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26 April 1884|
Īslīce parish, Russian Empire
|Died||29 July 1942
Perm Oblast, Soviet Union
|Battles/wars||World War I
Latvian War of Independence
Krišjānis Berķis (April 26, 1884 in Īslīce parish, Bauska municipality, Courland, modern Latvia – July 29, 1942 in Perm, Russia) was a Latvian general. Rising to prominence as an officer of the Latvian Riflemen in World War I, he was promoted to the rank of general during the Latvian War of Independence, and served on the Army General Staff after the war.
Krišjānis Berķis was born on April 26, 1884 in Bērzkrogs homestead, Īslīce parish, Courland. He graduated local parish school and Bauska city school. After graduation he decided to become a soldier and entered Vilnius military school. He graduated in 1906 in the rank of podporuchik. He then served in 2nd. Finnish rifleman regiment in Helsinki. During his service in Finland he married Finnish girl Hilma Lehtonen (1887-1961). In 1909 he was promoted to poruchik and in 1913 to stabskapitan.
First World War
In 1914 Berķis as an officer in Finnish corps of Russian Army is deployed to front in East Prussia. He serves as a company commander, later as battalion commander. He participated in battles near Masurian lakes. In January 1915 Finnish corps is deployed to south eastern front in Carpathians. Berķis was promoted to captain and participated in many battles, including Brusilov's offensive in 1916. In 1917 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and after many request was finally transferred to Latvian Rifleman units. He became battalion commander in 6th. Tukums Latvian rifleman regiment but since October he commanded whole regiment. With his regiment he participated in Battle of Jugla securing to main Russian units safe withdrawal from Riga. In November 1917 he refuses to join Red Army and is dissmised from his post. He goes to Finland to be with his family.
Latvian War of independence
When Finnish civil war starts in 1918 Berķis with his family goes to Smolensk, Russia. Later however he through the Latvia and Estonia returns to Finland. In autumn 1918 Berķis from the newspapers learns about proclamation on Latvian republic and forming of first military units. In March 1919 he manages to get to Tallinn where he meets delegates of Latvian government. Soon after he meets with colonel Jorģis Zemitāns and on 21 March he enlists in Latvian army. He is ordered to form Latvian reserve battalion. After two months battalion hes became regiment. Later it becomes 2nd. Cēsis infantry regiment and Berķis is appointed as commander. In the May 1919 regiment is deployed to front and participates in battles in Vidzeme. In 1st. June regiment enters Valmiera and later Cēsis. After fighting in Battle of Cēsis regiment chases retreating Germans until Strazdumiža ceasefire. In July 6 regiment, together with other Latvian units, enters Riga. In August Berķis is appointed commander of Latgale infantry division and promoted to colonel in October. He has participated in all battles against Bermontians and later also in liberation of Latgale.
After Latvian War of independence he stayed in the military and continued his service as commander of 3rd. Latgale infantry division. In 1925 he was promoted to general. In 1930 he graduated 8 month long officer courses. Later he was moved to Army HQ. Berkis was one of Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis' principal co-conspirators in the coup d'état of May 15, 1934. After coup he is appointed commander of 2nd. Vidzeme infantry division and commander of Riga garrison. He served as Commander-in-Chief of the Army from 1934 - 1940 and briefly became Minister of War in spring 1940. In his short term as minister he tried to promote Latvian cooperation with Estonia, Finland and even Great Britain, but it was too late.
After Latvian occupation he is dissmised from his post and retired from army. Together with family he manages to get to Finland however on 12 July he decides to return to Latvia. On his way back some friends manages to discourage Berķis from such move and he stops in Tallinn. There he was arrested by the Soviet authorities and deported to Perm Oblast, Siberia, where he died in a prison hospital in 1942. His only child, Valentins, died in Russia, and their grandson went missing. Berķis is recipient of the Latvian military Order of Lāčplēsis, 1st and 2nd class.
- Rislakki, Jukka: Latvian kohtalonvuodet. Krisjanis Berkiksen ja Hilma Lehtosen tarina. SKS, Helsinki 2005. (With English summary)
- Rislakki, Jukka: Kur beidzas varaviksne. Jumava, Riga 2004.