The story of the revolt
(as reported in newspaper articles)
1 December 1924, at 5.30 am. A night watchman was on guard by the unlocked interior door of the Ministry of Defence on Lai Street; the sentry was asleep in their quarters. The officer on duty was doing the rounds on the upper floors.
Suddenly the entrance to the building was forced open. Two men stormed in and opened fire at the watchman. More attackers appeared and invaded the building. A bomb was thrown at the sentry room.
This is how the December revolt began.
A gang of twenty rioters invaded the Balti Jaam train station. They also had easy access to the parliament building on Toompea, the room of the guard of the castle. Weapons were pulled away from the guards in front of the house of the Head of State and the doorbell was rung. When the door was opened, the rebels forced their way in. Fortunately they did not capture the Head of State, Karl Akel.
At 5.30 there was another attack on the military barracks in Tondi, which however was stopped whilst suffering some losses.
The aim of the terrorists was to conquer the strategic points of the state, and with help from special units, the army and navy from Russia, to overthrow the Estonian constitutional state. The terrorists were led, trained and supplied with weapons from Russia and the Soviet Russian Embassy in Tallinn.
The rebels murdered 21 people in total, among them the Minister of Roads Karl Kark. Instead of a direct military attack, they smuggled saboteurs and weapons into our country and, on the early morning of 1 December, tried to overthrow the Estonian government by storm. 25 soldiers and 16 civilians were injured. The situation was critical. “At that moment, the fate of the Republic of Estonia was hanging on a thread,” said Colonel Karl Laurits, the long-serving Head of Military Intelligence. Nonetheless, the young republic managed to suppress the revolt.
Major-General Ernst Põdder (Head of Division II in South-East Estonia), who happened to be in Tallinn at the time, had a significant role in suppressing the revolt. When he learned about the coup, Põdder headed straight to the Ministry of War, took several officers with him and went to the main post office. Põdder was not going to wait for the rebels to escape. Donald Day, the Baltic correspondent of Chicago Tribune, who also happened to be in Tallinn, describes the freeing of the post office in his memoirs “Onward Christian Soldiers”.
“On the night of 30 November, Alexander Schultz and I dined together with our wives in restaurant Linden in Tallinn. We stayed for a long time; I saw a table of Estonian officers in the distance. At five in the morning the hotel porter woke me up, asked me to get up as a revolution was underway in town. Still half asleep I asked him what – he told me to go to the window and hear the shooting for myself. Having dressed quickly, I took my pistol, tied a white handkerchief around my arm and headed for the post office. On the way I met the same officers who I had seen partying in the restaurant. They were led by General Põdder. I lent my pistol to one of them.
General Põdder was the first one to enter the post office. There was an armed man on the staircase who pointed his gun at the general. He was left of us and higher than us by the turn of the stairs. Then General Põdder fired one of the best shots I have ever seen. When he spotted the guy pointing the gun above us, he shot him over his left shoulder. The bullet hit the Red under his chin, forced its way up to his brain and he collapsed dead. I followed the officers to the post office. They found five more bolsheviks and shot all of them. At the time of death, two of them had been busy sending a plea for help to Russia.”
If the coup had been successful, what would have happened to Estonia? According to the script of the leaders of Russia, we would have had to announce the People ’s Republic which would have immediately made a pact to join the Soviet Union. Two months later parliamentary elections would have been called, followed by the Sovietization of Estonia.
It was only a matter of minutes whether Estonia’s young independence would last or whether we would have become an insignificant province of Communist Russia. The independence we take for granted today was at that moment hanging on a couple of arbitrary coincidences.