Tag Archives: Estonia

First man who died for Estonian Independence was Latvian

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Today at 24 February Estonia marks it 95 anniversary since its proclamation of independence. Estonian armed forces played an important role into the liberation of the whole Baltic region. Without the help of Estonians, Latvia would have harder time to win its own independence. But until this day little known is the fact, that first man who died in the Estonian ranks was a Latvian national Jānis (Johans) Muižnieks. This article  tells a story about him.

In 2011 12 November at the church of St. George at the Tori village near city of Parnu, the President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilvess unveiled a memorial plate to Latvian fighters that were awarded with the Cross of Liberty. In his speech the president noted that first man who fell for Estonia in 24 February 1918 in a battle with the Soviets was Latvian Johans Muižnieks.

The Republic of Estonia was first proclaimed in 23 February at Parnu in situation when the German army was advancing and the Soviet army was retreating. In the same day at Tallinn the Estonian Defense League begun its work along with many self-defense units. Soviets could only hold the portside of the city. In 24 February the Estonian interim government took office and spread the Manifest of the Estonian independence. Already in the spring of 1917 the gym teacher of Tallinn Peter Science School Anton Eunapu had formed the so-called Studying youth company (SYC) that was composed from students from the elder classes, from many Tallinn high-schools.

In the February 23 SYC together with other self-defense units started to patrol in Tallinn. In the next day one youth group was assigned to the Tallinn old city, because of the news about planned Soviet attack on electrical station and the city center. In the evening first battles were fought near the Electrical station. At 16:00 the fire exchange between self-defense units  and Soviet mariners near the Tallinn Town Square.  Soviets lost some man and few were wounded and fall back. The retreating mariners got themselves located near the so-called Fat Margarita medieval tower and then  continued to head to the electrical station. Also the size of the attacking Estonians dropped to eight man as others were patrolling elsewhere. The company of eight man were heading to the Electrical station becoming involved in more serious fire exchange

At the beginning of the shooting one member of the self-defense unit Johans Muižnieks, who was described as the leader of Peter Science school group was seriously wounded. Two others got lighter wounds. Estonians fought back near the Fat Margarita tower taking Muižnieks along with them. The battle near the Fat Margarita and the Electrical station continued until 25 February, when Soviet mariners could no longer break the self-defense units.

Johans Muižnieks was gravely wounded in breast and died next day. He was declared as the first martyr of the Estonian War of Independence. At 1936 on the Fat Margarita tower a memorial plate was unveiled commemorating him. During the Soviet occupation the plate “vanished”. In 28 September 1991 a new plate was unveiled with text: “At 24 February 1918 near the Fat Margarita in the first battle for Estonian Republic, the student of Tallinn Science School self-defense man Johans Muižnieks fell in battle”.

The Tower of Fat Margareta where Johans Muižnieks died in battle with the Soviets

The Tower of Fat Margareta where Johans Muižnieks died in battle with the Soviets

However, for long decades the identity of first Estonian hero was mistaken. In many books it was falsely stated the first man who died for Estonia, was the son of Tallinn wine trader Johan Muižnieks named Johans Gotlībs Bērends. Because of many false witnesses in exile after the World War II this false version still traveled on many Estonian textbooks.

First who found out this mistake was Estonian historian Killo Arjakass who published an article in the Estonian newspaper Postimes called: “The first who died for Estonian Independence was… Latvian” and asked everyone who have any information about the Johan Muižnieks to contact him. By the help of his distant relatives and Estonian and Latvian historians the story about the Johans Muižnieks became more clearer.

Johans Muižnieks was not a son of the wine trader Johans Muižnieks, but his nephew and godson, who in the years of the First World War worked as the assistant in the wine shops. Also in 1918 Johans was already 34 old and could not study in the science school. In the church of St Olav congregational metrics book register of the deceased persons, it has been stated that Jānis Johans Muižnieks had died and was conducted to funeral service at 3 March. The reason for death was stated as a wound from ricochet of bullets near the Fat Margarita. His year of birth was not mentioned but later it was discovered that he was born at 1883.

The Johans Gotlībs Bērneds is known to have studied at the Tallinn Peter Science school, but he already finished it at 1913. He was conscripted in Russian Army in the First World War. He really died in 1918, but in November from illness. The history simply mixed two nephews do the lack of proper information. Many questions still lay unanswered about Johans Muižnieks life. He was the member of rich Latvian family from town of Rauna in Latvia, who moved to Tallinn. Its not known how Johans Muižnieks joined the Estonian self-defense forces, was he already called into army at the First World War and how he was mixed with Johans Gotlībs Bērends, but the fact that lies that he was the first or one of the first who gave his life for Estonian independence.

