Breakthrough in the War of Independence: the liberation of Estonia

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1919

The breakthrough in the War of Independence came in the beginning of 1919, when the commander-in-chief, Johan Laidoner, ordered an overall attack. The Estonian People's Army made several successful attacks against the Bolsheviks. Victorious were armored trains on Tallinn-Narva line. Naval descents, led by Johan Pitka, created panic in Bolshevik rear. Success was helped along by the new recruits and volunteer troops, and by Johan Laidoner's skilled leadership. Estonia was not alone in the fight against the Soviet troops, but received help from abroad. Already in February 1918, a British navy squadron came to Tallinn and intersepted the Bolshevik attack against Tallinn. Also Sweden and Finland offered help.

The overall attack, that begun in January 6, 1919, was successful and the Bolshevik resistance was broken: on January 14 Tartu, and fived days later, Narva were liberated. Most fierce battles took place in Southern Estonia and after the battle of Paju, where the leader of Estonian partisans, Julius Kuperjanov was fatally wounded, Valga was liberated. In the end of February, the battles moved outside the Estonian borders; the Red Army fought fiercely, but these attacks were repelled.

In April, the Estonian Constituent Assembly gathered. The socialist party was most successful and August Rei became the chairman. The Estonian Constituent Assembly passed the declaration of Estonian independence, the Land Law and a temporary Constitution. The Land Law gave most of the land, previously owned by the landlords, to peasants.

In 1919, greatest battles took place not between Estonians and Bolsheviks, but Estonians and Baltic-Germans in North-Latvia - the Landeswehr War. In Võnnu battle, on June 23, the Germans, who had seized the power in Latvia, were destroyed. Soon after, the Estonian forces reached the suburbs of Riia. Landeswehr was forced to surrender and Karlis Ulmanis' government was re-established in Latvia.

In late autumn of 1919, the Red Army tried to take Narva, to pressurize the Estonians during the truce talks; this, however, did not succeed.

The Peace Treaty of Tartu: during the truce talks, Estonians were lead by Jaan Poska, and Russians by Adolf Joffe. At first, the Bolsheviks demanded all of Petseri County and half of Virumaa, up to Kunda city. Only after the Red Army had failed to capture Narva, Russian diplomats started to give in. Also Estonia presented big demands at first, but in the beginning of 1920, compromise was reached. The Peace Treaty was signed on February 2, 1920.

Source: M.Laur, A. Pajur, T. Tannberg "Eesti ajalugu II" Tallinn 1995 "Avita"

 


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