The Estonian War of Independence

The War of Independence was fought against Soviet Russia from 28 November 1918 to 3 January 1920, and against the Landeswehr in June and July of 1919 to defend and maintain the Estonian independence. As a result, the Red Army retreated from Estonia, and an independent Estonia was recognised on 2 February 1920 with the Tartu Peace Treaty. 

Many events and ceremonies will be held until 2 February 2020 to mark the centenary of the War of Independence. Since armoured trains played an important role in winning the war and establishing the independence of Estonia, the Estonian War Museum has constructed a replica inspired by an armoured train used back then. The armoured train will go on its historic journey on 4 January, taking many stops from Kehra to Valga, and in these stops, visitors can be acquainted with the train as well as enjoy free concerts and re-enactments of battles from the War of Independence.

The decisive battles of the War of Independence took place on 3-7 January 1919. Now, 100 years later, we are remembering those events with the journey of the fire of freedom and hikes on 6 January 2019. Those events will take place on the historic battle front of the War of Independence.




Beginning of the First World War. Empires, such as Imperial Russia, are slowly slipping into the past


The bourgeois Provisional Government comes to power in Russia


Estonian regions are merged into the Autonomous Governorate of Estonia


German forces begin to occupy the Estonian islands


The Russian Bolsheviks organise a revolution in Petrograd and begin their reign in Estonia. The Provincial Assembly declares itself the sovereign power of Estonia


German forces reach the mainland
24. February: Estonia is declared independent. The Estonian Provisional Government is formed, led by Konstantin Päts


the German revolution ruins the plans to attempt to create a United Baltic Duchy in Estonia and Latvia
11. november: The First World War ends. German forces prepare to leave the occupied areas in compliance with the Armistice of Compiègne, giving the Red Army an opportunity to occupy Estonia and Latvia
11. November: The Estonian Provisional Government begins working to establish the Republic of Estonia while Germans forces depart. The first steps are taken to form the Estonian armed forces
28. November: The start of the Estonian War of Independence. The Red Army attacks from beyond the Narva River and occupies the city of Narva


The Red Army attacks Northern Estonia. The Bolsheviks conquer Jõhvi, Kunda, Rakvere, Tapa, and Aegviidu


Beginning of January 1919: the Red Army is only 40 kilometres from Tallinn
3. January: The battles of Valkla and Priske force the Red Army to retreat from Tallinn. The Red Army decides to continue the assault from the south
4. January: The Red Army begins an attack on the Kehra train station. Subdivisions of the Defence League summons the freshly repaired armoured train No. 1 from Tallinn, commanded by Captain Anton Irv

As a result of the attack of the armoured train and the landing operation, 3 companies of the attacking 54th Tartu Regiment were dissipated. Nearly 50 Red Army soldiers were killed and the commander of the 7th Company was captured. Subsequently, the battles of Valkla and Kehra have  later been considered as the beginning of a turning point in the battles.

9. January: The strategically important Tapa railway junction is captured from the Red Army. The operation includes armoured trains No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, and the landing forces of armoured trains No. 1 and No. 3, who were supported periodically by cannon fire from the trains
13.-14. January: Tartu is freed due to the joint efforts of armoured trains and members of the Kuperjanov Infantry Battalion

The Battle of Tartu was one of the most important battles of the Estonian War of Independence, since it resulted in the Estonian forces liberating the rest of Southern Estonia.


1. February: Valga is freed in the battle of Paju
3. February: Võru is freed in the battle of Paju
24. February: Johan Laidoner reports to the Provincial Assembly that all enemies have retreated from Estonian territory. Armoured trains played an important role in helping free Estonia from the attack of the Red forces
end of February: the Red Army begins new attacks on the Southern front; Võru and Valga are threatened multiple times. The towns are protected by the 3rd Division, commanded by major general Ernst Põdder, and the division of armoured trains, commanded by Captain Anton Irv and Captain Karl Parts


mid-April: a total of 20,000 men, 44 cannons, 4 broad-gauge armoured trains, and 4 narrow-gauge armoured trains are on the Southern front. They stand against the Red Army of nearly 30,000 men. The Estonian army fends off two-months of attacks by the Red Army

By 1919, luck had also forsaken the Red Army in the battles of Latvia. They were not only fighting Latvians, but also the Baltic German forces know as Landeswehr. The advancing Landeswehr strengthened; the Baltic Germans brought down the Latvian government led by Kārlis Ulmanis and established a puppet government to their own advantage



The Germans and anti-Bolshevik Latvians conquer Riga and move on to Cēsis (Võnnu) and Valmiera

Here they met with Estonian forces, who saw the Germans as an old enemy and threat to Latvia as well as Estonia. This began a war between the two sides. The armoured trains helped to stop the Landeswehr attack near Liepaismuiža


22. June: The Estonian counterattack begins
23. June: Estonian forces take Cēsis and push the Germans back to Riga

Since 1934, the anniversary of the Battle of Võnnu is celebrated in Estonia as Victory Day


The so-called Bermondt offensive begins in Latvia, the mutual attempt of Germans and the White Forces to battle the Bolsheviks, gaining control over Latvia. The Latvian government asked for military help from  Estonia, and two armoured trains were sent to Riga, helping to stabilise the situation and keep the Latvian Provisional Government in power