Conference 2022

13th Annual Baltic Military History Conference by the Estonian War Museum – General Laidoner Museum and the Baltic Defence College will be held on 27-28 October 2022 in Tartu.


Armed Resistance in the Baltic states during and after the Second World War

on 27th and 28th October 2022 at the University of Tartu Library

For the Baltic states, World War II was a tragedy in which national independence was lost for 50 years. On August 23, 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany signed a non-aggression pact, with a secret additional protocol dividing Eastern Europe between themselves. The Baltic states were left in the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union.

Soon after the war broke out in September 1939, the USSR forced the governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to sign mutual assistance agreements under the threat of military force, according to which the Soviet Red Army and the Baltic Fleet were given the right to deploy their troops into the Baltic states. In June 1940 the Soviet government presented the ultimatums to the three Baltic states demanding to accept additional troop contingents and to install Soviet-friendly puppet-governments. Threatened with overwhelming force, the Baltic countries had no choice but to accept the ultimatums and the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. On June 14, 1941, a week before the start of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, tens of thousands of inhabitants were deported from the Baltic states. This prompted large number of men and women to go into hiding into the forests and the large-scale anti-Soviet partisan movement, so-called Forest Brothers movement, emerged.

When the war broke out and the Wehrmacht conquered both Lithuania and Latvia in two weeks. Combat in Estonia continued until the end of October. The Forest Brothers fought smaller Red Army units, but particularly the NKVD destruction battalions and NKVD border guard troops used for rear security.

After Germans seized the Baltic states the occupation powers formed the armed auxiliary police units, which were partly based on Forest Brothers units.

It was hoped in the Baltics, that German occupation authorities would restore the independence of the Baltic states, but this was not the case. Leaders of the Lithuanian resistance movement, who had declared independence at the beginning of the war, were sent to a concentration camp. Still Baltic politicians, who had managed to avoid Soviet and German repression, sought ways to restore statehood after the end of the war trusting in the principles declared in the Atlantic Charter by the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Therefore, too cordial cooperation with the German occupation authorities was avoided.

The great defeats of the Wehrmacht forced the Germans to recruit citizens and residents of the Baltic states into their armed forces since August 1941 already. Initially the volunteers were recruited, but in 1943 the mobilizations began.

In summer and autumn of 1944, the Red Army re-conquered most of the Baltics and the forest brothers became active again. Armed resistance fighters hoped for the imminent collapse of Soviet power, the outbreak of war between the West and the Soviet Union and the restoration of independence after the end of that war.

Men, who had served in the German army and remained in homeland after the Germans withdrew, made up a significant proportion of the combat experience of the post-war armed resistance movement. There were no good choices for them, because if they got into the hands of the authorities, they would have been sent to the Gulag for many years or executed.

The armed resistance movement in the Baltic states, as well as in Ukraine, was seen as a non-state ally on the western side of the Cold War. Above all, Sweden, US and UK foreign intelligence agencies sent weapons and money to the Baltic resistance fighters. Number of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian soldiers from among those who had succeeded to flee to the western parts of Germany or other western countries at the end of the war were recruited and trained and sent back to homeland. This happened until the early 1950s.

It is estimated that altogether tens of thousands of people fought as forest brothers in Baltic countries (including over 30,000 in Lithuania).

The Forest Brothers movement in the Baltic states is significant around the world in the context of the resistance operating concept. The aim of our conference is to summarize the history of the armed resistance in the Baltic States – the Forest Brothers – from both a historical and a military perspective. In addition, presentations on the armed resistance in a similar context are welcome.

Conference schedule and registration.

About previous conferences see here.