The fight for Lithuanian statehood. From ancient times to NATO
The epoch of state formation. The role of the military in organizing the state (11th century - 13th century)
The state is an institution that ensures the cultural, economic, and social life of the nation. Through the state, the nation represents its interests in the world. The state ensures the systematic protection of the nation from disastrous external influences. A nation that has not established or lost its statehood loses the opportunity to develop and live a full life, it is forced to surrender to the grace of the nations living in the states. Therefore, every nation that has not created a state strives to create it. It is the sacred duty of every free nation to protect its state from external forces seeking to constrain and destroy it, because nations, to raise their interests over other nations, act on the latter through diplomatic means, the most radical and important of which is war. The state allows the nation to create its most important institution of organized protection - the military.
Lithuanians have been forced to fight for survival with a weapon all the time since the founding of the state. As early as the middle of the 11th century, Kievan Rus' began to invade Lithuanian lands. Without a state organization, Lithuanians were unable to withstand and were forced to pay tribute for many years. Lithuanians were in danger of being assimilated and becoming part of the Orthodox civilization. However, at the beginning of the 12th century, Lithuanians managed to get rid of Kiev's influence. As soon as they avoided the catastrophe, the Lithuanians themselves began to actively organize military expeditions to the neighboring territories to expand their influence in the region and thus strengthen so that there would be no danger of political and cultural destruction in the future. The increased military activity of Lithuanians played an essential role in the formation of the Lithuanian state, helped to find the social structures necessary for the formation of the state. As the Lithuanian military elite began to dispose of the growing spoils of war, the perception of private property, as well as land ownership, strengthened. Most soldiers arose from the wealthier landowners. The troops grew from random squads into social classes. Irregular contributions from the attacked lands began to become a permanent tribute, and gifts from their farmers for protection to commanders and soldiers became mandatory. In this way, the state system was formed - the beginnings of tax, budget, and administrative systems. Professional soldiers who made a living from military service emerged. More successful warlords became rulers of the lands.
This was the Viking period of Lithuanian military history, and the most active Lithuanian tribe, the Lithuanians, organized marches to the western fringes of Russia, which was beginning to weaken, and to the lands of the neighboring Baltic tribes. In this way, the territory of the future Lithuanian state was expanded. Thanks to the military campaigns, part of the territory of the Selonians, Semigallians, Jotvingians, and some other white tribes came under Lithuanian influence. Hikes to the territory of Latgalians (Latvian ancestors) intensified. Lithuanians were able to play the role of the creators of the Baltic state, which was previously played by the Franks among the Germans or the Poles among the Poles. However, this natural process of uniting related tribes by weapon was interrupted by a powerful external force that not only prevented Lithuanians from uniting related tribes but also threatened their existence for many years.
The Struggle for Survival (13th - 15th Centuries)
At the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century, the expansion of German knights to the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea began. 1202 the Order of Swordsmen was established in the present territory of Latvia. The Germans intended to colonize all Baltic lands under the pretext of pagan baptism. Although a separate Lithuanian tribe was united by a confederation of lands, there was still no clear central government. There was an urgent need to concentrate on the Lithuanian administration and joint military leadership in one hand. King Mindaugas became such a unifier, the creator of the state.
Meanwhile, the Order of Swordsmen (Livonia), having the most modern armament of that time, being a well-organized military force, quickly removed Lithuanian influence from the territory of Latgalians and easily conquered them, then the same fate befell the Curonians, Semigallians, and Selonians, finally, the Order approached Lithuania itself. In 1230 an even more dangerous enemy, the Order of the German Crusaders, settled in what is now western Poland. The latter conquered the Baltic Prussian lands and also approached Lithuania. The two German orders, after conquering all the Lithuanian relatives one after the other, intended to do the same with Lithuania. However, Lithuania was already a state with an army and able to keep an organized resistance for a long time.
