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After the discussions on Lithuania I thought it might be useful to look at what was going on in another Baltic state

Estonian conflicts 1918 –1920

Estonia is one of those countries where the fighting did not stop on Nov 11 1918 but continued until 1920. At various times Estonian, German, British and both ‘Red’ and ‘White’ Russian forces were involved. The politics were complex and alliances and allegiances shifted during the course of the conflict. This was no minor struggle, at its peak two Soviet armies with 160,000 men were engaged. The Estonian frontline forces at this time numbered 130,000. 3,000 White Russian troops, supported by a troop of British Mk V tanks (and two Renault FTs loaned by Finland), were engaged. German forces involved consisted of one regular army unit known as the ‘Iron Division’ and Baltic German Landeswehr troops. Finnish, Swedish and Danish volunteers were also involved. The Royal Navy carried out supporting operations including the supply of weapons to the Estonian forces and engaged the Soviet Navy in the Gulf of Finland, this culminated in the first combined air/sea assault in history, when British aircraft and torpedo boats attacked and destroyed the Bolshevik fleet (including battleships) in Kronstadt. The Royal Navy also supplied some aircraft (including Sopwith Camels) and ‘advisors’ to pilot them.

Sequence of events

The forces involved and shifting alliances were complex but the sequence of events can be out lined as follows:

- By 1915 the territory later to become Estonia was on the front line. German forces had occupied Courland (part of Latvia) but Estonia remained under Russian control.

- In November 1917 an Estonian Diet (Maapäev), which had been elected in the spring of that year, proclaimed itself the highest authority in Estonia., The Bolsheviks dissolved the Maapäev and Estonian nationalists were forced underground.

- In December 1917 German forces moved into Estonia to repulse the Bolshevik forces

- In February 1918 under German protection Estonia declared independence, Estonian defence forces were organised. These were primarily made up from units formerly part of the Imperial Russian Army made up from men of Estonian origin

- In March 1918 under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk Russia recognised Estonian independence, however, Germany continued to occupy Estonia and forced the disarmament of Estonian forces

- With the Armistice in November 1918 the Bolshevik government repudiated the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and invaded Estonia. The Estonian government was restored and mobilisation began. Initially German and Estonian forces drove back Bolshevik forces but as German units were withdrawn westward the poorly armed Estonian forces were pushed back towards Tallin.

- By January 1919 a British Flotilla under the command of Admiral Sinclair had rearmed the Estonian forces and under the generalship of Johan Laidoner these launched a counter attack, they were joined by Danish, Finnish and Swedish volunteer units and the Royal navy provided active support

- All Bolshevik forces were forced back across Estonian borders by the beginning of March 1919. the Estonian defence line was moved to Northern Latvia.

- In May 1919 the pro British government of Latvia was overthrown in a military coup by German forces still present in the country. A puppet government was installed but the real power lay with General Rüdiger von der Goltz. Demanding that the Estonian army withdraw German military units (including a regular army division) moved northwards against Estonia. It is thought that von der Goltz’s real purpose was to annex Estonia into a ‘Duchy of Courland’ (proposed by Germany in 1917) that would be a German satellite state. Estonian aircraft intercepted and forced down German courier planes attempting to reach the White Russians with an offer of combined operations against both the Bolsheviks and Estonia

- Also in May 1919 the Estonian high command decided to move its defence line into Russia and an offensive was started. This force included a small White Russian army from Pskov. This was called the Northern Corps. The offensive was initially very successful with strong local support from within the Russian territory being rallied by the Northern Corps which grew in size.

- Estonia was now fighting on more than one front. In June 1919 the German offensive was defeated at the Battle of Wenden (Võnnu) in Northern Latvia. In the same month the Northern Corps was separated from the Estonian command and under General Nikolai N. Yudenich became the North Western Army.

- In July 1919 the Bolsheviks launched a counter offensive pushing back much of the Estonian forces but failing to have an impact on the North Western Army

- In late September 1919 the North Western Army with support from the Royal Navy, the newly formed Estonian navy and Estonian ground forces launched an offensive with the objective of capturing Petrograd (later Leningrad). A troop of six British Mk V tanks supported this force. British tanks penetrated to within ten miles of the centre of Petrograd (actually closer than the German panzers managed in WW2). A Bolshevik force rallied by Leon Trotsky forced the North Western Army back to Estonian borders. The Estonian government then disarmed and interned the North Western Army.

- From October 1919 to January 1920 the Bolsheviks suffered serious casualties launching attacks against heavily fortified Estonian positions. The war had reached a stalemate and on 3rd January 1920 a cease fire was agreed.

- In February 1920 a formal peace treaty was signed in which the Soviet Union renounced all claims on Estonia “in perpetuity”. Perpetuity lasted until 1940 when Stalin ordered the invasion and annexation of Estonia.

Estonian numbers, arms and equipment

By the beginning of June 1919 the regular Estonian Army had 75,000 officers and men in 9 infantry regiments, 6 independent battalions and 2 cavalry regiments. They had 102 pieces of artillery, 9 armoured trains and 6 armoured cars. At the beginning of 1920 this had grown to 85,000 regular officers and men plus 46,000 men in the Defence League who were sufficiently trained to take their place in the front line with a further 63,000 men under training capable of second line duties. The army was formed of three infantry divisions and one armoured train division divided into 13 infantry regiments and 15 independent battalions, 2 cavalry regiments and 3 independent squadrons (with 1,550 machine-guns and 130 trench-mortars), 3 artillery regiments and 3 artillery battalions with 39 batteries (altogether 190 guns), 10 armoured trains, 8 armoured cars, 6 tanks and 28 aeroplanes. Small beer by Western Front standards but in any other terms a substantial fighting force.


The German 7.7 cm Feldkanone M.96 n.A. equipped many Estonian batteries. It is probable that British 13 and 18 pounders were supplied to Estonia.

The Finnish units fighting with the Estonian forces were equipped with Russian 87 K/95" and "87 K/95-R field pieces , probably, six equipments. Some guns of this type were also supplied directly to the Estonian army.


The British Mk V’s were named as following "Brown Bear", "Brown Bear II", "Captain Cromie", "Deliverance", "First Aid" and "White Soldier" Four of the surviving tanks were taken over by the Estonian army and named "Uku", "Vahtula", "Valdaja" and "Päälik". One of these was rearmed with Russian Maxims and was part of Tallin’s defences in 1941. Some Renault FTs may have reached Estonia by this time, certainly two were loaned by the Finnish government to the Finnish volunteer regiment. At least two of the Armoured cars were Austin Putulov having been captured from the Bolsheviks. Another similar vehicle was used by the Finnish volunteer regiment the ‘Northern Boys’. At least one armoured car was a home made conversion looking remarkably like the armoured buses used in the Spanish Civil War.

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Hi Centurion

Thanks for that information. I am researching a nurse that served there sometime during that period, now I have a better understanding of what she went through.


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That is really useful. As you know I had trouble finding out what was happening in Lithuania, and reference works on the Baltic states are thin on the ground.

The great thing with the forum is that you can create reference threads like this that people can dip into later

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