Johan Laidoner

Last updated
Johan Laidoner
Johan Laidoner.jpg
Laidoner during the Estonian War of Independence.
Born(1884-02-12)12 February 1884
Viiratsi, Kreis Fellin, Governorate of Livonia, Russian Empire
Died13 March 1953(1953-03-13) (aged 69)
Vladimir, Soviet Union
AllegianceFlag of Russia (1696-1917).svg  Russian Empire
Flag of Estonia.svg  Estonia
Service/branch Imperial Russian Army
Estonian Army
Years of service1901–1920
1924–1925
1934–1940
Rank General
Commands held Commander‑in‑Chief of the Estonian Armed Forces
Battles/wars World War I
Estonian War of Independence
Awards Cross of Liberty, 1st Class 1st Rank
Cross of Liberty, 3rd Class 1st Rank
Order of the White Star
Order of the Cross of the Eagle, 1st Class
Order of the Estonian Red Cross, 1st Class
Spouse(s)
Maria Kruszewska(m. 1911)
Signature Johan Laidoneri autogramm.png

Johan Laidoner (12 February 1884 – 13 March 1953) was an Estonian general and statesman. He served as Commander‑in‑Chief of the Estonian Armed Forces during the Estonian War of Independence and was among the most influential people in Estonian history between the world wars.

Kindral is the Estonian word for General which is also the highest military position in the Republic of Estonia. Both Ground Force and Air Force superior officers ranks share the same names which have been combined with the military rank of general and other senior officer ranks. There are four types of generals in the Estonia Defence Forces.

Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces

The Commander of the Defence Forces is Chief of the Estonian Defence Forces and the national defence organisations.

Estonian War of Independence

The Estonian War of Independence, also known as the Estonian Liberation War, was a defensive campaign of the Estonian Army and its allies, most notably the White Russian Northwestern Army, Latvia, and the United Kingdom, against the Soviet Western Front offensive and the aggression of the Baltische Landeswehr. It was fought in connection with the Russian Civil War during 1918–1920. The campaign was the struggle of Estonia for its sovereignty in the aftermath of World War I. It resulted in a victory for the newly established state and was concluded in the Treaty of Tartu.

Contents

Born in Viiratsi, Governorate of Livonia, Laidoner joined the Imperial Russian Army in 1901 and fought in World War I. Following the October Revolution, he commanded the Estonian national units of the Russian army. In 1918, the Estonian Provisional Government appointed him commander-in-chief of the armed forces in the Estonian War of Independence.

Viiratsi Small borough in Viljandi County, Estonia

Viiratsi is a small borough in Viljandi Parish, Viljandi County, Estonia. As of 2011 Census, the settlement's population was 1,332.

Governorate of Livonia governorate of the Russian Empire

The Governorate of Livonia was one of the Baltic governorates of the Russian Empire, now divided between the Republic of Latvia and the Republic of Estonia.

Imperial Russian Army land armed force of the Russian Empire

The Imperial Russian Army was the land armed force of the Russian Empire, active from around 1721 to the Russian Revolution of 1917. In the early 1850s, the Russian army consisted of more than 900,000 regular soldiers and nearly 250,000 irregulars.

After the war, he served as a member of the Riigikogu from 1920 to 1929. He was once again appointed commander-in-chief during the 1924 Communist coup attempt, and then again from 1934 to 1940, during the authoritarian regime of Konstantin Päts. After the Soviet occupation in 1940, he was arrested and deported to Russia, where he died in prison in 1953.

Riigikogu parliament of Estonia

The Riigikogu is the unicameral parliament of Estonia. All important state-related questions pass through the Riigikogu. In addition to approving legislation, the Riigikogu appoints high officials, including the Prime Minister and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and elects the President. The Riigikogu also ratifies significant foreign treaties that impose military and proprietary obligations, bring about changes in law, etc.; approves the budget presented by the government as law and monitors the executive power.

The Attempted coup of 1924 in Estonia, conducted by the Comintern, was a failed coup attempt in Estonia staged by Communists on December 1, 1924. Of the 279 actively participating communists, 125 were killed in action, later more than 500 people were arrested. The government forces lost 26 men.