In 1236 the swordsmen made a great march to the land of Šiauliai but were crushed in the Battle of the Sun. After this defeat, the Livonian Order was no longer able to function independently and became part of the Teutonic Order. 1260 the Samogitians defeated the joint army of swordsmen and crusaders at the Battle of Durbe. Long-term front lines were established with the Crusaders on the Nemunas River (Klaipeda was already captured by the Germans), with swordsmen around the current Lithuanian-Latvian border. Lithuania was involved in the pernicious war that lasted until 1410. All the while, the Germans were raiding the territory of Lithuania and terrorizing it to destroy the Lithuanian economy and at the same time paralyze the Lithuanian defense potential. Lithuanians responded with the same marches to the territory of the Order. So the side that had more resources had to win. The Germans in the fight against the pagans received support from all over Christian Europe. Knights from Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, France, England, and many other countries took part in the marches against Lithuania.
Lithuanians fought alone, the whole Lithuanian economy and the social structure was oriented only to the needs of war. Unable to unite all the baltic tribes, Lithuania was too small to fight a long, debilitating war. Therefore, its rulers turned their gaze to the east, to the lands of Russia, devastated and divided by Tartar hordes. Mindaugas started to connect the lands of present-day Belarus to Lithuania. Gediminas turned the expansion to the east into a system and began to unite the Russian territories one after another to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, thus providing Lithuania with the necessary economic and living power reserves to fight the Germans. Gediminas' s sons Algirdas and Kęstutis expanded their influence even more actively in Russia. During the rule of these rulers, Lithuania's military situation was very difficult. The Duchy of Moscow began to strengthen, seeking to unite the Russian lands occupied by Lithuania under its flag, and the Tartars, as well as the kingdoms of Poland and Hungary, began to compete strongly with Lithuania for the eastern lands. The Crusaders concentrated their greatest capabilities until then and began to put increasing pressure on Lithuania. The Lithuanian army had to fight on three-four fronts at a time. The army was constantly fighting to eliminate the growing dangers at all borders. Lithuanians, fighting the most modern European armies, had to develop rapidly tactically and technologically. Lithuanian soldiers had to demonstrate extraordinary ingenuity in fighting on an open battlefield against German heavy cavalry and having only lightly armed soldiers. The Lithuanian Armed Forces quickly took over the innovations of European military technologies.
In the second half of the 14th century, a favorable situation arose to liquidate the Teutonic Order, which endangered Lithuania's existence. The Grand Duke of Lithuania Jogaila became King of Poland. After a certain internal political struggle, Vytautas, an excellent politician, and soldier became the Grand Duke of Lithuania. Lithuania's deadly enemy, the German Order, was also a strategic rival of Poland, so there was an opportunity to unite the forces of both countries against a common enemy. At that time, Poland was already a European state with an established class of knights. The tactical significance of the heavily armed knights on the battlefield of that time is comparable to that of the 20th-century tank units. The Lithuanian nobility was not yet sufficiently formed, and their landholdings could not yet provide sufficient funds for the purchase of more expensive armaments. So Lithuanians only had a maneuverable light cavalry.
1410 the joint Lithuanian and Polish army invaded the territory of the order. By mobilizing a large army, both states wanted to deal a decisive blow to the Germans. The operation was led by Vytautas. Allied and Crusader armies met between Tannenberg and Grunwald. After a deceptive Lithuanian maneuver, the army of the Order was completely crushed, most of the soldiers and almost the entire leadership of the Order were killed. After this defeat, the German Order lost the status of a dominant force in the region and stopped endangering Lithuania. Vytautas was not only the main organizer of the liquidation of the Crusaders, but he also laid the foundations for the rise of the Lithuanian nobility. By awarding the lands, he strengthened the class financially, involving him in the governance of the state - politically. Thanks to him, a knighthood was formed in Lithuania, which is why in the 16th century the most prominent gentlemen were able to bring thousands of cavalry and infantry with artillery to the marches.
After the historic victory of Grunwald, Lithuania had a relatively quiet period until the end of the 15th century. Then a new powerful force emerged, which determined the further development of the Lithuanian state.
