Lithuania is a small country in Eastern Europe on the Baltic shores that shares a land border with Belarus, Latvia, Poland, and Russia. Despite its current small size, throughout its history, Lithuania has managed to grow into a huge state during the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. However, after its dissolution in 1795, the territory was put under Russian, Prussian, and then Austrian control. This occupation continued for 123 years. In 1918, as a result of the Russian Revolution and the downfall of the Russian Empire, Lithuania emerged as an independent state amongst many other nations.
Although defeated by Poland in a war over its old capital city, Vilnius, Lithuania remained independent throughout the Interwar years. The territory of Lithuania itself was physically fought on for 4 years during the Great War and 2 years during the War of Independence. After 6 years of war, the country found itself devastated and in a perilous economic situation. However, the military had learned from the events of the Great War and sought to acquire tanks. Throughout the Interwar years, Lithuania purchased tanks from many nations. After the outbreak of WW2, Lithuania signed treaties with both the Soviet Union and Germany and even regained its old capital. However, in summer 1940, the Soviet Union annexed the country. A year later, the German Army managed to occupy the lands of Lithuania. However, the Germans only continued the mass deportation that the Soviets started in 1940, resulting in Lithuania losing a large portion of its population.
History Before the Great War – The Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Lithuanian people are descendants of the indigenous population of the Balts (the ‘Balti’) who migrated to the region thousands of years ago. During Roman times, the people in Lithuania followed a polytheistic pagan religion and were part of tribes and chiefdoms.
The first real contact between these people and the rest of Europe was in 1009. As part of the Northern Crusades, Bishop St. Bruno von Querfurt unsuccessfully tried to convert the people to Christianity. Throughout the 12th century, the Lithuanian tribes were haunted by Slavic raids, resulting in the Balts mounting counterraids.
Whilst their Baltic neighbors were conquered by the Teutonic Order, the Lithuanian people managed to escape this fate by uniting. In 1253, the first Lithuanian kingdom was formed under King Mindaugas. He and his successors followed an expansionist policy, and in 1323, the capital city of Vilnius was formed under Grand Duke Gediminas, who allegedly came up with the idea when dreaming of a howling iron wolf. This iron wolf was interpreted as the foundation of a mighty city.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Kingdom of Lithuania managed to repel all Germanic and Teutonic invasions. In 1386, the first Christian king, Grand Duke Jogila, married Jadwiga of Poland, which resulted in the creation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. At its peak in 1422, the nation spanned from Lithuania to parts of Ukraine and Belarus. That same year, Grand Duke Vytautas the Great managed to sign a peace treaty with the Teutonic Order after two centuries of warfare.
However, a new nation appeared that threatened the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Grand Duchy of Moscow claimed many Lithuanian lands. This resulted in Lithuania joining the Union of Lublin in 1569 and forming the dual state of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth experienced a golden era of economic growth and territorial expansion. At its peak, the Commonwealth spanned from Estonia to Ukraine and from Belarus to Poland.
This golden age began to draw to a close when King Sigismund III Wasa unsuccessfully invaded Russia in 1654, resulting in the loss of land. Sigismund would also fight and lose wars with the Ottoman Empire and the Swedish Empire. The final catastrophe occurred during the Great Northern War from 1700-1721 when the Commonwealth was fighting against Sweden and the Ottoman Empire. Additionally, famine and the Plague caused half of the population to die. In 1795, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was in decline and was slowly broken up between Prussia, the Russian Empire, and the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy.
Throughout the occupation, there were moments of resistance, such as the November Uprising in Poland in 1831, which resulted in growing defiance in Lithuania. However, the Russian Empire forced its own culture upon the people of Lithuania. Only due to a small number of Lithuanians who encouraged the writing of books in Lithuanian and stood against Russian rule, the Lithuanian culture was kept alive.
Lithuania in WW1
Despite the preservation of Lithuanian identity and culture, the Lithuanian territory itself was under Russian control prior to WWI. Large parts of the Lithuanian territory were also under German occupation. The German occupation was similar to the Russian occupation and on both sides, the Lithuanian people were drafted into the Russian or German Army respectively.
On August 17th, 1914, WW1 started with the German Army invading France and France’s ally, the Russian Empire, invading Germany. The Russian Army invaded the Lithuanian territory into East Prussia and the German-controlled part of Lithuania. During the war, Lithuanians on both sides fought against each other.
The Russian Army made some initial land gains until the German counter-offensive was launched. The counter-offensive and the Second Battle of Tannenberg were major defeats for the Russian Army, forcing it to retreat to its original border. In spring 1915, the German Army and Austria-Hungary launched a full-blown offensive after stabilizing the Western Front. On August 19th, 1915, the heavily fortified and key city of Kaunas fell into German hands. By October 1915, the German Army had conquered all of modern-day Lithuanian territories, and only in April 1916, did the Russian Army attempt to retake these lands. However, the attack failed and Lithuania remained under German control until the end of the war.
Throughout the German occupation, the entire country and its people were used for the German war effort. The German High Command wanted total control over the people which meant that families and farms were divided and prohibited to travel. This resulted in the loss of income for many people and the downfall of the local economy. Additionally, the Germans tried to integrate the population by infiltrating schools. However, this was not a success.