The historical ties between Latvia and Estonia have been deep since the times of the Livonian confederation. Although our languages are different and life outlook may differ, there is much common in our history. The good relations and cooperation between Estonia and Latvia is key to stability and well-being of the whole Baltic Region.

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The Soviet attack on Latvian border station Maslenki 1940

Burned down Maslenki guard house

Burned down Maslenki guard house

One of the usual interpretations by Russian historians that in the events of 1940 no military force was involved and Latvia was annexed voluntary.   However they tend to forget the events on the June 15 1940 when Soviet special forces raided the Latvian border guard station Maslenki, killing and capturing many borderguards and their wife’s. With all known rules of military warfare this can be seen as act of aggression and invasion, as the Latvian border was crossed and its soldiers and civilians attacked. It was intended as a provocation to force Latvia submit to Soviet demands and allow unrestricted entry into Latvian soil. Also it was a clear warning of what would happen if the Latvian government would not accept the Soviet demands.

Maslenki today is a  part of Russian Federation as it was located in Abrene district that was part of the Latvian Republic from 1920 to 1944, after it was included in the Russian Soviet Socialist Federative Republic. After the fall of the Soviet Union it remained as part of the Russian Federation with no great chances of ever returning it to Latvia.

The border between Latvia and Soviet Russia was established in 1920 according to peace treaty. The Abrene district was mostly populated by Russian nationals, however Latvia saw this territory as important for its railway routes and special geographical situation making easier to defend the eastern border. Also it was earned in blood as Latvian army chased the Soviets away to this point. The Soviet government was forced to sign a peace treaty and give away this district. In next two decades Abrene became important part of the Latvian state. Latvians moved there to establish farms and towns and army fortifications and border bases.

The border protection law was issued in 1928 and the task was entrusted to Border Guard (Robežapsardzība), in 1935 it was renamed as the Border Guard Brigade that was split in three battalions. The third was the Abrene battalion. Battalion worked in guard stations that overlooked every kilometer. Later cordons were established. The border guarding was a tough work, as the Soviet spies and illegal immigrants  and also criminals tended to cross the border.

The Latvian Eastern border with highlighted district of Abrene

The Latvian Eastern border with highlighted district of Abrene

After October 1939 when Latvia signed mutual assistance pact with Soviet Union a greater importance was put on the border protection as every incident could mean accusation of breaking the pact. Latvia was already in undesirable situation as Poland was occupied both by Germany and Soviet Union and sizable Red Army garrison already stationed in Courland. In the summer of 1940 Germany opened the Western front and Stalin was sure that is the right time to “fix the Baltic problem”. For this a small provocation was required.

The 14 June 1940 was a peaceful day for Latvian border guards and civilians of the Abrene district. Many came to Latgalian song and dance festival at Daugavpils. 24 choirs with 1101 singers and 55 instrument players went there forming the second largest delegation. With the presence of the president Kārlis Ulmanis the song and dance festival marked the last normal day for Latvia for many years to come. Meanwhile the border guards organized the sport instructor courses. In the same time in Paris the German army marched on the main streets, but in Estonia two Soviet bombers shot down the Finnish civil airplane Kaleva (Junkers -52) over the Strait of Finland. Soviet submarine prevented the rescue or search of the crash site and collected all the remains. Estonian government made no protest to USSR. Meanwhile  the Soviet documents falsely stated that the plane was shot in June 23 meaning that it was done after the occupation of Estonia and therefore not an act of international piratism  but a defense move by Soviets. At 23:30 in Moscow the Lithuanian ambassador was summoned to Kremlin to meet Molotov, where he gave the ultimatum that Lithuania had to accept until 10:00 at morning.

The Maslenki or Lejnieki border station was one of the first border stations since 1920. The guard-house was a wooden building built in 1929/1930. The commander in charge was senior officer Frīdrihs Puriņš who was notorious for his drinking and brawls with Russian locals. Soviet border guards often tried to provoke him because of it. Despite that his experience in the war of freedom brought a great respect from his senior colleges.

At Midnight a border guard brass band rehearsal took place. The night unusually cold, on guard post were Jānis Macītis and Pēteris Cimoška, one was patrolling other was hidden post. Kārlis Beizaks was resting on wait his shift to replace Cimoška.

On 2:30 25 special soldiers of the NKVD the Soviet secret service managed to cross the border at river Ludza. NKVD had surrounded the border cordon from all sides. Around the guard-house a bags of grenades were placed excluding the main doors meaning that NKVD men intended to capture the border guards without a single shot. The attackers were discovered by patrolling Jānis Macītis. He followed the instructions that if the stranger is spotted, he must let him closer for 20-30 meters and only then call him to stop, so he will be surprised and wont use arms. However, this instruction did not bear the fact that stranger may have an automatic weapon. And precisely at this moment the NKVD men opened automatic fire at the Latvian border guard. Latvians only had shotguns that were useless in thick fog and bad visibility.

