The wrecks of three British warships sunk more than 90 years ago – seeking to prevent the Bolshevik Revolution from spreading West – have been located in the Baltic Sea by the Estonian Navy.
HMS Cassandra, HMS Myrtle and HMS Gentian were lost as they fought to keep Estonia out of the hands of Vladimir Lenin after his seizure of power in Russia.
‘We are confident that these are the British ships in question which were lost during the War of Independence,’ announced the Estonian Navy’s chief of staff Commander Ivo Vark.
Almost a century later, the role of the Royal Navy is regarded as heroic by Estonians, and seen as a key factor in enabling the country to enjoy two decades of independence before being overrun by both Hitler and Stalin in World War II.
A total of 19 crew died in when the three vessels went down between December 1918 and July 1919. The lost Royal Navy sailors are now expected to be posthumously honoured by Estonia for their role in keeping the country free between the two world wars in the 20th century.
The warships – sunk after hitting mines – were found in a special operation by the Estonian minehunter Ugani off the island of Saaremaa. They lie at a depth of 60 to 100 metres.
The light cruiser HMS Cassandra, completed in 1917, was one of the Royal Navy’s most advanced vessels of its day. Ten of its crew died and 400 were evacuated when it sank in December 1918.
HMS Myrtle and HMS Gentian went down in July 1919 with a combined loss of nine.
The wrecks were found after the last known co-ordinates of the ships were provided to Tallinn by the Royal Navy. The co-ordinates were ‘surprisingly accurate considering the navigation devices of the time’, said Commander Vark. The wrecks have been identified by sonar imaging, he said.
In all, the British sent five cruisers, nine destroyers, seven mine trawlers and one transport vessel to bolster Estonians seeking to avoid the Soviet yoke.
They brought weapons and ammunition to Estonian forces.
‘Their presence helped to eliminate the activity of the navy of Bolshevik Russia and garner political support for the fledgling Republic of Estonia,’ said a local newspaper saluting the Royal Navy’s role.
‘The arrival of the British squadron had a significant impact on the course of the War of Independence. Support from the squadron was important politically, economically and in the military sense alike.’
At the time, Britain also sought to assist the White Army forces – loyal to the deposed last Tsar Nicholas II – and after the revolution controlled areas in the extreme north of Russia.