The Info List - Lithuanian Wars Of Independence

--- Advertisement ---

The Lithuanian Wars of Independence, also known as the Freedom Struggles (Lithuanian: Laisvės kovos), refer to three wars Lithuania fought defending its independence at the end of World War I: with Bolshevik forces (December 1918 – August 1919), Bermontians
(June 1919 – December 1919), and Poland
(August 1920 – November 1920). The wars delayed international recognition of independent Lithuania and the formation of civil institutions.


1 Background 2 Formation of the army 3 War against the Bolsheviks 4 War against the Bermontians 5 War against Poland 6 Żeligowski's Mutiny 7 See also 8 References 9 Further reading

Background[edit] After the Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
in 1795, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
was annexed by the Russian Empire. The Lithuanian National Revival
Lithuanian National Revival
emerged during the 19th century and the movement to establish an independent nation-state intensified during the early 20th century. During World War I, Lithuanian territory was occupied by Germany from 1915 until the war ended in November 1918. On February 16, 1918, the Council of Lithuania
declared the re-establishment of independence from all previous legal bonds with other states. The declaration asserted the right to self-determination, meaning the creation of a state within ethnic Lithuanian territories. The publication of the Act of Independence was initially suppressed by the German occupation forces, but on March 23, 1918, the Germans acknowledged the declaration; their plans had shifted to the establishment of a network of satellite countries (Mitteleuropa). However, Germany did not allow the Council to establish a Lithuanian military force, police force, or civic institutions. On November 11, 1918 Germany signed an armistice on the Western Front and officially lost the war and control over Lithuania. The first national government, led by Augustinas Voldemaras, was formed. Voldemaras issued a declaration that Lithuania
did not need a military force, as it was not planning to engage in warfare, and that only a small militia was needed. This view was unrealistic, since military conflicts soon erupted. Formation of the army[edit]

War memorial in Alytus
to Lithuanians
who died in the Lithuanian Wars of Independences

The first legislative act creating an army was passed on November 23, 1918. Its development and organization moved slowly due to lack of funding, arms, ammunition, and experienced military commanders. On December 20 Antanas Smetona
Antanas Smetona
and Augustinas Voldemaras
Augustinas Voldemaras
went to Germany to request assistance. This arrived at the end of 1918, when Germany paid the Lithuanian government one hundred million marks in reparations; the organization of the new Lithuanian army proceeded under the auspices of the German army, which was withdrawing in stages. However, the departure of both leaders created a difficult domestic situation. The Council of Lithuania
released Voldemaras' cabinet; Mykolas Sleževičius
Mykolas Sleževičius
became Prime Minister of Lithuania
and formed a Cabinet on 26 December 1918. Perceiving an imminent threat to the state, he issued a proclamation several days later. Directed at Lithuanian men, the proclamation invited volunteers to join a force to defend the country. Lithuanian volunteers who agreed to join the military force were promised free land. Fulfilling its Armistice obligation to support Lithuanian independence, Germany initially tried to organize a volunteer force from units remaining in Lithuanian territory, but those attempts failed. Crimps were sent to Germany to recruit volunteers. A division of volunteers was soon formed, who were paid 5 marks per day plus 30 marks per month. The first units began arriving in Lithuania
during January 1919, although some of them were sent away because they were in a poor condition. By the end of January, 400 volunteers were stationed in Alytus, Jonava, Kėdainiai, and Kaunas. They formed the basis for the 46th Saxonian division, renamed in March to the Southern Lithuanian Saxonian Volunteer Brigade. The brigade consisted of the 18th, 19th, and 20th regiments. The last of these German troops, also known as Freikorps, would leave Lithuania
during July 1919. After successful attempts at mustering a voluntary force to defend Lithuanian territories, mobilization was begun on March 5, 1919 to expand the Lithuanian armed forces. It applied to men born between 1897 and 1899. At the end of summer 1919, the Lithuanian army numbered about 8,000 men. During the battles that followed, 1,700 Lithuanian volunteers died, more than 2,600 were injured, and 800 were missing in action[citation needed]. Historian Alfonsas Eidintas
Alfonsas Eidintas
cites the total deaths as 1,444.[1] War against the Bolsheviks[edit] Main article: Lithuanian–Soviet War

Lithuanian–Bolshevik War

Date December 1918 - August 1919

Location Lithuania

Result Lithuanian victory



pro-German Freikorps  Russian SFSR Lithuanian-Byelorussian SSR

Commanders and leaders

Silvestras Žukauskas Vincas Kapsukas


8,000 Lithuanians
in 1919 10,000[citation needed] pro-German Freikorps 20 000

v t e

Theaters of the Russian Civil War

October Revolution Left-wing uprisings Allied Intervention (Siberia, North Russia)


Vaga River Bolshie Ozerki


Finland Heimosodat Estonia Latvia Lithuania


Ukraine West Ukraine Poland Ossetia Georgia Armenia
and Azerbaijan

Soviet invasion of Azerbaijan




Central Asian


Advance of Bolshevik forces (red arrows). The red line shows the Bolshevik front in January 1919.