NKVD realized that they were spotted and turned to burn down the guard-house and kill all the border guards. Macītis was badly wounded and tried to reach the guard-house and stepped on the hand grenade and lost his left foot. Border guard on the disguised post Pēteris Cimoška opened fire, enemy tried to locate his position to surround him. Cimoška retreated back to guard-house cause he heard other border guard Valdis Grīnvalds resisting. But he stepped on bag of grenades and were torn in peaces.

In the guard-house Valdis Grīnvalds was desperately trying to hide from Soviet bullets that fired trough the walls. As the visibility was bad he fired back without no aiming. Kārlis Beizaks also in the house decided to flee and jumped out of the window. He managed to run 199 meters passing house of Žanis Krieviņš that also was surrounded by NKVD men who killed Beizaks. They even threw grenades at him. Since some resistance was shown from  guard house the NKVD threw inside burning liquid and house went on flames.

In the apartment room of the guard-house the commanders Frīdrihs Puriņš wife Hermīne and his 14-year-old son Voldemārs were caught up in the middle of the firefight. Hermīne jumped out of the window with pillow in his hand to protect herself from the bullets. She was shot dead and later found in strawberry plants. Voldemārs run out of the doors and escaped and hided in nearby pile of firewoods. Soviet attacker had been under cover there and shot Voldemārs in stomach and foot. Valdis Grīnvalds left the house on the same moment and made way to river where he was captured by the soviets.

The body of killed Hermīne Puriņa

The body of killed Hermīne Puriņa

NKVD also assaulted the border guards Žanis Krieviņš house. He was there with his wife Lida, son Artūrs and five year old Rita. Two grenades were thrown in. Lida was wounded as Soviets broke in  took away his husband and children.

As the resistance was put down, the Soviets started to evacuate their killed and wounded men. However, because of the poor visibility they left many of their displaced war equipment. Soviets also abducted two civilians Olga and Dimitry Maslov. As Latvian reinforcements arrived at the scene the Soviets had left with guard-house burned down, three guard men killed, commanders wife shot, his son wounded and many people abducted.

At the same time Soviets attacked other guard post at Šmaiļi. Here Soviets managed to capture the border guards without a fight. Also local civilians were taken as hostages. Also another attack was planned at Žuguru station. However, the plans were thwarted because the border guards wife Marianna turned 25 and border guards threw a big party. This became known by commander Voldemārs Gailītis and he came there with his men to inspect. At the night the border guard Kronis fired the signal pistol alarming the guards on duty and the guests. In 16 June they found a Soviet camouflage suit and wire breaking scissors nearby. It could be that Soviets were scared away by the sudden arrival of the commander himself and his men. The guard Kronis who spotted the Soviet intruder fired a signal rocket and loud talking by alarmed guests confused the NKVD men and made them turn back.

Soviets had taken away 37 men and women and children. Latvian border guards were put on alarm. But, Latvian government made no direct action or even protest against USSR. In 15 June Lithuania submitted to Soviet demands and allowed entry of the Soviet forces. Lithuanian president Antan Smetona fled to Lithuania. Worlds eyes were on France it seemed hopeless to make any significant move. Latvia made investigation commission on the incident but that was it.  In 17 June Soviet forces entered Latvia. Border guards were told not to resist, they had plans for it, but now the border became open to the enemy. At the night between 16 and 17 June all main roads to Latvia were cleared of mines. If Latvian border guards showed some resistance there would be no myth of peaceful occupation of Latvia and the removed district of Abrene.

In 7 July 1940 Soviets sent back to Latvia their 37 hostages. The captured guards were submitted to interrogation. The later events, the occupation and war put them on the extremes again.  The only one who did not return was Dimitry Maslov who was agent of the Latvian Secret Service. He was executed in  1942 at Astrakhan prison.

The attack on Maslenki was intended to force Latvian government to accept the Soviet demands. Soviets blamed Latvia for this tragedy and interpreted as a breach of mutual agreement pact, that was one of the reasons why Soviets demanded the full entry of the Red Army. Also it was a revenge by NKVD to Latvians for the actions of their secret service on the Soviet border. The attack was also made to test the Latvian army leadership, fearing it may order full resistance, instead Latvian leaders showed confusion and weakness. However, the attack on Latvian border station must be seen as act of aggression and treachery that shows that the occupation of Latvia was brutal and bloody not peaceful.

