Pitka, Johan

19 February 1872, Võhmuta parish, Järva county - autumn 1944?

Estonian marine officer and politician, legendary commander in the War of Independence, in autumn 1944 one of the organisers of national resistance to the Red Army
Pitka studied at several marine schools and went to sea in 1889. He was also active at various merchant navy enterprises. In 1917 he helped to establish the Estonian armed forces and, still in conditions of the German occupation in 1918, the Defence League. At the beginning of the War of Independence he supervised the formation of the navy and armoured train units. In December 1918 he was appointed Commander in Chief of the Estonian Navy, led all the naval operations during the War of Independence, and acquired the rank of rear admiral. In November 1919 he left active service because of poor health.

In April 1919 Pitka was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly, but due to intense warfare he soon discharged himself from the parliament. After the War of Independence the political Guardian League founded by Pitka became known for its activities against corruption.

In the parliamentary elections in 1923 Pitka failed. Disappointed in politics, he left Estonia and lived from 1924 to 1930 in Canada. He then returned, and was amongst other things the director of the Estonian Consumers’ Central Cooperative. He briefly participated in the Vaps movement.

After the Soviet regime was established in Estonia he fled to Finland in August 1940. In spring 1944 Pitka returned to Estonia, formed a military unit bearing his own name, and tried to arrange the defence of Estonia against the invading Red Army.

Dozens of versions exist about his death, as the exact circumstances are not known. He was probably killed in autumn 1944 fighting the Red Army troops in western Estonia.

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