In early 1918, a German-sponsored Polish state was created and the Lithuanians also wanted such a state. As a result, in February 1918, a Lithuanian representative presented documents to the Germans stating the independence of the Lithuanian state. To the Lithuanian’s surprise, the Germans supported this idea in the hopes that they could gain control of the government by electing a German king. In June 1918, Prince Wilhelm Karl of Urach was elected as King Mindaugas II, however, he was never crowned. When it was clear that Germany would lose the war, the Lithuanian council reversed its decision to cooperate with the Germans.
War of Independence
Already in early 1917, the Russian Army started to lose morale, and its size rapidly reduced. The Germans gradually pushed them back further and further. Additionally, the almost feudalistic Russian society oppressed its people, and together with famine, the people began to revolt against the ruling regime. In March 1917, the Communists (Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) and Republicans or Progressive Bloc rose up against the Tsarist regime with the intent of overthrowing it. After the regime was overthrown and the Tsar and his family killed, the Duma parliament and soldier and farmer councils took charge of the country and placed the provisional government of Russia in power. However, the Bolsheviks were unhappy with the current state and overthrew the Provisional Government in November 1917 during the October Revolution. This takeover led to the consolidation of the Bolsheviks and the communist revolution and would plunge the country into a civil war that would last a few years.
The Bolsheviks prioritized ending the war with Germany and the Central Powers. Germany had promised not to interfere with their revolution if they agreed on peace. Lenin also wanted to prioritize stabilizing the country. On March 3rd, 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed ending Russia’s participation in WW1 and ceding a large number of territories to Germany, including Lithuania.
On February 16th, 1918, the Act of Independence of Lithuania was signed by the secret council of Lithuania. At first, the Germans suppressed this Act, but in late March 1918, the Germans recognized this state, hoping to get supporters and volunteers for their Army. However, not many Lithuanians cooperated with the Germans, and therefore, the Germans prohibited the creation of the Lithuanian Armed Forces. On November 11th, 1918, Germany signed the armistice with the Entente, effectively ending WW1. With this, Germany lost all of its gained territories from the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. On the same day, Lithuania was officially an independent state with Augustinas Voldemaras as head of state. He was already involved in the Council of Lithuania and was Lithuania’s first official prime minister.
However, another problem occurred. Since the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was resigned and the German Empire capitulated, Lithuania was vulnerable to foreign threats. The newly proclaimed Soviet Union sought to expand its territory and regain all of the previously lost lands. On December 12th, 1918, the Soviet Army, with over 20,000 men, marched into Lithuanian territory with the intent of installing a pro-Soviet government. The Lithuanian Army was relatively small, with around 8,000 men, consisting mainly of volunteers. However, after the armistice between Germany and the Entente was signed, the Entente powers allowed German forces to stay in the Baltic region to fight against the Soviets as they feared the ‘Soviet horde’ might overrun Europe.
Due to this, around 10,000 German soldiers fought on the Lithuanian side repelling the initial Soviet attack force. Additionally, the Lithuanian government signed a loan agreement for over 100 million Marks to build and supply the Lithuanian Army. However, the Germans were demoralized and had their own plans for the Baltic region. Several coup d’états were initiated by German supporters but all failed. Most Germans were called back to Germany by June 1919. By the end of December 1918, the Soviets managed to capture Vilnius. With this, a revolutionary government was formed by members of the Lithuanian Communist Party.
The Soviets managed to gain a large number of territories against the poorly trained Lithuanian forces. The Soviets themselves were also poorly supplied and had to rely heavily on the local population. In February 1919, the Soviets tried to push for Kaunas and occupy the city. Nevertheless, after numerous battles, the Soviets failed to occupy Kaunas and Alytus and halted the advance on the entire frontlines, giving the Lithuanian more time to organize. The Soviets managed to break through in the north. This further advance made the Germans worry about their territory in East Prussia. As a result, they sent additional soldiers to Lithuania to fight back the Soviets.
In March 1919, the Polish launched an offensive and managed to capture Vilnius before the Lithuanians. A month later, the Lithuanians also launched their offensive after intense training and preparation and managed to beat back the Soviets. However, Lithuanian troops quickly met Polish soldiers. The Poles did not want to return Vilnius and conflicts broke out between the two nations. This conflict would only end in August 1919. By June 1919, most Lithuanian territories were under Lithuanian control, and the Soviets were driven out.
A new force arrived from the north in July 1919, the West Russian Volunteer Army (WRVA). This was an army made up of Russian POWs and Germans who fought against the Red Army during the Russian Civil War and later in Latvia where they attempted to coup the government to restore German rule over Latvia. Following their failure, they retreated into Lithuania. The Lithuanian Army managed to destroy the WRVA by December 1919.
The Polish and Latvians managed to capture the city of Daugavpils in January 1920, which resulted in the Lithuanians having no land border connections with the Soviet Union anymore. Already in September 1919, potential peace negotiations had begun between the Soviets and Lithuanians. However, it was not until July 12th, 1920, that the Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty was signed ending most hostilities between the two nations.
