Saaremaa Uprising

​An uprising in February 1919 on Saaremaa Island during the Estonian War of Independence that erupted because of difficult economic conditions and escalated due to communist agitation

When the War of Independence started at the end of 1918, the situation on Saaremaa was extremely complicated, mostly as a result of the accumulating economic and socio-political problems. During the period of German occupation, which lasted longer on the island than on the mainland (October 1917 - December 1918), the systematic export of foodstuffs left the local population almost starving. In addition there was a drastic shortage of land. The Bolshevist propaganda was enhanced by the lack of reliable information about the happenings on the mainland (including the terror regime of the Estonian Workers’ Commune).

In the early stages of the War of Independence, the Estonian Provisional Government ordered requisitioning and forced mobilisation, also on Saaremaa. As a response, an impromptu uprising of the mobilised men broke out in Kuivastu on 16 February 1919, which developed into a large-scale rebellion. The aim was to "overthrow the power of the landowners" on the island, divide the land between people and not go to war. The members of the group who organised the mobilisation to the mainland were shot, over ten landowners were killed, community centres were taken over, and all ‘suspicious’ persons were arrested. The rebels declared their own mobilisation and demanded the takeover of manors.

The rebels often sent their mobilisation orders in the name of the local government, and thus many who went along with the rebels did not actually realise that they were fighting against the Republic of Estonia. They believed they were fighting for their country and against the landowners.

The local Defence League unit was unable to tackle the rebels, and informed Tallinn of the emerging situation. On 18 February, a 242-strong death squad led by Lieutenant Jaan Klaar, commander of the gunship Lembit, landed on Muhu. On 21 February the squad crushed the main forces of the rebels near Kuressaare in the battle of Upa. The large number of the dead made the whole affair even more tragic. Altogether 185 people were killed in the uprising, 22 of them at the hands of the rebels; 81 rebels were killed in fighting the death squad, and an additional 82 were later executed by the decision of the court-martial.

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