The fight for Lithuanian statehood. From ancient times to NATO
The epoch of state formation. The role of the military power in organizing the state (11th century - 13th centuries)
The state is an institution that ensures the cultural, economic, and social life of the nation. The state gives the nation an opportunity to create its most important institution of organized protection - the armed forces.
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. As soon as they avoided the catastrophe, the Lithuanians themselves began to actively organize military expeditions to the neighbouring 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. The state system was formed - the beginnings of tax, budget, and administrative systems. Professional soldiers who made a living from military service emerged. This was the Viking period of Lithuanian military history, and the most active Lithuanian tribe, the Lithuanians, organized marches to the western fringes of Rus, which was beginning to weaken, and to the lands of the neighbouring Baltic tribes. 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)
The Order of Swordsmen (Livonia) quickly conquered the Latgalians, then the same fate befell the Curonians, Semigallians, and Selonians, finally, the Order approached Lithuania. In 1230, an even more dangerous enemy, the Order of the German Crusaders, settled in the territory of the present Western Poland. The latter conquered the Baltic Prussian lands and approached Lithuania. However, Lithuania was already a state with an army, capable of resisting for a long time.
Lithuanians fought alone, the whole Lithuanian economy and the social structure was focused solely on the needs of war. Mindaugas started to join 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. Gediminas’s sons Algirdas and Kęstutis expanded their influence in Russia even more actively. The military were constantly fighting to eliminate the growing dangers at all borders.
Battle of Žalgiris in 1410 (Chronicle of D. Schilling, second half of the 15th century)
In 1410, a battle between the joint forces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Kingdom of Poland and the Teutonic Order took place near Tanenberg and Grunwald. The Battle of Žalgiris strengthened the political authority of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas and opened the way for him to Europe. After the historic victory of Žalgiris, 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 centuries)
In the 15th century, the fortified Moscow began getting free from the Tartar patronage and started joining the Russian lands previously occupied by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Lithuania had to concentrate all its forces on the eastern front. Lithuania's technological superiority, already existing heavy cavalry in the 16th century allowed to achieve great victories, such as battle of 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. 1569 after signing 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 Army.
In 1576-1578 Russian Army invaded Livonia. At that time, Steponas Batoras became king of Poland and Lithuania. He reformed the army, improved artillery, military engineering, introduced uniforms. After strengthening his army, Batoras attacked Russian forces in Livonia and expelled them, conquering part of the Russian lands. Livonia was annexed to Lithuania.
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 (Lithuania as well). While fighting the Swedes, the Lithuanians achieved their most famous military victory. Near Salaspilis (in the territory of the present-day Latvia), the Lithuanian Army led by Jonas Karolis Chodkevičius crushed several times larger Swedish forces.
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 defence. In 1654 Vilnius was occupied for the first time. 1700-1721 Lithuania became an arena of struggles between Russians and Swedes. In 1717 the government, under pressure from the occupying Russian forces, had to agree to all demands of Russians, the main one being the restriction of the number of troops. During the period of 1772-1795 Russia, Prussia, and Austria divided the state. Almost the entire territory of Lithuania went to Russia.
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 also actively involved in this uprising, which showed an increased level of their citizenship.
Restoration of the state. The struggle for independence. Soviet occupation (1918 - 1940)
During the World War I the territory of Lithuania was occupied by the Germans. Riots began in Russia, Bolsheviks seized power, and Russia withdrew from World War I. Meanwhile, Germany, under pressure from the Entente, was forced to capitulate. Lithuanians had the opportunity to create a state. On 16 February 1918 Lithuania declared restoring its independence. During the restoration of the state, there were opinions that Lithuania did not need army, but when the intentions of the Bolsheviks became clear, the creation of an army began immediately. 23 November 1918 is considered to be the beginning of the restoration of the army, the first order was issued to the Ministry of Defence on that day. On December 1918 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.
In January 1919 the Bolshevik Army encroached Lithuania. The Lithuanian Army was just beginning to develop, poorly armed and trained, but well-motivated and strong in its determination to fight. The Russians occupied Vilnius, Aukštaitija, Dzūkija, part of Samogitia and thrusted towards Kaunas. The Lithuanian government had withdrawn from Vilnius to Kaunas. The Lithuanian Army 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. In July 1920 Lithuania and Soviet Russia signed a peace treaty. Russia has recognized Lithuania's independence.