The Question over Vilnius – Polish-Lithuanian War
Even though the conflict had ended, the problem was not resolved. The city of Vilnius would remain under Polish occupation after the peace treaty between the Soviets and Lithuania. This would remain until the outbreak of the Polish-Soviet War in 1920, when the Red Army occupied the city again. According to the peace treaty between the Soviets and the Lithuanians in 1918, the Soviets recognized Lithuania’s claims and returned the territory to Lithuania.
After the Soviets lost the war to Poland, Vilnius remained under Lithuanian control. However, this would not last long, as even after the League of Nations tried to resolve the conflict, Polish troops reoccupied the city and Lithuanian troops were pushed back. Lithuania, not being able to counterattack, accepted the occupation and broke all diplomatic relations with Poland. The Polish would create a puppet state in the Vilnius region named the Republic of Central Lithuania. However, this puppet state would be integrated into Poland in 1922.
Armored Trains – Lithuania’s Highly Efficient Weapon
Even though there was only ever one armored train used by the Lithuanians in combat it still managed to perform excellently. In general, armored trains had already proven to be an effective weapon during the Russian Revolution and several other contemporary revolutions and independence wars. They could be used effectively to occupy and secure important train stations and railway bridges.
‘Panzerzug No. 7‘ (Eng: Armored train No. 7) was a German-built armored train that had already seen service in the Baltic states with the German Army during WW1. In 1918, it was captured by Lithuanians who renamed the train ‘Gediminas‘ after their national hero. It was made of a semi-armored locomotive, 6 guns, 2 armored transport wagons with 16 Maxim machine guns, and 4 regular wagons. It was officially put back into service in August 1920 and fought against the Polish with great success. However, the Polish captured some parts of the train, making it useless.
After the war of independence, 3 additional armored trains were built. The first armored train also named ‘Gediminas‘ and was made from the remains of the old ‘Gediminas‘ and consisted of a locomotive, 2 armored platforms with 2 French 75 mm cannons, 2 armored bodies with 2 German 57 mm cannons and 5 machine guns, and a transport wagon with 4 machine guns.
The second armored train, ‘Geležinkeliu Vilkas‘ (Eng. Iron Wolf), which was also known as ‘Algirdas‘ (named after the son of ‘Gediminas‘) had a steam locomotive and an armored platform with 2 German 105 mm cannons and 2 machine guns.
The third armored train, ‘Keistutis‘ (a Lithuanian male name), had a locomotive, an armored platform with 2 German 77 mm cannons, and an armored wagon with 4 machine guns.
In 1940, all armored trains were captured by the Soviets, which then presumably scrapped them.
Captured and Reused- Lithuanian WW1 Armored Cars
The very first Lithuanian armored car and also their first AFV was captured from the Red Army in May 1919. The Soviet armored car was firing at Lithuanian soldiers from the 1st Regiment when the Lithuanians managed to block the road with trees, encircling the armored car and forcing the crew to surrender. The armored car was FIAT-Izhorsky No. 6739 with a 35 hp engine and armed with 2 Maxim machine guns. The armored car was in a perfect state and was almost immediately put into service by the Lithuanians. In the following days, it helped push back the Red Army. The FIAT, nicknamed ‘Zaibas‘ (Eng: Lightning) was not organized within regular army divisions and was most likely used by the military police after the war.
Lithuania’s second armored car and all the other armored cars captured during the War of Independence except the FIAT would come from the West Russian Volunteer Army or Bermont Army. Since this army heavily relied upon German weapons, the armored cars used by its military were mainly German armored cars. In August 1919, when the Bermont Army entered Lithuania, Lithuanian troops captured an Ehrhardt EV/4 Daimler-Befehlswagen (Eng. Ehrhardt EV/4 Daimler command vehicle). On January 20th, 1920, when most Bermont troops had surrendered, they also left behind 4 additional Ehrhardt armored cars at the Virbalis railway station alongside other heavy equipment, such as fighter planes. Although in a bad state, they were repaired and reused. They were organized into the first armored detachment in March 1920 and continued to serve in the Armored Car Company until they were lost during the Interwar years.
It is worth mentioning that there was a slight difference between the Ehrhardt captured from the Bermont troops and the ones captured at the railway station. The 4 Ehrhardts captured at the railway station had a rectangular turret instead of the regular round-shaped turret which would lead to the conclusion that those are different models.
|Name of the Ehrhardt||Meaning||Additional Information|
|Savanoris||Volunteer||Regular EV/4 model|
|Sarunas||Lithuanian male name||Daimler chassis No. 4010, modified rectangular turret|
|Perkunas||Thunderstorm||Daimler chassis No. 3992, modified rectangular turret|
|Aras||Eagle||Daimler chassis No. 4004, modified rectangular turret|
|Pragaras||Hell||Daimler chassis No. 4026, modified rectangular turret|
First Democratic Elections
After its independence, the Council of Lithuania was in charge of the country, but in April 1920, the first democratic elections were held by the new Constituent Assembly of Lithuania, which replaced the Council. In October 1920, the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania came together and settled on new reforms. The Lithuanian state was internationally recognized and joined the League of Nations in the same year. New laws were passed on land reform and a new currency was introduced, the Litas. The final constitution was adopted in August 1922, introducing a new political system. The Constituent Assembly of Lithuania was replaced by the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania.
