Lithuanian Special Operations Forces: the origins of guerrilla warfare

Partisans of the Žemaičiai and Kęstutis District. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Chief Archivist of Lithuania
Partisans of the Žemaičiai and Kęstutis District. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Chief Archivist of Lithuania

The Special Operations Forces (SOP) of the Lithuanian Armed Forces were officially established 21 years ago, on 17 December 2001. Still, the real origins of the SOP go back to 1944, when, after the arrival of the Soviet invaders, the decision was made to switch from unarmed to armed resistance.

One of the main founders of the Special Operations Forces and their first commander, Colonel Saulius Guzevičius, pointed out the crucial importance of these forces, both at that time, in the aftermath of war after war, and now, in the wake of a significantly heightened international situation, when aggression-ridden Russia is brandishing its weapons and sowing blood in Ukraine, creating major crises and making no secret of its expansionist plans.

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The SOP is a highly trained military unit, which carries out a wide range of operations and combat tasks, and is composed of carefully selected, motivated and well-trained professionals.

Beginning. War after war

“It would be correct to say that the Special Operations Forces of our country were established in July 1944 during the armed struggle against the Red Army invaders. As the historian Bernardas Gailius wrote, this was Lithuania’s war against the Soviet Union,” said S. Guzevičius.

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Naturally, this struggle was asymmetrical. The guerrillas could not openly confront the more powerful forces of the occupiers in long battles, so they organised special operations and sudden attacks and acted in smaller groups, striking hard and retreating quickly.

“However, the 30,000 or so fighters with uniforms, insignia, patches, and even a Training Centre in the forests, where they were awarded officer’s ranks after the course, testify to the extreme resistance and the organisational skills of the Lithuanians.

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The fighting gene is passed from generation to generation, from the Middle Ages to the present day,” pointed out the first commander of the SOP in post-independence Lithuania.

The guerrilla movement of the post-war era and its fight against the Soviets was extremely well organised – with a strict military structure, commanders, units, equipment, well-developed intelligence, carefully worked-out tactics and strategy, the Declaration of 16 February 1949, and information tools. The freedom fighters and their auxiliaries were also well prepared for the information war and understood its importance. The guerrillas published and distributed the underground press – newspapers, circulars, patriotic articles, pamphlets and cartoons ridiculing the occupiers.

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“This was a real army of those times, with huge public support. The population hid the partisans, fed them, warned them about the enemy’s movements and plans – if it wasn’t for this sincere support, it would have been impossible to stand against the Soviet forces for 10 years,” S. Guzevičius, the founder of the modern Special Operations Force, said about the post-war freedom struggle.

Lithuania’s war against the Soviet Union

Today’s Special Operations Forces are one of the four forces of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, made up of soldiers trained for specific combat tasks.

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SOPs train to act in a crisis, confront the enemy in a complex and dynamic environment, detect their most vulnerable areas, and strike back with precision and speed. The element of surprise is also important.

There are undeniable similarities with the post-war period, the only difference being that, at that time, Lithuania was in the midst of real fighting.

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Historian Dalius Žygelis assumes that the real beginning of the SOP’s activities was on 3 July 1944, when the Soviets ordered the transition from the unarmed struggle of the Nazi occupation to armed resistance.

Partisans carried out the tasks assigned to modern SOPs, such as reconnaissance, direct action and military support to other combat units.

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One of the most significant battles – the Kalniškės battles (Lazdijai district, Kalniškės forest, 16-17 May 1945) against the regular Soviet army – was a turning point when the conventional attempt to fight with large forces by entrenching themselves in trenches and staying for a long time in one place, was transformed into the tactics of the special forces – quick attacks, ambushes, raids, sabotage actions.

The tactics of the freedom fighters were ingenious. One of the most memorable operations was carried out in Marijampolė on the night of 19 February 1947 by the Vytautas Gavėnas-Vampyras-led Vytautas Detachment of the Taurus District, during which high-ranking local Communist and Soviet power structure figures were liquidated, including the Chairman of the Marijampolė District Communist Party, Steponas Bakevičius, and the Head of the Passport Division of the MVD, Boris Gurevich. The occupiers found themselves trapped after being invited to a fictitious engagement of the partisan Kazimieras Pyplis-Mažytis and the partisan’s liaison, Anelė Senkutė-Pušelė, during Užgavėnas, which was nicknamed the “pancake ball”.

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Another well-known operation took place on the night of 19 March 1947 in the vicinity of the town of Liudvinavas (Marijampolė municipality) when, after occupying the distillery of the occupying authorities in Bukta Manor, the partisans deliberately lured away the Liudvinavas Stribs and security guards by cutting off the telephone wires so that they could not call for reinforcement. During the ambush, not only were the enemies liquidated, but their weapons were also taken.

There were many similar cases – special operations were used to destroy the invaders and kill them. They helped the resistance movement achieve its goals, survive for a whole decade, stop Russification, and prevent the extinction of the ideas of freedom. This active work continued until 1953.

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The freedom struggle, of which special operations were an important part, had an enormous impact on the generations that followed, on their motivation, will and commitment to regaining independence.

The influence of Lukša’s book is enormous

“When I first read the memoirs of the legendary fighter Juozas Lukša-Daumantas, Partizans, in 1990, I was struck by the scale of the resistance and its organisation.

