Estonian Defence League

The Estonian Defence League (Estonian: Eesti Kaitseliit) is the name of the unified paramilitary armed forces of the Republic of Estonia. The Defence League is a paramilitary defence organization whose aim is to guarantee the preservation of the independence and sovereignty of the state, the integrity of its land area and its constitutional order.

The Defence League possesses arms and engages in military exercises, fulfilling the tasks given to it by the law. The organization is divided into 15 Defence League regional units, called malevs, whose areas of responsibility mostly coincide with the borders of Estonian counties.

Estonian Defence League
Eesti Kaitseliit
Kaitseliit emblem
Active1918–1940, 1990–present
Country Estonia
TypeParamilitary force
SizeTotal: 25,968 (2017)
Active members: 15,218 (2017)[1]
Anniversaries11 November (formed)
17 February (restored)
EngagementsEstonian War of Independence
CommanderMajor general Meelis Kiili
Chief of StaffColonel Jaak Mee


US Navy 100615-M-0884D-033 Estonian soldiers wade ashore during a combined U.S. and Estonia amphibious assault training exercise during Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2010
Defence League troops in joint exercise with US marines in 2010.

The Defence League is a voluntary military national defence organisation, which acts in the area of government of the Ministry of Defence. The Defence League possesses arms and engages in military exercises. The main goal of the Defence League is, on the basis of the citizens’ free will and initiative, to enhance the readiness of the nation to defend its independence and its constitutional order, including in the event of military threat.

The Defence League plays an important role in supporting the civil structures. Its members aid in putting out wildfires, volunteer as assistant police members, and ensure safety at various events. Units, consisting of voluntary members of the Defence League, also participate in international peace support operations such as in the Balkan states. The Defence League and its affiliated organisations have positive relations with partner organisations in the Nordic countries, the United States, and the United Kingdom.


Kaitseliitlased Vabariigi aastapäeva paraadil Petseris, ERM Fk 2870-113
Estonian Defence League troops at parade during interwar period.


  • 1918 – The Estonian Defence League was preceded by Estonia's first armed home defence organisation: Omakaitse the Citizens' Defence Organisation (German Bürgerwehr) against the public disorder accompanying the Russian Revolution.
  • 1918 – On 11 November the Citizens' Defence Organisation was renamed the Estonian Defence League which performed the tasks of a national guard in the War of Independence.
  • 1924 – The attempted Communist coup on December 1 dispelled any doubts about the necessity for the Defence League. Development of the Defence League for the performance of tasks of national defence was started.
  • 1925 – In October the Estonian Defence League magazine "Kaitse Kodu!" ("Defend Your Home!") was founded.
  • 1926 – On 19–20 June the first Estonian Defence League Festival took place in Tallinn, to be followed by six more such events held before 1940.
  • 1927 – To develop the Defence League and give it a family dimension, the Commander of the Defence League approved the temporary statutes of the Women's Home Defence.
  • 1928 – The Body of Elders decided to invite the boy scout organisation the Young Eagles to join the Defence League.
  • 1931 – The Government of the Republic approved the Statutes of the Defence League which have remained in force until the present day.
  • 1932 – The Girl Scout organisation Home Daughters was established at the Women's Home Defence.
  • 1934 – To regulate the life and work of the organisation, House Rules of the Defence League were adopted.
  • 1940 – With the Soviet occupation starting from 17 June, the liquidation of both the Republic of Estonia and the Defence League started.
  • 1974 – Defence League in exile was founded by Avdy Andresson, Estonian Minister of War in exile.
  • 1990 – The Defence League was re-founded on 17 February at Järvakandi on popular initiative in order to defend Estonia's independent statehood.
  • 1991 – On 4 September the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia reinstated the rights of the Defence League as a legal organization, days after its personnel were deployed as the Soviet Airborne Troops occupied the Tallinn TV Tower but owing to EDL personnel deployed to the signal rooms, did not disrupt the radio broadcasts.
  • 1992 – On 28 April the Defence League was included in the Defence Forces as a national defence organisation.

In 1999 the Estonian Parliament adopted the EDL Law, which provided the position of the Kaitseliit in society and national defence and also described its main tasks, structure, legal basis for operations and control and co-operation with the Defence Forces, Police, and other state organizations.


Ringkonnakogu 04.03.2015
Women’s Corps members from Järva County.

