Above: Map of Estonia and her neighboring countries (click map to enlarge)
Estonia fought for her independence from Soviet Russia. The war dragged on from November 1928 to January 1929. After the fall of Germany in November 1918, concluding World War I, the temporary government of Estonia started to operate again. It got the support of the Kaitseliit. The latter was a military alliance, which had come into existence during the time of German occupation.
Above: Estonian Infantry Unit during the war of liberation
On November 16th the Temporary Government of Estonia, gave out the call for voluntary mobilization and soon army units began to be formed. War Minister Pats, General Larka and Major Tonisson were behind this move.
Above: Picture during the training of Kaitseliit members
Events moved at a fast pace. On 22nd November the retreating Germans checked the offensive of the Red Army trying to reach Narva. But by 28th November the Reds had got ready for another onslaught. The hurriedly recruited Estonian Kaitseliit was no match for the better-trained and well-equipped Soviet forces. When the Soviets began to reinforce themselves at one point the Estonians found themselves faced with the danger of being surrounded. Seeing the grave danger the Estonian leaders gave the orders for abandoning Narva and retreating. By the end of the year the Soviets had taken over with ease Valga, Tartu and Tapa. In January the Reds neared Tallinn, Paide, Poltsamaa, Viljandi and Parnu.
Above: Battle Map during Estonian War of Independence, showing military advance and movement (click map to enlarge)
On each of the conquered regions the Communists set up puppet governments known as The Estonian Workers Commune. Terror tactics subdued local feelings. Many hundreds were either killed or deported to Russia.
Above: Estonian army in the trench waiting for the enemy
Estonia however did not take things lying low. Slowly it began to stand up. In December Laidoner became Army Chief and asked Soots to be his assistant. Their energetic efforts were directed towards breathing new life into the armed forces. Territorial defense units consisting of volunteers and special strike units were also formed emulating the special forces of USA. South Estonian troops came under a separate command, under Puskar, so as to distribute power and responsibility.
Above: Finnish volunteers marching to war
Political moves were simultaneously taken to strengthen themselves. The Temporary Government reached out to Britain and Finland. The Fins responded with arms and ammunitions as well as nearly 3,500 volunteers. The Fins grouped under the Swedish Major Ekstrom and the Estonian Kalm. They called themselves Pohja Pujad or Sons of the North. Britain sent a naval squadron to Tallinn harbour. This move not only gave protection to the shoreline but also opened up the sea route with Europe. As a token Britain captured two Russian destroyers and handed them over to Estonia! Britain too came forward with help in the form of arms and supplies.
Ab0ve: Picture of Armor-Car ‘Pohjan Paika‘ with a white polar bear head painting, symbolizes Pohja Pojad Regiment
The rejuvenated Estonian army could now stop the advance of the Communists by the end of 1918. The first month of the New Year saw the break out of skirmishes all along the frontline. By the first week began an offensive on the Viru front under Captain Irv. This was followed by liberation of Tapa, Tartu and Narva in the following weeks. While this group rested on the Narva River, fighting now shifted to the south. Under Lieutenant Kuperjanov, the partisans and Pohja Pojad conquered Paju mansion after a fierce battle. It was the last outpost before Valga. The incident took the life of the brave Kuperjanov. Valga, Voru and Petseri were liberated in February and the border with Russia became secure in favour of the nationalist Estonians.
Above: Guns and canons stored in one of Estonian depots
The Estonian army in terms of men, arms and ammunition was far behind the Reds. By March 1919, 80,000 Reds with 200 cannons and 1100 machine guns were up against 19,400 Estonians backed by 70 cannons and only 230 machine guns. The major scene of fighting was in the south where the Reds made an all out effort to crack Estonian defenses. But Estonia withstood the assault. In spring Estonians themselves took the initiative and attacked the Russians on three fronts – in the east near Narva-Petrograd, on the Petser-Pihkva line and in northern Latvia. Podder was in overall command. The Intgrians, Russian Whites and Latvians formed a buffer zone behind the front lines. For this objective to become a reality the Estonian government formed the Ingrian regiment, Russian North Corps and North Latvian Brigade. The numbers in the army now swelled to 74,500 men. Although the Fins had left by this time, other volunteers arrived from Denmark and Sweden.
Above: Photo shot of Lake Peipus taken from a satellite
Estonia now went on the offensive from Narva and captured the forts of Kroonlinn on 13th May. Simultaneously began operations in the south, which ensured the southern coastline. Pskov was taken on 25th May. Joined by the Poles the Estonian army now reached a formidable figure including regulars and volunteers. Apart from men and munitions there were 24 military and 11 support ships waiting on Lake Peipus.
Above: Painting of German Monarchist gathering
Estonian politics on the home front was not without its share of trouble. The German monarchists supported the Baltic Germans leading to insurgency. But the Estonian government came down with a firm hand.
Above: Picture of Germans fleeing away
The Reds began to retreat. The Estonian navy set up a blockade of Riga forcing the Germans to flee. It paved the way for the return of the legal Latvian government. Since the latter was still militarily weak, Estonia took the responsibility of defending its 100 km border till late autumn.
The Reds, finding that their fortunes were fluctuating and the going getting more and more tough, gave up all plans of occupying Estonia. Meanwhile the puppet regime of Estonian Workers Commune was dismissed. All this led Russia to make a peace offer on 31st August. But the first round of talks remained barren.
Above: Picture of Estonian soldiers of the 9th regiment
Events took another turn when the defeated Russian White Guards tried to fall back into Estonia but were prevented from doing so by the Estonian army high command. The rag tag of the North Western army was interned. The Reds decided to stake another offensive, which continued for another two months. With the loss of 35,000 men and others being wounded the demoralized Reds finally decided to seriously talk about peace.
Above: Map showing the location of Tartu (click map to enlarge)
The peace talks in Tartu continued from 5th December 1919 to 3rd January 1920, when an armistice came into effect. The Peace of Tartu followed this on 2nd February.
Estonia won her independence. At the Peace of Tartu this was given recognition by Soviet Russia. Also Russia did not dispute the borderline. On both sides the loss was heavy taking into account the dead, maimed and wounded. Estonia had a heavy price to pay for her freedom. All along Britain stood by her side. USA helped not only in terms of military aid but in other ways also.