Danger from the east. Loss of statehood (15th century - 18th century)
In the 15th century, the fortified Moscow began to be guided by the Tartar patronage and united the Russian lands previously occupied by the GDL. The predominance of forces began to change in favor of Lithuania. Lithuania had to concentrate all its forces on the eastern front so that it would not be swept away. Lithuania's technological superiority, already heavy cavalry in the 16th century allowed to achieve great victories, such as near Orša in 1514. However, the quantitative advantage of Moscow in the 16th century already exceeded three times. The territory of Lithuania was shrinking, the enemy was approaching the ethnic territory of Lithuania. Such a condition forced Lithuania to seek a closer union with Poland, which also assessed the growing danger. Fearing a complete loss of statehood, Lithuania had to choose its constraints. 1569 After the formation of the Union of Lublin with Poland, Lithuania was included in the latter but retained the most important attributes of the state: territory, executive power, treasury, and, of course, the Lithuanian military. Nevertheless, this union created conditions for the Lithuanian nobility to lose Lithuanian cultural heritage. Politically perceiving themselves as Lithuanians, nobles began to forget the Lithuanian language and began to use the Polish language.
The siege of Polotsk in 1579. (End of the 16th century) The Russian army invaded the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania more and more deeply, in 1576-1578 it occupied Livonia, entering Lithuania from the north. The situation became threatening. At that time, Stephen Bathory became king of Poland and Lithuania. He reformed the army, improved artillery, military engineering, introduced uniforms. After strengthening his army, Bator attacked Russian forces in Livonia and expelled them from there, conquering part of the Russian lands. Livonia was annexed to Lithuania. In this way, a certain protective section was formed around ethnic Lithuania. Russia's danger has been postponed for some time.
At the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century, Russia was hit by an internal crisis, and the Polish and Lithuanian armies had even occupied Moscow. However, at that time another threat to Lithuania emerged. The Kingdom of Sweden sought to occupy all the countries around the Baltic Sea (and thus Lithuania). While fighting the Swedes, the Lithuanians achieved their most famous military victory. 1605 near Salaspils (in the territory of present-day Latvia), the Lithuanian army led by Jonas Karolis Chodkevičius crushed several times larger Swedish forces. However, this victory did not determine the outcome of further events. The Swedish army relied not only on cavalry, but its main force also was infantry units formed of free peasants, and the effective musket fire softened the taran effect of Lithuanian heavy cavalry. Eventually, Lithuanians were expelled from part of Livonia.
In the middle of the 17th century, the Polish-Lithuanian state went through a deep crisis. It was caused by external factors, the intensification of the enemies - Moscow and Sweden - on the outside and internal problems caused by the excessive freedoms of the nobility, which weakened the central government and hindered the effective organization of national defense. 1654 the whole country was occupied by Swedish and Russian armies, Vilnius was occupied for the first time. 1700-1721 Lithuania became an arena of struggles between Russians and Swedes. 1717 the government, under pressure from the occupying Russian forces, had to agree to all Russian demands, the main one being the restriction of the number of troops (Lithuania was allowed to have no more than 6,000 troops). Convinced that Poland and Lithuania would no longer be able to defend themselves with weapons, Russia manipulated local officials to prepare the ground for the final annexation of both countries. 1772-1795 Russia, Prussia, and Austria divided the state during the period. Almost the entire territory of Lithuania went to Russia. 1791 there were still attempts to revive the state, to reorganize it, to increase the army, but Russia brutally thwarted these efforts. The last attempt to save the state was an armed uprising in 1794. When it was lost, neither Poland nor Lithuania remained on the map.
The Lithuanian nation, which had lost its long-cherished statehood, had to endure lawlessness in the prison of the Russian nations. Russification sought to destroy the nation by encroaching on its key features: language, religion, culture. In 1831 and 1863 an armed uprising was attempted. 1831 the uprising aimed to restore the Polish-Lithuanian state. The nobility was mainly involved in the uprising. In 1863, in addition to political ones, social demands were raised, Lithuanian peasants were already actively involved in this uprising, which shows an increased level of their citizenship.
Restoration of the state. The struggle for independence. Soviet occupation (1918 - 1940)
During the First World War, when Germany attacked Russia, the territory of Lithuania was occupied by the Germans. Riots began in Russia, Bolsheviks seized power, and Russia withdrew from World War II. Meanwhile, Germany, under pressure from the Entente, was forced to capitulate. The historical opponents of Lithuania weakened, and Lithuanians had the opportunity to create a state.