The border guards of the Maslenki and their families before the tragedy

The border guards of the Maslenki and their families before the tragedy

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The Sinking Of Estonia 1994

18 years have passed since the one of the worst maritime disasters in peacetime naval history of the 20th century.  The ferry Estonia was on its way from Tallinn to Stockholm when got caught up in the storm, capsized and sunk with 852 people on board. 17 of them were from Latvia. Along with victims there 501 Swedes, 282 Estonians 10 Finns and 44 people from other countries including Canada and Nigeria. So it was an international disaster. The official explanation was that  the locks on the bow door had failed from the strain of the waves and the door had separated from the rest of the vessel, pulling ajar the ramp behind it. The bow visor and ramp had been torn off at points that would not trigger an “open” or “unlatched” warning on the bridge, as is the case in normal operation or failure of the latches. The bridge was also situated too far back on the ferry for the visor to be seen from there. While there was video monitoring of the inner ramp, the monitor on the bridge was not visible from the conning station. The bow visor was under-designed for the conditions Estonia was operating in (the ferry was designed for coastal waters, not open regions like the Baltic Sea), and the visor’s overhang focused the impact on a small area. The subsequent failure of the bow ramp allowed water into the vehicle deck, which was listed as the main cause of the capsizing and sinking. The report was critical of the crew’s actions, particularly for failing to reduce speed before investigating the noises emanating from the bow, and for being unaware that the list was being caused by water entering the vehicle deck. There were also general criticisms of the delays in sounding the alarm, the passivity of the crew and the lack of guidance from the bridge. So it was a human error that might cause the tragedy.

However, pretty soon the actions by the Swedish government and many unanswered questions led to speculations that grew stronger in the following years that denied the official explanation. The question was it not a human error that led to sinking but the human treachery and crime done by foreign service that caused this disaster. This article does not fully endorse the alternative explanations of the sinking, as they are not fully proven and might sound as conspiracy theories, but facts that lead to alternative explanation  are plausible and it’s up to anyone to themselves to believe them.

The questions aroused because of the Swedish government frantic efforts to block recovery of the victims from the shipwreck. All offers to retrieve the bodies were blocked and  promises from two consequent Swedish prime ministers to do so was fulfilled and after three months of the tragedy the government announced that the there will be no recovery and salvage operation.

Instead they hired a Dutch marine salvage firm Smit Tak BV that specializes in nuclear waste removal. A 350 million dollars were wasted to cover the ship in concrete. The wreck lies in the soft mud at 60-80 meters depth. The official reason for such action was to make the wreck a cemetery that is not accessible to anyone. But, why give the task to firm that specializes in nuclear waste management? And by covering the shipwreck in concrete may mean that the government has something to hide from the public. As shown in a future that was the case.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union many Soviet military and intelligence secrets became open to the western public. For the west the most interesting was the Soviet technology that was a mystery for many and still are for many. No wonder that many in the West are obsessed with collecting the Soviet artifacts of all kinds. But, it was not just the individuals that were interested in Soviet equipment it were Western military and intelligence agencies And the Baltic states were full of such equipment. In 2005 the Estonian parliamentary inquiry concluded that Estonia might procured to western agencies special equipment and high technology of the Soviet army. The transfers included space electronics, high technology directing and surveillance devices as well as anti-aircraft complexes and electronic control systems. In one case the Estonian intelligence agency was officially offered to sell a Russian space electronic device that enabled military reconnaissance with infrared cameras. Also even so-called nuclear briefcases could have been taken out of Russia. The Russian intelligence and military certainly disliked this.

The Swedish media have discovered and confirmed that ferry Estonia was used for Soviet weapon transfers from Estonia to Sweden. One of the disaster survivors remembers that immediately before Estonia  left Tallinn on its final voyage the harbor was sealed off and that the military convoy escorted two large trucks into waiting ferry. After that the car ramp and bow visor were closed and ship set sail to Stockholm. Former customs chief Lennart Henrrikson reported on Swedish TV that on two occasions shortly before the disaster Estonia had allowed vehicles carrying Soviet military equipment in to the vessel without inspections. He had been ordered to allow certain vehicles carrying Soviet military contraband to pass Swedish customs without inspection on September 14 and 20, 1994, but was not working the day Estonia sank because he was on vacation. The ferry was owned by Nordström & Thulin, and Estline that was owned by the Estonian government.

The Swedish and Estonian governments subsequently launched separate investigations, headed by Court of Appeal President Johan Hirschfeldt and Republic Prosecutor Margus Kurm, respectively. Both investigations confirmed that military equipment was aboard the ship on 14 and 20 September 1994, though it remained unclear if any such equipment was aboard the ship on the day of the disaster.

According to Henriksson a secret agreement between Swedish military supreme commander Owe Wictorin and Swedish customs chief Ulf Larsson was made to allow military contraband to enter Sweden without being inspected by the customs. Normally Swedish customs inspected every Estonian vehicle.