The Seimas was the democratic parliament that voted on the prime minister, the president, the government, passed legislation, and amended the budget. The First Seimas of Lithuania, elected in October 1922, was unsuccessful in forming a government as the votes were split equally between different parties.
During the First Seimas of Lithuania, the Klaipėda Revolt took place. After the Treaty of Versailles, Germany had to give up many of its territories. One of these was the Klaipėda region, part of East Prussia, and the only Lithuanian territory that was under German control throughout the pre-war years. After WW1, it became a mandate region of the League of Nations due to the low German population and large Lithuanian and Polish populations. However, the Entente did not want to transfer the territory to Lithuania and wanted to transform the city into a free city, similar to Danzig, possibly to still have a foothold in Eastern Europe. This was not to the liking of the Lithuanians living in Klaipėda nor the Lithuanian government. As a result, on January 10th, 1923, the Lithuanian population in Klaipėda launched a revolt and defeated the French garrison which showed little resistance. The Entente finally recognized the territory as Lithuanian on May 8th, 1924, when the Klaipėda Convention was signed between Lithuania and the Entente.
In May 1923, the Second Seimas of Lithuania was elected, this time successfully forming a government.
The First Tanks – Renault FT
After the numerous wars and time for Lithuania’s economy to stabilize a bit, the decision was made to buy tanks. This was due to the experiences during the War of Independence, when Lithuania experienced the use of tanks and their effectiveness firsthand. In 1923, the Lithuanian government reached out to the French, since the British tanks were more expensive. After negotiations, Lithuania bought 12 Renault FT tanks.
It is unknown if these FTs were built during WWI or if in its aftermath. What is known is that these FTs arrived without armament, presumably to save money. In Lithuania, the tanks were refitted with locally available machine guns. Sources vary, stating that all tanks received German MG 08 machine guns to all tanks receiving Russian Maxim machine guns. Most likely it was a mix of both.
The Renault FTs saw service in big parades. Upon the arrival of more modern tanks, the FTs were replaced in 1935. However, they were not scrapped and continued to be used as training vehicles as part of the 1st Training Tank Company until 1940. All 12 tanks received names with different meanings.
|Renault FT number||Name||Meaning||Platoon number|
Coup d’Etat of 1926 – ‘Smetona’s Time’
In May 1926, the Third Seimas of Lithuania was elected. Nevertheless, for the first time, the Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party (LKPD, Lietuvos Krikščionių Demokratų Partija) lost its majority and went into opposition. This was due to many people accusing them of cooperating with the Soviet Union. As a result of the Christian Democratic Party losing, the military launched a bloodless coup d’état on December 17th, 1926. They were supported by the Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party and the Lithuanian Nationalist Union. The coup was successful and Antanas Smetona became President. The incumbent Prime Minister, Augustinas Voldemaras, remained in post. Voldemaras was President of the Iron Wolf organization, a paramilitary organization linked to the Nationalist Union to help suppress opposition and spread propaganda.
The Seimas was disbanded and the country was put under authoritarian control. Smetona feared that Voldemaras might overthrow him as his Iron Wolf organization became more prominent in 1929. To resolve the problem, Smetona removed Voldemaras and tried to take over the leadership of the Iron Wolf. In the end, he failed but disbanded the Iron Wolf in 1930.
Throughout the years, Smetona lost his popularity as the people were unhappy to be under his authoritarian rule. As a result, in 1936, Smetona called for the first elections of the Seimas since the coup d’état in 1926. Nonetheless, before the vote, all parties bar the Nationalist Union were disbanded. The new Seimas was a front to create the illusion that the state was democratic. In 1938, the Seimas gave additional powers to the president.
Those who remained loyal to Voldemaras from the Iron Wolf organization would remain secret and would continue to cooperate with other fascist countries and even cooperate with the Germans in 1941.
Purchased and Upgraded – Lithuanian Landsverk
Due to the obsolescence of the WW1 armored cars, the Lithuanian Army realized it needed new armored cars for reconnaissance. So, on December 7th, 1933, the Lithuanians reached out to the Swedish firm of Landsverk and ordered 6 Landsverk 181. However, multiple issues occurred during the testing of the Landsverk, and only in April 1935 were they accepted by the Lithuanians. The L-181s were equipped with the 20 mm Oerlikon 1S automatic gun and were outfitted with 2 Maxim machine guns each. The Landsverk vehicles were not only to act as reconnaissance vehicles, but also as support vehicles for the cavalry. Therefore, vehicles were organized into the 1st Armored Car Company of the 1st Cavalry Division. The 6 vehicles were split into 3 platoons with 2 vehicles each.
After the Soviet occupation in 1940, the Landsverk vehicles were organized into different Soviet regiments. Once the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, 2 of the Landsverk vehicles were handed to the Lithuanian resistance and were used against the Soviets. The Germans managed to capture one of them after they reoccupied the land whilst the other one was destroyed in the fight against the Soviets. It is unknown what happened to the vehicle afterward.
