The Freedom Trail is a 10km (6 Mile) long walk, where you can:
– discover the history of Liepaja Fortress
– learn about Latvia’s fight for freedom in 1919
– enjoy the diversity of Karosta’s nature
– find new exciting places in Karosta
– have quality and fun time outdoors
Difficulty of the trail – easy. Walking surfaces include – tarmac, gravel,and sandy forest path.
The Freedom Trail opened in 2019 commemorating the 100th anniversary of Latvia’s fight for freedom, in collaboration with the Liepaja Municipality and KGB (Karostas glābšanas biedrība – Society to Save Karosta).
Liepaja’s fortress is a fortification complex around the entire city of Liepaja, built at the turn of the 19th century. The Tsar of Russia gave the order to build this Fortress in order to protect Liepaja from the German Empire.
At the end of the 19 century, Liepaja was the most western part of the Russian Empire. It was only 60 km (37 miles) from the Empires biggest enemy; the German Empire. Karosta (Port of Emperor Alexander III – as it was called then), was built between 1894 and 1905 north of Liepaja. A fortification complex was also built during this time around Liepaja. This defense system was built to protect Liepaja from possible enemies from sea or land, and included a naval base.
The Russian military used the geography surrounding Liepaja in the design of these protective fortifications. This included the straight sea shore line and the two lakes (Liepaja and Tosmare) as natural defenses. The Liepaja Fortress was the most advanced defensive complex at that time. It consisted of several separate forts protecting strategically important places.
The fortification complex consisted of two big sections; a coastal defense section defending towards the sea, and a land defense alongside the western part of the lakes. The forts major strengths were the artillery cannons capable of firing shells up to 12 km (7.5 miles).
Redan (French) is a ground fortification work in a V-shaped angle towards an expected attack. The most important, and the largest Redan is located by lake Tosmare. It is part of the Liepaja’s fortification complex. It is built on a peninsula where the distance to the opposite bank is the shortest.
The defenses of the Redan included two counter attack 3 inch cannons, four 57mm cannons and an infantryman section. The Redan’s task was not to allow the enemy to cross the lake, to protect the supply road (today – 14. November Avenue) to the Fortress, and to protect the wings in the North and South direction.
Places of Freedom fights
At the end of the First World War, Latvians saw an opportunity to establish their own independent country. The Republic of Latvia was pronounced on the 18th of November, 1918. In the territory of Latvia there were still armed forces of several foreign countries. They represented they own interests antagonistic toward Latvia. They wanted to see Latvia in subordination from either the Russians or the Germans. The Eastern part of Latvia was occupied by the army from Soviet Russia, also called the Bolshevik army. Some Latvian rifleman also served in this Soviet army.
On the western side of Latvia was located the army of the German Empire. Even though the German Empire lost WWI and formally did not exist, the German landlords and Western countries wished to use this army to their advantage. The German army commander was Pavel Bermont – Avalov.
To stop these enemies, armed forces loyal to Latvia were organized in a short time. In November 1919, the army of Pavel Bermont moved to attack Riga, where Latvia’s new government was situated. After fierce fighting on the 11th of November, Bermont’s army was cleared from Riga. Today in Latvia it is celebrated as the day of Lacplesis.
The most intense fighting around Liepaja was on November 14th. The Redan and other parts of the forts were occupied by the Bermont army. The courage and heroism of the Latvian soldiers was clearly demonstrated when they attacked and took the Redan driving the Bermont army out. First Lieutenant Roberts Radzins was their commanding officer. In spite of manpower and armor disadvantages, the Latvian army forced the Bermont army out of the Redan and across Lake Tosmare. Bermont’s army left their cannons and armor on the battlefield. Lt. R.Radzins died from battle injuries and was awarded the Order of Lacplesis post mortem.
These were the key battles to establish freedom in Latvia. Bermont’s army was put out of country completely. As a result of there battles, Bermont’s army retreated back through Grobina in the direction of Priekule. By the 23rd of November they had withdrawn back to Skuodas in Lithuania. During these battles, the Latvian army lost 4 officers and about 100 instructors and soldiers. Three officers and around 120 soldiers were taken as prisoners. The Latvian army captured 10 machine-guns, 9 automatic rifles, 150 rifles, and around 50 prisoners, to include 4 officers were taken. Heroic freedom fighters were awarded the War Order of Lacplesis. Today the surrounding street is called Avenue of 14 November.
2nd Battery of Fortress
Coastal artillery battery nr 2 of Liepaja Fortress was built further from coast on the top of the dune. Ammunition for cannons were allocated in dungeons both sides of the cannon. Battery also had mortars – artillery guns with very steep trajectory capable to penetrate enemy ships from above. In the forest were located one-storey buildings – barracks for soldiers.
After WWI Latvian army used concrete buildings as storage. In 1939 and 1949 Soviet army located here far-range artillery – cannons on rail platforms. Some buildings were transformed for ammunition storage. After WWII Battery was used as ammunition storage. It was used as storage up to year 2017, when it was moved 70 km from Liepaja to Vainode.
For safety reasons this territory always was highly guarded and had restricted access.
Range-finder towers. Soviet time in Karosta
The Soviet army entered Karosta in 1939 and established a navy base there. Thousands of Soviet sailors came here. In 1940 four concrete cannon bases and command post were built. The range of these cannon was 25 km (15.5 miles). To coordinate these cannons, a range-finder tower was built in 1940.
After WWII, the coastal artillery battery was not repaired. In 1954, next to the old tower, new tower and command post was built for 180 mm rail artillery. A similar tower is located south of Liepaja by the sea.
The appearance of Karosta was drastically changed during the Soviet occupation. Many buildings changed their purpose, and many new buildings were built for military use. Big block houses were built for military staff and their families. Karosta’s spiritual center, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, was converted to a club and was used as a cinema and sports hall.
Liepaja became a closed city. Entry was possible only with special permits. The territory of Karosta was closed even for citizens of Liepaja. The beach of Liepaja was western most border of the USSR and was highly guarded. After 22:00 during summer and after 18:00 in winter, entry to the beach was prohibited. The beach sand was trench-ploughed every night to spot possible border trespassers. There were border patrols on the beach and all trespassers were shot. There are documented events, when people entered beach by accident and were shot dead, including children.
Northern Forts. Freedom fights
On the 4th of November, 1919, the fight for freedom started around Liepaja. The Bermont army were attacking the forts on 14th November Avenue. They attacked Liepaja on the night of 6 November between the sea and Skede road (Libiesu street today). Latvian soldiers were located alongside the North Fort line. On the guard were 99 non-skilled soldiers. Defenders were poorly dressed. To escape the cold, most of them were in the underground tunnels beneath the forts when the German attack surprised them.
In spite of freezing cold and a lack of ammunition, the heroism and courage of the Latvian soldiers successfully defended Liepaja from an attacking army 5 times bigger and better armored.