The Baltic

The British took the lead in intervening in the Baltic from 1918 to 1920 due to the geographic proximity of these countries and the ready availability of the Royal Navy. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been quick to seek independence from Russia in 1917. Latvia declared independence on 12 January 1918, followed by Lithuania on 16 February and Estonia on 24 February. Actual independence was problematical, however. The Germans had occupied Lithuania in 1915 and had taken over Estonia and Latvia in February 1918. The ensuing Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed by the Bolsheviks and the Central Powers on 3 March 1918, theoretically ended World War One on the Eastern Front, Unfortunately for the aspirations of the Baltic states, the Germans remained in control until the Armistice ending World War One itself on 11 November 1918.

The terms of this armistice required substantial German forces to remain in the Baltic as a hedge against Bolshevik expansion until released from such duty by the Allies. These conditions suited German politicians and adventurers who wished to annex the Baltic region to the new Weimar Republic, but they were unpalatable to the majority of troops who only wished to go home. The Baltic slates themselves were divided internally between those who favoured cooperation with the Germans, those who sought full independence with recognition and support from the Allies, and those who desired revolution and ailiance with the Bolsheviks.

In late November 1918, the Estonian National Council, which had not yet had time to establish a fully-functioning government, asked for British troops and

The Kuperjanov Partisans were one of Estonia's elite battalions. The patch on the left sleeve is black, bordered white, with skull and crossbones in silver The cockade is silver with the Estonian tricolor (from bottom to top) whrte-black-blue. (Bullock collection)

The Kuperjanov Partisans were one of Estonia's elite battalions. The patch on the left sleeve is black, bordered white, with skull and crossbones in silver The cockade is silver with the Estonian tricolor (from bottom to top) whrte-black-blue. (Bullock collection)

Kuperjanov Battalion

warships in order to deter an invasion by the Red Army. In response, Britain sent munitions and ships of the Royal Navy, but no ground forces. In December, the Reds began to invade Estonia and Latvia with their 7th Army, aided by internal Bolshevik insurrections. The Germans reorganized their forces, the most reliable elements and volunteers being placed under the command of Major-General Rudiger von der Goltz.

The British faced several daunting challenges. Rear Admiral Walter Cowan took charge of naval operations in,January 1919 and a full military mission arrived In Estonia under Lieutenant-General Sir Hubert Gough in May. Gough had to assist the new Baltic nations on their road to independence while using slender British resources to control the Germans in accordance with their treaty obligations. This meant holding back the spread of Bolshevism into Europe while thwarting the Germans In their real intentions to create a territorial enclave in the Baltic. Additionally, he had to nurture the small but growing force of White Russians under General A, 1'. Rodzianko that had formed in Estonia to fight the Bolsheviks.

In all, Cowan variously commanded 238 ships in 1919, including two Italian, 14 American and 26 French. Understanding that he would have to neutralize the Red Baltic Sea Fleet, Cowan established an advance naval base at Biorko Sound on the Finnish coast. With the Germans gone, Finland, led by its regent, General Mannerheim, cooperated with the Allies. From Biorko, Cowan duelled with the Red fleet based at Kronstadt, a fortified island in the bay of Petrograd that was protected by minefields.

In June 1919, Lieutenant Augustus Agar used his section of 40-foot coastal motor-boats (CMBs) to sink the Red cruiser Oleg. The first aerial attacks on Kronstadt from Cowan's seaplanes, launched from the carrier HMS Vindictive, began on 30 July. Then, on the night of 17/18 August, the seaplanes attacked, distracting enemy gun and anti-aircraft fire while Agar's CMBs, skimming over the minefields thanks to their shallow draught, slipped into Kronstadt. The CMBs launched torpedoes point-blank into several Red ships, sinking the battleships Petropavlovsk and Andrei Pervozvanni and the troop ship Pamyat Azova.

T he British subsequently supported General Yudenich's White Russian advance on Petrograd In autumn 1919. They also tried, but failed, to coordinate a larger offensive using all White forces in the Baltic in unison with the Finns, Estonians and Latvians. In the end, the British Military Mission did provide meaningful political and material support to the eventual Independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

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