The Lithuanian Army’s Backbone – Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Tanks
Alongside the modernization attempt for the armored cars, the Lithuanian Army also sought new tanks. Even before the Landsverk vehicles were bought, Lithuanian representatives went to the United Kingdom to the company of Vickers Armstrong. Vickers had already been exporting tanks to many nations, such as Argentina and Switzerland, to name a few.
The Lithuanians ultimately decided to buy 16 Vickers-Carden-Loyd light commercial tanks. Instead of the model 1933, they bought the newly developed model 1934. Only equipped with a machine gun and armor that could withstand machine gun fire, the Vickers-Carden-Loyd light tank was solely an improvement in mobility and crew comfortability compared to the old Renault FTs. The idea was to have a tank that would form the backbone of the tank force as the Renault FTs could not do that anymore. Nothing much is known about how the sale was negotiated, only that the Lithuanians requested one modification. Of the 16 vehicles, 4 were to have radios, and all were to have extra ammunition storage. These 16 VCL mod 1934s arrived in Lithuania in 1935 and were organized into the 2nd Armored Company.
In May 1936, the Lithuanians returned to the United Kingdom seeking to buy more tanks. To simplify the training and purchase process, they once again bought 16 Vickers-Carden-Loyd light tanks. This time though, they purchased the upgraded mod 1936, which differed from the mod 1934 mainly in its suspension and hull. Similarly to the previous request, 4 of them had additional radios fitted as a special request and extra ammunition storage. They arrived in June 1937 and were organized into the 3rd Armored Company
The tanks were used until 1940, when they were taken over and organized within the Red Army. A number of photos show the vehicles in a dark green base tone in Soviet service used against the German Army in 1941. None of the Vickers tanks survived the war. It is thought that all tanks were lost in combat against the Germans or were lost later once captured by the Germans.
Failed Opportunity – The Czechoslovakian LTL
The Lithuanian high command was well aware of the fact that the Vickers light tanks, although reliable, would not be enough to protect Lithuania, especially anti-tank-wise. As a result, in December 1935, the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense wrote a letter to the Czechoslovakian tank firm of ČKD (Českomoravská-Kolben-Daněk). They asked for a light tank weighing 5 tonnes with 6 to 13 mm of armor and a maximum speed of 50 km/h. Twelve tanks were to have a 20 mm Oerlikon automatic tank gun and 4 would only have Vickers machine guns.
ČKD responded in January 1936 with a proposal that met the requirements and was based on the Praga AH-IV tankette. However, a ČKD representative in Kaunas informed ČKD that Lithuania at the same time was also acquiring the new Vickers Model 1936 machine gun tank from Vickers. Even though ČKD knew this, they continued the relations with Lithuania, as they were highly interested in penetrating the Baltic region and possibly even the Nordic market.
In November 1936, Lithuania sent an additional request. This time they asked for a much larger 9-tonne light tank. In response, ČKD submitted a modified version of the TNH light tank for Iran, the TNH-L. The Lithuanians were not yet satisfied and reduced the requested weight to 5-6 tonnes, as 9 tonnes would have been too heavy for the bridges in Lithuania.
This final request would start the development of the LTL. The tank was designed to have either a 37 mm or a 20 mm autocannon with 2 machine guns and to be able to either fit an air-cooled or water-cooled engine. In February 1937, Lithuania was put before a decision between the newly designed LTL and the Swedish L 120 S. In the end, Lithuania went with the LTL. It requested 21 of these tanks for a total of 22,900,000 Crowns. The armor of the tank was up to 25 mm thick and the estimated weight was up to 5.6 tonnes. The LTL differed from many other tanks of that time period greatly by the fact that its drive was on the rear side. The sprocket wheel was on the rear and the exhaust pipe went over the engine deck. These changes were made to have a compact engine compartment, which would result in more space for the crew. However, this new idea of the rear drive proved to be unsuccessful and tests showed no improvement to front-driven vehicles, only that it complicated the construction process. In March 1938, the prototype was finished. Visually the changes made to the suspension and engine looked very similar to the Swiss LTL-H.
On May 4th, 1938, representatives of Lithuania arrived in Czechoslovakia to inspect the prototype. The tank was armed with two Maxim machine guns and a 20 mm Oerlikon automatic canon. The weight increased to 7.2 tonnes. The Lithuanians were satisfied with the tank and stated it met the basic specifications. They only requested an increase in the engine’s output. After the engine was changed, the LTL was ready for test trials. The LTL ran for 3,500 km in Czechoslovakia, and in January 1939, was sent to Lithuania for additional test runs. Alongside the LTL, the Swiss LTL-H was also sent for comparison. After 1,500 km, the LTL had no major mechanical problems. After the trials, the tank was also intended to be sent to Riga and Tallinn for further advertisement but this was canceled.
