Lithuanian Military Volunteers and the Path toward Statehood
"For the independence of your nation you must be grateful only to your brave military and not to the Conference of Ambassadors or to the League of Nations," told the chairman of peace mission by the League of Nations to Lithuanian delegation in 1920.
Each year on November 23 the Lithuanian Armed Forces Restoration Day is celebrated. On this day in 1918 Augustinas Voldemaras (1883-1942), the Prime Minister of Lithuania, signed the first legislative act creating an army.
However, unofficial organized Lithuanian military units started to appear even earlier. They were initiated by Lithuanians who fought on various fronts during the World War I and who were anticipating a return to their homeland. The first ones to return in early 1918 were officer Jurgis Kubilius (1875-1961), military doctor Lt Col Vladas Nagevičius (1880-1954), Lt Col Stasys Nastopka (1881-1938), officers Kazys Škirpa (1895-1979), Mykolas Vėlykis (1884-1955), Petras Ruseckas (1883-1945), and others.
On February 16, 1918, the Act of Reinstating Independence of Lithuania was signed. Still, document was not recognised by the German authorities whose troops were in control of Lithuania’s territory at that time. The importance of having own organised armed forces in order to actually establish an independent state was soon recognised. On May 15, 1918, Col Jurgis Kubilius was ordered by the Council of Lithuania to see to the successful return of Lithuanian prisoners of war to Lithuania. In addition, Security Commission headed by the Stasys Šilingis (1885-1962) was set up. The main purpose of it was to organise the return of Lithuanian officers. Security Commission also kept the records of returning soldiers, collected military information, and was constantly looking for opportunities to raise and organize local military volunteers.
Self-defence squads were organised in each of twelve districts which were present in Lithuania at that time. By the late October first military volunteers started to assemble in Vilnius. Mobilisation began on March 5, 1919. By that time Lithuanian army contained more than 3 000 volunteers. By the end of the Lithuanian Wars of Independence (1918-1920) Lithuanian armed forces estimated at around 40 600 soldiers.
Newly formed Lithuanian army was forced to fight against three hostile armies in order to defend Lithuania’s independence and territorial integrity: against Bolshevik forces (December 1918 - August 1919), Bermontians (June 1919 - December 1919), and Poland (August 1920 - November 1920).
Lithuanian armed forces played a crucial role in restoration of the independent state of Lithuania. Although it failed to prevent some territorial losses, but the statehood was uphold. Only after newly formed state managed to protect itself from external dangers international recognition of independent Lithuania followed.
Written by Ona Adomaitienė, Museum Specialist at the Kaunas Ninth Fort Museum