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.
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.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 person.
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 Law of Kaitseliit, which provided the position of Kaitseliit in society and national defence and also described its main tasks, structure, legal basis for operations and control and co-operation with other persons.
The organisation is divided into 15 Defence League regional units 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 13,000 members. The affiliated organisations of the Defence League combine more than 21,000 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.Defence League’s women’s corps – "Women's Home Defence"
The Defence League's women's corps – Naiskodukaitse is a support organisation of Kaitseliit with approximately 1700 special trained female volunteers.
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;Defence League’s girls’ corps – "Home Daughters"
• 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.
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.
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.
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, train, 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. The current Commandant is Brigadier general Meelis Kiili, who assumed the position in 2012. As of 2013, Colonel Ilmar Tamm is the Defence League Chief of Staff.
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.
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 1990's).
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. 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.