In the end, the Lithuanians decided to buy the Swiss LTL-H version because they did not want to risk buying a tank with a new concept and would rather use a tank already in service. The contract was the same, but the name was changed to Praga LLT. In March 1939, Czechoslovakia was occupied by Germany, which caused minor delays in the production of LLTs. Upon the start of the Second World War, ČKD was fully integrated into the German economy and renamed BMM. After some minor changes, the LLTs would be finished by August 1940. Nonetheless, before that, Lithuania lost its independence and the deal was fully canceled.
Organization and Doctrine of the Lithuanian Army
The Lithuanian armored detachment was officially created on March 1st, 1920, with the armored cars forming it. In 1923, the Renault FTs would form the 1st Armored Company together with the WW1 armored cars which formed the 1st Armored Car Company.
The Landsverk vehicles were part of the Cavalry Brigade within their own separate armored company with 3 platoons and 2 vehicles in each platoon. Each platoon was assigned to a different cavalry regiment. In 1938, the 1st Armored Company was renamed to 1st Armored Training Company. Alongside the 1st Company, there were also the 2nd and 3rd Armored Company (with Vickers tanks) added later to the armored detachment.
The Lithuanian High Command was well aware that if they would have been attacked, they would be on the defensive. As a result, at first, they did not see the need for tanks with anti-tank capabilities. The Lithuanian doctrine saw the Vickers tanks solely as mobile machine gun nests. Anti-tank gunfire would have been provided by towed anti-tank guns. In their eyes, it was more important to have more towed anti-tank guns in total than a small number of tanks with anti-tank guns. This idea would change in 1936, when they intended to buy tanks with anti-tank guns such as the LTL. The armored cars would have been used as armored scout cars. The old Renault FT would not have participated during battles and would have been used as training and reserve tanks.
Numbering System and Camouflage Pattern
Lithuanian Tanks and AFVs were registered with a K.A.M. number. K.A.M. stood for Krasto Apsaugos Ministerija, which roughly translates to Ministry of Coastal Protection. The only vehicles that did not receive these registrations were the Renault FTs and the FIAT armored car.
The Ehrhardt armored cars were registered as K.A.M. 1-4. However, one of the Ehrhardts did not receive a registration for unknown reasons. The 6 Landsverk 181s were registered as K.A.M. 5 – 10. The Vickers tanks were registered according to their organization within their company as follows:
|2nd Company||1st Platoon||50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55|
|2nd Platoon||61, 62, 63, 64, 65|
|3rd Platoon||71, 72, 73, 74, 75|
|3rd Company||1st Platoon||100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105|
|2nd Platoon||111, 112, 113, 114, 115|
|3rd Platoon||121, 122, 123, 124, 125|
The WW1 armored cars were all painted in a variety of camouflage patterns. These vary in color pallets and the style that they were painted. Some Ehrhardt vehicles were painted in light gray, whilst other armored cars appear to have been painted in dark green. These camouflage patterns were most likely kept by the Lithuanians.
At some point after the war of independence though, the armored cars received a presumably Lithuanian-made 3-tone camouflage. The colors, rust red, olive green, and sand yellow, were applied in patches and were separated by thin black lines.
The Renault FT tanks were painted in a standard dark olive green base tone. The Lithuanian Landsverk vehicles were painted in a Swedish 3-tone pattern. The Vickers Light tanks were painted in a single-tone dark olive green camouflage applied by Vickers.
Alongside the different names given to the armored cars and tanks, all Lithuanian AFVs received different insignias. The armored cars and Renault FTs had the Lithuanian coat of arms painted on each side. The Waikymas Pagaunė coat of arms is one of the oldest in Europe and represents the white knight Vytis riding a horse. It was first used during the times of the Duchy of Lithuania in 1366 and remains the coat of arms to this day. The coat of arms was painted in a red base tone with the knight in white and blue.
The Landsverk and Vickers tanks received a much simpler insignia, the official insignia of the Lithuanian armored forces, a white building representing the city of Kaunas.
Lithuania’s Defense Plan
The nation of Lithuania and the other two Baltic states were well aware of the possible threat of an enemy invasion. Lithuania was threatened by three countries, the Soviet Union from the east, Poland from the south, and Germany from the west. The Soviet Union posed the most realistic threat, as both Germany and Poland had either already regained their claimed territory or only claimed a small part of the country.
On September 12th, 1934, the three Baltic states signed a treaty of friendship and a non-aggression pact. In case of a Soviet invasion, Lithuania planned to retreat the vast majority of its army and the reserve forces from the front lines to Kaunas and the Nevėžis River. If this line broke, the forces would have retreated to the Dubya River which was fortified with reinforced concrete bunkers.
The second plan was in place in case of a German attack from East Prussia. Lithuanian forces would have also retreated, but the main bulk of defense would have formed around the Nemunas River instead.
In 1934, Lithuania was spending a quarter of its annual income on the military, and, combined with the two other Baltic states, in the case of a war, would have proposed a considerable defensive line. Lithuania would have been able to mobilize enough men to outfit 6 divisions in 72 hours.
Lithuania in WW2
Occupation of the Klaipėda Region
In 1938, due to the rising tensions in Europe, the Polish government presented an ultimatum to Lithuania which stated that all diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries had to be reestablished. Lithuania, at this time, was still opposed to all relations between the two after the Polish occupied the Vilnius region. Due to a lack of international support, Lithuania agreed to the ultimatum and therefore also indirectly recognized the occupation of Vilnius.