When the ferry arrived in Sept. 14, 1994, Henriksson spoke to the driver of the expected vehicle, a Volvo 745 station wagon driven by a Frank Larsson, a false identity.

When Henriksson told “Larsson” that customs was carrying out inspections, he “gavee a look, but I said the search would be faked,” Henriksson said. “We opened a few boxes and as far as I could see it was military electronics in them.”The customs slip showed the car belonging to a non-existent company called “Ericsson Access AB,” a fictitious subsidiary of AB LM Ericsson Finance. No address was given. The ending destination of the Soviet military equipment is not known. It could pretty much believable that such equipment may also be present on the last trip on the ferry.

A week later, on September 20 1994 a much larger shipment of contraband technology arrived and was allowed to pass without inspection. This time it was a van and, once again, Henriksson merely glanced into the boxes. On December 2, 2004, two days after the SVT 1 exposé, the Swedish military confirmed on Ekot radio that this secret agreement existed and is still in effect.

There are questions regarding the official explanation of the disaster. Some people called the official inquiry results the worst fraud in the naval history. The independent safety expert  Anders Björkman who wrote many books about the disaster said that there is no proof that the waves caused the opening of the ships bow visor and car ramp. A 4 meter waves could not do that by his mind. The ship never capsized it just sunk. It’s known that the visor was found separated from the wreck and taken out of water as a proof for official theory. There is speculation that the authorities removed the visor from the shipwreck to prove their fabricated theory. In reality the visor might had nothing to do with the sinking.

There are theories about the soviet equipment that was on board Estonia according to German journalist Jutta Rabe the United States Pentagon had ordered a  an advanced Soviet nuclear reactor for generating power in space. Leonard Caveny, deputy director of innovative science and technology of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) program at the Pentagon, traveled to Soviet space labs near Moscow, where a team of experts tested a tiny space engine that uses magnetic fields instead of fuel to move a spacecraft.

The Soviets had plutonium-238 and heat-resistant alloys completely unknown in the West, including one made of palladium and osmium able to withstand temperatures to 3,600 degrees Celsius. The Air Force was interested in the RD-170, reportedly the best liquid-fuel rocket engine in the world.

There have been many unofficial dives on the shipwreck. Three separate sets of tests had been carried out on metal fragments recovered from the wreck by divers.  Distortion in the metal showed there had been an explosion. Its denied by official Swedish research institutions.

To question who has caused the explosion and the sinking the point obviously links to whom were less interested of transfer of such important technology. Its either the Russian intelligence service or inside group of Russian nationalists within the intelligence ranks and military. A Felix Group that included Vladimir Putin and Igor Ivanov who were against the sale of soviet goods to US.

If so then the Swedish agencies knew this and tried to hide any sign of their own guilt. The official divers according to reports of Rabe were looking for black leather case among the cabins. Finally, the case was found in Cabin No. 6130, a cabin usually used by Captain Avo Piht. The diver reads from the case: “It says Aleksandr Voronin. Does that ring any bells up there?”. Voronin was a Russian space technology dealer.

Another mystery that points to the intelligence agency involvement is unexplained disappearances of Estonia crew members that officials have been rescued, but then disappeared. 12 such Estonian crew members that were on board have never seen again. They may have been subjects of government organized enforced disappearance. It is known that Sweden has organized such action with an Egyptian born terror suspect who was boarded on the private US jet. It may be the same jets were used to enforce disappearance of the crew members. These people were the main witnesses about the ship’s cargo, ship condition and ships sinking reason.

Final mystery is the disappearance of the Estonia captain Avo Piht. After the disaster many reported that he had survived.  It was reported in the media that the captain was in hospital in Finland. Bengt-Erik Stenmark, security chief of the Swedish Maritime Administration told Reuters that the international investigation committee had even interviewed Captain Avo Piht. Neither Stenmark nor Reuters has ever retracted this statement. The German television network ZDF broadcast a video clip on September 28 of Avo Piht and other survivors arriving at Turku University Hospital in Finland. This video was later confiscated by German intelligence agents, according to Rabe.  The captain and the main chief engineer Lembit Leiger were never seen again afterwards. His wife was told that he will arrive in Tallinn but he never returned.

These are the facts that lead to an alternative explanation of the sinking of ferry Estonia. Why the Swedish and Estonian agencies decided to transport secret military equipment on the civilian ferry ship and was the Russian secret service involved in the sinking remains unanswered question. It would be sinister madness to sink the civilian vessel with a thousand people on board to prevent the transfer of military equipment. There are no substantial clues of how exactly the sinking was carried out. But the history of the Russian secret service proves that it is capable of such operation the innocent human life’s Russian or foreigner has been a little worry for Russian government in all of its history. And as the Swedish and Estonian government and agencies are still pretty silent about the tragedy and blocks access to new clues about the disaster. So as this continues the question why the ferry sunk is still unanswered and will lead to further speculations.

