Lithuania - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Republic of Lithuania
Formation 1991 / 1991
Population 3.3 million / 131 people per sq mile (51 people per sq km)
Total area 25,174 sq. miles (65,200 sq. km)
Languages Lithuanian*, Russian
Religions Roman Catholic 79%, Other 15%, Russian Orthodox 4%, Protestant 2%
Ethnic mix Lithuanian 85%, Polish 6%, Russian 5%, Other 3%, Belarussian 1%
Government Parliamentary system
Currency Litas = 100 centu
Literacy rate 99%
Calorie consumption 3419 kilocalories
Lithuania is the southernmost of the Baltic trio, lying just to the south of Latvia. But unlike the situation with Latvia and Estonia, we had been in action in Lithuania long before our navy took to roaming the Baltic. Lithuania is also different from the other two countries in the sense that while its inland part has been controlled for lengthy periods by Russia, its coastal part has also seen controlled for significant amounts of time by Prussia and Germany.
Before King Henry IV was King Henry IV, he was just plain (well admittedly he was a major aristrocrat, but plain compared to a king) Henry Bolinbroke. However, broke was one thing he wasn’t. Because, at the end of the fourteenth century he was forking out thousands of pounds, when thousands of pounds wasn’t just a lot of money, but really a lot of money, to send himself and hundreds of knights on crusade in Lithuania. You didn’t get the sun, sea and sand of a journey to the Holy Land, but there was still plenty of kudos in it. Unfortunately, from Henry’s point of view there wasn’t much victory in it either. He spent 1390 with 300 English knights, plus all their hangers-on, assisting the Teutonic Knights in the siege of Vilnius. (The symbol of the Teutonic Knights was a black cross later adopted by Germany. Hence all the fiddly black crosses kids used to try to stick on German aircraft kits after they had hastily glued them together.) Then he was there again in 1392. But all this proved rather pointless. Vilnius didn’t fall and Henry went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land instead, where he apparently decided that one day he would lead a crusade to take Jerusalem. That didn’t happen either.
After that the English left the Lithuanians alone for a while. In fact, rather than invading the country we got quite fond of parts of it, particularly the port of Memel (in German), or Klaipéda (in Lithuanian). Instead of invading with navy ships, by the second half of the eighteenth century we were going to Memel to get wood to build those navy ships.
Like I said, the Lithuanian coast had closer links for a long time to Prussia than Russia, so it managed to escape our attentions during, for example, the Crimean War, but we did return after the First World War. In the turmoil that gripped the area, both Germany and Russia, and eventually Poland, competed for control of parts of Lithuania. Eventually, most of Lithuania gained independence, but the key port of Memel/ Klaipéda was still outside their control, with it and the area around it having been made a Mandate of the League of Nations after the First World War. Some of the Lithuanian population of the area rose in revolt, with assistance from Lithuanians in the independent part, demanding unification with Lithuania. So along with the French we sent in the navy. Not in a big way, exactly, but we sent them in anyway. On 17–18 January 1923 our cruiser HMS Caledon arrived in Memel together with two French torpedo boats. A French cruiser was also on the way. The French firmly demanded that things were put back the way they were. We were a little more reticent, or at least as reticent as you can be when sending in a cruiser. Eventually, a deal was done and everybody went home comparatively happy.