1918 February 16 declared restoring independence. Under the ceasefire agreement, Germany undertook to maintain its army in the Baltics for some time to the countries of the Entente, which won the First World War and to protect the area from possible Bolshevik attack. The Russian Bolsheviks intended to take back all the "provinces" that separated from Russia. The Germans, under pressure from the Bolsheviks, began to retreat. The nascent Lithuanian state, as at the beginning of its history, was again in danger of losing statehood at its very beginning.
During the restoration of the state, there were opinions that Lithuania did not need a military, because Lithuania did not intend to attack anything. When the intentions of the Bolsheviks became clear, the creation of a military force began immediately. 1918 November 23 considered the beginning of the restoration of the military, the first order was issued to the Ministry of Defense on that day. 1918 December 29 an invitation to join the Lithuanian Armed Forces voluntarily was distributed. Lithuanians realized the danger to their young state, and the army began to grow rapidly.
As early as 1919 in January, the Bolshevik army invaded Lithuania. The Lithuanian army had to fight only when it started to develop, was poorly armed, poorly prepared, but well-motivated and strong in determination. The Russians occupied Vilnius, Aukštaitija, Dzūkija, part of Samogitia, and rushed towards Kaunas, where the government had left Vilnius. Lithuanians had nowhere to retreat, the situation became critical. The Lithuanian Armed Forces launched a decisive attack in the directions of Ukmergė-Utena and Panevėžys-Rokiškis. After taking the initiative, the Lithuanian army expelled the Bolsheviks from Lithuania. 1920 In July, Lithuania and Soviet Russia signed a peace treaty. Russia has recognized Lithuania's independence, as well as all the territories inhabited by Lithuanians.
1919 In July, a new enemy of Lithuania appeared - an army led by Bermont Avalov, consisting of German captured former Russian prisoners and German soldiers. The declared goal of this military force was to fight the Bolsheviks, but it became clear from its actions that this formation also wanted to occupy the territory of the Baltic States. In October, Bermontians occupied Šiauliai, Biržai, Radviliškis, and started approaching Kaunas.
1919 On November 21-22, the Lithuanian army defeated the Bermontian forces near Radviliškis. The Bermontians were rescued from destruction by the intervening Entente Commission, which demanded an end to hostilities. December 15 the Bermontians were evacuated to German territory.
Poland also liberated itself from the Russian Empire. The goal of recovering Poland is to recover the land lost during the divisions. Lithuania was considered by the Poles to be part of Poland. Thus, the old Lithuanian ally became an enemy. The Poles fought the Bolsheviks and pushed them into Ukrainian territory. 1919 In April, the Polish army occupied the then Bolshevik-occupied Vilnius. 1920 The Bolsheviks, who went on the offensive in July, took Vilnius again and handed it over to Lithuania in the execution of the peace treaty. In August, the Poles took the initiative again and pushed the Red Army into the territory of Lithuania. The Lithuanians hurriedly organized the defense, but the advantage was on the Polish side. In September, in the forests of Augustów, the Lithuanian forces, which could not withstand the onslaught of more Polish forces, suffered the greatest failure during all the struggles for independence. The Suwalki region was lost, and the Poles continued to attack the depths of Lithuania. After the intervention of the Entente states, the hostilities were terminated, a temporary demarcation line was established, the Suwalki region passed to Poland, Vilnius and the Vilnius region remained to Lithuania. Poland did not intend to abandon Vilnius, already on October 8. Parts of the Polish army led by Gen. L. Želigovskis, suddenly invaded Lithuania and occupied Vilnius. The Polish government, in order not to be accused of violating the treaty of the international community, declared Zheligowski's army to be separate from the army but secretly supported them. Želigovskis continued to push to occupy Kaunas and the whole of Lithuania. In the face of danger, the Lithuanian military mobilized and prevented the invading Poles. 1920 November 19 the Poles were defeated near Širvintos and on the 21st. - near Giedraičiai. The military saved Lithuania from the threat of occupation. Through the mediation of the League of Nations, the fighting was suspended. The Lithuanian military lost the opportunity to take advantage of success and occupy Vilnius. Vilnius remained in the hands of the Poles until the beginning of the Second World War. Although a large part of Lithuania's territory remained in the hands of Poles, the most important goal of the military was to defend the country's independence.