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Then you realise that you can fight against anything – you just have to choose the right tactics, have the support of society and be motivated. Not only is it possible, but it is obligatory because we owe a debt to our ancestors who defended Lithuania’s independence for centuries,” emphasised S. Guzevičius.

It was “Partisans” that laid a solid motivational foundation for S. Guzevičius and his comrades who toiled at the dawn of independence. The creation of national defence forces, structures and units, including those that could be called the foundations of the current Special Operations Forces of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, began.

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In 1990, volunteers were recruited, the Supreme Council Protection Unit was established, and the road to the current SOP began.

The constant Soviet attacks of 1990-91 and the January 1991 aggression clearly showed that Lithuania needed a mobile, professional force to react quickly, carry out reconnaissance, and provide assistance to other units of the force.

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To this end, the 4th platoon of the Security Division of the Supreme Armed Forces was created, which was dedicated to special protection – some of its members eventually started to form the Special Operations Forces.

Foreign experience is invaluable

“The 4th Detachment is established, where we are already serving and carrying out various operations – against OMON, the occupying army, carrying out intelligence operations, protecting foreign guests of the highest rank,” recalled S. Guzevičius.

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In 1992, he and his comrades were sent on a six-month course in France, where they gained much-needed experience in recruitment, training and preparation, all of which was very useful when they returned to Lithuania.

“We were taught by French legends who drew on their own life experience, not from textbooks. The French told us that if we wanted to create a special force, it could only function fully in the army.

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The SOP must not consist of a single unit but a whole complex of units with different functions. For example, Aitvaras now consists of the Special Intelligence Battalion of Vytautas the Great, the Combat Divers Service and the Special Purpose Service for the Fight against Terrorism,” the founder of the Lithuanian Special Forces said.

After the French showed how this combined system works in their country, the Lithuanians returned to their homeland with concrete ideas.

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“In 1995, under the then Commander of the Voluntary National Defence Service, Lieutenant Colonel Arvydas Pocius, we started to create the Special Operations Forces. It was completely classified.

In the same year, we started to build the Special Purpose Service in Vilnius, whose members were named “Greens” in honour of the fighters of the post-war period,” said the first commander of the SOP.

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At the same time, in Kaunas, Lieutenant Colonel Saulius Veprauskas (1952-2021) starts transforming the infantry battalion into a Special Intelligence Battalion – thus the emergence of the Soldiers. Initiatives are also taken in Klaipėda, where a squad of combat swimmers under the command of Lieutenant-Captain Valerijus Krisikaitis is formed.

“Three special units are being created in three places. All this shows the patriotism of Lithuanians, their willingness to defend their country and their fighting gene,” said S. Guzevičius.

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In 1997, the Special Purpose Service and other units were already established, selections and training were made, and various tasks were carried out, including assisting the police in catching armed criminals, recidivists and gang members.

Shoulder to shoulder – since 1990

“From the very beginning, I had to work shoulder to shoulder with the current Director of the State Security Department, Darius Jauniškis – in 1990, we worked in the Supreme Soviet Security Department, together we took care of the defence of the Parliament in the fateful days of January 1991, during the August putsch in the Soviet Union in the same year,” recalled the first commander of SOP.

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The two comrades guarded the same post of the Supreme Soviet, where the sandbags were stacked: the future head of the VSD had a pistol, while Guzevičius had a machine gun.

S. After the massacre of 13 January, Guzevičius and Jauniškis worked together in the 4th Squad of the Security Division of the Supreme Soviet, which can be considered as the beginning of the Special Operations Forces.

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Later, they participated in courses in France, which were particularly useful in strengthening the Lithuanian Armed Forces, creating vital structures and units, including the SOP.

After the course, D. Jauniškis and S. Guzevičius were, for some time, the only instructors in creating the Special Purpose Service. This took place in 1995-1997, and the YPT became one of the units from which the Special Operations Forces were formed.

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S. Guzevičius was the head of the SOP from 2001 to 2008, after which D. Jauniškis took over the position.

Russia has never abandoned its imperial plans

In 2001, after the September terrorist attack in the United States, Lithuania reacted with lightning speed, both in its military and political leadership.

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S. Guzevičius is instructed to merge the separate special units, forming the “Aitvaras” squadron of Greens, Jaegers and combat divers.

On 17 December 2001, the Special Operations Forces of the Lithuanian Armed Forces were established to assist law enforcement and the State Security Department in peacetime and to participate in international missions and operations. The first commander of the SOPs is their founder S. Guzevičius, who has held the position for 7 years.

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An experienced officer, he has always foreseen what to expect from Russia, which, since 1992, has been ripping away foreign lands, engaging in strife and division, to dominate and fulfil its imperial ambitions. This is evident from the actions of this chauvinist state in Moldova, Sakartvelo, Ukraine, Syria and other countries, from its terrorist attacks, and from the poisonings it carried out internationally long before the invasion of 24 February 2022.

According to S. Guzevičius, from the very beginning until today, the SOPs have been fully prepared to defend the homeland in the event of a real threat of military intervention to contribute to the repulsion of the neighbouring dictatorships in the East.

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