The United Baltic Duchy (in German: Vereinigtes
Baltisches Herzogtum) was a
shortlived construct in 1918 made possible through Germany's occupation of Latvia and Estonia before the end of World War
On March 8 and April 12 1918 the local Baltic
Council of Courland and the United Land Council of Livland,
Estland, Riga and Ösel had declared independent states, known as the Duchy of
Courland and the Baltic
State (Baltischer Staat), respectively.
Both states proclaimed themselves to be in personal union with Prussia,
although the German government never responded to acknowledge that claim.
The Baltic lands were nominally recognized as a sovereign state by Kaiser
Wilhelm II only on September 22, 1918, half a year
after the newly Soviet Russia
had formally relinquished all authority over its former Imperial Baltic
provinces to Germany
in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. On November 5, 1918, a temporary Regency
Council (Regentschaftsrat) for the new state lead by
Baron Adolf Pilar von Pilchau
was formed on a joint basis from the two local Land Councils.
The capital of the new state was to be Riga.
It was to be a confederation of 7 cantons: Courland, Riga,
Lettgallen, South Livland,
North Livland, Ösel, and Estland, the four first cantons thus covering the territory
corresponding to today's Latvia
and the latter three corresponding to today's Estonia.
The first head of state of the United Baltic Duchy was to be Adolf Friedrich,
the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, not as a sovereign monarch, but as a
subordinate to the German Kaiser, similar to other dukes and grand dukes of the
German Empire. Duke Adolf Friedrich never assumed office. The appointed Regency
Council consisting of four Baltic Germans, three Estonians and three Latvians
functioned until November 28, 1918, without any international recognition,
except from Germany.
The defeat of Germany in
World War I in November 1918, followed by the defeat in 1919 of the
Baltic-German Landeswehr and German Freikorps units of General Rüdiger
von der Goltz in Latvia by the
Estonian army and nationalist Latvian units rendered the pro-German Baltic
Duchy proto-state irrelevant. The Baltic nations of Estonia
were established as republics.
Estonian Liberation War
The Estonian Liberation War (Estonian: Vabadussõda,
literally "freedom war"), also called the Estonian War of
Independence, in 1918-1920, was Estonia's struggle for independent state in the
aftermath of World War I and the Russian Revolution.
In November 1917, upon disintegration of the Russian Empire a Diet (Maapäev), which had been elected in the spring of that
year, proclaimed itself the highest authority in Estonia. Soon thereafter, the
Bolsheviks dissolved Maapäev and forced the Estonian
nationalists temporarily underground. A few months later, using a moment between
the Russian Red Army's retreat and the arrival of the advancing German troops,
the Committee of Elders of the underground Maapäev
issued a proclamation the independent Republic of Estonia
on February 24, 1918 and formed a provisional government. This first period of
independence was extremely short-lived, as German troops entered Tallinn on the following
day. The German authorities recognized neither the provisional government, nor
its claim for Estonia's
defeat in World War I (November 1918) however, an Estonian provisional
government was able to retake office. A new military invasion by Soviet Russia
followed a few days later, marking the beginning of the Estonian War of
Independence. The first Russian attacks at Narva on 22rd November were met by German and Estonian defenders but
the Germans thereafter withdrew westwards. On 28th November Red Army made an
assault to capture the city with an artillery support and on 29th November the
Red Army captured Narva and Narva-Jõesuu.
Estonian bolsheviks declared
regional local government in Narva under the name of
the Estonian Workers’ Commune (Eesti Töörahva Kommun) The small,
poorly-armed Estonian defense force was initially pushed back by the Red Army
close to the capital, Tallinn.
Only 34 kilometers was a distance between Tallinn
and front line. Partly due to the timely arrival of a shipment arms brought by
a British naval squadron under Admiral Sinclair the Bolsheviks were stopped. In
January 1919 the Estonians launched a counteroffensive under Commander-in-Chief
Johan Laidoner. In this the Estonian Army was
supported by the Royal Navy as well as some Finnish, Swedish and Danish
volunteers. By the end of February 1919 the Red Army was expelled from the
Estonian troops also advanced into northern Latvia. Latvia
had been declared an independent state like Estonia,
but its pro-British government of Kārlis Ulmanis was toppled by a German general Rüdiger
von der Goltz, who had
installed a pro-German puppet government in Riga in May 1919. This was possible because
under the terms of their armistice with the Western Allies, the Germans had
been obliged to maintain their armies in the East to counter the Bolshevik
threat. A Baltic German military unit Landeswehr,
together with the "Iron Division" of the regular German army, started
to advance northwards and demanded that the Estonian army end the
"occupation" of parts Northern Latvia.
