The Estonian War of Independence was fought in 1918–1920, and armoured trains played an important role in winning the war and establishing the independence of Estonia. Now, 100 years later, the Estonian War Museum has constructed a replica inspired by an armoured train used back then.
In the War of Independence, the role of an armoured train was to carry ammunition and soldiers, but in the replica Wabadus, we find an exhibition that introduces the War of Independence, armoured trains and its heroes, a cannon, and many other interesting items. 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.
See the train stations on the map and stay tuned for the updates on cultural programs in each stop.
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 2020 with the Tartu Peace Treaty. Armoured trains had an important part in winning the War of Independence.
What is an armoured train?
An armoured train is a railway train customised for battling (bullet- and shrapnel-proofed, mostly armoured with steel), containing a locomotive in the middle of the train, platforms armed with cannons and machine guns, and wagons for the crew, aid, repair, etc. Armoured trains were widely used as weapons from mid-19th century to mid-20th century. An armoured train usually consisted of cannon wagons, artillery wagons, landing wagons, some common wagons, and a steam locomotive.
As soon as the War of Independence began, the Estonian forces started to build up their armour capabilities (armoured trains and armoured cars). The first armoured train was a broad-gauge No. 1, built in Tallinn. The train went to the battlefront already on 1 December 1918. Commander of the first armoured trains was captain Johan Pitka, but as he was very active elsewhere (managing the Defence League, organising a fleet, managing the construction of armoured trains and cars, etc.), he was not able to commit as necessary. For that reason, Johan Laidoner, the Commander-in-Chief of the Estonian Armed Forces, appointed Colonel Karl Parts as commander of the armoured trains on 26 December 1918, and under his leadership, three broad-gauge armoured trains as well as one narrow-gauge one were organised for the counterstrike.
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