That their sons are destined to stay forever
There in the Tirelis swamp…

In that frosty Christmas morning
Through the sea of barbed wires
Latvian regiments flowed like a great stream
They split up the German front as trifle
United by the burning current of hate

But fighting all day soldiers start losing the strength
– Where are reinforcements, why don’t they come?!
And one by one Latvian sons fall
And their regiments bled in snow, storm and frost
There in the Tirelis swamp…

And when the Christmas night comes again
And hungry wolves howl in the swamp
The ground shakes under the heavy steps of soldiers-
They have risen again, for a new fight they call

There in the Tirelis swamp
Where frost and death rules
Where horror, suffering without an end
In snow, storm and frost



After the Christmas battles the rest wasn’t long for Riflemen,
on the 23rd of January Germans start the offensive to capture
back Machinegun hill recently being lost. Those were the
bloodiest battles in the Riga front at that war.

30 degrees of frost
Machinegun hill forged in ice
Wake up, Riflemen, it gets hard to breathe
Germans send shells of poison gas here
In a hollow sepulchral voice
The first cannon start to roar
And hurricane fire unseen before
Storms over you like whirlwind of death
Universe fills with howling of madness
It seems the end of the world is close
But clench your teeth in burning hate
You must hold out in this corner of Earth

Be like a man
Like a Semigallian warrior
Be like a man
In your heart free from fear

In black mass come German regiments
In silence, with hard and clean-cut features
They must get back Machinegun hill
In blood wash away their shame
The Russian units under their assault
Tremble, rise up and roll back
Hold on, Latvians, you cannot lose your strength
‘Cause today you must withstand this battle!

The barrels of rifles get overheated of shooting
Bayonets cut bloody jags in flesh
Every nerve strained to the uttermost limit
Now or never, a man becomes animal

There elsewhere behind clouds the sun shines bright
But over here only frost, horror and death all the time

Be like a man
Like unfailing man of war
You must be like a man
In your heart free from fear

* “Be like a man” – the battle-cry of the 5th Semigallian regiment 



Ask a question to your heart
Can you really be able
To tremble not
In the life’s darkest hour
Ask a question to your heart
Can it give an answer to you
When you’ll have to stand the biggest pain
Will you be able to endure

Such were Riflemen
Went to die for a cause
And if you ought to
Would you go too?

Can you stop wailing, complaining
And bravely force your way
Through unsurpassable obstacles
Through blades, prickles and thorns
To lay down your life
Give it away as a payment
Let hundreds, thousands of people
Be born for a free future

If you know that you can then stand up
Take weapon, fall into our ranks
Tonight in the most raging battle
You shall go to lay down your life

Cobble-stones rattle in joint time of heavy footsteps
Latvian regiments go away in night
“Hey, guys, just wait for a while
I want to go along with you too!”

All music by PETER, ZIRGS and RIHARD
All poetry by PETER, except “Latvian Riflemen” and “Battle of Plakani, Battle of Veisi”
taken from novel “Mūžības skartie” by Aleksandrs Čaks.
Translated into English by PETER & Lundberg
Narration on “In the Tirelis Swamp” by one of the last alive Rifleman Pēteris Griško,
taken from motion-picture “Strēlnieku zvaigznājs” 1982, by Juris Podnieks.