1924 Estonian coup d'état attempt
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The 1924 Estonian coup d'état attempt (Estonian: 1. detsembri riigipöördekatse), conducted by the Comintern, was a failed coup attempt in Estonia staged by Communists (mostly infiltrated from Soviet Union) on December 1, 1924. Of the 279 actively participating communists, 125 were killed in action, later more than 500 people were arrested. The government forces lost 26 men.
|1924 Estonian coup d'état attempt|
|Communists from Estonia and Russia||Estonia|
|Commanders and leaders|
|279 armed militants and red soldiers, 56 sympathisers with 5 Thompson light machine guns, 55 rifles, 65 hand grenades, 8 explosive devices and 150 pistols||500-700 soldiers and cadets|
|Casualties and losses|
|125 killed, 500 arrested||26 soldiers and cadets|
Estonia was eventually occupied by the Soviets during and after the World War II until the restoration of its independence in 1991. Throughout the history of the Estonian SSR, the 1924 communist coup attempt was referred to as the Tallinn Uprising of December 1, 1924, and described as part of a Marxist world revolution.
In 1920 the rules were laid down in the Soviet Union at the Comintern's Second Congress, Communist parties abroad were to be created either afresh or else by splitting Social Democratic parties; in any case, they were to be accountable to Moscow, not to their domestic constituencies.
The incapacity and death of Vladimir Lenin (January 21, 1924) triggered a struggle for power between Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. The country's foreign policy drifted during this. On 1 December 1924 the Comintern attempted a communist coup in Estonia.
The plan for was hatched by Jaan Anvelt and Karl Rimm. The latter was a veteran of the Russian Civil War. The plan envisaged the main attack aimed at Tallinn, with subsequent coups in Tartu, Narva, Pärnu, Viljandi, Rakvere, Kunda, and Kohila.
The revolt was supposed to start at 5:15 a.m. The 279 communists, mostly infiltrated from the Soviet Union, were armed with 5 Thompson light machine guns, 55 rifles, 65 hand grenades, 8 explosive devices and 150 pistols. It was mistakenly expected that the workers and soldiers would join the insurgency and would seize power in the capital together. The plan called for the establishment of an Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic and of a "working people's government".
Most of the schemes were spoiled by the Trial of the 149 in November 1924, which eliminated many potential communist organisers. The gunmen's first priority was to take over the Estonian National Defence College based in the Tondi suburb south of the city centre, the main narrow gauge railway station in Tallinn-Väike, and a battalion of engineering troops in Nõmme.
In late November 1924, about the time the Trial of the 149 concluded, Moscow decided to launch the uprising on December 1. On the evening of November 30, 1924, the men preparing the attack on the military college were to gather at the Reimann house about one kilometre from the college. There were supposed to be 140 men present, but only 56 turned up. The communists were armed with one light machine gun, four rifles, some pistols and hand grenades. Three messengers were appointed to keep in touch with other groups and the headquarters.
The communist gunmen started to move on December 1, 1924, at 5:00 a.m. At the time there were 450 cadets, non-commissioned officers and officers in the military college. The officer on duty was Lieutenant Joosep Lääne, assisted by a cadet. The three-member guard had just returned to the building after their patrol.
When the gunmen reached their target, they attacked the dormitory of cadets, throwing hand grenades into windows and shooting sleeping cadets on the ground floor. Three guardsmen assisted by four artillery cadets who had managed to get 9 mm semi-automatic pistols from the armory blocked the way to the first floor and opened fire on the attackers. This gave the cadets on the first floor time to get their guns from the armory and launch a counterattack, forcing the attackers to retreat. At the same time a smaller group of insurgents had attacked the cadets' mess, which was empty as the officer on duty and his assistant had left the building.
A patrol of cadets stopped a car coming from the city. Seeing armed cadets, the driver tried to escape, but he and his companions were caught and brought to the military academy. Two of them turned out to be brothers of an insurgent, Rudolf Vakmann, who had been sent to bring weapons from the academy. A court-martial composed of three officers was formed. After a quick investigation it sentenced all seven defendants to death. The sentence was carried out late that night.
Nine cadets were wounded during the uprising. Cadets Arnold Allebras, Aleksander Teder, Aleksander Tomson and August Udras were killed.
