Edited By James S. Corum, Olaf Mertelsmann and Kaarel Piirimäe
Wartime Diplomacy in London: How Britain Came to Partially Recognize the Soviet Annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
In June 1940 when large contingents of Soviet troops entered the Baltic states, there were 37 Estonian ships in British, Canadian and Irish ports. In subsequent British–Soviet discussions over assets both countries laid claim to them. August Torma, the Estonian minister in London, however, stood up for the interests of the ship-owners whom the war had scattered around the globe. Amid these conflicting interests, the SS Vapper came to play a crucial role. She sank in early July 1940 and the insurance claim was heard at the end of 1945. The case led to the British government’s de facto recognition of the Soviet annexation not only of Estonia, but also of Latvia and Lithuania.
The Soviet occupation of June 1940 left the pre-war Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian ministers in London confused and anxious. Their countries had been overrun by Soviet forces, but detailed information about conditions at home was scarce. The three ministers had by then formed the habit of holding regular meetings. They had known each other from their work in Geneva and the League of Nations, and then coincidentally been appointed to London around the same time: Latvian Charles Zarine took up his post in July 1933, Lithuanian Bronius Balutis in June 1934 and Estonian August Torma in December 1934. When in August 1940 their countries’ new, Soviet-style governments told them to return home the trio decided to ignore the call and stay put in London. At the time...
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