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Operation Jungle The Failed British secret service mission in the Baltic States 1945-1956

The WW2 alliance between Great Britain, US and the Soviet Union was an unusual alliance based rather on circumstances and practical need rather than true friendship and cooperation. Soon after the end of the war, the western leaders found out that they have encountered a new much dangerous rival the Soviet Union. A gigantic nation, with large army that had seized control over all Eastern Europe, getting its grip on China and East Asia and entering the Middle East. The danger to western world from Stalin was far more greater than Hitler can ever possess.  So it did not took long for British secret service SIS (MI6) and American CIA to devise plans to spy on Soviet Union and attempt to sabotage it from the inside. And the occupied Baltic States was the perfect spot for such operations. And so begun an infamous and forgotten British spy affair in the Baltic states.

Intelligence across the Baltic sea was reconnected at 1943. It was difficult and controversial at the start, for Soviet Union was still officially the British ally and most of the Baltic agents were anti-communists. Many thought that to stop another Soviet Occupation was to intensify the cooperation with Germans a much shared thought that time. Others hoped that Britain will cancel its alliance with the Soviets and come to help the Baltic states. Already at the start the British failed the Baltic hopes. Estonian resistance member Evald Aruvald recalled that they had passed to British details of their strength and positions at the front, and they in turn passed this information to the Soviets. It was a great damage to the Estonian fight against the Soviets that they regarded as their main enemy.

The British involvement in the Baltic resistance movement started with Alexander “Sandy” McKibbin, born in per-revolutionary Russia and the timber merchant in pre-war Estonia and also a SIS spy. During the war he worked in SIS station at Stockholm. His main job was to spy on Nazis in the Baltic states, that had occupied them on 1941 and was fighting losing defensive battle against the advancing Soviet forces. The Lithuanian underground fighters who were hoping to restore the national independence contacted the McKibbin in Sweden who signed him up. Soviets were equal enemies to Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians just as the Nazis. Soviet Union had first occupied the Baltic states at 1940, then Germany at 1941 and again Soviets at 1944 entered the Baltic states. Patriots and nationalists had no other choice to fight a three-way war.

For the British the Baltic independence was not a basic necessity to fight for. But, they were interested on what is happening in the occupied Baltic states to know if the Soviets are planning a further Push westwards. On 15 October  1945. the SIS sent a boat from Sweden to Latvia with four agents on reconnaissance mission. Unfortunately the boat capsized and the agents were captured and tortured.  Their ciphers and radio transmitters fell into hands of Jānis Lukašēvičs a Latvian KGB officer. Instead of just waiting for more spies to come and hunt them was too risky. Instead the KGB devised a plan to use the captured information and equipment to lure more British spies into the trap. The plan was called Lursen – S, although it is usually called the “Red Web” from the British author Tom Bower book title released in 1989 as the first detailed publication about these dark events. The British journalist Edward Lucas has made further studies in this matter in his book “Deception” on 2012.

In March 1946. Lukaševičs forced a Latvian Augusts Bergmanis who had operated a radio for the British during the war to start sending messages again, claiming that the agents have given their codes and radios before  capture.  The British responded and sent two agents in 1946 to find out what happened to previous operation. But their transmitter was broken and SIS instructed them to contact with existing – KGB controlled operator. Now KGB controlled the entire British secret network. Instead of just arresting them Lukaševičs ordered to wait and keep contacts with the agents. The SIS instructed their agents who now were watched by the KGB to meet other British agents on the ground. That lead to more clues. Two stranded British agents in Latvia were arrested, a Latvian Fēliks Rumnieks was sent to make contacts with the KGB and work as the double agent and was arrested and confessed everything.

In Lithuania the KGB devised a similar sinister scheme. An American born Lithuanian Juozas Albinas Markulis was a resistance organization leader, in fact a traitor since 1944. He summoned a meeting of all the partisan leaders of Lithuania in 1947. Since Markulis had contacts with the British the majority of leaders went straight into KGB trap. In Latvia Lukaševičs also arranged a meeting in Riga between the Latvian resistance senior leaders and the representatives of “Latvian government in exile” and “British secret agent”. The unsuspecting man met the “agent” informed him about every detail of their operations and were arrested and never seen again.

In 1948 18 June the US president Harry Truman tasked the newly created CIA with propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action, sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and subversion against the hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups and support the indigenous anti-communist elements in the threatened countries in the world. That was a kick-start for American and later British secret war against the Soviet Union. After the first Soviet Nuclear Bomb tests, the War in Korea sparked great interests in Soviet Affairs. But the Western diplomats were kept in their embassies and barred from any inside information and outside world had little knowledge about what is happening behind Iron Curtain. So it was SIS and CIA tasks to do it.