Konstantin Päts Estonian politician

Konstantin Päts was the most influential politician of interwar Estonia, and served five times as the country's head of government. He was one of the first Estonians to become active in politics and started an almost 40-year political rivalry with Jaan Tõnisson, first through journalism with his newspaper Teataja, later through politics. He was condemned to death during the 1905 Revolution, but managed to flee first to Switzerland, then to Finland, where he continued his literary work. He returned to Estonia, but had to spend time in prison in 1910–1911.

Early life and career

Johan Laidoner was born on Raja estate in Viiratsi, Governorate of Livonia, to a farmhand Jaak Laidoner and his wife Mari (née Saarsen) as the first of four sons. He studied at Viiratsi Elementary School and finished his basic education at Viljandi Town School in 1900. As Laidoner’s parents were poor, he could not continue his studies and voluntarily joined the Imperial Russian Army. From 1901 to 1902, he served in the 110th Kama Infantry Regiment, based in Kaunas, Lithuania, and went on to study at the Infantry Officer School in Vilnius from 1902 to 1905. He graduated top of his class in April 1905 and was promoted to the rank of sub-lieutenant. He was then sent to serve in the 13th Yerevan Grenadier Regiment, which was then stationed in Manglisi, Georgia. From 1905 to 1909, he held various positions in the regiment, eventually becoming company deputy commander. In 1908, he was promoted to lieutenant. [1]

Kaunas City in Lithuania

Kaunas is the second-largest city in Lithuania and the historical centre of Lithuanian economic, academic, and cultural life. Kaunas was the biggest city and the centre of a county in Trakai Municipality of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania since 1413. In the Russian Empire, it was the capital of the Kaunas Governorate from 1843 to 1915.

Vilnius City in Lithuania

Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and its largest city, with a population of 574,147 as of 2018. Vilnius is in the southeast part of Lithuania and is the second largest city in the Baltic states. Vilnius is the seat of the main government institutions of Lithuania and the Vilnius District Municipality. Vilnius is classified as a Gamma global city according to GaWC studies, and is known for the architecture in its Old Town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Before World War II, Vilnius was one of the largest Jewish centres in Europe. Its Jewish influence has led to it being described as the "Jerusalem of Lithuania" and Napoleon named it "the Jerusalem of the North" as he was passing through in 1812. In 2009, Vilnius was the European Capital of Culture, together with the Austrian city of Linz.

Sub-lieutenant is a junior military officer rank.

From 1909 to 1912, Laidoner studied at the Imperial Nicholas Military Academy in Saint Petersburg, graduating with a 1st grade diploma. On 30 October 1911, while studying in Saint Petersburg, Laidoner married Maria Skarbek-Kruszewska, a descendant of Polish nobility, whom he had met earlier in Vilnius. The couple had a son, Michael (1913–1928). After Michael’s death, the Laidoners adopted Maria's nephew, Aleksei Kruszewski. [1]

The General Staff Academy was a Russian military academy, established in 1832 in St.Petersburg. It was first known as the Imperial Military Academy, then in 1855 it was renamed Nicholas General Staff Academy and in 1909 - Imperial Nicholas Military Academy.

Saint Petersburg Federal city in Northwestern, Russia

Saint Petersburg is Russia's second-largest city after Moscow, with 5 million inhabitants in 2012, part of the Saint Petersburg agglomeration with a population of 6.2 million (2015). An important Russian port on the Baltic Sea, it has a status of a federal subject.

Upon his graduation in 1912, Laidoner was promoted to the rank of staff captain and sent back to his regiment. In the following year, he was appointed to the General Staff and was dispatched to serve for one year as company commander in the 1st Caucasus Rifle Regiment. [2] He then served at the Staff of the Caucasus Military District.

Stabskapitän, in the cavalry also Stabsrittmeister, or Kapitänleutnant, was a historic military rank in the Prussian Army. In reference to the German Stabskapitän the equivalent rank in the Imperial Russian Army used to be the rank Stabs-kapitan.

