Training Estonian Naval Officers 1919–1940)


  • Taavi Urb




During the Estonian War of Independence, the quality of officer training for the Estonian Navy was barely satisfactory. There were only a few officers that had acquired proper training from the naval schools of the Russian Empire. In most cases they were civilian mariners with only minimal wartime officers’ training. A major blow was served to the Estonian Navy when many officers of German and Russian background joined the Russian White Guard in 1919. On the other hand, that was also the reason why naval officers’ training was started during the War of Independence. Unfortunately, the first attempt – the so-called Fleet Specialists School that opened its doors in the winter of 1919 – was not successful. However, at the end of the year, the Military School of the Republic of Estonia launched its first naval class. The Navy Cadet School was established in September 1920 as an independent institution under the Commander of the Estonian Navy. The first course of line officers graduated in 1921, and the only naval engineers’ course followed in 1923. The second course of naval line officers was admitted in 1921. They graduated in 1924 as the navy cadets’ class of the Officers School of the Joint Military Educational Facilities. From 1925 to 1928, the third course of naval line officers was trained at the Joint Military Educational Facilities. The training of naval officers was suspended at the Joint Military Educational Facilities from 1929 to 1937, leaving the Estonian Navy scrambling to compensate for the shortage of officers with various ad hoc solutions. For example, two officers were trained by the Navy itself, while two other men were trained by the Finnish Naval Academy. Some mechanics with higher education passed officers’ final exams as external students. Those types of solutions served only as temporary remedies to the shortage of officers in the Estonian Navy. The next naval officers’ course opened at the Joint Military Educational Facilities in 1938, with the last Estonian naval officers graduating in 1940. During this time period, the training of naval officers in Estonia went through some developments that proved quite controversial. In the beginning, there were short wartime courses with no proper curriculum. Before the first course could graduate, their curriculum was switched to a peacetime programme. The following year was characterised by stable development and adaptation to peacetime conditions in a small state. This included the establishment of the Navy Cadets School that was later merged with the Joint Military Educational Facilities. This relatively stable development was interrupted in 1928 when the systematic training of naval officers was discontinued for almost ten years. At the same time, major reforms in officers’ training were carried out and, consequently, the last naval officers’ course was launched in 1938 based on the reformed curriculum. Unfortunately, the new training system did not manage to establish itself fully, e.g. the training of naval engineers was not started at all. Despite the interruption in the natural development due to Soviet occupation, it must be stressed that during its relatively short spell of independence, Estonia managed to establish its own corps of naval officers. During 1939–1940, there was a generational shift in the Estonian Navy, with young officers educated in the newly established Republic of Estonia taking over the reins from older officers educated in the Russian Empire. The graduates of the first officers’ course, hand-picked by the legendary Estonian rear admiral Johan Pitka, all took part in the War of Independence, and comprised the elite of the Estonian naval officers’ corps.


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