The Baltic states were ideal spot for spying. The population was mainly anti-communist, the partisan movements in the forest supposedly numbered many tens of thousands. The region was accessible by boat and plane it was a forward bastion for Soviet expansion to the West, if an attack on the West would be imminent then the signs in the Baltic states would be unmistakeable.The human resources were vast, as Germany, Britain and US was filled with Baltic emigre’s a highly motivated ant-communist fighters. So the SIS secret “Operation Jungle” and CIA “Operation Tilestone” was born.

CIA placed a training camp in Kaufbeuren Germany for Baltic recruits, the SIS made a training school at 110 Old Church St, Chelsea. One of the leaders was colonel Alfons Rebane an ex Estonian Waffen SS legion officer. The trainees were taught to land from small boats, parachuting, unarmed combat and survival techniques and radio operation. However, the idea that these agents could find useful information about the Soviet forces and perform combat operations inside Soviet Union was dubious and far-fetched. Despite that British and American spymasters were pushing for it not considering the fact that they had little knowledge about the real strength of the Baltic resistance and the fact that it could be a trap. Also nobody suspected that the head of the SIS section number 9, in charge of all British anti-Soviet operations was a Soviet spy. In 1947. he moved to US where he was liaison  officer between SIS and CIA.

So KGB knew everything from the start. KGB officer Lukaševičs organized a bogus escape of a seasoned agent called Vidvuds Šveics in 1948. He contacted SIS and claimed himself as the representative of the Latvian resistance. SIS believed him. They placed him as the head of six-strong group (two from each three countries) trained by SIS. They even gave him a list of local sympathizers the ones that KGB was eager to catch. When his team landed in Lithuanian beach, Šveics separated from others and alerted the border guards, who killed both Estonians and one of the Latvians. The others fled. Šveics sent a message to SIS about his miraculous escape. By the year all the all the operation network was under the Soviet control, but the British spymasters still believed its safe and intact. Next landing in 1949, in Latvia was successful, but agents were arrested by KGB agents posing as resistance fighters.

Meanwhile in US the Americans had almost zero knowledge about the Soviet Union, its geography and military strength. Incoming intelligence was mostly trivial, spotty, garbled and out of date. The Western powers believed that Soviets can reach the English channel in few weeks and drop nuclear weapons on US already in 1949. So the parachuted thousands o emigre’s from the Baltic Sea to Black Sea. They even recruited former Nazi officers and war criminals who had great experience dealing with the Soviets.

CIA recruited Lithuanian resistance leader Lukša, who made cooperation with resistance leaders at home. However the KGB had Lithuanian resistance under control. When both SIS and CIA started to notice leak in their operation they blamed each other. But it was too late as the Baltic resistance in 1949, was mostly crushed. The mass deportations, forced collectivization had destroyed the partisan food supplies. Those who still resisted were placed under extreme torture.

However the SIS was still sending agents to Latvia. Because of the traitor, they were arrested, another Estonian who was supposed to contact them swallowed a cyanide capsule before capture. Another SIS group in 1952 was caught because of badly forged passports.  An Estonian agent Mart Mannik landed in Latvia and made it to Estonia, where local KGB officers lured him in trap a Tallinn suburbs and captured him.

Similar American and British operations ended same way in Romania, Ukraine and Albania and first alarms were raised over the Baltic mission that officially was considerate successful. However the British spy chiefs kept everything in secret and denied any problems. CIA director Walter Bedell Smith ordered to make a report on the CIA Baltic mission and the report was alarmingly negative. However, the Americans believed even if the missions are unsuccessful they cause a lot of stir and headaches for the Soviet leaders. So they send another group to Latvia in 1952 two were caught, one committed  suicide the other escaped. He had a chance of alarming the CIA about the defeat of the partisans and KGB full control, he  had radio equipment to do that. Instead he found his old girlfriend and spent all the money on her and when he was captured the Soviets determined that he did not transmit any substantial intelligence.

KGB mastermind Lukaševičs sent another agent to the west Jānis Ērglis, who had long combat experience against the partisans, now he was impersonating one. SIS again trusted him, trained him and sent him back to Latvia with four agents. They never returned to London. KGB even scammed one million rubles from SIS as support money to partisans. But, the KGB made a mistake when London requested a sample from Tobol river near the reactor where Soviets produced plutonium for their nukes. The very idea that forest partisans could cross entire Soviet Union to highly guarded installation was at least bizarre.However the KGB reacted equally incompetently. The KGB technicians produced “river water” of such lethal radioactivity that it could only been produced inside the core of the reactor. Once it was analyzed in London it was finally clear that something was seriously wrong.