It was widely believed that the real intent of Landeswehr
was to annex Estonia
into some German-dominated state like United Baltic Duchy which had existed in
1918. In the military conflict that ensued, the Baltic-German Landeswehr were defeated by the
advancing Estonian Army in Northern Latvia near the city of Cēsis in June
1919. (June 23, the anniversary of the Battle of Wenden
(Võnnu in Estonian) is celebrated in Estonia as a
national holiday "Victory Day.")
Although Estonia had been
liberated the Bolsheviks were still active and the Estonian high command
decided to push their defence lines across the border
The offensive began on May 13th. By now the Estonian land, naval and air forces
comprised 74,500 men including a 3,000-strong White Russian Northern Corps.
This had its origins back in the autumn of 1918 as a small White Russian force
raised under German approval in the Pskov
area, which had retreated from the Bolsheviks and joined up with Estonian
National forces. The Estonian May offensive was extremely successful and the
Northern Corps mobilised local population in the
liberated Russian territory. On June 19th 1919 the Estonian Commander-in-Chief
General Laidoner removed the White Russians from his
command and they were renamed the North-Western Army. Shortly afterwards
General Nikolai N. Yudenich took command.
The Bolsheviks began a counter-offensive in July 1919 which regained much
ground lost during the Estonian offensive but the North-Western Army survived.
With arms provided by Britain
and France and supported by
the Estonian army, Estonian warships and the British Royal Navy, the
North-Western Army began an offensive on 28th September 1919 with the aim of
capturing Petrograd. White Russian forces got
as far as ten miles from Petrograd but the Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky
gathered "an army of workers and soldiers", which was able to repulse
Yudenich's troops and force their retreat back into Estonia where
the Estonians, fearing the consequences of accepting an armed mob, disarmed and
interned them. The Bolsheviks made determined assaults on fortified positions at
the Estonian frontier but exhausted themselves and a ceasefire came into effect
on 3rd January 1920.
On February 2, 1920, the Peace Treaty of Tartu was signed by the Republic of Estonia and Bolshevist Russia. The terms
of the treaty stated that Russia
renounced in perpetuity all rights to the territory of Estonia.
Of interest is the British contribution to the struggle in the Baltic in
1918-19: 1) arrival of British naval forces in December 1918 after lobbying in
London by Estonian politicians, which brought needed military equipment,
training and also artillery support from Royal Navy ships; 2) protection of the
Estonian left flank by naval action in the Gulf of Finland. This included the
first combined air/sea assault in history, when British aircraft and torpedo
boats attacked and destroyed the Bolshevik fleet in Kronstadt;
3) the British supplied equipment including tanks and "advisors" to
the White Russian North-Western Army and British tank crews are said to have
got closer to Petrograd in the autumn of 1919 than German Panzer crews did to
Leningrad in WWII.
The course of World War I (WWI) activated the idea of
independence. WWI directly involved Latvians and Latvian territory. Courageous
Latvian riflemen (latviešu strēlnieki)
fought on the Russian side during this war, and earned recognition for their
bravery far into Europe. During the Russian
civil war (1917-1922), Latvians fought on both sides with a significant group
(known as Latvian red riflemen) supporting the bolsheviks.
In the autumn of 1919 the red Latvian division participated in a major battle
against the "white" anti-bolshevik army
headed by the Russian general Anton Denikin.
The post-war confusion was a
suitable opportunity for the development of an independent nation. Latvia proclaimed independence shortly after the
end of WWI – on November 18, 1918 which is now the Independence Day in Latvia. The
first to recognise Latvia's independence was Soviet
Russia (on August 11, 1920), which relinquished authority and pretences to
Latvian nation and territory once for all times. However, future actions proved
that these had been empty promises.
The international community recognised Latvia's
independence on January 26, 1921, and the recognition from many other countries
followed soon. In this year Latvia
also became a member of the League of Nations
(September 22, 1921).
World War I devastated the
country. Demands for self-determination were at first confined to autonomy
("a free Latvia in a
free Russia"), but full
independence was proclaimed in Riga
on November 18, 1918 by the People's Council of Latvia, Kārlis
Ulmanis becoming the head of the provisional
government. The War of Liberation that followed was a very chaotic period in Latvia's
history. By the spring of 1919 there were actually three governments -- Ulmanis' government, which concluded an agreement with the
Germans and was supported by Great Britain; the Iskolat
led by Pēteris Stučka,
which proclaimed an independent Soviet Latvia and whose forces, supported by
the Red Army, occupied almost all of the country; and the Baltic German puppet
government headed by Andrievs Niedra.
Estonian and Latvian forces defeated the Germans at the Battle of Cēsis in June 1919, and a massive attack by a German
and Russian force under Pavel Bermondt-Avalov
was repelled in November. Eastern Latvia was
cleared of Bolshevik forces by Polish, Latvian, and German troops in early 1920.