The sensitive issue of the Klaipėda region was also solved with the weapon in favor of Lithuania. After the First World War, the Klaipėda region was separated from Germany and entrusted to the administration of the Entente countries. Lithuania's demands for the return of these lands, which had been taken by the Crusaders in the middle ages, had not been heard. Lithuanians of the Klaipėda region, supported by armed volunteers from Lithuania, in January 1923 revolted and occupied the land. 1923 February 16 the international community recognized the Klaipėda region for Lithuania. Only thanks to this decisive armed uprising, Klaipeda still belongs to Lithuania.
The Lithuanian state defended and protected by the Lithuanian military, existed until the Second World War. During the period of independence, the military strengthened, modernized and prepared a sufficiently abundant mobilization reserve for national defense. But at the crucial moment, the military didn’t even try to fight.
After the First World War, Germany and Russia (the Soviet Union), eternal opponents of Lithuania, recovered and began to plan a new expansion. These countries divided Poland and the Baltic countries by secret agreements. Lithuania belonged to the Soviet Union. 1939 in September, Germany and the Soviet Union occupied Poland. In October, the USSR forced Lithuania to sign a treaty of mutual assistance, Vilnius, which had been deprived of Poland, was returned to Lithuania, but it was forced to admit the Soviet army. 1940 June 14 the Soviets issued an ultimatum and introduced additional troops. The Lithuanian government did not dare to give the military an order to resist. The loss of statehood was repeated in the 18th-century scenario.
The consequences of not resisting were painful. Lithuania joined the Soviet Union, the Lithuanian military ceased to exist, foreigners began to destroy social cohesion, nationalize people's property, intellectuals, officials, wealthy people and everyone who seemed dangerous to the occupiers were being exterminated, tens of thousands were deported with their families to Siberia and others corners of the Soviet Union. A similar fate befell Latvia and Estonia. Finland was the only one of all the former lands of the Russian Empire to dare to resist the Soviets at gunpoint and retain its independence.
Postwar resistance. Partisan Fight (1945 -1953)
The Soviet rampage in Lithuania was interrupted in 1941. Germany started a war with the USSR. Taking the opportunity, the Lithuanians revolted and liberated the largest cities before the Germans occupied the territory of Lithuania. It was hoped that the Germans would allow the Lithuanian state to recover, but the latter intended to turn Lithuania into one of their provinces. 1945 After Germany lost the war, Lithuania was re-occupied by the USSR. The work of demolishing the nation that started in 1940 was continued.
Already knowing what Soviet domination in Lithuania could turn into, some Lithuanians, fearing destruction, moved to the West, some prepared for battle. The core of the organizers of the armed resistance consisted of former junior officers of the Lithuanian Armed Forces. The balance of power did not allow the Lithuanians to fighting openly, the difficult stage of the guerrilla war began. The partisans sought the restoration of the Lithuanian state, and some of them became involved in the fight against the occupiers, choosing to die with a weapon in their hands rather than in exile or prisons. Until 1946. the partisans sought to dominate the area, they attacked the buildings of the occupation administration, even occupied individual towns, and did not shy away from entering the battle with the occupying army. It was hoped that the Peace Conference of the World War II Winners would return Lithuania to statehood. If this did not happen, it was hoped that the strained relations between the Soviets and the Western countries would turn into open war and that help from the West would reach Lithuania. The partisans began to save energy, abandoned open combat tactics, it demanded too many casualties, and ambush became the main means of combat. The partisans were organized according to the principles of the interwar Lithuanian military, they wore uniforms and tried to observe military discipline. 1948 the central leadership of Lithuanian partisans was established. Active guerrilla action lasted until 1953. Eventually, it became clear that the West did not intend to start a war with the USSR soon. Through various provocations, the Soviets tried to turn the locals against partisans. Special services successfully infiltrated their agents into guerrilla corps, and they were destroyed one after another. The armed resistance was suppressed and although it did not achieve its goals, the struggle sacrificed by the partisans did not go in vain. A memory remained in the consciousness of the nation, prompting us not to forget the pursuit of freedom. The partisan struggle delayed the Sovietization of Lithuania, did not allow its territory to be colonized, therefore the largest part of the local population remained here. Many more colonists were brought to Latvia and Estonia from the USSR, and later this posed many political difficulties for these countries.