Another strike team of communists attacked the Toompea Castle, where the offices of the State Elder, Riigikogu and the Government were located. A third group entered the apartment of the State Elder behind the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The State Elder, Friedrich Akel, managed to escape through the back door.
The communists were successful in capturing the military airfield and barracks of the air division in Lasnamäe, where some soldiers joined them. However, the additional units that soon arrived forced the attackers to retreat. Two air force lieutenants were court-martialled for their collaboration with the attackers and sentenced to death. Seeing their failure, the attackers hijacked two military aircraft and tried to escape to the Soviet Union. One of the planes was forced to land close to Narva, but the other plane managed to cross the border unharmed.
In the motorised division the communists got some help from a non-commissioned officer, took over the tank garage and damaged some of the tanks, rendering them immovable. After the non-commissioned officer Loorents was shot by Rudolf Kaptein, another non-commissioned officer, the insurgents ran away.
Another group took over the main railway station, arrested the officer of the day and killed several police officers. As all passenger trains were halted by the insurgents, the Minister of Roads, Karl Kark, decided to check personally on the situation. He was shot and mortally wounded on the stairs of the railway station.
An exchange of fire also took place at the corner of Vene and Apteegi Streets where the Main Post Office was located. The Chief of the Tartu garrison, General Ernst Põdder was in Tallinn on an errand, and was having a drink in a mess with his friends close to the exchange of fire early in the morning. They noticed the skirmish in the street and rushed into the battle.
By 10:00 a.m. the government forces had the situation under control and had retaken all buildings captured by the rebels.
Although the attempted coup was over in five hours, the manhunt for participants continued for several days.
On December 5, 1924, a battle took place near Tallinn in Iru. Police officers shot three prominent Communists: Arnold Sommerling, Evald Ambos and Osvald Piiri. On December 7 there was a police operation in Vilmsi Street in Tallinn. The police raided a house at 50 Vilmsi Street and shot three Communists: G. Kreuks, V. Bogdanov and R. Pälson.
Some of the main organisers, including Jaan Anvelt and Rudolf Vakmann, managed to escape to the Soviet Union. Later, they were arrested and executed by Soviet authorities during the Great Purge.
The government awarded the Cross of Liberty to ten people for their contribution: Johan Laidoner, Johan Unt, Hermann Rossländer, Rudolf Aaman, Richard Brücker, Rudolf Kaptein, August Keng, Alfred Klemmer, Albert Pesur and August Schaurup. That was the last occasion that the award was granted.
In 1974, a monument to the rebels was opened across the road from the Balti jaam, the main railway station. It was demolished in the beginning of the 1990s. People used to joke that it was the only monument in the world that managed to portray all the participants of a coup attempt (there were four figures presented).
- J. Saar. Enamlaste riigipöörde katse Tallinnas 1. detsembril 1924. Osavõtjate tunnistuste ja uurimise andmete järel. Tallinn, 1925.
- Chapter: Der Aufstand in Reval (The uprising in Reval), in: A. Neuberg (that is Hans Kippenberger/M. N. Tuchatschewski/Ho Chi Minh): Der bewaffnete Aufstand. Versuch einer theoretischen Darstellung. Eingeleitet von Erich Wollenberg, Frankfurt a. M. 1971 (originally published Moscow 1928 under the legend of Zürich), p. 42-66.
- Estonian MFA's fact sheet on the coup (in English)
- Estonia and the Estonians, Hoover Institution Press, p.15 ISBN 0-8179-2852-9
- Mike Jones: How Estonia became part of the USSR
- Lepp, Jaan. "Kommentaar: 1. detsembri aasta". Eesti Elu. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- Salo, Vello. "Vello Salo: aprillitame Jüriöö?". Postimees. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- Esna, Olaf. "1924. aasta 1. detsembri võimuhaaramiskatse Pärnus". Pärnu Postimees. Archived from the original on 2013-04-12. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- Kahk, Juhan (1985). History of the Estonian SSR. Perioodika.
- Encyclopædia Britannica
- Leonard, Raymond W. (1999). Secret soldiers of the revolution: Soviet military intelligence, 1918-1933. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-313-30990-8.
- Toivo Miljan, Historical Dictionary of Estonia, Scarecrow Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8108-4904-6