Lithuania’s downfall started on March 20th, 1939, when the German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, presented an ultimatum to the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Juozas Urbšys, which contained that the Klaipėda region had to be submitted to Germany or else Germany would invade the country. Three days later, the Lithuanians ceded the territory to Germany, losing its only valuable port city. Around 70% of Lithuania’s export and import goods passed through Klaipėda and the overall region contained a third of Lithuania’s industry. The Lithuanians knew this ultimatum would come sooner or later. The Klaipėda region, often referred to as Memel, was part of Germany before the First World War and the Germans justified it by stating that the Lithuanian government was suppressing the German-speaking minority.
The ex-Entente powers which signed the Klaipėda Convention in 1924 did not intervene even though they promised the region would remain under Lithuanian sovereignty. This was due to the British and French continuing their appeasement policies and Italy and Japan supporting the Germans. Before the treaty between Germany and Lithuania was signed, German troops and ships had already entered the city and the Lithuanian troops and Lithuania’s only warship were forced to leave the city.
Reintegration of Vilnius
Upon the start of World War 2, Germany heavily bombed Polish-occupied Vilnius. Although the Germans urged Lithuania to join the war in exchange for Vilnius, they refused the offer. As a result, Soviet troops occupied the city on September 19th, 1939.
As per the 1920 Soviet-Lithuanian peace treaty, the Soviets still recognized the city as Lithuanian territory. The Soviets threatened the Lithuanians that the territory would be given to the Belarussian SSR if they did not cooperate with them. On October 10th, 1939, the Soviet Union gave an ultimatum to Lithuania, demanding mutual military assistance. This meant the Soviets were allowed to build military bases in the Baltic countries. The pact also included the transfer of the Vilnius region to Lithuania. However, only one-fifth of the original territory was transferred.
On the following day, October 11th, the Lithuanian Army marched into the city as part of a big parade. The local Lithuanian population greeted the Lithuanian Army with joy and were happy to be part of Lithuania again. On the other hand, the local Polish population was unhappy with their new overlords, and on October 29th, 1939, a four-day pogrom against the Lithuanian Jewish community started with over 200 wounded. The Lithuanian Army, together with Soviet garrisons from Poland, managed to suppress the revolt. Another problem was that the Lithuanian government only granted 12,000 people Lithuanian citizenship and over 150,000 Poles were seen as foreigners and discriminated against in daily life.
The 2nd and 3rd Tank Companies entered Vilnius in October and were later temporarily stationed in that area. On November 7th, 1939, the biggest disaster in Lithuanian tank history occurred. An unknown person inadvertently spilled burning kerosene oil, which caused a fire to break out in the hangers. Due to this fire, 7 or 8 of the Vickers light tanks were completely destroyed and 2 or 3 were badly damaged. These vehicles allegedly belonged to the 2nd Company which continued to use the rest of the vehicles.
Annexation by the Soviet Union
On August 23rd, 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Germany, was signed. The Pact also had a secret protocol which allowed the Soviets to exert their influence over the Baltic states and territories in eastern Poland and Finland. With this, the Germans planned to appease the Soviets.
After Lithuania signed the Soviet–Lithuanian Mutual Assistance Treaty, the Soviets began to slowly infiltrate the Lithuanian government. The last attempt to appease the Soviets was done in 1940, with the Lithuanian government planning to buy 42 T-26 light tanks as part of their planned modernization program. Following the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, the deal was void.
In 1940, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov accused Lithuania of conspiracy against the Soviet Union, and on June 14th, 1940, the Soviets gave Lithuania another ultimatum, this time demanding the installment of a pro-Soviet government in Lithuania. With Soviet troops already stationed in Lithuania, the Lithuanians knew that resistance was hopeless, and on June 15th, 1940, the Lithuanian President accepted. In the following days, the other Baltic states also accepted the ultimatum.
On July, 14th 1940, the first elections were held under Soviet rule. These were not democratic and were rigged to ensure a pro-Soviet result. The result of this election was the creation of a Soviet puppet state, the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (LSSR). In the following months, Soviet policies were integrated into Lithuania. This meant the collectivization of Lithuanian property. The NKVD killed or deported most Lithuanian anti-Soviet politicians and generals in the army.
In June 1941, the NKVD organized a mass deportation of mainly political enemies, but also non-communists in occupied territories, including Lithuania. Around 20,000 Lithuanians were deported, resettled, or imprisoned.
The Soviet Union organized up to 20,000 Lithuanians within the 29th Light Infantry Corps which was intended to act as a territorial defense unit. The Corps severely lacked morale and was under-equipped. This was due to many Lithuainian officers being either deported or repressed, which resulted in a lack of command power.
During the one year of occupation, over 150,000 Lithuanians were deported to Siberia or killed in Lithuania by the Soviets.
