Strife for independence

Organizing national defense in Vilnius. 

On October 8, 1918, the State Council of Lithuania founded a Security Commission (Chairman Stasys Šilingas, members Saliamonas Banaitis, Jurgis Alekna, Jurgis Kubilius).  The army was going to be formed from volunteers only. The first volunteers (11 men) arrived in Vilnius on October 16.  They had to manage without weapons, since the state had not obtained them yet.  On November 1, the Security Commission appointed V. Grigaliūnas-Glovackįs the commander of the 1st Infantry Regiment, a unit shortly afterwards equipped by weapons secretly purchased from the Germans. On November 23, the Prime Minister Augustinas Voldemaras and officers Jurgis Kubilius, Stasys Nastopka, and Antanas Juozapavičius issued the first decree on the formation of the armed forces.

This decree was issued a day before receiving an official permission of the occupation authorities to establish the Lithuanian army.  On December 14, the Germans began evacuation.  The Prime Minister Voldemaras with the Finance Minister Martynas Yčas left for Berlin on December 20, and the Chairman of the State Council Antanas Smetona, on December 21.  Under the threat of the Bolshevik invasion, the Presidium of the State Council charged Mykolas Sleževičius to form a new Government, which started work on December 26.  A proclamation issued in four languages (Lithuanian, Polish, Belarusian and Yiddish) on December 29 called on the citizens of Lithuania to join the army as volunteers and to defend the country from the Bolshevik invasion.  In the last days of 1918, while the Germans were getting ready to leave Vilnius, the Bolsheviks were advancing, and the Poles were self-organizing.  As the Lithuanians experienced a shortage of weapons and ammunition, the State Council decided to move the headquarters from Vilnius to Kaunas.

After the withdrawal to Kaunas

The military commandant’s headquarters of the Kaunas city and county were established on January 5, 1919.   The significance of the headquarters grew after the imposition of martial law on February 15.  As government structures were being established, institutions founded and economy recovered, about 3000-4000 people daily applied to the commandant’s headquarters for permission to leave, since all roads were patrolled by soldiers.  The rule still belonged to the Germans, who interfered with the formation of the Lithuanian government.  On March 18, the volunteer Pranas Eimutis, a soldier of the Kaunas garrison, was killed defending the American mission from German soldiers. After the arrest of his killer, the Germans protested, but did not dare to start an open fight with the Lithuanian garrison.  The decisive actions of the headquarters made it possible to reinstate order in the city and the region in a relatively short time, and to create suitable conditions for the work of the government and state institutions.  District commandant’s headquarters were established in Panevėžys, Kėdainiai, Šiauliai, Kretinga, Tauragė, Raseiniai, Seinai, Telšiai, Marijampolė and other locations.

In January 1919, formation of military units started not only in Kaunas, but also in Biržai, Kėdainiai, Panevėžys, Šiauliai and other locations.   To address the shortage of officers, a military school was established in Kaunas on January 25.  An Aviation Company was formed on March 1, and the Kaunas Aviation School, on March 12.

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Wars against the Bolsheviks and the Bermontians.

On February 4, 1919, the 7th Riflemen Regiment of the Bolshevik Pskov Division moved towards Kaunas.  On February 7, the Kėdainiai volunteer troop stopped their advance, the first battle was won by the Lithuanians.  On February 10, the united Lithuanian and German forces reclaimed Šėta.  The Red Army took over Jieznas only to be driven away to Aukštadvaris.  It also occupied Alytus, but the Lithuanians, assisted by the Germans, reclaimed the city on February 15.  Even though the regiments of the Red Army’s International Division seized Luokė and Telšiai in North Western Lithuania, the German units, backed by the Lithuanians, forced the Bolsheviks to retreat eastward. On April 19-21, the Polish Army drove the Red Army units out of Vilnius.  Meanwhile, the Lithuanian army, supported by German Saxon volunteers, successfully took Ukmergė, Panevėžys and Utena.  After the Saxon volunteers left, the Lithuanians continued fighting against the Bolsheviks.  On the night from August 23 to 24, the Lithuanian Army started the decisive Zarasai operation, when the Red Army units were driven out of Dauguva. Fighting against the Bolsheviks continued for exactly a year, i. e. from January 5,1919 to January 5, 2020.  

In late July 1919, Lithuania faced a new threat.  With a view to retaining control over territories they had previously seized, the Germans put together and equipped an army led by Col. Pavel Bermondt-Avalov and composed of former Russian war prisoners and the remnants of the White Guard troops.  In early October, the Bermontians attacqued the Lithuanian garrisons of Šiauliai and Pasvalys. On November 21, the Lithuanian Army attacked the Bermontians, with key battles occurring at Radviliškis and Šiauliai.  The Bermontians were saved by the intervention of the Entente Commission, which ordered the Lithuanians to retreat to the original positions.  The Bermontians were evacuated to Germany, while the Lithuanian Army oversaw their withdrawal, reaching the former Russian-German border on December 15.

War against Poland

The creation of the independent Lithuanian state was unacceptable to the Poles, who had already made plans for a joint state.  On April 19, 1919, the Polish troops seized Vilnius and began an offensive in the direction of Trakai, Širvintos and Pabradė.  On May 8, they attacked Lithuanian guard posts near Vievis. The armies on both sides engaged in hostilities. In July 1920, the Polish troops were forced to withdraw from Lithuania by the Red Army.   By the treaty of July 12, Soviet Russia acknowledged Vilnius and the large territory eastward belonging to Lithuania.  While a company from the 7th Infantry Regiment of the Lithuanian Army entered Vilnius on August 15, the next day the Polish troops defeated the Red Army at Warsaw.  On August 27, the Polish cavalry approached the Augustow line, where the Lithuanian army was deployed.  Armed hostilities started in late August and lasted until September 22, when the Lithuanians were defeated at Augustow.  The Polish offensive was stopped on the intervention of the Entente.  On October 7, Lithuania and Poland signed the Suwalki agreement, according to which Vilnius was acknowledged to belong to Lithuania.  However, Poland flouted the agreement.  On October 8, a Polish unit led by Gen.  Lucjan Żeligowski went on the offensive.  The next day it occupied Vilnius.  On November 17, Polish infantry troops made advance on the Širvintos–Giedraičiai–Dubingiai front, but the Lithuanians managed to stop the attacking units at Širvintos and Giedraičiai. On the demand of the Commission of the League of Nations, the offensive of the Lithuanian Army was halted on November 21.  The armed hostilities ceased on November 29, but Vilnius and the Vilnius county remained occupied by Poland.  The wars for the independence of Lithuania came to an end.  The war period saw the creation of the Lithuanian Armed Forces that had all types of military units: infantry, cavalry, artillery, aviation. At the time of the attack by Żeligowski’s army, the Lithuanian army had the largest so far number of soldiers, over 40 thousand.  In the wars with the Bolsheviks, the Bermontians and the Poles, the total number of killed in action was 4256; wounded, 2766; missing, 226. 

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