Germany renounced the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which had ceded Lithuania
from Soviet Russia to Germany, on November 5, 1918. The Soviet Russian government renounced the treaty on November 13.[1] The Bolsheviks
attacked Lithuania
from the east trying to prevent its independence and to spread the global proletarian revolution. These actions succeeded in some states, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, and Ukraine, which were also briefly independent but then fell under Soviet rule soon after the civil war in Russia had ended. In Lithuania
this effort was not successful. On December 8, 1918, a temporary revolutionary government in the capital city of Vilnius
was formed, consisting solely of members of the Communist Party of Lithuania. Vincas Mickevičius-Kapsukas
Vincas Mickevičius-Kapsukas
became its chairman. The following day a workers' soviet was formed and declared that it had taken control of Vilnius. However, Voldemaras' government and a Polish committee also declared their control of the city at the same time. The Germans left Vilnius
on December 31, 1918. On January 5, 1919 the Red Army
Red Army
took Vilnius
and advanced further to the west. Local Polish paramilitary platoons led by general Władysław Wejtko
Władysław Wejtko
fought the Red Army
Red Army
in Vilnius
for five days; the Lithuanian government had left Vilnius
along with the regular German Army. On January 1, 1919 local communists in the town of Šiauliai, about 200 kilometers west of Vilnius, rebelled and created a 1,000-man "Samogitian Regiment"; when the Red Army
Red Army
entered the town on January 15 Soviet power already existed there. On January 18 the Soviets and Germans signed a treaty and designated a demarcation line that barred Bolshevik forces from directly attacking Kaunas, Lithuania's second-largest city. The Red Army
Red Army
would need to attack through Alytus or Kėdainiai. German volunteers led by Rüdiger von der Goltz
Rüdiger von der Goltz
arrived in Lithuania, took up positions along the Hrodna–Kaišiadorys– Kaunas
line, and helped the Lithuanian forces, commanded by Jonas Variakojis, to stop the Red Army
Red Army
advance near Kėdainiai. On February 8, during a reconnaissance mission, the first Lithuanian soldier to die in the wars, Povilas Lukšys, was killed near Taučiūnai. On February 10 the joint forces captured Šėta
and forced the Red Army
Red Army
to retreat. The success of this operation lifted the Lithuanian army's morale. During the first half of February 18, the regiment of Saxon volunteers stationed between Kaišiadorys
and Žiežmariai
engaged in skirmishes on their line, and the joint force captured Jieznas
in an operation held between February 10 and February 13. After this setback the Bolshevik 7th Riflemen Regiment began to disintegrate, and many soldiers deserted. The regiment could have been completely destroyed, if the Germans had not refused to pursue the retreating units. On February 12 Bolshevik forces attacked Alytus. Lithuanian 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th companies of the 1st Infantry Regiment had to withstand pressure from the Red Army, while members of the German units left their posts. During this battle the first Lithuanian officer to die in the wars was killed: Antanas Juozapavičius, the commander of the 1st Infantry Regiment. After the loss of their commander the regiment began retreating towards Marijampolė. On the night of February 14–15, German forces retook Alytus. Towards the end of 1918 the officer Povilas Plechavičius, together with his brother Aleksandras, began organizing partisans in Skuodas. On February 9 the partisans took an oath, and on February 16 they paraded in the town square. A partisan unit commanded by army officers was also organized in Joniškėlis.

The advance of Polish (blue arrows), Lithuanian (dark purple arrows), Latvian/German (white arrows from west), and Estonian/Latvian (white arrows from north) forces. The blue line shows the Polish front in May 1920.

