13th Annual Baltic Military History Conference "Armed Resistance in the Baltic states during and after the Second World War"

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 was to summarize the history of the armed resistance in the Baltic States – the Forest Brothers – from both a historical and a military perspective. 



DAY ONE – main conference room (University of Tartu Library Conference Centre)


Arrival and registration, coffee


Administrative remarks


Mr. Art Johanson

Conference Director and Baltic Defence College lecturer in Military History and Strategic Planning


Welcoming Remarks / opening of the conference


Mr. Hellar Lill

Director of the Estonian War Museum – General Laidoner Museum


COL Andriejus Grachauskas

Course Director of Joint Command and General Staff Course/ Civil Servants’ Course of the Baltic Defence College


Hendrik Sepp Prize


Presented by Mr. Hellar Lill


Opening Keynote Address


People’s warfare: the historical dimensions
Prof. Jeremy Black (United Kingdom)


Keynote Panel:



The past is present

MG Michael Repass (USA)


ROC and Comprehensive Defence Handbook experiences from Russian war against Ukraine

Dr. Byron Harper (USA)



Prof. Jeremy Black participates in the discussion



Coffee break


PANEL 2: Armed resistance: history and military significance


General Principles of Resistance

LTC (ret) Valerijus Šerelis (Lithuania)


The significance of special operations forces (SOF) in conducting irregular warfare in the Baltics in a modern conflict. Taking lessons from the forest brothers and the Russo-Ukrainian war

Mr. Jakub Knopp (Poland)


Polish resistance movement during and after WWII

COL Michał Małyska (Poland)





PANEL 3: Armed resistance in the Baltic states during 1940’s


Sustainability of the fight for freedom in Lithuania after WWII

MSG Ernestas Kuckailis (Lithuania)


Latvian national armed resistance during the summer of 1941 through the eyes of German military units

Mr. Jānis Tomaševskis (Latvia)

Soviet NKVD-MGB countering the resistance in Estonia

MAJ Artur Zirul (Estonia)


The Secret Missions from Sweden to Estonia 1948–1956

Dr. Meelis Saueauk (Estonia)





DAY TWO – Seminar Room Tõstamaa (University of Tartu Library Conference Centre)


Arrival, coffee


Welcoming remarks:

Mr. Toomas Hiio

Head of Research of the Estonian War Museum – General Laidoner Museum


PANEL 4: Comparisions and examples: from irregular warfare to regular troops


Conducting successful irregular warfare. History lessons from World War I's Arab Revolt and the Forest Brothers

Ms. Julia Zalewska-Biziuk (Poland)


Forest Brothers: from Unorganized Guerrillas to Volunteer Units

Ms. Ariane Bousquet (Canada)


Coffee break


PANEL 5: Case studies


The influence of the partisan movement in the Baltic countries on the shape of the security infrastructure of the NATO Eastern Flank

Ms. Agnieszka Homańska (Poland)


The Effect of Activity and Passivity on Survival of Armed Resistance Movement: The Example of National Partisans in Northern Vidzeme (1944–1953)

Mr. Reinis Ratnieks (Latvia)


Bunkers and fortifications of partisan movements in Lithuania during and after the Second World War

Mr. Titas Tamkvaitis (Lithuania)


Concluding remarks


Mr. Art Johanson

Conference Director and Baltic Defence College lecturer in Military History and Strategic Planning