World War I and the War of Independence

During World War I, some 100,000 soldiers and officers from Estonia were either conscripted or drafted voluntarily to the Russian army. In addition, there were Baltic Germans from Estonia fighting in the German army in 1918.

The battles did not reach Estonia until 1917. In the autumn of 1917, the German army occupied the islands of Saaremaa and Muhu against minimal resistance from the demoralised Russian troops. In February 1918, the Germans occupied the whole of Estonia and drove the Russian troops out. They did not recognise the Republic of Estonia, which had been declared at the same time as the occupation began. In March, Germany and Soviet Russia concluded a peace treaty in Brest‑Litovsk, which marked the end of the war on the Eastern Front.

In November 1918, a revolution broke out in Germany, the Emperor was dethroned and the new German government concluded the Armistice of Compiègne on the Western Front, which put an end to World War I. Germany recognised the Republic of Estonia de facto, pulled its occupation troops out of Estonia and ceded power to the Estonian government.

In spring 1917, the Russian Provisional Government had authorised the formation of national Estonian military units in the Russian army. In early 1918, the units consisted of a division command, four infantry regiments, a cavalry and artillery. The German occupation authorities dissolved these national units. In November 1918, the Estonian government reassembled the Estonian regiments, which together with volunteers formed the basis for the Estonian Armed Forces, established soon thereafter.

In late November 1918, the Red Army launched its offensive with the aim of reclaiming the former areas of the Russian Empire and invading Europe. The Red Army was met by the Estonian Defence League, which had been assembled in haste. Thus began the War of Independence. The Red Army was forced out of Estonia by early 1919. In February 1920, Soviet Russia and the Republic of Estonia concluded the Peace Treaty of Tartu. In 1921, Estonia became a fully-fledged member of the League of Nations.

The Estonians fighting in the Estonian Defence Forces in the War of Independence were joined by people of other nationalities living in Estonia: Russians, Baltic Germans, Swedes, Jews and Ingrians. Even some women put on soldiers’ uniforms. Estonia received support from the British navy and White Russian troops as well as volunteers from Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

The exhibit depicts the battles held on the fronts of the War of Independence, the weapons, the battleground and war propaganda. The constructed scene features Estonian soldiers and their enemies – a Red Army man and a soldier of the Baltic-German Landeswehr.