Introduction

General Johan Laidoner, Commander-in-Chief of the Estonian Armed Forces, wrote in his memoirs:

I am sure that without the arrival of the British fleet in Tallinn in December 1918, the fate of our country and our people would have been very different – Estonia, and I believe, other Baltic states would have found themselves in the hands of the Bolsheviks.

 

In December 1918 Estonia, like much of Europe, was in turmoil.  With the  collapse of the Russian empire in World War I, Estonia seized its opportunity to declare independence on 24 February 1918.  However, it’s future survival was in the balance.  Estonia was occupied by Germany, while the Russian fleet maintained control of the Baltic Sea and the Bolshevik government sought to re-take the Baltic states.  The fledgling Estonian state sent a delegation to London in April to seek recognition and assistance from the British Government.  The UK provisionally recognised the Estonian State Council in May and on 27 November a British fleet sailed for Estonia under the command of Real Admiral Sir Edwin Alexander Sinclair.  The fleet was heading into an uncertain situation, with little information available on the respective strengths and capabilities of the German and Russian forces in the area.  This exhibition tells the fascinating story of what happened next.