Johan Laidoner

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Johan Laidoner
Johan Laidoner01.jpg
Johan Laidoner during the Estonian War of Independence.
Born (1884-02-12)12 February 1884
Viiratsi, Estonia
Died 13 March 1953(1953-03-13) (aged 69)
Vladimir, Russia
Allegiance  Russian Empire (1901–1917)
 Estonia (1918–1940)
Service/branch Imperial Russian Army
Estonian Army
Years of service 1901–1940
Rank Lieutenant Colonel (Russia)
General (Estonia)
Battles/wars First World War
Estonian War of Independence
Awards Cross of Liberty
Order of St Michael and St George

Johan Laidoner (12 February 1884 – 13 March 1953) was a seminal figure of Estonian history between the world wars. His highest position was Commander-in-chief of the Estonian Army in 1918–1920 during Estonian War of Independence, and later also during 1924–1925, and 1934–1940.


Laidoner was born in Raja farmstead near Viiratsi (site now located in Vardja village, Viiratsi Parish), Viljandi County, Governorate of Livonia, then part of the Russian Empire. As a boy he worked as a herder during summers and attended parish school during the rest of year. In 1901, he volunteered for the army. He was first stationed in Kowno, Lithuania as a member of an infantry regiment. In 1902 he entered the military academy in Vilnius, where he also met his future Polish wife, Maria. Laidoner continued his military education in 1909 at the Nikolai Military Academy in St. Petersburg.

Military career[edit]

Johan Laidoner (right) and Commander of the Finnish Army Hugo Österman in Tallinn in 1938. Finns and Estonians held negotiations to deepen their top secret military cooperation.

Following his graduation from the Imperial Nicholas Military Academy, Laidoner achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Russian Army. He received seven medals before the Russian Empire dissolved.

Laidoner later returned to Estonia and took command of the First Estonian Division, part of the national independence army in the Estonian War of Independence. In 1918 he was promoted to the Commander in Chief of the Estonian Armed Forces, and subsequently to the rank of major general. As such, he established an Estonian military academy in 1919.

In 1920, he was promoted to lieutenant general in the new official national army. After relinquishing his position as commander in chief, Laidoner went on to chair several government committees, including the Estonian Olympic Committee. He also represented Estonia in the League of Nations, in which he was known as an isolationist, even in the matters of German or Soviet expansion. Laidoner also took part, when he resumed his duties as Commander in Chief for the second time, in crushing the attempt by Estonian communists, supported by the Soviet Union, to overthrow the government on 1 December 1924.

In 1926, Laidoner contributed to the settlement of the border disputes between Turkey and Iraq.

In 1934, during the international Great Depression, the League of Liberators (Vaps), consisting mainly of veterans from the War of Independence (1918–1920), threatened Estonian political order with the imminent election of a radical right wing, quasi-fascist regime. To fend off the efforts of the league, Laidoner reclaimed his position as Commander in Chief at the request of President Konstantin Päts who assumed emergency powers under the new, Vaps constitution which had been approved by a large popular majority, and together they froze all political party activity.

Political career[edit]

Johan Laidoner after his arrest by NKVD (1941)

In 1935, Laidoner and President Konstantin Päts pushed constitutional reform through the government to remodel Estonia according to a strong-president model, citing national defense as the main reason (New York Times Archives). Many of the League of Liberators’ leaders were imprisoned. Päts ruled by decree, and elections were suspended without any plan for resumption. Though all of the League of Veterans’ leaders, sentenced to imprisonment in the two trials, were later freed, Päts and Laidoner had secured the future of their administration.

Included in the proposals of Päts’ and Laidoner’s reforms were military training in universities, as well as restrictions on free speech and freedom of the press. Though neither Päts nor Laidoner desired such freedoms, they recognized the need to establish a stable government before returning the peoples’ rights. Päts attempted to reform the government into a stable entity by broadening the representation of many of the segments of society. Parliamentary elections resumed in 1938. Laidoner became an ex officio member of the National Council.

On February 24, 1939, Laidoner was promoted to the rank of general.

In 1939, Laidoner put forward a plan to the government to modernize and upgrade the Estonian Army’s equipment in the face of rapid foreign expansion and upgrades, and to draft more soldiers. When the Soviet Union occupied Estonia on June 17, 1940, Laidoner was one of the few top political leaders of the country not executed by the Soviet regime. Instead, he was deported to Siberia. Laidoner died on March 14, 1953 in Vladimir Central Prison.


Johan Laidoner, last known photo in Soviet prison (1952)

During his lifetime, Laidoner earned medals of recognition for service and valor from Estonia as well as from Great Britain, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, France, Poland, Sweden, and Germany. Many of these medals were preserved by the U.S. Army after being smuggled out from under communist control. They were formally returned to Estonia in 2004. There is a monument to Laidoner in the borough of Viiratsi, Estonia, close to his birthplace.

In 2009, in recognition of the role played by Johan Laidoner in the decisive battles of the Estonian War of Independence, a commemorative stamp was issued by Eesti Post.



Russian Empire[edit]

Foreign Countries[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Kindral Johan Laidoner" (in Estonian). Johan Laidoneri Selts. Retrieved 27 April 2014. 

Raun, Toivo U., Estonia and the Estonians, 2nd Ed., Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1991