The culture of occupied Lithuania was consistently destroyed, and the country's economy was ruined. In the first years of occupation alone, Lithuanians lost more than a quarter of the nation. Some emigrated to the West, some were exiled, some were simply killed. However, during the whole occupation, the idea of Lithuanian statehood did not die, it was matured and implemented when the opportunity arose.
Restoration of statehood. Integration into NATO (1990-2004)
At the end of the 20th century, the Soviet Union was hit by a political and economic crisis. The national liberation movement began to grow in Lithuania. The Lithuanian Singing Revolution began. 1990 March 11 Lithuania has announced the restoration of an independent state. However, the occupying army was still in Lithuania. The USSR did not intend to recognize Lithuania's independence. The security of the recovering state had to be taken care of, and in 1990 April 25 the Department of National Defense was established.
The occupying Soviet army sought to provoke armed conflict in Lithuania so that it could then justify the use of military force and quickly destroy the reborn Lithuanian state. Lithuania's goal was to prevent conflict situations from escalating that could escalate into armed struggle. Thousands of Lithuanians flocked to the Lithuanian Parliament building and other important objects to protect them with a live body shield from a possible Soviet attack. KAD staff and the first volunteers had to control the situation and prevent all Soviet provocations. 1991 January 13 The Soviet army stormed Lithuanian television and radio buildings and a television tower in Vilnius. Thirteen unarmed defenders were killed and hundreds were injured. These events only strengthened the determination of Lithuanians to defend their freedom, and without escaping the armed forces, people began to gather even more to the Supreme Council building. January 17 the Voluntary National Defense Service (SKAT) was officially established. Poorly armed volunteers guarded the Supreme Council, ready to defend it in the event of an attack. The efforts of the first soldiers of the emerging Lithuanian military did not give in to the provocations of the occupiers, the Soviets did not acquire the moral right to use force. The entire free world condemned the barbaric actions of the Soviets on the night of January 13th. Lithuania's independence has been recognized by many states. The Soviet Union collapsed, its successor Russia recognized Lithuania's independence and promised to withdraw its troops from Lithuania. During Russia's delay in fulfilling its obligations, Lithuanian soldiers blocked the units and did not allow them to be supplemented by newcomers from Russia. 1993 August 31 the last soldiers of the Russian army left Lithuania. Lithuania became completely free again.
1992 November 19 the Lithuanian armed forces were officially restored. 1993 its structure is formed. Since then, it has been steadily strengthened and prepared for the country’s defense. Even then, the need to integrate into the collective defense structures of Western countries was recognized. Pre-war experience has shown that neutrality may not save from the loss of statehood. Lithuania's accession to NATO has been systematically pursued. The armed forces had to meet the requirements set by NATO, therefore it was rapidly modernized, active cooperation with foreign partners was started. Lithuania since 1994 began sending troops to international peace support operations abroad. 2002 November 21 Lithuania was invited, and in 2004 March 29 formally accepted to NATO.
The NATO Alliance was created in 1949. The United States, Canada, and Western European countries to work together to protect themselves from a possible USSR attack. It is a union of sovereign states that ensures the security of the participating states. According to Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, an attack by any NATO country is considered an attack by all NATO countries, and all members must provide support to the aggressive country. By joining this union, Lithuania has ensured that in the event of a threat to its security, it will not have to rely solely on its efforts and economic resources. However, participation in the Alliance is not only an opportunity to receive the necessary support when needed but also a commitment to other NATO countries.
Recently, the biggest threat to the security of the Western world is posed by global terrorism. Although Lithuania has not yet directly achieved the consequences of this phenomenon, the Lithuanian Armed Forces have to contribute to overall security. Therefore, Lithuanian soldiers participating in international operations aimed at weakening the spread of global terrorism are fighting for the survival of the Lithuanian state in the same way as previous soldiers did, fighting against the enemy directly threatening Lithuania.
Today's Lithuanian armed forces are a continuation of the traditions of partisan resistance also the soldiers of Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the interwar armed forces. As in the past, its purpose is the same - to protect the state, its interests, to defend against any external danger that may destroy the statehood, and disrupt the full existence of the nation. Every victory won on the battlefield of the ancestors, every soldier killed in battles obliges the current army not to lose what was so hard-won for them.