Caucasus Military District

The Caucasus Military District was a military formation of the Imperial Russian Army. It was created in 1865 as the successor to the Caucasus Army, and was dissolved in 1917.

World War I

At the outbreak of World War I, Laidoner served as staff aide of the 3rd Caucasus Army Corps. [2] On 26 November 1914, he was promoted to captain. In March 1915, Laidoner was appointed to the senior staff of the 21st Infantry Division of the same corps. In October 1915, he was made aide to the commander of the intelligence department of the Staff of the Western Front and on 15 August 1916, Laidoner was promoted to the rank of Podpolkovnik (lieutenant colonel). [2] From March to September 1917, he served as staff commander of the 1st Caucasus Grenadier Division and from October to November 1917, as staff commander of the 62nd Infantry Division. [1]

On 5 January 1918, Laidoner was appointed commander of the newly formed 1st Estonian Division. [3] On 18 February 1918, the negotiations over the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk broke down and German forces, who had already captured Estonian islands, landed on the mainland. On the following day, Laidoner resigned from his post as division commander and left for Russia. On 24 February 1918, Estonia declared independence, but was subsequently occupied by Germany.

Estonian War of Independence

Laidoner with senior commanders of the Estonian Armed Forces in 1920. From upper left: General Major Ernst Podder, Dr. Arthur Lossmann, General Major Aleksander Tonisson, Colonel Karl Parts, Colonel Viktor Puskar, Colonel Jaan Rink. From bottom left: General Major Andres Larka, General Major Jaan Soots, Commander in Chief General Lieutenant Johan Laidoner, Admiral Johan Pitka and Colonel Rudolf Reiman EstArmyHighCommnd1920.jpg
Laidoner with senior commanders of the Estonian Armed Forces in 1920. From upper left: General Major Ernst Põdder, Dr. Arthur Lossmann, General Major Aleksander Tõnisson, Colonel Karl Parts, Colonel Viktor Puskar, Colonel Jaan Rink. From bottom left: General Major Andres Larka, General Major Jaan Soots, Commander in Chief General Lieutenant Johan Laidoner, Admiral Johan Pitka and Colonel Rudolf Reiman

On 4 April 1918, the Estonian Provisional Government promoted Laidoner, then still residing in Petrograd, to the rank of Polkovnik (colonel). Following the German capitulation on 11 November 1918, the Soviet Red Army invaded Estonia on 28 November, marking the beginning of the Estonian War of Independence. On 30 November, Laidoner left Petrograd and arrived in Tallinn on 8 December. The provisional government first appointed him chief of staff on 14 December, and then on 23 December, commander-in-chief of the Estonian Armed Forces. [1] [2] On 1 January 1919, the Estonian Army had just over 13,000 men, with 5,700 of the them facing 8,000 Soviets on the Viru Front. [4] In the first days of January, the Estonian forces managed to halt the Soviet advance at the Valkla-Kehra line and on 3 January, Laidoner launched a counter-offensive with 1st Division, supported by Finnish volunteers and armoured trains. Within 11 days, the 1st Division advanced 200 kilometres east, while the 2nd Division moved against the Soviet forces in Southern Estonia. Following the liberation of Tartu and Narva, he was promoted to the rank of major general on 20 January 1919. [5] On Estonia's first independence day on 24 February 1919, Laidoner reported that the Soviet forces have been driven out of Estonia, as well as capturing over 6,000 men and 40 guns.

Laidoner had a crucial role in organizing and training the army in a very short time as well as establishing an effective command structure within the armed forces. Learning from his experience with trench warfare in World War I and due to the limited size of the forces available to him, Laidoner chose to achieve crucial victories – capturing strategically important roads and railway stations – with smaller and more mobile battalion- and company-sized units, supported by armoured trains and armoured cars. After the end of the war, Laidoner was promoted to lieutenant general on 21 March 1920, before resigning as commander‑in‑chief and retiring from active service on 26 March 1920. [1] [6]

Post-war career

Laidoner as a member of the Riigikogu. Johan Laidoner 1.jpg
Laidoner as a member of the Riigikogu.

