In the pages of Latvian history, there have been many times when our people have shown tremendous spite and courage, especially against occupying nations. The Barricades, the Christmas fights, the partisan movements are just some examples of many. A most interesting, though not so well-known story is about the last ships of the Republic of Latvia in 1940.
After the USSR occupied Latvia in June 1940, eight out of nine Latvian freighters plying waters in the Western hemisphere defied orders from the Soviet Latvian authorities and refused to return to their homeland, pledging allegiance to the Republic of Latvia and its legitimate legation in Washington D.C.
The vessels Ciltvaira, Everasma, Abgara, Everalda, Regent, Everelza, Ķegums, and Everagra did not lower their Latvian flag, thereby preserving the continuity of the Republic of Latvia not only de iure but also de facto – a ship is part of the territory of the sovereign state whose flag she flies.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Latvian freighters, as part of the U.S. Navy convoys in the Atlantic Ocean off the American coasts, were carrying raw materials for military industries.
The crews of the Latvian merchant fleet were the only ones who took part, under the Latvian flag and representing the Latvian state, in World War II against the Nazi Germany and its allies.
In the town of Nags Head, North Carolina, a street has been named for one of the Latvian freighters, the Ciltvaira, which was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat on this day 75 years ago. The efforts of the ship’s master Kārlis Šķerbergs and the crew, as they, assisted by the Norwegian and Brazilian ships, tried to save their sinking vessel, made front-page news in the USA. Some reports even mark that also the ship's pet cat, Briska, and pet dog, Pluskis, were rescued from the sinking ship.