In July 1919, a new enemy of Lithuania emerged - an army led by Bermont Avalov, consisting of former Russian prisoners of war 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. On 21-22 November, the Lithuanian Army defeated the Bermontian forces near Radviliškis.
The goal of Poland which liberated from Russian Empire was to recover the land lost during the divisions. Thus, the old Lithuanian ally became its enemy. In April 1919, the Polish Army occupied Vilnius which was occupied by Bolsheviks at that time. In 1920 the Bolsheviks, took Vilnius again and handed it over to Lithuania in the execution of the peace treaty. In September, the Lithuanian forces lost the Suvalkai region, 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, and the Suvalkai region passed to Poland, Vilnius and the Vilnius region remained to Lithuania. Poland did not intend to abandon Vilnius, already on October 8 units of the Polish Army led by General L. Želigovskis, suddenly invaded Lithuania and occupied Vilnius. In the face of danger, the Lithuanian military mobilized and prevented the invading Poles. On 19 November 1920 the Poles were defeated near Širvintos and on 21 November - near Giedraičiai. The Lithuanian Army lost the opportunity to take advantage of success and occupy Vilnius. Vilnius remained in the hands of the Poles until the beginning of the World War II, though the most important goal of the army, to defend the independence of the state, was reached.
The sensitive issue of the Klaipėda region was also solved with the weapon in favour of Lithuania. Lithuanians of the Klaipėda region, supported by armed volunteers from Lithuania, in January 1923 revolted and occupied the land. On 16 February 1923 the international community recognized the Klaipėda region for Lithuania. Only thanks to this decisive armed uprising, Klaipeda still belongs to Lithuania.
After the World War I, Germany and Russia (the Soviet Union) recovered and began to plan a new expansion. These countries divided Poland and the Baltic countries by secret agreements. Lithuania went to the Soviet Union. 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 Lithuania was forced to allow the Soviet Army to enter the country. On 14 June 1940 the Soviets issued an ultimatum and deployed additional troops. Lithuania joined the Soviet Union, the Lithuanian Army 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, and tens of thousands were deported with their families to Siberia.
Post-war 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. In 1945, after Germany lost the war, Lithuania was re-occupied by the USSR.
Some Lithuanians 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 Army. The balance of power did not allow the Lithuanians to fight openly, the difficult stage of the guerrilla war began. The partisans sought the restoration of the Lithuanian state. In 1948 the central leadership of Lithuanian partisans was established. Active guerrilla actions lasted until 1953. Special services successfully infiltrated their agents into guerrilla platoons, 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 sovietisation of Lithuania, did not allow its territory to be colonized, therefore the largest part of the local population remained.
The culture of occupied Lithuania was consistently destroyed, and the country's economy was ruined. In the first years of occupation Lithuanians lost more than a quarter of the nation. Some emigrated to the West, some were exiled, and some were simply killed. However, during the whole occupation, the idea of Lithuanian statehood did not die, it was nurtured and implemented when the opportunity arose.
Restoration of statehood. Integration into NATO (1990-2004)
At the end of the 20th century, the national liberation movement began to grow in Lithuania. On 11 March 1990 Lithuania has announced the restoration of an independent state. The USSR did not intend to recognize Lithuania's independence. The recovering state had to be taken protected, and on 25 April 1990 the Department of National Defence was established.
The Soviet Army sought to provoke armed conflict in Lithuania so that it could then justify the use of military force and quickly destroy the reviving Lithuanian state. On 13 January 1991 the Soviet Army attacked the buildings of Lithuanian television and radio and a television tower in Vilnius. 13 unarmed defenders were killed and hundreds were injured. These events only strengthened the determination of Lithuanians to defend their freedom, therefore on 17 January the Voluntary National Defence Service (SKAT) was officially established. Lithuania's independence has been recognized by many countries. On 31 August 1993 the last soldiers of the Russian Army left Lithuania. Lithuania became completely free again.
On 19 November 1992 the Lithuanian Armed Forces were officially restored. In 1993 its structure was formed. Since then, it has been constantly strengthened and prepared for the country’s defence. 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, and already on 21 November 2002 Lithuania was invited, and on 29 March 2004 was officially accepted to NATO.
The NATO Alliance was created in 1949 by 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.
Today's Lithuanian Armed Forces are a continuation of the traditions of partisan resistance, interwar army also the warriors of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. 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.