The organisation is divided into 15 Defence League regional brigades (malevs) whose areas of responsibility mostly coincide with the borders of Estonia’s counties; Alutaguse, Saaremaa, Jõgeva, Lääne, Pärnumaa, Põlva, Rapla, Tartu, Tallinn, Harju, Järva, Viru, Sakala, Valgamaa and Võrumaa.

Today, the Defence League has over 15,000 reservists. The affiliated organisations of the Defence League combine more than 25,000 volunteers, in all, and include the Estonian Defence League’s women’s corps Naiskodukaitse, the Estonian Defence League’s boys’ corps Noored Kotkad, and the Estonian Defence League’s girls’ corps Kodutütred.

Subunits – youth and women's corps

Defence League’s women’s corps – "Women's Home Defence"

The Defence League's women's corps – Naiskodukaitse is a support organisation of Kaitseliit. The main functions of the women’s corps include the following:

• to assist the Defence League in defending the independence of Estonia and its constitutional order, to ensure the safety of its citizens, and to discharge any other functions;
• to organise and ensure the medical and rear services of the Defence League in co-operation with the regional units;
• to promote the ideals of the Defence League and national feelings;
• to participate in organising the social life of the Defence League.

Defence League’s girls’ corps – "Home Daughters"

The Defence League’s girls’ corps – Kodutütred was established to increase patriotic feelings and readiness to defend the independence of Estonia among young girls; to enhance the love for home and fatherland; to encourage respect for the Estonian language and ways of thinking; to be honest, enterprising, responsible, and capable of decision-making; to respect nature; and to respect one’s parents and others.

Defence League’s boys’ corps – "Young Eagles"

The Defence League’s boys’ corps – Noored Kotkad. The objective of the organisation is to raise these young people as good citizens with healthy bodies and minds. In addition to numerous interesting activities, such as parachute jumping, flying gliders, orienteering, shooting weapons, etc., the boys’ corps also participates in numerous events, the most popular but also the most difficult being the Mini-Erna 35 km reconnaissance competition.


White Cross of Defence League medal.

The Estonian Victory Day (1918) has been celebrated until WW II with military parades, organized by the Kaitseliit. Since 2000, Victory Day parades have been organized by Kaitseliit again every June 23. The 2015 parade also saw a rising number of military contingents from NATO countries take part: Latvia, the United States, Finland, Poland and Sweden, while 2016, aside from the US and Latvian troops also featured new contingents from Lithuania and Denmark.

In 2006, the first Fleet Review in Estonian history was conducted by Kaitseliit in June in Saaremaa.

In 2016, the Sakala subdivision of Estonian Defence League formed the first Estonian military pipe band and their first performance was during the yearly Victory Day parade the same year.[3][4] Band uses 4 sets of drums and 12 special sets of "war pipes"[3] made by Andres Taul.[3][5] Idea for such a unit originally came from President Lennart Meri in 2001 whilst he was visiting the Viljandi Folk Music Festival.[3][5] The idea was later revived by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves in 2010 and Ando Kiviberg, notable local piper and head of Viljandi's folk festival, was assigned to form the band.[3][5] According to Kiviberg one of the goals of the band is also to promote bagpipes amongst males, as Estonia is lacking male pipers.[3][4][5]



The Commander of Defence League is the highest-ranking officer of the Defence League; though he may not be the senior officer by time in grade. The Commander has the responsibility to man, training, equip and develop the organization. He does not serve as a direct battlefield commander. The Commander is a member and head of the Chief of Staff which is the main organizational tool of the Commander. The Commander is appointed by the Commander of the Defence Forces or by the Supreme Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces.[6] The current Commandant is Major general Meelis Kiili, who assumed the position in 2012. As of 2018, Colonel Jaak Mee is the Defence League Chief of Staff[7].

Ranks and insignia

The rank structure of the Estonian Defence League corresponds to that of the rest of the Estonian Defence Forces, usually the same insignia are used correspondingly. However, sometimes specific insignia denoting positions are used by staff.