June Uprising and Operation Barbarossa
On June, 22nd 1941, the German Army invaded the Soviet Union, breaking the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. As Lithuania was directly on the border with Germany, Lithuanian territory was invaded by the Germans as early as the first day. The two largest cities of Lithuania, Kaunas and Vilnius, were heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe, destroying the Soviet Air Force on the ground and killing over 4,000 civilians.
Even before the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Lithuanians organized a secret provisional government in April 1941. The government had planned to regain independence for Lithuania. It was formed by members of the LAF (Lithuanian Activist Front), who were far-right resistance fighters against the Soviet occupation. The provisional government planned the June Uprising, in a bid to regain independence. When the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, a large portion of the Lithuanian population rose up against the Soviet occupiers. Members of the LAF gained control of both Vilnius and Kaunas before the Wehrmacht arrived. With that success, the independence of Lithuania was declared by the government. However, the Germans quickly occupied the city, and a week later, the entire country was occupied. The government was dissolved in August 1941 after it failed to establish an autonomous state.
After the German occupation of Kaunas began, and the Soviet repressions, deportations, and murders ended, the Germans began their own process. The Germans embarked on a policy to kill all of the Jews living in Kaunas. This massacre is referred to as the Kaunas Pogrom and resulted in the death of over 1,200 Jewish people over the time span of 2 days. Numerous other cases of massacres happened even though the resistance against the Germans on the Lithuanian side was at first very weak.
Under German Occupation
The Lithuanian and Baltic territories were incorporated into the Reichskommisserat Ostland (Eng. Puppet State Eastern Lands). Lithuania was part of General Plan Ost (Eng. General Plan East), a plan to reduce the population in the Baltic States and Belarus by half. This meant the mass deportation and killing of millions of Lithuanians, not only Jews, but also other ethnic groups. The Baltic people were seen as second-grade Germanic people, which meant that in the eyes of the Nazis, they were superior to the Slavic, Sinti, and Roma, but inferior to the Nordic or Aryan people. General Plan Ost was put into action almost immediately once the occupation began. Many people who supported the Nazis at first, celebrating their arrival and thinking they would be freed, now turned against them.
However, some people also tried to escape this fate by supporting the Nazis. They joined the Lituanische Hunterschaften (Eng. Lithuanian Auxiliary Unit) or the Lithuanian auxiliary police forces, both units organized by the Wehrmacht High Command which helped at first with the security of the country but later with the deportation and mass murder of Lithuanian civilians. Unlike in Latvia and Estonia, there was never a real organized dedicated Waffen SS division.
Some Lithuanians joined Wehrmacht infantry regiments and some others were part of other Waffen SS divisions, such as the Germania Infantry Regiment. The reason why there never was a dedicated division is not exactly known, however, it is estimated that there were not enough Lithuanias who met the requirement to join the Wehrmacht or SS.
In 1943, only 300 Lithuanians volunteered to join the SS, as many boycotted it. This was because many Lithuanians with German backgrounds had already left the country in 1939-1940. Those who fought with the Wehrmacht and SS contributed to multiple war crimes on the Eastern Front, especially around Leningrad.
In 1944, with the advancing Red Army, a general mobilization was called out. Over 10,000 Lithuanians were organized within the LTDF (Eng. Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force). This force participated in defensive fights against the Red Army and against Polish partisans but was disbanded in the same year once the Soviets regained control of the territory. During the Nuremberg Trials after the war, there were no charges laid against the Lithuanians who supported the Nazis and their actions due to a lack of evidence.
Between 400,000 and 500,000 Lithuanians were killed during the German occupation of Lithuania of which 250,000 were victims of the Holocaust.
Soviet Summer Offensive in 1944
In summer 1944, the Soviets launched Operation Bagration, which was a major offensive with the objective to push back the Germans to German territory and ‘liberate’ the Baltic region. On June 22nd, 1944, the Soviets launched a breakthrough in an attempt to destroy the German Army Group Center. Within a month, the Soviets managed to push back the Germans to Lithuanian territory, and on July 28th, the Kaunas offensive was launched. By mid-August 1944, all German troops had been pushed out of Lithuanian territory.
Aftermath of WW2
After the Soviet Union reoccupied the region in 1944, the Lithuanian SSR was reinstalled. During the Yalta Conference, the Soviet Union was granted the territories in the Baltic region and therefore the occupation continued after the war was over in May 1945. Throughout the Cold War, resistance in the Baltic countries spiked due to the NKVD suppressing any non-communist. The Forest Brothers were an underground organization fighting against the communist troops stationed in the Baltic regions. The largest group of Forest Brothers formed in Lithuania. However, this resistance was only prominent until the 1960s. In 1991, after the Singing Revolution in all Baltic states and the downfall of the Soviet Union, Lithuania regained its independence. It is estimated that throughout World War 2 and the first years of the Cold War, between 997,000 and 1,500,000 Lithuanians were killed in the struggle to become independent from either German or Soviet dominance and repression.
None of the Lithuanian AFVs survived WW2 and the Cold War.
Erkki Nordberg, The Baltic Republics, A strategic survey
Lucas Molina Franco, Sangre en El Báltico, Las Guerras de Lituania 1918-1940
Teodor Narbutt, History of Lithuania
Vladimir Francev, Praga Export Light Tanks