The movement of the Bolsheviks
towards East Prussia
East Prussia
worried Germany, and they sent volunteers (Brigade Shaulen) commanded by General Rüdiger von der Goltz
Rüdiger von der Goltz
to free the railroad line linking Liepāja, Mažeikiai, Radviliškis, and Kėdainiai. At the end of February the Lithuanian partisans, supported by German artillery, took Mažeikiai and Seda, and pursued Bolsheviks
to Kuršėnai. On February 27, 1919, German volunteers supported by Plechavičius' partisans and Joniškėlis' partisans, defeated the Samogitian regiment in a battle near Luokė. By that time the regiment had been incorporated into the Red Army's 2nd Latvian International Riflemen Division. On the same day the Lithuanian–Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic
Lithuanian–Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic
(Litbel) was declared. On March 7, 1919 the Germans took the town of Kuršėnai, on March 11 - Šiauliai, on March 12 - Radviliškis. On March 14 Lithuanian partisans and German forces captured Šeduva. The German troops were active in Lithuania
until May 31, 1919. In Kėdainiai
a stationed volunteer regiment had secured its positions; in March it started small expeditions into nearby towns. Local volunteers with good knowledge of the location succeeded in driving Bolshevik supporters out of Ramygala, Truskava, and Krekenava, but these areas were soon recaptured by the Bolsheviks. These expeditions into several towns were successfully carried out until the end of March. As a reward for its successful operations, the volunteer regiment was given a name on March 22: the Separate Panevėžys Volunteer Regiment. Due to a succession of losses, the Bolshevik forces stationed in Panevėžys
and Kupiškis
rebelled, and were quelled only by a Red Army
Red Army
Division from neighboring Latvia. The Bolshevik morale underwent deeper declines, and between March 19 and March 24 their forces left Panevėžys. Lithuanian forces entered the city on March 26, but the Red Army
Red Army
retook it on April 4. In April the Lithuanian army began moving towards Vilnius, taking Žąsliai and Vievis, but their advances stopped on April 8. In the meantime, on April 19, the Polish army had taken Vilnius
from the Bolsheviks
and forced them to withdraw their left wing from territories south of the Neris River. The shortened front line that resulted allowed Lithuania
to send stronger forces to northeastern Lithuania, and carry out operations there. By May 3, the Separate Panevėžys
Volunteer Regiment, supported by the 18th regiment of Saxonian volunteers, had secured Siesikai, Atkočiai, and Deltuva. They had also captured Ukmergė; Lithuanian units were the first to enter the city. In the beginning of March the mobilization began and Lithuanian forces increased their numbers. At the end of April the Lithuanian army's chain of command was reformed. General Silvestras Žukauskas
Silvestras Žukauskas
was designated Chief of Staff, and on May 7 he assumed command of the entire Lithuanian army. A complete reorganization took place over the next new weeks, and the strengthened Lithuanian forces were now ready to push the Red Army
Red Army
back. Žukauskas decided to concentrate his Lithuanian forces in two areas. The first brigade, centered in the Ukmergė–Utena– Zarasai
region, was called the Vilkmergė Group; the second brigade, centered in the Kėdainiai-Panevėžys-Rokiškis region, was called the Panevėžys
Group. Operations planning was undertaken during the middle of May. On May 17 the reorganized army carried out its first operation, capturing the town of Kurkliai. Preparations were made for an advance on Anykščiai, which was taken on May 19, along with Skiemonys
and Alanta. On May 22 the Lithuanian forces launched an advance on Utena, reaching the village of Diktarai. The initiative was met by a counterattack, and the Lithuanian forces retreated. The attack was stopped for several days, and line Alanta-Skiemonys- Anykščiai
was taken. A drive towards Utena
started on May 31, and the city was secured on June 2. The Panevėžys
Group launched a drive towards Panevėžys
on May 18. On May 19 the brigade secured Panevėžys
and Raguva; on May 20 its field staff moved to Panevėžys. The city withstood a Bolshevik attack that took place on May 21 and 22. On May 24 Žukauskas ordered both groups to push farther. The Panevėžys
Group advanced towards Kupiškis
and secured Subačius
on May 25. On May 30 they took Rokiškis; Bolshevik forces left Kupiškis
on the night of May 30–31, and Lithuania
secured that city on June 1. The advance continued, and on the 10th of June Lithuanian forces reached the territory controlled by Latvian partisans (Green Guard) and supplied them with munitions. The Lithuanian successes continued, and by the end of August, the Bolsheviks
were defeated near Zarasai. On October 2 Lithuania
took Griva, a suburb of Daugavpils. The Lithuanian forces stopped at the Daugava River
Daugava River
near the border with Latvia, and the front line stabilized. The short-lived Litbel
government was discontinued. On July 12, 1920, Lithuania
signed a peace treaty with the Russian SFSR. Russia recognized Lithuania's independence and its right to the Vilnius
Region. This treaty was not recognized by Poland
or by the short-lived Belarusian National Republic. Several historians have asserted that despite its treaty with Russia, Lithuania
was very close to being taken over by local communist forces that were backed by the Bolsheviks. In this view, it was only the Polish victory against the Soviets in the Polish–Soviet War
Polish–Soviet War
that disrupted these plans.[2][3][4][5] War against the Bermontians[edit]

