Peacetime period


Even though the war ended in late 1920, ever-arising small conflicts at the demarcation line with Poland could flare up into a new war anytime.  Lithuania had to maintain a large army.  On January 1, 1922, 52963 soldiers were in service with the Lithuanian Army, which was ready for military action. The army was composed of 13 infantry, 3 cavalry, and 4 artillery regiments, 3 separate artillery divisions, 7 separate infantry battalions, a military aviation unit (12 airplanes) and other troops.

In 1922-1924, the reorganization of the army started in accordance with the peacetime conditions.  It started to be downsized in the second half of 1922.  The powers of the army commander were restricted.  The territory of Lithuania was divided into 3 military districts housing an infantry division each.   After some decline, the number of soldiers increased again in early 1923.  On the initiative of the volunteers, the Lithuanian Army formed volunteer units for the liberation of Klaipėda.  On January 9, a revolt started in the Klaipėda region, and on January 15, the rebel volunteers occupied the city.  The regular Lithuanian Army marched into the city on January 20.

Coup d'état 

The May 1926 election of the Third Seimas was followed by a government change.  The army was now headed by the Chief of Staff, Col. Lt. Kazys Škirpa. Having evaluated the state of the national defense as unsatisfactory, and based on the available resources, he began reorganizing the army.  With a view to cost-cutting, he (even though leaving the same number of soldiers) disbanded two infantry and one artillery regiment, and a mortar battalion. He also downsized the army office staff.

Both the army reorganization and the state instability gave rise to dissatisfaction among officers.  Hence, the army command supported the coup d'état that took place on December 17, 1926.  The power was handed over to the nationalists Antanas Smetona and Augustinas Voldemaras. The state rejected the parliamentary rule and turned towards the authoritarianism.  Even though the army proclaimed itself apolitical, the officer corps was one of the most active participants in the state politics and civic life.   The regime, under the Special State Defense Statutes, used the tools of military police in ruling the state, including military courts, authority of military commandant over civilians and censorship.

After the coup, in early 1927, the army was composed by four main types of military units: infantry, cavalry, artillery and engineering.  There operated the Higher Military Courses and the Military School.  A separate body (the Local Army) was constituted by 17 regional commandant’s offices, a disciplinary company, a military prison, and a concentration camp. There existed a number of separate  army institutions such as the Supreme Staff, the Military Science Administration, the Military Sanitation Inspection, the Military Sanitation Warehouse, the Army Supply Administration, the Army Commissariat, the Military Equipment Supply Department, the Military Equipment Construction Department, the Artillery Supply Department, the Central Army Workshop and the Riflemen’s Union.  A Summer training ground was established in Gaižiūnai in 1931, and a department of the General Staff was established at the Vytautas Magnus Higher Officer Courses with a view to training top commanding officers.


Army Command

The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Lithuania was the head of the state, the President of the Republic.  By law, the President could appoint and dismiss top commanding officers, announce mobilization and demobilization, order the start or cessation of military actions. The President headed the State Defense Council, consisting of the Prime Minister, the Ministers of National Defense, Finances and Internal Affairs, the Army Commander, and the Chief of Army Supply.  The second in the chain of command, after the President, was the Minister of National Defense.  His direct subordinates were Army Commander, the Chief of Army Supply, the Chairman of the Army Court, the Military Prosecutor, the Head of the Military Museum of Vytautas Magnus, and the Legal Counsel at the Ministry of National Defense.  The responsibilities of the Minister of National Defense were preparation for war of the nation, state and army; the maintenance of the army, the ministry’s credit management, preparation of the ministry’s budget, appointment and dismissal of battalion commanders, announcement to the army of the President’s decrees, issuing of orders to the armed forces.  The Military Council, a consultative body operating under the Minister of Defense, consisted of the Minister, the Army Commander, the Chief of Supply, the Chief of Staff, and, subject to the Minister’s orders, division commanders and chiefs of army branches. Another important link in the chain of command was Army Commander. During wartime he was subordinate to the President of the Republic, and during peacetime, to the Minister of National Defense.  In 1928, the position of Army Commander was liquidated with the transfer to the reserve of Gen. S. Žukauskas.  The Minister of Defense was the direct superior of the  Chief of the Army Supply Administration and of the Army Staff (which was called the Staff of the Ministry of National Defense in 1918-1919, the Army General Staff in 1919-1924, and the Supreme Staff of the Lithuanian Army in 1924-1934).  Starting from early 1928 to January 1, 1935, the army command was in the hands of the Chief of Staff.  This position was then occupied by Gen. Lt. P. Kubiliūnas.


Radical reforms

In 1928-1934, the internal political situation, the rise of Germany, and the resulting threat of a new war prompted a reorganization of the army.  The overhaul included upgrading light weapons of the land forces, purchasing new armored vehicles and air combat equipment, building Lithuanian aircraft, developing the navy and air defense, and redrafting mobilization plans.  The previously disbanded the 3rd and the 6th Infantry Regiments, the 1st Artillery Regiment and the 3rd Dragoon “Iron Wolf” Regiment were restored.  Large-scale maneuvers were carried out each fall.  It was attempted to increase the social prestige of the army through such venues as press, radio, open days, and festive events intended to bridge the gap between the army and the general public.  About a quarter of the state budget of Lithuania went to support the army: 25,95 per cent in 1938; 24,23 per cent in 1939.  The officers were united by the Lithuanian Officers’ Club (Karininkų ramovė), an organization that aimed to represent the officers, to provide them with quality free time, to foster military traditions, to support sports and military sciences.  The largest semi-military nationalist organization was the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union established on June 27, 1919.  It was composed of teams led by regional commandants. The military training of its members took place on Sundays.

