Estonia is the northernmost of the Baltic trio of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. It’s right next to Russia, and indeed the territory has spent long periods under Russian domination. Bearing in mind that Britain and Russia haven’t always been exactly the best of friends, it’s no surprise then that we’ve spent a fair bit of time roaming around Estonian waters on military business.
During the Napoleonic period when we clashed with Russia, some of the action took place in the waters off Estonia (then controlled by Russia). For instance, in June 1808, assorted encounters took place off the Estonian port of Rogervik. The same year, Victory herself, as part of an operation to blockade the Russian fleet, took control of the island of Nargen, finding a useful supply of wood there. And our Admiral Saumarez, when he was in charge of operations in the Baltic, spent a certain amount of time blockading Russian ships in Rogervik.
With the Crimean War in the 1850s, we were back in Estonian waters reconnoitring Reval (Tallinn) for signs of the Russian fleet, and imposing a blockade (again) in the area. Again, our ships spent time hanging around �?off Nargen’, obviously a popular Royal Navy destination. We also landed on and captured Arensburg on the Estonian island of Saaremaa, then called Ösel.
We were fighting in the area again during the First World War, but this time, for a change, alongside the Russians as opposed to against them. The British submarine flotilla in the Baltic is one of those less well-known stories that is still, in many ways, fascinating. Some of the submarines reached Russian-controlled territory via a route that went round the North Cape, but others bravely made their way there through the Baltic under the noses of the German navy. The flotilla was based in Reval and saw a fair amount of action. HMS C32, for instance, was lost while trying to counter the German invasion of three Estonian islands. And the wreck of HMS E18 was discovered off Estonia just recently.
With the revolution in Russia, the situation changed again, and by the end of 1918 we were helping the Estonians fight assorted Russians. On 26 December, we captured two Bolshevik destroyers, Avtroil and Spartak, that had been shelling Tallinn and handed them over to the Estonians to use, and broadly we gave naval and some air support to Estonian land operations.
On 2 February 1920, under the Treaty of Tartu, Russia recognised Estonia’s independence. After the Second World War, Estonia would once again find itself under Russian control, and once again today it is independent. But we have played a significant role on the way in Estonia’s history.