War against Bermontians

Date July 26 - December 15, 1919

Location Lithuania

Result Lithuanian victory


Lithuania West Russian Volunteer Army

Commanders and leaders

Kazys Ladiga Pavel Bermondt-Avalov


~20,000 52,000 with artillery and planes (unused)[6]

The Bermontians, named for their leader Pavel Bermondt-Avalov
Pavel Bermondt-Avalov
and formally known as the West Russian Volunteer Army, were a mixed German-Russian army. The army included Russian prisoners of war, released by the German Empire
German Empire
after promising to fight against the Bolsheviks
in the Russian Civil War, and members of the Freikorps, stationed in Latvia
and Lithuania
after Germany lost the war.[7] The official goal of this army was to fight Bolsheviks
along with Aleksandr Kolchak's forces, but its actual agenda was the retention of German power in the territories they had taken during World War I.[8] At first the Bermontians
operated mostly in Latvia, but in June 1919, they crossed the Lithuanian–Latvian border and took the town of Kuršėnai. At that time the Lithuanians
were engaged in battles with the Bolsheviks
and could only issue diplomatic protests.[7] By October, the Bermontians
had taken considerable territories in western Lithuania
(Samogitia), including the cities of Šiauliai, Biržai, and Radviliškis. After they had annexed a town, the Bermontians
enforced a rule that only the Russian language
Russian language
could be used to conduct administration.[9] They became notorious for robbing and looting the local populace, who began organizing local partisan groups. During October 1919, Lithuanian forces attacked the Bermontians, achieving an important victory on November 21 and 22 near Radviliškis, a major railway center. The Lithuanians
collected significant spoils of war there, including 30 airplanes and 10 cannons.[7] Later clashes were stopped by the intervention of an Entente representative, the French General Henri Niessel, who oversaw the withhdrawal of German troops.[9] The Lithuanian military followed the retreating Bermontian soldiers to prevent them from further looting and to ensure their complete evacuation. By December 15, the Bermontians
were completely removed from Lithuania. War against Poland[edit]

Polish–Lithuanian War

Date September 1 - October 7, 1920

Location Lithuania

Result Strategic and Tactical Polish victory. Suwałki Agreement


Lithuania Poland

Main article: Polish–Lithuanian War In June 1920 the Russian army had taken Vilnius. Shortly after their defeat in the Battle of Warsaw, the withdrawing Red Army
Red Army
handed the city over to Lithuania
under the terms of the peace treaty signed on July 12. Negotiations were started in an attempt to avoid an armed conflict between Poland
and Lithuania. On October 7, the Suwałki Agreement was signed. However, on October 8, before the agreement was to formally take effect, General Lucjan Żeligowski, acting on orders from the Polish leader Józef Piłsudski, staged a mutiny by Polish troops. The Vilnius
and the Suvalkai regions were overrun. Initially the Polish forces did not meet much armed resistance, and a later Lithuanian counter-offensive was stopped by Military Commission of League of Nations. Since the Vilnius
region was controlled by Poland, the Lithuanian government declared Kaunas
the temporary capital of Lithuania. The dispute over Vilnius
would continue throughout the interwar period. Żeligowski's Mutiny[edit] Main article: Żeligowski's Mutiny A staged mutiny arranged by the Polish Chief of State
Chief of State
Józef Piłsudski was carried out by Polish forces led by general Lucjan Żeligowski.[10] These forces took control of Vilnius
in the fall of 1920. However, shortly after this, Lithuanian forces started to gain the upper hand in this conflict and the 'mutinous' forces gained support from the regular Polish army. This military action is considered as a continuation of the Polish-Lithuanian war in historiography. See also[edit]

Latvian War of Independence Estonian War of Independence Polish-Soviet War Central Lithuania Forest Brothers


