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Estonian Defence Forces

Estonian Defence Forces

The Estonian Defence Forces is the name of the unified armed forces of the Republic of Estonia. The Estonian military is a defence force consisting of Maavägi (Army), Merevägi (Navy), Õhuvägi (Air Force) and a paramilitary organisation Kaitseliit (Defence League). The national defence policy aims to guarantee the preservation of the independence and sovereignty of the state, the integrity of its land area, territorial waters and airspace and its constitutional order. Its main goals remain the development and maintenance of a credible capability to defend the nation’s vital interests and development of the Defence Forces in a way that ensures their interoperability with the armed forces of NATO and European Union member states and their capability to participate in the full range of Alliance missions.

After the German Revolution, between 11 and 14 November 1918, ending the German occupation in Estonia, the representatives of Germany formally handed over political power to the Government of Estonia. A new military invasion by the Bolshevist Russia followed a few days later, marking the beginning of the Estonian War of Independence. The small, poorly armed Estonian military, was initially pushed back by the Red Army into the vicinity of the capital city of Estonia – Tallinn. A mere 34 kilometers separated Tallinn and the front line. Partly due to the timely arrival of a shipment of arms brought by a British naval squadron the Bolsheviks were stopped.

In January 1919, the Estonian armed forces launched a counteroffensive, the May Offensive, under Commander-in-Chief Johan Laidoner. The Ground Forces were supported by the Royal Navy as well as Finnish, Swedish and Danish volunteers.

By the end of February 1919, the Red Army had been expelled from all of the territory of Estonia. On 2 February 1920, the Peace Treaty of Tartu was signed by the Republic of Estonia and Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. After winning the Estonian Liberation War against Soviet Russia and German Freikorps volunteers, Estonia maintained its independence for twenty-two years.

The fate of the Republic of Estonia before the World War II was decided by the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of August 1939 after Stalin gained Hitler’s agreement to divide Eastern Europe into “spheres of special interest” according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its Secret Additional Protocol. The Estonian government was forced to give their assent to an agreement which allowed the USSR to establish military bases and station 25,000 troops on Estonian soil for “mutual defence”. On 12 June 1940, the order for a total military blockade on Estonia was given to the Soviet Baltic Fleet. Given the overwhelming Soviet force, in order to avoid bloodshed and a futile and hopeless war, on 17 June 1940 the Estonian government decided not to resist. The military occupation of Estonia was complete by 21 June 1940. The armed forces of Estonia were disarmed in July 1940 by the Red Army according to Soviet orders.

Only the Estonian Independent Signal Battalion stationed in Tallinn at Raua Street continued to resist. As the Red Army brought in additional reinforcements supported by armoured fighting vehicles, the battle lasted several hours until sundown. There was one dead, several wounded on the Estonian side and about 10 killed and more wounded on the Soviet side. Military resistance ended with negotiations and the Signal Battalion surrendered and was disarmed.

The entire Estonian army became part of the Red Army, even retaining its uniform and most of the officers (including the supreme commander).

The Eesti Kaitsevägi was restored on 3 September 1991 by the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia. Since 1991, the armed forces of Estonia have re-opened and restored more than 30 old and new units and several army branches.