Freeing the Baltic


In 1919, the Baltic was in ferment. The Red Army struggled to take over the nascent Baltic States; Finland was in revolt; German armies, attempting to conquer a realm in the east to compensate for defeat in the west, rampaged through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. As White armies marched on revolutionary Petrograd, the new governments of the Baltic states appealed desperately to the Allies for assistance.

Cowan was given no clear instructions from the British Admiralty as to what he was expected to achieve, and, as negotiations continued through the Armistice, he effectively had to make his own policy. He succeeded to devastating effect. Despite having only a tiny force, he succeeded in improvising one of the most daring raids ever staged by the British navy – an attack which penetrated into the heart of impregnable Kronstadt and sank two Russian battleships. He outmaneuvered the Germans and the Whites in a game of cat and mouse, raid and counter raid which left Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania free and which formed the basis of a permanent bond between these three countries and Britain. Cowan proved that the greatness of the British navy lay not simply in the size and power of its ships but in the brilliance and courage of its officers and men.