^ a b Eidintas, Alfonsas (1999). Lithuania
in European Politics. Edvardas Tuskenis, Vytautas Zalys. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-312-22458-5.  ^ Alfred Erich Senn, "The Formation of the Lithuanian Foreign Office, 1918–1921", Slavic Review, Vol. 21, No. 3. (Sep., 1962), pp. 500-507.: "A Bolshevik victory over the Poles would have certainly meant a move by the Lithuanian communists, backed by the Red Army, to overthrow the Lithuanian nationalist government... Kaunas, in effect, paid for its independence with the loss of Vilna." ^ Alfred Erich Senn, Lietuvos valstybes... p. 163: "If the Poles didn't stop the Soviet attack, Lithuania
would fell to the Soviets... Polish victory costs the Lithuanians
the city of Wilno, but saved Lithuania
itself." ^ Antanas Ruksa, Kovos del Lietuvos nepriklausomybes, t.3, p.417: "In summer 1920 Russia was working on a communist revolution in Lithuania... From this disaster Lithuania
was saved by the miracle at Vistula." ^ Jonas Rudokas, Józef Piłsudski
Józef Piłsudski
- wróg niepodległości Litwy czy jej wybawca? (Polish translation of a Lithuanian article) "Veidas", 25 08 2005: [Piłsudski] "defended both Poland
and Lithuanian from Soviet domination" ^ Lieutenant Colonel Jaan Maide (1933). "II". Ülevaade Eesti Vabadussõjast (Overview of Estonian War of Independence
Estonian War of Independence
1918–1920) (in Estonian). Estonian Defence League. Archived from the original on August 22, 2010.  ^ a b c Simas Sužiedėlis, ed. (1970–1978). "Bermondtists". Encyclopedia Lituanica. I. Boston, Massachusetts: Juozas Kapočius. pp. 335–336. LCC 74-114275.  ^ Kamuntavičius, Rūstis; Vaida Kamuntavičienė; Remigijus Civinskas; Kastytis Antanaitis (2001). Lietuvos istorija 11–12 klasėms (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Vaga. pp. 354–355. ISBN 5-415-01502-7.  ^ a b Eidintas, Alfonsas; Vytautas Žalys; Alfred Erich Senn (September 1999). Ed. Edvardas Tuskenis, ed. Lithuania
in European Politics: The Years of the First Republic, 1918–1940 (Paperback ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 0-312-22458-3.  ^ (Polish) Piotr Łossowski, Konflikt polsko-litewski 1918-1920, pp. 175–79.

Further reading[edit]

Lesčius, Vytautas (2004). Lietuvos kariuomenė nepriklausomybės kovose 1918–1920. Vilnius: Vilnius
University, General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania. ISBN 9955-423-23-4.  Gimtoji istorija, Nuo 7 iki 12 klasės (Lietuvos istorijos vadovėlis), CD, 2002, ISBN 9986-9216-7-8 Rudokas, Jonas (November 25, 2004). "Bermontianos žlugimas". Veidas. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007.  Z. Butkus, Kartu su Latvija ir Estija ar atskirai?, Atgimimas, December 12, 1988, No. 10 (10) V. Lesčius. Lietuvos kariuomenė nepriklausomybės karuose. Vilnius, 2004.

v t e

Lithuania articles



Balts Lithuania
proper Grand Duchy

1219–95 Duchy Kingdom Christianization Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth

Revival and independence

Press ban National Revival

Great Seimas
of Vilnius

Act of Independence Wars of Independence

Lithuanian–Soviet War Polish–Lithuanian War

1919 Polish coup d'état attempt First Soviet republic 1926 coup d'état

WWII and occupations

Occupation of the Baltic states

by the Soviet Union (1940) by Nazi Germany by the Soviet Union (1944)

Holocaust Resistance Second Soviet republic Baltic states under Soviet rule (1944–91) Government-in-exile


Reform Movement (Sąjūdis) Singing Revolution Baltic Way Act of Re-Establishment January Events August Putsch




Climate Extreme points Flora Forests Lakes Regional parks Rivers Towns


Administrative divisions

counties municipalities elderships


Constitutional Court

Elections Foreign relations Government

Prime Minister


Law enforcement


Speaker Political parties



Land Force Naval Force Air Force Special
Operations Force


Agriculture Banks

Central bank

Energy Euro Litas (former currency) Telecommunications Transport

airports rail roads seaport



Demographics Education


Ethnic minorities Ethnographic regions Language Lithuanians Religion


Calendar Cinema Cuisine Cultural history Ethnographic Lithuania Literature Music Mythology Name Public holidays Sport Symbols

anthem coat of arms flag

Outline Index