Gaming Latvia 1919

Some bits and pieces which don't quite fit into the other pages but are perhaps worth a mention.

Gaming the Freikorps vs the Soviets

Once the Freikorps got themselves organised the Reds seem to have put up little fight. From a gaming point of view it would seem that only the last Soviet offensive around Jelgava in May would offer a large scale battle with realistic competition from both sides. Other than that, the most promising games would be small Freikorps attacks (a few companies only) against stationary Soviet defenders in a small town. Some of these attacks included Latvian and White Russian allied units.

Gaming the Battle of Cēsis

One faces a problem when gaming this conflict right at the start – the poor performance of the Iron Division compared to their opponents flies somewhat in the face of the usual expectation that the Freikorps were excellent troops. But let us ignore the generalist literature's classification of the Baltikumers as "veteran" or "élite" (and its confusion between them and entirely different Freikorps defending against Spartacists or insurgent Poles) and look at the facts in the Baltic.

Firstly, a lot of the men were not ex-veterans at all, or at least not ex-front line veterans, and the units as a whole had not seen very much real action. Motivation was lacking during the battle, since the Iron Division's men did not see the Baltic Germans' political differences with the Estonians as their fight (this is regardless of whether the individual Germans were there to crusade against the Soviets, protect Germany's borders, keep an army in being to oppose the Allies or merely seeking their promised farms).

The Baltic Landeswehr (formed from ethnic Germans who came from Latvia) in contrast did not lack motivation, but too many of their men were new recruits and in action they seemed to have the classic signs of "green" troops – brave in the attack but irresolute in defence.

Since the Estonians were able to hold their own, either they have to be promoted to élite, or one has to accept that the Freikorps were just not that good. There is no doubt that the Estonian Army was extremely motivated to beat the Germans and Balts, but they were labouring under many disadvantages – their equipment was sub-standard, many of their men were recently raised and their officers and units had not been working together for very long. Taking that into account, I cannot grade the ordinary line units, short on training and experience, as "veteran", "crack" or whatever your system goes up to, although I accept that the more experienced units might rate as above average. The landing units from the trains were first rate.

Therefore I grade the Iron Division as average troops, with experience partly compensating for poor morale. The more one raises the skill level of the Freikorps, the more one has to down-grade the morale to compensate.

The Balts on the other hand should be graded as brave on the attack and only average on the defence. The Reich German units mixed in with the Landeswehr seem to have been the best troops and might justify veteran status all round.

The Latvians were inexperienced troops, placed in an exposed position, and subsequently broke, but enough of them remained to fight on that I think they can reasonably be graded as average.

It would be hard to rate the Estonian artillery, and even more so the Latvian, as much better than poor, given the handicaps they laboured under. The Freikorps artillery would be a much higher grade, as veterans manning familiar equipment, albeit not necessarily that motivated.

Gaming the Battle of Riga

By now that time it was clear, despite later protestations to the contrary, that the Freikorps were unwilling soldiers and only their desperate situation drove them on. They cannot be classified as more than average troops, with the White Russian units being worse (since any motivated men had long since transferred to Iudenich's army).

The bulk of the Latvians in contrast were highly motivated but lacked anything other than rudimentary training. Some of the older units, dating back to the Cesis campaign, would have a much higher skill level.

Equipment and Organisation

Tables of Organisation

See the "Wargames" section of this site, where there are some notes on the general organisation of the involved parties.


The Baltic states are ideal for the operation of armour, since they are mostly flat and have a full road network. The Freikorps, Latvian and Estonian armies all used a few armoured cars in Latvia in 1919, often improvised ones made from truck chassis and bristling with MGs. The huge difficulties of obtaining fuel and replacement parts tended to reduce operational effectiveness, but they could be decisive when they did appear. There is no indication that any of the participants used tanks (the Estonian army had a few FT-17s, lent by the Finns, but not when fighting the Freikorps).

Armoured trains were also used, but as with the Russian Civil War they were not primarily assault weapons. Instead they were mobile artillery platforms which could be rushed to the most threatened location, with or without a "landing party". Although sometimes used in the front line, the dramatic attack of the German improvised train during the Battle of Cesis shows just how vulnerable they were to artillery. Gamers tend to regard the destruction of an armoured train with rather more equanimity than a historical general would and victory conditions should heavily punish the loss of such a valuable weapon.


Do not believe the fanciful reports of the Freikorps having squadron after squadron of air support. It seems that after the Great War armistice that a large number of modern airframes were hidden from the Allies in Latvia, but this was with the intention of avoiding their destruction for the impending resumption of the war against the Allies. Pilots and support crews also hid out, but it seems that most of them returned to Germany fairly early, when it became clear that the war was over for good.

Reports of duels with Soviet planes should also be taken with a grain of salt: it is clear that the Freikorps had total air superiority early in the war, and it would have been a very brave Red flyer who would have risked tangling with the enemy, even assuming the Soviets sent any planes to a backwater theatre.

Later it is clear that the Freikorps' ability to put serviceable planes in the air was increasingly reduced by their inability to get decent fuel, lubricant and parts. The Estonian accounts make it clear that all through the period of the Cesis fighting the German planes were used as spotters and for message delivery, but not much else other than an occasional nuisance bomb. Even then they kept crashing. The Estonian versions credit this to ground fire, but if that is the case then the Estonian infantry must have been about the best anti-aircraft shooters ever seen, and I believe we can safely blame the crashes to poor airworthiness. Similarly, during the battles around Riga there were German planes, which even harassed the Allied warships, but they were unable to exert any decisive influence on the fighting.

Only very late were the Latvians able to field a few planes.

The odds of enemy planes meeting over a land battle were vanishingly small, so dogfights can be ruled out of tabletop games. Strafing was also not common on the battlefield: the difficulty of identifying friend from foe was too great, even supposing the pilot was brave enough to fly an unreliable plane low enough to shoot his machine-guns.

Yes I know that this spoils what seems like a good chance to use WWI planes in your games, but the fact is that the few planes were not used much in ground attack, especially while the sides were actively fighting.