The training comprised lining-up drills, instruction on weapons, shooting.  The riflemen published the newspaper “Trumpet” (“Trimitas”), run their own theaters, choirs, officers’ clubs, wore uniforms and were armed with light weapons, which they kept at home.  The spiritual guidance of the soldiers was provided by military chaplains, employed by a separate department led by the Head Chaplain of the Army.  The publishing of army publications was overseen by an Army Staff Department whose name changed as follows: Literature Department, Literature Unit, Military Science Unit, Military Science Administration, Press and Education Department.  The most popular publications were the weekly “Soldiers’ Word” (“Kariškių žodis”, starting from 1920, renamed as “The Warrior” (“Karys”), scientific journals for officers “Our Guide” (“Mūsų žinynas”) and “War Archive” (“Karo archyvas”).  In 1925, the Society for Military Science started publishing a journal for soldiers, “Sword” (“Kardas”), and the Military School, starting from 1932, issued the newspaper “Cadet”.


Infantry was the main and most important branch of the military force. All the other branches had to support the infantry units and assist them in carrying out their tasks.  In 1939, there were three infantry divisions, composed by nine regiments.  The smallest unit in an infantry regiment was a squad consisting of up to 14 men.  A squad was made up of two fire teams: those of riflemen and a light machine gun. Three squads constituted a platoon, and three platoons made a riflemen company.  Three riflemen companies, one heavy machine gun company (a unit consisting of one autocannon platoon and four heavy machine gun platoons), communications and commanding units constituted a battalion.  At peacetime, a battalion had 646 soldiers.  Three battalions along with a communications company as well as mortar platoons, mounted infantry intelligence, engineering and chemical platoons, made up an infantry regiment.

 Artillery, cavalry, equipment

The artillery troops consisted of four regiments, each composed of three artillery groups. A group consisted of two or three batteries, each of which had two to four cannons. Artillery regiments were equipped with 75 mm light field cannons and 103 mm howitzers, the latter making one third of the total number of artillery pieces in a regiment. While the Air Defense Detachment was fully motorized, other artillery units were horse-drawn. 

The cavalry force consisted of three regiments, which were not given independent tasks.  They had a supporting role. A cavalry regiment had four saber squadrons, one heavy machine gun squadron, one equipment squadron and an armored platoon. A cavalry regiment had 1385 soldiers.

Military equipment units such as pioneers, military railway service and communications service had a supporting function in the army.  The pioneers consisted of two engineering battalions.  One was stationed in Kaunas (Šančiai), the other in Radviliškis.  The engineering battalion had equipment for construction of ferries and bridges, for building and repair of roads, and for battlefield fortifications. They also had materials for 21 pontoon bridges.  The military railway service was tasked with supporting railways in dangerous and battlefield conditions.  In 1935, the Railway company was attached to the 2nd engineering battalion stationed in Radviliškis.  The Communications Service was represented by the Communications Battalion stationed in Kaunas (Šančiai).  It maintained communications installations; telephone, telegraph, radio and signaling stations, as well as pigeon and dog posts. In 1940, the communications service used such equipment as car radio stations, horse-drawn radio stations, field radio stations, and field and desk telephones.

 Motor transport, armored vehicles, navy, air force

The motor transport. Some of the army motor transport belonged to the motor detachment stationed in Kaunas (Šančiai), some to other units.  The army had 363 trucks, 198 cars, 184 motorcycles, 25 trailers, 11 cisterns, 29 ambulances, 35 buses, 13 tractors.  The armored vehicle fleet was small and antiquated. It was stationed in Radviliškis and had 10 armored vehicles in total.  By early 1940, the army had 36 light tanks.

The navy was in a rudimentary stage. At first it was represented by the military training ship “President Smetona” bought from Germany in 1927.  At wartime, seven border guard motorboats were supposed to be transferred to the Ministry of National Defense and to form the military fleet.

The air force.  While Lithuania lagged behind other Baltic countries in the number of its armored cars, its aviation was state-of-the-art.  The air force had 118 aircraft: 14 “Ansaldo A-120”, 14 “Gloster-Gladiator”, 12 “Devoitin D-501”, 53 various modifications of Lithuanian ANBO and several other models.  230 pilots and reconnaissance personnel served in the air force.  About 80 aircraft were continuously ready for action, over 26 thousand bombs stored in ammunition warehouses.  The headquarters and the workshop of the air force were in Kaunas.  Air bases were active in Kaunas and Šiauliai.  In early 1939, another air base started operating in Pajuostis (near Panevėžys).

Training grounds were used for military training and practice exercise.  Until 1930, the army used the grounds at Varėna, later, at Gaižiūnai, where soldiers from different army branches such as infantry, artillery, air force, etc. could train.  Weapons and vehicles were repaired and replacement parts for weapons were made in the weapon workshop in Kaunas.  In 1936, construction on a new weapon workshop started in the Karčemos village, not far from the Linkaičiai railway station (near Radviliškis). 

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