CIA commissioned a independent investigation and closed its operation on 1954. British “Operation Jungle” lasted until 1956. The last message read: “We can no longer help you. Will be sending no further physical or material help. All safe houses are blown … This is our last message until better times. We will listen to you until 30 June. Thereafter God help you.” By that time the partisan movement was numbered to only few thousand demoralized beaten man who had lost hope for Third World War the western assistance and hopes for liberation. When Western world just stood by when Soviet tanks crushed Hungarian democratic revolution the trust and hope for the west was all gone.

Only few British and American agents survived the Soviet torture and imprisonment. Some spent rest of their life’s in occupied Baltic states in poor conditions, few man were released in exchange. Soviets made propaganda movies about captured western agents helping the nationalist bandits. In western world the failure was kept in secrecy for many years until last three decades after Soviet collapse has revealed, the great cost of Western intelligence service incompetence. Many men lost their life’s in Russia, Ukraine, Baltic States, Romania, Albania and China because of flawed belief that sending an armed commandos to help  national resistance could help to topple the Soviet Union. In most cases these agents fell for fake resistance members and Soviets had double agents even in their main command ranks at home. It should not be overestimated that the Operation Jungle was done for Baltic freedom, the Baltic resistance was mainly used as a tool for British an American spy games . These failed spy games also cost many life’s of Baltic freedom fighters who naively trusted the westerners who were naive themselves.

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The Confederation of Livonia

554px-Confederation_of_Livonia_1260.svg

After last native resistance was quelled the Crusades ended. Latvian land along with Estonia was divided between conquerors. The outcome of the Crusades was the Confederation of Livonia or the Land of Saint Mary (Terra Mariana) as it was officially called. It consisted of three episcopacy’s, one archbishopric, two Town council land territories (Riga and Reval) and State of Livonian order. The Confederation had no official capital, but had its own diet the Landtag (an early Medieval version of parliament) since 1419 located the in city of Valka. The territorial division was made by William from Modena in 1228 and following years.

The archbishopric of Riga was located in Vidzeme and some part of Latgalia. It was divided in two pieces since the waterway of river Gauja was owned by Livonian Order. The land located on the left side of Gauja was called “Livonian end“, the other larger side was called “Latvian end” the both names came because one side was inhabited by Livonians and other by Latgalian Latvians. The archbishop’s residence was in Riga, but Riga was not part of the Archbishopric. Another stronghold of the Archbishop was Castle of Treiden (Turaida) and Kokenhusen (Koknese). Local Latvians and Livonians were forced to make corvee for the land owner (corvee is an obligatory agricultural work for every peasant who lives on vassals land like harvesting).

Bishopric of Courland was split into three sides, the Upper Courland is known today as the Livonian Coast, small piece of Western Courland, and Lower Courland. The residence of Bishop of Courland was Piltene. Other centers were Ēdole, Embūte, and Aizpute. In Estonia there was the Bishopric of Dorpat (Tartu) and The Bishopric of Ösel-wiek which was located in Western Estonia and on islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa (Ōsel and Wiek) The main centers there were mighty castles of Hapsal (Haapsalu) and Arensburg (Kuressare). Reval (Tallin) was the main center in Estonia as much as Riga and had its own territory.  The Northern Estonia was ruled by Danes in a small period of time as shown on map above, but later became part of the Livonian Order.

Livonian order ruled the largest pieces of Livonia.  It relayed its rule on building castles. The sites of the fortresses became cities. The main Castle was the Castle of Wenden (Cesis), others were Windau (Ventspils), Kreuzburg (Krustpils) and Dinaburg (Daugavpils). It also had castles in Riga. The first was destroyed during the Civil War between Riga and Order and second still stands today and serves as the official residence of the President of Latvia. The castles in Latvia will be disused more in future posts. Livonian Order was the main defense force of Livonia and key politic player.

The first diet the Landtag was called in 1419. It took place in Valka for it was crossing point between Latvian and Estonian lands (today Valka is divided between Latvia and Estonia). Landtag was an attempt to organize and centralize Livonia, but Livonia newer fully unified into one state. That was crucial when in 15-16 century the Livonian neighbors Sweden, Poland-Lithuania and more dangerously Russia became strong centralized countries marking an end to Livonian Confederation.

Selected sources

Šterns, Indriķis. (1997) Latvijas vēsture, 1290-1500. Riga: Daugava.

Spekke, Arnolds. (1995) Latvieši un Livonija 16. gs. Riga: Zinātne.

Klišāns, Valdis. (1992) Livonija 13.-16. gs. pirmajā pusē : mācību līdzeklis. Riga: Latvijas Universitāte

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