Higher and staff positions Senior field positions Junior field positions
Kaitseliidu uelem.jpg Kaitseliidu Peastaabi uelem.jpg Maleva pealik.jpg Maleva Vaneminstruktor.jpg Malevkonna pealik.jpg Kompanii pealik.jpg Ryhma pealik.jpg Rühmapealik eriüksustes.jpg Ryhmapealiku abi.jpg Jaopealik.jpg Jaopealiku abi.jpg
Kaitseliidu ülem Kaitseliidu Peastaabi ülem Kaitseliidu maleva pealik Maleva vaneminstruktor Malevkonna pealik Kompanii pealik Rühma pealik Rühmapealik eriüksustes Rühmapealiku abi Jaopealik Jaopealiku abi
Commander Chief of Staff Chief of Malev Senior instructor Chief of Malevkond Chief of Company Platoon commander Platoon commander
in special forces
Assistant platoon commander Section commander Assistant section commander


Standard uniforms of the Estonian Defence Forces are the ESTDCU issued to Defence League personnel. On some festive occasions (such as parades), white armbands with the insignia of the given territorial unit are worn. Civilian uniforms are worn by the women's division during parades and ceremonies.

Armbands have also previously been worn on civilian clothing to distinguish members of the Defence League from civilians during periods when Defence League units did not have sufficient inventories to supply every member with a uniform (during World War I; and in the beginning of the 1990s).


Ex STEADFAST JAZZ (10668560976)
Defence League´s mortar platoon in NATO exercise Steadfast Jazz 2013.

The basic infantry weapon of the Defence League is the 5.56mm IMI Galil family, with a majority of soldiers being equipped with the IMI Galil or the 7.62mm G3 rifle. Modified U.S. M14 rifles are used by sharpshooters. There has been talk about phasing out the Galil rifle.

Suppressive fire is provided by the Ksp 58 and MG3 machine guns at the section, troop and company levels. In addition, indirect fire is provided by the 40mm M-69 antitank weapons, and 82mm B-300 grenade launchers as well as B455 81 mm mortar in battalions.

Some battlegroups also include an anti-tank units equipped with the 84mm Carl Gustav recoilless rifles and 90mm Pvpj 1110 anti-tank guns.[8] The Defence League utilizes a variety of tactical transport vehicles and a small number of armoured personnel carriers, including the BTR-80, and some old Swedish armoured cars.[9]

See also


  1. ^ "Kaitseliidu majandusaasta aruanne 2017" (PDF). (in Estonian). p. 10. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  2. ^ History of the Defence League Archived 2011-07-22 at the Wayback Machine at
  3. ^ a b c d e f Ivar Jõesaar (October 2016). "Sõjatorupilli saamislugu: nüüd, kui Eesti torupill on astunud riigikaitseteenistusse" (in Estonian). Delfi. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Võidupüha paraad Võrus: pärast Ilvese kõnet toovad tunnustatud noorkotkad ja kodutütred pühadetule kõigisse maakondadesse" (in Estonian). Eesti Rahvusringhääling. 23 July 2016. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d Raba, Rannar (23 July 2016). "Viljandi mehed viisid võidupüha paraadil Lennart Meri mõtte ellu" (in Estonian). Sakala. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  6. ^ Estonian Defence league: The leadership Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Chief of Staff". EDL. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  8. ^ Estonian Defence League: Equipment Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Defence League's Harju malev: Equipment of the Rävala malevkond". Archived from the original on 2009-03-31. Retrieved 2009-09-05.

External links

Alu, Estonia

Alu is a small borough (Estonian: alevik) in Rapla Parish, Rapla County, Estonia. It's located about 3 km (2 mi) northwest of the town of Rapla. Alu has a population of c. 950.Alu was first mentioned in 1241 as Alafæ village in the Danish Census Book.

Arsenal submachine gun

The Arsenal M23 submachine gun (Estonian: Arsenali püstolkuulipilduja) (also known as Arsenal Tallinn) was an Estonian submachine gun from 1926 through 1935. These submachine guns were designed and produced in the Estonian military equipment factory "Arsenal" in Karjamaa, Tallinn, but production was not more than 600 units. The weapon was chambered for the 9x20 mm semi-rimmed Browning cartridge to be compatible with ammunition for the Browning FN M1903 pistol which had been adopted by the Estonian Army. It operated on the blowback system and was essentially similar to the MP18.1; having a wooden stock, slotted barrel jacket, and horizontal left side magazine feed. A uniquely slender 40 round single column box magazine led to frequent cartridge feeding problems; and cooling fins which were machined lengthwise along the barrel to promote cooling air flow when firing (similar to the Lewis machine gun), unnecessarily complicated production. It was used by the combat support units of the Border Guard, the Estonian Defence League and the Estonian Defence Forces. The Arsenal submachine gun was replaced in Estonian service by the Finnish Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun in 1938. The Estonian Army sold a few samples to Latvia and all of the remainder found their way to Republican forces during the Civil War in Spain.