After the war, Laidoner was a member of the Riigikogu (Parliament of Estonia) and from 1920 to 1929 as a member of the conservative Farmers' Assemblies. [2] He served as the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and was part of the Estonian delegation in the General Assembly of the League of Nations from 1922 to 1929, where he was known for his isolationist stance.

Laidoner and Hugo Osterman, commander of the Finnish Army, in 1938. Estonia and Finland had a secret military pact. Johan Laidoner and Hugo Osterman 1938 in Tallinn.png
Laidoner and Hugo Österman, commander of the Finnish Army, in 1938. Estonia and Finland had a secret military pact.

On 1 December 1924, the Estonian Communists, together with assault groups sent from the Soviet Union, attempted a coup d'etat. The government called an emergency meeting during which martial law was declared and Laidoner was appointed commander‑in‑chief of the armed forces. [1] Although the actual coup attempt was over in five hours, the pursuit of coupists continued and the situation remained tense for several weeks. On 8 January 1925, after the martial law was abolished, Laidoner resigned as commander‑in‑chief and left military service once again. [2] [6]

In 1925, Laidoner was commissioned by the League of Nations to head a special mission to Iraq, investigating the allegations made against Turkey regarding the mistreatment and deportations of Christians in the Mosul region. [2] [7] The report Laidoner’s committee submitted played an important role in demarcating the border between Turkey and Iraq. [1]

On 12 March 1934, the State Elder Konstantin Päts declared martial law and appointed Laidoner commander‑in‑chief of the armed forces. [6] [8] The aim of declaring martial law was to halt the political rise of the Vaps Movement and their potential success in the upcoming presidential elections. Together with Päts and Kaarel Eenpalu, the Minister of the Interior, Laidoner established an authoritarian rule, disbanding political parties and limiting free speech, the so-called "Era of Silence". Laidoner remained commander-in-chief of the armed forces and oversaw national defence politics. His reforms included a large-scale weapons and equipment modernization program, expanding the military via conscription, and introduction of military training in universities. On 1 January 1938, a new constitution was enacted, which saw the creation of a bicameral Rahvuskogu (National Assembly), consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the National Council. As the commander‑in‑chief, Laidoner became an ex officio member of the National Council. On 24 February 1939, he was promoted to the rank of general. [9]

Soviet occupation, arrest and death

1941 mugshot of Laidoner after his arrest 1940 Johan Laidoner NKVD 1941.jpg
1941 mugshot of Laidoner after his arrest 1940
Last known photo of Laidoner in Soviet prison (1952) Johan Laidoner NKVD.jpg
Last known photo of Laidoner in Soviet prison (1952)

On 17 June 1940, the Soviet Union occupied Estonia. Laidoner was officially removed from his position as the commander‑in‑chief on 22 June 1940. [6] On 19 July, he and his wife were deported to Penza, Russia, where they lived in forced exile until the beginning of the war with Germany. On 23 June 1941, they were put under house arrest and then imprisoned on 28 June by the NKVD. In September 1942, the Laidoners were sent to the Butyrka prison in Moscow, along with Konstantin Päts and a number of former Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish statesmen and their families. From there, they were moved to a prison in Kirov, and then in Ivanovo. On 16 April 1952, Laidoner was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was sent to Vladimir Central Prison, where he died on 13 March 1953. [2] He was buried at the prison cemetery, but his remains have not been found. [1]

Laidoner's adopted son Aleksei was also arrested by the NKVD. He died in Solikamsk labor camp on 26 November 1941 with chest trauma listed as the cause of death. [10]

Maria Laidoner was released in 1954 and was allowed to return to Estonia. She died in 1978 in Jämejala, near Viljandi, and was buried in Tallinn at Siselinna Cemetery, next to her son Michael. [10]

Legacy

Laidoner's reputation in Estonia has remained controversial. Hailed as a national hero for his leadership skills and success as a military commander in the War of Independence, he has been criticized for his support of Konstantin Päts and his involvement in the 1934 coup d'état as well as the surrender to the Soviet Union in 1940.