Estonian Special Operations Force

The Estonian Special Operations Force (Estonian: Erioperatsioonide väejuhatus; ESTSOF) is the command charged with overseeing the special operations units of the Estonian Defence Forces. Its primary objective is the development of capabilities for unconventional warfare. It is tasked with planning, preparing and executing special operations. These include special reconnaissance and surveillance, military support and direct action. ESTSOF is under direct command of the Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces.The Special Operations Task Group (Estonian: Erioperatsioonide grupp) is a special forces unit within the Estonian Special Operations Force.

Heiki Arike

Heiki Arike (5 May 1965 – 9 October 2018) was an Estonian politician and a major in the Estonian Defence League, who was also Estonia's Minister of the Interior from 1993 to 1994.

Born in Tallinn, Arike studied at the Estonian University of Life Sciences from 1983 to 1990, graduating as an economist. From 1984 to 1986, he was in the Soviet Armed Forces.

From 1992 to 1993, he worked at the Tartu Internal Affairs Department, the Tartu Police Prefecture and as Undersecretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. From 1993 to 1994, he was the Minister of the Interior under Mart Laar.In subsequent years, Arike has worked in several positions in public limited companies Medisk and Eesti Raudtee. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, he completed his duties at Maaväe as a specialist at CIMIC in Kevadtorm. He has been a national defense teacher at the Tallinn Service School and Jakob Westholm Gymnasium.

From 1999 to 2013, he was a major in the Toompea malev in the Estonian Defence League and was in charge of the Public Relations Department at the Defence League's General office from 2011 to 2015.

Arike died on 9 October 2018.

Home guard

Home guard is a title given to various military organizations at various times, with the implication of an emergency or reserve force raised for local defense.

The term "home guard" was first officially used in the American Civil War, starting with units formed by German immigrants in Missouri, and may derive from possible historic use of the term Heimwehr ("home guard") to describe units officially known as Landwehr ("country guard"), or from an attempted translation of landwehr.

Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 405

Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 405 was a war-time formation in the German Imperial Army during the First World War. It was created late 1916 and was attached to the 405. Infanterie-Brigade of the 203. Infanterie-Division. It defended the Narva town against the Gdov and Yamburg Detachments of the 7th Red Army on the north wing of the Soviet westward offensive of 1918–1919 on 22 November 1918. Thereafter on 28 November 1918, the 6th Red Rifle Division attacked units of the Estonian Defence League (partly consisting of secondary school pupils) and the German Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 405 again marking the beginning of the Estonian War of Independence. The red rifle division captured the city on 28 November. The Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 405 thereafter withdrew westwards.

Jaan Maide

Jaan Maide, VR II/3 (30 May 1896 – 10 August 1945) was a senior Estonian Army officer who fought in World War I, the Estonian War of Independence and World War II. He was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Estonian Military by Otto Tief's government in 1944.

Johannes Kert

Johannes Kert (born 3 December 1959) is an Estonian politician and former military officer. He served as the Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces from 1996 until 2000. He retired from the military in 2008. Since 2014, Kert has been a member of the Estonian Reform Party.

Johannes Orasmaa

Johannes Orasmaa, until 1935 Johannes Roska (3 December 1890 – 24 May 1943) was an Estonian General.

Johannes Orasmaa fought in the Estonian War of Independence and then pursued a military career. He was promoted to the rank of major-general in 1928 and was commander of the Estonian Defence League between 1925 and 1940. He was awarded the Estonian Cross of Liberty and also the Order of the White Rose of Finland and the Polish Gold Cross of Merit. During the Soviet occupation of Estonia, he was arrested and sent to labour camp by Soviet authorities, where he died in 1943.

Karl Parts

Karl Parts VR I/1, VR II/2, VR II/3 (15 July 1886 in Palupera Commune, Estonia – 1 September 1941 in Kirov, Soviet Union) was an Estonian military commander during the Estonian War of Independence.

In 1915 he graduated from Peterhof Military School, and participated in World War I. In July 1917 Parts joined the Estonian national units. During the German occupation in 1918 he organized the underground Estonian Defence League. In the Estonian Liberation War Karl Parts led and organized the armoured trains and in April 1919 became the commander of Armoured Trains Division. He commanded in the biggest armoured conflict of war that resulted in the capture of Pskov. After the war Parts served 1921–1923 as commander of Armoured Trains Brigade and later as inspector. He actively participated in defeating the 1924 coup attempt. In 1925 he retired and became a farmer. In 1940 Soviet occupation authorities arrested Parts, and he was shot in imprisonment the year after.

List of equipment of the Estonian Defence League

This is a list of military equipment used by the Estonian Defence League in the past or present. It includes small arms, artillery, combat vehicles and logistics vehicles. Most of the equipment is received from the Estonian Defence Forces, through the institutions of the Estonian Ministry of Defence or as hand-me-downs from other countries.

Martin Herem

Martin Herem (born 17 December 1973) is an Estonian Major general and the current Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces since 2018. Herem entered into service in 1992. From 2013 to 2016 he served as the Commandant of the Estonian National Defence College and from 2016 to 2018 Chief of Staff of the Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces. Herem was one of the re-founding members of the paramilitary Estonian Defence League in 1990.On 14 February 2018, Martin Herem was promoted to the rank of Major general.

Meelis Kiili

Meelis Kiili (born 20 March 1965) is an Estonian Major General. Since December 2012, he is the commander of the Estonian Defence League.

Ministry of Defence (Estonia)

The Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Estonia (Estonian: Eesti Vabariigi Kaitseministeerium) and its head, the Minister of Defence, are responsible for organizing national defence.The mission of the Ministry of Defence is to deter attacks against Estonia and ensure that the country is capable of defending itself against external threats. Estonian national defence is based on initial self-defence capability as well as membership in NATO.


The Omakaitse ('home guard') was a militia organisation in Estonia. It was founded in 1917 following the Russian Revolution. On the eve of the Occupation of Estonia by the German Empire the Omakaitse units took over major towns in the country allowing the Salvation Committee of the Estonian Provincial Assembly to proclaim the independence of Estonia. After the German Occupation the Omakaitse became outlawed.

The Estonian Defence League was dissolved in 1940 after the Soviet occupation of Estonia.The Omakaitse was reestablished during the German Operation Barbarossa in 1941 by the Forest brothers who took control of the country before the German troops arrived allowing Jüri Uluots establish a co-ordinating council in Tartu to proclaim the provisional government of Estonia. The Germans disbanded the provisional government but allowed the armed units in the Omakaitse after Estonia became a part of the German-occupied Reichskommissariat Ostland. During World War II Omakaitse existed from 3 July 1941 – 17 September 1944 at the Eastern Front (World War II).

Order of the Cross of the Eagle

The Order of the Cross of the Eagle (Estonian: Kotkaristi teenetemärk; French: Ordre de la Croix de l'Aigle) was instituted in 1928 by the Estonian Defence League to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Estonian independence. It was adopted as a state order in 1936. The Order of the Cross of the Eagle is bestowed to give recognition for military services and services in the field of national defence. It is awarded in civil and military divisions. The awards made to members of the military are denoted by the addition of crossed swords to the decoration.

Scouting and Guiding in Estonia

The Scout and Guide movement in Estonia is served by

Eesti Gaidide Liit, member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts

Eesti Skautide Ühing, member of the World Organization of the Scout MovementIn addition, there are youth branches Young Eagles (Estonian youth organisation) for boys and Home Daughters for girls of the Estonian Defence League which sometimes employ the Scout method.


Väluste is a village in Tarvastu Parish, Viljandi County, Estonia, located on the western shore of Lake Võrtsjärv, 8.1 km (4.9 miles) south of the small borough of Mustla and 18 km (11 miles) southeast of the town of Viljandi. As of 2011, Väluste had a population of 70 residents, a decrease from 102 in the 2000 census.Väluste is home to the Sakala Malev Estonian Defence League shooting range.A 2.4 meter high, 16 square meter circumference granite erratic boulder is located 300 meters (984 feet) from the shore of Lake Võrtsjärv and with the surrounding 0.77 ha (83 sq ft), has been designated as a Protected Nature Monument by the Estonian Nature Conservation Act in 2007 and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Young Eagles (Estonian youth organisation)

Young Eagles of Estonia (Estonian: Noored Kotkad) is a patriotic youth paramilitary organization in Estonia, established in 1930. It is not a defence organisation.

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