Viimsi Manor was Laidoner's summer residence. Viimsi mois.jpg
Viimsi Manor was Laidoner's summer residence.

Laidoner has a number of monuments, memorials and places named after him.

Awards and decorations

Estonian awards and decorations
EST Cross of Liberty Military Leadership.png Cross of Liberty, 1st Class 1st Rank
EST Cross of Liberty Civilian Service.png Cross of Liberty, 3rd Class 1st Rank
EST Order of the White Star - 1st Class BAR.png Order of the White Star, special sash
EST Order of the Cross of the Eagle 1st Class BAR.png Order of the Cross of the Eagle, 1st Class
EST Estonian Red Cross Order 1Class BAR.svg Order of the Estonian Red Cross, 1st Class
Foreign awards
FIN Order of the White Rose Grand Cross BAR.png Order of the White Rose of Finland, Grand Cross (Finland)
Legion Honneur Commandeur ribbon.svg Legion of Honour, Commander (France)
GER German Olympic Decoration (1936) ribbon.svg German Olympic Decoration, 1st Class (Germany)
Lacplesis Military Order Ribbon.png Order of Lāčplēsis, 1st Class (Latvia)
Lacplesis Military Order Ribbon.png Order of Lāčplēsis, 2nd Class (Latvia)
Lacplesis Military Order Ribbon.png Order of Lāčplēsis, 3rd Class (Latvia)
LTU Order of Vytautas the Great - Grand Cross BAR.png Order of Vytautas the Great, Grand Cross (Lithuania)
POL Order Orla Bialego BAR.svg Order of the White Eagle (Poland)
Virtuti Militari Ribbon.png Order of Virtuti Militari, 5th Class (Poland)
POL Polonia Restituta Wielki BAR.svg Order of Polonia Restituta, Grand Cross (Poland)
Order of Saint Vladimir, ribbon bar.svg Order of Saint Vladimir, 4th Class (Russia)
Order of Saint Anna ribbon bar.svg Order of Saint Anna, 2nd Class (Russia)
Order of Saint Anna ribbon bar.svg Order of Saint Anna, 4th Class (Russia)
Order St. Stanislaus (Russia) ribbon.svg Order of Saint Stanislaus, 2nd Class (Russia)
Order St. George (Russia) ribbon.svg Saint George Sword (Russia)
Royal Order of the Sword - Commander Grand Cross BAR.svg Order of the Sword, Grand Cross (Sweden)
UK Order St-Michael St-George ribbon.svg Order of St Michael and St George, Honorary Knight Commander (United Kingdom)

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References

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "General Johan Laidoner". Estonian War Museum. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Kes oli kindral Johan Laidoner" (in Estonian). Johan Laidoneri Selts. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  3. "The period of national military units - 1917-1918". Estonian Defence Forces. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  4. Traksmaa, August (1992). Lühike vabadussõja ajalugu (in Estonian). Tallinn: Olion. p. 10. ISBN   5-450-01325-6.
  5. "Ajutise Valitsuse koosolekute protokollid" (in Estonian). National Archives of Estonia. 20 January 1919. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Õun, Mati (2001). Eesti sõjavägi 1920-1940 (in Estonian). Tallinn: Tammiskilp. p. 5-6.
  7. Yacoub, Joseph (2016). Year of the Sword. The Assyrian Christian Genocide. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-063346-2.
  8. "Riigivanema käsukiri Kaitsevägedele" (in Estonian). National Archives of Estonia. 14 March 1934. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  9. "Sõjavägede Ülemjuhataja kindralleitnant J. Laidoner kõrgendati kindraliks". Uus Eesti (53). 23 February 1939. p. 19.
  10. 1 2 "Laidoneride pereplats". Kalmistud.ee. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  11. "About the museum – Introduction". Estonian War Museum. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  12. "Viljandis avati kindral Laidoneri ausammas" (in Estonian). Estonian Defence Forces. 22 June 2004. Retrieved 30 September 2017.

Bibliography

Military offices
New creation Commander‑in‑Chief of the Estonian Armed Forces
1918–1920, 1924–1925, 1934–1940
Succeeded by
Jaan Maide